Mohamed Ali Palace

Published: 04th November 2011
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When Albanian soldier Mohamed Ali became governor of Egypt, he implemented a number of changes that eventually led him to be remembered by many as the father of Modern Egypt. Among his achievements were social and educational reforms as well as the construction of a series of palaces in Shobra El Kheima.
According to the guide that gave us a tour of the property, the palaces and gardens were constructed between 1809 and 1821, and used for hosting important visitors and grand events. After 1952, when Gamal Abdel Nasser became president of Egypt, most of the buildings were demolished. What remained of the property was placed under the protection of the Ministry of Agriculture. What remains today of the palace and garden is called the Mohamed Ali Palace and is now open to the public.
Located in Shobra on the Nile, the gated and guarded palace is best entered from the Corniche so that visitors can enjoy the long promenade of the park surrounding the palace. A winding walkway leads to a wide limestone and brick path hedged with trees, shrubbery, flowers and a long, grassy stretch of lawn. The garden often enjoys more bird than human visitors; and it is one of the more tranquil green spaces in Cairo. Beautifully landscaped and immaculately maintained, the garden is perfect for a leisurely afternoon stroll.
At the end of the boulevard sits the wide palace. From the outside, it is difficult to gauge the immensity of the palace with the façade largely covered by flowering trees. The structure’s grey walls don’t do justice to the beauty within. However, once inside Mohamed Ali’s gorgeous palace, it is clear why important guests were brought here.
Because the palace was used solely for receptions, there are no guest rooms and the palace is only one story. The palace is mostly open-air; the entire centre is uncovered, massive pillars hold a roof over the various sitting areas, and rooms exist only at the corners of the structure. Three rooms are open for viewers, although it is strictly forbidden to enter the reception room. The closest visitors will get to this room is by leaning in through the open door. Interestingly, photography is allowed and the flash of a camera will reveal the dark room to be filled with oriental rugs, lavish furniture, and ornately moulded and painted walls and ceilings.
The painted ceilings are a beautifully executed theme throughout the palace, which mixes European and Ottoman architecture. The second room shown to visitors is the ‘names’ room, an empty room in the far corner of the building with the names of Mohamed Ali, his wives and his sons painted skilfully on the ceiling. The final room shown to the public is the dining room, where stately paintings of the pyramids, bowls of fruit and game birds were designed to whet guests’ appetites.
Although the ceilings at the palace are surely not to be missed, visitors can’t spend the whole time looking up. One of the greatest defining features of this palace is the massive pool commanding most of the horizontal space. At the centre of the pool is a small marble island that Mohamed Ali allegedly accessed by boat during his leisurely hours at the palace.
The palace’s wide halls have a lot of space for lounging in ornate furniture. Mohamed Ali particularly enjoyed the four areas along each edge of the pool that were painted to represent the four seasons of the year. He and his guests would sit in accordance to the current season.
The Mohamed Ali Palace is an absolutely breathtaking facility well worth an afternoon visit. At the time of this reviewer’s visit (during the month of October 2010), the palace was under renovation. The pool was drained, the painted ceilings were carefully cleaned and minor repairs were made so that the building could be returned to its full glory in time for the Cairo Film Festival in mid November. Visitors are still welcome; but watchful eyes ensure that any snapshots taken do not capture the scaffolding or other signs of work in progress. While the renovations certainly should not detract anyone from seeing the palace, permanent residents and long-term visitors of Egypt may wish to wait until the project is complete.
Once inside, the staff are very friendly; so don’t forget to tip anyone that takes you around the building to unlock doors and share the palace’s history.

Original article on: Cairo360


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