The Legends of the Cretan House
By Dr. Maged El-Bialy
The Cretan house is very well known in Egypt, and outside of Egypt as the set for a tryst and murder in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. It is situated behind Ibn Toulon mosque in historic Cairo, and was turned into a museum some 70 years ago. This museum holds all the belongings of an English Pasha who worked as a doctor. Dr. Gayer Anderson pasha worked for the Egyptian government as a physician and he loved the Egyptian culture. He rented two houses, one of which was owned by a Cretan woman who once served the rich Ottomans. Dr. Gayer joined the two houses by a veranda above both gardens of the houses. He then sought to furnish and decorate the houses with rich Egyptian cultural antiques like carpets, paintings, statues, utensils, musical instruments, lanterns and bread baskets. Dr. Gayer even collected old weapons of war. He collected items from all over Egypt and from all eras of Egyptian history. These included artifacts from ancient pharaonic Egypt, others from the Roman period and from the Coptic and Islamic periods. On leaving Egypt, Gayer Pasha donated his house to the country as a museum. Each room is elaborately furnished thematically according to the British colonial fascination with Orienentalism. There is a Persian Room, a Chinese Room, a Turkish Room, a Harem, etc. There are excellent carved wooden mushribiyya work over the windows and even the roof area.
One of the most interesting item that Gayer obtained is the 14 legends of the Cretan woman (known to the Egyptians as the Kredleyah Woman). The people of Toulon, which was one of the oldest district in Egypt, created these legends. They were then passed on from one generation to another. The legends were then told to Dr. Gayer by the last of the Kritley family, Sheik Soliman El Kritley. He was the sheik of a small mosque and an unknown sepulcher. The sheik was also a neighbor of Dr. Gayer. Parts of the legends were even carved in brass by Moalem Abd El Aziz Abdo also known as Abu Shanab. Gayer then translated the legends into the English language and published, Legends of the Cretan Woman in London in 1951. Gayer Pasha left the house to the Egyptian government as a museum but he took with him the original copy of the book. The Arabic scripts of the legends have never been found.
The Gayer-Anderson Museum is a wonder and should not be missed especially if you are visiting the Ibn Toulon Mosque. It is also known as Beit Al-Kritliya.