Abdeen Palace — a witness to Egyptian history

Abdeen Palace — in all its majestic grandeur and greatness.
Updated 15 June 2019

Abdeen Palace — a witness to Egyptian history

  • Khedive Ismail ordered the construction of Abdeen Palace in 1872

CAIRO: Abdeen Palace in Cairo is perhaps the most famous of Egyptian palaces. It witnessed many events from the royal era up till the emergence of the modern capital.

Khedive Ismail ordered the construction of Abdeen Palace in 1872. This palace was the headquarters of the government from 1872 till the revolution of 1952.

Today, the white, red and green salons are used to receive official delegations during their visit to Egypt. Its theater, with hundreds of gilded chairs, hosts special theater performances for visitors and guests. The palace’s library contains 55,000 books.

In the palace there are many suites, such as the Belgian suite designed to accommodate the important guests of Egypt. It is named after the King of Belgium who was the first to reside there. It includes a bed that is considered a rare antique because of its decorations.

One of the palace’s museums contains treasures acquired by the sons and grandsons of Khedive Ismail, who ruled Egypt after him and were fond of putting their personal touches to the palace that reflected each successive era.

The second museum is dedicated to the possessions of the family of Mohammed Ali Pasha, the Ottoman commander who ruled Egypt in the first half of the nineteenth century. The exhibits include silverware, crystal, colored crystal, and other rare artifacts.

A delegation of Egyptian parliamentarians visited Abdeen Palace last week, after its latest renovation and restoration. The visit was to support archaeological and historical tourism and the important historical value of Egypt’s presidential palaces.

Dr. Gamal Shakra, professor of modern history at Ain Shams University, told Arab News Abdeen Palace is an important historical property and reveals the extent of the civilized development that Egypt witnessed during that period. “Everyone knows the ancient civilization of Egypt, but we need to show the world what Egypt has achieved in the modern era through Abdeen Palace,” he said.

“Abdeen Palace is part of Egypt’s history. The renovation of the palace turned out much more beautiful than we expected,” said Mr. Osama Heikal, chairman of the Information Committee at the Egyptian Parliament.

“The style of the furniture and architecture is not found in old European countries, and the skilled labor that carried out this piece of work contributed greatly to its beauty,” said Heikal.

“Abdeen Palace is an important destination for foreign tourists, changing our image for the better. It is an opportunity for the West to learn the history of Egypt in the modern era,” said Amr Sidqi, head of the Committee of Tourism and Civil Aviation at the Egyptian Parliament.

The opening times of Abdeen Palace are 9 a.m. — 5 p.m. Tickets cost 100 pounds ($6) for foreigners and 50 pounds foreign students, 20 pounds for Egyptians or Arabs, 10 pounds for Egyptian or Arab students.

Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

Updated 22 July 2019

Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

  • A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies

GABES: A putrid odour lingers outside a morgue in Tunisia’s coastal city of Gabes as dozens of bodies of would-be migrants to Europe pulled out of the sea await burial.
A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies and struggling to find them a final resting place.
More than 80 drowned migrants have been retrieved from Tunisian waters — most of them victims of a deadly July 1 shipwreck that left only three survivors.
Fished out of the sea between the port city of Zarzis and the tourist island of Djerba in the south, their bodies were brought to Gabes hospital — the only facility in the region capable of taking DNA samples.
Under pressure from civil society groups, Tunisian authorities have stepped up efforts to systematically collect the DNA of each unidentified drowned migrant, hospital director Hechmi Lakhrech told AFP.
The samples could well be the only hope of informing the victims’ families of their fate, he added.
In the basement morgue, staff use surgical masks or simple scarves to fend off the stench of bodies stacked one top of the other on the floor.
Since July 6, the numbers have “overwhelmed” the morgue’s 30-body capacity, said Lakhrech.
With just two forensic doctors and two assistants, not to mention a lack of equipment, the facility is struggling to keep them properly stored, he added.
After forensic tests, the bodies are kept at the morgue until a burial site is found, which in Tunisia is complicated, according to Gabes governor Mongi Thameur.
Many municipalities have refused to allow the drowned migrants to be buried in their cemeteries.
“Some fear the bodies carry cholera, and others refuse to bury people in Muslim cemeteries if their religion is unknown,” he told AFP.
It comes down to “a problem of mentality and also of humanity in some cases,” he said, adding that many people needed to be “sensitised.”
At the Bouchama cemetery, the only one in Gabes to have so far accepted migrant bodies, 16 graves dug off to the side lie empty.
“My parents are resting here, I don’t want non-Muslims to be buried by their side,” said one local resident.
In front of the hospital, the stifling midday heat beats down as 14 white bags are carefully loaded onto the back of a garbage truck.
Once loaded, it will make the two-hour journey to Zarzis, where an improvised cemetery flooded with the bodies of migrants for several years is now full, and a new one has just been opened.
Each grave is marked with a simple plaque bearing the victim’s DNA file number and burial date.
“On July 12, we collected 45 bodies in one day!” said Zarzis deputy mayor Faouzi Khenissi, calling it a “phenomenal problem.”
The city has taken in the bodies “because we have this culture, we can’t just leave the remains unburied,” he said.
Zarzis is a hotspot for illegal departures to Europe and Khenissi says some of the city’s own youth have also been victims of the wrecks.
Municipal workers and officials take shifts volunteering after work to conduct the burials.
After three hours of prep under the blazing sun, 14 bodies are buried alongside the 47 others already laid to rest at the new site, just outside a shelter for rescued migrants.
Mongi Slim of the country’s Red Crescent called for “international mobilization” to address the issue which “does not concern Tunisia alone.”
“The country is already struggling to take care of rescued migrants, but even more so for those who’ve died.”