Wednesday,20 September, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1359, (7 - 13 September 2017)
Wednesday,20 September, 2017
Issue 1359, (7 - 13 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Documenting the palace

The Palace of Prince Omar Tosson in Cairo’s Road Al-Farag district is to be documented for the first time, reports Nevine El-Aref

 

Documenting the palace
Documenting the palace

In the Road Al-Farag district in Cairo stands the 19th-century Prince Omar Tosson Palace, its architecture largely hidden behind four modern school edifices.

The palace was nationalised after the 1952 Revolution like other former royal palaces and buildings in Egypt, and it was converted into a secondary school. Subsequently it was badly neglected. 

The palace was originally built after 1886 and comprises a basement and two upper floors. The basement has a long corridor leading to the Nile Corniche where a yacht was once docked to transport the prince on his journeys outside Cairo.

The first floor has a main hall with several chambers to host visitors, a library, dining rooms, bathrooms, kitchens and rooms for servants. The second floor houses the private rooms of the prince’s family and a special wing for him with separate bathrooms and side rooms.

The palace has two gardens, the first outdoors and the second indoors as a small winter garden. There is a small extension building once used for storage. The ceilings of the rooms in the palace are particularly distinguished, being carved in wood and bearing gilded decorative elements.

The palace was registered on Egypt’s Heritage List of Islamic and Coptic Antiquities in 1984, but it was still badly neglected. Several restoration projects were drawn up, but none was implemented.

However, all this is in the past, as today steps towards the palace’s restoration are being taken by the Ministry of Antiquities and Cairo University’s Construction Engineering Technology Laboratory.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, director of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the palace project aimed to document it using the latest technology and 3D laser scanning to analyse the architectural and decorative elements of the palace as well as its environment.

“The project is the first step towards the palace’s restoration as the information provided will be very useful in pinpointing the best restoration methods and techniques,” Abdel-Aziz said, adding that the project was being funded by Cairo University’s Science and Technology Development Fund.

Information provided by the laser scanning would be used to build up a 3D digital model of the palace in order to find the most appropriate and best scientific methods for its restoration, he said.

“This is a state-of-the-art technique used internationally in the restoration of monuments in order to obtain high-quality results in a short time,” Abdel-Aziz said.

Prince Omar Tosson was a descendent of the khedive Mohamed Ali on both sides of his family and was born in Alexandria in 1872. He studied business and languages in Switzerland, and after his return to Egypt he was occupied in a wide range of public activities which reflected his multi-dimensional personality.

He was fond of archaeology and engaged in archaeological research in the area of Alexandria. He found the head of a statue of Alexander the Great in Al-Aqaba, and in 1933 he stumbled upon the remains of a sunken city in the Mediterranean five km from the Gulf of Abu Qir.

He was the head of the Royal Agricultural Society, a member of the Geographical Society, and the author of “La Géographie de l’Égypte à l’Époque Arabe,” a multi-volume study of Egyptian geography in the Islamic period. He was also a member of the Arabic Language Academies of Cairo and Damascus and a patron of the University of Cairo, as well as being a founding member of the Sporting Club of Alexandria.

Prince Omar Tosson was also a committed Egyptian nationalist. He backed the Egyptian Revolution of 1919. He was the patron of many scholarly and educational societies and is said to have personally subsidised hundreds of Egyptian villages. He was the only member of the former royal family to pay much attention to Egyptian farmers.

Although a Muslim, prince Omar Tosson served as president of the Coptic Archaeological Society, authored a monograph on the Coptic monasteries of Wadi Al-Natrun, and served as honorary president of the Archaeological Society of Alexandria for more than 40 years until his death in 1944.

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