26th July Street is more than just a main street that divides the Zamalek district into two: it holds the history of Egypt’s royal families and socialites.
It was formerly Fouad Street after King Fouad I, the first king of modern Egypt who ascended the throne in 1917 when his brother Sultan Hussein Kamel died. It became 26th July Street to mark the day King Farouk left the country after the 23th July revolution in 1952.
Remarkable palaces distinguished 26th July Street most in old times.
The five-star Cairo Marriott hotel was built in 1864 by Khedive Ismail Pasha, who belogonged to the royal dynasty of Mohamed Ali. The grand palace is considered a masterful symbol of oriental architecture.
Besides being the residence of the Khedive’s family, international dignitaries were hosted in its suites during the inauguration of the Suez Canal. Its luxurious antiques, including aubusson salons and tapestries, large decorative mirrors, statues and candle holders, provide one of the main attractions for tourists coming to spend their vacation there now.
In 1906, the palace, with its spectacular view over the Nile and large gardens, was converted into a posh hotel. Opposite the hotel is Aisha Fahmy’s palace, which was initially owned by her brother Aly Pasha from 1907.
After he passed away in 1924, Fahmy bought the palace from the heirs and lived there with her husband the prominent stage actor Youssef Wahbi. In 1975, Ministry of Culture turned the palace into Mogamma al-Fanoon (arts complex). It was the first of its kind in Egypt, comprising seven halls in which hundreds of art exhibitions, symposia and musical concerts have been held. Some say there were other palaces, demolished now and rebuilt as residential buildings.
However, the upscale neighborhood still preserves much of its old charm. A continuous row of buildings along the street–dating back to the 30s and 40s–share the same architectural design, each with a slightly different artistic touch. There are coffee shops and restaurants in Zamalek that have proved their ability to compete with modern, international chains.
Maison Thomas, meanwhile, has succeeded in maintaining its status as one of the best pizzerias in Cairo since opening in 1922. The restaurant enjoys an excellent reputation among both Egyptians and foreigners for its special recipes.
Simonds is another prominent landmark in 26th July Street, founded in 1898. This cozy small place is known for the freshly baked pastries which has made it popular with Zamalek’s residents for the first meal of the day.
Nowadays there is growing number of coffee houses and bars that have found ways to attract the neighborhood’s customers. Makani, Cilantro, Segafredo and La Bodega are among the new-generation coffee shops scattered on either sides of the street.
Walking down the historic 26th July Street in Zamalek, you notice a fusion between present and past. Throughout the years, its unique glamour has never left it.
Our latest series involves profiling the streets and districts of Cairo. An old and beautiful city, those of us living here often overlook the history and life of the streets we rush through on our way to work or the crowds we curse at when Cairo traffic stands still. Divided years ago by craft, class or religion, the districts and streets of Cairo still hold much of their original identity and are often still referred to by their original inhabitants. Every Saturday Al-Masry Al-Youm will bring you a different street or district of Cairo–stay tuned!