Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 September 2008
Issue No. 913
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Snap shots

IT IS SAID that at a certain point in time, Ibn Tulun Mosque was not visible. Encroaching houses blocked it from view because they were built against the mosque's outer walls. In 1928, the Egyptian government decided to clear the area; the adjacent houses were gone, all except one. Mohamed El-Hebeishy steps into one of the true gems of domestic Ottoman architecture -- Beit Al-Kritliya.

It actually consists of two houses: Beit Amna bent Salim which was built in 1540 AD, and Beit Al-Kritliya, which was not erected before 1632 AD. Beit Al-Kritliya is widely known as the "House of the Cretan Woman" since it once was the property of a wealthy Muslim woman from Crete. Both houses are connected by a bridge on the third floor. Being the most well preserved private houses that belong to this historic era, the government opted to transform them into a museum. Nonetheless, the plan did not immediately kick off. In 1935, and after being granted permission, Major R G Gayer- Anderson resided in the house. Being the avid collector and Orientalist he was, Gayer-Anderson started adding his unique touch to the house. From carpets to embroidered costumes, from furniture to crystal and glassware, he had a one-of-a-kind collection of artworks from Syria, Turkey, Persia and Egypt. The house had been transformed into a replica of how life of a wealthy merchant during the 17th century once was. Unfortunately, Gayer-Anderson couldn't call the place home for more than seven years, as his ill health forced him to leave for England. There he died in 1945 at the age of 64. Upon his departure, he donated his rare and precise antiques collection to the Egyptian government. As a sign of gratitude to Gayer-Anderson's generosity, he was bestowed the title pasha. Ever since, Beit Al-Kritliya has been known as Gayer- Anderson Museum.

With its fascinating ambiance and atmosphere, Beit Al-Kritliya hosted the shooting of the Egyptian premiere Shahed Al-Malika. In addition, its lavish celebration hall (pictured) was used on the set of the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy
By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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