Egyptian Museum original drawings

From the online archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the original watercolour designs for Cairo’s Egyptian Museum by French architect Marcel-Lazare Dourgnon – also responsible for the Egyptian pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, which I blogged about a couple of months back (here). Click to enlarge.

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Vintage Cairo from the BnF

Ryder Kouba, a colleague working at AUC, recently pointed me to the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. I wish I had known about it when I was putting together Grand Hotels. It has some excellent vintage images of Cairo and Egypt that I would have loved to have included in the book. Malish, maybe if we do a second, updated edition. Meanwhile, see if you can identify the places below – captions at the end.

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The pics are Emad ed-Din Street; the main entrance of the Savoy Hotel on Qasr el-Nil Street; Boulaq Bridge, looking toward Zamalek, since replaced by the 26th of July Flyover; the Heliopolis Palace Hotel under construction (now the presidential palace); Shepheard’s Hotel, burned down in 1952; Ataba Square, looking west; Bab al-Hadid Station, now Ramses Square; Opera Square; Rondpont Suleiman Pasha, now Midan Talaat Harb, dominated by the Savoy Hotel; the Hotel d’ Angleterre, next to the Hashamayim synagogue on what’s now Adly Street; Shepheard’s street-side terrace; rue Suleiman Pasha, now Talaat Harb; the Boulaq bridge.

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Sing it with Stella

From The Sphinx in 1939/40, a series of soldierly song-themed ads for Egypt’s very own Stella beer.

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For an enthusiastic appreciation of Stella and its history visit the Photorientalist site.

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A Christmas Sphinx

Back in August I wrote a post about the Cairo early 20th-century society weekly The Sphinx. I was excited because I had just discovered ten or so issues of it in the newspaper archives of the British Library. Well, I’m just back from Cairo where I have been working in the archives of the American University and what did I find there but almost a whole run of the paper in bound volumes from 1902 to 1947. The project I was working on (of which more at a future date) didn’t allow me to spend much time reading the Sphinxes but I did take plenty of photos of articles, graphics and pages. I’ll be posting some of this material in the coming weeks but to start off with here’s the complete issue from exactly one hundred years ago this week.

As you’ll see (click to enlarge the images), the pages contain many familiar names, including Miss Devonshire, who used to give tours of Islamic architecture to soldiers and whose book Rambles in Cairo was a bestseller for the Egyptian publishing house of Schindler. There is also an obituary for Lord Edward Cecil, whose entertaining The Leisure of an Egyptian Official was published posthumously in 1921, and, under Social and Personal, a brief mention of Governor-General Sir Lee Stack, who six years later would be assassinated while being driven through Cairo. Note also the ad for land and villas for sale in Maadi, marketed as ‘A country resort for summer and winter’.

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The art of Susan Weeks

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Poking around in the archives of the American University in Cairo the other week I came across a box labeled “Susan Weeks”. Susan was the wife of Egyptologist Kent Weeks, rediscoverer of the KV 5 tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Susan worked with Kent as part of the Theban Mapping Project, for which she was ceramics expert, registrar, headquarters supervisor, project archivist and chief architect until her tragically premature death in December 2009. The box contained some of her pencil and ink sketches and watercolours. If you’ve ever seen a copy of Kent’s book The Lost Tomb, then you will have seen Susan’s sketches, one of which heads each chapter. Unfortunately, the reproductions in the book are not very good – not in the paperback, anyway – so to see the original pieces is a thrill. Plus the book is in black and white and doesn’t have any colour pieces. Below is a selection of some of the work from the archive, only two of which feature in the book. It’s just a small sampling, pieces I particularly liked, and there is much, much more. It’s a shame the work is so little seen. Maybe one day we’ll get to see it published in a book.

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Classic Egyptian Movies

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AUC Press has a fantastic new book coming out late October called Classic Egyptian Movies, subtitled 101 Must-see Films. It’s a translation (by Sarah Enany) of a book first published in Arabic by film critic Sameh Fathy, in which he picks out his personal landmarks of Egyptian cinema. It’s interesting to see what makes the cut and what doesn’t. The bulk of the films are from the 1950s and ’60s, with only one film from the 21st century. There’s lots of Youssef Chahine, but even more Salah Abu Seif. Farid Shawqi is the actor who appears most, while Souad Hosni is the most represented actress. Each of the films gets a write-up arguing the case for its greatness, complemented by a full cast list and other credits. Best of all, each film is illustrated by its original poster and a film still. It makes for a gloriously colourful and visually rich book, which comes in a neat, compact format. The stylish design is by Gadi Farfour, who was also responsible for Grand Hotels of Egypt and On the Nile looking so great. (Full disclosure: I had the enjoyable job of editing Sarah’s translation.)

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The Sphinx, society paper and bar

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Cairo has had dozens of English-language newspapers over the last century and a half – I co-founded one myself – and hats off to the Egyptian Gazette, which is the only one that has gone the distance, published (continuously, I think) since 1880. The one that fascinates me, however, is a publication called The Sphinx. Part of the fascination is because it is so rare. It was published weekly from December 1892 until at least 1947, so it lasted for over fifty years. Yet I’ve only ever been able to find a handful of surviving copies, all of which are held by the British Library. From the copies I’ve seen, it’s not a newspaper, it’s a cut-rate Tatler, filled with society news and gossip, write ups of garden parties at the ‘Residence’, that sort of thing.

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Of much more interest than the writing (sample: ‘Oh! One could write reams on the top-hats of Cairo’) are the ads that pack the pages. Each issue is like a directory of fashionable businesses. For instance, the intriguing ad above for the Lipton’s Tea Rooms, which a story inside describes as being entered from Emad el-Din Street, near the Rond Pont Suares. It is supposed to have a garden with two circular domed summer houses and is being designed by St John Diamont, architect of the AUC’s Ewart Hall. I’m guessing this is what became Groppi’s garden café.

The founder of The Sphinx was an Anglophile American named David Garrick Longworth. Born in Addison, Ohio in 1853, as a young man Longworth worked as a booster for Barnum, whipping up publicity for his shows. He went into business for himself and travelled widely in Africa, where he continued to employ his talents for promotion: on one occasion in Cape Town he hired an army of locals to march, laden with white rocks, up Table Mountain, where he had the stones arranged to spell out ‘Take Liver Pills’. He arrived in Cairo in October 1892, a man in a hurry to make a splash, and launched The Sphinx a little over a month later. He remained at the helm of the paper only until 1894, at which point he moved on to Nairobi, where he founded another journal. He later surfaced in London as an agent for the Uganda State Railways.

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Longworth was described – in his own paper – as being a ‘regular Bohemian’ and in addition to The Sphinx he ran a theatrical troupe and operated a bar-nightclub, also called The Sphinx, which was on rue Fuad (present-day 26th of July Street), which flourished in the 1890s. I know nothing else about the bar, except it was famous/infamous enough to feature on postcards (above).

Meanwhile, Longworth’s wife spent three years sculpting a scale plaster model of the actual Sphinx, ten feet long and three feet high, which she exhibited in Paris in 1903, and which was subsequently bought by the Field Museum of Chicago, Mrs Longworth’s hometown. Mr Longworth died in London in January 1928. If anybody knows anything more about this intriguing character, his newspaper or bar, please get in touch.

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Ingrid and the sphinx

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Following on from previous posts of glamorous women hanging out with the sphinxes on London’s Embankment (here and here), here’s a fabulous publicity shot of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, taken to promote the movie Indiscreet (1958). Courtesy of @JohnJJohnson

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An eyewitness to the burning of Shepheard’s

Another curiosity discovered in the archives of the American University in Cairo. In an old alumni newsletter I saw a notice for the death of Claude Feninger, who was described as the last manager of the old Shepheard’s hotel. Really? I’d never heard of him. A little googling and I find that it’s more or less true and that Claude even wrote an autobiography, Sang Froid: Keeping My Cool in the International Hotel Business, much of which can be read online.

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Born in Cairo of an Egyptian father of Swiss descent and a Neapolitan mother, after completing his education Claude had to wait until the end of World War II before taking the first boat out of Alexandria. He was bound for the Ecole des Hoteliers in Lausanne, Switzerland. After a brief experience managing a small hotel in a Swiss resort town, he returned to Cairo at the age of 25 to become the ‘resident manager’ of Shepheard’s, working under general manger Antoine Foester.

You can’t trust everything Claude writes. For instance he says Shepheard’s was the first hotel built in the world, which is a ludicrous claim to make – it wasn’t even the first in Cairo. He also says that he started work on 12 October 1952, which he calls ‘the best day of my life’. Except Shepheard’s burned down on 26 January 1952. I think that’s probably a typo and was meant to be 12 October 1951. Claude knows very well when Shepheard’s burned down because he was there and he describes the day in his book.

He relates how that Saturday began with Mrs Blanche Weinberg, a long-term resident, knocking on his office door to tell him she was off to spend the day in Maadi with her daughter-in-law. Twenty minutes later there is a call from Mr Ibrahim Yehya, the minister of culture and a family friend. He says there are anti-British riots breaking out in the city and that Shepheard’s may well be targeted. Claude thanks him for the information and goes to find his boss, Antoine Foester. Foester can’t be found so Claude takes his passkey and goes through the hotel, instructing all the guests to leave what they’re doing and quickly assemble in the gardens at the back of the hotel. By noon, the streets are filled with rioters chanting, ‘Death to England. Death to the puppet Farouk’. Black smoke rises above the surrounding streets. Nubian staff are posted at the entrances to the hotel but the rioters force their way in and start fires all over the hotel. As the flames take hold, 250 guests are in the garden, terrified. They need to be evacuated and taken through the city streets to somewhere safe. Claude steps up on a chair and shouts at the rioters. ‘You’ve done your damage. Now I need some help take the guests to safety.’ He was, he says, swamped by willing volunteers.

Once the flames died down three bodies were found in the ruins. Two were looters found in the basement where the hotel kept its silver. The other was found in suite 302. It was Mrs Weinberg, who must have changed her mind about going to Maadi and returned to the hotel. Claude had never checked her room because he thought she was out for the day.

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In the picture above (click to enlarge), the streetfront terrace is at the bottom of the picture with steps in the middle leading up to the main entrance. The domed structure is the Moorish hall. To the left, beyond the burned-out Shepheard’s, is the Windsor hotel, still in business today.

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Egypt in Paris in 1900

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Two posts back I wrote on searching for Egypt in Paris this summer. The picture above is what I would have found had I done the same 118 years ago.

In 1900 Paris hosted the Exposition Universelle, a world’s fair, and its fifth such jamboree since 1855. It was intended to celebrate the coming of a new century. It introduced the world to art nouveau, and gifted the city the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, which stand beside the Seine until today. (The Eiffel Tower was the legacy of the previous 1889 Exposition). Among its other popular features were the foreign pavilions, each intended to celebrate their home nations. The Egyptian Palace was designed by French architect Marcel-Lazare Dourgnon, who, just a few years later, would win the commission for Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. It was a curious complex with a domed Mamluk madrassa in the centre flanked by two pharaonic temple facades. It was, apparently, very popular with visitors. Behind one of the pharaonic facades was a theatre with a show that featured a supposed 200 dancers. The theatre or cinema with an ancient Egyptian façade became something of a craze in the 1920s and ’30s, and I wonder if this is the protoype?

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The Grand Palais, incidentally, also references Egypt in the gorgeous mosaic friezes that run under its colonnades.

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