Searching for the Hidden Jewels
by ABC Tours There is a wealth of architecture to be enjoyed in Egypt, spanning seven millennia, but not all are so obvious or well known. Some attractions belong to different eras yet stand side by side, and some others get overlooked by the magnificence of the attraction adjacent. In old Cairo, the mosque of Ibn Tulun is a rare gem, even by Cairo standards. It dates from the 9th and 10th centuries, and features a rare detail: a spiral staircase snaking around the outside of the minaret. All around the mosque are buildings many centuries younger.
A visit to the mosque is a must for the serious tourist, but before leaving the square back to the centre of Cairo, have a look at the house at Number 4 Midan Ahmed Ibn Tulun. From the outside it looks ordinary, rectangular, and aging, but the house has an interesting history. Now under renovation, The Gayer-Anderson House that is in fact two adjoining houses, part 16th and part 18th century. About 36 rooms over three floors are full of history, part sophisticated and part eccentric, all achieved by a Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson. After retiring from a colorful British army career, he decided to stay in Egypt and spent most of his life collecting valuables and antiques from Egypt and as far as Persia and Syria. When he decided to leave, in 1942, he bequeathed the house and its contents to the Egyptian Nation. He was rewarded with a title of Pasha, and given the rank of Lewa. Amongst the treasures to be seen are original Mashrabiya screens on the windows, designed to let the light in without exposing those within to the outside world. The wood is so intricately carved and beautifully designed in late 19th century fashion. Inside there are examples of Anglo-oriental themes such as a Queen Anne Room opposite a Harem Room and a Damascus Room. There is plenty to see and appreciate from authentic gilded antique furniture to alabaster tables, marble fountains, inscriptions and more than 2,000 books some dating from the 16th century. One of the drawings depict Major Gayer-Anderson as the Sphinx. A major effort is underway to restore the house to its former glory. Once the project is finished, this hidden attraction will be worth adding to any Cairo itinerary.