The Qasr El Nile Bridge
by Seif Kamel
The 1932 meter-long Qasr El Nile Bridge is an enjoyable Nile River walk for many tourists and for some Egyptians as well. The bridge is situated amongst a number of important tourist sites in Cairo, and is very convenient to a number of the tourist hotels. Furthermore, this body of steel has a very interesting history.
The story of this bridge goes back to February 1872 when Gezira Bridge, the one that stood here prior to the erection of the Qasr El Nile Bridge, was opened for traffic. It linked the east side of the Nile and the Island of Zamalek for the first time. Prior to this, access to Zamalek was provided by ferry boats and many feluccas.
While the ferry boats and feluccas lost their business to the new bridge, it was soon busy with pedestrians, camels, donkey cars and carriages, but within 40 years it was overwhelmed with some 31,000 cars passing over it every day. The old bridge could simply not facilitate any additional traffic, and so the Egyptian government announced that a new bridge would be erected. They opened bids for the new bridge, inviting international companies to submit their tenders, and eventually chose Dorman, Long & Co. Limited of Middlesborough, Yorkshire, UK, for the job. This is the same company that built the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
With a budget of only 308,000 LE, Dorman, Long, and Co. were soon at work. However, this would be a considerably more difficult job than the Australian bridge, which is fixed. Cairo's new seven-span, 382 meter long, arch-type bridge was designed so that a 67 meter section could swing open electrically within three and a half minutes in order to allow boat traffic to pass. They brought in most of the hardware and equipment for the bridge from Britain.
However, one interesting point is the four amazing bronze lions that adorn the entrances to the bridge. Originally, these larger than life lions, sculpted by the French artist, Alfred Jacuemart, were intended to stand guard around the statue of Muhammed Ali in Alexandria. For reasons unknown, Linant de Bellefonds decided otherwise, and instead had them erected here in Cairo.
The bridge took about thirty months to complete, during which time ferry boats and feluccas once again functioned as the main transport to the island, crossing from the east side of the Nile in front of the Semaramis Hotel to the other side of Zamalek (Gezira).
Finally, on June 6th, 1933, King Fouad opened the bridge during a grand ceremony held on the Zamalek side of the bridge that was even attended by many notable foreign figures, along with numerous top Egyptian ministers. The new bridge was at first named the Khedive Ismail Bridge in honor of the father of King Fouad. The original name can still be seen on the Dorman & Long plaque attached to the belly of the bridge.
In 1952, after the rebellion that finally brought complete independence to Egypt, many landmarks associated with the royal family in Cairo received name changes. For example, the name of King Fouad Bridge was changed to Abu El Ela Bridge, after the name of a nearby mosque, while the Khedive Ismail Bridge's name was changed to Qasr El Nile, which remains its current name.
Sometime afterwards, the bridge received its 15 minutes of fame, when it was televised during the funeral of President Gamal Abdel Nasser's state funeral in September of 1970 as many Egyptian ministers and other elite walked behind his coffin over the bridge.
Today, many tourists know this bridge, or at least have passed over it without much thought. It links the most important square in Cairo, Tahrir Square, with the island of Zamalek, while spanning the entire Nile. Though there are a number of other bridges that also link the two banks of the Nile, including the 6th of October Bridge, the 15th of May Bridge, the Imbaba Bridge, the Sabel Bridge and others, this one it situated in the most dense tourist district. Most tourists, even if they do not much remember the bridge, often remember the lions.
Walking along the bridge from Tahrir to Zamalek on the Qasr El Nile Bridge is almost always enjoyable, either by day or night, because the weather is usually fine in Cairo. The walking path is wide with ornate rails and old lamps that decorate the way. It offers a wonderful view of the Nile, as well as the banks of downtown Cairo, which is all the more beautiful at night. One will frequently pass by lovers, fisherman and the occasional hantoor (carriage), which are available for tourists.
On the Zamalek side of the bridge, the Cairo Marriott is very close by, and in front of it, and leading up to the bridge are a number of restaurant boats on the Nile River, so that one might sit for a while and enjoy lunch or dinner prior to heading back across the bridge.