Abidemi Babatunde Babalola, PhD-Trained in anthropological archaeology at University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria and Rice University, Houston Texas USA, Dr. Babalola’s interests include early pyro-technologies, complex societies, craft specialization, connectivity, Atlantic influence, and heritage studies. He is the director of the “Archaeology of Glass” project in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. His research has contributed to understanding the dynamics of innovation, science, and technology in pre-colonial Sub-Saharan African societies with emphasis on the invention of indigenous glass technology in Southwest Nigeria in the early second millennium AD. 

Joëlle Rolland PhD-in Archaeology of the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and a post-doctoral researcher at UMR 8215 Trajectoires, CNRS. She is a specialist in Iron Age glassmaking and carried out analytical studies to understand the origin of the raw glass used by Iron Age societies in Europe, its manufacturing technics and the processes involved in turning glass into beads and bracelets. 




Humphrey Davies, In Memoriam

On November 12, 2021, Humphrey Davies, my co-author of Field Guide to the Street Names of Central Cairo, died of complications of pancreatic cancer. Just a few months earlier, we had completed the manuscript for submission to an Arabic publisher of our book. We were discussing a second edition but by August, Humphrey fell seriously ill. All too soon, he passed.

There has been many wonderful eulogies and tributes to Humphrey:



When one creates something new with another, there is a deep and special bond. I will miss our lengthy conversations while researching Cairo street history and all the subtle twists and turns of unraveling complicated stories. The Field Guide was the ultimate treasure hunt and our rewards were excavated, layer by layer, through the sequence and identity of long forgotten names. Our time and effort for this book was a labour of love for Cairo, a city that welcomingly adopted each of us within our own separate circumstances.

Here is a full obituary from the New York Times that sets out the work and life of Humphrey Davies. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/13/books/humphrey-davies-dead.html

Egyptian Material Culture

Memories of the past are attended with a certain pain called nostalgia…Nostalgia is a kind of growing-pain, psychically speaking. It occurs to our sorrow when we have decided that it is time for us, marching to some magnificent destiny, to abandon an old home, an old provincial setting, or an old way of living to which we had become habituated. – John Crowe Ransom

Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture, p 30.

The above describes how I feel when organising a drawer of family photographs, browsing in a vintage shop, or, in Cairo, meandering through the (now demolished) Friday Market. The Friday Market once crammed with what many would describe as junk, but for a material cultural enthusiast, those objects were treasures…objects of ordinary life.

Objects tell stories: the interaction of those who made them, received them, used and sold them, even worshipped them and of those who collected, conserved, and curated them. There is a relationship between objects as a primary source material and how we understand history. History is formally based on words of academia while objects bring to light histories of those marginalised—working class, ethnic minorities, women.

The following photographs of tin cut outs depict musicians, dancers, villagers, and a bird were collected over years of living in Cairo. Some I found from the Friday Market, some were purchased from an art collector, and others from an antique shop near Khan el-Khalili. These tin cut-outs, each approximately 60 centimetres in height, were said to be made from recycled tin sheeting in the Delta area during the 1920s-30s and sold to decorate walls of coffee shops. But this information cannot be confirmed. Yasmine Dorghamy, founder of Rawi Magazine, states, “Judging by the artistic style and the style of the bellydance suit I would place them in the 60s or 70s.. You don’t see that puffy skirt with the slit all the way to the top before then… this design is iconic of the ’60s in fact.”

I am in search of information about these objects. If anyone has information, please leave a comment and I will add it to this post.

turkey or peacock


October 7, 2020: Laura from London says, “I remember buying a set of tin dancer + music team (flute, tabla, male dancer with stick etc.) from a souvenir shop in Alexandria in 1980s. Unfortunately, I gave it away as a present. I thought it was a delightful present – I have not seen these tin figures since.”


For the love of Egypt: Happy Shamm el-Nassim

“How should Spring bring forth a garden on hard stone? Become earth, that you may grow flowers of many colors. For you have been heart-breaking rock. Once, for the sake of experiment, be earth!” -RumiIMG_1906

Egyptians ‘sniff the spring breeze’ on Shamm el-Nassim, a pharaonic tradition in which Egyptians celebrate the arrival of spring by eating salty fish (fiseeskh), green onions, and boiled eggs. (https://nomad4now.com/articles-egypt/a-store-with-no-door/) .  This year, because of coronavirus, Egyptians are in a two-day lock down unable to share the day with friends and family in parks, gardens, and on bridges. Though families and friends cannot gather to share the holiday food, this ancient tradition of gratitude for the passing of time and the appreciation of life continues as it has over millennia.

As I stand in a long queue in London, waiting my turn to enter a grocery store, I look across the street to a nearby park and I am reminded to ‘sniff the spring breeze’, even though the warning to stay home is clearly noted.


As the queue moves forward, messages on stone appear:


I breath deeply in gratitude for the opportunity to know the meaning of Shamm el-Nassim. Thank you, Egypt.

Shubra, Revisited

Last month, I posted House of Foreigners Revisited because a reader came forward to tell his family history about his house in Shubra. Recently, another reader has expressed his family history in Shubra in the early twentieth century. I thought it might be interesting to extend an invitation to all who would like to post family history who lived in Cairo from 1850 to 1950. There is nostalgia and longing for Egypt who were born, raised, and lived through this period and left due to the 1952 Revolution. I would be happy to collect these stories on this page. Just comment on this page and I will email to connect.

Here is the family story of Richard Milosh who lives in Australia now. He says:

I was born in Shubra, Immeuble Garabedian, second floor, off the main Shubra street No. 45. I was born in 1941. In that building lived a number of related families of Italian, and Yugoslav nationality. Eventually, soon after the burning of Cairo, Saturday, 26 January 1952, one by one and two by twos, we all left Egypt for a safer place with a future. My father was born in Faggalah, Cairo in 1913 and went to school at the French St Joseph college (Khoronfish), Collège des Fréres. My mother was also born in Cairo, probably in Shubra as well. I blame the military coup of Nasser & Co. for the demise and scattering of my extended family that once upon a time considered Egypt their home.

I have settled in Australia where I have arrived from Egypt in 1963 with my parents. My Armenian grandparents also joined us in Australia a year later. Happy Sham el Nessim but be careful with the Coronavirus.

On May 29, 2015, Megawra sponsored a city walk through Shubra (See: Shubra, Off the Beaten Path) , a district of Cairo to the north and east of the railroad station: skirting Ahmad Helmi Street to the east; to the west, the Nile Corniche; to the north, the Delta by way of the Cairo-Alexandria Agricultural. Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 11.23.04 AM

The district of Shubra is one of the most densely populated parts of Cairo with approximately four million  people. Once upon a time, Shubra was a small village; the word, Shubra, actually means ‘small village’ from the Coptic word, ϭⲱⲡⲣⲟŠopro. (WikipediaShubra remained primarily agricultural until Muhammad Ali Pasha built his palace there in 1808. He also constructed a boulevard one hundred feet wide, lined with trees from his palace to el-Azbakiya.  Following the example of Muhammed Ali Pasha, other members of the royal family and the upper class built villas and summer residences at Shubra. In 1903, a tramline was built on the grand boulevard, and this area opened up to urban development.

The district of Shubra is one of the most densely populated parts of Cairo with approximately four million  people. Once upon a time, Shubra was a small village; the word, Shubra, actually means ‘small village’ from the Coptic word, ϭⲱⲡⲣⲟŠopro. (WikipediaShubra remained primarily agricultural until Muhammad Ali Pasha built his palace there in 1808. He also constructed a boulevard one hundred feet wide, lined with trees from his palace to el-Azbakiya.  Following the example of Muhammed Ali Pasha, other members of the royal family and the upper class built villas and summer residences at Shubra. In 1903, a tramline was built on the grand boulevard, and this area opened up to urban development.


House of Foreigners, Revisited

On May 29, 2015, Megawra sponsored a city walk through Shubra (See: Shubra, Off the Beaten Path) , a district of Cairo to the north and east of the railroad station: skirting Ahmad Helmi Street to the east; to the west, the Nile Corniche; to the north, the Delta by way of the Cairo-Alexandria Agricultural Road. During the walk, our group was allowed to enter a five-storey apartment building that is known in the neighborhood as House of Foreigners. When asked why the apartment house was known as such, our guide said because the family who had built the building and lived there for generations were all Italians. That explanation is all we had…until now!    Read on…

House of Foreigners

On March 13, 2020, I received a post from Rolando Mazzone who wrote:Read on…


House of Foreigners

I immediately responded to Mr. Mazzone’s comment and he kindly sent me the history of his family who lived in this house for three generations. Mr. Mazzone has given me permission to publish his family history.

My grandfather [Egizio Testaferrata] was Maltese of Italian culture and he spoke, at home, Italian and Maltese which is a mixture of southern Italian and Arabic. His father Nicola came to Egypt in the 1860ies from Malta and was a designer and engraver, educated in Naples, Italy. Nicola worked for the Egyptian government engraving coins and in the embellishment of public buildings ( e.g. the Cairo Opera in Midan Mohammad Ali).
My grandfather worked at the Naafi which was a British organisation supplying food to the military. He died in 1947. He had five children and had adopted a niece who had lost her parents. He lived at the first floor which consisted of a very big apartment. The two apartments at the second floor were occupied by other family members, as brothers in law and later married daughters.
My parents moved to one of the two smaller apartments in 1946. My father Luigi Mazzone had married one of the daughters of my grandfather, Vittoria. My father was Italian, born in Egypt in 1915 and died in Rome in 2009. His father Vincenzo came to Egypt from Sicily as a teenager in the beginning of the 1900ie and worked as a cabinetmaker, first in Alexandria and then in Cairo.
He built up a big business in Bulaq where he had a sawmill and a furniture factory working for the Egyptian government (Cairo Museum, Cairo University, doors, windows and wooden stairs of many famous buildings, including the Yacoubian building). Vincenzo died very young in 1934 and his business continued until 1940, where it was sequestrated by the authorities due to Italy entering World War 2.
My family didn’t restart the business after the war.
My father’s mother Eugenia Vescia belonged to the Vescia family which came to Egypt in the 1850ies as olive merchants. She lived in the house in Shoubra from 1940 until her death in 1953.
The second apartment at the second floor had been occupied by my father’s brother Francesco from 1946 to 1970. He had a hardware-shop in Ezbekiah in Cairo.
The architect of the house was Greek and he was a friend of my grandfathers, his name was Galligopoulo and there was an engraving on the Eastern side of the house with his name and the building year.
After the death of my grandfather the house was owned by my grandmother, which was Serbian and had British nationality, having been married to a Maltese.
The house was sequestrated by the Egyptian authorities, following the Suez War in 1956. My grandmother was refunded by the British authorities for her loss.
I hope that you can use some of this information about a house which for many years was full of life and the center of many happy events.
I would like to express my own and my whole family’s gratitude and best feelings for Egypt and the Egyptian people.

The district of Shubra is one of the most densely populated parts of Cairo with approximately four million  people. Once upon a time, Shubra was a small village; the word, Shubra, actually means ‘small village’ from the Coptic word, ϭⲱⲡⲣⲟ Šopro. (WikipediaShubra remained primarily agricultural until Muhammad Ali Pasha built his palace there in 1808. He also constructed a boulevard one hundred feet wide, lined with trees from his palace to el-Azbakiya.  Following the example of Muhammed Ali Pasha, other members of the royal family and the upper class built villas and summer residences at Shubra. In 1903, a tramline was built on the grand boulevard, and this area opened up to urban development. One of the houses that was built during the development of this district was the House of Foreigners.


EPILOGUE – received on March 17, 2020

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Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France


“In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.” – Alexander von Humboldt 

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Are you in France this summer from April 6th to September 22nd? If so, a trip to the Alésia, ancient town situated on Mont Auxois, above the present-day village of Alise-Sainte-Reine in the area of Côte d’Ore, France, is well worth adding to your agenda. It is a chance to take in the Gallo-Roman ruins but also visit an unusual and first of its kind exhibition of Celtic glassmaking that does not only demonstrates medieval times but traces the path of glass making from ancient times through a series of seemingly unrelated connections to a fundamental and essential aspect of the modern world…glass bracelets.

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The exhibition studies the connection of migration of glassmaking from Egypt to Gallo-Roman era and its connection to modern day Nigeria. Joëlle Rolland PhD, researcher professor, at Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, René Ginouvès has spent the last year organizing this exhibition about the production of Celtic glass bracelets.  As Joëlle Rolland expertise is Celtic glass, her research spanned Egypt, Nepal and the glass makers of Bida, Nigeria. She discovered the work of Elisabeth Thea Haevernick who publish in 1960 her thesis on Celtic glass bangles and, the ethnologist,  René Gardi who also researched Bida glass in the 1970s and wrote articles with comparisons with the work of Celtic bracelets. As well as, Leo Frobenius  in 1911 who visited Bida also illustrated the techniques of fabrication with the famous illustrations Celtic glass.  All of this, by chance, led Joëlle to my documentation of the glassmaking in Bida, Nigeria. Read: Bida: Bangles and Beads.

During the last four years, we have stayed in close contact sharing information. Joëlle invited me to participate in the upcoming exhibition on Celtic glass at MuséoParc Alésia. Joëlle will be demonstrating the manufacture of bracelets with the glassmaker on the weekends of April 13-14 and also in September, the weekend of 21-22.Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 1.41.12 AM

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For those of you who might not be able to visit, below is my contribution to the catalogue and the table of contents;Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-001Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-002Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-004Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-005Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-006Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-007Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-008Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-009Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-010Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-011Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-012Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-013

The Statue of Liberty, a story of rejection and renewal


Field Guide to the Street Names of Central Cairo makes its way to New York City for a visit to the Statue of Liberty, a statue once destined to be called “Progress Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia” and stand as a lighthouse at the Suez Canal. The link between Central Cairo, the Statue of Liberty and our book is the Egyptian ruler, Khedive Isma’il Pasha (1863-79). (As one of my readers commented, ‘an intersection between Oriental and Western history.’)  Isma’il Pasha was also the man who declined Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s colossal statue design to stand at the Suez Canal and sending its on its way to New York Harbor.

It all started at the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris.The best description of the times is from an excerpt by Zeynep Celik , Displaying the Orient:

Although under Ottoman suzerainty since 1517, Egypt acquired a semiautonomous status in 1805, when Muhammad ‘Ali was appointed governor; this status lasted until 1882, the date of the British occupation. Muhammad ‘Ali initiated a series of military, economic, and administrative reforms, relying on the expertise of French and Italian advisers. These reforms were followed by legal and educational transformations and the development of infrastructure (the construction of railroads, the Suez Canal, cities, etc.) under Isma’il Pasha (1863–79), paralleling the changes promoted by the Ottoman rulers in Istanbul. In 1867, the Ottoman sultan conferred on Isma’il Pasha the title of khedive, giving him a special position in the empire and allowing him to sign independent technical and economic agreements with foreign powers.

The 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris was marked by important visits from Khedive Isma’il Pasha of Egypt….What were the goals in visiting the exposition? Isma’il Pasha pursued a Western model of “progress” and wanted to be recognized for his institutional reforms. Similarly, Isma’il Pasha’s goal was to demonstrate his alliance with Europe by announcing the modernizing transformations in his own country…Isma’il Pasha intent on reshaping their cities according to European models—a goal reflected most dramatically in the physical transformation of Cairo…The city building in Cairo was comprehensive…. A new quarter of Cairo, named Ismailiyya after the Isma’il Pasha extended the city to the west with a design that superposed a pattern of radial streets on a grid. Long avenues ended in squares or ronds-points; monuments and public buildings defined the ends of vistas. The model was once again Baron Haussmann’s work in Paris. Indeed, French architects, landscape architects, and gardeners were commissioned to beautify Cairo…For Isma’il Pasha, who had lived in France, the expedition was an occasion to catch up with the social and physical transformation of Paris.-(Çelik, Zeynep. Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth-Century World’s Fairs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992)

Most civilizations utilize monumental figures and heroic sculptures to revere political figures and leaders. The tradition of immortalizing an individual, whether by human representation or by symbol, is a human trait. Governments impress their political heroes and leaders on their public; erecting statues at major intersections and in parks and gardens appears to reinforce both past heroic accomplishments and current ruling dogma. Heroic sculptures and monumental statues are visible reminders of a time in history when these individuals brought about substantial change in society and, in turn, influenced thought. (“Egyptian City 1801–Today.” Cairo’s Street Stories: Exploring the City’s Statues, Squares, Bridges, Gardens, and Sidewalk Cafés, by Lesley Labadidi, American University in Cairo Press, 2008, pp. 39–52. ) However in Muslim countries, human forms on display is subject to question.  Thus at the 1867 Universal Exhibition, Isma’il Pasha took the unprecedented step to interview European sculptors for the purpose of placing heroic, monumental sculptures on the new streets of Central Cairo depicting rulers in his family history.  One such person who submitted a  Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi.

Bartholdi had toured Yemen and Egypt in 1855-56, and upon his return to France received a commission to sculpt a statue of Jean Francois Champollion, the Egyptologist who had deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone. The statue was displayed in the Egyptian pavilion at the 1867 Exposition Universal in Paris. Isma’il Pasha was impressed with the statue of Champollion and gave an audience to Bartholdi. Bartholdi hoped to build a colossal statue for an immense lighthouse marking the entrance at the opening of the Suez Canal (1869). It was to be a towering figure, dressed in robes and holding aloft a torch. Isma’il Pasha declined due to the cost and that the form was reminiscent of a peasant woman. By 1870 ‘Progress’ had evolved to ‘Liberty’.  Eventually Bartholdi would rework the statue and unveiled at the New York Harbor in 1886.

Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original design for the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

This reproduction of 1869 watercolor by Bartholdi suggests the similarity between the Suez lighthouse and the Statue of Liberty. The Suez plan was the first real step in the Statue of Liberty design.


The Statue of Liberty looks very much like Bartholdi’s earlier design for the Suez lighthouse, but the transition required skill and subtlety. From 1878-1875 Bartholdi slowly developed the new Statue. First he decided upon her symbols: the torch, crown, broken shackles and tablet.


Small terra cotta study models of ‘Progress Egypt Bring the Light to Asia’ designed by Bartholdi between 1867-69.



Obelisque Magazine 2019

The new yearly edition of the Obelisque Magazine has been released in Cairo. This year the magazine was almost sold out within a month. There are a few copies available at select bookstores in Zamalek. Below are my contributions to the magazine.  cover a

Bida Bracelets : The Ancient Art of Glassmaking


Arouset el-Moulid

aroust el moulid -001aroust el moulid -002aroust el moulid -003

Street Art: Ibn Khaldun in Mohendiseen 

Final street art 02-001

Narrator of Stories, an interview



Shaimaa Ashour, PhD

The last meeting of the Cairo Architectural Heritage Group (an initiative of Professor Nasser Rabbat) was ten years ago.  I had the privilege to meet a talented group of architects, urban planners and heritage aficionados who are, today, Egypt’s leaders in these fields. One dynamic member was Shaimaa Samir Kamel Ashour.  Shaimaa’s  enthusiasm and dedication to Egyptian cultural heritage was hard to miss and her warm, friendly nature was contiguously positive. Shaimaa was one of the young Egyptians that showed intense interest to take action to preserve cultural heritage.  To this day Shaimaa—architectural engineeer, author, lecturer, blogger, photographer, traveller, organizer of heritage events, conferences and city walks— continues her upward trajectory of contributions to the community in which she lives and works. This interview is to spotlight her commitment and dedication for her career and her country, Egypt.

“I like to narrate stories about architecture and places whether through teaching, writing, photography or public lectures. Through stories we explain how things are, why they are, and our role and purpose,” says Shaimaa one Friday over coffee at Maadi’s newest wellness centre, Osana.  Her day job as an assistant professor at The Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transportation (AASTMT) in Cairo gives her the opportunity to teach and mentor students plus she heads the Cultural Committee in the Department of Architectural Engineering & Environmental Design where she organizes the highly successful guest lecture program, Beyond Lecture Halls.


Beyond university walls, Shaimaa continues to narrate stories about architecture. “I’m an architect with multi-disciplinary interests ranging from Egyptian modern architecture to cultural heritage, architectural advertisement and urban history,” says Shaimaa. Most recently she and Alia Nassar, began walking tours for foodies called The Taste of Heritage .

47471001_1803358829793347_6663501322903355392_nShaimaa also maintains “The io Weekly” since 2012 as a hub to connect individuals  by sharing news about the city, environment, architecture, heritage, and platform of upcoming events and exhibitions. She holds a seat on the Committee for Architecture at the Supreme Council of Culture, which gave her the opportunity work for the national competition to represent Egypt at the 15thInternational Exhibition for Architecture, Venice Biennale. Recent publications include sustainable conservation strategy to the Eastern Necropolis in Cairo, the changing housing policies and Sixth of October City, and citywalks as tool to narrate the history of Cairo. Last year, she published her book, An Overview of Pioneer Egyptian Architects During the Liberal Era (1919-1952). And let me not forget to mention her TV series,“A journey with books” program with broadcaster Dr.Khaled Azzab, about modern Egyptian architecture. (can be viewed at the end of this interview.)

As we munched on biscuits, I asked Shaimaa about her long list of accomplishments. She confided that sometimes she feels that nothing is happening and sometime feels like a moth on a wire mesh window.02

So what motivates Shaimaa to keep fighting for the issues she cares about? “Persistence and passion,” she says. “I always believe there is a way. I never lose hope and try hundreds of times because someone might change or something might change.” She explains that during the moments of personal doubt or fear, she realizes that those feelings are natural so they do not become barriers on the path of achievement.

Of course, family is the most important part of Shaimaa’s daily life and she credits her mother and father as the two people whom she admires most and who have given her the freedom and encouraged her curiosity, career, travel and knowledge.


Shaimaa (left) and friends on an excursion to see Mahmoud Fathi’s (famous Egyptian sculptor) statue, Egyptian Peasant

As I looked back over my notes, I counted five points mentioned that describe Shaimaa’s satisfaction with her career and life choices :

– Making a difference.
– Inspiring people.
– Writing about people who inspire.
– Listening to others tell their story.
– Making other lives better with her work.


Sharing a moment between sessions at Inheriting the City: Advancing
Understandings of Urban Heritage in Taipei, Taiwan. We presented our paper, #CityWalks: Another Perspective, April 2016.

TV Series