What’s in a street name? A Cairo guidebook explains

Updated 26 September 2018
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What’s in a street name? A Cairo guidebook explains

  • This guidebook is anything but ordinary
  • A visit to Cairo is a trip through the ages

BEIRUT: Cairo, sometimes called the City of a Thousand Minarets or Mother of the World, has grown into a megalopolis unlike any other. A visit to Cairo is a trip through the ages — from the immutable pyramids to the humongous medieval open mall in Khan Al-Khalili and right up to the 19th century under the rule of Ismail Pasha, the khedive of Egypt and Sudan. He stressed the importance of urban planning and transformed Downtown Cairo into a bastion of fashion and elegance known as “Paris on the Nile.”
This “Field Guide to the Street Names of Central Cairo,” by Humphrey Davies and Lesley Lababidi, may seem like a typical guidebook, yet it is anything but ordinary. The authors’ singular passion for Cairo provided them with the inspiration and resilience to uncover the truth behind the frequent renaming of the city streets and the plethora or absence of street signs.
“Street signs are missing, or damaged, or concealed behind storefronts. More remarkably, signs bearing different names sometimes appear on the same street. This may be due partly to the fact that signs can be ordered by private citizens from specialized hardware stores,” write Humphrey and Lababidi.
Tourists will, without a doubt, find this handbook terribly useful as they roam through Central Cairo across the picturesque Zamalek, Garden City or Munira. However, this guide has been written especially for the true, unconditional lovers of Cairo.
Not everyone loves this city, and not anyone can love this city. To love Cairo is to see the unseen. To love Cairo is to grasp that intangible and elusive quality of time, where the past drifts into the present and the present lingers in the past.
In the ever-changing light of the day, between past, present and future, this multi-layered city gives you a glimpse of eternity. This precious little book rekindles memories and brings to life the forgotten streets, lanes, alleys and passageways of Central Cairo.


What We Are Reading Today: Ottoman Baroque by Ünver Rüstem

Updated 16 October 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Ottoman Baroque by Ünver Rüstem

  • Ünver Rüstem reclaims the label “Ottoman Baroque” as a productive framework for exploring the connectedness of Istanbul’s 18th-century buildings to other traditions of the period

With its idiosyncratic yet unmistakable adaptation of European Baroque models, the 18th-century architecture of Istanbul has frequently been dismissed by modern observers as inauthentic and derivative, a view reflecting broader unease with notions of Western influence on Islamic cultures. 

In Ottoman Baroque — the first English-language book on the topic — Ünver Rüstem provides a compelling reassessment of this building style and shows how between 1740 and 1800 the Ottomans consciously co-opted European forms to craft a new, politically charged, and globally resonant image for their empire’s capital.

Rüstem reclaims the label “Ottoman Baroque” as a productive framework for exploring the connectedness of Istanbul’s 18th-century buildings to other traditions of the period. Using a wealth of primary sources, he demonstrates that this architecture was in its own day lauded by Ottomans and foreigners alike for its fresh, cosmopolitan effect. Purposefully and creatively assimilated, the style’s cross-cultural borrowings were combined with Byzantine references that asserted the Ottomans’ entitlement to the Classical artistic heritage of Europe. 

Such aesthetic rebranding was part of a larger endeavor to reaffirm the empire’s power at a time of intensified East-West contact, taking its boldest shape in a series of imperial mosques built across the city as landmarks of a state-sponsored idiom.

Copiously illustrated and drawing on previously unpublished documents, Ottoman Baroque breaks new ground in our understanding of Islamic visual culture in the modern era and offers a persuasive counterpoint to Eurocentric accounts of global art history.