Knowledge is Light: Travellers in the Near East.
Reviewed by Eamonn Gearon

Knowledge is Light: Travellers in the Near East, ed. Deborah Manley. Oxford and Oakville, ASTENE and Oxbow Books, paperback, 2011. 104pp.
ISBN 978-1-84217-448-7. £20.

As has been the case with the publication of previous papers from ASTENE conferences, the release of Knowledge is Light: Travellers in the Near East is a welcome moment for Association members and anyone interested in travellers in the region. The collection under review features nine papers delivered in Durham in 2009.

John Covel: a Levant Company Chaplain at Constantinople in the 1670s is a useful introduction to a man whose diaries Lucy Pollard rightly refers to as, “an extraordinary treasure-chest of evidence” of late Seventeenth century Asia Minor. Apart from their historical value, the human side of Covel’s diaries make them an entertaining read, from frustration over poor maps to the joys of scatological humour.

Depictions of Islam in Seventeenth-Century English Travel Accounts is an endlessly fascinating subject area, and this is an interesting survey. Through the use of numerous sources, Anders Ingrams has produced a short survey that not only highlights the points of commonality in anti-Islamic polemics but brings up the thoughts of those more independent travellers.

Peta Rée’s Saved by Pirates, which considers 16-months in the travels of Sir Richard Worsley, and Patricia Usick’s trawl through Willey Reveley’s account and drawings of the same journey makes for a wonderful pairing. Although not unique, having two detailed records of one journey, with Reveley employed as Worsley’s artist-in-motion, is a real treat.

James Rennell and his Scientific World of Observation is a welcome and lucid account of an all too often overlooked individual, and this paper is a treasure trove for researchers, not least because of its extensive bibliography. As Janet Starkey argues, Rennell is important for any number of reasons; his voluminous output should be first among these.

Death and Resurrection by Geoffrey Nash looks at Ernest Renan, in part through the lens of the death of his beloved sister and the impact this may have had on his writing, not least his controversial Life of Jesus.

Knowledge is Light concludes with John Chapman’s fascinating consideration of the penchant among many male travellers to Greece for dressing up in fustanella, that traditional Albanian costume most famous for its prominent skirts. Men in Skirts and How to Become Frank is valuable not just for highlighting the keenness for dressing up among western men, from Byron to Wilde, but also the political nature of the fustanella, and the move away from wearing it to the far less dashing, “Frankish” trousers.

The two essays that highlight the joy of ASTENE are A Journey Through the Holy Land, 1820, about the Reverend Robert Master and companions, by Deborah Manley, and Theodore Ralli’s Diary on his Travel to Mount Athos (1885), by Maria-Mirka Palioura. Both accounts deal with familiar places but, thanks to the researchers, this reviewer saw them through the eyes of previously unknown travellers, thus allowing one to see the familiar as though for the first time. There can be no better summary of ASTENE than Knowledge is Light.

Eamonn Gearon

From Cairo to Baghdad: British Travellers in Arabia.
Reviewed by Sarah Searight

From Cairo to Baghdad: British Travellers in Arabia, James Canton, London, I.B.Tauris, 2011, ISBN 978 1 84885 696 7

This is a provocative book to review. It extends its titular geographical remit – Arabia – to include not only the Arabian peninsula but also Egypt, Syria and Iraq – most of what nowadays is generally known as the Middle East. The time span is from 1882, when the British invaded Egypt on the pretext of solving Egyptian insolvency (reckoned to threaten that life-line to India, the Suez Canal), to 2003 and the US-British invasion of Iraq. In a crucial introduction the author, James Canton, explains the geographical span as held together by a common language and cultural coherence, although I would suggest that World War I initiated the demise of that coherent ‘Arab world’ (despite Gamal Abdul Nasser) and its replacement by the discrete identities of individual countries – Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Saudi etc.

The author outlines five central themes in his scheme: religion, the changing nature of Arabia, imperial wars, women travellers and finally the changing nature of travel writing after Britain’s imperial withdrawal. They are treated more or less chronologically. The last theme is by far the most interesting as including as an appendix long interviews with three protagonists – Colin Thubron, Tim Mackintosh-Smith and Jonathan Raban – whose comments on the whole business of travel writing, a publisher’s dream in the 1960s-1990s but now perhaps in abeyance, form a particularly relevant epitaph to the book.

Canton’s story relates only to the British and only to people on the move – i.e. travellers: hardly anybody is living or working there. This excludes virtually all well-travelled residents; his characters tend to be non-professional. It also excludes archaeologists. And there are of course no foreigners other than British. He divides the period into three: 1882-1917 (Baghdad and Jerusalem then under British control); 1917-1956 (Suez); 1956-2003. His travellers all write ‘travel texts’ rather than travelogues. Each chapter begins with a long excerpt from a relevant writer, some less well known than others which I rather like. Some chapters are more ‘Arabian’ than others: ‘Missionaries and Pilgrims’ for instance (though no mention of St Catherine’s despite Isabella Bird and the two sisters so well described by Janet Solstice), ‘the Empty Quarter’, ‘Southern Arabia’. Others in my opinion are decidedly not Arabian – ‘Baghdad and beyond’ (much of which is about the Marsh Arabs), ‘Modernising Arabia’ (car, train and plane but not in Arabia and not the Hijaz railway because not British); ‘After Empire’ includes William Dalrymple on his monastic travels, who never as far as I know went to ‘true’ Arabia. There’s a slight confusion over ‘empire’: with the exception of Aden (from 1937) none of Canton’s region was actually part of the British Empire. And there’s a certain prejudice against ‘upper class’ travellers, Etonians especially (i.e. Thesiger).

However, such idiosyncracies of time, place, and characters also make one usefully re-think the subconscious of Britain’s relationship with a region perhaps even more crucial today than in the 130 years described in this book.

Sarah Searight

The Sahara, a cultural history
Reviewed by Anthony Sattin

The Sahara, a cultural history, Eamonn Gearon (Signal, 264pp, £12)

The Sahara is the largest and most important desert on our planet, with a greater surface area than the United States and a population hardly bigger than Brooklyn. It is also the most important desert for ASTENE members for no other wilderness has attracted so many extraordinary travellers.

The name is Arabic. Sahra is the generic word for all deserts. But this one, being the largest and most magnificent, is simply, diva-like, The Desert. It stretches, at its most generous description, from the banks of the Nile to the shores of the Atlantic, from the Mediterranean to the Niger River and the walls of the much looked-for Timbuktu. As with the continent in which it lies, the name does not serve well as a catch-all. The various people who live in and on the fringes of the Sahara do not recognize much common history or cause. As Gearon shows so eloquently, this has not stopped outsiders from grouping them together.

The pre-history of the desert serves as a model for the loss of Eden, lost not because of an apple but because of an ancient global warming. Once the bed of the great primordial ocean of Thetys, the receding waters left a rich, animal-packed savannah that, for a long time, was a happy hunting ground for homo sapiens. When rain became ever more scarce and the savannah dried up, it was the annual miracle of the Nile and Niger rivers, strips of water cutting through the rainless sands, that provided humans with a means of survival. In the north-west corner, in what is now Egypt, they took what the Greek historian Herodotus called ‘the gift of the Nile’ and learned to make the most of it, organizing themselves along the length of the lower river, dividing the land among themselves, ready for sowing and harvest. In the process, they advanced – and perhaps even created – civilization as we know it.

Gearon has an eye for the more colourful aspects of the early Sahara. He tracks the ‘whale fossils’ of Wadi al-Hitan in Egypt’s Western Desert, one of the stranger stories of the ancient ocean, a creature that came out of the waters, learned to walk on land and then decided to head back to the deep, their fossilized skeletons testimony to the fact that this was a terminal mistake in a warming world. He also charts the development and spread of extraordinary rock art across North Africa, recording a time when the desert was grazing land for elephants, giraffes and others animals.

The book is planned to follow a chronology, pre-history to ancient Egypt to the advent of Christianity, the coming of the Arabs and the spread of Islam, and then onto the riches of the medieval Sahara, the time of writers such as Ibn Khaldun and the Tangerine Ibn Battuta. This is one of the desert’s most interesting periods, when Timbuktu became a centre of learning, when the great Hajj caravans crossed the desert each year bringing treasures such as ivory and spices, and gold to the markets of Cairo. Most famous of these was the caravan of 1324 when the Malian King Musa I was among the faithful and brought so much gold to Cairo that the price was depressed for up to a generation. And then come the European travellers.

Gearon’s style is anecdotal. His stories follow one another at times without apparent thread, making some chapters more sourcebook than narrative – a valuable sourcebook, given the extent of Gearon’s knowledge. The stories of the early European desert travellers, the likes of Frederick Hornemann and Heinrich Bath, flow more freely. But this reader found them overly condensed and, as with some of the chapters on European writers and artists, was left longing for more analysis of why they were there and what the desert inspired in them. Another book perhaps. For now we have this one, a useful overview of the history of a wilderness.

Anthony Sattin

Bradt Travel Guides Ltd and The Globe Pequot Press Inc
Reviewed by Sheila McGuirk

Bradt Travel Guides Ltd and The Globe Pequot Press Inc, February 2011, Paperback 400 pp., £16.66. ISBN-13: 978 I 84162 339 9

What is so striking about Eastern Turkey is the familiarity of the place names. Biblical stories; history lessons; even Arabic poetry if you have read it, resonate with these names. The sad thing is that one never knew more than the name and little of the place itself. This guide will rapidly fill those gaps. After all the basic practical information has been covered in the two opening chapters, including the useful tips which can only be provided by a writer who really knows the subject, the guide is divided into 10 geographic sub-sections. Of these Cappadocia, with its amazing conical churches and dwellings, and Konya with its heritage of whirling dervish spectacle deriving from the Sufi practices of the followers of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, are included in many modern itineraries. Russell and I have visited both places and have many friends who have done the same. But I have never met anyone who has visited the UNESCO-designated Grand Mosque and hospital at Divriği, though readers of Cornucopia magazine will have seen the 26 page spread of beautiful photos and description of Divriği in issue 43 (2010).

Each of the 10 regional chapters has its own mini Practical Information section on when to visit; getting there and away; hotels; restaurants; shopping and internet cafés (occasionally) and museums/sights. In countries covered by travel guides such as the Bradt series the political situation can intervene suddenly to make travel, even for the adventurous, inadvisable. This has doubtless already happened to the North Africa and Syria Bradt editions (the latter also written by Diana Darke and reviewed in Astene Bulletin 34, Winter 2007) and there will certainly be some additional nervousness about South Eastern Turkey with the recent influx of refugees from Syria. But this should not deter travellers from visiting the Black Sea coast, or the central plateau and even Mount Ararat. For all these this Bradt Guide will be indispensable.

I drove through Eastern Turkey in 1965 with my father and sister en route to Iran. As Diana Darke indicates in her introduction to this Bradt guide, it is typical of this part of Turkey that we did not think to stop and visit the many wonders en route, even though we stayed in Ankara, Sivas and Erzurum. Two years later I took the train to Erzurum with two school friends and then the bus to Tabriz, and back a few weeks later via the same route. From that experience, albeit limited, I would agree with Darke’s assessment that travel in Eastern Turkey is generally safe and the people friendly and solicitous.

I found the print of this guide rather small and faint but the relatively compact size makes the book a suitable weight for back-packers. There are two sections of good glossy colour photographs, but no other illustrations and though the town plans are clear, the regional maps tend to show only roads and not rivers and railways, so the book needs to be accompanied by a good map. For ASTENE readers the bibliography and website references will be of interest and also the separate index to the highlighted text sections, which are nuggets of detail and anecdote, plus the more personal observations of the author. The author’s knowledge of the history of the area, some based on 20th century archaeological activity, is extensive but she also covers dispassionately the political developments which have shaped modern Turkey. There are good descriptions of the various categories of architecture the traveller will encounter, civil (hammams, caravanserais), military (forts and citadels) and religious (mosques and churches). It is not surprising that it has taken the author 30 years to compile such a compendium of serendipitous information.

Eastern Turkey will not appeal to sunbathing, clubbing and beach devotees. But in issue 42 (2009) Cornucopia had a lavishly illustrated 50 page series of articles on Kars and Kaçkars (near Georgia) highlighting the appeal of the area for nature lovers and climbers, as indeed does the author of this book. Perhaps Eastern Turkey’s hour has come, particularly with the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean world in such turmoil. So Diana Darke’s book is very timely and will serve well those travellers who want to combine grandiose scenery with ancient and modern history and cultural insight.

Sheila McGuirk

Émile Prisse d’Avennes, ARAB ART, Arabische Kunst, L’Art arabe.
Reviewed by Briony Llewellyn and Mercedes Volait

Émile Prisse d’Avennes, ARAB ART, Arabische Kunst, L’Art arabe. Essay by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom. Taschen, 2010. ISBN 978-3-8365-1983-0

L’Art arabe d’après les monuments du Kaire depuis le VIIe siècle jusqu’à la fin du XVIIIe by Émile Prisse d’Avennes, was published in four volumes by V.A. Morel in Paris between 1869 and 1877. Its 200 chromolithographs, depicting in extraordinary detail a large range of Islamic religious and domestic architecture and decoration, predominantly from Egypt, were a remarkable technical achievement. No less impressive were the 300 pages of text comprising a detailed chronicle of the geography, history and monuments of Egypt from the Arab conquest to the French invasion in 1798, as well as descriptions of the individual buildings and artefacts chosen for the plates, carefully classified to show the artistic development of each group. The publication seems to have been well received, notably at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878, but does not appear to have achieved the success or widespread influence of Owen Jones’s earlier Grammar of Ornament, published in London in 1856. In recent times the decorative quality of the plates has prompted a revival of interest and, in addition to a facsimile edition of the entire work, published in Beirut in 1973, selections from it have been reprinted by publishers in Paris, London, Cairo and New York. This latest contribution is a splendid and well-produced volume, with high calibre colour reproductions of the complete plates of L’Art arabe, and extracts from the accompanying texts.

The Mausoleum complex of Tarabay al-Sharifi, chief of the Mamluks under Sultan al-Ghuri, early 16th c.

The Mausoleum complex of Tarabay al-Sharifi, chief of the Mamluks under Sultan al-Ghuri, early 16th c.

These plates and their explanations were based on Prisse’s extensive and thoroughgoing observations made during his many years of residence in Egypt. Between 1827 and 1844 he worked first for Muhammad Ali as an engineer and teacher, and then independently, exploring the country’s ancient monuments along the Nile as far as Nubia. Dressing and living as a Muslim, and having mastered both classical Arabic and the local dialects, he was well placed to study and understand Egyptian society. At the same time he knew and exchanged scholarly expertise with other long-term foreign residents, but only a few of these equalled his ability so effectively to cross the cultural boundaries between East and West. His friendship with the young Welsh scholar and traveller, George Lloyd, seems to have stimulated a more systematic study both of medieval Islamic art and architecture and of contemporary culture inEgypt, resulting eventually not only in L’Art arabe, but also in the less ambitious but equally significant volume, Oriental Album: characters, costumes and modes of life in the Valley of the Nile, published in London in 1848.

The plates, accompanied by extracts from the text written by James Augustus St John, are also reproduced in this Taschen publication, bringing together for the first time into one volume Prisse’s work both as an Arabist and as an ethnographer.
The plates in both volumes are the results of Prisse’s collaboration with other artists, a complex process that has not yet been fully disentangled. They reflect his considerable skills as a draughtsman, but also his reliance on early photographs of Egyptian monuments. When he returned to Egypt in 1858-60 for a second visit, Prisse brought with him not only the young Dutch artist, Willem de Famars Testas, but also a photographer, Edouard (baptised Anasthase) Jarrot. The work produced by all three men, as well as material from other sources, is contained in the extensive holdings of his papers at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and is currently undergoing research. The institution’s recent exhibition and accompanying book, Visions d’Égypte: Émile Prisse d’Avennes (1807-1879), highlighted not only the range of Prisse’s considerable achievements, but also the multiplicity of components from which his publications were derived.

Some of the context from which Prisse’s L’Art arabe and The Oriental Album evolved is outlined in the introductory essay by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, although little use seems to have been made of the BnF archive, admittedly not easily accessible, except on microfilm. Reference is made to his use of both Arabic and European sources for the text of L’Art arabe, but there is no mention of the work of the most authoritative French scholar of Egyptian history at the time, Jean-Joseph Marcel, for whose Égypte, published in 1848, Prisse co-wrote and illustrated the section, Sous la domination de Méhémet Aly. The plates in The Oriental Album may not convey the realities of poverty, disease and industry in contemporary Egypt, as the authors suggest, but some of the images are in fact the same as those published the previous year in Le Magasin Pittoresque, where Prisse’s accompanying text makes the harsh conditions of rural life quite clear. Sous la domination de Méhémet Aly is also very critical of the despotism of the reigning dynasty. Why Prisse’s British publisher, James Madden, chose to use text written by St John, rather than Prisse’s own, is a mystery not addressed by Blair and Bloom.

As well as these omissions, there are a few inaccuracies. While Girault de Prangey’s early daguerreotypes taken in Egypt during the 1840s were among the sources for L’Art arabe, Prisse did not own them; instead his publisher acquired the stones used for the lithographs in de Prangey’s Monuments arabes d’Égypte, de Syrie et d’Asie mineure (Paris, 1846), and re-used them. The date of the Sotheby’s sale after Prisse’s death was 1879 not 1878, and David Roberts was in Egypt, 1838-39 (not 1840).

In some instances, the plates are presented in a confusing order: Plate 25 is placed before 23, Plate 30 is after 31, Plate 48 after 49, etc. A further inconsistency relates to the identification of the monuments depicted by Prisse in L’Art arabe. While current nomenclature is given for several of the buildings and their decoration, shown in the plates, the authors do not say that the Dawud Pasha mosque (mentioned in the caption for Plate XLIII) is in fact Malika Safiyya, or that Qawam al-Din (Plates LXIII-LXVI) is now al-Sayfi Sarghatmish al-Nasiri, or that one of the panels from the latter, depicted by Prisse (Plate LXVI) is still in situ, while the other has been removed to the Islamic Art Museum in Cairo (inv. MIA 2785, see The treasures of Islamic art in the museums of Cairo, 2006, p.122), and is a rare piece, remarkable for its iconography.

This is a missed opportunity, for while the authors make interesting observations on several of the objects (on which they are recognised experts), details such as this on the buildings (by a specialist in the field of Cairene architecture), would have made this publication of infinitely more value to scholars of Islamic art. With such an investment in the quality of paper and reproduction, it seems a shame that this is not matched by the extra research required to compare Prisse’s plates to existing monuments, and to assess the changes that have taken place since he depicted them.

Briony Llewellyn and Mercedes Volait


Caroline Williams has provided the following addenda:-
The illustrations in this book are beautiful and valuable documents. They would have been more usefully served by informed annotations. To the list of inconsistencies in the Llewellyn/Volait review, I would add the following:

Plates XIX-XXII are listed as the Funerary Mosque of Qaytbay, but this listing is true only of Plate XIX. The other plates belong to the Madrasa-Mosque located near Ibn Tulun. Plate LXXXIX shows the minbar belonging also to this Mosque-Madrasa.

XXIV identified as Tomb and minarets in Turab al-Imam and minaret of Jami` al-Qalmi are in reality the minaret of al-Sultaniya, and the tomb of Amir Tankizbugha in the cemetery area much nearer to the Citadel than the tomb of Imam al-Shaf’i, and the Minaret of the Mosque of Qaragoga al-Hasani off Sharia Port Said.

XXV Minaret of Mosque of al-Nasriya, 15th century. This is a puzzling identification for its style and date.

XXVIII Tomb attributed to Mahmud Janum is today identified as Barsbay al-Bagasi, 1456.

XXX The text states Jami’ Sinaniya was “built near Damietta”. The mosque is in Bulaq.

LXVII gives confusing identifications for the mosque: Sisariya (English); Sidi-Sariya (German); Sysaryeh (French).

LXXXIII Maristan Hospital. Why not Hospital of Sultan Qalawun?

XCVI and XCVII have their texts reversed; and surely the door of Sidi Yusuf’s house is wood, not bronze.

Plate C For Sidi Yusuf Ilmaz the identification should read Amir Ulmas al-Hajib, 14th century.

Caroline Williams


Briony Llewellyn adds:-
The Prisse d’Avennes papers at the Bnf consist of 18 bound volumes of notes and drawings (including press cuttings, notes and pages taken from printed books, annotated print-outs of his publications, unpublished travel notes, working notes for his books, etc.), a notebook listing his drawings and photographs, and 1948 prints, drawings, photographs and 831 squeezes arranged in 22 boxes and 2 rolls. Call number: Nouvelles acquisitions françaises, 20416 to 20449.

Detailed inventory at:
http://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/ead.html?id=FRBNFEAD000006705&c=FRBNFEAD000006705_e0000016&qid=sdx_q30

Briony Llewellyn

Visions d’Égypte. Émile Prisse d’Avennes (1807-1879)
Reviewed by Charles Newton

Visions d’Égypte. Émile Prisse d’Avennes (1807-1879). Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Site Richelieu/Galerie Mansart, 1st March-5 June 2011. 160pp, 94 colour illustrations. ISBN-13: 978-2717724844. 23.4 x 16.6

Émile Prisse d'AvennesÉmile Prisse d’Avennes (1807-1879)
Émile Prisse d’Avennes acquired and copied important monuments, notably the ‘Karnak Table of Kings’ now in the Louvre, and the Papyrus Prisse. He also produced two enormous and influential volumes, one on Ancient Egyptian Art, the other on ’Arab Art’. These were very much in the 19th century genre of collections of images and decorative motifs made by others (such as Owen Jones). Yet, as Who was who in Egyptology comments, Prisse remains ‘the most mysterious of all the great pioneer figures in Egyptology’. A major exhibition relating to Prisse was held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) this year. Here four contributors review the exhibition catalogue and the near simultaneous republication by Taschen of Prisse’s monumental L’Art Arabe. But clearly there is still much more to say about this important and intriguing figure.


Achille-Constant-Théodore-Émile Prisse d’Avennes is an enigmatic figure in the history of Egyptology and the study of mediaeval Egypt. His work in many fields lives on in the wonderful illustrated books he published, the finds he brought back to France, and in the key discoveries he made, yet there are mysterious elements in the narrative of his life.

To explain his unusual name, he maintained his family’s claimed descent from a certain Price of Aven, a refugee from Charles II’s England, who just happened to settle in Avesnes-sur-Helpe in French Flanders. In 1788, (about the time Louis XVI first convened Les États-Généraux), a grandfather of Prisse petitioned to be considered a member of the nobility, rather than just one of the gens de robe. He claimed descent, with no clear evidence, from a British noble family. I speculate that it is just as possible that the ancestor might have been a member of a Flemish family named Prijs.

A brief biography by Marie-Laure Prévost forms the first section of the catalogue, and accepts at face value Prisse’s claims, including his fighting alongside the Greeks in the War of Independence, then going to India as secrétaire du gouverneur général. All this was fitted in between being in Paris in 1826 and arriving in Egypt in April 1827. It might be true, as indeed Prisse proved to be capable of remarkable things, but independent corroboration of the more sensational bits of his own account would have helped. What this section does concentrate on, quite rightly, are his career, books, the illustrations, the discoveries, and his voluminous research on Egypt.

This chapter is followed by `Prisse et l’égyptologie’ by Elisabeth Delange, a well-illustrated summary of his achievements in discovering and recording the fast-disappearing antiquities of Egypt. Here the beautiful watercolours and bas-relief squeezes show that Prisse deserved his reputation as an Egyptologist. She also compiled the next section `La Chambre des Ancêtres de Thoutmosis III…’ which narrates and illustrates Prisse’s controversial removal and re-installation in the Louvre of the famous Karnak King List. She dismisses his story of the notorious encounter with the unwitting Lepsius on the return journey in 1843 thus: – `La rencontre avec Lepsius est pure invention’ [p.55, footnote 8]

Next, the famous papyrus that Prisse brought to France is described, illustrated and a translation of `L’Enseignement de Ptahhotep’ [The Maxims of Ptahhotep] is provided by Bernard Mathieu. Chloé Ragazzoli in the section `Fortunes du Papyrus Prisse’ describes the acquisition of this ancient text, and its reception over the years by Egyptologists.
« Avec le double empressement d’un artiste et d’un antiquaire » Les arts de l’Égypte médiévale vus par Émile Prisse d’Avennes by Mercedes Volait describes and illustrates Prisse’s fascination with Muslim Egypt. She points out that Prisse was as interested in mediaeval Egypt as he was in Egyptology, and talented enough to be an authority on both. Prisse increasingly used photography as the basis for many of his later architectural illustrations and the results are summarised in Un fonds de photographies unique sur l’Égypte by Sylvie Aubenas

In the last section, Un livre rêvé de l’Égypte monumentale de Prisse d’Avennes by Marie-Claire Saint-Germier, the history of Prisse’s often frustrated attempts to publish his work is illustrated by images from the huge archive of drawings he had assembled. There follows a list of other works exhibited, a chronology, a map of Egypt and an index.

In short, this is an essential book for those interested in Prisse d’Avennes, in 19th century Egyptology, and in the study of Mediaeval Egypt. The next thing needed is a full-length biography of this remarkable man.

Charles Newton

The Modern Neighbors of Tutankhamun: History, Life, and Work in the Villages of the Theban West Bank
Reviewed by Peter A. Clayton

The Modern Neighbors of Tutankhamun: History, Life, and Work in the Villages of the Theban West Bank, by Kees van der Spek.
American University in Cairo Press, 2011. xxxi + 500pp, 75 b&w illustrations, 12 tables. Hb, ISBN 978-9774164033. $34.95.

Luxor, the site of ancient Thebes, is reckoned to be the largest open-air archaeological site in the world, and has been the focus of intense Egyptological and archaeologica activity and research for over two centuries. There are temples on the East Bank, but the greater focus has always been on the West Bank, the so-called ‘Cities of the Dead’, where the tombs of the nobles, the Valley of the Kings and the mortuary (memorial) temples of the pharaohs of the Middle and New Kingdoms are to be found. Living there among the tombs, literally beneath this ‘shadow of death’, in the village of Qurna, are the Qurnawis. They have been an integral part of the Egyptological work as labourers on archaeological excavations, but also noted with opprobrium as tomb robbers and dealers in illicit antiquities. This largely stems from the discovery by the Abd al-Rasul’ family of the royal cache of mummies around 1871, which was finally declared in 1881.

Van der Spek’s book is a brilliant anthropological fieldwork study, a triumph in recording the life of a vibrant community as it faces destruction. The background history of the Qurnawis is documented from their appearance in early European travellers’ accounts, to their modern, personal life in seasonal work on digs, augmented by official posts as guardians of the nobles’ tombs; and their active daytime activities selling souvenirs, creating fake antiquities and modern ‘antiques’, many of remarkable quality echoin ancient craftsmen. Chapters 8 and 9 (pp. 219–87) are particularly valuable in their detail of the village life and structure. The author is a master of the literature Unfortunately, one major reference often cited and quoted (Lange, 1952) is absent from the bibliography. The very full notes often provide an almost parallel text with detail that many familiar with the area, including archaeological teams, will find especially valuable.

The general visitor and most archaeologists have no idea of the depth of the Qurnawi cultural background—they only see the community as a colourful addition to their focus on its antiquity. Before the official eviction from the village and it destruction, people such as Caroline Simpson made valiant efforts to bring the story and history of the Qurnawis to themselves and to the wider circle of tourist visitors. However, despite initial official support, that was reneged on by the bureaucracy and all swept away including historic houses incorporating tombs used by Sir Gardner Wilkinson and ‘Yanni’ (Giovanni d’Athannasi), both major figures in the early days of study and collecting antiquities.

Professor Kent Weeks, in his Foreword, sadly notes that a world known to many over decades has been swept away by bureaucracy to create ‘theme park tourism’. Officially the answer to Egypt’s economic problems (tourism accounts for over 50 per cent of Egypt’s foreign income), ‘many believe that this is resulting in the Disneyfication of Luxor the suppression or physical removal of its indigenous people and their culture, and the creation of an artificial Ancient Egypt Land whose appearance owes more to Hollywood than to historical veracity’.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism hopes to see 16,000 visitors a day on the West Bank by 2015, but only a small amount of the income from tourism is used to train antiquities staff or protect the monuments. We must be grateful to the author for documenting in a classic account the history of these people as the light is extinguished on the unique cultural heritage of the Theban West Bank.

Peter A. Clayton

Belzoni: The Giant that Archaeologists Love to Hate.
Reviewed by Peter A. Clayton

Belzoni: The Giant that Archaeologists Love to Hate, by Ivor Noël Hume.
University of Virginia Press, 2011. xi + 301pp, 39 colour plates, 47 b&w illustrations, 1 map. Hb, ISBN 978-0813931401. $34.95.

It is over half a century since the last good book on Giovanni Belzoni was published (Mayes, 1959). Here, written by a noted archaeologist and former Director of the Colonia Williamsburg archaeological research programme, is a splendid and up-to-date story of the, literally, giant (2m tall) and pioneer Egyptologist. Many writers of recent years have had a tendency to denigrate Belzoni and his work, but Howard Carter wrote that his work in the Valley of the Kings was the first large scale excavations in the Valley, an ‘we must give Belzoni full credit for the manner in which they were carried out … on the whole the work was extraordinarily good’. Belzoni’s detractors fail to recognise th ethos of the period in which he worked, and they should be mindful of Matthew 7:1. Hume’s new biography puts Belzoni firmly in his place as a pioneer who really thought about his discoveries—he was no rabid collector like his rival Drovetti, without any thought for interpretation or context.

William Brockeden, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, National

William Brockeden, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, National Portrait Gallery, London.

From humble beginnings in Padua via the fair grounds of Europe, fate cast him into Egypt where, against all initial adversities, he found a calling and followed it. Some of the finest sculptures in the British Museum, notably the colossal 7½ ton head of Ramesses II and much else, the sarcophagus of Seti I in Sir John Soane’s Museum, the lid of the sarcophagus of Ramesses III in Cambridge, are all due to his endeavours. Added to that, he retrieved the Philae obelisk for William John Bankes (now at Kingston Lacey), o which the inscription was to be vital in Champollion’s decipherment of hieroglyphs in 1822. He was the first European to enter the Second Pyramid, of Chephren, at Giza, an the first to find the entrance to the Great Temple at Abu Simbel and, five years before Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs, realise that the ‘hero’ depicted on the walls there was the same he saw in Thebes, i.e. Ramesses II.Noël Hume brings Belzoni to life in his own words, and the world in which he carried out his explorations, and adds much new insight into that life as well as his own pertinent observations. He particularly puts more flesh onto the person of Belzoni’s long-suffering but devoted wife, Sarah. It is ‘S..’s Law’ that on excavations the best finds turn up on the last day, and Noël Hume has been similarly bedevilled. Belzoni died at Gato in Benin in 1823, and Sarah in Jersey in January 1870. Mayes (1959) did not know where she was buried, and both Noël Hume and the reviewer (unbeknownst to each other) have for years been trying to locate her grave via Jersey local newspapers, radio an personal contact, to no avail. As, literally, the book was finished and published, word came that her grave and inscribed tombstone had been found. Now the chase is on for details of how and who provided for her burial. Egyptological research, even after a couple of centuries, always has surprises and goals to pursue.

Peter A. Clayton

 

Postscript. Several people have searched for the grave of Sarah Belzoni in Jersey, but recently, by a happy case of serendipity, Anna Baghiani (Education Officer, Société Jersiaise, St Helier, Jersey) stumbled on Sarah’s name in the Records of the Channel Islands Family History Society, in the Jersey Archive. It was an erroneous entry by a unknown subscriber, but it provided a date and place of burial. With the help of Vic Geary, the cemetery supervisor, who held a detailed plan of the cemetery from the time, she and Dr John J. Taylor (Tutor in Egyptology) were able to find the grave. Taylor had walked past it many times on sunny afternoons when it was in deep shadow, but on a bright morning the inscription was partly visible, and there was no doubt that it read: ‘Sarah, widow of Giovanni Baptista Belzoni’. The original footstone reads: ‘S. B, 1870’. Permission is now being sought to clean the stone and restore the lettering. A photo of the grave in sunlight is reproduced in Ancient Egypt, vol. 12, no. 3, issue 69, Decembe 2011/January 2012, p. 16. An article on Sarah Belzoni also appeared in the February issue of the Armenian Egyptology Centre magazine, including details of her grave.

Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, by Ahdaf Soueif.
Reviewed by Anthony Sattin

Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, by Ahdaf Soueif. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012. 203pp, ISBN 978-1408826072. £14.99.

Ahdaf Soueif is a writer of many parts, and never more so than now. She is based in London and has not been a resident of Cairo for many years, but that didn’t stop her rushing back to Cairo in January 2011 when the rumblings against Hosni Mubarak’s regime suddenly turned from localised protest to a regimechanging nationwide movement. For the followingweeks she was part of the protests in Tahrir Square, she wrote about them in The Guardian and the Egyptian press, she gave television interviews and she collected material for a book about Cairo and the changes that were in the process of transforming it.

Soueif ’s Cairo book was already long overdue even before the Tunisian street trader Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight and lit the fuse on protests that brought down the government of President Ben Ali. Bloomsbury, Soueif ’s publishers, had commissioned a book about her Cairo some 15 years ago, as part of its ‘The Writer and the City’ series. For some reason— life, work, her commitment to the Palestinian cause, a sense of having more important things to write about—that Cairo book has never appeared—until now. Cairo, it turns out, is a book of two halves.

The larger and more successful part of the book is an account of Soueif ’s involvement in the protests that began in Cairo on 25 January 2011 and led to the downfall of President Mubarak on 11 February. Like most people, she was well aware that discontent was thick on the ground in Egypt, and nowhere more so than Cairo. But decades of successful repression on the part of the regime, and a failure of imagination, organisation and drive on the part of the opposition, had lured even the most optimistic observer into thinking that protest would remain small-scale and ineffective. But once started, things moved quickly. On 27 January, when she flew into Cairo, it was already clear wha was happening. She called her sister from the airport: ‘Where’s the revolution?’

Ahdaf Soueif in Tahrir Square, Cairo (photo by Hossam el-

Ahdaf Soueif in Tahrir Square, Cairo (photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy)

The answer, as we know, was that it was happening all over, but that its epicentre was Tahrir Square. Soueif bears witness, recording events in the square and her role in them, both as an activist and an observer. The account of the 15 days that follow is vivid and emotional: the heroism of the protestors might move you to tears just as the stupidity, duplicity and savagery of the authorities is likely to incite you to anger.Soueif is especially good at capturing the spirit of the square, the joys of handing out bread to complete strangers with whom one shared nothing but a common goal, the wa in which so much organisation fell into place—the field clinics (the word hospital would flatter the paucity of facilities with which volunteer doctors and nurses had to manage), the impromptu cinema showing crimes of the regime, the support given to the weak by the strong, to Christians by Muslims and visa versa. These passages capture the coming together of a people for the glorious and honourable purpose of restoring national dignity and reclaiming human rights.

The second narrative thread in this book, the ‘other half ’, records Soueif ’s reconnection with the place of her birth, her coming home. This is the nod towards the book commissioned long ago. Because of her absence, the personal reminiscences that punctuate the book are from another time—memories of other homes the family have lived in, of her parents’ political activism, of her aunt who lived within sight of the screen of the open-air cinema, of time on their land out on the desert’s edge or up on the Mediterranean coast. Some of these memories are evocative, some filled with longing. But there are not enough of these moments to create a significant personal landscape, or a memoir of the city. Instead, they look more like padding for what is a short narrative.

Happily, that doesn’t detract from the importance of this attempt to capture those heady moments leading up to the downfall of Mubarak. Since then, of course, February’s optimism has faded. Soueif has tried to plan for this by including events from July and October (at which point, presumably, she needed to get her pages to press). Part of th fascination of reading these reports from January to October of last year, and in reading the many other accounts of this period, now being published, including Ashraf Khalil’ very convincing Liberation Square, is to see how far and how fast things have changed, again. There is nothing in Soueif ’s book that envisages the current state of affairs. Tha the Muslim Brotherhood could win a majority in any election was always a possibility, but there is no suggestion here that the Islamist Salafi party would win 25% of the poll.

Then there is the naiveté of the assumption, once Mubarak had gone, that ‘all the ills which plagued our society in the last decades have vanished overnight.’ Far from it, as we now know. A year on from the start of the protests and Cairo looks a very different city, with many Egyptians talking with nostalgia of the stability of the Mubarak years. (I have even heard calls for a restoration of the monarchy.) Perhaps most striking of all is the innocence of the thought that ‘the army will guarantee peace and safety.’ Violent conflicts in the square and elsewhere nearby, the death of so many Copts, the burning of the precious library of the Institut d’Égypte… this and so much more has proved just how wrong one can be. For now, it makes a frustrating read. In years to come, however, people will ignore the predictions and probably much of the reminiscence, and read this book for the way in which it conveys the spirit of Tahrir during that heady time leading up to the downfall of a president.

Anthony Sattin

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