A royal’s best friend

15-12-2011 09:04 AM

Nevine Kamil


After a restoration and modernisation process that lasted for three years and cost some EGP50 million, the Royal Jewellery Museum in Alexandria is due for an official opening shortly. Ahmed Abdel-Fattah, consultant to the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Watani that Mrs Suzanne Mubarak would open the museum some time during the few coming days.


The museum is housed in a small but sumptuous palace that was once the home of the Princess Fatma Zahraa’ Haidar Fadel, who was born in 1903. Fatma’s mother was Zeinab Fahmy; she was the sister of the architect Ali Fahmy who played a part in designing the palace along with the Italian architect Antonio Laciac. Building began in 1919 and the palace was completed in 1923.


Princess Fatma was educated in a French-managed convent. In 1930 she married Mohamed Fayek Yegen and they had three children—Fadel, and the twins Fayez and Fayza who passed away in Fatma’s lifetime.






The palace was the family’s summer residence until the 1952 Revolution, when all royal possessions were sequestrated. Since there was no authority to dispose of the acquisitions, the princess was allowed to stay on at the palace. In 1964 she left the palace to reside in Cairo, and the palace was turned into a presidential rest house. Princess Fatma stayed in Cairo until she died in 1983 and, in 1986, a presidential decree stipulated that the palace should be used to house the Royal Jewellery Museum.


The palace was built in the classical style on an area of 4,185sq.m. that includes the surrounding gardens. It comprises two wings linked by a gallery on each side of which are five Italian-made stained-glass doors. The drawings were designed in 1923 by an Italian artist from Florence, and each door is a chapter of a romance with an Italian theme.




Classical myths


The gallery ceiling was again painted by Italian artists and influenced by Renaissance-style scenes from classical mythology and of everyday pastoral scenes. The ceramic mosaics of the floor are laid in geometric shapes with inlaid botanical drawings inspired by 17th century baroque art and influenced by the 18th century rococo.


The first floor hall reflects Greek culture and includes eight fresoes which depict the legend of Odyseus.


Among the numerous statues in the palace is a bronze by the 19th century French sculptor Jean Baptiste Carpeaux, of a small boy squatting and holding a large shell to his left ear. The bronze statue is the only copy in the world, the original marble being in the Louvre.




Royal collectors


The museum’s collection dates as far back as 1805, the year that Mohamed Ali Pasha, founder of the royal dynasty that ruled Egypt for 147 years, came to power. The members of the royal family were known for their love of luxuries and precious antiquities.


In addition to the royal jewellery, Ibrahim Darwish general manager of Alexandria museums told Watani, the museum displays some precious vessels and utensils of the royal family, as well as a collection of coins. The most important acquisitions in the museum are an oval, diamond-inlaid snuff box that belonged to Mohamed Ali Pasha himself. There is also a pen case of azurite once given to King Fouad; and a rare set of nine pieces of jewellery inlaid with diamonds, rubies and pearls in an exquisite Indian design.


The jewellery is displayed chronologically according to the succession of the members of the royal family. The museum is air conditioned, and has been provided with the lecture halls, a modern alarm system, and scanning and monitoring devices.



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