Whether you’re fans of Egypt, the famous James Bond franchise, or just want to take in an offbeat attraction, the Gayer-Anderson Museum has a bit of it all. As a bonus, the Mosque of Ibn Talun (no, that’s not a typo) is right next door, but keep reading for a warning about it.
Much like the Jim Thompson house in Bangkok, Thailand, the name and present condition of the house is thanks to an expat gone native. Originally built in 1632, the house passed through a number of owners until it was saved from demolition in 1928 as part of a movement to make mosques more accessible.
After being restored in 1935, Major Robert Greenville Gayer-Anderson was allowed to move into this house in 1937. The retired Major of the British Army Medical Corps had long been an obsessive collector, and the house was perfect for holding his burgeoning collection. The building was further restored, including the fountains and interior, and he brought in his extensive collection of art and furniture as a place to live out his retirement. After he died in 1945, he left everything to the Egyptian government, which has preserved the 17th century building and turned it into a tourist attraction.
Although the mosque originally dates back to the 9th century, the conjoined house features an outdoor seating room between what might have been the outer walls of the two houses.
The furniture is not for sitting on or touching, and could probably stand to receive a good cleaning. That said, with few windows and the reality of dust, it would just get dirty again in a matter of days…
Now in the Al-Harim (women’s room), which offers a lot of natural light in through the wooden screens. The screens break the glare of the sunlight while offering privacy – almost as good as a tinted window.
Head to the study next, a tiny room not much larger than a modern-day bathroom. Look for old-school keys behind the glass, along with plenty of pictures of the man himself through the years.
Like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, the kuttab (writing room) features the main desk and volumes of books related to his studies and interests.
It’s up here where the outdoor terrace gets a date with the stars. James Bond’s The Spy Who Loved Me shows several minutes worth of the house, including a fight scene where they’re crashing into (but not through) the wooden screens. The screens were salvaged from other houses being demolished, and there’s a marble sundial that dates from the mid-19th century. Don’t forget the several sinks mounted to the side of the building.
And then there’s the bedroom – plenty of room here to relax or spread out.
A bit more of the museum side of things – the Major’s collection seemingly knew very few ends…
It was quite dark in here, but these are birthing chairs – one of the larger ones featured a Quranic inspiration, though it’s difficult to see much in the room…
Once you’re done here, head into the mosque of Ibn Tulun, constructed in the late 9th century by Ahmad ibn Tulun, the governor of Egypt. It’s been restored several times, most recently in 2004, and was also a location for the Bond movie.
Before entering, however, you’ll be motioned into an area where a couple of seated workers will slip a canvas bag over your shoes and tie the string around your ankle to keep it in place. They seem to do this for locals and tourists alike, and you’ll likely be asked more than once for a ‘donation’ for ‘upkeep’. Never mind the fact that you’ve paid many times the price to enter the museum than a local would – the nearby mosque has to make some money too! Throw a few Egyptians pounds in the box before walking on, or wait until you get back.
Head down the sides…
…or take in the courtyard (sahn), the center of which holds a fountain.
If you’re into mosques or religious buildings, it’s pretty enough though mostly empty. Note that during prayer times the mosque and museum will be closed to the world.
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Name: Gayer-Anderson Museum / Mosque of Ibn Tlun (Bayt al-Kritliyya, or مسجد أحمد بن طولون in Arabic)
Address: Ahmed Ibn Tolon Square, Cairo Governorate, Egypt (GPS: 30.028489, 31.250494)
Directions: This is kind of tricky to reach via public transportation, and you may wish to spring for a taxi instead. If you don’t mind walking a couple of kilometers, take line 1 of Egypt’s metro to the Sayeda Zeinab station (السيدة زينب) and make your way south on Helwan road. Take a left to follow the Zeinhorn bridge for about 900 meters – go straight through a roundabout, then take a left onto Dawood / Dawoud, which turns into Zeinhom El-Gadid as it bears right. Go 400 meters – at the T, take a left and then the first right. From here it’s about 700 meters – look for the mosque on your left.
Hours: 9am-4pm (closes during prayer time)
Admission: 40 LE (Egyptian pounds)
Phone: +20 2364 7822
Ratings out of 5 globes (How do I rate destinations?)
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Also published on Medium.