With funds from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, what had been a mountain of garbage, amassed over centuries, was in 2005, almost miraculously, transformed into the city’s first (and only) park of significant size. Cairenes stroll through a profusion of gardens, emerald grass and fountains, or sit beside the lake or on the terraces of one of the restaurants, admiring the superb views over Cairo. It’s most fun on weekends, when families day-trip with picnics.
Depending on your outlook, the park is a gorgeous respite or a middle-class playground. This was offset slightly when the Bab al-Mahruq entrance, through a medieval gate in the old Ayyubid walls, finally opened in 2009. This granted easier access for residents of the lower-income Darb al-Ahmar district. You can enter here before 6pm, but after dark you can only exit through the main park gates on Sharia Salah Salem (taxis wait but overcharge; microbuses go to Ataba for E£2). If you enter from Darb al-Ahmar, check out the ongoing excavations of the Ayyubid walls – one major achievement was the rediscovery of Bab al-Barqiya, which had long ago been lost under the trash heap.
In addition to a couple of small cafes and the open-air theatre El Genaina, there’s an excellent restaurant here, Citadel View, capitalising on the park’s views across the medieval city and beyond. For a less substantial investment, Alain Le Nôtre serves salads, wraps and ice cream, and the Lakeside Cafe, on the other side of the park, serves more modest but good Egyptian mezzeh.