Downtown Cairo is an area rich in history. Every neighborhood carries a memory or two, every building has a story to tell. In the hustle and bustle of Downtown Cairo, one building stands out: the ever-imposing Immobilia building – Egypt’s first skyscraper.
Situated on the corner that connects Sherif Street and Qasr El Nil Street, Immobilia is a building complex that housed some of 20th century Egypt’s most influential figures.
To welcome the oncoming modernization of Downtown Cairo, Immobilia was designed by French and Italian architects Max Adrei and Gaston Rossis at the behest of the Egyptian government. The colossal complex was intended to break away from traditional building designs, divorcing from the Haussman-heavy architectural influences in order to usher in a new era.
Immobilia featured two U-shaped towers, comprising 13 floors each, for a total of 370 apartments at a height of 70 meters. Post-construction, it became the tallest building in Egypt at the time.
Its amenities were intended to match the innovation of the design, for the complex offered luxury housing, and high-end facilities, such as Cairo’s first-ever underground garage at a capacity of 100 cars.
The project’s funding was as grand as the project itself. Immobilia’s proprietor, Aboud Pasha, Egypt’s biggest business magnate at the time, invested EGP 1.2 million at the time of its construction – calculated with the country’s current-day inflation, that would be the equivalent of EGP 301 million (USD 16 million).
Despite the grandeur of the building, few were willing to rent Immobilia’s apartments upon its leasing. Apartment rents in the complex were valued at six to twelve Egyptian Pounds per month, a hefty sum considering that elsewhere, apartments cost two to three Egyptian Pounds. Consequently, the exclusivity and luxury of Immbolia transformed it into the quintessential hub for Egypt’s most prominent artists.
Immobilia’s track record of renowned tenants gives it the legendary status it holds today. Naguib Al-Rihani, one of Egypt’s founding fathers of comedy, was one of the building’s first tenants. Celebrated singer and composer, Mohamed Abdel-Wahab was Al-Rihani’s next-door neighbor. A few floors above them lived the iconic acting couple Anwar Wagdy and his wife, the enchanting Laila Murad. One of Egypt’s formative directors, Henry Barakat, also resided in the building. The enigmatic singer, Asmahan, was also a tenant a few years prior to her fatal car accident. Omar Sharif, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Umm Kalthoum would later set up their private office spaces in Immobilia.
Fast forward to today, Immobilia tells a different tale. While still imposing in size and stature, that sense of splendor is gone.
In 1961, under Gamal Abdel Nasser’s private property purge, the building was nationalized and handed to Al Shams for Housing and Development, who gradually neglected the iconic building and began to lease apartments for commercial purposes.
Immobilia’s original owner, Aboud Pasha, fled the country, never to return to Egypt.
The once-avant-garde geometric lines of Immobilia are now washed out in the chaos and dust of modern-day Downtown Cairo. A grassroots campaign aimed to restore and revive the legendary skyscraper in 2020 but to no avail thus far.
Nevertheless, the building stands strong and resolute, living to tell the tale of its illustrious inhabitants.