Rest House of the Last Real King of Egypt
By Mona Ibrahim
Royal sign of King Farouk in Arabic at the entrance of His rest house.
Helwan is known for a few things: sulfur springs, the Wax Museum, Helwan University, and King Farouks Corner. Perhaps one of the most interesting of these destinations is King Farouks Corner the last kings rest house located on the Nile River. A great place to visit for the day, the Museum is not very far from Cairo since its just a short drive along the Nile.
Located on what seems to be a service road, the outside of the premises isnt very impressive, or even noticeable from behind the trees. We even had to ask a guard sitting in the shade if wed reached our destination. Parking in the shade, we got out of the car, and headed to the entrance. Being so out of the way, the Museum and grounds were empty, and we were the only visitors there. We werent bothered by this, as it meant a much more private tour from our guide. The first thing we noticed after purchasing our tickets was the spectacular location of the rest area. What seemed out of the way a few moments ago was actually a wonderfully selected location on the Nile with a small but quaint garden providing the impression of being in the country, far away from the bustle of the busy city.
Modern Helwan is quite different from what it used to be. It is much more crowded and polluted, but nearly 70 years ago it was the perfect place for a home away from home for the young King to rest in as he traveled. Helwan used to be the resort area for noblemen, pashas, and princesses, where they could enjoy the pure air and lush greenery. Opened by the King on Saturday, September 5th, 1942, this relatively small house stands at only three floors high, with the basement containing the kitchen and servants quarters. Having been built on the Nile, the rest house is actually designed to look like a boat, which is visible if you take a ferry to the other side of the river.
Pharaonic style living area in King Farouks rest house.
The interior of the building is decorated in a very pharaonic style, with everything from small clocks and paperweights to full dining sets embellished with designs and etchings of pharaohs and hieroglyphs. The King even had a scale model replica of Luxors Karnak Temple placed in his balcony, and three replica mummification beds in his hall! Some surprising facts about Egypts eccentric last king were revealed after looking into his history.
Replica of Karnak Temple on display in King Farouks balcony.
King Farouk was born on 11 February 1920 to King Fuad I and Queen Nazli Sabri, in Abdeen Palace in Cairo. He was the 10th ruler from the Mohamed Ali Dynasty; his mother was of Egyptian heritage, and his father was an Albanian descendant of Mohamed Ali Pasha. The official title he held was His Majesty Farouk I, by the grace of God, King of Egypt and Sudan, Sovereign of Nubia, of Kordofan, and of Darfur.
When his father, King Fuad I, died in April of 1936, the then 16 year old Farouk was two years too young to officially claim the throne, since the legal minimum age of a ruler was 18 years old. His mother, the Queen, had his age calculated according to the lunar calendar, which had him turning 18 years old about 5 months earlier than he would have based on the solar calendar, ensuring her ability to affect royal decisions.
The coronation of this king was welcomed by the entire country; members of both high society and commoners alike. Al-Ahram Weekly newspaper reported at the time that during the accession of the King, "The Abaza family had solicited palace authorities to permit the royal train to stop briefly in their village so that the king could partake in refreshments offered in a large, magnificently ornamented tent they had erected in the train station." The youth of the new king was seen as a positive sign, so it was no surprise he was welcomed openly.
Shortly after taking the throne, King Farouk married his first queen consort, Safinaz Zulficar, renamed Farida to keep in line with Fuad Is decree that all members of the royal family have the same initials. They were married for 10 years, and had three daughters together, Her Royal Highness (HRH) Princess Ferial, HRH Princess Fawzia and HRH Princess Fadia. Since the King needed a son to inherit the throne, King Farouk divorced Queen Consort Farida, and three years later married Narriman Sadek, who gave him the son he longed for in 1952, Fuad II.
Later the same year, the Free Officers Movement, headed by Egypts future first and second presidents respectively Mohamed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, staged a military coup, and overthrew the government. King Farouk was forced to flee into exile in Italy, along with Queen Consort Narriman, and his young son Fuad II. Farouk was forced to live in exile in Italy for the rest of his life.
He and Narriman Sadek divorced in 1954, with the former Queen Consort returning to Egypt without their son, while Fuad II was brought to Switzerland where he was raised and continues to live.
The King loved leading a lavish lifestyle, with an especially strong fondness for good cuisine. This was ultimately his end, as King Farouk died 18 March 1965, in a restaurant in Rome, Italy at the dinner table after a typical large and heavy meal. The King weighed nearly 300 pounds at the time of his death, a huge difference from the thin boy who took the throne nearly 30 years before. He was survived by his mother, two ex-wives, three daughters, and a son, though at that point they all lived in different areas of the world because of the revolution and instability in Egypt. The King wasnt even allowed to be buried in his native country until the Saudi King Faisal suggested he be buried in Saudi Arabia. At this point, Gamal Abdel Nasser agreed to have King Farouk buried in Egypt, though not in Al Rifa'i Mosque as the former King had requested, but in the Ibrahim Pasha Burial Site. However, in 1970 when Gamal Abdel Nasser died, King Farouks body was transferred back to Al Rifai Mosque, to be buried alongside his relatives.
Farouk was Egyptian royalty, and his life was like a story so much so that he even had a television series made about his life! The Egyptian people found this King relatable and human, with all his vices (food, women, extensive spending on lavish trips, furniture, etc.), and loved keeping up with his life. Farouks rest house and history give a more complete idea as to why this king was quite so popular. King Farouks rest house displays just the kind of eccentric life he led, with the beautiful antiques on display inside.
*The Farouk Corner Museum is open daily from 9:00 to 15:00, and tickets are LE 20 per adult, LE 10 per student.
** Photos courtesy of Mostafa El Khafif
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Last Updated: May 24th, 2011