Unfinished, abandoned, demolished: how Cairo is losing architecture it never knew it had

From grand visions that fail with the departure of a president to everyday buildings knocked down before they can be considered for heritage protection, a new book unpicks what Egypt’s capital might have been

Looming above the affluent Zamalek neighbourhood in the centre of Cairo, the Forte Tower has stood as the tallest building in Egypt for the last 30 years – yet it remains unfinished and abandoned. A ring of faintly Islamic pointed-arch windows encircles the uppermost floor of the great cylindrical shaft, creating a forlorn crown on the skyline, like a host awaiting party guests that never arrived.

Begun in the 1970s, the 166-metre tall building was planned to house a glamorous 450-room hotel, with restaurants, shops and a nightclub. It was to be the first part of a “new Manhattan of Egypt”, a cluster of skyscrapers imagined by president Anwar Sadat to rise from Gezira Island in the middle of the Nile, signalling Cairo’s place on the world stage. Following Sadat’s assassination in 1981, the project hit the rocks. Under subsequent president, Hosni Mubarak, the developer faced battles for permits and licences, seeing the project mired in lawsuits that ultimately halted it. The towering carcass has been left empty ever since, a single showroom furnished with bedding, lamps and an old TV providing an eerie relic of the dream.

So much of the city has been demolished before we’ve even discovered and documented it

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