Friday, November 16, 2012

Paris in Cairo?

Providence, November 15, 2012

I'm not sure if Place des Vosges inaugurated the practice of carving urban space out of existing urban fabric, but the experience of Paris had certainly an enormous impact throughout the world.  Just look for example at a map of Cairo at the time of the ambitious modern ruler of Egypt, Isma'il Pasha (1863-79.)  The image is dominated by the dense fabric of Medieval Cairo with its characteristic irregular pattern of narrow streets.  Then, more or less on the northwest corner you see the very same footprint of Place Vendôme!  No, it's really not a square, more of an urban park, the Ezbekiya Gardens.  Still, the similarity is telling, don't you think?  Particularly when you see the most Houssmannian of avenues--at the time named after Isma'il's grandfather, Muhamad Ali, from whom he took on the modernizing impulse--reaching all the way to the oposite corner of the old city to end at the carefully shaped  square in front of the Sultan Hassan Mosque complex.  Also, between the old city and the Nile, the map begins to show the traces of a new, much more regular city of orthogonal streets with diagonals and spaces such as Midan Talaat Harb or Midan Moustafa Kamel that are not hard to relate to the circular Place des Victoires.

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