Egypt is known for its history and antiquities. Before the revolution, the first things anyone was likely to think of were the Great Pyramids of Giza. After that, would be the Sphinx, Luxor, Aswan, and maybe even the Red Sea, if you’re into beaches. After the revolution, the first thing you’re likely to think of is Tahrir Square, and maybe the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. Overall, museums are not the touristic strongpoint of Egypt. This is simply because they don’t get much press. However, living here, I’ve discovered that there are so many museums tucked away, just past the beaten path, that you really couldn’t visit them all, unless you live here!
Here’s my list of 5 great museums off the beaten path in Egypt:
This great museum has, unfortunately, received some bad press recently for the theft of van Gogh’s “Poppy Flowers” in 2010. As a result, they’ve taken some time to re-vamp the security measures in place in order to avoid anything like this happening again. I still keep this museum on the list because it’s full of so many great works, that it is simply a must-see! For art lovers, the Louvre would be the place to go. But if you can’t make it to Paris, then stop by this museum, located in Giza, and take in works from Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Gauguin, and Rodin. It really is quite an impressive collection!
This isn’t your typical museum. Rather it is a home that has been turned into a “museum”, per se, showcasing Fatimid architecture in 17th century Egypt. It’s quite spectacular to visit this house, with its garden in the middle, and go through the winding rooms leading from one end of the home to the other. Built in a hollow square shape, rooms and stairs often lead up and down different levels, and all around. In the female areas of the house are mashrabiya windows, used to allow light in, without letting outsiders see who was behind. These were common so that the women didn’t feel like they were kept inside without any light or air. My tip is to take a walk around until you reach the bathroom, then look up. Stained glass windows in night sky shapes spot the ceiling, letting in truly beautiful colorful rays!
This is a really cool place to visit because it’s actually kind of on the way to another one of the sites you’ll likely see while in Cairo. The Kasr El Gawhara Museum, located inside the Salahdin Citadel in Cairo, is named after the last wife of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Khedive accredited for being the founder of modern Egypt. In Kasr El Gawhara, Muhammad Ali feasted with the Mamluk rulers, and as the feast was finished, he left the dining hall, and had his army massacre the Mamluk rulers, effectively creating a new Egypt. It’s really interesting to actually be where history was made! Not to mention the great view of Cairo once you step outside.
This is really a treat, though not for everyone. If you’re a certified diver, you can actually take a trip right off the Alexandrian coastline, near the QaitBey Citadel, and dive down to see some of the 26 sphinxes, blocks weighing up to 56 tons, statues bearing gifts to the gods, and even Roman and Greek shipwrecks, as well as wreckage that is supposedly of Cleopatra’s palace, and the Pharos Lighthouse. Though there are plans to make this area into the world’s first underwater museum, for now, you’ll have to settle with taking a boat ride out and spending a couple of hours in the bay diving among these incredible ruins. This is definitely a must-see if you’ve got a diving license!
This is another museum that isn’t exactly a museum. The house of Ahmed Shawki, the Egyptian Poet Laureate of the early 1920s, named Karmat Ibn Hani’e ( Ibn Hani’e's vineyard), is located along the Nile in Giza. The museum displays Shawki’s library with over 330 books covering areas such as arts and letters, as well as many draft manuscripts of poems by the poet himself. This home is a perfect display of what a true scholar and poet’s house looked like, and is quite impressive, with Shawki even having added an annex to the original building. It’s an awesome feeling walking through the home of one of Egypt’s greatest poets and someone so internationally renowned!