Climate change, connections and koshari in Cairo
A blog by Jacqui Sealy, INTO Project Officer, Withstanding Change
In late January, a group of National Trust staff joined the INTO project team in Cairo, to meet our colleagues at the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation (EHRF). We visited their stunning site, Bayt al-Razzaz – a fifteenth-century Mameluke-era palace in the heart of historic Cairo, a designated UNESCO world heritage site – and discovered how the building is impacted by climate change.
Spending time with the project partners in Cairo was an honour and privilege. After my initial worries about everyone arriving in Cairo safely, I was able to relax and enjoy just being with this exceptional group of people. The project partners were so happy to be in a room together rather than meeting online, sharing the successes and challenges that the past 12 months has brought.
Being in beautiful Bayt al-Razzaz was incredible; particularly as up until that point, I had only ever seen photos of the building. I did not appreciate the scale of it at all, so being able to stand in its courtyard watching local children learn about their cultural heritage was fantastic.
Our hosts made us feel so welcome, constantly providing drinks and biscuits (it must be a heritage organisation thing!) and ensured we sampled the cultural heritage Cairo had to offer, including mosques, markets and the local speciality dish, koshari.
Rainfall - changing climate in Cairo
To end the week with an event showcasing ‘Withstanding Change’ in the presence of the British Ambassador was quite surreal. And it rained (it rarely rains in Cairo – read on to find out more). I am still pinching myself that I am part of this amazing opportunity.
Contrary to what you might expect, Cairo is seeing bursts of very intense rainfall, which recently caused the collapse of a building next to Bayt al-Razzaz. This has resulted in a series of cracks in Bayt al-Razzaz’s fabric. There is also increased water ingress to the building itself, with visible damage to some of its ornate painted ceilings and decorative cornices.
Heather Jermy, General Manager at Blickling Estate – with which Bayt al-Razzaz is twinned as part of the project – was able to exchange learnings with the EHRF team about how to monitor changes to the building and potential adaptations. Heather’s keynote, delivered to EHRF and colleagues from the broader cultural heritage sector and the British Ambassador to Egypt, showcased adaptation in action at Blickling – and, appropriately, had to be adjourned due to rain.
“My time in Cairo really brought to light that climate change is a truly global issue with challenges shared across many countries, cultures and geographies. It also highlighted that we can share our experiences around how we adapt our places and engage people with the story of climate, learning from each other and maximising the creativity and skills of the partners involved. It will also remain memorable for the very rare rainfall that came during an outdoor conference about climate, especially when presenting about the impact of rainfall!”
Jesse Edbrooke, podcast producer for the National Trust podcast, said: “I was inspired meeting the INTO partners who are working in so many fascinating projects to protect heritage. It was humbling to see the personal risks that many are taking to protect not only artefacts and architecture, but a sense of identity and to share this with future generations.”
Sally Palmer, editor of the National Trust magazine, agreed: “I particularly enjoyed meeting the leaders of the different heritage organisations and hearing their stories and some of the challenges they face on a daily basis to protect their places, learning how much they and their work have in common even as they all celebrated the individuality of each different place.”
Project partners will be meeting again at the INTO conference in Jordan in December 2024. In the meantime, you can learn more about the project and the twinning partnerships between INTO members and National Trust sites. Follow @intoheritage on Facebook, Instagram and X for updates as our work progresses.
"I found it such a privilege to spend time with everyone and hear all the stories. I loved the project’s ethos, the genuine approach towards knowledge-sharing and the respect that everyone brought when it came to learning from each other.”