Scotsabroad's Weblog

May 24, 2008

The Yacoubian Building

Filed under: Books,Cairo — scotsabroad @ 3:21 pm


Downtown Cairo is not an area we have walked much since we arrived in the city so on Friday we decided to spend some time exploring the streets. We have often been stuck in horrendous traffic in central Cairo but yesterday, being early Friday morning, it was bizarre to find the streets eerily quiet; like a setting from a John Wyndham novel. Coincidentally, Alaa Al Aswany used a building on Talaat Harb St. as inspiration for his novel, The Yacoubian Building, and this was one of the landmarks we had come to find. A couple of planned cafe-stops were added incentives to Shona and the boys. We walked from the Metro station to Talaat Harb. The streets and many of the buildings go back to the 1860s when Ismail had the area rebuilt in the style of New Paris. If you look hard enough (often upwards) you can imagine how elegant the area looked. Groppi’s is a famous coffee house on Midan Talaat Harb where the Free Officers (Nasser et-al) supposedly plotted against the monarchy. It is one of those cavernous places that is living on past glories but doesn’t have a clue what to do at the moment. Great facade but we didn’t stay. Cafe Riche also claims to have stimulated the revolutionaries and also helped kick-start Umm Kalthoum’s singing career. It was shut. We ended up in another restaurant called Felfela that was a wee oasis (it serves beer) with a few fish tanks to amuse the boys. 

Layout 1

The Yacoubian Building is not yet a prominent landmark for tourists and we took a while to find No. 34 on Talaat Harb. There is no sign at the entrance. I ventured inside to see a most magnificent old lift. I asked the doorman if I could photograph it and he refused. We all went back in some minutes later and the lift had gone but so had the doorman. Shona noticed the name inside the entrance that merited a quick photograph before leaving hastily. It is no surprise, being in this great city, to notice the cobwebs and dust accumulating on such a literary landmark. If you’ve not read the book it is worth a read, as is his most recent novel set in Chicago. Aswany is still a practicing dentist in Cairo which makes me wonder about the last time we all had a check-up.

It has been quite a busy week for the boys and the school. On Wednesday Cairo had his Sports Day. He won lots of points for his house Fire. Lucas had an Egyptian day on Thursday and went to school dressed in his galabeya. The nursery sampled Egyptian food.  The same day I took my Year 1s to the Modern Art Gallery; it turned out to be fabulous. Just enough, not cluttered with sculpture and pictures that stimulated the children’s inference skills. I have got the next art lesson sorted (see painting below) but also children now very much up for creating sculpture of their own.

Then it was Family Day at NCBIS yesterday from 4 -8 pm. Shona and I were in charge of the Water slide. The boys had a great time on campus mostly unsupervised! Lucas is at a birthday party today and Cairo cycled to Katameya with me for a swim. I managed a run in the Wadi yesterday as well. The only negative is the sudden emergence of cockroaches. I killed a monster last night in a colleague’s flat and there were a couple this morning dying on their backs downstairs in our villa. We spray regularly.





  1. Midan Qasser el Nil and Talaat harb are wonderful places to visit and shop. Did you recognise that the Groppi Café was started up by a Swiss guy??? and Felfella is the best place for fine egyptian Tameyas. We miss everything so much an thanks for the souvernirs we got from your Blogg! Greetings from Zurich! Yanic and family

    Comment by Andrea — May 25, 2008 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

  2. Great photos Andy & i love your descriptions of all the old buildings, why are the Egyptians so adverse to photos?

    Comment by gordon — June 21, 2008 @ 1:10 am | Reply

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