Museum of Islamic Ceramics: Beautiful Browsing for the History-phobes
I’m no history buff, and the thought of spending my afternoon in a museum would usually send me running in the opposite direction. So it was to my great surprise that when urged to visit the Museum of Islamic Ceramics in Zamalek, I found myself both impressed and entertained. The mansion-turned-museum is visually pleasing and laid back, so much so that I nearly forgot where I was. Neither stuffy nor drab, this piece of old town charm can make for a lovely afternoon of light browsing and catching up with friends. And a little bit of history can never hurt.
The Museum of Islamic Ceramics is the elaborate centrepiece of The Gezira Art Centre. Bearing all the signs of a classic 1920s mansion, this former palace of Prince Amr Ibrahim (of Muhamed Ali royalty) now houses an impressive collection of ceramic plates, vases and statues. The palace was home to the Prince and his family for several tortuous years, during which his mother eloped with a Russian tsar and the prince saw his fortune trickle away. In spite of the historical tragedies, the mansion is a treat for those of us seeking an afternoon of light museum viewing.
In spite of the elegant silhouette the mansion casts over Zamalek’s Gezira Street, you wouldn’t necessarily guess what lies inside the classic edifice. Once you step inside, the manicured lawns and marble steps are a throwback to the times of old Cairo, where you can just imagine and visualise members of the royal court strolling through the grounds.
A walk through the dimly lit mansion makes for a history lesson to remember: ceramics, bowls, portraits, and basins exhibit the various styles of Ottoman, Persian and Moorish civilizations under Islamic rule with pieces from the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. The laid back atmosphere that prevails allows one to take in the sheer beauty, craftsmanship and finesse of the artefacts on display – one needn’t be an expert to appreciate what’s on display.
The museum’s interior architecture is just as impressive as the pieces themselves. It’s also small enough that the crowded collection does not make the experience overwhelming or monotonous – i.e., you don’t necessarily feel like you’re in a stuffy museum, which should be a bonus for fellow dreaders-of-museums. The upper level has some maze-like chambers where sculptures are suspended mid-air in their glass cases, and where you can peruse the balcony display cases.
The crowning touch of the museum is its original bath chamber on the upper level, where the handsome grey slate basin is preserved as an exhibit all its own.
Outside, more surprises wait: the back courtyard has a series of larger than life installations and sculptures, an exhibit arranged by the art gallery located in the mansion’s basement. Take a minute after your tour to take a peek.
*The museum is open 10am – 2pm; 5pm – 9pm, and is closed
Fridays. Tickets cost 25LE for Foreigners, 12LE for Expats, 5LE for
and 1LE for Egyptian Students.