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A Collection Obsession

Villa Zorayda Museum, a Moorish-Spanish Revival architectural gem, is a wonderful example of the obsession with the collecting of exotic artifacts by people of means during the Gilded Age.

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To get the most from the unique Villa Zorayda Museum tour experience, it is helpful to understand the Gilded Age. It was the period of time between the 1870s and early 1900s when America’s economy was dominated by a few powerful industrialist magnates who gained immense wealth. They built magnificent homes and turned them into personal museums by displaying an eclectic mix of art objects and artifacts they collected from around the world. They travelled and collected in Europe, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Africa, Japan and other exotic destinations. They collected to impress their guests by sharing the source and stories behind each piece to underscore their global travels.

Villa Zorayda’s owners Franklin Smith, a wealthy merchant and student of history and architecture, who built the Villa as his personal home in 1883, and Abraham Mussallem, collector of Oriental rugs, fine arts and Egyptian artifacts, who purchased it in 1913, were enlightened Gilded Age world travelers and collectors. In keeping with Gilded Age traditions, Villa Zorayda Museum exhibits a wide range of artifacts, the exquisite and the unusual, from the personal collections of both men.

The captivating audio tour of Villa Zorayda reflects the Gilded Age approach to sharing personal collections with guests. Throughout the tour, magnificent architectural details, such as cut plaster panels made with ground alabaster, and exquisite, hand-painted tiles are pointed out, and the origins and stories behind unique artifacts are explained. The museum’s intriguing collection ranges from an unusual over 2400-year old “Sacred Cat Rug” made form hairs of ancient cats that roamed along the Nile River, to an exquisite French Art Nouveau lamp of a woman holding up lighted sconces.

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