January 2014 | Nate Pedersen

Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria House May Be Demolished

Villa Dubron - the Alexandria residence of British expatriate author Lawrence Durrell - may soon be demolished to make room for a high-rise apartment complex. Durrell's life at the Villa between 1942 and 1945 inspired his most famous work, The Alexandria Quartet.

Durrell moved to Alexandria in 1942, fleeing Nazi-occupied Greece. At the time, Alexandria was a cultural mecca, famous for its mix of nationalities, religions, and artists. Durrell rented the top floor of Villa Dubron from its owner, the Jewish architect Aldo Ambron. Durrell and his second wife - herself an Alexandrian and the inspiration for the heroine of The Alexandria Quartet - lived there for three years before returning to Britain at the conclusion of WWII. While in residence, Durrell wrote Prospero's Cell.

Reflecting on his time in Alexandria, Durrell later wrote Justine, the first volume in The Alexandria Quartet, which was published in 1957. Balthazar and Mountolive both followed in 1958, while the fourth and final volume, Clea, was published in 1960.

The Ambron family, meanwhile, sold the villa to a local developer and businessman in 1966.  The developer has since established two apartment complexes in the former gardens of the villa.  While the house is theoretically protected by a 2006 preservation law that is thinly enforced, the developer plans to demolish the house anyway unless a conservator can quickly raise enough money to buy it.

This preservation issue is not a new problem in Alexandria, which has seen other historic buildings go illegally under the bulldozer in recent years. A recent movement called Save Alex hopes to preserve as much of Alexandria's fin-de-siècle heyday as possible.

[Image of Durrell from Wikipedia]