The Cretan House or Gayer Anderson Museum is considered one of the rare and precious Islamic monuments in Cairo because it is a clear example of how refined the Islamic architectural style was at that time. The museum’s architecture represents the Ottoman era’s harmonious blend of Islamic faith principles and aesthetic values.
Gayer Anderson Museum (photo: eEgypt)
The museum is located on the east side of Ahmed Ibn Tulun Mosque in what is called “The Alley of the Mosque.”
The reason behind calling the house “Gayer Anderson museum” goes back to 1935 when Major Gayer Anderson, an officer in the British army, requested from the Arab antiquities Committee to live in the house and the house across from it (house of Amena Bent Wahb). He also asked the committee to turn the two houses into a place to show his personal collection of art, furnishings and antiquities stressing that he would give the contents of the house to the Egyptian government in case he died. After the approval of his request he spent large amounts of money to buy furniture and artefacts from ancient houses in Egypt and other Arab counties. He devoted his life to this task until he passed away and the government turned the two houses into a museum named after him.
Al-Kiritlia House, or the Gayer Anderson Museum (photo: Egyptarch)
The Architecture of the House
The house is a reminder of the prowess of Ottoman era architecture though it is unique among the epoch due to the “Sabil” attached to it for passers-by to drink pure water. Finding a Sabil in a house is rare as it is typically affiliated with a religious building such as a mosque. The sabil is on the right side of the house and it has two windows, one overlooks the street and the other is near the main entrance of the house.
“Sabil” of Al-Kiritlia House
The entrance leads to a passageway which opens to the house’s yard. This entrance is a major component of houses created during the Mamluk and Ottoman eras. The designer of the house was keen to mix the architectural beauty with aspects related to the homeowner’s faith.
Entering the premise, visitors find themselves in an interior trapezoid-shaped courtyard where an octagonal-shaped marble fountain lies in the middle. The house storeys and Haramlek hall (an area used only by women) oversee the yard. A depot which was used for storing grains overlooks the yard as well, and behind it exists a stable for animals.
Gayer Anderson Museum
The stairs go up to a sitting area with an arch façade. The ceiling is made of rectangular wooden pieces adorned with golden carvings. On the sides of the sitting area there are wall wardrobes embossed with floral motifs.
The ceiling of the Gayer Anderson Museum
Gayer Anderson Museum
Afterwards, there is a Salamlek room (an area for men). It consists of two large reception halls in the middle of which there is a smaller and lower area separating them.
The Salamlek room is furnished with cushions covered with embossed baize and velvet covers. Marvellous wooden ash trays inlaid with ivory and seashells are proliferated throughout the hall. The sides of the hall’s ceiling are decorated with floral motifs and adorned with lines of poetry and sayings such as “whoever loves cannot sleep.” The ceiling itself is made of dark brown wooden pieces.
As for Haramlek, it has separate stairs and it is reserved for women. The most important feature of this hall is the presence of big mashrabya screens on all sides. Haramlek overlooks all sides of the house because women used to watch what was going on in the yard or in the alleys surrounding the house behind those mashrabya screens. All halls of the house were used as a kind of exhibition for a large number of paintings which were influenced by the Syrian and Persian schools of art. Major Gayer Anderson spared no effort in collecting antiquities from all over the world in order to establish one of the most important Islamic museums comprised of different Islamic architectural styles.