Beit El Kertlia or the Gayer Anderson Museum is located in a beautiful historical house in Cairo. It was built in 1631 by a rich man called Mohamed Ibn Hah Salem Ibn Gelmam. The house is considered to be one of the most marvelous historical structures in Egypt and the museum is a popular tourist attraction.It is situated adjacent to the Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun in the Sayyida Zeinab neighborhood. The building takes its name from Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson Pasha, who resided in the house between 1935 and 1942 with special permission from the Egyptian Government. The museum is noted for being one of the best-preserved examples of 17th-century domestic architecture left in Cairo, and also for its vast collection of furniture, carpets, curio, and other objects.
Historical houses like Beit El Sehemy and Beit El Kertlia stand as examples of how magnificent and great historical Islamic architecture was in Egypt. A number of rich families lived in the house over time. Eventually lady from the island of Crete in Greece bought the house and lived in it and this was why the house was named Beit El Kertlia or “the House of the People From Crete.” The museum consists of two historical houses facing each other, both constructed during the Ottoman period. The first house, the Kertlia House, was constructed in 1631 while the other one, which was built by Abdel Kader El Haddad, was erected in 1540. The two houses are connected together with a passageway.
The reason why this structure was named the Geyer Anderson Museum was that the Egyptian authorities granted the British officer Gayer Anderson the two houses as his residence to live in in 1935. During the stay in this historical complex Anderson was able to collect a large selection of furniture, carpets, and many other eastern and Egyptian handicrafts that are beautiful and interesting to tourists today. However, in 1942, Gayer Anderson had to leave Egypt because of an illness and the Egyptian government allowed people to visit the house and view his collection, before eventually allowing the whole complex to simply become a museum.
The two houses include significant architectural features not only because the complex is among some rare examples that remain from the Ottoman period, but also because of some other distinctive elements.
Among the most distinctive features of the Gayer Anderson, Museum Complex is that it used to host a Sabil, which offered fresh water to the public, a feature that is difficult to be found among historical houses in Egypt. The Sabil was considered to be a religious structure that was added to a mosque or a mausoleum to present people with their needs of water for doing ritual washing or wudu prior to Islamic prayers, but finding a Sabil within a residential house was a rare feature in the Islamic architecture of the time.
The Sabil of the Gayer Anderson Museum is located in the right-hand side section of the ground floor with a window opening on the street from which the servant working in the Sabil used to give the water to the people. The room of the Sabil was made out of stones and the ceiling contains some remarkable geometric decorations with bright colors
The Sahn or the open courtyard of the house has a semi-irregular shape with a white marble fountain in the middle. The Sahn of the house, the same as in many other historic houses in Egypt, is the heart of the house with all the floors and the sections of the house opening at the Sahn and not opening towards the exterior of the house. This architectural design of houses was common for a number of reasons; the first is to provide a sense of privacy especially to the ladies of the house and the second is to protect the house against dust and dirt making the air inside the house cleaner and fresher.
All over the surface area of the Sahn, there are many pots that take the shape of barrels and they are based upon white marble basins where the water coming from the fountain is gathered to provide fresh water for the people living in the house. The rooms and the halls of the ground floor of the Gayer Anderson Museum Complex consist mainly of storage places for the grains and the food of the residences of the house. At the back of the Shan, there is a horse stable that would host only a few horses.
The staircase that leads to the second floor of the house is located in the horse stable. The most dominating feature of the second floor is what is called the “Maqa’ad” of the house, which is a wide space overlooking the Sahn of the house. The word ”Maqa’ad” means the sitting area and this was where the people who lived in the house used to sit, especially men.
The ceiling of the “Maqa’ad” is rather remarkable with many marvelous plants and geometric golden decorations. There are also some decorated shelves all around the ”Maqa’ad” and this was where Anderson used to keep his glass items collection which he was fond of.
Many of the architectural features of the house can be viewed from the Maqa’ad including the decorated walls of the house that are distinctive with their white and red colors. The marvelous Mashrabeya screens of the house that overlook the Sahn can be also admired from the Maqa’ad. The other section of the second floor of the Gayer Anderson Museum is the Salamlek, the hall where the men used to meet and it is divided into three sections, the same as many other historical houses that date back to the Mamluk and the Ottoman periods. There are two galleries surrounding the main chamber of the hall. Each gallery has many magnificently created Mashrabeya screens. The hall has many colorful pillows and wonderful wooden ashtrays that were decorated with mother of pearl and ivory.
The displays in the Salamlek hall include a collection of pistols that date back to the Ottoman era with their distinctive accurate ornaments. There is also a collection of swords from different sizes and shapes in the Salamlek hall of the Gayer Anderson Museum. The sides of the ceiling of the Salamlek Hall have remarkable decorations with geometrical patterns and Arabic calligraphy that included many pieces of poetry and different phrases from famous literary works.
The Ceiling itself is rich with its dark brown wood geometrical patterns decorations. In the middle of the Salamlek hall, there is a large copper tray that dates back to the Ottoman period and it was used by the owner of the house to offer his guests drinks and snacks. There is also a white marble shelve where they used to put the “olla”, which is a kind of traditional Egyptian water jug.
We have to note here that a large number of exhibits and antiques that are put on display in the Salamlek Hall nowaday
s were not present here during the days of Gayer Anderson but they were put recently when the house was modified to become a museum.
The Gallery of the photographs and drawings hosts a rare collection of fishing, love, celebration, chanting, wildlife, flowers, and birds’ scenes. The portraits in this hall are quite notable for their special attention to details and sizes. From the Gallery of photographs and portraits, we move to the Haramlek section, the section specified for the ladies of the house. This section is featured with its beautiful Mashrabeya screens that overlook almost every section of the house and the lanes and streets outside the house as well. The Mashrabeya screens were used by women to look over the streets without being seen from outside. The Haramlek Hall is also featured with its many shelves and cupboards with their wonderful colors that were created in the Persian style.
The main staircase of the house leads to the roof that used to function as a seating area for the women in the summer. There are many basins of water of different sizes located in various locations in the roof for people to use to wash their hands and faces in the summer. Among the most beautiful sections of the Gayer Anderson Museum is the Persian-style bedroom of the owner of the house. The room has a magnificent bed decorated with ivory and mother of pearl. There are also some candle holders and paintings making the room even more attractive to the eye. There is also the Turkish hall with its large Chair that has a crown on top of it suggesting that this was a royal hall. It also contains some pretty portraits of Mohamed Ali and Khedive Saied.
The Museum of the House consists of a large hall that displays the collection that Gayer Anderson gathered throughout his stay in Egypt. There are many items put on display in this room including a large statue of Hatshepsut, a black statue of the ancient Egyptian cat god, Bastet, and many glassware and pottery.
The celebration hall of the Gayer Anderson Museum is one of the most luxurious halls in historical houses in Egypt. The hall is around 15 square meters in surface area that is divided into two galleries; the first is featured with its wonderful throne chair decorated with ivory and mother of pearl. The middle section of this hall has a wonderfully decorated white marble fountain and the floor of the hall is beautifully ornamented with different light colors of marble. Visiting the Gayer Anderson Museum in Cairo is highly recommended for history and Islamic architecture fans as most of the features of the house remaining in a good condition making the visit to the house an enjoyable experience and makes you feel as if you are traveling back in time to the period of the Ottomans.
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Open Saturday-Thursday, 8:00 AM-4:00 PM
Friday, 8:00 AM-noon, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM
Beit al-Kritliyya, Sharia ibn Tulun (next to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun)
BY TAXI: Ask for “mes-ghid ibn tulun.” The museum is attached to the south-east corner of the mosque.