Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gayer Andersen Museum

This is another place that I have been wanting to go see and I knew that it was in the Sayyida Zaynab district, near the Ibn Tulun mosque.

As I got out of my car, I told the driver to find out where it was so that we could visit it as well. So you can imagine my surprise when I entered the Ibn Tulun mosque and found a sign pointing left to go to the Gayer Andersen museum.

The museum consists of two houses built using the outer wall of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun as support. The larger house, though built in 1632, later came into the possession of a wealthy Muslim woman from Crete, and the home became popularly known as Beit al-Kritliyya, or "House of the Cretan Woman."

The second house was built in 1540 and became known as "Beit Amna bint Salim," after its last owner. The two houses were joined by a bridge at the third floor level at an unknown point, and are both collectively known as Beit al-Kritliyya.

Major Gayer-Anderson, a retired collector and Orientalist, was granted permission to reside in the house, and, he filled the place with his personal collection of art, furnishings, and carpets. In 1942, when ill health forced him to return home, he gifted the contents to the government on the condition that they convert this to a museum, and, in return he was granted the title of Pasha. This is him and his wife.

He got masks made in plaster of his entire family which are prominently displayed, but if you ask me, a little erie! I am not sure I'd like a mask of my own face peering down at me while I am alive and kicking!

The beauty of the house lies both in its construction and use of mashrabeya as well as in the Major's vast collection of carpets, pantings, curios etc..The man obviously travelled quite a bit, as is evidenced by the curios. The house has Syrian, Turkish, Chinese, Persian, English rooms to name a few!

I also suspect that Major Andersen had an exaggerrated sense of self importance. An English style library room, has a prominent picture of him as the Sphinx! Delusions of grandeur?

The rooftop terrace is encased by beautifully carved mashrabeya. Mashrabeya screens use wood patterns to spell out important Islamic phrases. Claim to fame for the terrace is that the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me was partially shot here!

Gayer Anderson's bedroom, with a big red bed with wooden posts all around it and a canopy, is designed in Persian style. It is said that during his later years, Major Andersen turned gay which might explain the bed of his favourite servent next to his.

Given that the house is built at three levels, fetching and carrying would have been a tedious, not to mention time consuming execrcise for the Nubian slaves. So they found an ingenious solution in a "dumb waiter" in the main courtyard next to what was originally the kitchen.

Many legends are associated with the Beit al-Kritliyya, which were collected by Gayer-Anderson and published as Legends of the House of the Cretan Woman. Among them are

  • The house is protected by a shaykh, Haroun al-Husseini, who is buried under one of the corners of the house. He is said to have blinded three men who attempted to rob the house, who stumbled around the house for three days and nights until they were finally caught;
  • The well in the house is said to possess miraculous qualities - for example, a lover gazing into the water would see the face of his or her sweetheart instead of his/her own reflection.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the information :)
i found the masks idea is very beautiful and scary same time, i bet that house is haunted.

Lauren said...

I just came across your blog while googling Muqattam. You are quite the resource for information. I'm in Maadi for the next month or so. Look forward to getting even more info & ideas from you!

Manisha said...

An Egyptian - yup, the idea is fascinating but when you see them it is a little erie..its like this is what I am going to be years from now? A picture or a mask on the wall?

I would love to spend time there, if indeed it was haunted!

Manisha said...

Hi Lauren, thanks..have been around for 2 years, and, can't stay at I move around and have been able to get to know some stuff...

If I can help with any info pl do let me know...

by the way, a famous eatery in Maadi is Lucille's on Road 9 who claim to make the best hamburger in town..I dont know about best, but yes, its good, so try it out, if you haven't already!

Anonymous said...

I will not agree on it. I think precise post. Expressly the appellation attracted me to study the intact story.

ph said...

I would like to know more about G-A's son and presumedly his first wife whose photo you show [Helen Morgan]
Any info??

manisha said...

Unfortunately no,I have no information on either of them....

Fictionali said...

Have just come back from Cairo this weekend, and I have to say that this is great place to visit..!

It's quite stunning and I can't quite understand why it's not a 'first' on anyone's vistit to Cairo.


Manisha said...

Yes its is, isn't it? We loved every moment of our stay... and had tons of people visit us!

Its fascinatin in terms of the sheer range of what all it offers to see and experience!

Anonymous said...

my name is Ahmed Ramadan, I'm a journalist at Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition. I read your post and I liked it, and I'm working on a story about this museum at the moment.
Tried to contact you but there is no email address provided on this site, and I was wondering if you don't mind me using some of what you said here of your personal feelings about the museum as quotes in my article.
Please email me at
Thank you very much,