House of Foreigners, Revisited

On May 29, 2015, Megawra sponsored a city walk through Shubra (See: Shubra, Off the Beaten Path) , a district of Cairo to the north and east of the railroad station: skirting Ahmad Helmi Street to the east; to the west, the Nile Corniche; to the north, the Delta by way of the Cairo-Alexandria Agricultural Road. During the walk, our group was allowed to enter a five-storey apartment building that is known in the neighborhood as House of Foreigners. When asked why the apartment house was known as such, our guide said because the family who had built the building and lived there for generations were all Italians. That explanation is all we had…until now!    Read on…

House of Foreigners

On March 13, 2020, I received a post from Rolando Mazzone who wrote:Read on…

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House of Foreigners

I immediately responded to Mr. Mazzone’s comment and he kindly sent me the history of his family who lived in this house for three generations. Mr. Mazzone has given me permission to publish his family history.

My grandfather [Egizio Testaferrata] was Maltese of Italian culture and he spoke, at home, Italian and Maltese which is a mixture of southern Italian and Arabic. His father Nicola came to Egypt in the 1860ies from Malta and was a designer and engraver, educated in Naples, Italy. Nicola worked for the Egyptian government engraving coins and in the embellishment of public buildings ( e.g. the Cairo Opera in Midan Mohammad Ali).
My grandfather worked at the Naafi which was a British organisation supplying food to the military. He died in 1947. He had five children and had adopted a niece who had lost her parents. He lived at the first floor which consisted of a very big apartment. The two apartments at the second floor were occupied by other family members, as brothers in law and later married daughters.
My parents moved to one of the two smaller apartments in 1946. My father Luigi Mazzone had married one of the daughters of my grandfather, Vittoria. My father was Italian, born in Egypt in 1915 and died in Rome in 2009. His father Vincenzo came to Egypt from Sicily as a teenager in the beginning of the 1900ie and worked as a cabinetmaker, first in Alexandria and then in Cairo.
He built up a big business in Bulaq where he had a sawmill and a furniture factory working for the Egyptian government (Cairo Museum, Cairo University, doors, windows and wooden stairs of many famous buildings, including the Yacoubian building). Vincenzo died very young in 1934 and his business continued until 1940, where it was sequestrated by the authorities due to Italy entering World War 2.
My family didn’t restart the business after the war.
My father’s mother Eugenia Vescia belonged to the Vescia family which came to Egypt in the 1850ies as olive merchants. She lived in the house in Shoubra from 1940 until her death in 1953.
The second apartment at the second floor had been occupied by my father’s brother Francesco from 1946 to 1970. He had a hardware-shop in Ezbekiah in Cairo.
The architect of the house was Greek and he was a friend of my grandfathers, his name was Galligopoulo and there was an engraving on the Eastern side of the house with his name and the building year.
After the death of my grandfather the house was owned by my grandmother, which was Serbian and had British nationality, having been married to a Maltese.
The house was sequestrated by the Egyptian authorities, following the Suez War in 1956. My grandmother was refunded by the British authorities for her loss.
I hope that you can use some of this information about a house which for many years was full of life and the center of many happy events.
I would like to express my own and my whole family’s gratitude and best feelings for Egypt and the Egyptian people.

The district of Shubra is one of the most densely populated parts of Cairo with approximately four million  people. Once upon a time, Shubra was a small village; the word, Shubra, actually means ‘small village’ from the Coptic word, ϭⲱⲡⲣⲟ Šopro. (WikipediaShubra remained primarily agricultural until Muhammad Ali Pasha built his palace there in 1808. He also constructed a boulevard one hundred feet wide, lined with trees from his palace to el-Azbakiya.  Following the example of Muhammed Ali Pasha, other members of the royal family and the upper class built villas and summer residences at Shubra. In 1903, a tramline was built on the grand boulevard, and this area opened up to urban development. One of the houses that was built during the development of this district was the House of Foreigners.

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EPILOGUE – received on March 17, 2020

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8 thoughts on “House of Foreigners, Revisited

  1. I have no comments to the text. I would like to add that the house has more stores than originally. Until the 1960ies, the house consisted of an unoccupied basement (regularly under water when the level of the Nile was high), the first floor with a very large apartment, the second floor with two smaller apartments and the third floor consisting of a terrace used mainly for sun-drying the washing, a washing room and two small storing rooms.
    The garden had various fruit trees: mango, guava, lemon, orange, clementine and grapes.
    In the 1930ies, when the house was built, the northern part of Shoubra was not heavily urbanized. It was called Shoubra Gardens (Hadayek Shoubra).
    I could go on with more details from my own and my parents’ memories.
    We felt fully integrated in our quarter, had our schools close by ( St. Joseph Carmelites French School in Sharah Rostom, where my mother and her sister Wally went for many years and my brother and I went to the kindergarten. The Don Bosco Institute in Rod el Farag where I got my Italian leaving-school certificate in 1961. The pre-wwII “28 Ottobre” Italian State school close to Santa Teresa where several of my uncles went; the buildings were sequestrated during wwII and used as an Egyptian University after the war.)
    I would like to stress that my whole family and I have never experienced unfriendly attittude from our fellow Shoubra and whole Egypt inhabitants.
    It has been a great pleasure to get in contact with you. Feel free to contact me if you have any question. I will be delighted to assist you.
    Best wishes
    Rolando Mazzone

    • Thank you so much for this. I have included a screen shot in the post. I really appreciate that you reached out and let people know your history! I believe AUC Press put it on their twitter and many people are sharing the information. Thank you , Lesley

    • Hello Rolando,
      It is such a great coincidence that you found Leslie’s post. I was one of the organizers of the tour, and my grand parents (& my mother and my aunts & uncle) lived in the house opposite to your house. Do you have recollection of your neighbors? My mother was born 1944 so I presume you both lived there at the same time.

      • Dear Alia, Thank you for this comment to Rolando. I will send it also to his email account. Thank you for the information about the date of your grandfather’s building. L.

  2. Dear Lesley, what a fantastic post! What a satisfaction must it be to be able to bring a piece of the past to life. This piece brought me almost to tears, such is the love (yes, I think I can say that) I have for this unbelievable city. Reading it brought me back to my Friday’s solitary early mornings walks admiring and photographing the buildings of Downtown Cairo (I wish I had your book back then). The emotions I proved are still with me, now, thanks to you and the remarkable Mr. Mazzone’s family history that I am very grateful he agreed to share with us all. Grazie di cuore!

    • Oh Stefano! You don’t know how incredible your comment makes me feel. Thank you so much and because of your Italian background and your longtime in Cairo, I could feel the emotion. I am very grateful that you shared this with me and my readers. Thank you so much, Lesley

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