The Ninth Alexandria Heritage Week recently held the by the Alexandrian Studies Centre featured a lecture on “Alexandria in the Eyes of the Travellers” by Islam Assem at Alexandria’s Museum of Fine Arts. The lecture was held under the auspices of the Memory of Modern Egypt project at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and focused on the exhibition currently held at the museum, under the title “Khabee’a”, literally, Trove.
Dr Assem explained that the ‘trove’ was a collection of old paintings that were discovered in the basement of the museum; with them was a label that said: Scenes of Alexandria. A first exhibition was held last July displaying part of the trove; the current exhibition shows an additional 42 paintings.
The two oldest paintings in the collection, which dates back to the 18th century, are maps of Alexandria that include a key at the bottom in Latin. Keys usually went missing in most maps, Dr Assem said, so these two would be especially beneficial for researchers. One of the maps, he said, showed a fort that faced Qaitbay Castle. The ancient Alexandria lighthouse, the Pharos, featured in an 18th-century painting.
Also dating back to the 18th-century, Dr Assem said, was a photograph of Ras al-Tin Palace, the royal palace in Alexandria. The photo is the oldest known in Egypt and Africa, he said. He explained that it was shot by an artist who came to Muhammad Ali Pasha, Egypt’s Ottoman Viceroy during 1805 – 1849, with the first camera in response to the Viceroy’s request that anyone who had a modern ‘machine’ should bring it over to him.
Among the paintings found was a one depicting Napoleon Bonaparte inside the Great Pyramid, the walls of Alexandria and the city’s famous Pompey’s Pillar which always featured on travellers’ paintings.
Dr Assem explained that many of the paintings depicted significant figures. Among them was one of Abbas I who ruled Egypt from 1848 to 1854, and Soliman Pasha, a French-born Egyptian military commander under Muahammad Ali.
There is also a photo of Nabi Danial Mosque, a heritage building in Alexandria. Among the paintings discovered, Dr Assem said, were several by the pioneering David Robert who painted scenes of Egypt never before depicted; they were characterised by bright colours, as if drawn just a short while ago.
20 November 2018