Egypt's Ancient Wonders: From Alexandria to Abu Simbel, Cairo to the Colossi of Memnon, the Great Pyramid to the Temples of Philae-Ever since the Camera Was Invented, People Have Taken Photographs of the Splendours of Egypt: Charlie Furniss Presents Some of the Earliest Examples from the Archives of the Royal Geographical Society

By Furniss, Charlie | Geographical, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Egypt's Ancient Wonders: From Alexandria to Abu Simbel, Cairo to the Colossi of Memnon, the Great Pyramid to the Temples of Philae-Ever since the Camera Was Invented, People Have Taken Photographs of the Splendours of Egypt: Charlie Furniss Presents Some of the Earliest Examples from the Archives of the Royal Geographical Society


Furniss, Charlie, Geographical


As Anthony Sattin explains in the previous article, visiting Egypt today isn't a simple business. Tourism is a multi-million-dollar industry and everyone wants a piece of the action. It's hard to soak up the majesty of the monuments and appreciate their place in history with tour guides giving authoritative lectures everywhere and hawkers offering rugs or papyruses, or pressing you to take a camel ride.

But 100 years ago, when photographers were visiting Egypt for the first time, it was a different proposition. By 21st-century standards, Cairo was a small city, with fewer than a million people. Today, of course, it's one of the world's largest, its population having exploded to around 18 million and its suburbs encroaching on the desert daily.

Not only were the early photographers afforded views untainted by crowds of tourists and hawkers, they were also able to see the great monuments in a context far more in keeping with their history. The Pyramids of Giza, for example, are now sullied by the rows of tacky tourist shops and rather unsalubrious suburbs of Cairo that lie within spitting distance. And the magnificent temples at Abu Simbel--perhaps the best case in point--were moved during the 1960s to avoid their being submerged by Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

Of course, many of Egypt's temples and tombs have been restored to something that approaches their original splendour. In the Valley of the Kings, frescoes are displayed behind glass screens in all their former, multicoloured glory. And at Karnak, the columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall now stand perfectly upright, with their aisles cleared of the debris that had collected there for thousands of years.

For those with exploration fantasies who lament such clean-up operations as sanitisation, these rare photographs offer a chance to glimpse Egypt in a more raw, unadulterated state.

The Pyramids of Giza are part of a series of pyramids spread over 70 kilometres down the west bank of the Nile. Until relatively recently, visitors to Egypt were able to enjoy this beautiful view from across the Nile. Today, however, Cairo's southern outskirts have all but swallowed up these magnificent monuments

The Great Hyposite Hall, part of the Karnak Temple complex in Luxor, has enthralled visitors for hundreds of years, even in this state of crumbling disrepair; one of Cairo's two old Arab cemeteries, known to Europeans as the Cities of the Dead. …

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Egypt's Ancient Wonders: From Alexandria to Abu Simbel, Cairo to the Colossi of Memnon, the Great Pyramid to the Temples of Philae-Ever since the Camera Was Invented, People Have Taken Photographs of the Splendours of Egypt: Charlie Furniss Presents Some of the Earliest Examples from the Archives of the Royal Geographical Society
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