Arts & Culture

Storied Structures: The History of the Yacoubian Building in Egypt

Storied Structures: The History of the Yacoubian Building in Egypt

Photo Credit: Bedouin

Cairo is home to some of the most beautiful art-deco structures in the world, so what makes one building, situated in Downtown Cairo’s Talaat Harb Square, stand out as a subject for books, films, and television shows in Egypt?

Photo credit: Zeina Hanafy

Eternalized in writing through Alaa El-Aswany’s best-selling novel and showcased on all screens in Marwan Hamed’s film adaptation, Omaret Yacoubian (‘The Yacoubian Building’) is one of Cairo’s architectural jewels, etched in Egypt’s history.

Photo Credit: Good Reads

The historical building was commissioned by the millionaire Jacob Yacoubian in 1937. Head of the Armenian community in Egypt at the time, Yacoubian commissioned Armenian architect Jaro Balian to design the building. He designed the building to represent the Art Deco style, infusing classic European aesthetics. The name Yacoubian was engraved on its entrance in Arabic and English in luminous neon lettering.

The building was home to a multitude of Egyptian pashas, wealthy Europeans, and star artists. It blended different religions, ethnicities, and nationalities.When a number of buildings were transferred to state ownership in the wake of the 1952 revolution, the living situations changed for its inhabitants. They were chased out, and there were physical transformations to the building, among them the obvious transformation of rooftop rooms from laundry rooms to housing.

Over the years, it cannot be said that the Yacoubian building has aged gracefully, and it is now quite easy to miss on a stroll in Downtown Cairo. It has been bedecked with signs for shops that now line its first floor, and the first glimpse of it is anti-climactic for those who imagined an enthralling edifice.

These expectations are largely based on the appearance of the building in the Omaret Yacoubian film (2006), directed by the iconic Marwan Hamed, with a star-studded cast including Adel Emam, Youssra, Hend Sabri, Khaled El-Sawi, and many more. Hamed’s film, though centered around the historic building, does not depict the real Yacoubian building.

The film, which features a building close to Shorbagy street in down Cairo, is centered around the decaying Yacoubian complex, and follows the interwoven stories of its residents as they face power struggles, corruption, drugs, and more. The tenants of the building, who end up in a storm of hate, drunkenness, and subjugation, mirror the decline and decay of Egyptian society.

Today, the building is a remnant of a once beautiful architectural era, overpowered by the influx of shops and urban expansion. Still, the Yacoubian building, as many others in Egypt, reflect the bygone history of Egypt.

Baligh Hamdi’s Legacy: Bringing the Sounds of Egypt to the World
A Walk Through History: European Influences on Cairo’s Architecture

Subscribe to our newsletter

Arts & Culture

Dual Degree in Political Science and Multimedia Journalism. I have a special love for storytelling, history, big cities, gender, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

More in Arts & Culture

15 Unskippable Intros From Egyptian TV Shows

Farah Rafik4 October 2022

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