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Islamic Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
The Egyptian Textile Museum: History of Egypt Through Fabrics
Long before Egypt was known worldwide for its cotton, Egyptians coveted linen and wool, using these textiles for everything from clothing and bedding to paying taxes with. To learn more than you thought there was to know about the history of Egyptian textiles, head to Muezz El Din Street and check out the Egyptian Textile Museum.
The location of this museum may give some people cause for worry. The Egyptian Textile Museum sits just outside of Khan El Khalili where people– especially tourists– are known to get fooled and even robbed of their money if they aren’t careful. However, you can be assured that the Textile Museum is no rip-off. For a more than reasonable price, a tour through the museum offers an extensive history of Egypt through textiles.
Two floors– almost overwhelming in size– hold an immaculately maintained collection of textiles, tools and other artefacts. The lights are low to protect the pieces, and the whole museum is temperature- and humidity-controlled! The Egyptian Textile Museum may indeed be one of the best-cared-for museums in Cairo.
Extremely user-friendly, the museum provides lots of information to its visitors. Each room has several columns or wall sections plastered with historical facts relevant to the room’s time period in both Arabic and English. Also impressive are the placards of information for nearly every piece, detailing the items’ original use, dates and location of origin where possible.
The first few rooms of the Egyptian Textile Museum are devoted to pieces from the Pharaonic Era. The items start off with a few simple linen shawls, tunics and loin cloths along with information on typical fashion of the specific periods as well as the Ancient Egyptians’ method of using natural nitrates found in the desert to bleach their cloths. As the exhibit continues, pieces become more varied and elaborate with fringe, some embroidery on shawls and a display case of a primitive bedroom set.
Although the museum is predominately devoted to samples of textiles, a number of statuettes from Pharaonic Egypt are present. As visitors reach the end of the Pharaonic section of the museum; burial clothes, shrouds, and decorative textiles include more colour and detail in surprising dexterity considering the rudimentary tools shown in this section.
Turn a corner and you will find a very small Graeco-Roman section mostly containing statues before samples of early Coptic textiles are on display. Here, in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, clothing becomes more colourful with different yarns woven into the fabric. Geometric patterns appear on traditional priest’s attire as well as hats and children’s clothing. As visitors reach the end of the first floor, they may think that the exhibit ends here due to lack of obvious signs and a slightly ridiculous display of a loom manned by a couple of mannequins. However, we all know that Egypt’s history doesn’t end in 400 AD, and neither does the museum for that matter. Hang a right and go up to the second floor (a very modern elevator is available for those that require it), where Egypt’s history continues to be told through the world of textiles.
Inspired by the floral and geometric embroidery of Coptic designs, the Umayids used many of the same techniques but changed all Christian imagery to Arabic calligraphy; a theme still popular to this day. As the exhibit continues, the beautiful collection of clothing and decorative textiles becomes more impressive and ornate with a brief step back to the politically volatile years of Mamluk rule. On the other hand, an increase in trade during this time also resulted in gorgeous silk work and European-inspired designs.
A room towards the end of the museum features a massive Kiswab. From early on in Islamic history until the 20 century, the banners hanging over the Kaaba in Mecca were made right here in Egypt. With thick golden thread embellishing the calligraphy over a black backdrop, this is one of the most stunning pieces in the museum.
Tickets to the Egyptian Textile Museum are very reasonably priced at 20LE for foreign adults (10LE for students) and 2LE for Egyptian adults (1LE for students). The Egyptian Textile Museum is a must-see spot in Cairo for visiting tourists or anyone interested in textiles– even if you just need to brush up on your knowledge Egyptian history before going.
Nothing is as alluring as a house with a story; something that is perfectly demonstrated with the Gayer Anderson Museum, which boasts an astonishing history, precious antiquities and valuable heritage, that are both exquisite and well-preserved.
Located in Ahmed Ibn Tulun Street in the Sayida Zainab district, the Gayer Anderson mansion – later turned into a museum – was owned by Gayer Anderson Pasha, a British art collector who fell in love with Egypt’s history and culture.
Perhaps best known for being an Orientalist who preserved history in one of Cairo’s most beautiful buildings, Anderson (1881-1945) was a British officer who had an eventful life, to say the least. In 1904, Anderson worked with the Royal Army Medical Corps, providing medical care for British army personnel, before being transferred to the Egyptian army in 1907, then later operating as an inspector in the Egyptian Ministry of Interior.
After his retirement, Anderson developed an interest in Egyptology and Oriental Studies. His journey through life and his passions are demonstrated inside the walls of the mansion where Anderson resided between 1935 and 1942.
The museum, which is adjacent to Ahmed Ibn Tulun Mosque, consists of two remarkable buildings; the larger one was built in 1632 and the smaller one in 1540.
The house holds 29 halls, decorated with Oriental architecture and designs in which artifacts are placed in a glass display to preserve them. Inside the Egyptian room, artifacts including iron pistols, daggers and swords, as well as Pharonic artifacts including a black and gold mummy case, a cast of Nefertiti’s head and an ostrich egg engraved with a map of Egypt.
One room which documents the era in which the house was built is the child birth room, with hard wooden chairs with a simple hole carved in the seat was prepared for the baby’s delivery is.
Each room at the Gayer Anderson Museum has several lamps powered by olive oil, as well as a special granite cabinet to keep the food cool. In addition to a glorious view, the terrace contains several stone sinks and large ceramic containers used to store seeds and other dry foods.
The museum still has remnants of the separate living quarters between men and woman; open, public and spacious areas were afforded for men, whereas living rooms designed for women encouraged a rather secluded atmosphere equipped with few examples of mashrabia – Oriental windows with wooden carvings. Women’s living rooms are rich in decoration; every piece of furniture from the cabinets to the chairs are filled with intricate patterns and designs dating back to the Islamic period and some of the styles are also derived from Iran, India, China and Syria.
The ‘secret room’ was one of the most interesting to observe. The room was used as a perfect hiding place – its door looking like a storage cupboard – used to hide outlaws or merely for women to peek at house parties.
Anderson’s personal room was equally fascinating, boasting an old-fashioned Persian bed and a smaller one beside it where it is said his housekeeper would sleep.
One important thing to remember when visiting this museum is to never forget to look at the ceilings which are decorated with intricate Syrian designs. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the Grayer Anderson Museum story is that when Anderson was ill and had to move back home in 1942, he gifted his mansion with all its belongings to the Egyptian government, which, in return, granted him with the title Pasha. One room in the house shows the original certificate from King Farouk.
Gayer Anderson museum was home for several film sets, including James Bond’s The Spy Who Loved Me and visiting this museum is like being transported back in time to an almost kitschy, unreal and sometimes even surreal space.