Tuesday 19 February 2013

Cairo: "Institute of Museology" Gutted

Villa Casdagli has been looted yet again (Cairo Observer, "Destruction Alert: Villa Casdagli", 19th February, 2013). This opulent early 20th century structure in Simon Bolivar Square was earmarked a few months ago to become an Institute of Museology to train curatorial staff in the care of collections (Steven Viney, 'Egypt’s Museums: High hopes for Egypt’s first institute of museology', Egypt Independent 25th May 2011). Nothing ever came of those plans, and the building which was intended to house it is now in dire need of care itself. Three weeks ago, a "demonstration" crystallised in the region of the building, and during its course:
a truck was loaded with large gilded frames, marble fireplace mantles, and extremely heavy ironwork that once lined windows and balconies. [...] Looted items end up on the market for antique dealers and much of it ends up outside the country where it can be sold for a higher price. Whatever wasn’t removable was vandalized.
It is possible that the root cause of part of this might be sought in the fact that the building is a former American Embassy. The newspaper further notes that the recent architectural heritage of Egypt in general is at risk (as any visitor to Cairo - for example the once-elegant region known as Heliopolis will have seen for themselves):
What happened at Villa Casdagli is hardly something new nor does it have anything to do with revolution or the “security vacuum.” Historic buildings, particularly those from the 19th and 20th centuries have fallen victim to organized looting, vandalism and even official cover for their subsequent demolition by people as high up in the state as previous prime ministers (directly requesting the removal of buildings from heritage lists). Following this particular incident there has been no official response from the state and its institutions responsible while the most visible response from the cultured elite has been one of despair.
So, it seems the current tragic situation affecting Egypt's archaeological sites is merely part of a wider problem of looting and smuggling, too complex in origin and nature for the state to deal with unaided. Yet because of the nature of the problem, there are those in the antiquity dealing and collecting world that would deny culture-conscious Egyptians that aid and support.

See also: Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 'Dr. Joris Kila Reports on Feb. 1 Fire that Damaged the former American Embassy at the Historic Villa Casdagli in Cairo' Art-Crime blog, February 20, 2013.

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