Nezar AlSayyad


On his book Cairo: Histories of a City

Cover Interview of August 30, 2011

In a nutshell

Cairo is composed of twelve vignettes, arranged by place rather than time. Each vignette carries stories told through the place’s built environment. Each edifice has been dictated by the environment (for example, the changing course of the Nile), the needs of the people (an increase in population has created a need for a new marketplace), and the grandiosity of the ruler sponsoring the edifice.  Each addition or adaptation to the built environment tells a story of the people who lived in that time, and the ones before it. Many of Cairo’s architectural features have been witness to a thousand years of changes.

The premise of the book is that the history of a city is mainly that of specific individuals, places, and events.  I begin each chapter at a specific place that best represents a period in Cairo’s history, and then proceed to describe that time period and the lives of specific individuals, narrating important events, and citing the reports of specific travelers and local residents, all the while attempting to evoke a sense of the evolving spatial order of the city.