Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

An Egyptian centre in Cyprus?

Will Egypt be successful in turning former King Farouk’s residence in Cyprus into a centre for Egyptian arts and handicrafts, asks Nevine El-Aref

 Egyptian centre in Cyprus?
Egyptian centre in Cyprus?
Al-Ahram Weekly

On the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus is the mountainous village of Platres, surrounded by orchards producing cherries, apples, pears, peaches and other fruit.

In 1878, when the British took control of Cyprus, Platres became a popular hill resort in the arid hills of the Troodos Mountain range. It is relatively unusual in that it straddles a perennial stream, providing a reliable source of drinking water and allowing for the growth of foliage not commonly seen elsewhere on the island.

Importing their taste for cool retreats away from the heat of the coast, the British settlers rapidly established a network of hotels, bars and shady walks around the small village that existed on the site.

In time, Platres gained a reputation as a destination of choice for many notable people. Among these were king Farouk of Egypt, the Nobel Prize winning poet Giorgos Seferis, prime minister of India Indira Gandhi, and princess Irene of Greece. British writer Daphne du Maurier was also a regular visitor to Platres, where she wrote her acclaimed novel Rebecca.

King Farouk was a regular visitor to Platres, where he and his family spent three to four months every year in the Forest Park Hotel that was known as “Farouk’s Platres”. It was said that a well-known drink associated with Cypriot cuisine, brandy sour cocktail, was developed for Farouk during the late 1930s.

Despite being a Muslim, the king had a strong taste for western cocktails so the hotel management developed a soft drink that was fit for a king and created the brandy sour cocktail as a substitute for iced tea. Since then the cocktail has spread across the island, and today the brandy sour is internationally recognised as the Cyprus cocktail.

Today, Farouk’s Platres is back in the news, this time for unfortunate reasons. Last month, the Cyprus Daily newspaper published a piece on the hotel that triggered the attention of Tarek Al-Baz, a representative for the Mawared Foundation for Sustainable Development, who was travelling to Platres on the invitation of the Foundation’s Cyprus partner, YPM Business Consultants, to attend a forum on aromatic plants in Troodos where Farouk’s Platres is located.

The paper wrote that “a well-known Israeli company that is primarily active in operating casinos in many countries is showing an interest in investing in the Troodos area.”

After evaluating various possibilities, the newspaper said, interest had focussed on Platres and more specifically on the historic Forest Park Hotel whose owners were reported to be open to discussing the investors’ proposal to turn it into a casino resort.

Panayiotis Papadopoulos, who chairs the Troodos network as well as the Platres Council, told the paper that the hotel had been chosen because of its well-established reputation among an elite clientele from the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Al-Baz told Al-Ahram Weekly that during the forum the owner of Farouk’s Platres, Heraklis Skyrianides, whose mother was born in the Egyptian Delta, briefed him on the planned casino project, saying that the Israeli investor had insisted on keeping king Farouk’s name. The idea was to base the casino’s promotion campaign on the name of the Egyptian king in order to attract more clientele, he said

“I was angry at this abuse of king Farouk’s name to promote a casino, and I told him that Egypt had the legal right to stop the use of Farouk’s name in such a campaign,” Al-Baz said. He added that the casino project was being established in the wrong place, since Platres is a religious and conservative community where there is a large collection of Greek Orthodox churches.

“How can a casino be established in such a serene environment,” Al-Baz asked, and he made a parallel suggestion to turn the site into an Egyptian heritage museum in collaboration with the Cyprus government in order to halt the development of the building as a casino.

Al-Baz suggested that Farouk Platres be turned into a museum displaying Egyptian artefacts from museums abroad, especially those in European countries. The collection could be changed every year, in order to show visitors the true variety of Egyptian artefacts.

“Let’s start with the five key objects that Egypt asked to be returned almost ten years ago,” Al-Baz said. “These could make up the core of the new museum’s collection.” The artefacts include the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum in London, the bust of Nefertiti in the Neues Museum in Berlin, the statue of Great Pyramid architect Hemiunnu in the Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum in Hilesheim, the Dendara Temple Zodiac in the Louvre in Paris, and the bust of Kephren Pyramid builder Ankhaf in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“I think that the museums where these five objects are currently on show would not reject such suggestions as the Platres Museum would be within an EU country,” Al-Baz said. However, if for any reason these objects could not be borrowed, other artefacts could be substituted.

The new Farouk Platres Museum could also have a permanent exhibition of its own that would display personal belongings of the former king now belonging to Skyrianides. Among these are Farouk’s elegant cars, a handmade carpet, and a large collection of photographs depicting the king alone and with his family in different places in Platres, as well as with several well-known Cyprus figures.

The original fully-furnished room used by Farouk at the resort could also be opened to visitors. Al-Baz added that in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, a collection of objects from Egyptian museums could be selected and put on show at the new Farouk’s Platres Museum.

As Platres is well-known for its aromatic and medicinal plants, as well as handicrafts, periodical exhibitions of environmental products from Egypt could also be organised in the Museum by Mawared and its Cyprus partners. Mawared, Al-Baz explained, was an NGO foundation for sustainable development that aimed at highlighting and expanding geo-tourism projects in Egypt.

Geo-tourism is a kind of tourism that enhances the geographical character of a place, including its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture and the well-being of its residents, he said. It is a growing trend in international tourism and it is an aspect that real estate investors are starting to look at when buying property.

“Egypt can take advantage of its beautiful natural landscapes and expand its profitable eco-friendly tourism sector, especially in the New Valley and Saint Catherine’s, to promote new tourism destinations that are thus far undiscovered, with an emphasis on protecting the ecological balance of the areas while ensuring sustainable development among residents,” Al-Baz said.

His foundation had set up a Create Programme for creative entrepreneurship in tourism and related fields, he said, in cooperation with the Industrial Development Authority.

The programme is spearheaded by a group of eight young Egyptian designers who share the same goal of lending a modern touch to their handmade designs while maintaining the cultural heritage of Egyptian communities. They take their inspiration from traditional designs and add value through innovation in processing and design.

The designers have their own logo and brand. While they may be young, they already have pride in what they have achieved, and they have great aspirations. Create Programme products are made of copper, leather, fabrics, paper, stone, glass, wood and ceramics, Al-Baz said.

Each team is grouped into three categories — jewellery and fashion, home accessories, and body care products — and each has an average of seven years’ experience in its fields. Each team has its own identity and field of expertise, making it different from the others. An exhibition of their work is planned in Egypt at Saint Catherine’s and in Cyprus at Platres in order to attract tourism to both countries, which are suffering from financial crises.

Al-Baz told the Weekly that his suggestion for a Create Programme exhibition at Platres had been welcomed by Skyrianides, who had indicated that he would put aside the Israeli project for a casino and pursue the Egyptian counter-proposal for a heritage and arts centre.

In September, eight Egyptian businessmen and four members of the Create Programme team will travel to Platres as part of a Mawared training programme in an attempt to promote Egypt’s creative products while the businessmen discuss investment opportunities.

“I have done my best to preserve Farouk’s Platres and to stop it being converted into a casino and abusing the name of an Egyptian king,” Al-Baz told the Weekly, adding that he would like a representative of the Egyptian government and an excellent negotiator like Sayed Al-Bous, former advisor to the minister of foreign trade and industry, to travel with him to Cyprus in order to help his proposals come true.

Al-Baz called on the new minister of culture who will be appointed in the caretaker government to put the project at the top of his agenda and to provide cooperation with the Cypriots in this field.

“If the project fails, Egypt will need to file an international lawsuit to stop the use of king Farouk’s name for a casino project,” Al-Baz said, adding that everything should be done to make it succeed, since it would boost the country’s industrial and tourism fields.

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