These 137 slides are of Cairo and the satellite city of 6th Of October that were taken in 1989 on a short visit. Cairo is the largest city in Egypt. Its population is subject to some debate, but officially the metropolitan region has more than 17 million persons, though some sources put it at greater than 20 million. In 1989 when the slides were taken, the metro area had a population of around 10 million.
The focus of the study was on residential housing, but put into a larger context of public and private space. In Islamic societies, there is a strong distinction made between public space and private (household) space. The organization of the metro area, especially the older parts, reflects this. In the public areas, there are large squares or traffic circles where major arterials merge, such as the famous Tahrir Square in central Cairo. Away from the public areas are residential neighborhoods which are often organized in a compact manner. The streets making up the neighborhood converge on a public area (called a souq or souk) where commerce occurs (i.e., local markets). The residential streets are usually very narrow and frequently end in cul-de-sacs. With many of the older residences, there are often gates that separate the street from the private house. This arrangement can be seen in some of the slides.
At the same time, the population has grown extremely fast and has overwhelmed much planning. While there have been master plans for Cairo since the 1950s, they are continually being revised to accommodate the growth. Many low income households cannot afford to live in residential buildings so, instead, there are all kinds of informal buildings arrangements, either in the periphery of the city or sometimes on top of existing buildings.
One of the most unique livings arrangements is found in the City of the Dead, an Islamic cemetery that goes back to the 7th century. The cemetery was primarily organized into family tombs which were enclosed structures, often with gates, where family members were buried. They usually had no roof. The cemetery still exists as a cemetery but increasingly has absorbed people who live in it. Due to urban renewal efforts that displaced populations, the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, and the sheer lack of available housing, families began to live in abandoned tombs. During the documentation of Cairo there was evidence of not just people inhabiting the cemetery but actual development within it – electric lines being brought in, tombs being roofed over, second floors being added on, and actual apartment buildings being constructed in the cemetery. The boundary between the cemetery and adjacent neighborhoods has become very blurred as some of these slides show. Apparently, this development has continued since 1989.
Starting in the mid-1950s, the Cairo master plan conceived of satellite cities near to Cairo that would absorb a lot of the population growth. There are currently six such cities in the region. By 1989, there was already one built and one under construction, the 6th of October City, which was photographed. These cities have grown very slowly and have absorbed much less of the population growth than was planned for. Part of the reason is the lack of employment opportunities in these cities as many residents have to commute to Cairo for work. Eventually, these cities will become real places through sheer population growth but it is taking a very long time.
The slides are organized into six sections:
1. The geographical context of Cairo on the Nile, 143 kilometers west of the Suez Canal and adjacent to the Sphynx and Great Pyramids of Giza - 9 slides
2. The public and commercial areas of central Cairo - 26 slides. These are sub-divided into public buildings around Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Railway Station, the Saladin Citidel, the Islamic Cairo area with its mosques, Cairo University, and commercial areas.
3. Residential Areas and Neighborhood Souqs – 49 slides. These are sub-divided into upper and middle income residential buildings, neighborhoods, residential streets within neighborhoods, the commercial areas (souqs) that serve the neighborhood, and low income housing throughout the metro area.
4. The City of the Dead – 18 slides. These show the structure of the cemetery, the inhabitants who lived in it at the time of documentation (1989), and the developments that were occurring that blended into the surrounding neighborhoods.
5. The people of Cairo – 20 slides. Photographs of various people on the street or working in businesses or, in one case, watching a street performance.
6. The satellite city of 6th of October, which is about 48 kilometers southwest of Cairo – 15 slides.