Villa Casdagli – Kasr al-Dubara – New
THE SUNDAY TIMES
Looters smash jewel of Cairo’s colonial past
ONE of Cairo’s most elegant buildings, a palatial villa that once belonged to a wealthy British family, was looted and torched during anti-government protests last weekend.
The Villa Casdagli, which lies on the southern edge of Tahrir square, once served as a reminder of the city’s grandeur under British colonial rule. Now it stands derelict.
Described as an “architectural gem” for its exquisite stonework and painted ceilings, its mosaics and dark, carved panelling inlaid with ivory, it was acquired by Emmanuel Casdagli, an Anglo-Greek cotton merchant, in the early 1900s. It later became the American embassy.
Today all that is left of the house is a hollow shell. Its decorative wrought iron gates have been torn down. A makeshift concrete wall hastily erected by the Egyptian security forces is covered in anti-Muslim Brotherhood graffiti.
Its windows, many with stained glass panels, are shattered. Inside, the floor is strewn with rubble and shards of glass. The smell of burnt wood lingers in the rooms.
Mohamed el-Shahed, who runs an architectural blog called Cairobserver, told The Sunday Times the villa was stripped by looters. “Marble mantelpieces, large frames, metalwork from the gates were ripped out, most likely to be sold on the black market.”
Casdagli’s great-great- grandson, Christopher Casdagli, 37, who lives in London, was appalled by the damage. “It would be such a shame for our family if it fell apart,” he said. “It’s one of the few remaining colonial villas and its exterior and interior are quite amazing.”
The villa’s central location placed it at the pinnacle of Egyptian social life. “Fabulous parties were held at the house,” said Casdagli. In 1933, it hosted a reception for 400 when his grandfather married.
Tony Casdagli, 80, a retired naval officer and the eldest surviving member of the family, lived at the house when he was five. “It is very sad news,” he said. “It had been turned into a school and there were plans for it to be restored and transformed into an institute of museology [the study of museums].”
After the Second World War, the villa was sold and gradually fell into disrepair, but in 2006 it was designated a heritage site by Egypt’s antiquities authority and a $4m (£2.5m) restoration project approved.
It is not the only architectural victim of the unrest. In 2011, Egypt’s oldest scientific institution, l’Institut d’Egypte, was damaged by fire. Two historic schools have been set alight as well.
Some of the finest villas are also at risk from illegal contractors, who take advantage of the security vacuum to tear them down and build blocks of flats, said Yasmine el-Dorghamy, editor of Rawi, an Egyptian heritage magazine. “The heritage of Egypt is being systematically destroyed,” she said. “Everyone is distracted by what is happening on the political scene. Hundreds of years of history are being wiped out.”
Tony Casdagli, a retired naval officer, lived at the villa as a boy (Jeremy Young)
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