photo courtesy of Dalida Magazine
We are the city. We are the hustle and bustle and those endless walks amidst ancient buildings leaning on trees that watched our grandparents grow. We are the streets that twist and turn, widen and narrow down to small allies that bare the treasure of time. We are those old songs that get remixed and never fall out of fashion. We are the city that owns the truth and all our versions of it.
Own the City is a series documenting the social history of historic districts of Egypt.
Share your memories and photographs of your favourite neighbourhood with us and we will add/update it to the story that runs for one month.
Walking the historic district of Shubra needs a passionate guide who knows the blue print of the rapid changing streets and all the intangible cultural elements still lingering in the balconies. Ahram Online walks with Mina Ibrahim, anthropology researcher, and founder of SARD Shubra Archive,
Though the name Shubra is derived from the Coptic word Shubro, meaning village, it is hard to see traces of all the greenery that was there now. According to Mina Ibrahim, Shubra was the posh residence of 19th century upper class, after Mohamed Ali, the ruler of Egypt at that time and founder of Modern Egypt, built his palace there in Shubra El-Kheima.
Soon the tramway tracks, which found their way to Shubra, made the high end district more accessible and the district had a growing middle class population. Since world war I, it became the refuge of Europeans who came to escape the war. This transformed the district into a cosmopolitan cultural hub where the majority of residents were Italians. One of those Italian Families was that of the Italian/French music diva Dalida.
At 11 Khamraweih Street, a metal sign, part of the lived here cultural project, states that Dalida lived here. It is easy to picture Dalida sitting in her balcony and wandering off the social limitations that her parents have put on her ever since she was a teenager. The charm of the European styled building is washed off by the harsh hands of time. But beyond the hustle of the supermarket down her balcony it is easy to trace back some memories of the Diva.
According to the September 2017 issue of Dalida Magazine, an Egyptian local publication focused on Shubra and Downtown Cairo, Dalida was born in Shubra, Cairo in 1933 to an Italian Family. Her father was a talented musician and her mother was a seamstress. She was the second of three siblings (she had two brothers).
As a child, Dalida was bullied because of her eye condition, which led her to wear glasses. The timid, shy girl had a godmother, sister Isabella her school teacher, who soothed her pain and told her she was the most beautiful girl. It was not until her early teens that Dalida managed to break away from all the bullying and celebrate her inner beauty. One day she threw away her funny glasses from the balcony.
She secretly joined the Miss Egypt beauty pageant several times until she won the title in 1954. Soon she was featured in several Egyptian movies and traveled to France to pursue her acting career that turned into a musical one: she became an iconic singer whose voice continues to charm the audience, decades after her death.
Ibrahim narrates the following story:"In the 1920s, a dispute erupted between the tram workers and the upper class residents of Shubra during prayer time in Massarra Church, after a poor woman was denied a chair to sit in favor of a rich worshipper," .As result, continues Ibrahim, the tram workers "built the second biggest church in Shubra on Khamraweyah Street".
Since a considerable number of Shubra's residents are Coptic, the historic district was – and still is – home to numerous famous Coptic churches and other churches for other smaller Christian denominations. This cultural diversity defined and enriched social life in the district through the 1950s and 1960s. Therefore, it is normal to see statues or paintings of the Virgin and of the saints in this district.
"The Greatest Saint of Modern Times".
On El-Barad street, one of Shubra's main streets, stands the colourful Basilica of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, one of Shubra's iconic spiritual sites. The 1,932 year old building was founded in honor of Saint Theresa, who is often known as The greatest saint of modern times. Saint Theresa is greatly honored and venerated by Egyptians. Lots of thank you notes have been enscribed on marble tiles that still hang inside the church. Famous singing icons Abdel-Halim Hafez and Nagat hung their thank you notes there as well .