Egypt - Cultural Development - AKDN
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Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt.

AKDN / Gary Otte

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Maridani Mosque prayer hall, view to the south, with marble mosaics on the qibla and the minbar (after restora...

AKTC / Adrien Buchet

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In Cairo, Egypt the restoration of the Khayrbek Mosque Complex has been a key initiative of the Trust, compris...

AKDN / Adrien Buchet


Mosque of Amir Aqsunqur al-Nassery, also known as the Blue Mosque (1347), Darb al-Ahmar, Cairo, Egypt.

AKDN / Matjaz Kacicnik

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Khayrbek Mosque Complex. Mausoleum, after restoration. Given its location adjacent to the southern gate to al-...

AKDN / Adrien Buchet

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Egypt | Cultural Development

2 million

Al-Azhar Park, formerly a rubbish dump, hosts nearly two million visitors per year

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Al-Azhar Park represents the transformation of a rubble dump that had been used for over 500 years into one of Cairo's largest green spaces, including a formal garden area, palm avenue and water channel.

AKDN / Christian Richters

Al-Azhar Park

With nearly two million visitors a year, the US$ 30 million Al-Azhar Park – a gift from His Highness the Aga Khan to the city of Cairo – not only generates enough funds for its own maintenance (through gate and restaurant receipts), but has proven to be a powerful catalyst for urban renewal in the neighbouring district of Darb al-Ahmar.

The project included the excavation and extensive restoration of the 12th-century Ayyubid Wall and the rehabilitation of important monuments and landmark buildings in the historic centre. It encompassed an extensive social development programme, including vocational training, housing rehabilitation, street and open space improvement, micro-credit and healthcare facilities.

Overcoming Technical Issues

The multidisciplinary project presented complex technical issues, including highly saline soils and the incorporation in the park of three large fresh water reservoirs for the city of Cairo, each 80 metres in diameter and 14 metres deep. Builders had to clear a 500-year-old accumulation of fill and debris. The massive excavation required moving 1.5 million cubic metres of rubble and soil, the equivalent of more than 80,000 truckloads.

The horticultural challenges were also formidable. After the creation of specialist nurseries to identify and grow the best plants and trees for the soil, terrain and climate, over two million plants and trees were propagated. Over 655,000 have now been planted in the park.

To extricate the 12th-century Ayyubid Wall, which had been buried up to its crenellated battlements, it proved necessary to excavate to a depth of 15 metres. A 1.5-kilometre section of the historic wall, with several towers and battlements almost intact, then appeared in all its splendour. Find out more

Revitalising the Neighbourhood

In the adjacent low-income neighbourhood of Darb al-Ahmar, AKTC offered job training and employment opportunities in sectors such as shoemaking, furniture manufacturing and tourist goods production. Apprenticeships for automobile electronics, mobile telephones, computers, masonry, carpentry and office skills were made available. Micro-credit loans enabled residents to open small businesses such as carpentry shops and a dry cleaner. Hundreds of young men and women in Darb Al Ahmar found work in the park, in horticulture and on project teams restoring the Ayyubid Wall.

Several sites and important monuments have been restored, including nine historic structures, which include the 14th-century Umm al Sultan Shabaan Mosque, the Khayrbek complex (encompassing a 13th-century palace, a mosque and an Ottoman house), Tarabay al-Sherif, Amir Aslam al-Silahdar Mosque and the Darb Shoughlan School, now used as a school for performing arts sponsored by the Aga Khan Music Programme.

Local housing has been renovated through a housing credit scheme that offers home owners the means and knowledge to rehabilitate their own houses.

Working with Local Communities

The project demonstrates that there is an alternative to traditional remedies to arrest the decline of historic neighbourhoods. AKTC’s approach has been to stimulate rehabilitation without displacing residents. This has been achieved largely by ensuring that residents have a stake in the future of their community.

As with all our undertakings, the approach has been to work with local residents to identify priorities and then take practical steps to address these needs. The construction of the park and the restoration of cultural monuments are meant to be catalysts for social and economic development and the overall improvement of the quality of life in the district. At the same time, the park offers a new vantage point with spectacular views of Historic Cairo’s countless architectural treasures. It draws foreign tourists and the inhabitants of greater Cairo alike to this once-neglected area.

Kronos Quartet em concerto, Cairo, Egito. AKDN / Zoran Orlic

Kronos Quartet in concert, Cairo, Egypt.

AKDN / Zoran Orlic

Aga Khan Music Programme

House of Arts and Culture (DAR) is an administrative entity established by the Aga Khan Music Programme to manage and operate its projects in Egypt. The Programme receives support from donors including the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, as well as collaborators such as the Aga Khan Foundation and Om Habibeh Foundation.

DAR’s projects aim to educate Egyptian youth in artistic disciplines that can lead to future employment opportunities as performing artists. The arts offer youth a chance to explore and connect with their cultural heritage, while creating pathways to a promising new future. At the same time, DAR raises awareness about the value of arts and their role in community and economic development.

Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School was established in 2011. It serves children aged 10-18 through its vocational approach to arts training. Classes are offered in accordion, clarinet, drums, oud, percussion, trombone, and trumpet.

Aswan Music Project opened in 2018. It provides young people up to age 25 with free classes in the traditional music of Aswan, other regions of Egypt and the Arab world. Classes are offered in oud, percussion, and tanbour, and traditional woodwind instruments such as nay, kawala, and arghul.

Both Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School and the Aswan Music Project benefit from the active involvement of the communities they are designed to serve. Current students and graduates have opportunities to perform in DAR ensembles as part of cultural initiatives, private concerts and international festivals.

Find out more about the Aga Khan Music Programme