Historic Restoration of Harawi Residence
Cairo, Egypt

Anna Bardos


The Harawi residence is a private house situated in the heart of one of Cairo's most architecturally rich quarters, near to the Al-Azhar Mosque. The building as a whole was built in 1731, but it also contains a large reception room dating from the 16th century, and a later addition of a secondary entrance from the 19th century. It was restored between 1986 and 1993 by the Mission for Safeguarding Islamic Cairo and the architect Bernard Maury.


The Harawi residence is known by the name of one of its last owners, Muhammad Harawi, who occupied it in the first half of the 19th century. The building was significantly modified at that time, but luckily the most important rooms survived this period of modernization. The building was acquired by the Egyptian Committee for Conservation of Monuments of Arab Art at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1970 a research mission was set up called the Mission of Scientific Study of the Palaces and Houses of Cairo of the 14th to 18th Century. This was an initiative of the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique (CRNS) and the French Foreign Affairs Ministry, in collaboration with the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation. In the early 1980s Dr. Ahmed Qadi was the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation. He instituted a new policy of restoration and safeguarding of important buildings, which led to many projects.

In 1984, at the request of the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation, France created the Mission for Safeguarding Islamic Cairo with the objective of restoring a monument. France was to provide two experts, and Egypt was to provide the labor and materials. Architect Bernard Maury was chosen to direct the project.

The Harawi residence was chosen in 1985 out of six buildings in Cairo under consideration for restoration. Criteria justifying the choice included the significant architectural, archeological and historical value of the building, its relatively unaltered state, and its privileged position in the heart of the urban fabric.

Due to the knowledge acquired of the domestic architecture of Cairo during more than 15 years of research, the Mission of Scientific Study of the Palaces and Houses of Cairo was able to propose a method for the restoration and to commence work quickly.



Spaces and Uses
The mostly three-story house consists of a number of rooms built around a main courtyard. (Image 1) The original entrance to the building is from the south, through a passage off the alley Zuqaq Al-Qasr (1). As in all houses of this era, the access to the court is crooked to preserve intimacy. The central court (9) is open to the sky and provides access to all parts of the building. A second entrance to the north of the court was added in the 19th century, accessed from Zuqaq al-Ennabi, and is the one more frequently used.

The mandara (16) to the east is, as is traditional, divided into three separate spaces. The central space has an octagonal basin of mosaic in the floor, with ventilation through a lantern 14 meters above. Another reception room, the salon, (12) to the south of the central court is decorated in two styles ­Cairene, with geometric patterns, and Turkish, with floral patterns. The ceiling in this room bears the date 1731. Other rooms on the first floor include kitchens, outbuildings and storage spaces.

The second floor is mainly occupied by private apartments, which are accessed by one stairway to the west. The Qa'a (35) is a beautiful traditional room, with floral decoration and plastered walls of slate blue. The rooms 37, 38 and 47 are similarly decorated, rooms 42 are from the 19th century and of less interest.

Structures, Materials, Technology, and Construction
The foundations of the house are of quarry stones and rubble held together with earth mortar. They are laid in trenches dug into the ground, with the greatest depth being 1 meter and the width varying between 600 to 800 centimeters. These were found to be in fairly good condition at the outset of the restoration work, and not too affected by water.

As a general rule, the ground floor walls are faced with dressed stone, and the higher levels are of plastered brick. The filler between the stone facings is rubble and debris held together with a mixture of lime and earth.

The floors are constructed in the traditional manner of a line of joists, which hold the floor, covered with a bed of filling material 150-200mm deep as the setting for flagstones. Lime mortar, about 50mm deep, and stone, also about 50mm deep, is used for the floor. The ceilings are constructed in the same manner as the floors, but the beams are carved and the exposed underside painted. Roofing also uses this construction method, but the stones are thinner and are waterproofed.


A principle aim of the Harawi house project was to save an Islamic building of Cairo and to try to create more momentum in this direction. The restoration of the Harawi residence is seen as a 'work-school' for the learning of traditional skills. The completed project can be seen as a reference tool for future projects. Throughout the duration of the work, the Mission pursued the goal of educating the workmen.

Great progress was made in the aim of reintroducing traditional construction methods, and in training artisans who could then use their skills elsewhere. The necessity of bringing in external qualified labor for more specialized restoration work resulted in many of the unskilled workers acquiring experience, skills, and even qualifications themselves.

The second positive result of the project is the successful integration of the building into the social life of the quarter, and its wide range of visitors. The quarter has become cleaner around the Harawi residence, and the government of Cairo has made efforts to improve the quarter with new streetlights, resurfacing of certain buildings, and the regular removal of household waste.


A main concern was to respect as much as possible the materials used in the original construction, so stone, brick and wood were used according to traditional practices. The use of lime was reintroduced, as too often it is abandoned in favor of cement with a detrimental effect on old buildings. All the materials used originated locally, and were often salvaged. To assure the same quality of stone for the floors, pieces were acquired from old buildings being demolished. Wood was also found in this way. Only the bricks used were of present day manufacture, and these were covered by plaster.

It was essential that all the work be manual, and so there were no mechanical appliances or lifting gear on the site. Of the labor involved, 20% was specialized, such as that for the restoration of joinery or paintings and 80% non-specialized, with 90% of all labor described as native.

In the basement, some stones had been damaged by humidity and deteriorated through lack of maintenance. The availability of specialized local labor and materials meant it was possible to replace defective stones without the wall above failing ­ a technique that was also utilized in other areas of Cairo.

The façade on the south of the court showed signs of profound modification since its original construction. Under a pointed arched door dating from the 19th century were signs of a fanlight, and signs were found of a large square bay window that had been blocked up and replaced by three pointed arched windows. Also, traces of a rectangular opening were found to the right of the door, at a high level.

When these indications were verified by further investigation, it was decided to reinstate both windows, and replace the door. In the process of taking out the wall filling to reopen the bay window, pieces of a carved door were found that had been used to block up the opening, enabling the original 18th century door to be reinstated.

The façade on the west of the court showed two phases of construction ­ to the left is a carved stone doorway from the 18th century, and to the right side are pointed arched windows from the 19th century, built when the new north entrance was added. The older doorway was collapsing due to aging of the mortar, so in the conservation process it was taken apart and reassembled with new mortar, then micro-sandblasted to restore the original color of the stone. The newer part of this façade required serious restoration only to the joinery.

The façade to the east of the court required much restoration at balcony level, with a complicated task of repairing the beams before waterproofing under the flagstones. The salon (12) required important restoration work to the ceiling that was carried out once the bays were reopened. The ceiling was in very poor condition, with some beams broken. It was strengthened by sliding metal structures into the ceiling and the main beams. In this way they were able to avoid making the additional structure visible.

The Qa'a above the salon had a particularly broken up floor, and was also open to the sky as the center of the ceiling was missing. The ceiling was closed off by an octagonal element, recalling the lantern of the mandara. The painted ceilings were carefully restored and then appropriately lit.

The mandara was missing its lantern and so this was replaced. The murals were restored, and missing elements of joinery replaced. Also, the entrance to the room was moved to its original position as this had been altered at some stage.

The building's wooden screens and balconies were waterproofed and protected by tarring. All external brick construction was re-coated with lime plaster.

Since its inauguration the house has been used to hold seminars, exhibitions, concerts and dinners, in both the salon and the mandara.


1986: Work starts with the restoration of the building's stone basements. Organizing the work, and more significantly, the delivery of materials caused much delay, so that the work did not resume normal speed until the start of 1988.

1987: Ongoing repair of the structure of the building until 1991 including: repair of brickwork, vital work on both levels in the west zone of the dwelling, reinforcement of the floor in the Qa'a and room 37, repair and waterproofing of the balconies to the east and south of the dwelling, restoration of the lantern of the mandara, and restoration of the 19th century parts of the building.

February: Study of the lighting of the building.

February: Electric cabling installed.
March: Start of lime coating, and a first test of the restoration of woodwork, yielding inconclusive results.
November: First attempt to restore the paintings ­ through the CRETOA d'Avignon.

January: Trial illumination of the house, which proved encouraging.
March: The second mission to restore the painted ceilings, which took one month.
October: Sandblasting of stone walls, which took until June 1993.

January: Final electrical installation.
April: Final internal plastering.
June: Lamps installed.
August: Final laying of flagstones.
September: Verification of last details.

September 25th 1993: Inauguration of the house.


Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CRNS)
French Foreign Affairs Ministry
Egyptian Antiquities Organization
Mission for the Scientific Study of the Houses and Palaces of Cairo
Mission for Safeguarding Islamic Cairo
Bernard Maury, Architect


Labor $ 177,710
Materials $ 90,361
Professional consultants $ 530,120
Other costs $ 212,350
Total cost $ 1,010,500

Cost per square meter $790

This cost per square meter is described as average for work of this kind. Eight percent of the total funds came from private sources, and 92% from public sources. None of the public funding was described as from local sources, 30% came from national sources and 60% from international. The labor was provided by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation.



Maury, Bernard; A. Raymond; J. Revault; M. Zakariya. Palais et Maisons du Caire II, Epoque Ottomane, XVI-XVIII siecles. Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1983.

Maury, Bernard. Aga Khan Award Project Record, 20th January, 1998.


Illustration Credits

1-8.  The Harawi residence, Images 1 ­ 8: Aga Khan Award for Architecture archives, Bernard Maury.

9. Rotch Library Visual Collections, MIT, Cambridge, MA, "Plan of Islamic Monuments, 966-1945, detail of north half, east side."

10 - 13. Maury, Bernard; A. Raymond; J. Revault; M. Zakariya. Palais et Maisons du Caire II, Epoque Ottomane, XVI-XVIII siecles. Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1983.












1. Plan of the Harawi Residence

2. Detail of the entrance door

3. View of entrance door from the street.

4. Details of screens in the house.
 6. View of the interiors.

7. External view of the house.

8. Axonometric view of the house.

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