As part of his plan to turn Egypt into a world power, Khedive Ismail set about reinventing Cairo in the image of a European city. Alongside sweeping social reforms, including the construction of hundreds of schools and massive expansion of Egypt’s rail network, Ismail began construction of a new area of the city to the west of old Cairo. The city’s new quarter took inspiration from Paris, with wide boulevards and first class amenities which even included gas supply in some areas. Ismail was wholly committed to his vision of Egypt as part of Europe, spending heavily on the services of renowned European craftsmen such as Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, the chief landscaper for the city of Paris. For the grand opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Ismail even commissioned the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi to write an opera, Aida, especially for the occasion. It was these massive expenditures and opulence that reduced Egypt to bankruptcy in the 1870s.
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