As part of our series offering ICOM UK members the opportunity to know more about museums and heritage around the world, Claire Messenger, ICOM UK committee member, talks to Mohamed Mokhtar, curator at the Abdeen Palace Museum, Cairo.
Hello Mohamed and thank you for talking to ICOM UK members. Could you start by telling us something about your role and responsibilities at Abdeen Palace Museum?
I am working as a curator in Abdeen Palace Museum and my main responsibility is to preserve and care for the collection which has come from acquisitions made by members of the Egyptian royal family and international gifts received from kings and presidents from around the world.
Abdeen Palace was the residence of modern Egyptian royalty starting with the reign of Khedive Ismail in 1863 A.D until the abdication of King Farouk in 1952 Abdeen Palace was built following the new classical design under the supervision of a French architect named Léon Rousseau on 25 acres of land. The construction itself cost 100,000 golden pounds and its furniture cost 750,000 golden pounds.
How has the collection of the Abdeen Palace Museum developed?
The idea for the Abdeen Palace Museum started with King Fouad in 1928. He collected arms and medals through inheritance or bought from auction. To display his collection, he established two museums on the ground floor of the palace. The first museum was the Arms Museum which has more the 10,000 objects – the oldest object in the collection dates back to the 14th century and the most recent artefacts are from the time of World War II. This museum, with its 13 halls, was considered a traditional way to show visitors the development of arms particularly from the 15thand 16th century until the 20th century. Visitors can see ceremonial swords, daggers, hunting and war rifles in addition to a large collection of pistols. King Fouad also establish a private library with a rare collection of books about arms manufacturing and use.
The second museum was the Medals and Decorations & Private Acquisitions Museum which has a collection from Egypt and other countries including Africa, Europe and North and South America. This collection dates from the 18th to the 20th century and visitors can see objects made of precious and semi-precious stones in both gold and silver. Originally the museums were only accessed by the guests of the King, but after the 1952 revolution against the royal family, the Abdeen Palace Museums were closed
In 1998 Abdeen Palace Museum was opened to the public for the first time and two new museums were added, the Silverware Museum and the Presidency Gifts Museum. In 2005 the Historical Documents Museum joined the Abdeen Palace Museum group, and in 2016 the Royal Hunting Hall was inaugurated. The Abdeen Palace Museum became five museums (Arms; Medals & Decorations; Silverware; Presidency Gifts and Historical Documents) with one space, especially for temporary displays.
Do you have a favourite object from your collection that you would like to share with us?
One of the most beautiful objects is the Justice and Coronation Sword which was originally owned by Peter the Great, Czar of Russia in the 17th century. It was bought by King Farouk from an auction hall in Germany in 1948 when he paid £11,000 pounds. The sword is decorated with precious and semi-precious stones like diamonds, rubies, carnelian, and coloured enamel. This sword is amazing because of intricate decorative layers which start with a gold layer, then an enamelled one and the third is the precious and semi-precious stones. In addition, we can see also two figures, a Roman and an African face, which raise questions about why and when these two figures were added to this sword. Currently, I am working to publish a paper on this incredible object.
At the end of their visit, what information do you hope your audience takes home after visiting the museum?
The information that we love our audience to take to their home after their visit is to gain accurate and interesting information about the history of the Egyptian royal family and their traditions and relationships with others in Egypt and around the world.
In 2020, during the COVID crisis, what challenges has the Abdeen Palace Museum faced?
The biggest challenge we have faced during this period, like most of the museums all over the world, was closing our doors and not be able to be contact with our visitors. So we tried to think about contacting our visitors virtually through different platforms. Firstly, the Egyptian Presidency, which administers our museum, launched their website with new films about the presidential palaces and one of our museums, the Presidency Gifts Museum. Now we are working to add the rest of the Palace Museums to this website. Visitors to the website can see films and can join the virtual tour inside the Palace and the Presidency Gifts Museum.
What programmes have you delivered during this time to continue to engage with your audiences? Why did you do this and how successful was it?
In addition to the website, we started a series of online music concerts, inviting famous Egyptian singers to perform in the garden of the Palace to try to reach out to our audiences in a different but safe way.
People’s comments were very positive, and they asked to do more and wished to attend if there will be an opportunity in the future to do these concerts, with audiences. We received this feedback through different social media channels.
Please tell us about your involvement in a new Museum in Cairo called The Revolution Command Council Museum?
The Revolution Command Council Museum is a new museum located in the El Gezira area in downtown Cairo. The Museum documents the details of the July 1952 revolution and its impact on the life of Egyptians. I was asked, along with one of my colleagues, by our museum’s director to start a training programme for the museum staff on how to deal with visitors in the galleries and make it easier for them to deliver the information on the museum’s content to different types of visitors. We also supported them by looking at what kind of activities and programmes can be offered for visitors. Because of the different educational background of the museum’s staff, we started with brainstorming meetings to discuss the available options. Finally, we also talked about the gift shop and I focused on the classification of the programmes for different categories of museum audience.
I would like to thank ICOM UK for giving me this opportunity to talk about my museum and to share some links so they can see more.
The official link for the Presidential Palaces films and virtual tours.
The link for one of the concerts inside Abdeen Palace Garden
Thank you so much, Mohamed. It has been fascinating to learn more about your work and your museums.
If you would like to contact Mohamed his email is firstname.lastname@example.org – he’d be very happy to hear from you.