Abandoned mansions may be a common sight in most Egyptian cities; when neighbourhoods fall into urban decay a 19-century mansion can be forgotten amongst towering monstrosities from the 50s and 60s.
But the house of Ispenian in the Haram area is not just any abandoned mansion. The beautiful mansion, which houses Mamluk and Ottoman artefacts, was recently found to have been looted. The structure itself has also been partially destroyed.
The place was built around 1935-36 by father and son Paul and Kevork Ispenian, and designed by French architect Joseph Aznavour.
Their collection featured antiquities from the Mamluk and Ottoman era of Egypt. It also included artefacts from the collection of Ambroise Baudry whose 1875-76 mansion was demolished by the turn of the 20th century.
The house stayed in the Ispenian family until the 1960s when it was then sold to the Abdel Nour family who then sold it to the Supreme Council for Antiquities. The house has been abandoned for 15 years.
Ahmed El-Bendary, who works for The Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CULTNAT), first discovered the condition of the house in the spring of last year.
“The house’s contents have always been sealed in red wax and it is a crime to go in. As such, I have only been there from the outside. When I went last spring, I discovered the house to be in a much worse condition; the house’s contents were stolen and the structure was partially demolished.”
El-Bendary was told the house was robbed around the time of the revolution but he says there is no way to know for sure. The house’s contents are registered as antiquities by the Supreme Council for Antiquities.
“Whoever stole the contents knew what they were doing; it was systematic. Everything from the ornamented roof, the ornamental screens, the marble floors and even a historic column supporting the balcony were stolen. They took their time and took everything apart.”
El-Bendary says the column may also date back to the Mamluk or Ottoman era but he is baffled, as is everyone else, on why the structure seems to have been harmed in the process as well.
“The main structure was partially destroyed, as was a smaller, less elaborate structure that could possibly have been a guesthouse or a place for the servants. The house is in the middle of a residential area but it is surrounded by three acres of empty land,” said El-Bendary.
El-Bendary says the mansions’s condition is not unusual by any standards, “these things happen all the time due to negligence.”