Alexandria s gardens are safe
Social media platforms were awash last week with photographs of Alexandria’s famous Antoniades Gardens. But these were not pictures of beautiful scenery and rare plants but of bulldozers on the garden’s grounds.
There is no plan to demolish the gardens or get rid of any of its trees or monuments, reassured Badreya Hassan, manager of the Antoniadis Gardens, in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. “On the contrary, we are planning to develop the gardens and to preserve all the plants and rare trees.”
She said she was shocked to find the posts and messages claiming that the gardens were being demolished. They are under the umbrella of the Agriculture Research Centre in Alexandria, which is keen to preserve every plant and tree in them, she said.
The gardens, which date back to the Ptolemaic Dynasty that ruled Egypt from 305 to 30 BC, are being developed, new fences are being built, and the trees are being pruned and trimmed because they had become unsafe for visitors at night when thefts could take place. Hassan said that the development plan for the gardens included hiring a private company to take care of security and another to take care of the plants.
The Agriculture Research Centre is checking perennials and shrubs in the gardens to make sure they are well maintained, and the development plan includes repairing the historic palace, she said.
The Antoniadis Gardens, situated near the Mahmoudiya Canal at the southern entrance of Alexandria, were established by John Antoniadis, a Greek merchant who came to Alexandria in 1860 and built a marvellous palace that is a miniature of the Palace of Versailles in France.
The palace is surrounded by 48 hectares (120 acres) of greenery, divided into several sections which include the Antoniadis Gardens, the Flower Gardens, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, and the Nozha Gardens.
“The gardens are one of the things left from old Alexandria, where people used to enjoy public beaches and gardens without paying a fortune. They are the only green open space left to us where we can have a walk and breathe fresh air,” Khaled Mustafa, a journalist living in Alexandria.
Mustafa said he wants to see the gardens turned into a top tourist attraction, with each tree and each Ptolemaic statue carrying labels in different languages.
After Antoniadis died, the gardens were inherited by his son Antonis, who gave them to the municipality of Alexandria in 1918 based on his father’s will. During the first half of the 20th century, the gardens and the palace were top attractions for visitors to Alexandria.
The signing of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in 1936 between Egypt and Britain took place in the gardens. Following the treaty, a tree was planted to commemorate the moment. The first preliminary meeting of the Arab League also took place inside the palace in 1944, and the first Olympic Committee in Egypt had its first meeting at the Palace in 1910 under the patronage of the khedive Abbas II.
The gardens contain hundreds of rare trees and plants as well as alabaster statues of ancient Greek gods.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.