Al-Khalifa heritage project resumes
The third phase of the Al-Khalifa Area Rehabilitation Project has resumed after securing the required funds, writes Nevine El-Aref
The Al-Khalifa area of Cairo, known for its Islamic monuments, is again in the limelight as the third phase of its rehabilitation project is now set to begin after being put on hold owing to the lack of a budget.
The project is being carried out by the Ministry of Antiquities in collaboration with the Cairo governorate, the built-environment collective Megawra, the Al-Athar Lina (the Monuments are Ours) initiative, and Mashroo Kheir.
Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, director of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the third phase included the implementation of a pilot project to integrate solutions for ground-water problems in historic contexts.
A multi-disciplinary research and training programme with the participation of an international team of architects, conservators, urban planners, and experts in urbanism, environment, infrastructure and water resources had begun this in 2016, he said.
The programme was organised by Megawra and the universities of Oregon and Cornell in the US, with funding from the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE) and the American Embassy in Cairo in partnership with the Ministry of Antiquities and the Cairo governorate.
The team has studied the phenomenon of rising ground water in historic areas and its impact on historic buildings. It has also trained professionals and scholars in the field of heritage conservation on state-of-the-art techniques of the treatment of historic buildings that suffer from high amounts of salt and water damage.
The programme will follow this up by using technologies that can be implemented and that are suitable for the social particularity and economic conditions of the area, with the aim of transforming ground water from a source of harm to a social resource.
The third phase, Abdel-Aziz said, includes the restoration of both the Al-Ashraf Khalil and Fatma Khatoun domes in Islamic Cairo.
The Fatma Khatoun Dome was originally a mausoleum and was once part of the Al-Madrasa Al-Khatouniya and the Madrasa Umm Al-Saleh. During the Ottoman period, it was used as a Sufi hostel. The madrasa (school) no longer exists.
The dome is located on Al-Ashraf Street near the Al-Sayeda Nafisa Mausoleum. It was built by the Mameluke Sultan Al-Ashraf Salaheddin Khalil Ibn Qalawoun for his wife Khawand Khatoun. The mausoleum is composed of an inner square, a minaret and two rows of stalactites within an outer arch.
The Mausoleum of Al-Ashraf Khalil was founded in 687 AH (1288 CE) by Sultan Qalawoun. The lower part is built using stone-crowned stalactites, while the dome is made of brick.
The restoration project aims to preserve both domes from water damage by installing a new drainage system. It will also decrease the level of humidity, consolidate the walls, and repair cracks. The open area in front of the dome is to be converted into a public park, including an open-air theatre, cafeteria, library and a playing area for children. An administrative building is to be provided.
Abdel-Aziz said that the project was part of a long-term plan to develop the Al-Khalifa area, both archaeologically and in terms of urban planning, as a step towards upgrading living standards as well as promoting tourism.
It started in 2012, but was later put on hold because of budgetary problems. It commenced by building a GIS system that included information about the buildings in the area and their heritage value, as well as land use and urban and demographic characteristics. Problems such as water, waste, and open spaces were studied. An anthropological study on the infrastructure and its effects on the quality of life was also commissioned.
Waste tends to accumulate around monuments and historic buildings, and studies of the current waste collection system resulted in recommendations to improve it and avoid some of its faults, in addition to planning parallel participatory systems for recycling inside the area that would lighten the load on the current system while benefiting the area's economic and social systems.
"Also underway is a study of empty lots, which are a health and fire hazard due to waste accumulation," Abdel-Aziz said. He added that in cooperation with the local authorities, these lots had been mapped and cleaned. A study of their ownership status and their potential for temporary use for public benefit is underway.
Other studies include a proposal to solve the problem of sub-surface water that threatens both buildings and residents within an integrated system that treats the water and recycles it.
A daily summer programme for Al-Khalifa's children is being run with the help of volunteers and non-profit organisations in an attempt to establish and strengthen ties between the children and their neighbourhood's heritage at the Al-Khalifa Community Centre.
The children are able to learn about their heritage and participate in art, sports, craft and religious activities in addition to enhancing their basic literacy skills. The centre is run in collaboration with community members. "At the request of parents and children, the educational programme was extended into an after-school programme to which children come on a bi-weekly basis for help with school work and to participate in weekend workshops," Abdel-Aziz said.
He added that an exchange programme between Al-Khalifa's craftsmen and the community of architects and designers had also been adopted that started with carpentry inspired by Al-Khalifa's heritage and included making traditional tin-and-glass lanterns. Periodical exhibitions to put these items on show are being organised.
Within the framework of the project, the mosques and mausoleums of the Prophet Mohamed's granddaughter Al-Sayeda Rokaya, Shagaret Al-Dorr, wife of the Ayoubid Sultan Negmeddin Ayoub, the Prophet Mohamed's aunt Aateka and one of his family members, Al-Gaafari, have already been restored in collaboration with the ARCE and funded by a US grant of $116 million.
The restoration work included the consolidation of the foundations, columns and walls. Cracks that had spread throughout the buildings over the centuries were repaired, while salt that had accumulated in several locations inside and outside the monuments due to humidity was removed.
Wooden decorative elements were restored, while damaged and missing ones were replaced with new ones. A new lighting system was installed, as well as information panels to provide visitors with information on the history of the monuments.
The empty areas within the monuments are to be transformed into service areas for Al-Khalifa residents. They will house a clinic, an events space to celebrate wedding parties and funerary ceremonies, as well as a nursery and a school.
The Al-Sayeda Rokaya Mosque and Mausoleum was built by Al-Sayeda Alam Al-Amireya, the wife of the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah, in remembrance of the Prophet Mohamed's daughter Rokaya. It is located on the western side of Al-Khalifa Street adjacent to the Shagaret Al-Dorr Mosque. The mausoleum has three arcades and two niches with gypsum foliage elements.
Neighbouring it are both the Qubet Aateka and the Al-Gaafari Mausoleum built in 1120 CE in honour of Mohamed Ibn Gaafar, the great-grandson of the Prophet Mohamed's cousin Ali Ibn Abi Taleb. The Qubet Aateka was built in 1122 and belongs to Al-Sayeda Aateka bint Zeid, the aunt of the Prophet Mohamed.
Abdel-Aziz said that the Qubet Aateka was very important because it houses the oldest Fatimid dome still extant, while the Qubet Al-Gaafari and the Al-Sayeda Rokaya Mosque and Mausoleum had distinguished Islamic decorative elements.
The Shagaret Al-Dorr Dome takes the form of a small mausoleum with three keel-arched entrances. The qibla wall facing Mecca has a prayer niche, and the dome of the building still bears some of its original ornamentation, including fluted lozenges and medallions and keel-arched niches with fluted hoods.
The qibla niches are in two rows, their spandrels being finely carved with floral motifs. The whole is framed with an inscription band in naskh script on an ornate background. The wooden frieze running along the walls, with its carved inscriptions and arabesques, may be dated to the Fatimid era and therefore must have belonged to an earlier building.
Shagaret Al-Dorr was an originally Armenian slave who became the wife of the last Ayoubid sultan, Al-Saleh Nagmeddin Ayoub. She played an important political role, and when her husband died she concealed his death to avoid turmoil in the army that was defending Egypt against the Seventh Crusade led by France's King Louis IX.
When news of the sultan's death spread, the Crusaders advanced towards Cairo and attacked the Egyptian camp at Gideila 3km from Mansoura in the Delta. They were later defeated and the French king taken prisoner.
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