This marvelous palace housing the Mohamed Ali Basha Museum was built by Egypt King Muhammad Ali in 1808. It is located in the Shubra neighborhood of Cairo.
Museum Location In Shubra
Although Cairo had many locations where different buildings were run down, and the owners of these structures never rebuilt them, Egyptian ruler Mohamed Ali chose Shubra as the site of his palace. He paid attention to the empty lands that ran parallel to the Nile to the north of the city and away from the center of Cairo and was charmed by the relatively new neighborhood of Shubra.
The reason why Mohamed Ali rejected the idea of taking a piece of land inside Cairo to build his palace was that he didn't want the Egyptian people to have a negative image of him if he took the lands that belonged to other citizens near the downtown core. Another reason is believed to be that Mohamed Ali wanted to construct his palace in a calm district away from the evil plots that the Mamluks were planning against him because he wanted to have a sense of security in his house. All of these reasons encouraged Mohamed Ali to construct his marvelous palace in Shubra. The building work started in 1808 and was completed in 1809.
Construction And Design Of The Palace
The architecture of the Palace of Mohamed Ali in Shubra was designed following a new style that was not known in Egypt at the time. The wide piece of land that was used to construct the palace allowed for beautiful gardens as well, a style that was imported from Turkey, especially from the palaces erected on the shores of the Bosporus Strait and the Marmara Sea in the time of the Ottomans.
The architectural design of the palaces in Turkey consisted of a huge, beautiful garden surrounded by large defensive walls, with only a few entrance gates in order to monitor them in the best way possible. Many structures were built all over this garden and some of these had specific architectural characteristics. These were called Hans or Saraya in the Turkish language or kiosks in the English language, a word that was originally imported from the Latin language.
Among the most famous palaces in Istanbul, which Mohamed Ali copied many architectural features from in his palace in Shubra, is Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, which was the seat of the Ottoman Empire for a very long period of time.
The first structure that was constructed in the palace complex of Mohamed Ali in Shubra is a small villa that was built as a residence. It has a number of wooden buildings that serve as offices for the employees and places for guards to stay. There was also an adjoined harbor structure for ships on the Nile to dock at. Unfortunately, however, the whole structure was actually removed in the ruling period of King Farouk (the last king of Egypt) in the 1930s to make way for the new Cairo-Alexandria Agricultural Road.
Construction Of The Fountain Villa
The Fountain Villa was added to the palace complex in 1821. It was designed and built by French architects and is the oldest section of the palace that remains today. In 1836, the Jabalaya Villa was also constructed in the palace. This structure, which remains until today, was constructed on top of an artificial scalar hill that had a square base with each side eight meters long.
A small garden was planted on each step of this scalar hill which irrigated the waterwheel tower that was constructed to provide the gardens and the villa with fresh water.
Moreover, the Palace of Mohamed Ali in Shubra also had the first modern system of lighting in Egypt. This system was first established in England in 1820, and Mohamed Ali called the engineer who invented it to make sure he had the special equipment and infrastructure needed. For this reason, a gas laboratory was built near the Nile to provide the palace with the energy needed to be lit with a modern lighting system.
Buildings Still In The Palace Complex Of Mohamed Ali
The Waterwheel Tower
The waterwheel tower is the oldest surviving building in the whole complex of the Palace of Mohamed Ali in Shubra. It was constructed in 1811. The tower is located 130 meters east of the Fountain Villa in the middle of the fruits and vegetable gardens. The gardens were separated from the villa by a fence, of which some portions still remain today.
The Waterwheel Tower is a huge structure that was made out of strong stones. Its eastern façade is 40 meters long and its southern façade is 21 meters long. In the middle of the tower, there are four water wells where the waterwheels were installed to lift and circulate the water. These waterwheels operated using machines and not using animals, like the usual method that was followed in Egypt at the time.
The water used to follow in certain channels above the roof of the tower. It was then gathered in reservoirs on the sides of the structure, which were connected to pipes. The pipes then transferred the fresh water to the palace and the gardens.
There is an ascending slope next to the Southern façade of the waterwheel tower that was used to lift the machines that were functioning to operate the waterwheels. This slope was 10 meters long and 5 meters wide.
The eastern side of the waterwheel tower consisted of a smooth wall with four doors. Each of these doors led to a room that overlooks the back reservoir of water. Each room has a supplemental chamber where the tools and gadgets that were used to regularly clean the water wells and waterwheels were stored.
The Fountain Villa
This villa is situated 430 meters away from the shores of the Nile and 230 meters away from the Jabalaya Villa. It was constructed in 1821 and designed by the consul of French of Egypt at the time, who was a close friend of Mohamed Ali. The decorations and ornaments were the responsibility of Yusuf Hakikan, an Armenian engineer who lived in Egypt.
The Fountain Villa was constructed over a piece of land that was 88 meters long and 76 meters wide and was built to be in the center of the gardens of the complex.
The Fountain Villa consists of a receptacle-shaped structure with a number of doors and marble steps in front of each door. These steps lead to a different fountain with strong marble columns.
In the corners of the building, the façades of the four rooms and their adjoining areas are clearly visible and have marvelous colored glass windows.
The interior design of the Fountain Villa is rather unique in Egypt. It consists of a central block with the sections of the whole building surrounding it. This block consists of a large water basin that is 61 meters long, 45 meters wide, and 2.5 meters deep. This basin is coated with wonderful white marble all over and has a fountain situated in the middle of the basin whose design is based upon statues of crocodiles with the water coming out of their mouths.
At each corner of the basin, there is a fountain as well; no wonder the whole complex was called the Fountain Villa, which is circular in shape and has fish designs carved along its sides.
In the middle of each fountain, there is a notable statue of a lion standing on his back feet with water coming out of its mouth. The fountain has a large gallery overlooking it and this gallery includes numerous marble columns and it is richly decorated with drawings and portraits of the Egyptian military fleet, and some Roman and Greek thinkers and philosophers. The ceiling of this gallery has marvelous oil paintings and the ottoman baroque style of architecture that was quite dominant in Turkey at the time of the construction of the palace.
Additional Halls In The Fountain Villa
The Fountain Villa has four supplementary halls that are quite astonishing in their decorations and architectural design. The finest of these halls is the salon or walnut hall. It has that name because its walls and floor were lined with Turkish walnut wood. The wall of this hall features a large mirror that is decorated in the fabulous Moroccan and Andalusian styles. The ceiling of the hall also has remarkable baroque-style drawings done with various golden colors.
There is also the hall of the Fountain Villa called the Arabian Hall, which has walls decorated with green paintings of flowers and roses. The ceiling of this hall also has distinctive wooden arabesque screens that consist of small complex geometrical shapes. Among the decorations of the hall, there are certain sections where the names of the family of Mohamed Ali are written, and this part of the hall was redecorated during the reigns of Sultan Said Pasha and Abbas Pasha, the successors of Mohamed Ali.