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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Cairo Culture Guide
Cairo Culture Guide - TravelPuppy.com
The Cairo Opera House (telephone number: (02) 341 2926 or 739 8144) is the city’s main venue for dance, drama, film and music. It is situated in the Gezira Exhibition Grounds on Gezira Island and has excellent acoustics and 2 halls, with the main one seating 1,200 people and the smaller holding 500.

There are several cultural centres, which have very varied programmes including lectures, music, films, exhibitions and other cultural events. Details are available in the monthly magazine Egypt Today and in the newspapers Al-Ahram Weekly and The Middle East Times.

The main cultural centres include:

The American Cultural Centre
US Embassy,
5 Amrika al-Latiniya.
Telephone number: (02) 355 8927)

The British Council
192 al-Nil
Telephone number: (02) 303 1514)

The Canadian Cultural Information Centre
5 al-Saraya al-Kubra
Telephone number: (02) 354 3110)

The Centre Français de Culture et de Coopération
1 Madrasat el-Huquq al-Faransiya
Telephone number: (02) 354 1012)

The Egyptian Centre for International Cultural Cooperation

11 Shagarat al-Durr
Telephone number: (02) 341 5419)

The Goethe Institute
5 ‘Abd al-Salam’ Arif
Telephone number: (02) 575 9877)

The Japanese Cultural Centre
2nd floor,
Cairo Centre,
106 Qasr al’Aini
Telephone number: (02) 355 3962 or 794 9432)

The Middle Eastern Cultural Centre
17 Mar’ashli
Telephone number: (02) 341 4053)

The United Arab Emirates Cultural Centre
9 Qambiz
Telephone number: (02) 349 9166)

Cairo has a good art scene, with various galleries spread around the city. To find out what is going on, the Atelier du Caire, 2 Karim al-Dawla (telephone number: (02) 574 6730), acts as both gallery and a meeting place for artists.

There is no city-wide ticketing organisation in Cairo. The best way for tourists to purchase tickets is from their hotel concierge or a local travel agency, such as American Express (telephone number: (02) 370 3411), Misr Travel (telephone number: (02) 393 0010) or Thomas Cook (telephone number: (02) 356 4650).

Music

Classical performances at cultural centres and at the The Cairo Opera House are generally more of Western classical music, although classical Arab music can also be heard. Performances can also be heard at the Sayed Darwish Concert Hall, Sharia Gamal al-Din al-Afghani (telephone number: (02) 561 2473), in performances given by the Umm Kalthoum Classical Arabic Music Troupe, during the winter.

Theatre

The 7-storey The Cairo Opera House has both international and local performers. There are 2 indoor concert halls and an open-air theatre. Visitors should note, that in the main hall men must wear a tie and jacket.

Dance

Dance is not a major art form in Cairo, unless you count the folk dance shows, several hotels incorporate these as part of the entertainment packages for guests. There are additionally performances by visiting dance companies, including an annual visit by the Bolshoi Ballet, and by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, at The Cairo Opera House. The cultural centres which are listed above also put on dance performances. Other options range from Sufi dancing to belly-dancing.

Belly-dancing can be seen in Las Vegas-style productions at the Nile Hilton, Midan Tahrir (telephone number: (02) 578 0444) and the Cairo Sheraton, Midan el Galaa in Dokki (telephone number: (02) 336 9700).

Sufi dancing, more universally known in the West as the dance of the whirling dervishes, can be seen on Wednesday and Saturday evenings at the Ghurriya Cultural Centre in the Madrassa of al-Ghouri, Sharia al-Azhar (telephone number: (02) 909146).

Film

Cairo was once known as the Hollywood of the Middle East due to the number of Arabic films made here, but no longer, although a new movie studio was built outside of the city recently. Cinemas tend to show Hollywood blockbusters with Arabic subtitles but there are also limited runs of some arthouse films in the numerous cultural centres around Cairo. 2 proper cinemas that do show arthouse films are the Cairo Sheraton, Sharia al-Giza (telephone number: (02) 760 6081), and a 2-screen cinema at the Ramses Hilton (telephone number: (02) 574 7436).

Others that show English-language films include the Horeyya, with 2 screens on the 6th floor of the Horeyya Mall, The Tahrir, 122 Sharia Tahrir in Doqqi (telephone number: (02) 335 4726), Sharia al-Ahram in Heliopolis (telephone number: (02) 452 9980), and The Cosmos, 12 Sharia Emad ed-Din (telephone number: (02) 574 2177).

Visitors should be prepared for the fact that for security reasons, no-one is allowed to leave the cinema until the film is finished, and movie audiences can be as noisy as a sports crowd.

Cultural events

Egypt has more feasts and festivals than most other countries in the world, mixing Christian, Coptic, Islamic and ordinary secular holidays. It also uses 3 different calendars (Western Gregorian, Coptic and Islamic Hejira). Most religious feasts are calculated using the Islamic calendar, eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, and these events occur roughly 10 to 12 days earlier each year in the Western calendar.

Ramadan is the principal religious feast that visitors should be aware of. During the month of Ramadan, devout Muslims allow nothing to pass their lips thorughout the hours of daylight and also abstain from sexual activity completely. Some people choose to sleep longer in the afternoon than at night, and so some shops and offices will have quite unpredictable opening hours. It is considered impolite to drink or eat in public when the fast is taking place, so visitors must use discretion although they are not expected to observe Ramadan themselves. Tourist hotels will be largely unaffected however some restaurants may close.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan fasting with 3 days of feasting, and the slaughter of goats, sheep and occasionally cows. There will be fewer people in Cairo then but their place is taken by vast numbers of animals, commonly tethered in pens in the streets.

Eid al-Adha is another great Islamic feast, held seventy days after the end of Ramadan. It lasts for 4 days, and on this occasion only sheep are killed as the feast celebrates the prophet Abraham slaughtering a sheep in place of his son.

Literary Notes

There is 1 towering literary figure in Cairo and that is Naguib Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. His books teem with Cairo life and have been compared to the novels of Balzac and Dickens, The Cairo Trilogy is his masterpiece, acclaimed in Egypt when the 3 books were 1st published in 1956 and 1957, and again when finally all 3 were translated into English in the 1990's. The novels (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street) are a historical family saga set mainly in the Islamic quarter of the city, where Mahfouz himself was born during 1911. Other notable works include The Thief and the Dogs (1961), a sketchy psychological novel that marked a change of style, and Midaq Alley (1947), set in a poor back-street also in the Islamic quarter. His novels show a sympathy for the underdogs of Cairo life, and portray a side of the city that the average visitor will seldom even glimpse.

One of Cairo’s leading women writers is Nawal el-Saadawi, who was born outside of Cairo and worked in the city as a doctor and psychiatrist. She founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association and has written plays, short stories and social studies as well as novels. Her socialist and feminist beliefs pervade her work and she has not always been very popular in her own country, she was even imprisoned under the Sadat regime. More recently, she has left Cairo to teach in North American universities. Woman at Point Zero (1979), a novel about the killing of a pimp by a woman who is then condemned to death, has been banned in Egypt, while her most famous book The Hidden Face of Eve (1977) is a non-fiction book dealing with women in the Arab world.

Cairo has always held a noteworthy fascination for British authors and both Olivia Manning (The Levant Trilogy, 1978 onwards) and Penelope Lively (Oleander, Jacaranda, 1994) have used the city as a background for their fiction.