Tower to the people: A 45-year-old symbol revamped

Daily News Egypt
8 Min Read

CAIRO: Plans to clean and renovate the Cairo Tower have reached their half way mark as engineers from Arab Contractors hope to finish the project by December 2007.

Located on Gezira Island in Zamalak, the 187-meter Cairo Tower provides a panoramic view of Egypt s sprawling capital.

Designed to look like a latticework tube that fans out slightly at the top, the tower is said to imitate a lotus flower, which along with papyrus, is the most revered plant in ancient Egyptian history.

It started rotating in fits and starts, so much so that your Stella beer would spill from your glass, said EgyptAir lawyer Tamim Foda who frequented the Tower in his adolescent days.

On the other hand, Foda s mother never visited the tower. It s because I was anxious or anything of the sort. It s because Zamalak lost part of a unique garden to make way for someone s big ego.

Foda s mother recalled the Tower s history.

When Nasser s aid Kamal Al Din Hussein unveiled the tower s commemorative marble plaque in 1961, it was a cataclysmic time, not just for Egypt, but for the world.

The Eastern Bloc upstaged the West when Moscow sent the first man into space aboard a Vostok 1 rocket. Fidel Castro did the same to John F. Kennedy s Camelot following the botched Bay of Pigs invasion. In Europe, Charles de Gaulle suffered humiliation as Algeria gathered momentum towards independence.

In Cairo things were also happening at breakneck speed. For starters, the Arab League completed its new headquarters in Tahrir Square, and the Great Sphinx was about to speak for the first time in 4,400 years, marking the first Sound and Light Show.

Whatever the Cairo Tower lacked in architectural pizzazz was made up for by its frequent mention in books, thanks to its controversial origins. The result led to the concrete structure being written up in countless biographies set in Nasser s Egypt.

The first to do so was the CIA s Miles Copeland in “A Game of Nations where he reveals how the tower was paid for with American hush money meant as a bribe to Egypt s late president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Furious at the suggestion anyone thought he could be bought, Nasser decided to use American taxpayers money to send the most blatant of messages back to the US. He would build the highest structure in Cairo, superseding the largest pyramid of Giza by 43 meters. It would rise from the ground like a giant middle finger so that even the Americans would see it.

Notwithstanding, the accuracy of the above parable may be in question, but it has always made entertaining and anecdotal reading for native Egyptians. Since then, journalists and authors alike have been unable to resist mentioning the incident in their political memoirs.

Made up of 8 million small mosaic lozenges, the renovation process takes pains to make sure that each lozenge will be replaced with new ceramic tiles, said Tarek Mohammed Amin, the Arab Contractors’ project manager in charge of the renovation. We built a circular-like scaffold to move up and down the tower which helped us concentrate on each segment, he added.

Seven hundred and seventy light bulbs will also be inserted to fill in each space in the lotus-shaped structure. Leading the project of a new light system is Phillips Electronics, who claim the Cairo Tower will require more than one gigavolt each day after the project is complete.

But as an engineering company, our main project is to repair the skeleton of the tower as it was never maintained properly in the 40-some years it s been standing, said Amin.

Having dealt with the challenge of restoring several ministry buildings in Egypt, Amin told The Daily Star Egypt, The Cairo Tower is the biggest challenge of all, mainly because it s never been renovated before, so prioritizing safety concerns for tourists and workers was important.

A moderate earthquake occurred in Cairo 1992 where the intensity of ground shaking at historic districts in Cairo damaged several monuments, although none were destroyed. The all-concrete structure suffered with several cracks that ran along the shaft of the tower, which was another challenge to deal with as little pieces of concrete would fall from the tower where the cracks were found.

Amin also complained about the lack of modern tools used during the construction of the tower. But now we have access to all kinds of machinery and it can benefit from our new technology, especially the revolving restaurant which was working at an efficiency of 70 percent. But by December it should run smoothly, he said.

Prospective visitors can expect to find new additions to the mammoth structure.

After dividing it into several levels, we picked the top four levels to add new facilities, said Amin. The entrance to the tower has also been cleared of trees to be used for recreation.

A Cairo Tower employee told The Daily Star Egypt about the new facilities.

One floor will have bathrooms and kitchens. Another floor will include a new restaurant, and a third floor where two thirds of the circle s area will be used for a new café, and the remaining third, which will be on another level, will overlook the restaurant. A fourth floor will be used as a mechanical floor.

The observation desk will be renovated with newer telescopes to replace the old ones, Amin added, .as well as a new power house to serve all the facilities based on the ground, holding converters that run up to one gigavolt a day.

Initiating their project in November 2004, Arab Contractors engineers have come a long way, with half the tower nearing completion.

To maintain the light beige color of the building, the team of engineers in charge of requested that a scaffold be used to clean the Tower at least twice a month.

A new and improved Cairo Tower will continue to pierce through the skyline as the proudest symbol of the city. When it first emerged the Tower’s claim to fame was that it was the world s tallest concrete structure.

Now, a clean tower will emerge that demonstrates the success of reinventing old symbols, Amin added.

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