Prince Charles visits Sacred Gift project in Egypt
March 21, 2006:
||Aerial view of the Al-Azhar park. Photo copyright Aga Khan Development Network
The Prince of Wales began his five-day visit to Egypt yesterday with a visit to the Al-Azhar park in Cairo, built on the site of a 500-year-old rubbish tips and one of the Sacred Gifts presented at the WWF/ARC Kathmandu meeting in 2000. The choice of the park reflects Prince Charles’ long term commitment both to ecology and to public spaces.
The idea for the park began when the Aga Khan, leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims, visited Cairo in 1984 for a conference entitled “The Expanding Metropolis: Coping with the Urban Growth of Cairo.”
And he noticed, looking down from one of the minarets in Old Cairo, that there were no parks at all to act as a counterbalance for the buildings and streets and traffic stretching to the horizon. So after the conference he made the announcement that he would finance a park for Cairo – a public space, with flowers, fountains and privacy, in the middle of a great sprawling metropolis.
The chosen site was an ancient rubbish dump, rising above the old medieval district of the city centre. And
“This is a totally unique historic gift,” the Aga Khan said in an interview, after the park was opened in 2005. “It was a gift of a dumpsite, no buildings on it, desperately poor people around it, but critically situated right in the heart of historic Cairo.”
The Sacred Gifts project was a means of giving praise and recognition for some of the most significant new environmental projects launched by the World’s great religions in 2000, and then later in 2002.
The recognition of these gifts by a major international environmental foundation (WWF International) and by ARC signals both the secular world’s acceptance of the role of religions in the environment and the religions’ own commitment to the urgency of the situation.