A few weeks ago, our Swedish friend took us to discover a secret Cairo destination: Gold Island, or Gezirit el-Dahab. This island is just one of many that dots the Nile near Cairo, but it is remarkable because it isn’t connected to either shore of the river. There’s a flyover that goes right across it without actually having any entrances or exits, which means the only way to get to the island is by boat. One fine morning, we negotiated with some pleasant boat owners near the Semiramis hotel and they dropped us off on the island, promising to come get us a couple of hours later.
There wasn’t much to do or even see on the island, but it was interesting to walk about and soak in the atmosphere. You’re in the middle of a city of 20 million + inhabitants, and yet the lifestyle for those who live on the island is completely rural: green fields, dirt roads, donkeys, cows… Not a car in sight. It felt as if we’d landed in the middle of the Egyptian countryside, although we could still see the apartment buildings and high rises on either shore of the Nile.
We walked around for an hour or so, sharing an old dirt track along the water with some men astride donkeys. We even came across a mysterious palace, which a bit of online sleuthing has revealed is called Dahab Palace (Gold Palace). Apparently it was built twenty years ago by the rather mysterious Prince Naguib Abdallah, an art collector and aesthete (who probably deserves a post all to himself: he was apparently the lover of the late socialite São Schlumberger in the 70s, and these are some pictures Architectural Digest took of his London flat in 1995). The palace was founded as a centre that raises awareness about environmental issues, whatever that means, but it was nearly demolished last year because it doesn’t follow building regulations along the water. Something must’ve happened to save it, because the palace was still standing when we went.
More online sleuthing has revealed that you can even rent a guest apartment inside the palace on AirBnB. The place looks lovely, and it appears to be rented out by Naguib Abdullah himself, along with a professor of architecture at the German University in Cairo.