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Qahrawya: Artsy Walking Tours in ‘The City That Never Sleeps’

September 1, 2022
Photo credit: Mohamed Abdel Kawy and Nora Kahil-Akhrass
Photo credit: Mohamed Abdel Kawy and Nora Kahil-Akhrass

Planning to visit Cairo soon? The first thought that comes to mind is typing “places to visit in Cairo” on the Google search bar, although this will not give you the most wholesome experience you can get when venturing into the bustling Egyptian capital.

There is so much more to Cairo than what one finds when searching online. Aside from its riveting history and heritage, Cairo’s artistic and cultural flair is indisputably distinct despite the fact that, unfortunately, not many locals, let alone tourists, know about it.

A compelling desire to show off the richness and beauty of the ‘City that never sleeps’ pushed Samia El Khodary to launch Qahrawya (Cairene) in 2018. Qahrawya offers walking tours focusing on the city’s visual and artistic side, uncovering hidden gems and diverse cultural venues.

From cultural centers and art studios, to photography exhibitions and film studios, Qahrawya takes people on walking tours in Downtown Cairo, El Mounira, Garden City, and Zamalek.

“I always tell my team ‘don’t choose what’s Googleable’. Don’t choose places that 90 percent of the people know, pick places that only 10 percent know,” El Khodary tells Egyptian Streets.

To enrich her passion for Egyptian art and culture, El Khodary took on numerous photography and collage workshops, an art residency at Fayoum Art Center, art and design courses, in addition to a Culture Development Diploma at Cairo University. Since she acts as a tour guide for all Qahrawya’s tours, she was committed to deepening her artistic background and knowledge of the arts and culture field.

Photo credit: Nora Kahil-Akhrass

“Egypt’s tourism industry focuses only on the golden ages in Egyptian civilization — the ancient Egyptians, Islamic architecture, the Coptic era — although we have more to our heritage. We have a lot of treasures and talented artists that no one knows about from the contemporary art scene,” says El Khodary. “We want to highlight the cultural narrative that is often neglected.”

Through Qahrawya, El Khodary also strives to bridge the gap between those who are already promoting art and culture, like Zawya, and the overall Egyptian public.

“When an exhibition takes place, who finds out about it? The artist, his friends, his relatives, and those who are involved in the art scene. But the majority of the public is not aware and never finds out about such exhibitions, not because they are not interested, but mainly because they do not know about it,” adds El Khodary fervently.

The Downtown tour includes the Cosmos Cinema Tour, which spotlight film studios and shooting locations, as well as the Studio Photography Tour, focusing on contemporary photo exhibitions and photography archives.

Photo credit: Nora Kahil-Akhrass

In the 19th century, Downtown Cairo was the heart of literary and artistic activities, which saw the rise of fame of Egypt’s greatest sociocultural figures, such as Umm Kulthum and Naguib Mahfouz.

Due to the richness of the Downtown area, Qahrawya also organizes the Gudran Art Tour, specialized in showcasing fine arts, mainly the contemporary art scene in Downtown Cairo.

Cosmos Cinema Tour
Photo credit: Noha El Agrab

Additionally, the walking tour in Zamalek, called El Gezira Art Tour, and the tour in Garden City, called Lamba Art Tour, take groups to visual art spaces, art exhibitions, and local handicrafts spots. Whereas the tour in El Mounira, a district many may be unfamiliar with, includes a visit to Tahrir Cultural Center, the Nation’s House Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale (IFAO).

“Our tours are an opportunity for people to explore new places, meet new people, gain knowledge, attend a music performance, and eat together. They are more like a community activity, a half-day experience,” describes El Khodary.

With a maximum number of 15 and a minimum of five, the tours begin with a mini icebreaker game, a synopsis about the visual art scene in Egypt, and a comparison between the local and global art scene.

“There are many spots that deserve the spotlight and people know nothing about them because there isn’t much awareness around them. I want cultural tourism to be as equally important as popular tourist spots,” explains El Khodary.

Qahrawya aims to expand to other districts in Cairo such as El Darb El Ahmar, Heliopolis, and Harraneya.

Follow Qahrawya on Instagram to know more about their tours and upcoming events.

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