Two Spectacular Museums of 20th-Century Egyptian Public Figures
Updated On: January 30, 2023
Museums of 20th-Century Egyptian Public Figures
Among the overwhelming number of tourist attractions in Cairo, museums are particularly exceptional and that is for multiple reasons. First off, each museum specialises in one element of Egyptian history and culture. Usually, the largest museums such as the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and the soon-to-be-opened Grand Egyptian Museum display and show off the magnificent Pharaonic history.
Other museums focus on the after-Pharaohs history such as the Roman, Greek, Coptic, and Islamic periods. Then, there are more museums of different other categories such as geology, geography, and zoology in addition to modern art, music, literature, agriculture, science, rail, post, royal cars, royal jewels, wax, football, presidential presents, ribbons and medals, police, and military.
There is even a museum of the Nile Crocodile in Aswan and another in the complex of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Citadel of Salah ad-Din that was originally a prison but was later turned into a museum.
Those museums contain collections of millions of original items hosted in beautifully designed buildings and palaces whose architecture in and of itself is a masterpiece. Most museums are clean and well-taken care of. The items on display are in great condition and packed with informative labels written in Arabic and English.
Furthermore, entry fees for tourists are quite reasonable if not cheap. In the large museums, tour guides who speak multiple languages including English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German are available to accompany tourists and explain in more detail the history being displayed in the museum.
That is to say, you should never miss visiting museums when you are in Cairo or happen to be in any of the other major cities in Egypt. And after visiting the most gorgeous ones and if you still have time before you fly back home, it would be so good if you look for the unusual museums and pay them a visit too. They will definitely add another extraordinary adventure to your entire Egyptian experience.
Though what one person might consider ‘unusual’ is quite relative, there are things that truly are unusual and agreed on by thousands of others. So to help a little with that, we chose to tell you about two exceptional museums of two remarkable 20th-century Egyptian public figures. We hope you enjoy the post and later your visits.
1. Museum of Om Kulthoum
The legendary singer and the greatest one of all time.
Some things are meant to live forever, particularly all songs by Om Kulthoum. They cross time and move from one generation to another, telling the story of the magnificent revival of Egypt’s modern music without anybody neither ever getting enough nor even bored of listening.
The Star of the East, the Voice of Egypt, the Fourth Pyramid, or the Lady of Arabic Song. All are titles given to the prominent 20th-century singer, honouring the woman who revolutionised modern Egyptian music.
Om Kulthoum led an artistically prolific life that extended from the 1920s until she died in 1975. No words can truly describe the majesty of this woman’s deep, lilting voice. Even her sentimental sighs in between lyrics used to drive the crowds crazy. Her voice and her songs shaped days of the people and gave flavour to their nights. Egyptians loved Om Kulthoum as they had never loved anyone before (or after!)
So it was kind of a shock when the legendary singer passed away in early February 1975. Although she was old and had gotten extremely sick during her final days, Egyptians could not really believe that she died.
It was as if they believed she was not subject to death. Her funeral in and of itself shows a tiny glimpse of how she took over the hearts and minds of all Egyptians. Watching the crowds flood the streets of Cairo, saying goodbye to the pride of Egypt cannot but bring tears to the eyes of anybody even if they do not even know who she was or what she did.
That said, it was not only the great voice that made up the legend of Om Kulthoum but also the great cooperation she had with Egypt’s most talented poets and composers. In fact, any of them no matter how proud they might have been of their talent could not feel they totally fulfilled their career’s wildest dreams until Om Kulthoum picked up a song or admired a piece of music they wrote.
On top of those were Mohamed Abul Wahab, the greatest composer of all time and the one who composed some of her most famous songs, and Ahmed Ramy the sensational poet who wrote many of Om Kulthoum’s love songs.
For years, there has been quite a routine people have inherently followed when they listen to Om Kulthoum’s songs. They always listen to them at night. Because the songs are all romantic and the lyrics are incredibly tender, one can instinctively understand that daylight is not the suitable time to have a genuinely pleasant listening experience.
On the contrary, nighttime is perfect because most people would be out of work already and looking forward to enjoying some quality time at home or with friends at cafes.
Anyways, as a small act of honouring Um Kulthoum, though she is deeply honoured in the hearts and memories of Egyptians and Arabs, a small museum in central Cairo was opened, telling a short story of the long life of the Lady of Arabic Song.
Located on the Rawda Island on the Nile is the Museum of Om Kulthoum. In fact, it is not an independent building by itself but rather a part of al-Manasterly Palace which is another iconic architectural masterpiece.
Before you reach the museum, you get to walk through an enchanting garden full of different trees and brightly coloured flowers of different kinds. The museum itself is small but too valuable given the rich life it displays.
Arranged in glass cabinets are numerous personal items that belong to Om Kulthoum. The collections include her dresses, handbags, shoes, diamond-ornamented sunglasses, leather gloves, jewellery, diaries, ordinary and diplomatic passports, and her very famous handkerchiefs which she used to hold and rather squeeze during her concerts.
Displayed are also many, many photographs that document moments of her famous concerts and international tours.
In addition to that, there are a great number of medals, ribbons, badges, and gifts that were given to Om Kulthoum by Egyptian and Arab presidents, not to mention photographic records of her most popular songs, song lyrics in her very own handwriting, and even the first microphone that she used to record her first song in the Egyptian Radio in the 1920s.
There is a small cinema room with a large screen showing a documentary of Om Kulthoum and the various stages of her life.
The exit of the museum leads to a wide terrace with a breathtaking view of the Nile. And with the silence that wraps the entire place, I assure you, you will not help but fixate on the horizon, completely incapable of doing anything except hearing your thoughts.
The iconic museum is open every day from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. One entry ticket for tourists is worth 20 EGP. Photography is also allowed at an extra fee.
Interestingly, your visit to the Museum of Om Kulthoum does come with a gift. There, within the same complex of al-Manasterly Palace, is the Nilometre. It is a structure that was used in the past to measure the water level during the annual flood season. This allowed the government to accurately distribute the water and calculate taxes.
It is worth mentioning here that the Nilometer was in use since the Pharaonic eras and up until the 1960s when the Aswan Dam was built.
2. Museum of Gamal Abdul Naser
Abdul Naser, the second president of the then-newly declared Republic of Egypt.
Since museums are full of old, historic items, they may somehow resemble time machines. Once you step inside them, they take you hundreds, thousands, and maybe even millions of years back in time. And if you happened to be a history nerd, such an experience would be even more pleasant for you.
Well, another dazzling time machine lies in the heart of Cairo, waiting in silence to impress visitors.
Admittedly, the Egyptian government has been giving so much attention over the past 10 years to opening new museums and renovating old ones. One remarkable museum dedicated to the second president of Egypt Gamal Abdul Naser was opened in October 2016.
Gamal Abdul Naser was a powerful president who led a series of significant changes in Egyptian politics and history. Some of which, for instance, were putting an end to the British occupation of Egypt, the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company, and the establishment of the Aswan High Dam.
For those and many other changes, people truly loved him. And again, just like what happened later with Om Kulthom, millions of Egyptians came to Cairo from all corners of Egypt in September 1970 to say goodbye to the man who gave them their dignity back.
On a side note, Gamal Abdul Naser himself was a big fan of Om Kulthoum and he did attend some of her concerts. He also was the one who urged the cooperation between her and composer Mohamed Abdul Wahab, which resulted in several musical masterpieces.
OK, back to the museum. It is located in the famous district of Heliopolis in Cairo. Honestly, it is not just any museum. It is Abdul Naser’s very own house which is different from the presidential palace al-Qubba where he used to host his official guests. The original house was a large villa with two floors. Another building was then added to it as an expansion to the new museum.
Interestingly, the house rooms were kept the same as they were before. Nothing has changed, not even a bit. Once you step inside, you cannot mistake the interior design style of the 1960s and you will not help but feel you are on an old movie set. There, you can see the dining room, the president’s personal office, and his bedroom with his pyjamas, socks, and shoes.
The second floor of the museum contains exhibits and personal items of Abdul Naser kept in glass cabinets. There are also many labels and wall texts that elaborate on his life and how he rose to power. In addition, multiple screens show documentaries of Abul Naser and his very famous speeches—he was a powerful public speaker by the way.
The museum is open every day from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm except on Mondays. For a few years after its opening, entering the museum was free of charge but now there is a low-priced entry fee. Yet, unfortunately, photography is prohibited.
So it is…
One way to explore a country is to get to know its famous, beloved public figures and understand what role they played in its development. In Egypt’s case, there are thousands of scholars, scientists, writers, actors, politicians, doctors, singers, and military personalities that made huge changes intended for the progress of the country. Two such influencers are Om Kulthoum and Gamal Abdul Naser.
Om Kulthoum as the prominent singer in 20th-century Egypt had a long glorious life that transformed the course of Egyptian music and has entertained hundreds of millions of Egyptians and Arabs for decades and decades. Visiting her museum on al-Rawda Island is a necessary item on every tourist’s (and Egyptian’s) checklist.
Among all the political figures who ruled or participated in the ruling of Egypt, Gamal Abdul Naser was pre-eminent. His house in Heliopolis was turned into a museum. It opened its gates to visitors in late 2016 to come and have a glimpse at the life of the man who led the development of Egypt in the second half of the 20th century and whose influence is still prevailing up to the moment.