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These dreamy photos of historical Cairo will transport you to another time

The photo that inspired Egyptian artist Nour El Massry to take more photos: a terrace in an old building in Cairo.
Nour El Massry
The photo that inspired Egyptian artist Nour El Massry to take more photos: a terrace in an old building in Cairo.

In 2019, Nour El Massry took a photo that would change his life: He snapped a photo of a large terrace in a historical building in the Garden City neighborhood of Cairo. Although the facades surrounding it were old and dusty, the tile on the balcony, home to a set of wicker chairs made comfier with worn kilim rugs, was spotless. He uploaded the image to Instagram.

The next day, he was surprised to find that the post had gone viral. People all over the world were resharing it across social media. "It evoked emotional reactions of comfort and tranquility, nostalgia and connection," he says.

But El Massry, 29, an Egyptian photographer, art director and film production designer based in Cairo, thought he could do better. "It was nice, but it wasn't my favorite photo I've ever taken. So I decided to show my vision."

Since that moment, he's been posting a regular flow of photos and photo collages of Egyptian interiors, city streets and architecture to his Instagram, @nour_elmassry. Many of his images feel like they were taken in another time. "Cairo is a diverse city with different histories and styles: Islamic, Coptic, Italian, British, French," he says. "We are living in a museum."

And although the greater Cairo area is a megacity of about 22 million people, El Massry opts to point his camera past the "chaos and overpopulation" to capture places that feel "just like a dream," he says. That includes a serene view of a felucca, or wooden sailing boat, floating down the Nile; two potted plants sunning on a balcony; and a grand, Art Deco-style entrance of an apartment building.

"My target is to make my art like a painting," he says of his aesthetic, which is inspired by the works of Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Hussein Bicar, an Egyptian artist who painted in the Cubist style. If a photo does not meet that standard, sometimes he will enhance the moonlight, add birds flying overhead or even frame the image with another, perhaps a window from an Islamic-style building.

Here is a selection of his images and art:

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A view of the Great Pyramids of Giza taken from a hotel on a warm morning in 2022. El Massry says he digitally added birds to "resemble the dream I'd like to wake up to."
/ Nour El Massry
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Nour El Massry
A view of the Great Pyramids of Giza taken from a hotel on a warm morning in 2022. El Massry says he digitally added birds to "resemble the dream I'd like to wake up to."
Two buildings in the style of French architecture in downtown Cairo. El Massry studied Egyptian architecture as a student at Helwan University, where he specialized in scenography, the study of crafting stage environments like lighting and mood, and production design<em>. </em>
/ Nour El Massry
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Nour El Massry
Two buildings in the style of French architecture in downtown Cairo. El Massry studied Egyptian architecture as a student at Helwan University, where he specialized in scenography, the study of crafting stage environments like lighting and mood, and production design.
El Massry took this photo on a visit to a beloved friend's studio in Cairo just before sunset on an autumn day in 2021. "It was a moment of warmth — and I love how this view shows that Cairo has a mix of old and modern buildings," he says.
/ Nour El Massry
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Nour El Massry
El Massry took this photo on a visit to a beloved friend's studio in Cairo just before sunset on an autumn day in 2021. "It was a moment of warmth — and I love how this view shows that Cairo has a mix of old and modern buildings," he says.
A view of Cairo's ancient Al-Azhar Mosque, established in the year 972 during the Fatimid Caliphate, and the Qalawun complex, built in 1285, on a November night in 2023. El Massry wanted the photo to feel "like an opening scene of a movie inspired by 'Arabian Nights,' " so he enhanced the color of the moonlight and the glow of the minarets, and added birds flying across the sky.
/ Nour El Massry
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Nour El Massry
A view of Cairo's ancient Al-Azhar Mosque, established in the year 972 during the Fatimid Caliphate, and the Qalawun complex, built in 1285, on a November night in 2023. El Massry wanted the photo to feel "like an opening scene of a movie inspired by 'Arabian Nights,' " so he enhanced the color of the moonlight and the glow of the minarets, and added birds flying across the sky.
The dining room of an old Egyptian house on a warm day in the Haram district of Giza in Cairo. "In 2022, while strolling near this house, I was drawn to its lush, plant-filled entrance," he says, so he decided to knock on the door of one of the apartments. "An old man, like my grandfather, opened the door and let me in" to take a photo. "I found the dining room perfect — I didn't change a thing."
/ Nour El Massry
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Nour El Massry
The dining room of an old Egyptian house on a warm day in the Haram district of Giza in Cairo. "In 2022, while strolling near this house, I was drawn to its lush, plant-filled entrance," he says, so he decided to knock on the door of one of the apartments. "An old man, like my grandfather, opened the door and let me in" to take a photo. "I found the dining room perfect — I didn't change a thing."
A flower shop in Zamelek, Cairo, near El Massry's alma mater. "It was raining, the atmosphere was full of beautiful memories and I found it to be a romantic shot," he says. El Massry moved to Cairo from Damietta, a port city in northern Egypt, 12 years ago to attend college — and he fell in love with the city.
/ Nour El Massry
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Nour El Massry
A flower shop in Zamelek, Cairo, near El Massry's alma mater. "It was raining, the atmosphere was full of beautiful memories and I found it to be a romantic shot," he says. El Massry moved to Cairo from Damietta, a port city in northern Egypt, 12 years ago to attend college — and he fell in love with the city.
A classic Mercedes-Benz in front of an old building in Zamalek, Cairo. The scene was "reminiscent of an old Egyptian movie," says El Massry, who is inspired by Shadi Abdel Salam, an Egyptian filmmaker from the 1960s. "Abdel Salam tried to show Egypt in a good way, but also in a real way."
/ Nour El Massry
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Nour El Massry
A classic Mercedes-Benz in front of an old building in Zamalek, Cairo. The scene was "reminiscent of an old Egyptian movie," says El Massry, who is inspired by Shadi Abdel Salam, an Egyptian filmmaker from the 1960s. "Abdel Salam tried to show Egypt in a good way, but also in a real way."
The interior of Bayt al-Kritliyya, an Islamic house built in 1632. The image, he felt, was a portal to a different world. "I see photography as a way of healing," says El Massry. "In Egypt right now, life is not so easy." The economy is struggling, there's a lot of poverty, and the war in neighboring Gaza has made life tough. "So I try to make my photography an inspiration."
/ Nour El Massry
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Nour El Massry
The interior of Bayt al-Kritliyya, an Islamic house built in 1632. The image, he felt, was a portal to a different world. "I see photography as a way of healing," says El Massry. "In Egypt right now, life is not so easy." The economy is struggling, there's a lot of poverty, and the war in neighboring Gaza has made life tough. "So I try to make my photography an inspiration."

Malaka Gharib
Malaka Gharib is the digital editor of the NPR podcast Life Kit. Previously, she was the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team, where she covered topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.