Most Cairo dwellers have at least heard talk of the famous Royal Mohamed-Aly Club, a relaxing oasis that is often home to various festivities.
Many, however, are unaware of the intricate history surrounding the private club and its owner, Maged Farag.
Reviving a Legacy
Dr. Farag is a dedicated and passionate Egyptian scholar and historian who has written countless works all revolving around the time of modern Egypt. As a specialist in the Mohamad Aly dynasty, he envisioned that the space in Giza would stand as a tribute to the well-known Ottoman commander, often dubbed the founder of modern Egypt because of the many reforms introduced during the time of his rule.
Dr. Farag originally acquired the land in 1988, intending to use the space to build a home for himself. He quickly realized the unique beauty of the space and thought it best that the land be opened to the public. A large expanse of land strategically situated right on the Nile and slightly secluded from the noise of downtown Cairo, the space offers itself up to a variety of uses. In 1990, Dr. Farag began the project of transforming what was then just a public garbage dump and marshland into the eye-striking oasis we are familiar with today. Since its construction, the large Mamluk-style palace overseeing the pool and patio area has witnessed a number of splendid events.
The idea was to transform the club into a multifunctional space, both a tranquil retreat as well as a museum and research center dedicated to the time of Mohamed Aly. This research center housed a number of original items from the time period, including manuscripts, books, negatives, records, cameras, paintings, statues, furniture, radios, scientific apparatuses, flags, and lithographs. Practically every book that was written about modern Egyptian history could have been found in this center. Unfortunately, the building was looted and completely destroyed during the revolution of 2011. Dr. Farag hopes to accumulate a collection once more, but for now the spirit of the time period lives on through the club’s name and its owner’s work.
A Closer Look at Dr. Farag
Dr. Farag has written many works over the years, all highlighting modern Egypt, such as the compiled work 1866, the Khedivial Post: Royal Albums of Egypt. This is one of 10 volumes of the Royal Albums of Egypt which have more than doubled in value since originally published and sold. The first volume, in particular, was quite lavishly produced and was published in only 700 editions. These editions are considered rare collector’s items by many and are hard for any interested historian to snag nowadays. In addition to this set of books, Dr. Farag published 30 volumes of Impressions of Egypt and has been commissioned to write a number of works by the Egyptian government.
Some of his works can be found at the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at the American University in Cairo (AUC) as well as the rare book collection of the Library of Congress. Copies of his books have been circulated among leaders across the world and he has received personal letters thanking him from figures such as Bill Clinton, Elizabeth II, Hirohito, the King of Spain and the King of Swede
He has given a number of presentations and lectures at places such as AUC Tahrir Square, the Library of Alexandria and the Egyptian Cultural Center of London. Dr. Farag additionally acts as the spokesperson for King Fuad II.
Since the Royal Club Mohamed-Aly was opened to the public in 1997, it has been home to a wide range of activities. The club is intended to act as a hub for the upper intellectual class and is meant to offer sports that are not as common anymore, such as fencing and archery. Plans to introduce fencing at the club are still in the works, but Dr. Farag hopes that these two sports, considered noble sports of modern Egypt, can be revived through the club.
Being on the Nile, the club is strategically situated to offer a variety of water sport activities, from kayaking to motor-boating to sailing.
Continuing its long history as a space for large events and social gatherings, the space is often booked by private external companies or groups who organize regular events for all segments of the Cairo community. Many have visited the club for concerts, festivals, cinema nights and more. If one can snag a slot in its busy schedule, the club is also always available to private parties, whether it be for a Valentine’s celebration, a wedding or a corporate event.
The Royal Club Mohamed-Aly acts as a place for Cairo residents to withdraw from their daily lives and responsibilities and enjoy themselves for the day, whether for a day of sports or a simple day of relaxation by the pool. The poolside café now offers lunch along with a day-use ticket. If you catch a day without an event planned, you may even be able to stroll through the gardens and breathe in the rich history of the club. For the summer, the pool is open for individual day use. The busy festivity season will recommence in September, with concerts every Friday featuring live bands, DJs and barbecue food.
Opening a Unique Door
Most recently, the club has become home to the first Egyptian Dragon Boat Academy in Egypt. Dr. Farag saw a unique opportunity in the proximity of the Nile, seeing a chance to make use of a river that has stood by so many years of history. The space has opened its doors to a myriad of opportunities with the opening of the Dragon Boat Academy. The meeting of the traditional Chinese Dragon Boat with the historically rich Egyptian Nile, represents a fusion of powerful histories and cultures. Such a bond has potential to galvanize real change and influence on touristic trends in Egypt, and revives the historical inclinations of the club, now with a global tinge.
The Dragon Boat Academy now open to visitors and teams who hope to practice regularly and compete in international competitions. Most recently, in May, the Dragon Boat team of Royal Mohamad-Aly Cub participated in an international competition hosted by the Giza Yacht Club. They competed against Cairo teams and even a competitive international team which flew from Spain especially for the competition. The sport is growing in popularity in Egypt and there are plans for Egypt to become another international hub for competitions and gatherings of dedicated dragon boaters. There are now plans for another international competition that will be hosted in Luxor.
Thanks to the Royal Club Mohamed-Aly, there is perhaps hope that sport tourism will grow in Egypt, with visitors traveling from abroad to train at the new academy, try out a new adventurous and culturally rooted sport or simply root for international friends as they compete in many competitions to come.
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