Overlooking the Nile River, an architectural masterpiece has been standing in the Manial district of Old Cairo since 1851—that’s the Manasterly Palace on Rhoda Island. Today, this old palace of Macedonian Hassan Fouad Manasterly Pasha is a witness to the successive historic milestones that have taken place in Egypt since then.
Designed as a residence of the Pasha, the Manasterly Palace, also known as the kiosk, is now on the map of Cairo’s must-see attractions with its magnificent Islamic architecture. It is also a place where you can get a tinge of Arab music and art performed at its International Centre for Music. In this article, ConnollyCove offers you a virtual tour of the Manasterly Palace that combines the great Islamic picturesque and Egyptian culture.
The Rhoda Island
The Manasterly Palace is located on Rhoda Island, one of the most ancient landmarks in Egypt. It is a bustling neighbourhood of Old Cairo that attracts tourists from all over the world. Extending along the Nile River in Cairo, it has bedrock that dates back to the Dynastic period.
The Island was also referred to as Per-hapi-n-On, which roughly means the Nile House of On. Later on, the ancient Greeks mistranslated the name to Babylon. The island was also called the Babylonian Island in reference to Old Cairo’s Babylon Fortress, of which small sections can be viewed from across the Nile River.
Owner of the Manasterly Palace
On Rhoda Island, Hassan Fouad Manasterly Pasha built the Manasterly Palace in 1851. Descending from Macedonia, particularly from Manastir which straddles the Macedonian-Greek border, Hassan Fouad Pasha lived in Egypt during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. While his birthdate is unknown, he is said to have died on 28 September 1859.
Hassan Fouad Pasha was a high-ranking state official. He served as Egypt’s Katkhoda from 1 February 1850 to 29 March 1854. During the short rule of Abbas I, Hassan Fouad Pasha was the first ever to assume the position of Cairo governor on 21 November 1854, and he held the post for one year. He was also the president of the Council of Rulings during the same reign. On 24 February 1857, Hassan Fouad Pasha was appointed Undersecretary of Interior before supervising the Ministry for 10 months until 24 April 1858.
The Pasha was also the custodian of the Nilometer, located near his palace in Manial. The nilometer is an old monument that dates back to the Abbasid era in 247 AH (861 AD) and was used to measure the level of the Nile River floods. A Manasterly Mosque is also part of the Manasterly complex, and it is where Hassan Fouad Pasha was buried in 1276 AH (1859-1860 AD), as stated on a painting inside the mosque.
The Manasterly Palace over Time
The Manasterly Palace did not only serve as the residence of Hassan Fouad Pasha and his family. It was the place where he held his diwania (official meetings) as well. The meetings pavilion in the Manasterly Palace remains intact. On top of that, the Bride of the Nile celebration was launched for the first time from the Manasterly Palace and continued to be launched from there for several generations.
Less than a century after its construction, the Manasterly Palace was chosen to be the venue for meetings between King Farouk I of Egypt and several Arab leaders who sought to create the League of Arab States. They met at the Manasterly Palace in 1947 to discuss the final arrangements to establish the now Arab League.
A few years later, after the 23rd of July Revolution in 1952, a big part of the Manasterly Palace was destroyed except the Selamlik and the Tea Booth. Then, it has become a public museum and a stage for important cultural events. In the 1990s, the Manasterly Palace underwent a comprehensive renovation to protect its architectural highlights and install up-to-date cooling and lighting utilities.
It was not until 1989 that the Manasterly Palace was included in Egypt’s list of antiquities. In 2000, the Cultural Development Fund reintroduced the palace, but this time as an International Center for Music hosting concerts and lectures.
In 2001, around 250 meters of the palace’s surviving area was used to build a museum. This museum showcases music material and personal belongings of the legendary Egyptian Singer Umm Kulthum. Since 2002, concerts and exhibitions have been taking place at the International Center for Music. The palace also has a large hall for teaching and practising music. Now, the Ministry of Culture manages the Manasterly Palace, Umm Kulthum Museum, International Center for Music, Nilometer, and Manasterly Mosque.
The Manasterly Palace
The Manasterly Palace is a historical attraction of Old Cairo. It has two sides with a unique architecture of walls and ceilings. Overlooking the Nile River, it was built over an area of 1000 square meters on Rhoda Island. It stands on the ruins of Sultan Najm al-Din Ayyub’s palace of the Ayyubid era.
The palace has two buildings: one was designed to be used as accommodation and the other served as a reception. There is also a third hall near the entrance of the palace. The western side of the palace is today’s rectangular music hall that has a living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. The palace’s eastern side has a big hall with parquet flooring. However, the southwest side has a surrounding wooden terrace.
The Manasterly Palace has the Nilometer in the outer courtyard. There is also a small building attached to the palace, which now houses the Umm Kulthum Museum. Initially, the Manasterly Palace comprised the Selamlik and the Haremlik. The Selamlik was the portion of an upper-class Turkish house reserved for men. On the other hand, the Haremlik was the private living quarter reserved for wives and female relatives.
With a magnificent view of the Nile from its widest point, the Manasterly is the only surviving palace of Hassan Fouad Pasha’s buildings. However, the Haremlik was demolished to make way for a water station in the area. Only the Selamlik of the first Cairo governor is now available for tourist visits.
Decorations of the Manasterly Palace
Upon entering the Manasterly Palace, you will be captivated by the decorations on the walls and ceilings. The wooden architectural designs will capture your heart, along with the unique plaster floral ornaments and bird figures.
The one-storey palace has two ceilings: one was made of concrete and the other of wood. The wooden roof braces of the rectangular hall have ornate decorations and elaborate floral designs. Regarding the floor, it was covered by marble and parquet.
The Manasterly Palace’s facades have wooden flaps decorated with floral and animal motifs coloured in scarlet; no strange, it is known as the Red Palace! They also contain wooden carvings and fantastic ironwork.
Tea Booth at the Manasterly Palace
The original design of the Manasterly Palace contained a tea booth that still exists. Residents of this 19th-century building used to have their tea at the booth while listening to the music played there. Singers used to perform at the booth, whose ceiling was covered with a large dome that helped amplify the voice without a microphone.
Near the Manasterly Palace, the current Nilometer is one of many nilometers established on Rhoda Island. It is believed that nilometers were used during the Pharaonic, Roman, and medieval times to measure the level of the annual Nile flood in the summer. Those measurements were needed to determine the best farming and harvesting times, thus calculating taxes that the governments of the ruling dynasties should impose.
The existing Nilometer stands on the same site of an older one that had been established in 715 AD before being destroyed, ironically, by a flood in 850 AD. Today’s Nilometer has been established there since 861 AD, following an order of the then Abbasid Caliphate Al-Mutawakkil.
Modifications to the current Nilometer were first made by the Founder of the Tulunid dynasty Ibn Tulun in 872–73 AD, then by the Fatimid Caliphate Al-Mustansir in 1092. It still exists and is known as the Rhoda Island Nilometer. Its neighbourhood is called the Manial, which means a measure of the Nile.
Why is the Manasterly Palace of Rhoda a Must-Visit?
If you are enthusiastic about history and architecture, you will enjoy the incredible 19th-century engineering featured in Old Cairo’s Manasterly Palace. Additionally, if you are a nature enthusiast, the palace on Rhoda Island offers an excellent chance to unwind and indulge in the beautiful scenery of the running Nile River while breathing in the fresh air.
Visiting the Manasterly Complex, you will get a good dose of 19th-century architecture and will enjoy the shows on the agenda of cultural activities. Before leaving, you can stop at the gift shop for souvenirs. This sums up your trip to the Manasterly Palace, one of the landmarks of Rhoda Island in Cairo.
The Manasterly place is a mix of art, history, and nature that will satisfy all the wishes of visitors in one way or another. A visit to this palace is guaranteed to be appealing and entertaining. So, make sure to take advantage of this good chance while in Cairo!