Mohamed A Dessouki
Urban Space and Collective Memory: The Case of Manshieh Square, Alexandria, Egypt.
This paper is concerned with the urban built environment and its social aspects along history. Cityscape is regarded and observed as a collective tangible cultural product, replete with meanings, gestures and symbols. The city is the locus and the repository of its inhabitants’ memory, where their lives and struggles can be located in certain buildings, streets, squares or neighborhoods. This paper focuses on the interrelationship between collective memory and urban spaces. The aim here is to identify how memory may shape the urban space and vice versa.
Lawrence Durrell, the author of The Alexandria Quartet (first published between 1957 and 1960), once described Alexandria, Egypt, as “the Capital of Memory”. Since its foundation in 332 BC by Alexander the Great, and until the mid Twentieth century, the port city of Alexandria acted as a melting pot that brought together ethnicities, cultures, and religions. But present-day Alexandria is a congested monophyletic city of more than five million inhabitants, a metamorphosed city that suffers many urban and social conflicts.
Manshieh Square is Alexandria’s first and most prominent urban space. Since its creation in the 1830-40's, the space was used, whether in organized or spontaneous manners, to stage many socio-political events that took place within its enclosure. It was the subject of frequent actions of war, vandalism, development, reconstruction, and commemoration and it witnessed key national declarations, riots, festive social and religious parades, and even trials, executions and assassination attempts. The paper observes and analyses the space/memory interaction in the case of Manshieh Square, Alexandria, Egypt, aiming at contributing to the understanding of this old Egyptian city with its rich multi-layered history and its current complicated condition.