Road Less Travelled: 6th of October Panorama in Cairo

History is a set of lies agreed upon. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Cairo has no shortage of interesting and bizarre places to visit. Aside from well-known landmarks, such as the Egyptian Museum, Coptic Cairo and Khan el Khalili, there are lesser known venues worth taking a peek at like the Agricultural Museum, National Circus, Giza Zoo and the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum.

6th of October

There’s also the 6th of October Panorama, which is one of the more…intriguing places to hit up in Cairo. Located in the outskirts of Heliopolis, it’s a memorial commissioned by former President Mubarak and dedicated to the Arab–Israeli War (or the 1973 Yom Kippur War). The Panorama took five years to build and was financed by the North Koreans.

A younger, more rakish, Mubarak.

A younger, more rakish, Mubarak.

A bit of background: the Yom Kippur War was fought between Israelis and an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria in 1973. Dissolving political relations and the Israeli occupation of Sinai saw the Egyptian army lead a successful advance into Sinai in 1973 to confront embedded Israeli forces. While the Egyptian army was successful in pushing back the Israelis, it took three days for Israel to mobilize most of its forces and turn back the Egyptian offensive. The events of early October ’73 led to an eventual stalemate in the war and the eventual normalization of relations via the Camp David Accords.

A tribute to what is considered Egypt’s “greatest” military victory, the 6th of October Panorama winds up being strangely unnerving with a mix of odd, garish and – slightly misleading – displays, murals and films. It’s a place visited quite frequently by school groups, parents and their children, which is good in some respects though not so much in others. Because the Panorama doesn’t tell the full story of the war it winds up being a slick exercise in spin-doctoring, which I suppose is to be expected of any war memorial, however, it’s quite remarkable how much history is left out of the Egyptian narrative.

6th of October

Upon entering the grounds there’s an outdoor waiting area with several kiosks selling cheap toys and trinkets, as well ice cream and instant noodles. If you want to dress up in a pharaonic costume and have your photo taken…well, of course you can! There’s also a vendor who sells photos of adored football players, Middle Eastern celebrities and former Egyptian presidents (including Mubarak).

Totally unrelated to the memorial itself…but hey.

Moving past the kiosks you enter the outside courtyard in front of the main building, which is home to a handful of tanks, planes, shells and armoured vehicles painted all shades of sand and green. Inside the building there are two movies/performances to view. The first is a grainy and fossilized movie about the first three (victorious) days of the war while the second is the panorama itself, which (in all honesty) is an impressive way to learn about the Egyptian version of the war. Seated on a circular platform that rotates, the audience gets a 360° view of a large – and rather realistic – mural that paints the picture of several battles that took place in the early days of the war.

While the movie was rather painful to watch, the panorama – in the words of Cairo 360 – “succeeds at conveying a sense of gravitas sorely lacking in the Panorama’s first show.” Which is something expected of a memorial really. Though it will always be difficult to get people see eye-to-eye on the truth behind history, at the end of the day countless men and women lost their lives.

And that should be granted a modicum of respect. Always.

6th of October Panorama
Salah Salem Street
Cairo, Heliopolis, Egypt
Open daily from 9:00 – 21:00, closed Tuesdays.
Shows are scheduled at 9:00, 11:30, 12:00 and 17:30.

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