On the crowded 26 July Street in Boulaq in Cairo stands the Royal Carriages Museum with its distinguished early 20th-century architecture, reports Nevine El-Aref.
Today, the museum is no longer hidden under scaffolding and dust sheets, and its beautiful entrance gate adds elegance to the whole street.
After years of closure, the museum will reopen its doors soon to visitors who will be able to admire the exquisite royal carriages of members of the former ruling Mohamed Ali family. Restoration and development work at the museum is in full swing to meet the deadline for reopening within the next 60 days.
Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany embarked on an inspection tour this week to check the work being done and the final touches towards the museum’s reopening. Some 98 per cent of the work has been completed with a budget of LE63 million, and the museum is now almost ready to welcome its first visitors.
The restoration work was started in 2001, but was halted and only resumed again in 2017. The museum building, in a poor condition, has been rehabilitated, the walls and foundations consolidated, and facades and decorative elements restored. New lighting and security systems have been installed.
Nevine Nizar, assistant to the minister for museum affairs, said the museum put on show a collection of royal carriages along with accessories and the clothing of the horse guards. The items are distributed across five halls. The first holds the carriage that French empress Eugenie gifted to the khedive Ismail on the occasion of the official opening of the Suez Canal, while the second displays rare carriages known as Alay and Half-Alay.
Nizar said the third hall was the core of the museum and displayed ceremonial carriages used by royal family members for wedding and funerary occasions and for promenades. Portraits depicting members of the royal family are also exhibited. The fourth hall is dedicated to the uniforms of the chevaliers and riders who accompanied the carriages, while the fifth and last hall shows accessories used to decorate the carriages and horses, such as the horseshoes, bridles and saddles.
The museum was established during the reign of the khedive Ismail and was at first called the Department of the Khedival Carriages before being changed to the Management of the Royal Stables. After the 1952 Revolution, the building was named the Royal Carriages Museum.
The museum was originally created not only to display royal carriages, but also the horses of the khedive Ismail and those owned by members of the royal family. Experts and veterinarians were brought from across the world to take care of the horses, and valuable cars from world-class brands were also exhibited.
In 1969, the Cairo governorate took over three-quarters of the Museum and transformed it into a garage. This work has now been reversed, allowing visitors to see the museum once again in its former splendour.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly