“[Cairo] is like a giant roller coaster, it’s always on the go. It has an energy like no other, yet you can also find pockets and windows of silence here and there,” says Mai Eldib, author of Cairo Eternal, the first Egyptian destination in Assouline’s Travel series. Eldib is a cultural strategist and specialist in visual art and culture from the Arab world, Iran and Turkey, and has been working at Sotheby’s since 2008, contributing to numerous artist monographs and exhibition catalogues throughout the region. Having moved to Cairo in 2010, Eldib remains enamoured with city to this day. “It is truly a city that never sleeps; you can always do something or meet someone at any time of the day.”
This sense of vibrancy is what Eldib hoped to capture in the pages of Cairo Eternal, on which she worked alongside countless Egyptian photographers and collaborators. The book includes photographs captured by Karim ElHayawan, the art of Naila Marei and the objects of designer Omar Chakil, who works with Egyptian alabaster.
No other city is as integral in symbolising the ancient past of humanity or the everyday hustle and bustle of our present day. The Cairo metropolis is known for its desert landscape, dotted with the Great Pyramids, while also hosting the longest river in the African continent. Defying categorisation, Cairo is a city of constant evolution. The newly opened Grand Egyptian Museum is home to the finest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the world, while the city’s streets are rich with the creativity of local artists and artisans, some of which can be seen at the energetic Khan El Khalili bazaar.
The book tells of the city’s past, the historic dynasties that ruled its lands, its cultural impacts, its music and heritage, its revered and lesser-known landmarks, as well as its rich cuisine, and so much more.
“I think the book was my attempt at capturing the nostalgia and the beautiful past of the city, alongside the thriving newness and evolution that we are currently experiencing,” Eldib explains.
Cairo has been the protagonist of many a Hollywood production and the subject of countless documentaries, many of which reiterate the same cliches. How does one avoid this when putting together a book that celebrates its identity?
“That was one of my main concerns,” Eldib admits. “I didn’t want the book to be cliche or kitsch. I wanted to give a real taste of the city. I wanted everyone to see and experience the Cairo that we experience, not the Cairo you see in travel guides.