Downtown’s two main streets, Sharia Talaat Harb and Sharia Qasr el-Nil, intersect at the traffic circle of Midan Talaat Harb, where cars whizz around a statue of tarboosh-sporting Mr Harb, founder of the national bank. On the square is Groppi’s, in its heyday one of the most celebrated patisseries this side of the Mediterranean and the venue for ritzy society functions and concert dances. Gold mosaics around the doorway are, alas, the only remaining glitter.
Just south of the square on Sharia Talaat Harb, Café Riche, established in 1908, was once the main hang-out for Egyptian writers and intellectuals. Nasser allegedly met with his collaborators here while planning the 1952 Revolution.
North of the square, shops along Sharia Qasr el-Nil sell the equivalent of a drag queen’s dream of footwear. The street itself boasts some particularly fine architecture, notably the Italian Insurance building, on the corner of Qasr el-Nil and Sharia Sherifeen, and the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a short block off Qasr el-Nil. The area around the hotel and the neighbouring Cairo Stock Exchange has been pedestrianised and is packed with lively cafes popular with the city’s young activists.