I love to wander the gardens on a humid summer day and explore the dozens of luxuriant rooms packed with artwork, colorful tiles and textiles.
Manial Palace is also a great spot to unwind from a packed sightseeing itinerary.
There’s a lot to see but it’s pretty manageable and never gets too crowded.
The architectural gems are surrounded by greenery with lots of outdoor benches so it always feels like a beautiful spot to relax.
Manial Palace was built by a prince known for his love of collecting antiques and passion for Islamic art, heritage and culture.
And the palace is a testament to everything he’s collected, from French tapestries to fine horse saddles to porcelain vases.
Because where else can you see Indian ficus trees, paintings of the pyramids and stuffed ducks all in one place?
The prince was himself an amateur artist and Manial Palace is a haven for Islamic Art interwoven with Ottoman, Persian, European and Middle Eastern elements.
The vast collections include rare textiles and carpets, along with crystal vessels and candelabra that the prince collected and picked up from crumbling Mamluk and Ottoman homes.
Inside Manial Palace
Built by Prince Mohamed Ali from 1901 and 1929, Manial Palace offers a rare view of the lifestyle of a 20th-century Egyptian prince.
The architecture is a fascinating blend of Art Nouveau, Rococo and Islamic influences like Persian, Moorish and Ottoman.
The rooms are packed with Orientalist paintings, furniture, silver, objects d’art and stunning ceramic tiles. All these treasures were collected by the prince during his travels.
You can easily spend an afternoon exploring this stunning palace. And it’s a great spot to explore Cairo’s modern history beyond the famous ancient Egyptian landmarks.
Manial Palace is nestled on the (relatively) quiet Rhoda Island surrounded by the Nile River.
The Nilometer is another hidden gem that’s about a 15-minute taxi ride away. And you can easily combine the two sites for a half day of exploring.
Built as a pleasure playground, the palace once hosted lectures, poetry readings and private recitals by guests like Camille Saint-Saens. Visitors feasted on dainty French pastries and Turkish Delight amid the exotic greenery.
The history of Manial Palace
Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfik (above) was born in Cairo in 1875 and was the heir presumptive of Egypt and Sudan in the late 1800s and mid 1900s.
He was a member of Egypt’s famous Muhammad Ali Dynasty, whose progenitor is the founder of modern Egypt (and builder of the mosque inside today’s Citadel).
But the prince never actually ascended the throne. King Farouk had a son who became heir to Egypt’s throne. And after a revolution, Egypt became a republic in 1953 and the prince lived the rest of his life in exile.
Manial Palace was the prince’s passion project in Cairo. The prince drew and designed all the architectural and decorative elements at the palace. And he personally supervised all the construction work.
The prince bought the gardens in 1902 and began construction of the palace across its 14 acres. The palace was completed in 1937.
The Residence Hall
The Residence Hall is the oldest building inside Manial Palace – and it includes the rooms where the prince lived.
Its showpiece is the fountain hall (see above) on the ground floor.
This hall boasts an alabaster fountain in the Andalusian style, a giant portrait of Muhammad Ali, the founder of the royal Alawi family, and a long case clock handmade in England.
The ground floor further contains a series of rooms that are well worth exploring.
Here are the must-see highlights:
The shell salon
The shell salon gets its name from the various tables, chairs and other objects inlaid with shell.
Don’t miss the oil paintings of Egyptian writer and intellectual Rifaa al Tahtawi, Catherine emperor of Russia and the Austrian emperor. There’s also a portrait of the Mamluk who escaped Egypt’s Ottoman invasion by leaping over the walls of the Citadel.
The dining room
The dining room has walls covered half in colorful ceramics and half in wooden shelving. It’s lined with silver pots, platters and tea service sets.
This room is nestled in a relief of the building. It’s characterized by a beautiful fireplace covered in glazed ceramic.
The Blue Salon
The Blue Salon boasts leather sofas, striking blue tiles and Orientalist paintings. Don’t miss the ceiling with its floral motifs.
The Throne Hall
The Throne Hall is famously lavish and packed with gold detail. And it was all built by the prince who never actually ascended the throne.
The Throne Hall is also the most well-known and iconic room at the Manial Palace, familiar to every student of Egyptian history.
This magnificent hall was likely built by the prince as a gentle reminder to the Alawi family that he was the only rightful heir who could reign after his father and brother.
The structure of the throne hall is designed after the style of palaces along the Bosphorus in Turkey.
The highlight is the enormous golden sun disk that decorates the ceiling, sending out its long rays down the hall.
Don’t miss the paintings of Egyptian landscapes and the pyramids along with the portraits of the Muhammed Ali family.
The winter halls
These spacious and breezy halls are some of my favorites inside the palace. They’re simpler and more airy than most of the other rooms.
These halls once overlooked a small branch of the Nile River. And they were used mainly for meetings and winter sittings.
Don’t miss the model of a wooden fireplace modeled after a fireplace in an Istanbul palace.
Manial Palace gardens
The luscious gardens are the real delight at Manial Palace. And I love to wander through this landscape to cool off in the summertime.
The gardens are a green oasis of serenity amid the noisy traffic of the city. And they’re inspired by Persian and English landscapes, which gives them an exotic and otherworldly feel.
The gardens include jasmine, gargantuan trees, Mexican cacti and rare tropical plants that were collected by the prince during his worldwide travels.
The gardens are an all-too-rare park in Cairo where nature is allowed to grow free (parks around the city tend to be manicured within an inch of their life).
The clock tower
There are a few interesting spots to explore around the palace grounds.
Stroll to find the Moroccan-inspired clock tower, built in the style of the towers and minarets in Andalus and Morocco.
Interestingly, the prince built the clock in the same style as the clock at Cairo’s railway station that was set by his brother. The only difference are the clock hands which are built at Manial Palace in the shape of snakes.
Wander inside the palace mosque with its rococo-inspired ceiling.
Despite its small size, the mosque is considered an architectural gem with its lavish ornamentation.
Museum at Manial Palace
The private museum
The private museum was built in 1938 and includes 14 different halls that contain antiques both bought and gifted to the prince. These include manuscripts, carpets, stationary, textiles, silver and crystal sets.
When I last visited, the private museum was hosting an art exhibit and not all the halls were open.
To get to the private museum (if it’s open for a temporary exhibit), walk past the gardens and through an arched gate. You’ll see the enormous doors that lead into the courtyard of the museum.
The hunting museum
The hunting museum is a treasure trove of curiosities – from taxidermied animals to the prince’s vintage butterfly collection.
It’s at times creepy, as in the displays of stuffed chunky rodents who once lived along the banks of the Nile.
But it’s mostly fascinating. And includes well-labeled exhibits about an array of topics like Nile crocodiles and Egypt’s history of manufacturing the cloth that covers the Kaaba in Mecca.
The prince loved and breed Arabian horses and even penned two books about breeding horses. And the hunting museum is a testament to his love of stallions.
Don’t miss the exhibit featuring saddles, riding gear and other equipment.
But the real highlight of the museum is its vast collection of taxidermied animals.
The hunting exhibit was created after the revolution of 1952. And it contains several royal collections of stuffed animals. These include the collections of King Farouk and Prince Youssef Kamal, both known as devoted hunters and collectors.
There are also taxidermied animals gifted to Prince Tewfik while he was Egypt’s crown prince.
The collection includes stuffed birds and reptiles, predators and the heads of deer and buffalo.
Need to know:
Tickets: 100 EGP per adult and 50 EGP for students. There’s an additional 50-pound ticket if you’re bringing a camera.