This article is part of the “Royal Zamalek” Campaign: a collaboration between Linesmag and Michael Safwat – urban sketcher – to unfold Zamalek Palaces stories.
When you are walking or driving on the “26th of July” bridge in Cairo, you can’t help noticing the two high reddish brown towers on the “Zamalek” Island next to you. Standing on both sides of a 5 story building, that seems to be older. You can clearly see that there is a story behind it. And this untold story truly is a Royal one and from which everything starts. This is the “Gezirah Palace”.
Where the Story Actually Begins
The story begins far from Cairo, in the Suez Governorate north-east of Egypt. A dream of connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea with a canal; that might be the most strategic one in the world, the Suez Canal. It came into existence in 1869 – during the reign of “Khedive Ismail” – and it was an incredible achievement at the time.
“Khedive Ismail” And the Celebration
Ismail was fond of Europe. It was his dream to make Egypt a European country. Regardless of its location and its cultural heritage. You might agree or disagree with his point of view. Yet, he surely left an amazing heritage in Khedival Cairo. He also did so in “EL-Gezirah” Palace. The Khedive wanted to hold a fascinating celebration for the inauguration of the canal. He also wanted to invite the kings, emperors, and European monarchs to this celebration. So, he built this palace on the “Zamalek” Island, to be the guests’ palace for his royal company. The design was by the German architect “Julius Franz” and the French architect “Leon Roussou” – the designer of “Abdeen” palace. As for the interior design it was by the German interior designer “Carl Von Diebbitsch”.
The most important guest was the French Empress “Eugénie de Montijo”. And Khedive Ismail wanted to impress her as she was also the guest of honor and the wife of Napoleon the third. Consequently, he wanted the design to be after the “Tuileries Palace” in Paris. So in the “Gezirah” palace, she had two rooms, one with Islamic interior style, and the other was a copycat of her room in Paris. And since the ceremony till the republican era, the palace hosted the royal weddings and celebration of the royal family that ruled Egypt.
The palace had had many owners since the time of its construction, but finally, in the 1970s the Marriott international Hotel company, bought the palace, and a lot has happened since then. They renovated the palace itself and restored its former glory, now it is the reception house for the hotel. A lot of the original artworks from the palace are still there now. One of them is the first clock with Arabic numerals in the world. Moreover, two towers were added to host the guests of the hotel, with a view that looks over the Nile and Cairo from above. And till this day the palace remains a witness to one of the most significant parts of Egypt’s modern history, and as a landmark combining all three architecture, art, and beauty.
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