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Cairo’s green spaces: coming to an accommodation

One of the paradoxes of Cairo is that, from the air, it really doesn’t look very green at all, if you exclude the immediate area around the Nile and Al-Azhar Park, yet once on the ground you realize that the story is a great deal more complex, and more tantalizing.

The usual adjectives applied to the city are along the lines of “incredibly densely populated”, “badly polluted”, “dusty and grimy,” “gridlocked” and so on. So how in the world is it possible for plants to gain a foothold and for trees of stately proportions to find a safe haven in a C21 megacity with a bad case of urban sprawl to boot?

The answer is that mankind and nature, as so often, have come to an accommodation of sorts. It doesn’t always work, as we shall see, but it throws up all sorts of interesting variations on the theme of getting along with one another…The Complete Home, Roda Isl

This is a brilliant way to find a modus vivendi in a confined urban space: seating, transport and (possibly) washing facilities are accommodated by the tree, while across the road, just visible in the photograph, is the food stall where hot, fresh meals are available on demand for the owner/occupant!

At other times, it is the flora that have accommodated themselves to the needs and structures of social/political man – take this tree in the crowded Bab El-Wazir area of medieval Cairo, just below the great Citadel:

Notwithstanding balconies, lines of washing, power lines, numerous small workshops and the inevitable oversupply of cars, such urban trees have a habit of getting along just fine; you see them everywhere.

Smaller plants may manage in even stranger surroundings – witness this one (too high to identify) that I found lodging in a building near Kasr El-Nil Street, a main thoroughfare in the heart of the C19 metropolis lined by grand buildings in the Italian and French style:
Off Kasr El-Nil St

Not surprisingly, the richest areas for flora are the botanical gardens established to the west of the medieval city, between Port Said Street and the Nile, by Egypt’s C19 rulers, the Khedives, descendants of the redoubtable Mohammed Ali (ruled 1805-48). The gardens include Ezbekiyah (now a shadow of what it once was), Gezirah and El-Urman in Giza. And in some places the banks of the Nile, going from the wild and unkempt near Roda Island to the well-tended closer in to Garden City, form a haven for plant and wild life along the city’s north-south axis.
Kasr El-Aini fr Roda
Above: Close to Roda Island, the vegetation is left more-or-less to its own devices while (below) the greenery is better groomed once you approach Garden City; both photos taken in late summer 2013.
Corniche Garden City
Sadly, the accommodation between man and nature may all too easily break down under the strains of urban living or political and social turmoil. Cairo’s environment and historic infrastructure have been under severe pressure for years; more recent events have only added to the stresses, resulting in a sad fate for a number of the city’s trees and other plants, particularly in the area of Tahrir Square and Mohammed Mahmoud Street.
Mohd. Mahmoud Street

(More on the parks and gardens of khedival Cairo to come…)

About the new Banner:
The Jasmine Garden, spring 2014
– Honey bee on local basil plant (rihaan)
– Golden colours in the morning sun, calendulas in bloom
– Orange blossom, the sweetest perfume in the spring garden

All banner photos by Nadia Ismail: view on Flickr at Nadia Ismail Photography

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Enjoyed reading this.
    FIrst I thought it was banyan tree on top of that building, Its a common sight in India. Even on small cracks on building they will grow.

    March 20, 2014
  2. Forgot to mention new banner looks great.

    March 20, 2014
    • Hello again Asha, I am so glad you liked the post and the new banner. Thanks to Nadia for working up the new look. I have enjoyed your photography on Flickr too – it’s a great resource.
      I find it hard to imagine a banyan tree growing in a small space, but I guess they don’t all become huge. Again, we see them here in Cairo and they grow to an impressive size. There seems to have been a fashion in the late C19 for planting European-style parks in the city, as well as in Alexandria, with collections gathered from across the world. I am surprised to see plants from the Himalayas growing in Egypt – demonstrates real adaptability.

      March 21, 2014

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