The Koubbah Palace by Amr Samih Talaat

"I have closely seen the love and inspiration you bestowed on me. Thus, I see it is necessary to announce my determination to cooperate with you for the prosperity and welfare of our beloved Egypt". It was May 8, 1936 and the Egyptians were listening to their new Monarch delivering his first speech. The first public royal speech in Arabic, ever. King Farouk decided to broadcast from his office at the royal residence, Koubbah Palace.

Numerous references had stated that Khedive Ismail, who built a palace for each of his sons and daughters, built Koubbah. However, Aly Pasha Moubarak states in his prominent book about Cairo " Al Khetat Al Tawfikya" that the palace was built by Ibrahim Pasha.

Further research established that Ibrahim Pasha commissioned the project in 1842, during the last years of Mohammed Aly’s reign. After Ibarhim’s death, his unlucky son Moustafa Bahgat Fadel Pasha inherited Koubbah. Unlucky because he arrived to this world forty days after his half brother Ismail. In 1858, it became factual that these forty days costed him the throne. Prince Ahmed Refaat, the heir to the thone died and Ismail became the new successor.

In 1866 his hopes to succeed Ismail one day where permenatly eradicated. The Sultan issued a decree stating that the heir to the throne is no longer the eldest Prince in Mohammed Aly’s dynasty (Who was Moustafa Pasha at then) but the ruling Khedive’s eldest son. Prince Mohamed Tawfik Pasha became the new heir.

Months later during the same year, Khedive Ismail bought all his brother’s estate in Egypt for 2.8 million sterlings. Although Koubbah Palace was part of the deal, Moustafa Bahgat Fadel insisted to keep its furniture!

Prince Moustafa consumed a substantial part of his fortune striving to persuade the Sultan to revert back to the old succession system to no avail. The irony of it is that even if the 1866 Faraman was not issued, or his attempts to cancel it succeeded, he would have still never ruled; simply because he died in 1875, four years before Ismail abdicated!

Like most other palaces that belonged to the royal family, Koubbah took its name from the vicinity it was built in. Koubbah (The Dome) was originated when "Dawadar Yashbak", a statesman in "Mamalik" times built a Dome in 1470 in this area, to be his retreat for rest and leisure. It was his version of today’s "Mansouria" weekend ranches! Later in 1513, "Sultan El Ghory" enhanced the Dome and added a mosque to it, naming it "El-Koubbah Mosque" and the area took over the name. Khedive Abbas Helmy II enlarged this mosque in 1892, right after his succession to the throne.

In 1872 Khedive Ismail decided to give a generous gift to his son and heir Tawfik. The royal gift included an estate of 6193 feddans in Behera complemented by the Koubbah estate, which encompassed the palace and 3851 feddans.

Since that date Koubbah Palace became the residence of Khedive Tawfik. One year later, his bride, the beautiful Princess Amina Elhamy, was to be taken in a parade to her groom at Koubbah after a grand wedding. Also his mother Shafak Nour Hanem left Abdine to stay with her son at Koubbah. Probably she felt left out at Abdine, knowing that Khedive Ismail had only married her in obedience to an advice from the Sultan!

Shafak Nour contributed to the Palace a small mosque in 1877 that bears her name. It is a replacement of an older one built by "Tabar", a minister in 969 A.D, during the "Ekhshid" times.

After a few years, Khedive Tawfik established the "Koubbah School" near the palace for the children of the Egyptian Elite. Tawfik supervised the school himself. He was often seen at its kitchen tasting the food presented to the students, to ensure its quality.

Although references indicate that Tawfik enjoyed staying at Koubbah, there was a time when he felt it is too secluded. It was in 1879, when the crisis between Khedive Ismail and the European countries escalated and rumors started that the Sultan is going to topple him and appoint Tawfik in his place. The latter decided to move to Ismailia Palace (which was where the Mogamaa El Tahrir is now) to be closer to events. Ismail considered it a tactless gesture. Aggravated, he ordered the prompt return of his son, his wife and children to Koubbah, where they stayed under heavy guarding till the rumor turned to a reality.

While Abdine Palace was always considered the formal royal palace, Koubbah remained the "formal-private" residence of the Monarch. This explains Abdine’s superiority when it comes to the lavishness of the rooms and halls. Koubbah has nothing to match the Throne Hall or Byzantine Hall of Abdine, yet this superiority is only relative. The 425-rooms construction of Koubbah is by no means shabby!

Being the private residence also explains why most of the royal wedding ceremonies took place there. Amongst were those of Princess Khadijah Tawfik in 1895 and the more famous one of Queen Farida. In January 1938, the people stood in lines to see their new Queen’s motorcade flowing from her family’s house (a villa owned by a Alfred Chamaas Bey that was rented by Farida’s father, it is still situated in Heliopolis close to Chili’s Restaurant) to Koubbah Palace.

Of King Fouad’s children, Princess Fathia was born in Koubbah on December 18, 1930, but none of King Farouk’s children followed suit.

Nevertheless, royal events at Koubbah were not all happy. King Fouad died in this palace on April 28, 1936. Probably one of the very few things King Fouad and President Abdel Nasser had in common, was that both rulers had their bodies laid at Koubbah Palace (Nasser’s was brought in after his death in 1970) till the arrangements for a state funeral were taken care of.

During his long reign (1917-1936), King Fouad ordered numerous enhancements and extensions to the royal palaces. Koubbah was no exception. The 75-feddan garden had a pond where the young princes used to row in a small boat. He also surrounded it by a six-meter height wall that can still be seen all around the perimeter of the garden that exceeds four kilometers. The grand gate that overlooks the square was built in 1930. Also, an external garden, a 180-feddan piece of land, was added to the palace, but it is no longer there. King Fouad also added a station for the royal train. Since then, the palace protocol stipulated that the King’s formal departure to Alexandria at the beginning of every summer must take place from Koubbah station, where prominent state figures bade him farewell as he ascended the royal train. The protocol regulated that the return from Alex is to Abdine!

Being the private residence, King Farouk kept all his personally owned collections at Koubbah. The treasures encompassed a precious stamp collection, an 8500-piece coin and medals collection, studded clocks and watches, in addition to many other beautiful antiquities including a pure gold coffee set and a 1906 Faberge egg that belonged to the last Russian Czar.

In 1954, Koubbah Palace was to witness the massacre of all these treasures when the new regime decided to sell it off in a public auction. 750 thousand pounds, the auction yield, were more valuable to our new rulers! *


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* References:-

  1. 1. H.M. Chambers: The dynasty of the Grand Mohammed Aly (Cairo: "Amiria Print" 1936).
  2. 2. First Chamberlain’s Office: Royal Protocol (Cairo: "Amiria Print" 1946).
  3. 3. Aly Moubarak Pasha: New Tawfikia Plans for Cairo, Vol. 1 (Cairo: "Dar El Kotob" Third Edition 1969).
  4. 4. Amin Samy Pasha: "Takwim El Nil",Part 2 (Cairo: "Dar El Kotob" 1936).
  5. 5. Ahmed Shafik Pasha: My Memoirs in half a century, Part 1 (Cairo: Egypt Printshop1934).
  6. 6. Mohamed El Sayed: Names of Cairo (Cairo: "Dar El Kotob" 1986).
  7. 7. Taher El Tanahy: Farouk I (Cairo: "Dar El Helal" 1936).
  8. 8. Mahmoud El-Gawhary, Major: Ex-Royal Palaces in Egypt (Cairo: "Dar El Maaref" 1954).
  9. 9. Al-Mossawar (Edition 29/7/1937).

N.B. Above references were published in Arabic and the stated titles are translated.