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Mohamed Ali Palace

Mohamed Ali Palace: Beautiful, Historical Palace in Shobra

reviewed by
Melissa Howell
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Mohamed Ali Palace: Beautiful, Historical Palace in Shobra

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

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. 

360 Tip

Entrance to the compound costs 3LE for Egyptians and 15LE for foreigners– although the tickets have not been reprinted and still say 10LE. Egyptians and non-Egyptians visiting together may encounter some resistance from the policemen guarding the gate; so expect to leave Egyptian IDs at the door if visiting with a foreigner.

Best Bit

The amazing historical and architectural significance of this sight.

Worst Bit

The renovations may be distracting to some.

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