I’ve written the following for the embassy newsletter. Typically, my articles for them come out of blog postings, but are edited to remove any possible offensive comments (I was a little worried about my Fish Garden article, which I toned down from my blog posting, but the editor’s comment was, “It’s tasteful but truthful.” So I guess it’s okay). But in this case, I wrote the article first, and figured I’d use it here.
The only added comment I’d make is that it took me a ridiculous amount of time to try to dig up the names of these gardens. Many maps don’t include them at all, some do but lump them all under Andalusian Garden, and other than Hurriya and Andalusian the others are barely referenced in any books or online sources. For being public parks that are between 50-100 years old, I am amazed at how little is known. But I guess that adds to their serenity. There is actually also another one in this grouping, with a really nice statue, but I can never catch it when the gates are open – except for today, when workers were bringing out heaps of dead branches and grasses, so maybe it’s closed for maintenance?
Anyway, here is my piece on the public parks of Zamalek (sans Fish Garden).
Parks Exploration, continued
For anyone who’s driven or walked to Zamalek and crossed over on the Qasr al-Nil Bridge (affectionately known by many as the “Lion Bridge”), you may have noticed some parks, or gardens, on your right along the Nile. But did you know there are actually four separate gardens just in that little stretch? And even more surprising is that each one is different from the others. So a nice and easy outing for an afternoon is to grab a camera, a snack and go explore the public parks of Zamalek, but take along a few pounds as the entrance fee to each one is 2LE.
If you’d like to explore them linearly then have the taxi drop you off by Henri Jacquemart’s lions in front of the Opera House on Zamalek. You can also avoid the whole taxi journey if you take the metro and exit at the Opera stop. But before hitting the Nile-side gardens, cross the street to the Hurriya Garden (this is an added bonus).
The Hurriya Garden (“al-Tahrir Gardens” on the Practical Guide map) was initially called the Ismail Garden when it was designed in the 1870s, and covered over 12 hectares. In 1952 it was renamed “Hurriya” (Freedom) and had been reduced to only 2 hectares (about 4 acres). In addition to the wide paths and tall shade-producing trees, it also houses ten statutes, including Talaat Harb and Hafez Ibrahim, and six Latin American liberators.
Crossing back over Midan Saad Zaghloul (always an exercise in sprightliness), you enter the Andalusian Garden gate from just beside the left lion. This is the only park, among this grouping of four along the Nile, that has direct access to the Nile (whether that’s a positive or a negative, is up to you). It was originally designed as a gift for a royal wife in 1929, but was opened to the public in 1935. It’s also more bench and concrete oriented than the other gardens, which tend to highlight more of the actual nature side of a garden. But there’s no doubt that this is a favorite of the courting couple sect, with a bounty of benches and nice Nile breezes (and only the occasional nosy expat).
Walking around the corner following Al-Gezira Street along the sidewalk, you come to another gate. This is for the Arab Garden, which is the smallest of the gardens. Here you find a nice collection of towering palm trees, stone pathways, some statues, chairs and tables, well-manicured grounds and quaint old-fashioned lamp posts.
Continuing on up Al-Gezira Street, just under the automobile on-ramp for Sixth October Bridge, you find two more gates. These last two gardens are definitely the least populated, though there are always couples to disrupt, but I thought they both were well worth the extra steps (with one housing a little-known artifact from Ramses the Great).
The first gate leads into the Pharaonic Garden. During the day it’s populated with just a spattering of courting couples and some maintenance men pruning, trimming and planting. There are some tables and chairs set up at one end under archways, and throughout there is a nice collection of statues positioned along the paths. The pools and fountains have some stagnant water, but regardless there are flowers and bushes and this is the only place in all of Cairo that I have seen butterflies. The hidden jewel to this garden is the obelisk positioned along the Nile, which is one of a matching set, with the other being at the Cairo airport. These two are from Ramses II (19th Dynasty, reigned 1279-1213 B.C.) and were brought here from Tanis in 1958, and are said to be the only obelisks in Cairo.
The last park in this little collection is River Garden, located just across from the Pharaonic Garden. As per most of the others, the paths and plants are manicured, with nice flower assortments, landscaping and large grassy areas. The grounds continue on under the Sixth October Bridge, to the other side which showcases arches and pergolas covered in flowering plants and vines, with nice little private benches, a gazebo and a quiet circular path. There is active maintenance work occurring, but none of it seemed to bother the couples or the egrets milling about.
I have to add that the names of the gardens vary from source to source, but I tried to choose the ones that seemed to have the most “votes” (from books and online sources). A lot of the details I’ve presented here are from Lesley Lababidi’s book "Cairo’s Street Stories," which I would recommend for anyone curious about interesting and unknown facts, tid-bits and areas of Cairo. Regardless, if you start at the lions on Zamalek and wander north, and hand out 2LE every time you find a gate, I’m sure you’ll discover some noteworthy finds, and may make a few friends along the way (depending on who you give the 2LE to).