Aqsunqur Mosque (Blue Mosque)

AKDN / Matjaz Kacicnik

Ottoman Houses at Khayrbek. Ottoman house 25, after restoration. The restoration of the Khayrbek complex has b...

AKTC / Adrien Buchet

A microfinance credit programme assists merchants in Darb al-Ahmar.

AKTC / Gary Otte

The Historic Cities Programme works to improve the lives of the residents of Darb al-Ahmar, a district close t...

AKTC / Tara Todras-Whitehall

Interior of Burg al-Mahruq after restoration.

AKTC / Christian Richters

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Historic Cities Programme in Cairo

Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt. The creation of the 30-hectare (74-acre) Al-Azhar park, undertaken in the historic district of Cairo by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, has become a catalyst for urban renewal in one of the most congested cities in the world. With nearly two million visitors a year, the US$ 30 million 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.

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 involvement of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in Egypt began in 1984 with the decision to donate a park to the citizens of Cairo. A 30-hectare site formed by debris accumulated over centuries was selected because of its potential to become a ‘lung’ at the centre of the Old City. Following a major programme of debris removal and the creation of specialised plant nurseries to identify the best plants and trees for the soil, terrain and climate, the former rubble dump has been transformed into a thriving green park.

Cairo is one of the densest cities in the world, with the green space per person among the lowest in the world. The hilly topography of Al-Azhar Park offers an immensely popular green space, elevated viewpoints dominating the city and a spectacular 360° panorama over the adjacent townscape of historic Cairo. Gardens and pavilions in the classical Islamic tradition, surrounded by geometrically planted orchards, enhance the arrival point on the edge of a lake. Playgrounds make it family-friendly and safe.

The Park is aiming to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2032. Solar panels, energy-efficient water pumps, and other measures have begun to be implemented.

Read more about the Park

View of the Historic City Wall and al-Darb al-Ahmar from the park.

AKTC / Anthony Wain

Historic Wall

During the grading works for Al-Azhar Park, the major portion of the remaining Ayyubid Wall (fortifications were begun in 1176 by Salah al-Din) emerged over a length of approximately 1,500m from the debris accumulated over the last centuries.

The conservation treatments carried out between 2000 and 2008 started with the launching of pilot interventions on limited sections of the Historic Wall. These were gradually extended to greater portions of the monument. We used internationally accepted standards of conservation, preferring retention or compatible repair of the original fabric over reconstruction.

The outer face of the wall is now exposed to view. Planning and design policies have been developed for the residential fabric abutting the wall, points of access and the pedestrian promenade along the western edge of the Park.

To reinforce local expertise, the project served as a training ground for the development of skills among Egyptian professionals and craftspeople through on-the-job training activities such as stone cutting.

Read more about the Ayyubid Wall

The Historic Cities Programme works to improve the lives of the residents of Darb al-Ahmar, a district close to Al-Azhar Park, as with this computer class.

AKTC / Tara Todras-Whitehall

Darb al-Ahmar Urban Regeneration and Social Projects

In the adjacent historically rich but low-income neighbourhood of Darb al-Ahmar, our urban regeneration activities included the rehabilitation of important monuments as well as an extensive social development programme including vocational training, housing rehabilitation, street and open space improvement, micro-credit programmes and healthcare facility provision.

We offered training and employment opportunities in local sectors such as furniture manufacturing and tourist goods production, as well as apprenticeships for automobile electronics, computers, masonry, carpentry and office skills. Micro-credit loans enabled residents to open small businesses such as carpentry shops.

A housing credit scheme offered homeowners the means to rehabilitate their houses. The Darb al-Ahmar housing rehabilitation programme was selected by UN-HABITAT in 2008 as a ‘Best Practice’ for improving the living environment.

A healthcare centre and a community centre for literacy classes were set up in the area, along with specific programming such as early childhood education, literacy training and adult education, and combating violence against women.

Finally, hundreds of young men and women in Darb-Al-Ahmar found work in the park, in horticulture and on project teams restoring the Historic Wall.

Woodwork training in Darb Al-Ahmar, Cairo.

AKTC / Gary Otte


  • Caritas (Egypt)

  • Centre for Development Services

  • Daimler Chrysler (Egypt)

  • Danny and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation

  • Egypt Industrial Training Council

  • Egyptian Construction Federation

  • Egyptian-Swiss Development Fund

  • Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany

  • Flora Family Foundation

  • Ford Foundation

  • German Foreign Office

  • Global Affairs Canada

  • Global Environment Fund/United Nations Development Programme

  • Goethe Institute

  • GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit)

  • Industrial Modernization Centre

  • Industrial Modernization Centre, AzharPark, Caritas (Egypt)

  • Integrated Care Society

  • KFW Entwicklungsbank

  • Kohl Initiative

  • Microsoft (Egypt)

  • Ministry of Economic Affairs for the State of Baden-Wurttemberg (Germany)

  • Mubarak Kohl Initiative

  • Near East Foundation

  • Social Fund for Development

  • The American University in Cairo, Mubarak

  • United Nations Development Programme

  • World Monuments Fund

Umm al-Sultan Shaaban Mosque, Cairo.

AKTC / Adrien Buchet

Restoration of Monuments

Several sites and important monuments in Darb al-Ahmar have been restored, including nine historic structures. They 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. We are currently restoring the 14th-century al-Maridani Mosque.

The scope of these projects included documentation and condition surveys, structural stabilisation, and architectural and fine conservation and restoration. This was coupled with archaeological excavations and surrounding landscape work where necessary, along with the installation of lighting and sound systems and the design and construction of new ablution areas. Training was provided for local craftsmen and conservators in the process and the restored mosques were returned for use by the community.


  • World Monuments Fund

  • American Research Center in Egypt

Guided visit of the touristic route.


Darb al-Ahmar Tourism Promotion

The monument restoration part of the broader urban regeneration project in Darb al-Ahmar has now been completed.

With EU funding since 2018, 12 of the restored monuments have been connected by a unique touristic route. The route allows visitors to experience Darb al-Ahmar’s wealth of historic mosques, madrasas, mausolea and ancient handicraft markets.

Visitors are taken by a professional guide on electric cars along the two-kilometre path. They can step into historic spaces, some of which are fully integrated into the local daily life (mosques) and some which are otherwise inaccessible to the public.

Managed by the local subsidiary, Aga Khan Cultural Services Egypt, the tour is expected to welcome more than 3,000 visitors in 2023. The increase in tourism is expected to impact thousands of families and artisans in the area.

The project also encompasses training and capacity building of local businesses in tourism management, promotion of small businesses and pollution reduction in al-Darb al-Ahmar. This includes tourism-orientated English language training, upgrading of craft shop facades along the route; and the final phase of restoration of al-Maridani Mosque.

The tourist route was inaugurated in February 2023 by Dr Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who noted: “This path was equipped to provide access to and preserve Islamic cultural heritage in Cairo by strengthening the role of tourism as a major catalyst for local social and economic development.”

Visit the touristic route website

Read more about the route


  • European Union