A space for meditation, Bawabat attracts people from all walks of life as the healing community inspires them to leave their traumas and worries behind and hope for all good things in life.
About 60 kilometres along the desert road linking Egypt's capital Cairo to the city of Alexandria, a small side road leads to an unexposed green space where gateways to another world are wide open.
Bawabat – which translates as ‘gateways’ in Arabic – extends over 15 acres of land (feddans) filled with about 2,000 olive trees and several grass patches rimmed with a variety of flowers on both sides of the one-kilometre path which separates the area from the vast desert.
More than a relaxing spot amid nature, where peace prevails like no other place, Bawabat literally describes itself with an assortment of antique gateways collected over the years.
Madiha Mansour made her appearance by walking out of a bright blue gate, with a welcoming warm smile as if she has known you forever. The Bawabat founder, who is in her mid 40s, has started giving tours into her world of tranquillity, where she hopes people would leave behind the stress, anxiety and depression that can come from the outside world.
Five years ago, Mansour decided to quit corporate life. In 2015, she bought her first 10 acres of land. This project, she said, is something she dreamed of achieving for 25 years while she worked as a mining supervisor in petroleum multinationals across Egypt and Africa.
“To be honest, I was worried about starting from scratch but I was energetic and optimistic and considered nature an inspiration which made me realise that each one of us has a gateway to his own world, so why not base my project on having different gateways that each person could use to explore his or her own world of mental serenity, relaxation, finding energy and letting go of anger?” Mansour said.
Over the years, Mansour collected more than 10 antique gates each of which is on average about 150 years old. She carefully distributed them over her green land, ensuring they were built at least a metre and a half into the ground for the safety of visitors posing near them for pictures. She also gave each gate a name.
The ‘Gate of Angelic Amina’
A historic door Mansour found in a scrap market in Cairo, it features a baroque painting of two child angels.
“The vendor told me it was called the door of Amina. I immediately felt a connection between me and this door for I once had two daughters. I named each of the angels after my late daughters, Amina and Aisha,” she recalled.
A small garden on the left has a few colourful Arab countryside style chairs facing a wooden dining table made from local trees and a soft ambience is created by the chants of Lebanese icon Fayrouz and the tunes of Hamza Alaa El-Din, a composer from Aswan, the Land of Gold.
Another gate, ‘The Champs Elysees’
This gateway leads to a corridor decorated with colourful lighting at night, which Mansour wishes to fill with mandarin and orange trees along with Egyptian palm trees.
The ‘Gate of India'
A gate that bears the symbol of beauty of the country, it took more than three weeks to arrive to Egypt, Mansour said. It dates back hundreds of years. In the background, stands a chorisia tree (silk floss tree) famous for its fast growth, its multiple shadows and its white and pink flowers.
The ‘Gate of Eternity’
This gate is massive, with delightful colours that glow in the sunshine. It is engraved with the Chinese infinity symbol 8. Its location was chosen with purpose; when one crosses it they cannot see the outer limits of the ground surface with the naked eye.
A braying can be heard coming from somewhere. It is the donkey that was a gift to Mansour from her husband and she is loved and cared for dearly and never used to carry loads around the farm.
“I built the first brick house on this land. I had a second one built at the end of the farm, where I sought to maintain a traditional Egyptian style, with beds made from copper I purchased on Egypt’s most popular copper market. So far, they are for family use but in the future I will make them available for rent and build more rooms with the same style,” Mansour explained.
Mansour attributes a great deal to her rooms. One salt room in particular serves as a place for talking therapy sessions for women by the bonfire, with the assistance of psychologists and supporters to help them overcome crises.
The salt rooms
Walls are more yellowish than white. Its entry gate is 800 years old and is made of olive tree wood from the Siwa Oasis, in the Western Desert. Every brick in there is made of salt and was purchased in Siwa. Even the ground floor is salt, based on scientific theories that it absorbs negative energy. “Ancient Egyptians valued salt more than gold,” Mansour said. She also worked on noise isolation for the room.
That room, she said, cost her about EGP 70,000 (approximately $4,000) and took three months to set up. It is fully made from wood and salt, including the candles. A 600-year-old wooden box she bought from Siwa is used as a table for the candles and books.
Next to a giant mulberry tree, which Mansour believes gives energy to anyone sitting in its shade, another room, designated for reading and discussion, appears. T is domed with seven wooden doors and mirrored glass in bright and warm colours. These are the ‘Seven Gates of Spirits’ pointing to love, imagination, life, meditation and beauty.
The dome is inscribed with poetic verses of Jalaluddin al Roumi, Fatima Qandil and other great Arab poets and took nine months to build. “In this room, we hold discussions on tolerance, conscience, reconciliation with others letting go of hatred. It is also for playing music, reading and relaxing as the room has an unforgettable spiritual characteristic that touches upon those who stay here even for just a few minutes,” Mansour explains.
Bawabat offers full-day activities for children including teaching them agriculture, drawing and photography, as well as organising competitions through which they can develop their skills.