Princess Samiha's former palace undergoes restoration

Nevine El-Aref , Sunday 4 Dec 2011

Ten years after being put on Egypt’s heritage list, Princess Samiha's former palace - now the Great Cairo Library - is finally being renovated

Samiha palace


Overlooking Zamalek's Nile Corniche stands the three-storey building that once hosted Khedive Ismail’s granddaughter, princess Samiha Kamel, with a distinguished architectural style that combines the Mamluk, Ottoman, European, Andalusian and Moroccan styles. The awe-inspiring edifice has four facades crowned by a tower similar to those found atop Mamluk fortresses. Its front is decorated with foliage elements and its gates and widows lined with geometrical ornamentation.

The palace was originally built by the De Cattaui family, which sold it in the 1930s to princess Samiha, who lived in it until her death in 1984.

Princess Samiha, well known for her love of art and culture, was the daughter of Sultan Hussein Kamel from his second wife. She used to hold musical performances at the palace for well-known Egyptian singers, including the celebrated Mohamed Abdel Wahab. She would also organise art salons for well known contemporary poets and writers.

Two years after her death, the palace was declared state property. In 1990, it was converted into the Great Cairo Library.

Due to its distinguished architectural style, the palace was put on Egypt’s Islamic antiquities list in 2001, giving the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) custodianship of the entire building.

Routine monitoring carried out by the SCA has revealed that the palace was improperly restored, its granite columns and front having been covered with fake painting. The SCA has carried out a restoration project to rescue the landmark building and restore its original look, said Mohsen Sayed Ali, head of the SCA’s Islamic and Coptic antiquities department.

Ali explained that the granite columns would be cleaned and all incorrect painting removed in order to bring out the original colours of the walls and their decorative elements.

SCA Secretary-General Mostafa Amin said that cracks had spread all over the walls and columns, which would be fully restored and consolidated along with the walls the floors.

Restoration work will be complete in June 2012, said Ali, stressing that the palace-cum-library would continue to receive visitors, with the exception of a few sections of the building currently undergoing restoration.

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