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Life returns to 1800s palace in Egypt

The Egyptian authorities are preparing to reopen the palace of Mohammed Ali Pasha in the Shubra area, north of Cairo, after extensive restoration works.
Laborers clean chandeliers during the restoration of Mohammed Ali Shubra Palace, Cairo, Egypt, Sept. 12, 2019.

CAIRO — The Egyptian authorities announced that it will soon open the palace of Mohammed Ali Pasha in the Shubra area after putting the finishing touches on the restoration works, which began in August 2017.

On Nov. 14, Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly, accompanied by Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled al-Anani, inspected “the finishing touches on the restoration works at the Mohammed Ali Pasha Palace in Shubra, in preparation for its near opening.”

During a press statement, Madbouly praised the efforts made to “restore the palace, especially the lighting works that were professionally designed to highlight the beauty and authenticity of the monument, and provide visitors with a unique evening tour.”

He also inspected the Nile marina, which was built for boats on the corniche opposite the palace, along with a pedestrian bridge to transport tourists from the marina to the palace.

The palace was built on an area of 26 acres in 1808, and the construction process continued until 1821. It consists of the Jabaliya building, which is in the shape of a rectangle and consists of one floor, and the Fasqiah building. The construction was supervised by the architect Zulfiqar Katkhuda.

The palace has an architectural style that is new to Egypt. The vast area of the new site helped to choose an architectural style from Turkey — the style of garden palaces, which was popular in Turkey on the shores of the Bosporus, the Dardanelles and the Marmara Sea. This style is characterized by a vast garden where several structures are built with special architectural qualities and surrounded by a huge wall interspersed with a few doors.

“The restoration of the Jabaliya and the Fasqiah buildings has been completed,” Anani told Al-Monitor. “The wood was treated for mold, the window cracks were fixed, roofing was done for the buildings and deep foundations were put in to maintain structural stability.” He noted that the ministry is preparing to open the palace for visitors and tourists soon.

On Nov. 14, the Egyptian government stated, “The Fasqiah building has been restored; the old marble on floors, walls and passage was dismantled, restored and reinstalled. Insulation work has been done on all marble and antique elements, and installations have been made for irrigation, drainage, feeding and electromechanical networks.”

It continued, “Around 99.5% of the site surrounding the palace has been restored; works included fountains, green spaces, irrigation, drainage and feeding networks, fire systems, fences, gates, floors and security rooms. A new archaeological inspection building has been established, and informative and guiding panels for the archaeological components of the Mohammed Ali Pasha Palace have been put in place.”

Experts and observers praised the process of restoring the palace, given its historical importance and uniqueness. Historian and archaeologist Bassam al-Shammaa told Al-Monitor, “The interest in the restoration of the palace is a great step, given the palace’s features, especially the architectural design that combines the European and Turkish style of architecture and the spirit of design in Islamic architecture.”

He praised the establishment of a “marina for boats on the Nile River that reaches the palace,” noting that “this idea can be relied upon in several tourist places that can be linked to river transportation, so visitors can avoid traffic.”

Shammaa said, "It is necessary to put up guiding and informative panels about the trees and flowers in the palace, as some are extremely rare and significantly expressive.”

He added, “The process of restoring and upgrading the palace’s efficiency with purely Egyptian hands is one of the tourist attractions since tourists are interested in knowing how the palace was brought back to life, especially when it comes to the small details of the restoration process, such as how the lighting fixtures were put in, how inscriptions were preserved and what kind of marble was used.”

Shammaa called on the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to set strict conditions to preserve historical palaces if they are used for private functions.

Egypt’s State Information Service described the Mohammed Ali Pasha Palace as “a rare architectural masterpiece in the world because its architecture and arts combine the Western and Islamic worlds.”

It stated, “The palace was the reason for the introduction of the first modern lighting systems to Egypt."

The palace was previously restored during the era of the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at a cost of 50 million Egyptian pounds ($8.7 million at the time). Restoration works ended in 2005, after which it was then used in several official and private functions.

Nine paintings of members of Ali Pasha’s family were stolen from the palace in 2009, but the security services managed to recover the paintings after a few days following an anonymous tip of their whereabouts.

In August 2015, the historic palace was severely damaged as a result of an explosion targeting the National Security building in the Shubra area. Cracks occurred in the floors of the Jabaliya building, while old cracks worsened and some parts of the roof collapsed.