Antiquity News for June 13th 2001
By Amargi Hillier
Restoration of the Ancient 2km Magra El-Oyom Wall in Cairo
Restoration of the Ancient 2km Magra El-Oyom Wall in Cairo
(Cairo)The unique Magra El-Oyom ancient wall was originally constructed approximately 800 years ago with the purpose of directing water from the Nile to the Salah Eddin Castle.It is a brilliant example of ancient Islamic engineering as it mechanically pumps water from the Nile (via water wheels) and carries the water over the course of 2km inside the wall to service the castle with its water needs. The wall is hollow in a few portions acting as a giantancient stone water pipe system, but the main course of water flows along the top of the wall within a trench cut channeled grove.
Remarkable also is the designer's ability to channel water on an upwards incline to reach the Salah Eddin Castle which sits on a hill.
Dr. Gaballah Ali Gabballah, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, gives a brief history about the wall:
'The wall was built by Sultan Salah Eddin El-Ayuby.The purpose of this wall is to direct water coming from the Nile onwards up the hill where his Castle was built.The wall was built in 1193 AD.Nile water would pass through channels built on vaults in the Fom El-Khalig area till it reaches water wheels where it is then directed to its storage in deep castle wells.After numerous decades, these water wheels became non-functional and were neglected.Later, Sultan Mohamed Ben Kalawon repaired the wheels in two stages.The first stage was in 1310 AD.Six water wheels were built near El-Habash Lake.These water wheels would lift the Nile water to channels and from the channels to wells; wells which can still be seen to this day.The second stage of the Sultan's restoration effort was in 1340 AD.A massive well was dug in El-Habash Lake, which is known today by the name of Establ Antar. Later on, Mohammed Ali Pasha converted this well into a artillery depot.The wall structure lies south of the Salah Eddin Castle.It starts from Sayed Aisha Square where there is the ancient Al-Karafa City Gate.Then the wall extends more south till it meets the Fom El-Khalig water channel.Then the wall reaches to the El-Safah City Gate then to the Zwayala City Gate.The wall then extends up to the Ain El-Sera hills down to El-Foustat antiquities area.Then the wall ends at the El- Kantara City Gate on the Nile.The entire length of the wall covers an area of 2.2 kilometers.'
Dr. Gaballah Ali Gabballah also adds, 'As the days passed, year after year, century after century, the wall was neglected and misused.Even Napolean's French crusade dug holes in the wall to watch enemies and to install in cannon barrels.Obviously the function of the wall to direct water to the castle began to be lost.By the 20th century, the wall remained in ruins and functionless.In our time now, haphazard housing has been built near sections of the wall and even part of the wall is used as one some the housings walls; placing their modern homes directly against the ancient wall.Even the government tore down part of this ancient wall to build the Salah Salem highway.And not to long ago the Magra El-Oyom wall was abused once again.Another section was torn down to set the tracks for the Metro subway system.'
Mr. Farouk Hosni, Egypt's Minister of Culture, says that An emergency restoration of the wall is needed before it crumbles down completely.Such an important and unique antiquity should not be neglected in such a way.Therefore the center of Antiquity Engineering & Restoration at the Cairo University has been assigned to restore the wall and rebuild parts of it in cooperation with various construction companies.Restoration includes the wall itself, the water wheels and the deep wells.Water wheels will be completely rebuilt and installed.Restoration will include the entire span of the wall which extends 2,200 meters.
This restoration project is not an ordinary restoration project as there are difficultmeasures that need to be taken, such as removing the haphazard housing (slums), nearby leather workshops, and other buildings that might harm this section of the wall.A pedestrian path for tourists also has to be built to accompany this wall.
Farouk Abdel Salam, assistant to the Minister of Culture, says The restoration project is divided into three stages. First, beginning from the water wheels till the Fom El- Khalig bridge.Then from the 6th October leather workshop area.Then finally to Salah Salem highway. When we started the restoration project, we were faced with the problem of the city slums causing constructional pollution and visual pollution to the wall.Inhabitants do not want to leave their houses even though we offered them financial compensations.In one are of the wall, there are as many as 50 housings built there.Yet nobody wants to leave.What makes it more dangerous to the wall is the fact that there are leather factories and workshops which dump waste products near the wall causing erosion to the wall's delicate foundation.The mother of all problems in this regard is the building of the Furniture Cooperative Society who refuses to leave their building which is situated dangerously close to the wall.In fact, this company has hindered progress of our restoration by filing legal suits against the contracting company which was attempting to restore the wall in that area.Further negotiations were made with the Cooperative Society but they set impossible terms.
Restoration to the Magra El-Oyom wall adjacent to the Society has ceased until further notice.
Entire restoration costs are estimated at 38,000,000 LE.Materials, such as the stone, has been specially chosen to be the exact kind or similar that was used in the original construction of the wall.For example, samples of the stones used to build the original wall was researched. Then rocks from different parts of the country were analyzed until a suitable match was determined.
Engineer Farag Abdel Moatalib, an experienced antiquity restoration engineer, made a special effort in the restoration of an inclined part of the wall which was about to fall to the ground.Ditches were built behind the wall in the opposite direction of the tilt.The wall was slowly pulled towards these ditches until it straightened up.Wooden bedding was placed under the wall to keep it in place until the restoration is complete.
Other special efforts were made by many citizens such as an experienced water mill builder who offered to rebuild all the water wheels.
The Cairo Metro subway system runs very close to the wall in one area.General concern is that train vibrations might cause the nearby wall to tumble down.But engineer Farag Abdel Moatalib says that the ancient wall was engineered in such a wonderful way that it even could withstand earthquakes, such as the one that hit Cairo in 1992.He says, 'The wall is somewhat flexible and can withstand vibrations of the Metro in that area.'
The ancient Magra El-Oyom Wall serves as an example of many of the lesser known unique antiquities in Egypt which most tourists to Egypt are simply not aware of.This 2.2 km ancient water engineering system is also considered a remarkable example of the ingenuity of the ancient Islamic culture, and thus the wall's restoration and future protection is vital as it is a national treasure of Egypt.