CAIRO: Although noted as one of Cairo’s extraordinarily well preserved examples of 17th century domestic architecture, Bait al-Kretliya, better known as The Gayer Anderson Museum, often does not recieve the credit it deserves, and remains one the less visited landmarks in the vibrant city.
“Less than five percent of tourists I have guided in Cairo have visited the house. Most of them decided to visit the landmark as a result of my recommendation and none of them regretted it,” Magdy Abdel Mohsen, a tour guide in Cairo since 1997, told The Cairo Post Monday.
“It is off the beaten path, and not so many people have heard about it. Tourists usually spend 2-3 days in Cairo, and they usually cover the city’s main highlights of the Giza Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum and the Alabaster Mosque, etc,” Mohsen said.
“The construction of private houses nearby the Ibn Tulun Mosque was common in the 19th century before the Egyptian government decided, in 1920, to clear the area by demolishing these houses. Luckily, the then-Committee for the Conservation of Islamic Architecture objected to the demolition of [this] house,” professor of Islamic History at Minya University Fathy Khourshid told The Cairo Post Monday.
This museum takes its name from R. G. Gayer-Anderson Pasha, a British major and army doctor who was on assignment in Egypt and was granted permission to reside in the house between 1935 and 1942. It was originally two houses that were built nearly a century apart and joined together by a bridge at the third floor level, said Khourshid.
The larger house, representing an excellent example of what life was like for wealthy merchants in Egypt during the 17th Century, was built by Mohamed Ibn Ghalman Al-Gazzr before it was later owned by a Muslim woman from Crete, thereby giving the house the name Bait al-Kretliya, “House of Cretan Woman.”
Gayer-Anderson, a traveler and lover of oriental and Egyptian culture, collected many different objects from various historical periods and filled the house with a rare collection of oriental furniture, rugs, silks, glassware and crystal from Egypt, Turkey, China and Syria.
On his death in 1945, Gayer-Anderson bequeathed the house along with the treasures to the Egyptian government.
Ihab Serdak, Director General of the Gayer-Anderson Museum, told The Cairo Post Monday most visitors of the museum are individuals who have heard about it online. He added that tourist groups visiting Egypt in a trip organized by a travel agency rarely visit the place.
“In spite of being less popular among tourists and even Egyptians, The Gayer-Anderson Museum has been a favorite location among movie and television producers. James Bond’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ was shot in the museum’s reception hall and the rooftop terrace, which is covered by nicely carved oriels and overlooks the minaret of the adjacent Ibn Toloun mosque,” said Serdak.
The oriel, or mashrabia in Arabic, was a common feature in 17th century houses, allowing women to enjoy a view of the street without being seen from below, said Serdak, adding that each room in the house represents the lifestyle of a particular oriental culture. For example, the Damascus Room demonstrates how an upper-class 18th century bedroom of a Syrian house would look.
There is a room dedicated to antique furniture entirely from China along with other rooms featuring Indian chairs, pharaonic antiques, Italian-made chandeliers, English-made tables, and Persian rugs as well, according to Serdak.
Among the most important rooms in the museum is the salamlek room which was dedicated for receiving guests and the haramlek, where women could meet in privacy.