Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- It is one of the greatest palaces [representing] a beautiful era. If we want to give it its full right, it is one of the most beautiful and most important Islamic palaces dating back to the Mamluk era. Its importance lies in the fact that it is the one remaining palace in Gaza City, which is still suffering under the oppression of the Israeli occupation and following the violent siege launched by Israel, which is now an obstacle that stands in the way of the restoration of this towering castle.
Just like other palaces in our Arab countries and in Egypt in particular, this palace is suffering from being used as a school. The Pasha’s Palace used to be a school called ‘al Zahra Secondary School for Girls’ and some rooms of the palace were used as the school’s administration offices since the Egyptian rule of Gaza.
The Pasha’s Palace has been known by many names throughout the different ages, from when it was built until today. It was known as the “Deputy’s Palace” because the deputy of Gaza during the Mamluk period lived in the palace. It was also called “Napoleon’s Fort” because the French leader stayed there for three days during the Siege of Acre and perhaps the most beautiful name given to it was “Radwan’s Castle” named after one of the rulers in Gaza. It was also called the “house of happiness” and the “great house” and it was used as a police station during the British Mandate of Palestine.
Upon entry to the palace, we find that it consists of two floors; the ground floor contains three main halls each named after the Palestinian cities of Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa. The top floor houses two halls; Acre and Ramla, and there are numerous other halls and utility rooms inside the palace, which has now been turned into a museum containing artifacts from different Islamic eras, some of which date back even further.
Some of the most important artifacts are from the Greco-Roman, the Byzantine and the Islamic eras and in particular the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman eras. The most important decorations can be found on the distinct façade with its arches and embellishments. The building looks like a fortress, which is why people liken it to one. It might be subjected to various disasters whether they are natural, such as earthquakes or floods, or man-made disasters, for example an arson attack by Jewish settlers.
The palace building was affected by the last Gaza invasion. Reconstruction and renovation of the Pasha Palace was carried out numerous times during the Mamluk and Ottoman eras. From 1947 the palace was frequently visited by tourists until Gaza came under Egyptian rule and it was used as a school called ‘Princess Feriel’ named after King Farouk’s daughter and the name was changed to Al Zahra after the July 1952 Revolution in Egypt.
Today the Palestinian Authority Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in Gaza is responsible for preserving this unique archaeological site with very basic facilities. The Authority succeeded at restoring the beauty of the palace and its archeological appearance, particularly after the modern buildings of the school were separated from the palace.
I believe that what the antiquities sector in Gaza and its staff are doing is truly heroic as it is trying to keep it alive. We must write about it as those people are working with the few facilities available to them with love and sincerity in order to save the artifacts of the sad city for generations to come so that they might be luckier and enjoy the history and heritage of their city.
Is it right, for example, that those responsible for antiquities in Gaza cannot find anything in which they can preserve their artifacts? One of them told me that as a result they have been forced to keep empty fruit boxes in which to put the artifacts left over from a great heritage! What a sad situation.