Wagh El Birket

Wagh El Birket (Arabic: وجه البركة‎ (here, pronounced with the 'g' and the 'h' separate), lit. "the face of the lake" or "fronting the lake") was, through the first half of the 20th century, the entertainment district (or red-light district) of Cairo, Egypt.[1][2] The lake was where Azbakeya is now.[3]

Wagh El Birket

وجه البركة
Entertainment district
Troops in the Birka, 1942 cartoon
Troops in the Birka, 1942 cartoon
The Berka (WWII)


In the 19th century as Cairo expanded, Wagh El Birket developed as a contact zone between the wealthy area round the Azbakeya lake and expanding central Cairo.[citation needed] The street ran from the Hotel Bristol to Clot Bey Square.[4]

In 1911 the street was described as "the most unblushing in Cairo".[4] On one side was an arcade with cafes underneath. On the other were houses with balconies on the upper floors. "Ladies of the night" dressed in flimsy gowns would display themselves on the balconies. Towards the Clot Bey end was the Fishmarket, a particularly squalid area.[4]


In World War I there were violent incidents in the Wagh El Birket, including the major incident known as the Battle of the Wazzir.


During the Second World War, the street was known as "the Berka" by troops.[5] The military set up brothels on the street, which were controlled by the Medical Corps.[6] Medical centres, officially known as PA centres (preventative ablution),[7] to try and prevent servicemen catching STI were set up in the area,[8] and the army medical services oversaw the regular check-ups of prostitutes which were carried out by civilian authorities.[9] The street had warning signs of a cross on a white background at both ends.[10]

After two Australian soldiers were killed on the street,[5] the authorities closed the Berka down in May 1942. Some of the troops blamed General Bernard Montgomery for the closure as he had a reputation as a puritan.[9]


The Wagh El Birket features prominently in several novels by Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, particularly the Cairo Trilogy. [5]


Inline citationsEdit

  1. ^ Moseley 1917, p. 206.
  2. ^ Dawson 1961, p. 33.
  3. ^ Tawfik & Ali 2018, p. 114.
  4. ^ a b c Sladen 1911.
  5. ^ a b c Richardson 2003, p. 130.
  6. ^ Thompson2010, p. 50.
  7. ^ Stout 1954, p. 599.
  8. ^ Bierman & Smith 2002, p. 42.
  9. ^ a b Stone, Andrew (4 April 2009). "NZ's lost city in Egypt". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  10. ^ Palmer et al 1990, p. 172.


External linksEdit