Re-framing Downtown Cairo: Downtown Tours

As part of the Creative Cities: Reframing Downtown conference, CLUSTER presented Downtown Tours.


The tours aim to unravel alterative narratives of Downtown. Some explores sites featured in Egyptian cinema and literature over decades, others visits Modernist architecture icons designed by pioneering Egyptian architects, or last surviving or dying photo studios, while others offer experiencing Downtown through its passageways and back alleys or on bicycles. The tours both complement and ground the discussions in everyday experience, while offering new ways to re-imagine Downtown.


LITERARY TOUR: Led by Samia Mehrez

This mini tour focuses on Cairo of the literati as represented in their literary works. The sites we will visit are integral to both their personal histories and literary production. From AUC's historic Ewart Hall and neighboring French Lycée, to Tahrir Square and Cairo’s downtown bars, cafes, cultural venues, and clubs we will be able to map the various impacts of these places on Cairo’s author’s as well as the extent to which these iconic spaces have been transformed over time for both the city and its authors. The tour will culminate in a discussion at the Automobile Club.

BIKING TOUR: Led by Dirk Wanrooij and Nancy Naser Al Deen

This tour aims to encourage biking though downtown Cairo, and exploration of the city at a different pace, using an alternative means of mobility. Cairo, being the flat city it is, has great potential for being a bike-friendly space with a reduced carbon footprint. The participants of this tour will get to enjoy a journey through downtown Cairo, discovering historical sites, in-between spaces, and modern-day cultural hubs on bikes. The tour will embark in Tahrir square and culminate in the courtyard of Townhouse gallery and Takeeba café. To participate in the cycling tour, some prior cycling experience is required. 

CINEMATIC CITY TOUR: Led by Aida El Kashef and Mohammed Gawad

Using films shot on location in Downtown Cairo, the tour explores how filmmakers utilized the iconic landscapes of downtown to tell different stories over the past five decades. Whether in posing as a spectacular backdrop in classical black and whites, or by reflecting more turbulent moods via its alleyways and rooftops in contemporary setups, this multi-layered zone has always lured the cinematic eye to use and abuse it in its own way.

Moreover, as it harboured the most glamorous cinema theaters in the city, downtown was at once the medium and the message of these films, creating a double mirror effect that reveals the ever entangled relation between the city and its representation in Egyptian films; raising questions about the changing public space and urban experience, such as mobility and restriction, diversity and demographic change, main stream and underground sub-cultures.

The tour will culminate with a screening of short scenes from the films shot in Downtown followed by a critical discussion with the tour guide and experts in film.


The photographic tour of downtown is based on the research done for the "Studio Viennoise" exhibition held back in 2012, that focused on the great portrait studios of the 50's and 60's. Most have disappeared. One of the last, Nubar Keropian of Studio Kerop, just one month ago.

The photographic series "Lost and Last" tracks these haunting traces.

The tour will follow the tracks and hunts for the remaining artifacts of these lost temples of glamour. It will start with one of the last operating studios of downtown that specializes in passport photos but still maintains an impressive collection of hand painted portraits in a very mysterious setting.

The tour will also stop at "Bella", a studio that has been active for more than a century.We will conclude with the legendary Lehnert and Landrock, one of the oldest surviving establishments that also hosts a mini museum.


The modernist tour, in reference to Discovering Downtown Cairo , surveys striking buildings with clear lines and modern shapes. Downtown was a laboratory for Egyptian modernist architects, emerging in the early thirties, to build grand buildings using styles that stand in contrast with the architectural aesthetics of the downtown buildings erected during earlier decades and largely designed by Europeans. The rise of modernist architecture in downtown was linked to nationalist politics and the rapid Egyptianization of the profession. This tour will end with a discussion at the Carlton hotel rooftop. 


Based on CLUSTER’s extensive research on Cairo Downtown  passageways, this tour explores Downtown’s network of passages, back alleys, side streets and in-between spaces that house an array of commercial and entertainment activities. These activities extend to the gaps between buildings, setbacks, courtyards, and a number of side streets that were either officially or de facto pedestrianized. Uses of these spaces range from food places and coffee shops, to sites for trade and retail, including stationeries and bookstores, bars and restaurants, galleries and art spaces. Being off the main channels of traffic, they operate as hubs for competing interests and claims to space. Viewed together, they offer an opportunity to re-envision Downtown as a network of pathways housing commerce and entertainment. The tour will culminate in a discussion at Kodak Passageway.