Garden City, Cairo
Garden City (Egyptian Arabic: جاردن سيتى Garden Siti pronounced [ˈɡɑɾden ˈsiti]) is a wealthy, residential district in Central Cairo that spans the East side of the Nile and just south of downtown, the location of the famous Midan Tahrir (Tahrir Square). Two main streets, Qasr al-Ayni Street on the East and Nile Corniche on the west, delineate the eastern and western borders. Garden City is known for its quiet, upscale, secure atmosphere and as a major destination for wealthy, Western tourists as the U.S., British, and Italian Embassies are all located here. Despite the great political, technological, and industrial changes that occurred in Egypt, Garden City managed to keep its trendy, European feel.
Garden City, in addition to Zamalek, Maadi, Mohandessin, and Heliopolis, is one the wealthy, residential districts in Greater Cairo. Garden City is a marked difference in the development of other neighborhoods and districts in Cairo. Garden City was planned by private investors as opposed to the natural development of cities characterized by the random and often unexplainable migration of people. Its landscape, street layout, architecture, and general atmosphere can be explained by both the nature of its founders and Khedive Ismail's attempts to Europeanize Cairo. Garden City was a city strictly planned by private investors wishing to escape the period of national construction that took place until 1952. Its quiet, windy, tree-lined streets, beautiful gardens, and elegant, ornamental palaces coupled with the proximity to the American and British embassies make it an attractive place for affluent Cairenes and tourists. Furthermore, the geography and landscape more closely resemble a lofty, European village than a North African one. Some of the nicest hotels in Cairo like the Four Seasons, Kempinski, and Semiramis Intercontinental make Garden City a hot spot for rich visitors from the Gulf or from American and Western European travelers looking for a safe area near their embassy. Right outside the Four Seasons is a dock to the Nile, where tourists can take a felucca ride down the Nile or a sunset dinner cruise.
Until the early 1800s, Garden City was only known as the location for Kasr El Aaly, the palace for the mother of Khedive Ismail. The land that makes up Garden City was constantly sought after and was the source of much conflict to parties willing to buy it such as the Nile Land and Agricultural company, American financiers, and Prince Ahmed Kamal Rifaat. Kaiser Wilhelm II also had a residence in Garden City, a palace that would serve as his home when he visited Cairo. In line with the European feel of the district, Italian architect Beyerly designed the palace. Garden City was modeled after an English garden suburb meant to radiate tranquility and security. Its winding, leafy streets often intersect with each other multiple times and graceful palaces and lofty mansions line the streets next to modern banks and other professional buildings. In 1906, Lamba designed it to be an attractive, trendy, tranquil, and secure residential district. From the 1880s to the early 1900s, Egyptians from the older neighborhoods flocked to the trendier, up-and-coming parts of the city including Garden City and Zamalek during the British occupation of Egypt. After 1952, there was a movement in direct response to the period of nationalist construction that took place throughout Egypt. Private investors wishing to escape this sought to create an oasis in Cairo named "Garden City," a city of Gardens. Its European architecture, windy roads, palm-tree lined streets, and proximity to downtown Cairo were contributing factors for a perfect location for the professional elite, like doctors and lawyers, desiring a peaceful lifestyle that differed from many other parts of Cairo where they could still be in the scene (bordering downtown Cairo, Tahrir Square) but live more luxuriously.
Role in the Arab Spring
For the most part, the low-key atmosphere of Garden City and collection of wealthy residents meant that Garden City was not politically active during the Egyptian Revolution. In fact, throughout the majority of political and technological upheaval throughout Cairo, Garden City managed to maintain its chic, first class appearance. However, due to Garden City’s border with Downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square, political unrest spilled over a bit. Furthermore Garden City is the home to the British and U.S. embassies, which drew a lot of protests and security issues throughout the revolution. On September 11, 2012, Egyptian protesters in retaliation of the video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad stormed the U.S. embassy and staged revolts. At one point, protestors climbed over the wall and tried entering the embassy. However, in anticipation of the anniversary of 9/11, most employees had already gone home and so very few were actually inside the building at the time. This security breach highlights the lack of immediately responsive military forces in Garden City, an area known for its peace and quiet. Furthermore, despite the relative low-key atmosphere, there were reports of thug violence in March 2013. Garden City residents reported that bullies set up blockades on certain streets at night, stopping cars and demanding money. If the car’s inhabitants did not pay the 50 Egyptian pounds, the bullies would damage the cars. This also is a huge downfall in the tranquil reputation of Garden City and its paradise-esque rows of windy, tree-lined streets.
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