Grand Hotels of Egypt in the Golden Age of Travel
Reviewed by Deborah Manley

Grand Hotels of Egypt in the Golden Age of Travel, by Andrew Humphreys. American University in Cairo Press, 2012. 216 pp, illustrated throughout.
ISBN 978 416 496 5. $29.

Many of the hotels Andrew Humphreys writes about—or their direct successors—we have visited: The Mena House at the Pyramids (almost my favourite hotel in the world) the Winter Palace in Luxor, the Cataract in Aswan. Until now what the tourists said of them was said only in passing, in their diaries and letters home. Now we have a deeper knowledge of a whole new angle of travel. (Perhaps ASTENE should consider a tour of Egypt in these hotels.)

Andrew Humphreys introduces us to travellers with whom we may not be so familiar: for example, Thomas Waghorn (the son of a butcher from Chatham), who opened up the journey from Alexandria to the Red Sea through Cairo.

In the 1830s, the hotels were, as Thackeray wrote, ‘bringing the Pyramids a month nearer to wouldbe travellers in Europe’. And then came Thomas Cook, with a tour to Egyp and the Holy Land in 1869. Tourist hotels continued rare into the 1870s, and the European consuls were inundated with requests for somewhere to stay. Henry Salt rarely had his consular house to himself. But from 1870 tourists began to pour into Cairo and up the Nile—a flood which has flowed almost continuously since, encouraged by travel posters reproduced here in full colour—presenting a bright land where the sun shone through the winter.

Humphreys also takes his reader to Alexandria, up Pompey’s pillar (with a picnic atop) and to the new hotels in the city—at first not so posh as the hotels in Cairo. Today it i the Cecil that gives us a real sense of times past, though the Marriot in Cairo has retained a sense of 19th-century grandeur. The Winter Palace at Luxor has ups and downs, but the sunset across the Nile is always there. The Cataract— another favourite—rose above the Nile at the start of 1900—not quite finished, though ‘men were actively engaged in laying the electric light installations’.

The contemporary photographs and drawings take us back to a time before our own, and we must thank Andrew Humphreys for providing a real treat for his readers.

Deborah Manley

The Evliya Çelebi Way
Reviewed by Malcolm Wagstaff

The Evliya Çelebi Way, by Caroline Finkel and Kate Clow with Donna Landry. Upcountry (Turkey) Ltd., 2011, distributed by Cordee Ltd. Pb, 160pp, with detachable map. ISBN: 0-9539218-9-1. £17.99.

Evliya Çelebi (1611–c.1685) was a Turkish writer who produced a huge travel book describing his journeys both within and beyond the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. In 2010 a group of six riders explored, as far as possible, his route from Hersek on the Gulf of Izmit (an arm of the Sea of Marmara) to Kalkan near Simav, north-west of Afyonkarahisar and Uşak in north-western Turkey. The route was walked the following year. These two expeditions led to the development of the Evliya Çelebi Way, Turkey’s first long-distance walking and riding route and an official ‘Turkish Cultural Route’. The Evliya Çelebi Way is about 600 km long and approximates the route taken by the traveller in 1671.

Scenes on the route of the Evliya Çelebi Way, Turkey

Scenes on the route of the Evliya Çelebi Way, Turkey

The book under review is the necessary guidebook for those intrepid enough to follow Evliya Çelebi, whether on foot, on horseback or even on a mountain bike. The first three chapters are full of good, sound practical advice about equipment and clothing, with special attention given to the practicalities of riding the route. They are essential reading, especially for those not familiar with travelling in Turkey. Chapter Four outlines Evliya Çelebi’s life, while Chapter Five provides a brief history of the area traversed an discusses the forms of such public buildings as kales (castles) and hamams (bath houses), as well as mosques. Chapter Six is headed Environment but covers not only flora, fauna and special wild-life areas, but also the ways of life of the people and local horse culture, including the dangerous sport in which riders throw javelins (cirits) at eac other while at the gallop. The rest of the book sets out the different stages of the route, giving distances and approximate travel times. A standard format is used throughout.
Alternatives are given where, for example, walkers might find particular sections very difficult or dreary. Boxes give information about the towns and villages on or close to the route and about what Evliya Çelebi himself reported seeing. A useful appendix summarises his descriptions of Bursa, Kütahya (the ancestral home where he inherited a house and responsibility for a mosque) and Afyonkarahisar. A second appendix describes places visited by Evliya Çelebi but lying off the Evliya Çelebi Way.

Although the guide gives directions to follow the route and provides a map (rather lurid and schematic), route-finding depends upon GPS (Global Positioning System references. Waypoints must be downloaded from a file in Google Earth, details of which are provided. This is commendable and probably very necessary in the field, but it does mean that would-be travellers must be familiar with the use of a GPS before they set out. With that caveat, I commend this book as an interesting, informative and practical guide.

Malcolm Wagstaff

Mit Richard Lepsius auf die Cheops-Pyramide
Reviewed by Robert Morkot

Mit Richard Lepsius auf die Cheops-Pyramide: Studien zu den Ritualszenen altägyptischer Tempel (SRaT 10), by Horst Beinlich. Dettelbach, Verlag J.H. Röll, 2010. 115pp, b&w and colour plates, one folding plate. ISBN: 978-3-89754-375-1. €98.00.

The folding plate inside the back cover of this slim, but attractive, volume reproduces Joseph Bonomi’s panorama from the top of the Great Pyramid, and this is the starting point for the book also. Bonomi’s rolled-up drawing, measuring some 43.5 by 229cm, was identified by the Egyptologist Horst Beinlich in the Institut für Ägyptologie in Heidelberg, and his story of the rediscovery is yet another lesson in what lies unacknowledged in the basement collections of Universities and Museums. The watercolour is annotated with Bonomi’s name, but in the handwriting of Richard Lepsius, leader of the great ‘Prussian’ expedition to Egypt in 1842. From this, Beinlich is able to trace the history of the painting.

GISEHBonomi joined the Lepsius expedition having worked in Egypt with all of the leading figures since he began with his first employer, Robert Hay, in 1824. This was his last major expedition, and after two years he returned to England. Amongst the significant works that brought his knowledge of Egyptian art and architecture to the Victorian public was the Egyptian Court of the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. The panorama from the top of the Great Pyramid that was developed from the Heidelberg watercolour was another.

Bonomi presented the ‘grand moving panoramic picture of the Nile: portraying all the interesting features on both sides of that ancient river, its pyramids, temples, cities, & grottoes, displaying the manners and customs of its people’ at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in 1849. It was typical of its period(eg, the Robert Hay panoramas of Qurna) and also of the showmanship of other artists, such as Bonomi’s father-in-law, John Martin: the type of event was cleverly recreated in the splendid recent exhibition of John Martin’s work—much with ‘Egyptian’ influence—at the Tate Gallery. The display panorama, apparently some 15m high, was painted by Henry Warren and James Fahey from the watercolours made by Bonomi. It travelled to Liverpool and Dublin before being purchased from Warren, Fahey and Bonomi by George Gliddon and exhibited in the United States.

Beinlich gives a detailed analysis of the panorama and its relation to the other views and plans of the Giza necropolis published by the expedition in the folio volumes of the Denkmäler (and now available, courtesy of the University of Halle, online at target=”blank”). The Denkmäler actually has a panorama from the top of the Second Pyramid at Giza [illustrated opposite], presumably because of its rather more central location in the cemetery. Illustrations from the Denkmäler are included in this volume, but there are also images from the original drawings and watercolours in the archival collections at the Academy in Berlin. Beinlich also includes copies and transcriptions of relevant documents, such as the diary of Georg Erbkam, and a letter of Lepsius still in possession of the family. Particularly notable, are the several different versions of the celebrated picture of the entire expedition on the top of the Great Pyramid celebrating the birthday of Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

The second half of the volume is taken up with narratives of other travellers who scaled the pyramids and entered them, from George Sandys (1611) to Amelia Edwards an Mark Twain. Among the many well-known ASTENE names are Emily Beaufort, Anne Elwood, Harriet Martineau and Ida Pfeiffer. Much of this will be familiar, but it is interesting to gather these different accounts of the gruelling climb together. The texts are in their original languages.

This volume is quite slim, but beautifully produced. There are 30 numbered plates, but actually rather more, many full page. The folding plate is particularly impressive, anyone could be tempted to remove it and either put it on the wall, or recreate the circular panorama. The cover is also quite attractive, although I couldn’t quite understand why a picture of the temple of Armant from the Description de l’Égypte was chosen. Altogether this is a valuable contribution to our field, with much of interest.

Robert Morkot

Letters from Abroad: The Grand Tour Correspondence of Richard Pococke & Jeremiah Milles
Reviewed by Patrick Comerford

Letters from Abroad: The Grand Tour Correspondence of Richard Pococke & Jeremiah Milles, Vol. 1: Letters from the Continent (1733–1734),
edited by Rachel Finnegan. Piltown, Co Kilkenny, Pococke Press, 2011. Pb, 336 pp, ISBN: 978-0-9569058-0-2. €18.

The Grand Tour was a finishing school for many young men of means for almost 200 years from the late 17th century until the advent of rail travel in the mid-19th century For the sons of the aristocracy and the landed gentry, especially in Britain and Ireland, the Grand Tour was a rite of passage that completed their liberal education.

Column from the temple to Amon and Mut, Jebel Barkal,

Column from the temple to Amon and Mut, Jebel Barkal,

They followed similar routes, with their valets, guides and cooks, as they learned about painting, sculpture and the Classics and spent time in Venice and Rome. They returne with crates of art, books, paintings, sculpture and other items that displayed their acquisition of taste, culture and knowledge. Thus the Grand Tour symbolised wealth and freedom and marked a ritual entry to genteel society in the British Isles.

Irish aristocrats whose accounts of the Grand Tour have come down to us either through their published works or their architectural legacy include James Caulfeild (1728–99), 1st Earl of Charlemont, and Frederick Hervey (1730–1803), Bishop of Derry and 4th Earl of Bristol. Later, Howe Peter Browne (1788–1845), 2nd Marquess of Sligo, me Byron in Athens, brought a ship full of antiquities from Greece to Westport House in Co Mayo, including the 3,000-year old columns from the so-called Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae, and gave the name Delphi to his private fishery.

Now Dr Rachel Finnegan, who lectures in cultural and heritage studies in the Waterford Institute of Technology, is working on the previously unpublished Grand Tour correspondence of Richard Pococke (1705–65), later Bishop of Ossory, and his younger cousin Jeremiah Milles (1714–84), later Precentor of Waterford Cathedral (1736), Dean of Exeter 1762 and President of the Society of Antiquaries. They set out in 1734 and 1736 on two tours of continental Europe, which they recorded in their travel journals and 53 surviving letters, including 22 letters from Pococke to his mother and many more from both cousins to their uncle, Thomas Milles, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.

Some years ago, the Rev’d Professor John R Bartlett, former Principal of the Church of Irelan Theological College, published an account of Pococke’s travels in Lebanon in 1738. But Dr Finnegan’s planned series promises much more. In the first volume of a three-volume collection she reproduces the edited Grand Tour letters of that first voyage (1733–34). Their tour was cut short when Milles decided to return to Ireland to become Treasurer of Lismore Cathedral in his uncle’s diocese. The second and third volumes promise to follow their second tour of continental Europe (1736–37) and Pococke’s continuing tour of the eastern Mediterranean (1737–41), beginning with his arrival at Leghorn.

This volume also includes biographies of the two correspondents and of the recipients of the letters: Pococke’s mother, Elizabeth, who lived near Southampton, and her brother, the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.

Dr Finnegan was previously at the British School of Archaeology at Athens (1989–91), and worked at the Royal Irish Academy (1991– 95). She has written on the connoisseurship of the 2nd Earl of Bessborough, the Divan Club, Richard Twiss’s Tour of Ireland in 1775, and Bishop Pococke’s improvements to Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. Now in these three volumes she promises to rescue Pococke from a previous description as ‘the dullest man that ever travelled’.

Finnegan has gone through the letters from Pococke and Milles in the British Library (and has found three further letters in the Gloucestershire Archives). She has carefully reconstructed the passages deleted by either Pococke or his mother, giving us fresh insights in matters from his problematic financial dealings with an Irish banker, to his careful attention to his wigs and his wardrobe, to his petty observations of the great and powerful: the Doge of Venice was ‘like an old woman’, the Pope, then 84, was ‘blind, they say, but looks well’.

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore was totally unfazed during these years by the fact that his nephew was absent from his diocese for such a lengthy period, even though he was Vicar-General of Lismore, Precentor of Lismore Cathedral and the incumbent of at least nine parishes. Indeed, the bishop may have financed the tours. Certainly, Pococke was typical of the many pluralist and absentee clergy of the day, though better travelled. Absence and neglect were no hindrance to preferment, and he went on to become Archdeacon of Dublin (1746), Bishop of Ossory (1756) and Bishop of Meath (1765). In Kilkenny, where he spent almost a decade, he is best remembered as the founder of the Pococke School, now amalgamated with Kilkenny College.

At first, Pococke may have decided not to publish his letters and journals because of the scathing attacks and disdain he endured from fellow travellers, but he later wrote up his travels in two volumes called A Description of the East (1743 and 1745).

Apart from leaving letters and papers, Pococke also left mummies, both human and animal, which he had acquired in Egypt. How did he come to acquire them? To know this and to learn about his travels in the eastern Mediterranean, including Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt, we must wait for the later volumes, and Volume 3 in particular, promised in 2012.

Patrick Comerford

The reviewer lectures in Anglicanism and Liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and Trinity College Dublin.

Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure
Reviewed by Eamonn Gearon

Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure.
by Tim Jeal. Faber and Faber, 2011. 528 pp, ISBN 978-0571249756. £25.00.

In a previous work—Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer (2007)—Tim Jeal demonstrated his ability to produce a fresh study of an ostensibly well-known story. Stanley was a tightly written and engaging example of non-fiction at its best. In Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure, Jeal has repeated his earlier achievement, even more successfully. Here, the story of 19th-century European exploration in Africa is written with such verve that readers can race through its more than 500 pages as easily as though they were handling a magazine.

As remarkable as it seems today, in 1850 the source of the River Nile remained unknown to Europeans. This ignorance, which likewise troubled Ptolemy in the 2nd century, proved irksome to the Victorians, who found themselves better placed than their forebears to do something about abolishing this gap in geographical knowledge. The journe towards wisdom was by no means an easy one, with local conflicts, gross geographical obstacles, adverse climatic conditions—both sweltering summers and rainy seasons—and attendant tropical diseases killing off most of those who set off to search for the Nile’s source.

While the main thrust of Jeal’s story may be the rivalry between Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, he also allots room to other imperial greats of geographical and other exploration. These include Samuel Baker, David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley, Mungo Park, Richard Lemon Lander and Alexine Tinné.

The rivalry between Burton and Speke is sure to be familiar to ASTENE members, who may already find themselves in the camp of one or the other of the two men. Regardless of any imagined familiarity with the material, there is much in Jeal’s account that will appeal, not least the first full-throated defence of Speke for a generation or more.

Explorers of the Nile The shooting accident that saw the death of Speke in advance of his public debate with Burton as to the route of the Nile was tragic; the behaviour of Burton in its wake was unforgivable. The passage of time and his other achievements do not exculpate Burton’s guilt in spreading the rumour that Speke had committed suicide, which suggestion was far more disgraceful then than it might be today. Had Speke lived, it is not clear that he would have convinced the world that he was right about the source of the Nile. After his death he had no chance against the publicityhungry machine that Burton drove through Victorian London and beyond. Burton seemed to relish the free hand fate ha dealt him, never passing up an opportunity to speak ill of Speke.
In 1886, two years after Speke’s death, a granite obelisk was erected in Hyde Park, with the rather insipid inscription: ‘In memory of Speke, Victoria Nyanza and the Nile 1864’. While not carved in granite, Jeal’s book is in many ways a more fitting memorial, and one upon which, one hopes, more readers will cast their eyes, rather than passing by the stone in Hyde Park.

Eamonn Gearon

John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire
Reviewed by Paul T. Nicholson

John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire, 1881–1900, by Robert G.
Ousterhout. Cornucopia Books, 2011. 148 pp, ISBN 978-605-62429-0-8. £20.00.

The work of John Henry Haynes (1849–1910) is not well known, and in this beautifully illustrated book Robert Ousterhout sets out to explain the reasons for Haynes’ obscurity and attempts to redress his reputation as a photographer.

Haynes did not come from a privileged background. His father, a farmer, died young, leaving the young John Henry to look after the farm and his younger siblings. At 21 he enrolled at Drury Academy, crammed a four-year course into two and was then able to enter Williams College, where he helped to pay for his studies by working for the institution while studying. Although in later life colleagues sometimes complained of the slowness of his work, this was clearly through painstaking effort rather than laziness, and he was undeniably dependable. He graduated in 1876 and went into school teaching.

In 1880 he met Charles Eliot Norton (1827– 1908) who, as first president of the Archaeological Institute of America, recognised Haynes’ interest in the ancient world and secured him a place on an excavation in Crete. The Cretan work was to be led by William Stillman (1828–1901) a rather flamboyant figure, a devotee of pre-Raphaelitism and one time American consul to Crete. In this latter post he had championed Cretan independence from the Ottoman Empire, and this led to his expedition of 1881 failing to gain a firman.

With this disappointment Stillman left Crete for Athens, accompanied by Haynes, and during their sojourn of some two months there, Stillman taught Haynes the newly emerging skill of photography. Ousterhout is at pains to point out that while Stillman was heavily influenced by John Ruskin (1819–1900) and his views on the picturesque, Haynes had no such academic interest in art. He simply knew how to take a good photograph and had picked up the principles of composition from his tutor.

We are also told that Haynes was not especially competent with the technical aspects of photography and often had difficulties in making plates and prints. However, this seems rather unfair. It is clear from the text that he was often supplied with mediocre materials and was
working in extremely difficult conditions. It is equally apparent that he was at great pains to ensure that his photographic plates and other equipment were extremely well cared for, to the extent that his plates were undamaged despite being dropped from a donkey so heavily that the saw it as a tool within archaeology; he wanted to be credited as an archaeologist.

His opportunity arose when the University of Pennsylvania was unable to obtain a field director for their third season of work at Nuffar/Nippur (1893–96). Haynes did his best here in very difficult conditions. Not only was he isolated and unqualified as a field archaeologist, but he was also under constant criticism from colleagues, notably the German scholar Hermann Vollrath Hilprecht (1859–1925), who arrived on site at the end of the project, claimed the credit for finding
a great ‘library’ of cuneiform tablets, and wrote off Haynes’ work as incompetent. Hilprecht was himself eventually censured, but not before Haynes had suffered mental breakdown and the ruin of his health.

John Henry Haynes Overall, Haynes comes across as an intelligent and dependable individual who was often placed in situations for which he was not properly qualified, but who, nonetheless, did his best in them. While he may have wanted to be known as the archaeologist who discovered the Temple Library at Nippur, he is clearly going to be best remembered for the outstanding images he produced, which are used to such good effect in this book.

Paul T. Nicholson

Cornucopia is offering ASTENE members a special discount on purchases of this book. For details see

Jerusalem in World War I: The Palestine Diary of a European Diplomat.
Reviewed by Eamonn Gearon

Jerusalem in World War I: The Palestine Diary of a European Diplomat, by Conde de Ballobar, edited by Eduardo Manzano Moreno and Roberto Mazza. IB Tauris, 2011. 284 pp, ISBN 978-1-84885-632-5. £59.50.

For the duration of World War I, Jerusalem was not, for obvious reasons, a popular destination for travellers in the ASTENE region. Indeed, the city saw the mass withdrawal, and sometimes removal, of sections of the population. This mass disruption of ordinary life did not make it an especially fun place in which to live, whether one was a foreign diplomat or not.

One of the most exciting things about coming across a new diary, from the point of view of an historian or researcher, is that one never knows in advance what one is going to find. Will the diary turn out to be a waste of time, dull and uninformative, with a series of entries that fail even to tell us something about the author or the world around him? Or will it turn out to be a text that opens up a view of a time and place that one could never have hoped to gain by any other means?

Ballobar’s wartime diary falls easily into the latter category. It is a wonderful book that in less than 300 pages gives the reader a treasure trove of detail and insight into life in Ottoman Jerusalem.  One finds here a great deal more insight than one might otherwise find in a standard history of the same period. Ballobar arrived in Jerusalem in October 1914 and did not finally leave until May 1919, so one really gets the whole sweep of the war’s history here.

With many of his fellow foreign diplomats recalled to their home countries at the start of the war, Ballobar found himself responsible for the citizens of more and more European nations, including the numerous members of an almost equally numerous number of Christian religious orders.

One of the biggest difficulties for Ballobar was his sense of isolation. His entry for 16 November 1914 includes the plaintive lines, ‘Will I conclude these notes? Will the terrific announcements one can hear everywhere come to pass? I do not know, but in any case I am so alone, so isolated,, that lacking a family to tell my life to, I’ll tell it to my distant family …[if I die] I would like to think that these notebooks will get to their hands.’

Jerusalem in World War I The details and anecdotes, the reports of rumours that changed daily, if not hourly, all feed into the pages of Ballobar’s diary, providing an honest account of what it felt like day by day, before the passage of time allows embellishments and false memories to creep in. This is the beauty of a good diary: it reveals the hopes and worries that would otherwise be overlooked, providing important insights that might not otherwise be seen so many decades after the fact, but which were important enough for the author to relate.

Eamonn Gearon

From the Sahara to Samarkand: Selected writings of Rosita Forbes 1919–1937.
Reviewed by Deborah Manley

From the Sahara to Samarkand: Selected writings of Rosita Forbes 1919–1937.
Edited and introduced by Margaret Bald. Axios Press, 2010, ISBN 978-60419-030-4, p/b $15. 00

Living women explorer-travellers support this book with great enthusiasm. It brings together a collection of Rosita Forbes’ writings. ‘Once,’ wrote Rosita Forbes (1893– 1967), ‘I couldn’t even wash my hands for seventeen days. Often I have not had a bath for months.’ That is serious travelling!

She was renowned for her travels in the 1920s and 1930s—often in ASTENE areas. She explored the Libyan Desert, sailed to Yemen, trekked in remote Abyssinia, travelled from Turkey to Persia and on other continents on both sides of the Atlantic. She wrote 19 travel books and 11 novels set along the routes of her travels. This book is an anthology from her writings.

Of particular interest to ASTENE are the early chapters: The Secrets of the Sahara with the Egyptian traveller Hassanein Bey—who wrote his own book of the venture (recently reissued by American University In Cairo Press); her interrupted pilgrimage to Mecca (unlike the convert to Islam, Lady Evelyn Cobbold, she did not succeed). The following year Rosita Forbes was off to Yemen, a year later to Morocco. In 1925 she trekked through Abyssinia. Then there was a pause until in 1931 when she crossed from Turkey to Persia and saw much of Kurdistan. The last journey she wrote about was from Kabul to Samarkand in 1937.

With Rosita Forbes’ books long out of print, Margaret Bald has done a great service, to her and to us, in bringing out this book. Many of us will need to take to the second-hand bookshops or our libraries to search out her other books once we have absorbed this excellent starter.

Deborah Manley

Mamluk History through Architecture, Monuments, Culture and Politics in Medieval Egypt and Syria. Reviewed by Jennifer M Scarce

Mamluk History through Architecture, Monuments, Culture and Politics in Medieval Egypt and Syria, by Nasser Rabbat.  London, I.B. Tauris, 2010. 261 pp, 71 b&w illustrations and plans. ISBN 981845119645. £45

The Mamluk Sultans who dominated Egypt and Syria between 1250 and 1517 were remarkable both for the length and organisation of their rule. They were not local but members of a foreign military elite, nominally of slave soldiers—mamluks (meaning ‘one who is owned’)—recruited from Qipchak Turks of South Russia and Circassians from the North Caucasus, Muslims but differing in language and customs from their subjects. The most enduring and visible impact of their often violent and currupt rule is seen in the architecture of Cairo and Damascus, first and second capitals, respectively, of their domains.

Cairo is a city where the most concentrated and varied range of surviving medieval Islamic architecture (456 registered by the 1951 Survey of Islamic Monuments of Cairo), including superb Mamluk buildings, mingles with crowded streets and shops in a remarkably preserved and dynamic historic centre. Here the only comparable rival is Fez, capital at times of Morocco, whose Islamic buildings dating from the 10th century onwards are still part of a densely populated urban environment. Many have attempted to document and interpret Cairo’s Islamic architecture in such diverse publications as medieval Arabic topographical texts and meticulously recorded and classified surveys compiled in the 19th and 20th century by European scholars. Nasser Rabat, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has already published extensively on Mamluk Cairo, is a distinguished contributor to this extensive literature. He has now taken an original approach where he examines and interprets Mamluk social and cultural history through the medium of recorded architecture.

The present book is a collection of fifteen articles written between 1989 and 2005, now conveniently re-published as a single reference work. It is not a standard history of Mamluk architecture but rather the fruits of research combining the parallel disciplines of Islamic and art history—in other words texts and artefacts. Four sections, each of four or three articles, explore the following themes: Unpicking Mamluk sources—mainly Arabic texts; Architecture as history—case studies of specific buildings; Architecture and language—the relationship between text and building; Architecture as cultural index—a discussion broadly of attitudes to Mamluk architecture.

As each article contains intriguing insights, the best approach is to make a personal choice from each section. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Architects and Artists in Mamluk Society: The Perspective of the Sources. This takes the subject beyond dry facts to understand the problems which these craftsmen faced.
  • The Mosaics of the Qubba al-Zahariyya in Damascus: A Classical Syrian Medium acquires a Mamluk Signature. One of the few articles on Syria which discusses and analyses the composition and themes of buildings among luxuriant trees depicted in mosaics of the late 13th century.
  • Al-Azhar Mosque: An Architectural Chronicle of Cairo’s History which examines the changing role of this building in the transformation of Cairo to a centre of the Mamluk military state.
  • Documenting Buildings in the Waqf System. Documents recording a waqf endowment are essential for an understanding of the resources and budget allocated to an ambitious building project.
  • The Formation of the Neo-Mamluk Style in Modern Egypt. Spectacular landmarks such as the Rifai Mosque and the National Library built 1869—1912 and in 1904 respectively are an eloquent testimony to the impact of Mamluk architecture.


The book concludes with a glossary of Arabic terms, comprehensive notes and bibliography, which are a stimulus to further research. Enjoy and note Professor Rabbat’s insights and take them together with a detailed guidebook to explore the Mamluk monuments of Cairo with fresh eyes.

Jennifer M Scarce

Libyan Sands: Travel in a Dead World.
Reviewed by Robert Morkot

Libyan Sands: Travel in a Dead World, by Ralph A. Bagnold,
Eland Publishing, 2010. 228 pp., four b/w illustrations and 5 maps. ISBN 978-1-906011-33-8. £12.99

A favoured mode of transport: Karl-Richard Lepsius on a donkey during the Prussian Expedition. The Donkey’s narrative is, alas, not preserved.

Eland’s reprint of the 1935 classic of Sahara exploration is very attractively produced, with Ralph Bagnold’s 1987 epilogue and a new additional biographical note by his son.

As Stephen, Ralph Bagnold’s son, reminds us, the author is remarkably modest about the series of detailed and learned papers he eventually wrote on types and properties of sand. The few black and white illustrations are probably sufficient: they give enough atmosphere and sense of period to complement the narrative. The narrative itself, compelling and well told, will be known to many ASTENE readers already.

As is so often the case, the desert expeditions with adapted Model T Fords started by accident: a few people with time and a couple of these relatively new vehicles wondering how they would fare in the desert. Experience and experiment resulted in the long-range expeditions that form the climax of the book.

From a few tentative journeys beyond Cairo, the first major journeys were in the wellknown regions to the east: a circular route across Sinai to Petra, around the Dead Sea, and back via Jerusalem. There were numerous practical and technical problems to overcome, but the utility of automobiles for desert travel was immediately recognised.

The narrative continues with the forays into the Libyan Desert and the first encounters with the dunes of the Great Sand Sea. The culmination is the extended journey to the Gilf Kebir and Uweinat at the border of Libya, Sudan and Egypt. There is much of interest on the developing political situation with the Italian occupation of Libya and forays by Italian soldiers into the same southerly regions of the desert (partly in pursuit of the Sanussi). There are notes on wildlife, archaeology and landscape; and, of course, people. One notable feature is the way in which various groups were living in, and travelling through, the most remote and inhospitable parts of the desert. They were not always seen, but signs of their relatively recent passing were. We are constantly reminded that there have always been ravellers across the desert, their routes dictated by the stunted palm trees, the oases and the brackish wells: these routes aremarked by bones of cattle, camels and people.

The final chapter is about the ‘lost’—perhaps mythical—oasis of Zerzura. Here Bagnold speculates on a time when all the earth has been surveyed and examined: and now we are almost at that time. Remarkably soon after Bagnold’s death (1990) we can sit at our computers and view the entire Libyan Desert using Google Earth. We can peer down onto the Gilf Kebir and Gebel Uweinat. A major road now connects all of the oases from Cairo through Bahriya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga back to the Nile at Asyut: that didn’t exist even twenty years ago. But despite this, even now it is possible to go out into this vast desert and feel that isolation that Bagnold and his companions felt. One of the most striking details of the book is the map (p.15) that has the outline of the Indian subcontinent superimposed over the Libyan Desert from Tripoli in the west to Sinai, and south to Khartoum. As the caption tells us: ‘In shape the Libyan Desert resembles the Indian peninsula, and, a fact which may be surprising but at the same time helpful, it compares with India in size.’ Yes, it surprised me—but I shall remember it: the same size, the same shape—but not quite so many people!

I do not drive, and have no interest in cars and the contents of their bonnets; I am also slightly ambivalent about the desert—and certainly not one of those whose heart thrills at the thought of desert travel; but Bagnold draws the reader in, and Libyan Sands is certainly a thoroughly enjoyable and informative book for bedtime.

Robert Morkot