The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

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Aquarium Grotto Garden: The Only Fish Garden in Cairo

Aquarium Grotto Garden: The Only Fish Garden in Cairo
    written by
    Salma Tantawi

    During the golden days of Egyptian cinema, almost all films had one
    scene in common: where a couple on a romantic rendezvous are in a garden surrounded
    by beautiful roses with background sounds of birds and ducks. Now in a time
    when we desperately need more oxygen to fill the air, we can’t help
    but wonder: where did those perfect gardens go? Luckily, we came close to the
    answer in the Aquarium Grotto Garden.

    Located on Gabalaya Street in Zamalek, the Aquarium Grotto Garden (Genenit El Asmak in Arabic) was once a private property
    of Khedive Ismail and a natural haven for lovers more than a century ago. Today, the garden has grown to be less popular than it once was, perhaps due
    to a severe degradation from its original state when it was first opened to the
    public in the 19th century.

    For one thing, the garden doesn’t contain as many fish as one would
    expect from one of the few aquariums in Egypt. They aren’t easy to find, either;
    only one of the many passageways holds weary tanks that seem to have been neglected
    for a long while now. The general state of the garden also needs a lot of renovations.
    Several ceramic fountains that were once filled with water are now dry to the
    point of cracking. Even the cats and birds that occasionally roam around seem
    depressed.

    That being said, the garden is blessed with a great construction design
    that has withstood both age and maltreatment. The basic planning of the garden was
    designed by an Italian engineer hired by the khedive to produce an Italian
    garden. The interlocked passages made from real lime make it fun to get lost in
    them while exploring the park.

    The garden has a lot more to offer than at first glance. Though the
    number of sea creatures aren’t many, some are really worth seeing, including
    rare species varied in colours, shapes and features. You can spot a hundred-year-old
    sea turtle beside a special fish that can clean its own tank. In addition to
    viewing live fish, you can also find different kinds of mummified
    fish and sea snakes (some of which are several metres long), kept in labelled
    jars with information on their origins and life cycle.

    The covered path that hosts all the fish tanks had another function
    during the khedive days. There is an empty space where singers and dancers once
    performed for the khedive, who watched from a seating area on a higher level.
    Now the space is still kept empty as it was; but now it features something that
    sticks to the visitor’s memory: very squeaky bats mounted on the ceiling!

    The security guards are very helpful if you need directions or
    information. While leading us throughout the garden, one guard told us
    interesting facts about films and shows that have been filmed and exactly where they were shot. Apparently, Abdel Halim Hafez’s apartment can be spotted from inside the
    garden where he used to come for walks or to film scenes.

    One thing that adds to the garden’s attraction is how it’s a quiet,
    peaceful spot in the middle of the noise of Cairo. On normal days, fine arts students
    come to paint the scenery; the quietness emphasized by the low number of
    visitors makes this grotto a suitable place for peaceful walks in the early morning.

    Though the garden has been portrayed in films as a romantic spot for
    couples; families also go for picnics, and kids can ride their bikes around the
    garden. There’s a small seating area where you can have a refreshing drink near
    what may have once been a lake. The garden lacks seating, but it’s easy to find
    a place under a tree and have a true, classical picnic experience.

    The Aquarium Grotto Garden is a nice place to take a walk while
    pretending that you’re in a classic Egyptian film. With renovations supposedly
    happening soon, the garden will have its regular visitors back to enjoy the
    green scenery and marvel at the rare, colourful fish.  

    The garden opens from 8:30AM to 4:30PM.

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