The Prince in waiting: Mohamed Ali’s Manial Palace

by

The Manial Palace was constructed to serve as the eventual seat of Prince Mohamed Ali’s rule, fully equipped with a throne room. However the prince’s coronation was never quite realized.

Prince Mohamed Ali was the son of Khedive Mohamed Tawfik who was the ruler over Egypt after his own father Khedive Ismail. Mohamed Ali’s older brother, Khedive Abbas Helmi II, ruled after Khedive Tawfik and would become the last to hold the title of khedive, or the Ottoman equivalent of a viceroy. Upon the English proclamation in 1914 that dictated a protectorate over Egypt, Helmi was deposed from his throne, and his brother Hussein Kamel was declared the Sultan of Egypt, holding the title until 1917.

Prince Mohamed Ali (photo: egy.com)

Prince Mohamed Ali was born in Cairo in 1875 and died abroad in 1954. He was the heir to the throne, contingent on the death of his uncle King Fouad I, as he was the eldest son in Mohamed Ali Pasha’s dynasty. However, when King Fouad I did pass in 1936, Prince Mohamed Ali did not ascend the throne: the rules of succession of the Empire were no longer applied, but instead replaced with the laws of primogeniture as decreed by the monarchy. With aspirations shattered, Prince Momahed Ali’s cousin Farouq was made king, while the prince was given the status of King regent, maintaining custody of the throne to rule in Farouq’s stead until he would reach adulthood and assume power. Prince Mohamed Ali was again the next in the line of succession as the crown prince until King Farouq fathered a son, Prince Ahmed Fouad, in 1951.

Prince Mohamed Ali had his palace built in Manial to serve as the centre of his anticipated reign. The palace has since become a truly beautiful historical museums, bringing to life a pivotal period in modern Egyptian history and reflecting a vivid yet accurate image of the life of the royal family. The wonderful architectural design of this structure made it stand out among its contemporaries. It was built in the style of modern Islamic models taken from more traditional Islamic schools of art, including that of the Fatimid and Mamluk eras, also incorporating Persian, Syrian and Moroccan elements. The palace and surrounding buildings’ garniture naturally reflected Ottoman flavor as well. Being knows as “the artist prince,” Mohammed Ali himself participated in the design and decoration of the palace, and supervised all the stages of the building process.

The palace covers 61,711 square metres, 5,000 of which are occupied by the building itself. The remaining area is adorned with gardens, 34,000 sqaure metres, and 22,711 for the palace’s internal facilities. The palace stands two stories, and is comprised of several wings, each referred to as a saray. The first floor has the great reception hall to receive honoured guests, and the second holds grand Levantine and Moroccan halls.

Reception Hall

The reception hall is the first room encountered after traversing the entrance lobby. It contains intricate ornaments and decorations that feature the high skills of Egyptian craftsmen. The great hall is made up of two floors, each composed of small rooms that served as the space for specific duties.

The first floor is made up of two rooms. The first is a greeting room that was used for receiving prominent and official figures. It contains displays of valuable objets d’art, and two sofas upholstered with leather and embossed with mother-of-pearl, ebony and wood-turning carvings.

The second room was reserved for important clergymen who would perform the Friday prayer service in the palace. In addition to the adornments in the room, there are also two vast bookcases embedded in the walls with decorative shelves.

Ascending to the second floor, visitors would behold a splendid model of the Qaitbay Mosque displayed on the landing of the staircase. The Levantine Hall was given its name as all the wood that covered the walls and ceiling were imported from an old Syrian house that was built in 1670 CE. The room has windows with coloured glass jointed together with gypsum with remarkable precision. On the right sits a small room reserved for the harem, or the women who accompany the prince’s guests.

The Moroccan hall is located across from the Levantine Hall and contains small tables designed in a Moroccan style. The floor is covered with Turkish carpets.

Living Quarters

Built as the prince’s personal living space, the first floor contains a reception, dining room and library, while the second floor consists of the prince’s bedrooms.

The Throne Room

It is also known as the regent room, as the prince was given temporary custody of the throne. It contains a number of exceptional and extravagant reception rooms.

The Museum

It contains a number of halls that include rare manuscripts, old copies of the Qur’an, carpets, paintings and gold and silver antiques.

The Mosque

An architecturally distinct construction built in Ottoman style.

Public drinking fountain

Known in Arabic as a sabil, the fountain is located between the tower and the mosque, close to the north walls of the palace.

The clock tower

Built beside the mosque in the style of Moroccan minarets.

The Hunting museum

Contains several kinds of stuffed birds, animals and reptiles, in addition to some hunting tools.

Garden

Includes rare types of trees, tropical plants and roses.

The palace façade

The palace walls were built in the style of medieval fortresses, and its façade resembles the entrance of a mosque. Its design is influenced by the 14th century Iranian school of architecture. The walls are made of limestone, with incremental ledges that line the top of the wall as guard posts.

The palace and surrounding buildings are embossed with Qur’anic verses, coloured glass and marble. Written on the entrance to the palace are the following words: “This palace was built by Prince Mohamed Ali, son of Mohamed Tawfiq, God rest his soul, in order to revive Islamic arts. The prince oversaw the architecture and decoration of the palace while Master Mohamed Afeefi built it in 1348 AH [1929 CE].”