A recent field trip with Honor's class, took us to al-Azhar Park in Cairo. This may not be something on all tour schedules right now, although it probably should be. On one hand, it is a park. Flowers, trees, playground... pretty standard, so why spend a day of your vacation in Egypt at a city park? On the other hand, it is located in a very scenic part of the city, on top a hill that provides a very nice view (on a clear day) from all sides.
I would highly recommend reading through the pages on the al-Azhar Park website. On the historical tab, read the Project Brief. It provides a very interesting history of how the whole Park was a project to provide more green space in the city, to revitalize a very poor area in need of some serious rehabilitation, and to protect the heritage and historical buildings in the area. From the project brief:
"In 1992, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture established its Historic Cities Support Programme, to implement urban rehabilitation projects in different parts of the Islamic world. Cairo became its most demanding project, encompassing not only the construction of the Park but the restoration of the 1.5 kilometre section of the Ayyubid wall revealed by the removal of the accumulated rubble. It also included the socioeconomic rehabilitation of the neighbouring Historic City, which required launching of numerous restoration and community-initiated development projects. The larger area development project became a testing ground, and a case study, for finding solutions to challenges ranging from the technical demands of physical restoration to the equally challenging issues of socioeconomic development."Basically, the park was not a simple clean-up project... it was a project to reclaim the whole area, people, land, buildings, etc., for now and the future. No way that cleaning it up would be simple either... the site of the park had been used as a garbage dump for over 500 years! ... and as clean up progressed, important archaeological conservation efforts was also conducted to dig out and preserve a 1.5 kilometre section of the historic Ayyubid Wall and towers. The project brief is a good read - history of the park as well as a bit about the history of the city. I also recommend looking through the Tour section of the al-Azhar website for many nice photos.
I enjoyed walking around the park with the kids. They're young, so we did not stand still and talk too far in depth about what we were passing by ... it seems that the kids had lessons about the park before the field trip as they were answering questions as we went. They had a chance to play on the playground, and after a walk through the park to see the sights, we had a picnic in the grass. I didn't get many photos of the actual gardens, ponds, or pretty buildings... although perhaps I should have, as they did a great job and the grounds are beautiful. I enjoyed walking through the park and looking at the city past the trees and flowers, the view is spectactular all around. We brought binoculars and Honor enjoyed the view as well.
Here is a slide show of our visit: