suggests following articles

Several of my articles on Garden City were plagiarized word for word by novelist MEKKAWI SAID (winner of the Egyptian State price for literature!!!!) and re-published under his own name in a three-part series in El-Masry El-Youm daily in September 2015.

Cheers to our "talented" literature prize awardee. Your pain his gain !!!


extended version in "The Egyptian Bourse" published by Zeitouna 2010

House in Koubbeh
early villa in Koubbeh Gardens circa 1913 (courtesy Aline Shakour)
below: map Koubbeh & Heliopolis circa 1930
Koubbeh Gardens within red line boundaries; Koubbeh Palace within green, Heliopolis within yellow.
Mattarieh Railway line in black; Heliopolis Tramway in blue.

map Koubbeh & Heliopolis circa 1930

In 1904-8 Cairo witnessed an unprecedented real estate boom. It seemed like new suburbs were being created every day around Cairo, the better known among them being Zamalek, Garden City, Heliopolis and Maadi. Smaller suburbs were also conceived in Giza, on the island of al-Roda and within a small distance from the Khedivial palace of Koubbeh.

Concerning the latter it was left to a group of well-known entrepreneurs spearheaded by Mansour N. Shakour Pasha, to set about its development. To that effect the Koubbeh Gardens Building Land Company, with Shakour as its first chairman, was created in 1907. Among its first directors were Selim Schmeil, Leon Rolin and Gaston Briere.

While the latter two were Belgian businessman with Rolin heading one of the largest contracting companies in Egypt, Shakour Pasha and Schmeil were of Syrian stock with origins in or near Mount Lebanon. Naturally, Shakour and Rolin owned Koubbeh's handsomest homes with Rolin's oriental palace standing in as a depository for Egypt's finest private collection of ancient Persian and Greek ceramics.

Capitalized at L.E. 300,000 Koubbeh Gardens Co. launched a share issue of 75,000 shares worth LE 4 pounds each. In December 1908 the capital was increased to LE 360,000 with 15,000 additional shares traded on the Cairo Exchange.

The original 96 feddans (acres) which formed the nucleus of Koubbeh Gardens were situated between the precinct of Demerdash and Koubbeh Bridge, in other words west of the older district Abbasia.

By 1910 Koubbeh Gardens was home to 14 villas and one shop while 23 more feddans were added to the original tract that year. The mood was upbeat.

Unfortunately for Shakour and his colleagues poor investments in a mortgage company in Belgium coupled with unfavorable exchange rates would take their toll. Moreover declining sales during WW1 resulted in an overall dismal performance between 1916 and 1923. As if that were not enough, the insolvency of several villa-owners obliged the company to foreclose on several of the properties it had recently sold on installment basis.

Meanwhile the price of the square metre, which had peaked at L.E. 0.84 in 1919, tumbled to L.E. 0.70 in 1922. Likewise company shares were now valued at L.E 2.40. In other words they had lost half their market value. Koubbeh Gardens Co. was in dire straits. The only way out was an aggressive marketing campaign. Were the directors up to it?

The company went into receivership in 1926-7.

To get a real insight to the making of Koubbeh Gardens luckily for us we can refer to notes kept by Aline Shakour. Dated 6 March 1912 they were written by her father Shakour Pasha. But first a word on the man who made that suburb possible.

Shakour Pasha was a London University graduate (1885) with a degree in engineering. Having first found employment with the Egyptian State Railway (ESR) he was promoted to the post of Principal Inspector in 1902 before assuming the position of ESR's Chief of the Electrical and Telegraphic Department. Upon resigning in 1905 he joined the private sector. It was about that time that he visualized plans for the development of several new Cairo suburbs. Koubbeh Gardens was one of them. As though in compensation for both his excellent government service record and his far sighted vision, Shakour Bey received the title of Pasha in 1906.

"Koubbeh Gardens is the new quarter of Cairo bordering on the north limit of the town. It is only three and a half miles from the Opera Square and yet it as quiet and healthy as though it were situated a hundred miles from the Capital.

During the last twenty years Cairo has increased in the same proportion as any other capital of a prosperous country. Since however the Government did not control the general lines on which new quarters were developed, for reasons we need not enter into, these suburbs soon became too thickly built over.

The intrusion of commercial and business elements of an unfavorable nature made these recent quarters lose by degrees whatever attractions they may have possessed as residential suburbs. Thus the opening of grocer and butcher shops, furniture stores, etc. all of a rather inferior order, has effectually spoilt the various suburbs of Fagalla, Abbassieh, Obesi and Tewfikieh. The Kasr-Dubara quarter alone remains an exception to this rule, the reason being that the land belonged to Government and stringent rules were laid down for its development. For this very reason, the value of land in this quarter rose to prohibitive prices. And even now though prices have fallen considerably owing to the financial crisis, building land at Kasr-Dubara stands at from four Pounds to six Pounds the metre, which for a residential villa and garden is beyond the means of all but the richest.

It was in order to meet this want that the Koubbeh Gardens quarter was created.

The Matarieh railway embankment has served as an effectual barrier to the spread of the town in a northerly direction and land on the north side of the railway was still green fields when on the town side every square foot had been built over.

The advantage of this site, which became eventually the Koubbeh Gardens were the following: The soil was dry and healthy and consisted of good arable land most suitable for gardens and tree plantations. It was far enough from the Nile and consequently free of mosquitoes, mists and noxious emanations in summer at low Nile. The property was also close to Cairo, being only three and a half miles from the centre. And lastly it lies to the north of the town, a most essential consideration in Egypt, for during eight months in the year the cool breeze, without which life would be intolerable during the hot weather comes from the north. Every house built in Egypt faces north, if possible, and every town in Egypt, without a single exception that we know of, spreads when developing towards the north.

As this building site was such a favorable one, negotiations were entered into with the Government to build a sub-way (under pass) under the Matarieh railway, thus rendering the site accessible to the town. After considerable difficulty, this important work was carried out at a cost of over Pounds 22,000 and is the finest sub-way in Egypt.

As the lands in this locality belonged to many small proprietors, great difficulty was experience in purchasing it; the whole estate, which is now one longitudinal area, consisted of no less than 80 holdings.

By an arrangement made with the Government the main collector of the new Cairo drainage scheme passes under the whole length of the beautiful Koubbeh Gardens Avenue rendering the quarter the healthiest in Egypt. This collector took two years to build and has just been completed.

The main Avenue, which is 3 1/2 kilometers long is no less than 20 metres broad. It is bordered on each side by trees, of which about 1800 have been planted in Koubbeh Gardens. By special permission of His Highness the Khedive, the Avenue has been named "Sharia El Khedewi" Avenue of the Khedive), and this is the road H.H. uses when going to Cairo from his palace at Koubbeh.

Arrangements have been made with the Gas, Electric Light and Water Companies of Cairo, and their mains are now laid. The prices charged for water--a very necessary item in Egypt--is considerably less than in town.

It should also be mentioned that this quarter is connected with the centre of Cairo by means of the Heliopolis Oases Railway and the Matarieh Railway. The station of the former is at Demerdash close to the sub-way, and a convenient half-hour service affords a ready means for getting into Cairo. The Matarieh Railway has three stations along the line, each of which is within five minutes walk from the Koubbeh Gardens. Besides this the Koubbeh Gardens Company has obtained the authorization to run a motor-bus service connecting the Estate direct with the Cairo Opera Square.

The success of Heliopolis is a sure guarantee of what can be done at Koubbeh Garden, which enjoys so many more advantages, chiefly those of being closer to the town and possessing a soil that will grow vegetation of every kind at a very small expense. All that is required is funds for building. The 25 or 30 villas already built on the estate are all occupied, and there are many applications for more.

The last annual report of the Board of Directors shows the financial situation of the Company. Since its issue the completion of roads and new buildings has absorbed nearly all the available funds.

The conditions for purchase, copy of which is annexed, impose restrictions, the object being to keep the locality an advantageous one from a residential point of view.

6 March 1912"

With considerable hindsight Shakour Pasha was overly enthusiastic about the prospects of his suburban brainchild. Optimism that often surpassed his company's financial statements so that at times the figures in his 1912 notes did not tally with the related Annual Reports. Sadly, time would prove him wrong for among the many suburbs that were created at the turn of 20th century, Koubbeh Gardens was the first to suffer irreversible decline and for those very same reasons he evoked in the third paragraph of his revealing notes.

click here for list of Koubbeh Gardens residents in 1936


Vintage Heliopolis photos
Heliopolis 1913 survey map
Heliopolis Palace Hotel  (Presidential Palace)
Baron Empain's Hindu Palace
Heliopolis residents in 1913-14
Heliopolis pharmacies in 1946
An important Belgian legacy
When Maadi very nearly replaced Heliopolis
The making of Koubbeh Gardens

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

Email your thoughts to
© Copyright Samir Raafat
Any commercial use of the data and/or content is prohibited
reproduction of photos from this website strictly forbidden
touts droits reserves