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. The lake was where Azbakeya is now.
Wagh El Birket
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. The street ran from the Hotel Bristol to Clot Bey Square.
In 1911 the street was described as "the most unblushing in Cairo". 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.
During the Second World War, the street was known as "the Berka" by troops. The military set up brothels on the street, which were controlled by the Medical Corps. Medical centres, officially known as PA centres (preventative ablution), to try and prevent servicemen catching STI were set up in the area, and the army medical services oversaw the regular check-ups of prostitutes which were carried out by civilian authorities. The street had warning signs of a cross on a white background at both ends.
After two Australian soldiers were killed on the street, 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.
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- Probably the aftermath of the April 1915 riot. Blogger.
- A wrecked hotel in the Birka after the riot. Blogger.
- Riot damage. Blogger.
- "Riot" in the Esbekia". Blogger.