Gayer Anderson in British Army Officer Uniform

Gayer Anderson Pasha: An Amazing Story of Survival

Robert Grenville Gayer Anderson was born in Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland on 29 July 1881 to parents Mary Gayer and Henry Anderson.  His identical twin was called Thomas.  They were very close to their mother but his father was a cruel and sadistic man who consistently tortured and hurt his children.

A youthful Gayer-Anderson

Upon completing medical school, Gayer Anderson. made a momentous choice at the tender age of 20: he left his family, his girlfriend, and even a thriving Harley Street practice behind, embarking on a journey to explore the world through the ranks of the army.  It was a monumental decision, indeed.  Yet, the seemingly minor decision that ultimately led him to Egypt sprang from an impulsive, unsanctioned trip across the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Tangiers. As fate would have it, this escapade resulted in Gayer Anderson’s assignment to Egypt, a posting I think, that was intended by his superiors as a form of punishment for his trip across the Mediterranean.

Evelyn Anderson – wife of Gayer Anderson

In the year 1906, Gayer Anderson made yet another seemingly insignificant decision—to visit the 9th-century mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulun. As he stood there, gazing up at the historic mosque, a lovely young Egyptian woman leaned out from a mashrabeya (lattice) window of an exquisite old building adjacent to the mosque.  She extended a gracious invitation for him to explore her home.  However, his batman cautioned him, suggesting that she might not be of good repute.  With prudence guiding him, he politely declined her offer.

In 1924, Gayer Anderson concluded his military service, opening the door to a new chapter in his life.  With unwavering passion, he pursued his love for collecting antiques of diverse kinds.

On February 23, 1925, R.G. made yet another fateful decision—to revisit the Ibn Tulun Mosque. This time, the window was devoid of the young girl, but the same ancient house was undergoing its final stages of restoration.  In that moment, Gayer Anderson felt an undeniable connection to the house; he knew it was meant to be his.

In an astonishingly short span, he managed to strike a remarkable deal with the Egyptian government. The agreement allowed him to reside in the house, rent-free, for the rest of his life, with the condition that upon his passing, the house and all its treasures, including his priceless Islamic collection, would revert to the people of Egypt.

Upon taking possession of Beit al-Kretlia, Gayer Anderson found himself the ‘heir’ to Sheikh Suliman al-Kretli, a diminutive and weathered 80-year-old revered holy man.  Their bond evolved into a unique friendship—Sheikh Sulaiman acted as a bridge, facilitating the integration of a ‘foreigner’ from a different faith into the fabric of his surroundings, earning the appreciation of the local community.  In turn, Gayer  held deep respect for Sheikh Sulaiman’s role in the house, where he served as the custodian of the tomb of Haroon al-Husseini, a direct descendant of the Prophet. Haroon al-Husseini’s eternal rest lay tucked away in a corner of the garden, beneath the shelter of a modest white dome.

Tomb of Haroon El Husseini at Gayer Anderson House

Gayer Anderson quickly realized that the elderly man held a wealth of captivating tales about the house and its environs. Determined to preserve these captivating narratives, he took up the task of documenting them.  These remarkable stories can now be found within the pages of a splendidly illustrated book authored by Gayer Anderson himself, aptly titled ‘Legends of the House of the Cretan Woman.’  The book has been reprinted with the dedicated efforts of his grandson, Theo Gayer-Anderson, in collaboration with Nicholas Warner.

The house – formerly know as “Beit al-Kretlia” – House of the Cretian Woman and now known as the Gayer Anderson Museum, is only one of the many collections he left to museums around the world.

One inner courtyard at Gayer Anderson House

In 1942 fate again took a hand and R.G. had to leave his beloved house and return to England due to ill-health.

Gayer Anderson was an invited guest at the opening of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in Luxor, among other historic events during his life in Cairo. He was granted the title “Pasha” by King Farouk in appreciation for his unique work in furnishing and curating the contents of the Gayer Anderson House.

The following are magical and mythical stories he recorded about his marvelous house and it’s former inhabitants:

Legends of the House of the Cretan Woman:

A heartfelt thanks to Gayer-Anderson Pasha, for your impeccable taste in beauty, the magnificent collections you painstakingly curated, and above all, for bestowing upon us this invaluable house.  Yet, our deepest appreciation lies in the legends you meticulously transcribed, for they breathe life and significance into the very bricks, mortar, and furnishings that grace this place.  For in the end, objects are but empty vessels without the stories of the people who cherished them.

If you are interested in knowing more about the man himself you will find this book on amazon “Gayer-Anderson: The Life and Afterlife of the Irish Pasha” by Louise Foxcroft

Book your tour to the Gayer Anderson House and Ibn Tulun mosque directly with Mara here

To make the most of your time and save money, you could easily see Gayer Anderson House, Ibn Tulun mosque and Medieval Cairo tours in the same day – message Mara now about it

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