Divas hosted debauched salons on them, and a Nobel laureate wrote a novel on one. “They’re a kind of romantic dream,” one well-known writer said. “They’re so much a part of the heritage of Cairo.”

Rowing up to the cheerful turquoise houseboat on the Nile, a fisherman saluted the white-haired woman swaying on its deck.

“How are you holding up?” he called to the woman, Ekhlas Helmy, 88, as his wife dragged back the oars. “May God bring down the bully!”

This week may be their last sharing that particular stretch of the Nile, a narrow tract in central Cairo that, since the 1800s, has been lined with wooden houseboats — homes that double as living lore. This month, the government suddenly ordered Ms. Helmy’s houseboat and 31 others demolished, saying they were unsafe and unlicensed.

More than half of the 32 structures, connected to mainland Cairo by lush riverbank gardens, have already been destroyed or towed away for scrap, with at least 14 of them disappearing on Tuesday alone. The rest, including Ms. Helmy’s, are slated to go by early July, the New York Times reports from Cairo.

With them will fade the remnants of a glittering, fast-disappearing history. Divas hosted debauched salons on them. The Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz wrote a novel on one, and famous films were set on others. On the riverbank, life was peaceful, airy and private, nothing like the dusty, frenzied metropolis whose imagination the floating homes had captured for so long.

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