On the west bank of the Nile in Nag Hammadi in the Qena governorate of Upper Egypt, the palace of prince Youssef Kamal stands waiting for visitors.
The edifice, re-opened on Sunday by Minister of Planning and Administrative Reform Hala Al-Said, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Mustafa Waziri, representing the minister of antiquities, and Qena Governor Abdel-Hamid Al-Haggan, has reached the end of its restoration after a year of hiding under scaffolding and piles of sand thanks to the workmen who have been polishing and strengthening its walls.
Prince Youssef Kamal’s palace in Nag photos Ahmed Romeih
The palace had earlier been suffering from deterioration, with cracks having spread over its walls, masonry being damaged, parts of its mashrabiya windows missing, and its garden filled with piles of sand and the condition of its ceilings and water fountain being critical.
The palace’s ceiling decorations were heavily stained with smoke, while most of the flooring was broken. It had been closed to visitors for years. Speaking at the re-opening, Waziri said the restoration had been carried out according to the latest scientific methods. “Every effort was made to ensure that all the original architectural features were retained,” he said.
Prince Youssef Kamal’s palace in Nag Hammadi photos Ahmed Romeih
Waziri said that the restoration of the Palace had shown that individual monuments in Upper Egypt were being preserved for future generations and the entire neighbourhood of the Palace in Qena was being revived and upgraded.
Waad Abul-Ela, head of the Projects Sector at the Ministry of Antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the restoration had been carried out on two phases with a budget of LE31 million provided by the Ministry of Antiquities with LE7 million from the Ministry of Planning.
The first phase of the project that has been completed included the restoration of the salamlek (rest house), main building, dining room, kitchen and its extensions, garden, and the house of the head of services. The second phase, started immediately after the completion of the first, will include the haramlek (the palace of the princesses).
Abul-Ela said that all the architectural elements had been upgraded, cracks repaired, walls and ceilings cleaned and consolidated, wooden surfaces sterilised, and missing tiles and mashrabiya woodwork replaced with similar ones. A new lighting and security system had been installed as well as an electronic fire system.
A collection of more than 500 objects from the prince’s personal belongings is exhibited inside the palace. It includes the prince’s bedroom, a collection of porcelain plates, and forks, knives and spoons as well as vases and decorative items.
The palace was built in 1908 by Slovenian architect Antonio Lasciac, who also designed the Khedival Palace in Istanbul, the Tahra Palace in Cairo, and the Raml Railway Station in Alexandria.
The palace complex is in an Islamic architectural style, with red and burned brick facing like in the style of buildings in Rosetta. It consists of three palaces, including the main Palace where prince Youssef Kamal lived and the haramlek he built for his mother and sisters. The latter is a two-storey building known for its wooden lift installed for the prince’s mother who suffered from heart disease. The third palace is the salamlek used for meetings and guests. There were also other buildings in the complex that were used for kitchens, the laundry, and a house for the head of services.
The palace has suffered from encroachment from government agencies such as the ministry of finance, clubs for agricultural engineers and professors, and the Land Reclamation Authority. The complex was registered on Egypt’s Heritage List in 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2006, helping to ensure that encroachments were removed and studies carried out to restore the original buildings.
PRINCE YOUSSEF KAMAL
Prince Youssef Kamal was the great-grandson of Mohamed Ali. An art lover, he founded the School of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1905 and the Lovers of Fine Arts Association in 1924 and helped in the establishment of the Egyptian Academy in Rome. He also created the Fine Arts Faculty in Cairo in 1908.
He was an art collector and an admirer of Islamic culture and architecture. He travelled around the world to collect rare artistic pieces, shown in the collections in his three palaces in Alexandria, Matariya in Cairo, and Nag Hammadi.
The pieces exhibited in Nag Hammadi were bought from France, England and Belgium. Before his death, prince Youssef Kamal requested that the pieces be donated to the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo. Several artefacts he once owned are now in the Abdeen Palace in Cairo and the Royal Jewellery Museum in Alexandria.
Prince Youssef Kamal helped in the development of Upper Egypt, especially Qena where he built schools and hospitals and worked on introducing modern agricultural methods to improve farming in the area.
He was a hunter and toured the African continent in order to do so. He gave the Agricultural Museum in Cairo a large collection of mummified birds and the heads of several species of animals. The Manial Palace Museum in Cairo also has a large collection of mummified animals and birds that originates with Youssef Kamal.
The Cairo University Library has a large collection of books given by the prince as does the Egyptian National Library.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.