Cairo restoring historic buildings to reclaim former downtown glory

Architecture professor Soheir Zaki Hawas has dedicated her life to documenting the beautiful historic buildings in downtown Cairo, Egypt and to trying to preserve them.

But most of that architecture is lost in downtown Cairo behind the layers of dust, gridlocked traffic, street vendors and the gaudy modern colors and neon signs that shop owners’ use to jazz up their storefronts.

Hawas says all that is changing now. A renovation project that’s costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars aims to restore downtown’s past glory.

Hawas is a consultant on the project, which started last year, and the local Cairo government is working with businesses as well.

The point, she says, is to showcase the many buildings and their eclectic styles.

Modern downtown Cairo was built in the 19th century and is known as Khedivial Cairo, named after a local ruler, Khedive Ismail, who commissioned what is downtown Cairo today.

European architects, mostly from Italy and France, designed many of the buildings.

To restore that past glory, the city has had to convince shop owners to get on board.

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