Alexandria has always had a special attraction for visitors due to its location on the blue of the Mediterranean Sea and its cosmopolitan character, being an elegant melting pot of diverse civilizations, cultures, religions and nationalities, all of which have seemed to live in harmony throughout of the centuries. .
This has left many monuments from different layers of history that enrich the city and give it its luxurious and sophisticated atmosphere. Some of them are from Egypt’s monarchical period, making them objects of nostalgia for residents and visitors alike.
A prominent Alexandria landmark that has recently been in the spotlight due to the African Nations Youth Football Championship is the Alexandria Stadium with its Royal Pavilion dating from the time of King Fouad I in the 1920s and 1930s and which it has been recently renovated.
Stadium officials said a proposal was submitted to the governor of Alexandria to turn it into a tourist attraction. The stadium and the Royal Pavilion are now new tourist attractions located at the gates of Alexandria.
Alexandria Governor Mohamed Al-Sherif said al-ahram Weekly that the “Alexandria International Sports Stadium has been added to the tourist map of Alexandria”.
“The stadium now hosts tour groups and local visitors with the aim of emphasizing its historical value. Along with the Royal Pavilion, the stadium is an important part of the city’s architectural heritage.”
“The government and its executive agencies are interested in restoring the past splendor of the city that marks it as a destination for international tourism. The city has a distinctive cultural and historical character, and this is evident in its rich architecture, heritage of culture and arts, and the beauty of its streets and old buildings,” Al-Sherif said.
Groups from a number of associations and schools have already been welcomed to the stadium and have taken tours. They have also accommodated groups of tourists who have been able to savor the historical aura and the architectural splendor of the Royal Pavilion.
“The state is working hard to preserve the heritage of Alexandria,” Al-Sherif said.
Visiting the Royal Pavilion after its remodeling, the Weekly it was introduced by Tamer Al-Gammal, manager of the Alexandria Stadium, who provided details on its history.
The stadium was built in 1929 and was the dream of an Alexandrian athlete of Greek origin, Angelo Bolanaki, who hoped to see the construction of an Olympic stadium in Alexandria. That dream began to come true when Bolanaki met Baron Pierre de Coubertin, president of the International Olympic Committee, in Paris in 1906. At the same time, many smaller stadiums were also being built in Egypt to host sporting events and competitions, such as tennis, gymnastics, soccer and athletics. The Egyptian National Sports Federation was founded in 1908.
The stadium gates emulating the designs of royal palaces immediately draw the visitor’s attention. They bear witness to the royal era in which they were built, and nearby are the remains of part of the ancient city walls of Alexandria, called “Zuhari Gate”, in honor of the Sufi Sheikh Zuhari, whose tomb is located on the side opposite and dates from the s. 13th century AD
The Royal Pavilion in the stadium was used by King Fouad in the 1920s and 1930s and his son Farouk. On the second floor, there is the haramlekthe place where the women of the royal family stayed and which has since become a place for VIP visitors.
The walls of the pavilion are richly decorated. There are images of the flag of Egypt under the monarchy, made up of a crescent and three stars and the letter “F” for Fouad and Farouk. The statues that adorned the corridors, the delicate mosaics and the distinctive marble staircase that linked the two floors gave the place a splendid aura.
ARCHITECTURE: Hussein Abdel-Bassir, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Museum of Antiquities in Alexandria, told the Weekly that the “architectural style of the Alexandria Stadium uses a Greco-Roman triumphal arch, as the city had a Greek character and included Greek, Italian, and other communities.”
“The Royal Pavilion inside the stadium impressed many important personalities who expressed their admiration for its design. It is further proof that Alexandria has a wealth of heritage that remains largely unknown to many people.”
The Royal Pavilion is a good example. It is in the center of the stadium and originally cost around 12,000 LE, a huge sum at the time. It is built in the Greco-Roman architectural style and has a frieze over the entrance with an Olympic motto in Latin, Citius, Altius, Fortiuswhich means “faster, higher, stronger”.
Abdel-Bassir highlighted the exquisite furnishings of the pavilion, including the Louis XIV-style lounge, living rooms and main office, and valuable paintings and decorations.
The Alexandria Stadium itself was studied by Islam Assem, professor of modern and contemporary history and former tour guide, in 2014. He called for turning it into a tourist attraction since its architecture illustrates the cultural diversity of the city.
According to the Assem study, the architects who built it were carefully selected. Among them was a Russian-Ukrainian architect named Nikozov, although the design as a whole was the brainchild of Angelo Bolonaki. Several Italian companies contributed to the construction of the stadium at the hands of Egyptian builders. All the different foreign communities living in Alexandria at the time contributed to its funding.
First the Royal Pavilion was built. The first floor was originally decorated with motifs dating from the European Renaissance and was used by King Fouad. The upper floor was reserved for the queen and was later used by members of the municipality and various guests.
“I don’t think there is anything like that in any other stadium,” Assem said. “Alexandria Stadium has a unique royal character. It was originally called Fitness Stadium. It then received the name of King Fouad during the reign of his son Farouk. After the 1952 Revolution, it was called Alexandria Stadium.
A grand ceremony was held when construction work began in 1914. The then Khedive was invited and the Olympic Games flag which we still use today was raised. The flag that was used was later donated to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne.
“However, the outbreak of the First World War stopped the construction of the stadium,” Assem said. “Sultan Abbas Helmi II assumed power, followed by King Fouad, who approved the continuation of the construction. Funds were raised and Fouad himself donated 3,000 LE. The stadium was mainly funded by the government and cost around LE132,000 to build.
The Royal Pavilion was part of the original construction. “Even the stairs between the two floors are of a rare type of marble that cannot be found anywhere else in Egypt except in the building that now houses the American Cultural Center,” Assem said.
“Many important personalities visited him, including the former Shah of Iran Reza Pahlavi when he married Princess Fawzia of Egypt, the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel and the King of the Belgians. The stadium was one of the most prestigious landmarks in Alexandria, where foreign communities held sporting events and celebrations.
ROYAL HERITAGE: According to Abdel-Bassir, the birth of Alexandria on the shores of the Mediterranean made it a global city and a melting pot of civilizations.
Egypt’s monarchical period added another layer of architectural heritage to the ancient city due to the construction of many palaces, gardens, the Corniche and a variety of public buildings such as the railway station and the Chamber of Commerce.
“Alexandria’s royal heritage is an important part of Egyptian history,” Assem said.
The Egyptian ruler of the 19th century, Mohamed Ali, paid special attention to Alexandria, since the coastal city was a recipient of people of different nationalities and a connection point between Egypt and the rest of the world.
Trade flourished, causing an influx of immigrants to Egypt from France, Italy, Greece, Spain, and other countries. Members of these foreign communities lived in harmony with one another, often specializing in different fields. Each one had its own culture and civilization, leaving behind a rich heritage that teaches lessons in coexistence and tolerance.
“Mohamed Ali made the city a meeting point for the European communities and those of other nationalities and facilitated their influx by building places of worship for the different groups,” Assem added. “The city became a commercial center and a spirit of tolerance prevailed that encouraged the various communities to coexist and live in harmony.”
Such coexistence was reflected in the architecture of the city, since each foreign community left their touches on the buildings of the city. Today, Alexandria’s diverse architectural heritage is rich in different styles ranging from English to Greek. Italian styles, however, are a dominant feature.
Among the most important Italian-style buildings is the Montazah Palace. Originally built by the Khedive Abbas Helmi II, Kings Fouad and Farouk later completed it and built the surrounding park, as well as the two adjacent palaces of Al-Salamlek, built by Abbas Helmi II but renovated by Kings Fouad and Farouk, and Al- Haramlek Palace, which was built by King Fouad and renovated by Farouk.
Montazah served as a summer resort for the royal family and its architectural style combines Byzantine, Gothic and Islamic features. Its interior is decorated with many antiques and French-style works of art.
The palace park is one of the most beautiful places in Alexandria today and contains a tea kiosk and King Farouk’s own greenhouses. These contained a large collection of rare plants collected by Farouk himself and date from 1932.
Aziza Fahmi Palace is another architectural gem, as is the Jewelry Museum in the Ziziniya district, housed in a recently restored former royal palace.
“The Ras Al-Tin Palace is one of the most important in Alexandria and perhaps one of the most important in Egypt,” Abdel-Bassir said. He saw Mohamed Ali’s rise to power, as well as the final chapter of his dynasty after the 1952 Revolution when King Farouk went to Ras Al-Tin Palace before going into exile on the royal yacht. Al Mahrousa.
Mohamed Ali commissioned the French engineer Yazi Bey to build the palace in collaboration with French engineers. It took 11 years to build and today it is one of Alexandria’s architectural masterpieces.
“There are other public buildings that are important expressions of the monarchical period,” Abdel-Bassir added. They include the Alexandria Railway Station, opened in 1927 and designed by an Italian architect. “It is one of the most important and attractive buildings in the city today,” he noted.
The Swedish Center is equally attractive. “It dates back to 1925 and it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city,” said Abdel-Bassir. There are many beautiful buildings on Fouad Street, including the Asaad Basili Palace, all of which are important landmarks of the royal era. They include today’s Russian Cultural Center, once owned by one of Alexandria’s prominent Greek cotton merchants.
Other traders included people of Greek, Italian, British, Lebanese and Moroccan nationality.
Alexandria’s various cultural facilities, such as the Sayed Darwish Theatre, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and palaces of culture, add to the splendor of the originally belle époque modern city.
* A version of this article appears in print in the July 20, 2023 issue of Al-Ahram Weekly