author of “Maadi 1904-1962: society and history in a Cairo
suburb”, is a writer and journalist. He maintains a website “Egy.com”
dedicated to modern history of his native city.
Given the present decay, overcrowding and haphazard
planning in central Cairo, it may sometimes be difficult to grasp that
the modern city was once architecturally attractive. However, the period
from the end of the nineteenth century up until the 1950s witnessed
an architectural flowering, with a variety of styles existing side by
side: baroque, neo-classical, art nouveau, art deco, rococo khedivial,
colonial, Bauhaus, Italian renaissance, arabesque and neo-pharaonic.
Altogether this produced an eclectic riot of elegant buildings.
This book records for posterity much that has already been physically
lost and plenty that is threatened, and yet it is not designed as an
architectural checklist. Samir Raafat has not merely charted the landmarks
of Cairo’s urban tissue but weaves therein tales and anecdotes
of the people who once animated them. We meet, among others, Welsh department
store owners, Swiss hoteliers, imperious Britons, politicians good and
bad, nightclub stars, socialites and assassins.
For any Cairo resident wondering why there is a neo-gothic pile at the
end of the road, “Cairo, the glory years” can provide the
answer. Whether read at home or while pounding the streets, this book
can guide through the multicultural whirl that was Africa’s greatest
city during the first half of the twentieth century.