Arts & Culture

Dovecotes: A Signature of the Egyptian Landscape

Dovecotes: A Signature of the Egyptian Landscape

P7488sm EGYPT Pigeon Houses | Egyptian pigeon houses: Pigeon… | Flickr
Pigeon dovecotes, Egypt | Photo Credit: Ranong Payakapan

Clay needles the horizon of many rural villages; unassuming structures, polka-dotted with nooks and nests and the song of Egyptian Swift pigeons. Otherwise known as dovecotes or pigeon houses, these “earthen chimneys” are one of Egypt’s signature sights, looming higher than the squat, red-brick buildings in their periphery.

Used as a means for both farming and raising pigeons, dovecotes have featured in local history as far back as ancient Egypt. Between the need for manure for grain farming, and the staple addition of pigeon to the Egyptian diet, locales such as Mit Ghamer, and Roman-remains of Karanis have featured them in prolific numbers.

Egyptian Pigeon Houses – EARTH ARCHITECTURE
“Egyptian Pigeon Houses” | Photo Credit: Beginner’s Luck on Flickr
Photo Credit: Eduardo Jezierski

Constructed from mud-brick, dovecotes are artificial formations that emulate mountainous topographies. On occasion, they are built sitting on the upper stories of houses, though the vast majority is a stand-alone, tower-like variety that varies in size, color, and type. Designed to allow air through, the spacious interior allows birds to fly through and nest comfortably.

Over the centuries, they have become integral to Egyptian urban planning, particularly given the scarce nature of arable land.

“Egypt: Pigeon Houses” | Photo Credit: usbpanasonic via Flickr
Photo Credit: Momirage via Flickr

Although infamous as pests in other countries, Egyptians have a lingering fondness for pigeons; they are useful and resourceful creatures in local lore. Pigeons are allowed to linger on farmlands, seen as a “special voice” of wisdom and family structure. They are taught to recognize dovecotes as their home through regular feeding and friendly interaction, where they are socialized to more domesticated forms of living.

Egyptian cuisine, colorful as it is, reserves a special place for the inclusion of pigeons. Most famously is hamam mahshi, a stuffed-pigeon dish where the birds are filled with rice or freekeh, onions, and chopped giblets. Spiced with cinnamon, cumin, pepper, and nuts, they are then roasted and served whole. Because of its prolific addition to the Egyptian diet, a local economy has formed around pigeons – within urban and rural communities alike.

The dovecotes, nonetheless, remain a sight to behold, and during arid sunsets, these humble creatures can be seen soaring in unison, down the Nile, and into their homes.

Their dovecotes.

Why did the United Arab Republic Fail?
All You Need to Know About Egypt’s Space City

Subscribe to our newsletter

Arts & Culture

With a heart for radio and an appetite for culture, Mona is a writer and illustrator based in Cairo. At the Erasmus University Rotterdam, she obtained a BSc and MA in Media, Culture, and Society, while actively writing for the faculty magazine. After graduating, Mona was an academic advisor at the American University in Cairo, as well as Managing Director of a small, campus-based advertising firm. Gears shifting, her knack for cultural research took over - enter: Egyptian Streets. Mona’s focus is tapered to issues of identity politics, culture, and social architecture.

More in Arts & Culture

Meet the Egyptian Author Who Devoted Her Life to Children’s Media Awareness

Farah Rafik1 October 2022

Review: Can Bouchée Conquer Korba’s Food Scene?

Shereif Barakat1 October 2022

In Vogue: The Revival of Arab Women’s 90s Lip Liner Look

Mirna Abdulaal30 September 2022

How to Get Away with Murder with Madame Fahmy

Farah Rafik26 September 2022

Recipe: a Modern Nubian Dish Symbolizing Love and Healing

Mirna Abdulaal26 September 2022

Egypt Sets Sights on Hosting 2036 Olympics

Shereif Barakat25 September 2022

Sounds of Joy: The Significance of ‘Zaghareet’ Amongst Egyptians

Farah Rafik24 September 2022

Alexandria’s Antoniadis Gardens: Between Historical Remembrance and Standing the Test of Time

Farah Rafik21 September 2022