Friday, May 26, 2017

Short Story: Zamalek Arts Centre Reopens

The Aisha Fahmi Palace Arts Centre in Zamalek reopened to the public earlier this week after seven years of restoration

Overlooking the Nile Corniche in the elegant Cairo district of Zamalek stands the Aisha Fahmi Palace, its distinguished Italian architecture relating the history of the fine arts in Egypt and the role played in promoting them by international and Egyptian artists and architects.

After it was constructed by Italian architect Antonio Lasciac in 1907, the 2,700 metre square palace was the residence of Ali Fahmi, the head of the army during the reign of king Fouad I. After his death, his sister, Aisha Fahmi, made the palace her home, spending the rest of her life there until her death in 1962.

The Ministry of Culture then bought the palace, transforming it into ministry offices. In 1971, it became a storehouse for the Ministry of Information, and late president Anwar Al-Sadat suggested converting the palace into a residence for his deputy. However, in 1975 the palace was given to the Fine Art and Literature Authority and converted into the first fine arts complex in Egypt.

This complex, or mogamaa al-fonoun, went on to host several international exhibitions displaying the works of renowned modern artists such as Picasso and Dali. In the early 1990s, the palace was put on Egypt’s heritage list because of its distinguished architectural style and its exquisite artistic elements.

The palace is a three-storey building including 30 rooms and two halls, a basement level and a roof terrace. The basement was originally used as a residential area for servants, the first floor was the reception area, while the second floor was originally Fahmi’s living area. The palace’s ceilings are decorated with frescoes embellished with golden arcades. Some of the walls are decorated with French tapestries, while others are covered with silk.

Probably the most striking rooms in the palace are the Japanese, billiards and green rooms. The Japanese room is the smallest room on the first floor, and its walls are covered with red silk decorated with golden Japanese lettering and scenes of landscapes in Japan. One of the room’s walls is decorated with drawings relating a folkloric Japanese tale. The ceiling is covered with wood painted with images of Japanese bonsai trees.

The room is furnished with Japanese furniture in red, gold and black. The most distinguished pieces in the room are two large golden statues of the Buddha on red bases.

The billiards room is a medium-sized room equipped with all the required equipment for playing billiards, such as the table, the cues and the competitor board, the latter being rather like the board used in horse racing where the names of the horses are written and on which the winning horse is put on top.

The green room is a very distinctive room. On each of its walls, there is a picture of a woman in a gold frame, all the pictures being in different styles and by different artists. The restorer of the palace, Mohamed Abdel-Baki, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the portraits of the women are thought to be pictures of Aisha Fahmi and her friends.... READ MORE.

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