The area, designed by prestigious French architects was commissioned by Khedive Ismail. It was he who stressed the importance of urban planning for the first time in Cairo, to include broad, linear gridded streets, geometric harmony and modern European architectural style.
It was once home to the prosperous elite of late 19th and early 20th century Cairo. It is a relic of a bygone era — Egypt's Belle epoque — and demonstrates the Khedive's vision for developing Egypt. Yet decades of neglect by the neighborhood's landlords and tenants, precipitated by the exodus of the expatriate community after the 1952 Revolution led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the ensuing departure of the upper classes, have left the ornate splendor of its ornate edifices mired in decay. Lax enforcement of laws and regulations gave way to the entry of commercial establishments into the neighborhood, mostly with no regard to maintaining aesthetic harmony or preserving the historic buildings.
Groppi is one of the first and most famous ice cream stores in Cairo, located in Talaat Harb Square. The store was owned by the Italian Groppi family, and survived the nationalization movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
One of the most renowned downtown landmarks, on the 29th of Talaat Harb Street, is the Café Riche which opened in 1908. At various times a meeting place for intellectuals and revolutionaries, the cafe witnessed many historically significant events over the 20th century. It is said to be where King Farouk saw his second wife, Nariman Sadek; where the perpetrator of the 1919 failed assassination attempt on Egypt's last Coptic Prime Minister, Youssef Wahba Pacha lay in wait for his target; and where several members of the resistance during the 1919 revolution met the basement to organize their activities and print their flyers. Patrons included the political novelist Naguib Mahfouz and the then-future president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Heritage groups have long called for a national campaign to preserve and restore the area's architectural legacy and beauty. Only since the 1992 earthquake, which caused notable damage across the city and country, did national campaigns to preserve heritage form, such as the Historic Cairo Restoration Project.
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- "A Riche history: The café at the heart of revolutionary Cairo". The Economist. 17 December 2011. Retrieved 29 December 2011.