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Architecture's Poverty
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ISBN-13: 978-0674072459
ISBN-10: 0674072456

About the Book

From its earliest days as a royal settlement fronting the pyramids of Giza to its current manifestation as the largest metropolis in Africa, Cairo has forever captured the urban pulse of the Middle East. In Cairo: Histories of a City, Nezar AlSayyad narrates the many Cairos that have existed throughout time, offering a panoramic view of the city’s history unmatched in temporal and geographic scope, through an in-depth examination of its architecture and urban form.

In twelve vignettes, accompanied by drawings, photographs, and maps, AlSayyad details the shifts in Cairo’s built environment through stories of important figures who marked the cityscape with their personal ambitions and their political ideologies. The city is visually reconstructed and brought to life not only as a physical fabric but also as a social and political order―a city built within, upon, and over, resulting in a present-day richly layered urban environment. Each chapter attempts to capture a defining moment in the life trajectory of a city loved for all of its evocations and contradictions. Throughout, AlSayyad illuminates not only the spaces that make up Cairo but also the figures that shaped them, including its chroniclers, from Herodotus to Mahfouz, who recorded the deeds of great and ordinary Cairenes alike. He pays particular attention to how the imperatives of Egypt's various rulers and regimes―from the pharaohs to Sadat and beyond―have inscribed themselves in the city that residents navigate today.

Editorial Reviews

In the voluminous literature on Cairo, when one would have though everything had already been said (and oft repeated), here comes a new, quirky, original book that takes flight over the full, if fragmented, range of the region's histories. I can think of no other biography of the city that touches on the entire time range between pharaonic and modern times and straddles both sides of the changing course of the Nile and the desert outreaches. AlSayyad is sensitive to themes of Egyptian cultural continuity and the country's ongoing contradictions between openness and tolerance, on the one hand, and fierce religious sectarian and ideological shifts on the other. (Janet Abu-Lughod, Department of Sociology, New School University).

Nezar AlSayyad's invigorating and innovative new account of Cairo adroitly interweaves stories of the city's people and places with those of the city's storytellers. Cairo encompasses the entire life of the great metropolis, and AlSayyad meticulously sets right myths and misconceptions about the City Victorious and its monuments. This will be the standard account for years to come." (Dell Upton, Department of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles).

This is a book as grand as the city it describes. In telling the story of Cairo, Nezar AlSayyad places in the foreground its great architectural monuments and the historical figures who shaped its growth. These are drawn against a rich background portraying the broader political history of Egypt. Cairo: Histories of a City captures both the built detail and the historical landscape of a remarkable metropolis. (Timothy Mitchell, Department of Middle East and Asia Languages and Cultures, Columbia University).

About the Author

Nezar AlSayyad is Professor of Architecture, Planning and Urban History, and Chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

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All rights reserved - Nezar AlSayyad, 2023