Schools in Palaces

Heritage Days 2015

Alexandria is blessed with an exceptional built heritage. The centre of the city boasts dozens of private mansions, veritable “palaces” built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century by the wealthy cotton barons and wood merchants of that era. Some of these are well preserved, especially when transformed into museums (the Bassili Palace – National Museum on Fouad Street), consulates (Lebanese Consulate) or cultural centres: the Karam Palace on Farana Street houses The Atelier; the Salvago Palace on Batalsa Street is the Russian Cultural Centre; the Rolo Palace is now the Goethe Institute; and on Nabi Daniel Street the Aghion Palace is home to the French Cultural Centre

Others of these mansions resound to the cries of children in a garden turned playground: schools have been established within their hallowed halls. At least three such examples sit close to the junction of Fouad and Batalsa Streets. The buildings are well-maintained and one can still see the colonnaded facades, the monumental staircases of marble imported from Italy or Greece, and sometimes stained-glass windows signed by French artists. The ceilings may be 5 to 6 metres high with plaster decoration dating to the construction of these vast residences. The entry halls are immense, leading to music rooms and ballrooms, and upstairs, the sprawling former bedrooms are occupied by diligent young pupils studying hard against these once-lavish backdrops.

But what do they know, the pupils and teachers, the Alexandrians in foreign cultural centres, or simple pedestrians passing by of the histories of these vast houses? Do they understand the architecture of these magnificent edifices, testimony to a bygone Alexandrian age? Through informative panels prepared by the CEAlex team, photographs by Philippe Soubias, and watercolour illustrations by the «Description d’Alexandrie» group led by Mohamed Gohar, the Educational Outreach Department of the CEAlex presents a rediscovery of the buildings that ornament the city and of their original occupants.

The catalogue of this exhibition is available from CEAlex.