The museum consists of two houses built using the outer wall of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun as support. The larger house, located to the east (the outermost side in relation to the mosque) was built in 1632 (1041 AH) by Hajj Mohammad ibn al-Hajj Salem ibn Galman al-Gazzar. It later came into the possession of a wealthy Muslim woman from Crete, and the home became popularly known as Beit al-Kritliyya, or "House of the Cretan Woman." The second house, to the west (the innermost side in relation to the mosque) was built in 1540 (947 AH) by Abdel-Qader al-Haddad. It later became known as "Beit Amna bint Salim," after its last owner. The two houses were joined by a bridge at the third floor level at an unknown point, and are both collectively known as Beit al-Kritliyya.
The construction of private homes against the outer wall of a mosque was common practice, with access to both the homes and mosque via narrow streets. It was reported that in the early 20th century, the mosque of Ibn Tulun could not be seen from the outside due to the houses. In 1928 the Egyptian government began to clear the homes, many of which were in very poor condition, away from the mosque as part of a plan to make important Islamic monuments more accessible. The Committee for the Conservation of Arab Monuments objected to the demolition of Beit al-Kritliyya, however, on the grounds that the home was extraordinarily well preserved. The home was kept intact, and repairs were made to the side walls to strengthen them after the neighboring houses were torn down.
In 1935, Major Gayer-Anderson, a retired collector and self-described Orientalist, was granted permission to reside in the house, which had just been restored. Gayer-Anderson oversaw the installation of electricity and plumbing, and the restoration of fountains, pavements, and other parts of the interior of the home. He populated the building with his personal collection of art, furnishings, and carpets. In 1942, Gayer-Anderson was forced by ill health to leave Egypt, and he gave the contents of the house to the Egyptian government. King Farouk gave him the title of Pasha in return. Gayer-Anderson died in England in 1945, and is buried in Lavenham, Suffolk.
A number of legends are associated with the Beit al-Kritliyya, which were collected by Gayer-Anderson and published as Legends of the House of the Cretan Woman (see sources).
Among the legends are:
The Museum is run by the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
The Gayer-Anderson Museum is located adjacent to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun off of 'Abd al-Magid al-Labban (Al-Salbiyya) Street in Sayyida Zeinab, Cairo. It is most conveniently reached by taxi. The nearest station on the Cairo Metro, the Sayyida Zeinab station, is approximately 1 km to the west. The museum entrance can be reached through the main entrance to the mosque, or through a separate entrance toward the rear of the complex.