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Egypt reinvents Qubba Palace as history museum

The Egyptian government has decided to transform Qubba Palace, one of the largest presidential palaces, into a museum housing several historical museums and gardens.
Workers paint window frames during the restoration of Mohammad Ali Shubra Palace in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Sept. 12, 2019.

Egypt has big plans to use historical presidential palaces to attract and revitalize tourism — mainly Qubba Palace, one of the oldest presidential palaces in Egypt.

The Egyptian presidency posted on social media Nov. 6 a video taken in Qubba Palace after it was revamped. The palace now showcases antiques and historical pictures and statues. It also houses the Qubba Palace Vehicles Museum, which includes a rare collection of cars that were used in different eras of Egyptian rulers from the royal era until now, in addition to historical photos and statues of all Egyptian presidents and kings.

The revamping also included the interior gardens, home to several rare plants such as the over-100-year-old sycamore tree found in the palace garden.

The restoration also included the development of the inner historic fountain area, the establishment of theaters and a restaurant for visitors, the construction of sports fields, the development of the royal greenhouses and rose garden, and the establishment of a garden complex that includes a garden for each type of fruit.

After reconstruction, the Qubba Palace Museum, which showcases artifacts, tools, pieces of furniture, and rooms of rulers and presidents throughout the ages since the establishment of the historic palace, was also established.

On Sept. 27, 2018, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Anani decided to register the palace and its annexes in Al-Qubba Gardens neighborhood in the Cairo governorate as Islamic and Coptic antiquities.

Qubba as a presidential palace dates back to the era of the Muhammad Ali Pasha family. It was built during the reign of Khedive Ismail. Construction began in 1867 and ended in late 1872.

The palace officially opened in January 1873 when a royal wedding was held for Crown Prince Ismail, then-ruler of Egypt. The palace was then associated with legendary weddings and weddings of the royal family.

Qubba Palace covers 190 acres, making it one of the largest presidential palaces in Egypt. After the fall of the monarchy and the declaration of the republic in the wake of the revolution of July 23, 1952, it was turned into one of the presidential palaces. It became the reception and residence of presidents who visited Egypt. It was in fact the residence of the Shah of Iran Muhammad Reza Pahlavi during his political asylum in Egypt after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

In 2009, Qubba Palace hosted US President Barack Obama during his visit to Egypt.

In 2014, the inauguration ceremony of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was held there. Former visitors to the palace include, for example, former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping of China.

The state invested in the historical value of Qubba Palace and turned it into an archaeological shrine. In April 2021, the palace was opened experimentally to the public after it was prepared to receive tourists. Lebanese singer Magida El Roumi performed the first concert there in the presence of several public figures, officials, artists, media outlets and members of the general public.

In July 2021, Qubba Palace hosted the National Real Estate Exhibition, with the participation of many real estate developers and real estate development companies, in addition to a concert in the presence of citizens.

In October 2021, Egypt's Awards for Government Excellence was held in Qubba Palace in the presence of Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly.

Muhammad Al-Kahlawi, professor of Islamic archaeology at Cairo University and head of the General Union of Arab Archaeologists, stressed that “the state's approach to exploiting the historical value of the presidential palaces is an important step to stimulate tourism.”

In exclusive statements to Al-Monitor, Kahlawi said, “Qubba Palace is a historical monument that witnessed important stages in Egypt's modern history and the royal and republican era as well.”

He pointed out that “Egypt also exploited other presidential palaces to attract tourism. The project to develop the Muhammad Ali Palace was one of these projects, as the palace was neglected during the past periods. But the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities decided to develop it to open its doors to visitors.”

In September 2021, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced the completion of the restoration and development of the over-200-year-old royal Muhammad Ali Palace in the Shubra al-Khaimah area and opened it to visitors.

Kahlawi pointed out that “the presidential and royal palaces are registered as Islamic monuments because they are distinguished by an architectural style and display collectibles recalling Islamic architecture. Therefore, these palaces attract Arab tourism and revive internal tourism.”

He explained that “foreign tourism in Egypt is not inclined to such Islamic antiquities but rather to Pharaonic antiquities. This does not diminish the importance of those presidential palaces in stimulating tourism.”

“Egyptians, in general, are always curious about the contents of presidential palaces, especially since those palaces are always surrounded by heavy security and are hard to access. Therefore, when the state allows citizens to enter the presidential Qubba Palace, which was only recently restricted to visiting presidents, this will certainly stimulate internal tourism, which was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic," Kahlawi added.