The Watch

Alexan Palace

Asyut, Egypt

Nineteenth-century Asyut was a thriving regional capital of a modernizing Egypt. Straddling the border between Lower and Upper Egypt, the city had been a port of call for ships sailing the Nile since antiquity, and was a beneficiary of growing trade with Sudan. The city’s life was dominated by large and influential families, drawn from its Muslim as well as Coptic population. Wealthy families built palatial residences with gardens along the riverfront, like the house of the Alexan family, built in 1910 in a grand European revival style. Its owner, a prominent lawyer and politician, was educated by American missionaries and had joined the new Evangelical Coptic Church. In the 1930s he would serve in the Senate created by the 1923 Constitution of Egypt.

The residence remained in the ownership of the Alexan family until 1995, when it was purchased by the state. Today, it is one of only a few such residences that have survived in Asyut. With its long façade facing the Nile and large surrounding garden the site is fit for reuse as a civic amenity and has been designated as the future home for a new national museum in Asyut. Nevertheless, the house has remained shuttered since then. New efforts are underway to realize the vision of a new museum, aimed at an audience of primarily Egyptian visitors. Professional guidance is being sought for the restoration of its exterior and the protection of architectural elements that require conservation. Documentation of the interior, including an inventory of movable objects, such as furniture, carpets, clothing, and tableware, remains a priority. The 2020 World Monuments Watch calls for the rescue of Alexan Palace and its reuse as a museum for all citizens of Asyut.

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