History and museums
Zamalek (Egyptian Arabic: الزمالك pronounced ez.zæˈmæːlek) is an affluent district of western Cairo encompassing the northern portion of Gezira Island in the Nile River. The island is connected with the river banks through three bridges each on the east and west sides of the island, including the Qasr al-Nil Bridge and 6th October Bridge. It has witnessed many phases of growth affected by many economic and political currents which has led to a crowding of parts of the island including great reductions in the Zamalek district's open green areas, but with a large greenbelt across the island's middle defining the two districts.
Zamalek, along with Maadi, Mohandessin, Heliopolis, and Garden City, is one of the affluent residential districts in Greater Cairo. Many non-Egyptians live in Zamalek. There are many apartments with sporadic maintenance because the landlords rarely make improvements; there are rent control programmes that allow several Zamalek complexes to house low income and middle income Egyptians.
The quiet, leafy streets and 19th-century apartment blocks and villas make this one of the most attractive parts of the city and a favored residential location for many of Cairo's European expatriates. It is also the district of many fine restaurants, bars and cafes, including traditional open-air ahwas and European cappuccino bars. The Gezira Island area is culturally active: with art galleries and museums, including the Museum of Islamic Ceramics; and two of Cairo’s major music and performing arts venues — the spacious Egyptian Opera House complex, and the El Sawy Culturewheel Centre.
Several Zamalek buildings have an Art Deco style.
Under Khedive Ismail the Island was called "Jardin des Plantes" (Garden of Plants), because of its great collection of exotic plants shipped from all over the world. French landscape designer De la Chevalerie designed the island's landscape plan, gardens, and plant nurseries. On the east shore a kiosk was built for attending the island and supervising its development.
The kiosk was replaced in 1869 with the Gezirah Palace, a U-shaped summer mansion, which was designed by Julius Franz Pasha and decorated by Karl Von Diebitsch. The palace was built and first used for guests attending the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal. Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria and Eugénie, Empress of the French were some of the noble guests of the palace. Today the Gezira Palace is the central part of the Cairo Marriott Hotel, with its rooftop having an open-air theatre facing the Nile.
Other palaces were also built in Zamalek, including Prince Sa'id Toussoun's palace, which is now a branch of the Council of Ministers, and Prince Amr Ibrahim's palace (1924), which is now the Museum of Islamic Ceramics. In 1882 the Gezira Sporting Club was built in the southern region of the island. Later a water garden known as the "Grotto Garden," with a rare collection of African fish, was built by British Captain Stanley Flower in Zamalek.
Several notable Egyptian figures lived in Zamalek including the Diva of the East Umm Kulthum.
As of 2010, over 420,000 people live on the island.