On the morning of 1 March, two historic and valuable pieces of embroidered cloth, Kiswa, hanging in the mausoleum of Khedive Tawfiq, were stolen. The Kiswa is a ceremonial decorated cloth, often with gold threads, offered by the Egyptian ruler to cover the Ka`ba in Mecca. The stolen objects, although have historical value, are not registered with the department of antiquities. The building from which the objects were stolen, however, is registered. The site is managed by the Awqaf Ministry. Such disputes between Awqaf and Anquitities authorities have been to blame for the loss of countless buildings and objects in the past. This theft was the third attempt by robbers. The first attempt to steal the objects was sometime in the late 1990s when a Saudi princess commissioned the theft. The ordeal was covered in a 2002 investigative report on Aljazeera. The princess was allowed to flee along with other historic objects without facing charges. There is no evidence if the same person who attempted to possess the items in the past is responsible for this theft.
The two historic Kiswas were restored in 2006 and 2008 along with the entire building in which they hang. The building is the mausoleum of Khedive Tawfiq known as Qubbat Afandina.
Click on the Cairobserver Map on the left panel to locate Qubbat Afandina on the eastern edge of the Northern Cemetery. The following brief introduction comes from architect Agnieszka Dobrowolska who conducted its restoration in 2008 with the support of the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo:
The mausoleum is located in the Eastern Cemetery, (qarafa al-sharqiya), sometimes also referred to as Northern Cemetery, a Mamluk necropolis. It stands in the south-eastern part of this section of the necropolis close to the mausoleum of the much venerated sheikh Afifi (Abdalla al-Manufi, died in 1348), so the whole area of the cemetery is popularly known as Afifi. The building is officially registered in the Supreme Council of Anitiquities list as Qubbat Afandina (Tomb of Our Lord).
The mausoleum was built in 1894 by the Khedive Abbas Hilmi in memory of his father Khedive Muhammad Tewfiq Pasha (born in 1852) who died on 7 January 1892. It was designed by Dimitri Fabricius in the neo-Mamluk style. It is an important example of architectural design which combined traditional Islamic motifs appropriate for the purpose and location of the building with the modern design principles of the time it was built.
[Above is the eastern facade after restoration and below is the interior before restoration.]
The conservation project was financed by the Ministry of Awqaf (pious foundations) through Prince Abbas Hilmi, the descendant of the royal family. This is one of the royal family tombs, the other notable one is in the Rifa`i Mosque. The project included the cleaning and treatment of the facades, treatment of domes and roof, conservation of woodwork, conservation of marble, conservation of metalwork, lighting, in addition to the conservation of the historic Kiswas which had been hanging in the building’s vestibule until they were stolen on 1 March, 2012.
As it is the case with other such buildings and sites, despite the excellent and extensive conservation work carried out by the team, the building is mis-managed by the state. Also, considering this is one of Egypt’s royal tombs it is nearly unknown to most Egyptians who are made ignorant of their own history and treasures. If this was a site visited regularly and known to Egyptians, that alone would have made the theft more difficult. The general public only hears about Egypt’s treasures after they are stolen (as was with the famous Van Gogh painting), burnt (as with the Institut d’Egypte), or destroyed (as with numerous and countless buildings). Every one of these incidents is a reminder of the failures of the state’s institutions (Ministry of Culture, Supreme Council of Antiquities, Awqaf Ministry among others).