The princess and the glass fairy tale
visits the Alexandria Jewellery Museum, which has reopened following extensive renovation
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A bird's eye view of the museum,; Hawass and Abdel-Fattah inspecting the restoration work; The entrance to the museum; A decorative stained glass relating a love story; Mohamed Ali's gold medallion; photos courtesy of Jennifer Willoughby
Zizinya is one of the most elegant neighbourhoods in Alexandria and the fitting home of the Alexandria Jewellery Museum, which is housed in a sumptuous building originally built as a summer palace for the family of Zeinab Fahmi, wife of a descendant of Mohamed Ali. Completed in 1923, the two-storey palace is a gem of exquisite European architectural style of the period. The royal jewellery collection, or rather those pieces remaining in Egypt, has been housed here since 1986, but the museum closed to the public in 2005 to allow restoration to take place.
On her death Zeinab Fahmi left the palace to her daughter Princess Fatemah El-Zahraa Heidar Fadel, who added an east wing to the palace and connected it to the west wing by means of a corridor. Fadel's maternal uncle, an Italian architect who also designed the Sidi Gaber train station in Alexandria, created the interior design of the palace when she gained possession.
Following the 1952 Revolution, Fadel's followed the way of similar royal palace and was expropriated by the Egyptian government, as were the treasures of the royal family who had reigned in the country since Mohamed Ali became Viceroy in 1805. The government allowed Fadel to live in the palace for the duration of her lifetime, but she assigned it to the government in 1964 when she left Alexandria and moved to Cairo. After she passed away in 1983 the palace was briefly used as a presidential rest house, but in 1986 President Hosni Mubarak issued a decree assigning it to become a museum for the royal jewellery collection.
In October of the same year the museum opened to the public. The collection of 11,500 pieces placed on show were personal possessions and gifts belonging to the family and descendants of Mohamed Ali, among them magnificent pieces owned by Mohamed Ali himself and his son Said Pasha all the way down the line to King Fouad and his first wife Princess Shuvekar. King Farouk, his mother, Queen Nazli and his wife Queen Farida also owned valuable pieces. Queen Farida's jewellery was designed and created by the French firm Boucheron. The collection includes of a luxury chess set owned by Mohamed Ali; a coffee set inlaid with silver embellished with gold; a set of gold glassware decorated with 977 diamonds; and a number of medals and decorations. Gold cosmetic boxes, various containers and holders engraved with the initials of Queen Nazli were also among the unique jewels created by the French jewellery house of Van Cleef and Arpels.
Other notable pieces include a set of jewellery that was owned by the sisters of King Farouk: Princess Fawzia, first wife of Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, and Princess Fayza; and an Indian-inspired set owned by Queen Nariman, the second wife of King Farouk. Jewellery belonging to Princess Samiha and Princess Qadriya Hussein Kamel is also on show, as are medallions worn by Prince Youssef Kamal and Prince Mohamed Ali Tawfik.
The museum was previously restored in 1986 and 1994, but Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, who heads the museum department at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told Al-Ahram Weekly that by the end of 2004 it became clear that time had taken its toll of the museum building and it was closed for full restoration, including upgrading its showcases and display areas. New lighting and ventilation systems have been installed along with a new security system with burglar alarms connected to a CCTV network.
Early in April Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, accompanied by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, Alexandria Governor Adel Labib and SCA Secretary- General Zahi Hawass, along with other governmental officials, officially inaugurated the museum after the completion of the renovations.
Hawass described the building as a piece of art in itself, and pointed out that the various halls, rooms and corridors were embellished by fine works of art while the ceilings were adorned with murals depicting various historical and natural scenes. The windows are decorated with lead-inlaid stained glass showing European-style historical scenes. The highlight of the palace is the wonderful stained glass panels in the stairwell between the first and second floors, which combine to tell a love story.