Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Ras Al-Tin named as heritage

A century-and-a-half after its construction, the Ras Al-Tin Palace in Alexandria has been put on Egypt’s official heritage list, writes Nevine El-Aref

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On the eastern seashore of Alexandria stands the former royal palace of Ras Al-Tin, its distinguished Italianate architecture serving as a memory of Egypt’s royalty. The palace witnessed the rise and fall of the Mohamed Ali family as Egypt’s rulers from the early 19th century until the abdication of the last king, Farouk, after the 1952 Revolution and his departure to exile in Italy.
After the end of the monarchy, the Ras Al-Tin Palace like the other former royal palaces in the country was nationalised, though it continued to be used as a presidential residence. It was also used for hosting state guests. This week the Ministry of State for Antiquities put the palace on the Egyptian heritage list as a way of recognising its historical importance.  
Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told Al-Ahram Weekly that the move had come within the framework of the ministry’s efforts to list all the historical palaces in the country on the heritage list because of their architectural and historical importance. “It is also a concrete attempt by the ministry to preserve and protect Egypt’s historical buildings that have recently been under threat,” Ibrahim said.
The palace’s construction was initiated by Mohamed Ali himself in 1834 to serve as one of the vice-regal palaces in Alexandria along with the Mahmoudeya and Ibrahim Pasha palaces. Architects and engineers like Yezi Bek and his assistants La Vial and Le Veroige were commissioned to design and build the palace, the work taking 11 years.
Construction work was over by 1845, but work on additional wings continued for two more years, and the palace was officially inaugurated in 1847. The building takes its name from the fig trees (shagar al-tin) that once grew on the palace site.
The Ras Al-Tin Palace is built in Italian renaissance style on the Mediterranean, and it is decorated with architectural elements and ornamentation inspired by that era. Occupying an area of some 17,000 square metres, it is surrounded by a 12-feddan garden with a fountain decorated with 16 statues of mermaids holding fish on its northern side. The garden is also full of rare species of plants, as well as a private railway station for the royal train.
The palace saw various developments after its completion in the mid 19th century, being reconstructed during the reign of King Fouad in the 1920s with modern services and new decoration making it similar to the Abdine Palace in Cairo. The reconstruction work was carried out by the Italian engineer Veroci at an original cost of some LE400,000. A covered swimming pool and a large attached hall were added at the time, and after World War II Farouk also built a marine pool on the Mediterranean breakwater.
This pool was linked to the palace via a road along the breakwater and a Jeep could be used to drive along it. Next to the marine pool is a fully-furnished resthouse with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, staff rooms and storage areas for fishing equipment.
As a result of the changes the palace later underwent, according to Mahmoud Abbas, head of the archaeological documentation committee for the Egyptian heritage list, the eastern gate of the Ras Al-Tin Palace is the only completely original element from the original building that still exists today. The gate is composed of six granite pillars with Egyptian crowns used on their capitals and their lintels embellished with Quranic verses written in copper characters.
The palace today has three reception halls on the first floor, dubbed the red, white and green halls, and there is also a throne hall similar to the one at Abdine Palace but of a smaller size. The king’s private office, conference hall, dining room and private rooms are decorated with gold and silver ornamentation and paintings.
Farouk’s private wing at the palace includes his bedroom, office and bathroom, all similar to the ones at Abdine Palace. A large salon and small private dining room overlooking the sea are also found in this wing.
Elsewhere on the ground floor of the palace is the haramlek (women’s wing) and the servants quarters, as well as the hall where Farouk signed his abdication in 1952. The basement includes a third hall leading to stairs connected to the palace docks where Al-Mahrousa yacht was once housed. This took the king and the former royal family into exile in Italy after the 1952 Revolution.
According to Abbas, one of the most distinguished parts of the palace, architecturally speaking, is the Gothic hall added by King Fouad, which employs a mix of architectural styles. Outside, behind the palace there are buildings that were once used by employees and staff. All the rooms in the palace are furnished using French decorative elements and furniture.  
The Ras Al-Tin Palace was the most important royal residence during the monarchy, serving as the summer residence of all the Egyptian kings. Later, it was used as a presidential palace and to house state guests.
In addition to the Ras Al-Tin Palace, the ministry has also put the Kiswet Al-Kaaba House in the Gammaliya district of Cairo on the heritage list because of its historical and spiritual importance. The house was constructed in 1816 as a residence for a Mameluk prince, but under the rule of Mohamed Ali it was turned into a workshop to make the kiswa, the cloth sent by Egyptian monarchs every year to Mecca until 1927 when this tradition stopped.
The house still contains the equipment used for the fabrication of the original kiswa.

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