Sightseeing in Cairo

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day fifteen.

Monday, 8 February
Started at 8 o’clock by train to Cairo – 5 hours journey, 150 miles – through the Delta … We first passed large swamps and Lake Mareotis, close to Alexandria; flat country – the first mud villages I had ever seen – the same all through the Delta. Arrived at Cairo at 2 o’clock, omnibus and carriage to Hotel Shepheard – not room for all so I, Miss Porter, Mr. Brewin, Dr. Lorne, Mr. Frith, Mr. Luckie and a few others to the Hotel l’Orient. Ours a very curious hotel – sale at the back and dark, but did very well.

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After lunch we went for a drive to the grand mosque of Mehmet Ali, standing on a hill with commanding view of the country, the green winding outline for miles which showed the course of the Nile – the pyramids at Gizeh – the pyramids of Sakara and Dashour and the grand and endless desert; this hill is called the Citadel. We descended what is called Joseph’s Well – hewn in the rock 260 ft. deep – a circular descent. A very deep well indeed and very tiring coming up; a winding cutting in the solid rock. From there drove to the bazaars – too late – they close at 5. Table d’hote at 6 – spent evening in bedroom.

So, 15 days and countless trains, carriages and boats to get from London to Cairo in 1869. It shows just what an undertaking travel was 150 years ago. Had Miss Riggs been travelling thirteen years earlier, she could have added another couple of days to the trip because prior to 1856, which was when the railway between Alexandria and Cairo opened, she would have had to be punted slowly up the Nile between the two cities.

The party finds Shepheard’s full because this is not the grand hotel of later fame with its 300-plus rooms, but a previous, smaller incarnation of the hotel. The alternative hotel to which Miss Riggs and some of the others are directed, the Hotel l’Orient, was on the far side of the Ezbekiyya Gardens, on the edge of the old city.

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The Mohamed Ali Mosque she visits is not long completed (1857). She provides a lengthy description in her diary, which I’ve left out. More interesting is her descent into Joseph’s Well. This, of course, has nothing to do with the biblical Joseph and was sunk during the era of Salah ad-Din. It is an 87-metre deep shaft wound around by a spiraling staircase. It was a big tourist attraction in the 19th-century but has long been closed to the public because its decrepit state makes it extremely dangerous.

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Church on the Square

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day fourteen.

Sunday, 7 February
Sunday. Went to English church in the square where our hotel is, on the opposite side. Mr. Davis the clergyman. Mr. Cook arrived from Cairo where he had gone the previous Friday to see about the Nile steamers. A general assembly and confab. Arranged that we pack up and leave all superfluous luggage at this hotel as cabins are small on Nile boats – ladies’ saddles to go but not the gentlemen’s. The steamers – BENHA and BENI SWEIF engaged for us, taking 16 passengers each, so Mr. Cook asked permission to supply 2 extra places with 2 Americans – Mr. Martin and brother who wished to go up the Nile.

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The ‘English’ church was St Mark’s. It was designed around 1841–42 by visiting British architect James William Wild, who worked for a while with Egyptologist Karl Lepsius and was later ‘decorative architect’ on the magnificent Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. The church is still there today, on Alexandria’s Tahrir Square; it’s beautiful and well worth a visit. The map above comes from an article on the square written by Alexandria architect Mohamed Awad, which is well worth reading; No.3 is the St Mark’s, No.15 is the Hotel d’Europe where Miss Riggs’s party is staying.

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The Mission school in Alexandria

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day thirteen.

Saturday, 6 February
Accompanied Mr. & Mrs. Newman, Mr. Brewin and Miss Lines to the American Missions School kept by Mr. & Mrs. Pinkerton. A wonderfully dirty approach to school – obliged to leave our carriage some distance through thick mud. An interesting school; a governess there who looked very delicate – there 3 years – climate does not suit her I think. Bought some Arabic gospels of St. John. Mr B. bought 12 of St. Luke. On our return bought smoke coloured spectacles. After dinner Mr. Pinkerton came to make a call – had a little Newman party in end of drawing room – stayed till 10.

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The American Mission had a sizeable presence throughout Egypt from the mid-19th century. Although the US appointed a first consul-general in 1848, America figured little in Egypt in a political sense. The Christian evangelists, as well as promoting God, were their home nation’s most high-profile representation in Egypt, founding churches and schools. They were instrumental in founding the American University in Cairo, which, incidentally, kicks off its centenary year celebrations this coming Saturday.

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Misencountering Alexandria

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day twelve. Or maybe not – I’ll explain below.

The site of the city is in the form of a Macedonian mantle. After leaving the palace we drove to the Botanical gardens – wild and badly kept but trees and shrubs interesting, the poincettia most splendid and plentiful – shall not forget the blaze of large red petals. We drove to Pompey’s Pillar (“Cleopatra’s Needle”, which belongs to England, the fellow one Place de la Concorde, Paris) – red granite; on 2 sides the hieroglyphics very perfect. It stands upright without any support and not sunk into the earth at all. Total height 98 ft. 29 ft, 8 inches round. On entering the harbour is the island and tower of Pharos, on the left rocks and promontory of Lochias. Below a secret port called Antirrhodus – Anthony built a palace here after his misfortunes at Actiuno. Did not see the library celebrated by the Ptolemics … Passed through a Mohammedan Cemetery or burial ground. Back to table d’hote at 6.

There is confusion in the diary here because there is no entry for 5 Feb, just a very long entry for 4 Feb. Maybe Miss Riggs spent all the day of the fifth in bed? So the sightseeing described above may have taken place on the fourth, the day of the party’s arrival in Alexandria. After arriving at their hotel, our travellers had lunch then immediately went to visit the Khedive’s palace at Ras al-Tin. From there they went on to the botanical gardens, which most likely were the Antoniadis Gardens, founded just a few years before in 1860.

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The comment about the “Macedonian mantle” comes from John Gardner Wilkinson, who described the plan of Alexandria in this way (ie the shape of a cloak) in his Hand-book for Travellers in Egypt, first published by John Murray in 1847, with a new, third edition issued in 1867. If Miss Riggs was carrying Wilkinson’s guide she was not paying it much attention. If she had read him, she would understand that Pompey’s Pillar and Cleopatra’s Needle are not the same thing; that the obelisk gifted to England was the one lying in the sand, not the standing one; and that the party missed seeing the famous library because it vanished around 1,500 years previously. Bloody tourists.

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Arrival in Alexandria

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day eleven.

Thursday, 4 February
On deck in good time as by 7 we are to leave the boat at 8. Lord Gower quite a young man, very fair, with companions and courier on our steamer – on his way to the Prince of Wales. Wee were very glad and thankful to get out of our cabins. Good view of Alexandria from the sea where we lay to, some distance out of port. The island of the Pharos and Pompey’s Pillar conspicuous and palace of the Viceroy = quite a strange novel and picturesque scene and tumultuous the men in little boats surrounding our steamer for disembarkation, tittering shrieks in an unknown tongue – Arabic.    
     The pilot came on board in a little sailing boat, a brown cloak and hood and bare legs – we let all the other passengers go off first, then a commissionaire from the Hotel de l’Europe came on board to us which saved us much inconvenience, but however with all that our luggage was seized by main force, very nearly falling into the sea, by men of all color and casts – never to be forgotten. The little boats conveyed us to terra firma, then we went o have our passports vised, then commenced a babble again, all claiming the luggage for the hotel. At last rushed into carriage and we drove off to the hotel through thick mud which all the streets in Alexandria are in the rainy season. Hotel situated in the Square.

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Almost every 19th century traveller arriving at Alexandria wrote about the chaos that met them in the harbour. Incoming steamers would be met by flotillas of small boats carrying touts for local hotels and dragomans battling to claim the new arrivals. Once luggage had been sorted and reclaimed it would be a donkey ride to the city’s main square, the Place des Consuls – now Mohamed Ali Square – which was where in 1869 all the hotels were.

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The mystery of Miss Riggs

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day ten.

Wednesday, 3 February
On deck by 8 – rough night, getting more to the open sea in sight of Cerigo – sea the deepest indigo. In the afternoon passed Candia – immense island, seemed almost like the main land; passed Cape Matapan – all queer and very quiet all morning = after dinner brightened up – discussions going on – Dr. Lorn on bishops. All agreed that we were a very harmonious party. At Brindisi all our party were assembled, Mr. Margetts being the last who joined us from Naples. I will insert our list which is now complete. Expected to land at Alexandria tomorrow morning – 850 miles from Brindisi to Alexandria. Arranged this evening that we should all give 3 fr. for servants.

The list of her fellow passengers is inserted on the front pages of her diary.

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It reads as follows:

  1. Mr. Dennett | Hotel de Londres, 8 rue St Hyacinthe, Paris
  2. Mrs. Dennett | – –
  3. Henry Newman | Leominster, England
  4. Mrs. H. Newman | – –
  5. Mrs. Rose | Peterbro Villas, Fulham, London, England
  6. Miss Crichton | unknown
  7. Miss Lines | Shillington, Herts., England
  8. Miss Riggs | Hampstead, London, England
  9. J. Dickson, Esq. | Cleethorpes, Grimsby, England
  10. Mrs. Dickson | – –
  11. W.A. Backhouse | Darlington, England
  12. R. Crichton | Skene House, Aberdeen, Scotland
  13. J. Crichton | – –
  14. J. Frith, Esq. | Sheffield, England
  15. J. Luckie | Springfield, Haddington, England
  16. A.E. Webb | Bath, England
  17. John Lorn, M.D. | Darlington, England
  18. B.H. Margetts | Huntingdon, England
  19. D. Samuels | 16 Warrington Terrace, Maida Vale, London
  20. Mrs. Samuels |  – –
  21. J.H. MacDonald | Rock Mansion, Brighton
  22. Mrs. MacDonald  | – –
  23. W. Brewin | Cirencester, England
  24. Mr. D. Witt Hay | Paris
  25. Mrs. Hay | – –
  26. G.P. Beeley | Rochdale, England
  27. Miss Porter | Palace Clogher, Northern Ireland
  28. J. Chalmers | 37 Albyn Place, Aberdeen, Scotland
  29. J. Cookson | 35 Great Avenham Street, Preston, England

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When it comes to geography, Miss Riggs uses names that were antiquated even in 1868, so Cerigo is Kythria and Candia is Crete. But who is Miss Riggs? The list of names she supplies in today’s entry offers almost all the information we have on her, which is that she lives in Hampstead, north London. The only clue to knowing more about her comes from Thomas Cook’s own notes on the trip, which were published in the company newsletter later that year. In these he talks about the composition of the tour party, mentioning seven ladies traveling with their husbands, none of which are the unmarried “Miss” Riggs, one lady in the company of her parents, which would be Miss Crichton, and one “attendant upon a lady of the party”—was Miss Riggs a ladies’ maid? Perhaps for Miss Porter with whom she shares a cabin? Or was Miss Porter the maid and Miss Riggs the lady? We don’t know.

One thing to remember, anyone signed up to this first tour to Egypt and Palestine would have to be fairly wealthy. Travel was extremely expensive, not to mention time-consuming. In general, a trip like this was something that could only be undertaken by those who did not need to work year-round to earn money.

Tomorrow our privileged party arrives in Alexandria.

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A splash of colour

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A beautiful poster for the Mediterranean services of the Lloyd shipping line, dating from 1934, artist unknown.

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Passing by Greece

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day nine.

Tuesday, 2 February
Appeared at breakfast at 9 – nearly all the others ready. Afterwards mounted on deck and now sitting – at least the ladies on comfortable cane chairs with arms, where we shall be all day, too rough to walk about on deck and afraid to lose our seats if we move. Six of us all in a row sitting under shelter of skylight to saloon. Passed during the day Corfu, Kephalonia and Zante. 2 porpoises followed us playing most prettily. Table d’hote at 5 – afterwards we came on deck again and some Italians – I imagine professionals, sang from the operas for two hours. Tea at 8, and afterwards I read Lloyd’s Oriental Guide for Egypt in saloon, lamps suspended brightly – went to cabins early.

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After the hard slog of eight days of swapping trains and carriages the sail across the Mediterranean sounds blissful – although the Italians sound a nuisance. I have never seen any other reference to a Lloyd’s Oriental Guide but I’m guessing it might be something put out by the German Lloyd’s shipping company, which operated services to Egypt.

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Leaving Europe

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day eight.

For the past two days Miss Riggs and the rest of her Cook-led party have been making their way south down through Italy. On the morning of 30 January they left Turin for Ancona, crossing the plains of Lombardy, and via Foggia arrived at their destination of Brindisi on the southeast coast early on 1 February.

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Monday, 1 February
… Could hardly fancy myself so far south as Otranto – the town immense walls, narrow streets; very ancient. Aspect of people dark and Moorish – fine faces. Men with large cloaks and hoods – great concourse of people looking at our crammed omnibus with much surprise. It looked a dangerous place. Could not at first find out hotel; dismounted and then mounted again for the hotel d’Angleterrre on the quay. Rooms sandy floors, not comfortable – glad we had not to sleep here. Mr. Cook left us to go on board our steamer, the Brindisi, to secure our berths. Brindisi 1420 miles from London. We lunched at hotel and then took a stroll around the town and then proceeded to the steamer in little boats; very dark. Set sail at 9 in the evening – Captain Young, and handsome good vessel, cabins opening into the saloon. Mine and Miss Porter’s did not do so, not so comfortable in consequence; very little room for storage in the cabin – mine top berth, but could not have round window open – very close. Deck good – fine evening, bright stars. All stayed on deck some time, all in good spirits notwithstanding the wind seemed up for a breeze.

So the party has now crossed Europe and arrived at the port of Brindisi [pictured above], where, a bit confusingly, they board a steamer also called Brindisi. Miss Riggs mentions Otranto, which is a port just a little way south of Brindisi. I’m not sure why it would be important to her but, being religiously inclined, possibly she knows of the story of the ‘Martyrs of Otranto’, 800 citizens who were beheaded after refusing to convert to Islam when the Ottomans captured the town in 1480.

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A Day in Turin

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In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day five.

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Friday, 29 January 1869
4 a.m. all very tired and excited, some saying they would never do that pass again
[see yesterday’s entry] – had coffee at our Hotel Trombetta. Went to bed for a few hours – down to breakfast at 10 o’clock – to the Palazza Reale [above], formerly the residence of Charles Albert – now unoccupied; rooms fine, floors inlaid wood – a great deal of gilding – portraits principally of the Savoy family – a chapel attached principally black marble. An old castle the only antiquity in Turin with polygonal tower in the Piazza Castello. Many squares in Turin and Colonnades. Snowing today. Fortunate we are to be on this side of Mont Cenis – had there been more snow could not have passed; what would we have done. Our party make a great increase at this hotel, an amusing set. I am exploding with laughter. At 2 o’clock accompanied Mr. Cook to station to claim our luggage, and all heavy luggage was booked on to Brindisi. Kept our small packages. At hotel eat long pieces of thin rolled paste baked lightly, called Grisli after the makers name.

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Seems odd that a tour group heading for Egypt with a day to kill in Turin wouldn’t visit the city’s Museum of Antiquities. This had one of the world’s finest collections of Egyptian antiquities, including the 5,268 pieces bought from the French consul-general to Egypt Bernadino Drovetti. Too busy, perhaps, having a laugh at the hotel. That’s tour groups for you. I wonder if the snacks she calls Grisli are actually breadsticks, known in Italy as Grissini, and supposedly invented in a small town outside of Turin.

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