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Controversy in Islamic Cairo
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 21 - 02 - 2019

The demolition of the ruins of the Al-Anbareen Wekala (market) in Islamic Cairo created controversy among heritage professionals and activists last week even though the remains represented a threat to the lives of users and were not in fact the original structure, reports Nevine El-Aref.
Opponents of the demolition said the structure was a monument registered on Egypt's Antiquities List of Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Heritage and that it had been neglected before it was demolished.
They said that the demolition was the first step towards the demolition of other “undesirable edifices” in Al-Muizz Street in Islamic Cairo with a view to replacing them with new ones likely to bring in more money.
The Al-Anbareen Wekala should have been restored and turned into a museum of perfumes instead of being demolished, the activists said.
Supporters of the demolition said the Wekala was not registered as a monument on the country's Heritage List and that the Ministry of Antiquities had not been involved with the building or its demolition.
“The edifice was not a complete building as some people believe, but was a set of ruins,” Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, supervisor of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said it was a roofless and destroyed structure with the exception of its decaying façade.
According to the Arab writer Al-Maqrizi in his book Kitab al-khitat al-maqriziyah, the now-demolished ruins were once the site of the area's perfume market and were originally the Al-Mauna Prison during the Fatimid period before being turned into a market for perfumes under the later Mamelukes.
However, the market was largely demolished when trading in perfumes ended. The building that has now been demolished was damaged over time, including in 2005 and 2017 when it was badly damaged by fire with the exception of its decayed façade.
Abdel-Aziz said that the Permanent Committee for Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Antiquities had three times refused to register the building on the relevant Heritage List in 2004, 2015 and 2016 because it had lost its outstanding universal value and retained nothing of its archaeological or decorative elements or original plan and structure.
These are the criteria usually used for inscription under the UNESCO Venice Charter.
“Ruins are not a monument,” Abdel-Aziz said. “We have to differentiate between a market which is an open place that sells only one type of goods with several small shops or bazaars selling their goods on tables in the street and a wekala which is a complete building selling various kinds of goods and having a dormitory for traders.”
The Al-Anbareen Wekala had in fact vanished like others established during the mediaeval period, he added, in the same way that the Suq al-silah (the weapons market) and the Suq al-sanadiqiyeen (the boxes market) did not exist anymore aside from the areas to which they have given their names.
The Suq al-nahhasin (the copper market) still exists in the area of Al-Hussein, he said.
Those who fear that the site of the now-demolished building could be transformed into a residential building or mall were “living in a dreamland,” Abdel-Aziz said.
“Historic Cairo is registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the world's oldest Islamic cities, with its famous mosques, madrasas, hammams and fountains,” he said.
“It was once a centre of the Islamic world, reaching its golden age in the 14th century, and modern regulations prohibit the construction of any building that is not is keeping with the Old City's fabric,” he added.

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