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Several of my articles on Garden City were plagiarized word for word by novelist MEKKAWI SAID (winner of the Egyptian State price for literature!!!!) and re-published under his own name in a three-part series in El-Masry El-Youm daily in September 2015.

Cheers to our "talented" literature prize awardee. Your pain his gain !!!


by Samir Raafat
Cairo Times, 10 June 1999

Gratuitously attributed to Italian court architect Antonio Lasciac (his other works include the palaces of Zaafaran, Princess Kamal Eldine; Khedivial Buildings on Emad al-Dine Street and Banque Misr) Tahra Palace was built early this century for Princess Amina, a daughter of Khedive Ismail and the mother of Mohammed Taher Pasha. The style is pure Italianate palazzo a fact accentuated by its inimitable marble stairways and fantastic alabaster ceilings. Another reminder of the architects' origins is the water fountain fronting the palace. To many connoisseurs its design clearly evokes that architectural marvel which graces Rome's Plaza Barberini.

Surrounded by green fields and palm groves Taher pasha's only neighbor of consequence was his maternal uncle King Fouad who occasionally resided in the nearby palace of Koubeh.

Interior of Mohammed Ali Club
pre-1952 interior of Mohammed Ali Club with life-size portrait Taher Pasha's grandfather Khedive Ismail shown to the right

Notwithstanding Taher Pasha's brief marriage to one of his royal cousins, this particular grandson of Khedive Ismail was a virtual bachelor most of his life. Born in Istanbul, Mohammed (Mustafa Shakib) Taher was considered more Turkish than Egyptian having spent part of his childhood between the elegant suburbs of Emirgan and Moda at Dar al-Saa'da (Istanbul). A less assuming member of the Egyptian ruling family he was nevertheless an avid sportsman. As a result he was the first president of the Egyptian Olympic Committee and his patronage of other sporting activities extended to the presidencies of the Mohammed Ali Club, the Royal Automobile Club, the Feroussia Club and, closest to the Pasha's heart, the Aero Club. It was Taher Pasha's keen interest in the latter which brought him together with Ladislas "Lazlo" Almazy who became a permanent houseguest at Tahra.

Of limited fame at the time, the Hungarian-born Almazy--sometimes mistakenly referred to as "Count" Almazy--would, many decades later, be portrayed by Hollywood as the celebrated WW2 daredevil pilot and desert explorer in the 1997 blockbuster The English Patient. Indeed it was under the royal patronage of Taher Pasha and Prince Youssef Kamal that Almazy, flying his Gipsy Moth, discovered in 1932-36 the lost oasis of Zarzoura in Egypt's remote southwest corner where it borders Tchad and The Sudan.

A few years later, the Magyar aristocrat who had forfeited an existence of leisure in Austria's Castle Berstein for a life of adventure at Cairo's Tahra Palace, allegedly ferried German spy--John Eppler-- across the Libyan desert and into the Nile valley during WW2. This amazing feat is best described in Ken Follett's bestseller Key to Rebecca.

But what Follett fails to mention in his thriller is how the pro-German Taher Pasha was himself placed, by order of the British, under house arrest through part of WW2, first in a house near al-Ayat near Wasta south of Helwan, then at the military hospital in Koubbeh and later in a desolate Sinai penitentiary. It was from that time that Tahra Palace became the temporary home to other members of the Egyptian royal family. As for Taher Pasha, he relocated in a handsome villa at No. 4 Amir Fouad Street, Zamalek (also known as Villa Khayatt, today the Zamalek American Embassy compound).

In 1953, Tahra Palace along with the rest of the palaces belonging to the descendants of Viceroy Mohammed Ali, was confiscated by the state following the recent toppling of the monarchy. Much of Tahra's precious heirlooms would soon re-appear at state-sponsored auctions as the government attempted to replenish its coffers.

Meanwhile, new plans were being drawn out for Tahra. For instance, it would henceforth serve the dual purpose of presidential palace and, official guesthouse. Paradoxically it would become home to exiled members of toppled monarchies! In a peculiar instance the now "presidential" Tahra Palace hosted a ruling monarch and later welcomed the same monarch back but this time as a toppled exile. This is true in the case of King Seoud Ibn Abdel Aziz of Saudi Arabia.

To be noted that during King Seoud's 23-29 March 1954 state visit to Egypt a historic all-night session took place at Tahra Palace attended by the king, President Mohammed Naguib and strongman Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The motive was to establish a modus vivendi between Nasser and Naguib, instead, the meeting spelt the deathknell for the latter who was eventually removed from power in November of that year.

Also among the palace's first republican-era guests was a humble shopgirl from one of Cairo's department stores who made it big when she wed Ghana's strongman Kwame Nkrumah (along with Yugoslavia's Tito, Indonesia's Sukarno, and Egypt's Nasser, Nkrumah had founded the Non-Aligned Movement). So, for a while, it was Fathia Nkrumah, her mother and several members of her Coptic family who resided in the palace where Taher Pasha and Lazlo Almazy had once held separate courts.

Other state guests and heads of liberation movements followed. Yet in 1973, during the run-up to the October War, there was activity of a different kind at Tahra. Very discreetly, parts of the palace were being transformed into makeshift "situations rooms." Huge maps of Sinai covered Belgian mirrors and where savoneries and gobelins had once decorated walls, larger than life pictures of the Suez Canal area were plastered over. It was from Tahra that Sadat directed his celebrated canal crossing.

By the time the Shah of Irans's widow occupied the premises free of charge in 1980, Tahra Palace was already in a sorry state of decline. The long-term effects of neglect and pilfering had started to show. Which is perhaps why Farah Dib,a together with her extended Iranian family, preferred rented villas in the South of France and stately homesteads off New England's Long Island Sound. Such was her hurry to vacate Tahra the ex-Empress forgot to tip the personnel. Likewise, Egypt has nothing to show for the gracious hospitality extended to the exiled Shah whom, save for Anwar al-Sadat, no one else wanted to host.

Notwithstanding the fact that France's current prime-minister Lionel Jospin over-nighted at Tahra last May, there is talk of the palace being immortalized in a splendid European-made documentary currently being produced on the life of Lazlo Almazy. If the required filming permits are indeed forthcoming, then Tahra Palace is predestined to make it on the international scene keeping company to other illustrious homes such as Rambouillet, Balmoral and Blair House.

Today, given the air of secrecy that prevails around the ruling family, Tahra Palace hardly makes the news. One exception however when in 1996 the enbolded daughters of King Farouk claimed the Palace was legally theirs on the premises that it had belonged to their mother Queen Farida. Perhaps their claim was based on what was announced in al-Ahram of 3 March 1939, that the queen consort had purchased the palace from Taher Pasha for the tidy sum of LE 40,000. Their argument was that Farida Zulfikar, although married to royalty was herself not a descendant of Mohammed Ali thus did not come under the Confiscation Law.

King Farouk's three daughters from Farida never won the case... what was confiscated remained confiscated... the State takes but does not give!


Vintage Heliopolis photos
Heliopolis 1913 survey map
Heliopolis Palace Hotel  (Presidential Palace)
Baron Empain's Hindu Palace
Heliopolis residents in 1913-14
Heliopolis pharmacies in 1946
An important Belgian legacy
When Maadi very nearly replaced Heliopolis
The making of Koubbeh Gardens

Reader Comments

Subject: Almasy [the second]
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 1999 22:19:02 +0100
From: Thomas Puller

Well, I hope you haven't lost interest in Almasy. Two weeks ago a new book was published on him, thus that interview with the respective author revealing new facts on his life: Almasy was the son of a Hungarian explorer and his Styrian wife [Styria = southern province of Austria]. He was born at Bernstein Castle in Western Hungaria, a part nowadays belonging to Austria [Burgenland]. He was quite influenced by his gifted father and spoke six languages fluently: Hungarian, German, English, French, Italian and Arabic. At 14 he constructed automobiles and gliders, at 17 he received his pilot license.

After the Habsburg empire had collapsed Almasy acted as driver to the former emperor Charles I. When Charles [Karl I.] tried in vain to be reinstated as king in Hungaria, he was raised into the (then non-existent) position of a count (voila, that's why he called himself VON Almasy).

Even though Almasy never expressed his political ideas he always remained - according to that biography - "a romantic conservative". In the early 20s he earned his money as test driver for Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Graz. He wanted to sell cars to Egypt and convinced his employer to test Steyr cars in the desert. Thereafter he organized hunting trips for Prince Esterhazy [the Esterhazys owned most of Western Hungaria, and they still own half of Burgenland] and Prince Ferdinand of Liechtenstein. He flew with his "Moth" from Hungaria into Egypt and started to explore the desert, focusing on the eastern Sahara.

In his expeditions, he combined cars and planes and discovered the remaining unknown parts of the Libyan desert. The Egyptian government finally hired him as cartographer. His discovery of those prehistoric paintings are also depicted in 'The English Patient'. He published all his findings in his book "Die unbekannte Sahara" [The Unknown Sahara, 1934; I found a copy of that oeuvre]. During WWII he offered his services to the Africa Korps. We know about those spy stories and his alleged relation to Rommel (well, I never...!).

Actually, there are rumours that Almasy cooperated with the other side by handing over secret documents to the Long Range Desert Group. From a fellow conscript, an interested ethnologist, I heard the story that he might have even been conspiring with the Soviets. As a matter of fact, he was arrested by the latter before being released in 1947 in a more than poor state of health. He escaped into Burgenland and returned to Egypt where he worked as flight instructor. In 1950 Almasy tried to re-establish contact to the desert academia he had known before the war. He was offered to head the Desert Institute in Cairo, but unfortunately died in 1951 of dysentery. Don't know if those are any new facts for you, but still Almasy didn't lose his attraction to me! An impressive, but tragic fellow!

FROM: Amr Samih Talaat, IBM Marketing Manager, IBM Egypt Branch

I am pleased to express my appreciation for this article and the evident efforts behind it.

I would like to add that King Farouk bought the Tahra palace from his cousin Mohamed Taher Pacha for L.E 40,000 in the late 30's to be a royal gift to his newly wedded wife queen Farida.

Contrary to what most people think, the palace was not named "Tahra" after Taher Pacha who inherited it from his mother princess Amina, daughter of Khedive Ismail. Rather, it was named after the famous Persian poet "Tahra". King Farouk meant it as a gesture towards Prince Mohamed Reda Pahlawi who was hosted in the Palace when he came to Egypt for his wedding to the beautiful princess Fawzia. On the occasion, the government headed at then by Aly Maher Pacha assigned a budget of L.E. 2,700 to prepare the palace for its prominent guest.

Pahlawi was destined to use the palace once more, forty years later. Nevertheless, in less delightful circumstances when President Sadat was the last host in the world willing to receive the Iranian ex-royal family.

The palace is built over a land of about eight feddans. Originally it was smaller, but the King bought some of his neighbors' properties to enlarge it. The main enlargement to the garden was 6,126 square meters done in 1942 when he purchased a neighboring villa that belonged to Mr. Maurice Gategno for L.E. 16,000. King Farouk moved the beautiful fountain the palace is famous for from Kubbah Palace.

As for the building, it constitutes three floors built over 1300 square meters comprising the salamlek, garages and servants wing.

The King bought the Palace without its furniture and embarked on furnishing it by gathering pieces, buying some and obtaining some from his ancestors' treasuries. Amongst was the famous golden throne of Mohammad Ali Pacha, founder of Modern Egypt, which was found at Shoubra Palace.

The King added a large hall to the Palace, which he named after his great grand father. To this hall, he brought an ebonite billiard table inlaid with gold. The table was a gift from the King of France to Mohammad Ali Pacha and was also left at Shoubra palace until King Farouk took it to Tahra where I believe, or rather hope, it is still there. In the same hall, he ordered the placement of a piano made of ebony and inlaid with ivory that belonged to the era of his grand father Khedive Ismail.

However, the masterpiece of the antiquities of the palace is a large clock covering a good part of one of the walls of the main salon. It is a model of the famous clock of the city of Strasbourg. The magnificent piece is decorated with small statues and shows the time, faces of the moon as well as days of the week and month. King Farouk found the clock at one of his palaces in a poor condition and ordered its restoration.

At the ground floor, the visitor will first see Mohammad Ali hall. On the first floor there is another spacious hall covered with silk carpets. One of its walls is covered with the strazbourg clock, while in its center was a marble statue of Khedive Ismail. I do not know if it is still there, but I expect it was dumped in some abandoned repository after 1952 where it is still there or have been smuggled out to another fate.

In another corner of the same hall, a large picture representing a roman scene, all made of fossaifesaa--mosaic, that was a gift from the Pope to Mohammad Ali is hanged. To the right of this hall is the King's office, which is connected to two smaller salons that were used as waiting rooms. One of the two is decorated in an arabesque style, featuring a tasteful fireplace covered with ceramics. The ceiling was brought from an older arabesque house and the walls were rebuilt to fit the ceiling.

A majestic marble staircase leads to the second floor, where a large multicolor chandelier that belongs to Mohammad Ali era is hanging. The main piece in this floor was a grand Cigar Humidor that belonged to Khedive Ismail.

King Fouad used to live at El Bostan Palace until he was coronated and Moved to the state owned Royal Palace of Abdin. It was torn down in the seventies to give way to another building carrying the same name, only the new one is an ugly multistory car park. Some of the furniture of El-Bostan was moved to Edfina Palace. Yet another gorgeous piece of architectural art that was turned into a hospital by the post 1952 regime in its crave to avenge from the nation's history in the preceding hundred and fifty years. The rest of El- Bostan furniture was stored until King Farouk took some of it to El-Tahra. Among these items where silk curtains embroidered with gold and silver.

In 1944, King Farouk exchanged the Palace with his wife queen Farida for a large piece of land at Sharkia governorate; the ranch was called "El Faridia".

As for Taher Pacha himself, although he was a direct grandson of Khedive Ismail, his father was not a member of the Royal Family. The law governing royal titles stipulated that only descendants of titled fathers, not mothers, take on the title. However, since Taher was favored by his Uncle King Fouad, for his intellect and cultural activities, he was given the title Pacha on February 19, 1922.

In the summer of 1940, at the beginning of the world war, King Farouk formed what was called the "special police", forces under the command of Taher Pacha; their declared mission was assisting the regular police during air raids. The king chose Taher for the position due to his known hatred towards the British, a fact they also knew. This fact intensified the British skepticism regarding the idea and they insisted on abandoning it.

Moreover, Taher Pacha was kept in custody upon Britain's request due to his pro-axis activities. He remained in custody until 1944, when the British grip loosened a bit as their final victory was getting close.

It was for the same reasons that the British ambassador did not welcome an earlier idea of having Taher as a member in the Council of Regency formed in 1936 until King Farouk reaches the age constitutionally necessary to assume power.

The King resented this interference in internal affairs, and responded by appointing his cousin as a member of the "Sheuouk Assembly", less than a year after his accession to the throne.

The royal decree was issued on May 18, 1938 and Taher's membership was renewed on May 7,1949. It was suppose to last until 1956, but fate had different plans for Taher Pacha and his entire family!

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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