Antoniadis Villa and its Gardens
by Zahraa Adel Awed
Notation: Zahraa Adel Awed is a licensed travel guide living in Alexandria who frequently assists people who visit our forum system, and who operates our Alexandria News Blog.
The Villa of Antoniadis is a very famous and important site in Alexandria, and yet is not frequented by many tourists. The Villa is listed as historical monument number 1,250 in the governorate conservation registry. It lies near the Mahmoudia Canal at the southern entrance of Alexandria, and is surrounded by some 48 hectares of greenery in several sections. They include the Antoniadis Garden, the Flower Garden, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens and the Nouzaba (Nuzha) Garden, which was a residential suburb inhabited by the likes of Callimachous (310-240 BC), the head librarian of the ancient Library of Alexandria at that time. In 640 AD, the Roman general Pompilius thwarted the King of Syria's attempt to capture Alexandria, while in the same year the cavalry of the Arab conqueror Amr Ibn el-As pitched camp before entering the city.
Here, once the venue for military bands, diverse greenery originally planted during the reign of the Khedive Ismail have grown to maturity. The Antoniadis Gardens include beautiful statues and a tropical greenhouse. The Zoological Gardens were opened in 1907 and cover 25 acres. But watch out. Among the many species of birds are macaws, that swear like sailors, tutored by long-departed British soldiers.
This area, known as the Somuha district, was a magnet for wealthy Alexandrians. It is named after a Baghdad-born Jewish architect named Joseph Somuha, who moved to Egypt in the 1920s. His Somuha City, as it was originally called, was the local equivalent of Cairo's Heliopolis, a modern suburb for the upper middle classes. There was at one time a number of foreigners who also lived here.
The Antoniadis Palace and its park are constructed as a miniature version of the Palace of Versaille. The Villa and its garden date back to the 19th century, and is mainly used to house a collection of statues sculpted in the Greek style and owned by Sir John Antoniadis. It consists of a basement level of 434 square meters, a ground floor of 1,085 square meters, a second floor of 860 meters and a roof area of 480 square meters, for a total area of 2,859 square meters. The ground and second floors include 15 rooms each. There are several archeological remains, including a tomb and a cistern.
The tomb on the grounds, because of its setting in such a paradise-like setting and because of the Agathodaimon (god snake) that decorated its kline chamber, is popularly known as the "Tomb of Adam and Eve." It's entrance is down a deep staircase of forty-four steps that ends in a landing opening onto the court at the south end. It is believed to date from the first century BC. The principle rooms consist of an open air court, a vestibule and an alcove with a funerary bed, on a single axis. The tomb is conspicuously well planned and well crafted but, more importantly, it is a remarkably individualistic achievement.
Here, the kline is reduced from a functional couch to a facade treated in low relief. During Sir John Antoniadis lifetime, it was a gathering place for the social elite, and was the scene of much gaiety and many parties. However, Antonis Antoniadis, the son of Sir John Antoniadis, later donated the family mansion, grounds and gardens to the Alexandria Town Council.
Afterwards, it was used as a guest house to host visiting dignitaries to Egypt, including the King of Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Shah of Iran and Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, who was married to the Egyptian Princess Fawzia, the sister of King Farouk. The Villa also hosted the signing ceremony of the 1936 agreement between Egypt and Briton, which gave Egypt some limited independence, and it held the first meeting of the Egyptian Olympia committee.
After the 1952 revolution, part of the original garden of the Villa itself was used to enlarge the Nouzaha and zoological gardens. There was a general decline in the condition of the Villa after about 1970, but the gardens remain in fairly good condition. In 2004, General Abdel Salam El Mahgoub, the governor of Alexandria, donated the Villa Antoniadis and its gardens to the New Library of Alexandria, Bibliotheca Alexandria, including its furniture and other items. As part of this arrangement, the Villa is to be restored, and its content will be exhibited as part of the the Sir John Antoniadis collection.
Today, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is playing a major role in revitalizing the city of Alexandria. With a clearly developed strategy for the future and a comprehensive vision of the twenty-first century institution, it is much more than a library. It is involved in a wide range of activities to carry out its mission of being an international center of knowledge and the promoter of dialogue and understanding between peoples and cultures. Additionally, it seeks to actively participate in the urban and economic sustained development of the city of Alexandria.
In this spirit, the Alexandria and Mediterranean Research Center (Alex-Med) was created in April 2003 as a part of Bibliotheca Alexandrina to shape the vision of Alexandria's future. Alex-Med is a specialized center focused on researching, documenting and disseminating the city's heritage. Working closely with Euro-Mediterranean institutions, it also seeks to encourage dialogue and mutual understanding to reinforce the Mediterranean's role as a meeting point of today's civilization.
It also acts as a forum for cultural preservation, interaction and exchange and an agent for promoting economic development and sustainability. Hence, Alex-Med participates in projects to preserve and manage the heritage of the city and honors the past to invest in the future by rehabilitating the Villa Antoniadis and its gardens, as well as many other buildings.
The aim of this renovation project is to preserve and manage a unique heritage site so that it can be a source of enrichment and pleasure to future generations. The Villa Antoniadis will host some Bibliotheca Alexandrina events, but will also become a center for scholarship on Alexandria and the Mediterranean, a meeting point for cultural interaction, and a space for exchange and dialogue It will therefore become a Med Research Center as well as a guest house for visitors and researchers. It will also contain a museum with exhibition space, along with thematic gardens, a horticulture center and even an outdoor theater. It will also have an art center, meeting rooms and workshop facilities. The estimated budget for renovation will be about 2,500,000.00 USD for renovating the Villa, about 1,000,000 USD for renovation of the garden, and about 500,000 USD for furniture and equipment.
Antoniadis garden is just 300-400m from Sidi Gaber Train Station and just 10 minutes from Nouzaha Airport.