November 25, 2022
Cairo (city) through the eyes of a day-tripper.
My regular readers know perfectly well how I get all over the world – from the freezing far farthest north, via sunny equatorial tropics, and back to freezing temperatures in the farthest south. Some places are fancy, shiny and hi-tech (like Singapore and Dubai); others – not so much (like Madagascar and Zambia). But no matter how “not so much” a place may be, I always try to stick to the good bits in my reports here on this blog – never dwelling on the downsides to a place. However, when it came to Cairo, I had some trouble adhering to this personal policy of mine…
There are some nice new neighborhoods in Cairo. There’s New Cairo for example – a rather decent, modern district on the outer edge of the capital. And there’s Smart Village – a hi-tech business and ministerial district also on the outskirts, and also looking good.
Some of the older districts of Egypt’s capital are just so totally crazily brutal: high-rise residential blocks as densely packed together as is (in!)human(e)ly possible – window to window. Scores of square kilometers of what looked to me like 10+-story buildings with mere meters between them all!
I was so taken aback at the spectacle that I didn’t think to take any photos of of it (remember – I normally snap the good stuff). But now I regret not doing so. So for this post I had to turn to the internet for pics; for example – satellite pictures:
But it’s not just the compactness; it’s also the architecture of these buildings: maximally brutal. And even the ones that line the Nile (you’d think they might have put a little more effort into their aesthetics, but no!)! ->
// Here, when writing, I took a break. It was time to pack the case, jump into a taxi, and race (I wish) to the airport
// Here I am again – on the plane. Now, where was I?…
So – why such dense construction of residential areas? I put it to our Fan Klub, and some of the boffins there reckon it’s because it’s generally so hot in Egypt, and having the buildings so close together means the sunlight is mostly blocked everywhere. But, then – why don’t I see this natural-keeping-cool method applied in other countries in the Middle East?
I’ve my own (Kasperological) version. Now, have another look… ->
Ok – what caught your eye first? Me too – those thin stretches of lawn! This got me thinking. Could it be that folks sell their narrow gardens to property developers/construction companies?…
Is this how things were/are? ->
- There’s fertile land, but not much;
- It was all divvied up long ago;
- Over time, agriculture improves, other lands become irrigated, plus there are plenty of imports;
- The population increases, and all those folks need somewhere to live – preferably on fertile land;
- Selling up now trumps taking the long-term approach ($$$s now? Yes please!);
- The state has other matters to worry about (so doesn’t control this organic, laissez-faire property-capitalism);
- All this leads to housing developments squeezed onto plots of land once they’re bought up.
// And now for a brief digression – about population density…
I’m being hard on Cairo here since, actually, it’s by far not the champion on this…
Here’s an interesting online resource – a list of the most densely-populated cities of the world (a bit of filtering is necessary – check out No. 3 in the list: it’s a “city” with an area of… just a square mile!).
So, according to this ranking, Cairo has a population density of around 16,000 folks per square kilometer, which is around three times as dense as, for example, London or Moscow. That’s a lot, of course, but it’s nothing on, for example, the cities of the Philippines or the capital of Bangladesh (~40,000 and 30,000 folks per km², respectively!). And how does it stack up against Manhattan (I thought New York City [the top city in my Top-20 listing] was the city?!)? Cairo has just over half of its population density.
So where else in the world is super-dense? Karachi is – 25,000. Paris – 20,000. And what about my favorite Singapore? “Just” 7800. That’s still dense, but it’s a city-garden (or garden-city), and I reaaaally want to get back there. Hong Kong? 6700. Tokyo, with those famously rammed metro carriages? 6400! Surely not?!
Ok folks, back to Cairo…
As that 1-through-7 list of mine above indicates, I reckon the devilish population density of Cairo is down to folks selling their strips of land, which in the past were used for micro-agriculture, but today – hardly. Folks prefer the cash (or the rental payments from apartments if they have a stake in their construction?), not a vegetable patch – or a pretty lawn, and state regulation is completely absent. That’s my theory, anyway. What do you think (or know), dear readers?…
As we were driving along the evidently modern highway through Cairo, I wondered how they managed to cut through the dense seas of older buildings…
I didn’t notice this while on the highway, but when I looked it up on the net – I found out: they clearly demolished the ones directly in the way, and literally cut through buildings that bordered the highway being constructed! ->
Like I say, I didn’t take any photos myself, but here’s one of a building from inside the above red square, which I found later (source) ->
And here’s another pic from the net (source) showing a similarly brazen act of act of highway-construction vandalism! ->
Still, like I wrote at the beginning of this post – it’s not all bad. There are some nice neighborhoods in Cairo. But the old, overly-cramped ones… yikes.
Then there are the roads…
There don’t seem to be pedestrian crossings across them – at all (I did see some footbridges, but very few). So pedestrians just jaywalk across roads. And this goes for highways too! And those highways – drivers take no notice of road markings. In all – a mess; a hazardous one at that. But I’m afraid I don’t have a photo of this phenomenon to share with you folks (my photo-taking finger was too occupied constantly lifting my agape mouth:)!
And then there’s the traffic. You think Manhattan, London or Moscow’s traffic’s bad? Wait till you experience Cairo’s…
We finally made it through the traffic to our next mode of transport – riverboat – for brief Nile excursion. Though it started to drizzle, this was sure better than being on the roads. Here are a few pics I took – confirming that Cairo can be charming ) ->
Come evening, and we were at the top of Cairo Tower for the hazy sunset ->
Btw, getting into the tower building takes quite a while – even with the “fast track” option, and the should-be-simple process of buying entry tickets for some reason resembled haggling at a bazaar! So be warned: plenty of patience is needed!
Still, the views from the top made the wait + haggling worth it ->
In the far distance (through the smog!) you can just make out the Pyramids sitting proud and stoic:
In some parts of the city – parks! ->
Next up for us – into that there traffic and to the airport to catch our plane to Luxor!…
The rest of the photos from Egypt are here.