Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Systems - (Ph.D.)


School of Architecture

First Advisor

Karen A. Franck

Second Advisor

Gabrielle M. Esperdy

Third Advisor

Georgeen Theodore

Fourth Advisor

Dina Shehayeb


Tahrir Square not only represents a symbol of liberation but also reflects the modern history of Egypt. Its several physical changes signify the rise and fall of the monarchy, colonialism, modernism, nationalism, capitalism, echoing a constantly changing definition of the Egyptian public space. And while the surrounding façades physically define the square, either the authorities or the public control its activities.

Khedive Ismail founded the square around 1869 as a roundabout on his “Paris along the Nile” modern city. Between 1882 and 1947, the site became the barracks’ location for the British troops who colonized Egypt. In 1952, an Egyptian military coup overthrew the monarchy and later ended the British occupation. Since then, Tahrir Square has served as a symbol of a nationalized and then globalized Egypt. In 2011, thousands of Egyptians occupied Tahrir and ousted Mubarak -- the longest-ruling president in Egypt’s history. The square became a miniature Egyptian society, where people from different social, political, and religious groups congregated and performed a variety of political, cultural, social, and religious activities. However, starting in 2011, Egypt experienced political instability, and Tahrir represented a threat to the ruling regime. Thus, the square turned into a surveilled space where access and activities were controlled. In 2019, the government commissioned a landscape architect who converted Tahrir into “an open-air museum” or a roundabout with an obelisk and four sphinxes -- showcasing an Ancient Egyptian identity.

The purpose of this dissertation is to track the history, design, and use of Tahrir Square from 1869 to 2021. Drawing from previous scholarship, in English, Arabic, and French, analyzing historical and contemporary maps and pictures, and relying on site observations, the research demonstrates how the transformations in Tahrir Square and its surrounding buildings echo the political, social, and cultural landscapes of Cairo during several pivotal moments in its history and in Egyptian history.



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