suggests following articles

Several of my articles on Garden City were plagiarized word for word by novelist MEKKAWI SAID (winner of the Egyptian State price for literature!!!!) and re-published under his own name in a three-part series in El-Masry El-Youm daily in September 2015.

Cheers to our "talented" literature prize awardee. Your pain his gain !!!


Villa San Giorgio
by Samir Raafat
Cairo Times, 1 February 2001

Papers pertaining to Freiherr Rüdiger von BIEGELEBEN can be found at the Austrian State Archives Section B-1214
The following was made possible thanks to a comprehensive research by Dr. Rudolf Agstner, Foreign Affairs, Vienna, and the translation expertise of Meg Trauttmansdorff in Cairo

Recently retired from a career in Austrian Imperial diplomacy that took him to Bulgaria and the Far East, Rudiger Baron Biegeleben, now 50, decided to tie the knot with Bertha Kubeck von Kubau. Honeymoon destination? Egypt! Apart from the sites, Baron Biegeleben suffered from asthma bouts and what better cure for such chest ailments then the dry climate of Cairo.

From 1894 and for the next 6 years the Bieglebens spent winter in Cairo residing in the diplomatic sector of European Cairo. But by 1901 things were changing. Cairo's population of 400,000 was on the rise. An economic boom had attracted banks, commercial enterprises and new apartment buildings "mostly un-oriental in appearance," according to the Baron. "What had heretofore been a quiet villa district had become noisy and dusty in view of all the construction." It was time to move out.

Still attached to Egypt the Biegelebens opted for a new life on the island of Gezira (aka Zamalek). Using his wife's savings, the baron found a perfect 1000 sq.m parcel of land "40 paces from the Nile."

Although on the second row facing the Nile, there was nothing that impeded the horizon. In fact, the Baron's lookout took in the garden of an important English neighbor-deputy chief of Interior. "Aside from the Ibis birds that seem to live on the Englishman's lawn there was also the advantage of sharing his police guard," wrote the Baron to his brother, Paul Biegeleben.

And so it was. On January 20, 1902 the Biegelebens, with their friends the de Velics from Hungary, P. Fournier and the Franciscan chaplain in tow, celebrated the groundbreaking of what would soon become the "St. Giorgio on The Nile."

Also present was the young Dutch architect.

"We are fortunate," wrote the baron to his brother on December 1901, "for we are moving to the country with the advantage of the city. Next to our simple house there is the Gezira Palace Hotel which has a post office, a telephone and a telegraph office."

As recounted by the Baron in his prolific correspondence with his brother, Gezira Island was not want of Austrian landmarks. For starters the Gezira Palace Hotel, formerly a khedivial palace, had been designed in the 1860s by Austrian architect Julius Franz Pasha. And just north of the budding Villa St. Giorgio was what remained of the Austria-Sudan Mission (a Catholic order founded in Verona in 1846). Beneficiaries of 544,000 sq. meters of land conferred to them by Khedive Tewfik in 1884, the South Tirolean priests had started an agricultural farm, a church and a school "Leo XIII" on Cairo's blessed island.

To the south of the Baron's villa, separating him from the hotel, was a race-track. And west and east of the St. Giorgio were the two branches of the father of all rivers.

On February 9, the baron writes his brother "Our favorite outing consists of watching the villa growing out of the earth. And so far no problems."

Villa San Giorgio
Villa San Giorgio to the left

From the baron's letters we learn that Villa St. Giorgio was built in less than 11 months. "Whereas the workers were Mohammedans, the supervisor and foreman are Europeans. This applies to the neighboring buildings as well. All sport an impervious Orientalism about them."

Describing the building process the baron elaborates on how "the stones were carried by camel from the Helwan quarries to the Nile bank south of Cairo. Once loaded onto large sailboats they were transported down the Nile to the island of Gezira just opposite the building site. "From there they were carried to the site by black people. No cranes are in use."

When the Biegelebens left for Europe late April 1902 the villa was almost complete.

Returning in November of the same year the baron is gushy. "We found the house finished in the most beautiful manner," he writes Paul. "There were palms decorating the outside steps and in the empty rooms there were flowers everywhere plus a breakfast table prepared by the Velic's cook. As for our trusted manservant Mohammed, he had guarded the villa as though it were his own."

Another unexpected surprise was the St. Giorgio garden. A construction site when they had last seen it, it was now bursting with hibiscus, eucalyptus, bamboo rushes "and roses everywhere."

Later the baron writes his brother on his ongoing good fortune. "We have electricity, running water and personnel. From our eastern veranda, where Bertha and I have breakfast, we watch fellucas navigate the Nile, and when it gets too cool we simply move to the southern room." Describing another part of the house, the baron details how Bertha had decorated it "as though it were a medieval Tirolean castle except for the palms".

The first Xmas at the St. Giorgio was a special affair. Writing his brother on December 26, 1902 the baron exalts his wife's Xmas tree "in the corner of our dining room. We entertained guests from the nearby Mission School including many children aged 2 to 18 , their colors ranging from white to pitch black."

Baron Biegeleben died childless in September 1912. His wife Bertha sold the house and retired to the Austrian Tyrol where Baron Biegeleben had purchased in 1893 the former hunting lodge of Archduke Sigismund the Rich in Coins, built in 1472-1473.

Villas St. Giorgio is today a school. It is located on Zamalek's Aziz Abaza (ex-Maa'had al-Swissry) Street No. 8. Since it bears no resemblance to the original you are kindly invited to use your imagination should you look it up.
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articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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