Khedive period architecture in Cairo, Egypt


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Usually my posts tend to stick to late 19th/early 20th century American architecture, but it was hard to resist after doing some digging. Hope you dusted off your Stolen History Bingo board because we're about to dive into some extremely familiar territory!

My rabbit-hole started with this video from Zahi Hawass - -Gatekeeper Extraordinaire. Here he is trying to shill for his government in the midst of an uprising because he had just recently gotten a promotion. I will give him some modicum of credit that even though the Muslim Brotherhood did take control of the country shortly after this video, eventually the military in conjunction with the Egyptian people successfully performed a counter-coup to remove them.

However, that is literally all the credit you will ever hear me give that awful man who is heavily responsible for why Egyptian history is so wrong. However what piqued my interest is at the end of of the video when asked about the antiquities in the Cairo Museum in light of the uprisings. He claims that he is on his was to "restore" over 70 objects that were destroyed during the clash.

That led me to this article about the event - - apparently not only were 70 items broken but 18 also "went missing". However, while the missing and broken artifacts are interesting and could likely be its own SH post, that is not the focus of my research. No, what opened this whole thing up for me was a section of the article towards the end:

On Sunday, the museum director and an architect walked around the roof of the 110-year-old building to draw up designs for upgrading security on the glass-paneled sections of the ceiling.

"We can't interfere with the original architecture of the building because it's a monument," el-Awady said. "But we are thinking about how to upgrade this and put in a new security system for the ceiling of the museum."
The building itself is a monument? I have to say, having been there many years ago, it is a truly remarkable building. It is massive, and impressive on its own even taking the "antiquities" out of the picture. So what is the deal with this place?

The Cairo Museum


Capture d’écran 2014-09-18 à 11.32.35.png515298377vtMLVr_ph.jpgegyptian_museum4.jpg
A brief intro:

The Egyptian museum is located at the Tahrir square; it was built in the reign of the khedive Abas Helmi II. It was opened in November 1902.
The current museum is the third museum was built to restore and exhibit ancient monuments in Egypt.
In year 1858, August Mariette, the Director of the Archeological Department, prepared the first museum in Boulak . Unfortunately
, the Nile flooding in 1878 caused many monuments were washed away and others were stolen. Mariette work hard for establishing a suitable museum for housing the Egyptian monuments.
In year 1891, the contents of Boulak museum were transferred to annex in the Giza palace of Ismail Basha, considered the second museum.
Then, the French architect Marcel Dourgnon, won the competition organized to choose the best design of anew large museum, made the design of the Egyptian museum in a neo-classical style. The work started in 1897 and ended 1901 and was opened in 15 November 1902.
On the engraving above the main entrance of the building:

There are 2 letters "A" and "H" symbolized the name of the khedive "Abbas Helmi II" because the museum was established in his reign, also there are two years 1897 and 1901, represent the date of starting and finishing works of the construction.
While not incredibly important to this post, the Khedive period of Egypt from 1805-1914 is a fairly interesting one, as it rose from the ashes of Napolean's withdrawl from Egypt and sought to establish a "new" Ottoman empire. There are a lot of threads to tug on that are tangentially related to this post, but I don't want to derail my own thread before I even finish it so that may also need to be reserved to its own discussion.

I can't find any photographic evidence of the first two museums, it seems that photography wasn't nearly as present in Egypt like it was in Europe and the USA. Its not easy to find period photos of this particular museum either, especially because Cairo is in the process of building a brand new museum to replace this one which takes priority in the search algorithims when trying to search for "Cairo Museum construction".

So, who was this architect?

Marcel Dourgnon


Don't bother looking him up on Wikipedia, he doesn't have an entry. Actually that is not entirely true, you will only find his entry in French wiki. That said, his bio is barebones there. I will admit there is a decent amount of links about him in French but admittedly my french isn't great - - I can make out around 50% but nothing confident enough to where I would use it here in the post. If there are any french speakers who can dig deeper into any documentation to the legitimacy of this man, it would be greatly appreciated. Here is what I was able to find, and those that have been following my series of posts about architects and their architecture you will note that even though it is on a completely different continent, it all rhymes.

Marcel Dourgnon Lazarus was born in Marseille on 29 September 1858 in modest circumstances; his father is a mason. After very successful in the School of Fine Arts in his hometown - he notably won the prize for painting and architecture - he was sent as a boarder at the Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Yes folks, we found another one. A card carrying freemason who attended the Beaux-Arts in Paris. I did manage to find his "Club Card" so to speak, which is a first for me.


Notice anything curious about this document? There is another name crossed out here - - Michel, and replaced with Marcel. Harmless misspelling or possibly injecting this man into the historical record? There are a few more documents associated with his records in Beaux Arts, one of which I am guessing is a birth certificate (if it is then why is the document dated 20 years after his birth)? There is a ZIP file attached to this post with the rest of the photos, since I am having difficulty getting the birth certificate looking image uploaded on here. I suppose its possible for this to be part of an application to the school, but my french isn't good enough to dicipher the rest of the document, and the handwriting is difficult. That said it does appear to include some of his accomplishments as an architect. As I said above, if someone else is more gifted in the language can shine some light on this it would be appreciated.

Now, in regards to the design of the Cairo Museum itself, I was able to find some interesting (google translated) nuggets.

His project, which features a two-story building with a reinforced concrete structure, Western neoclassical style harmoniously combining archways, domes, columns, pilasters, is retained.
But the result is less positive: " Very quickly, we realized the difficulties of the architect's plan, deemed unenforceable by manufacturers Dourgnon asked to be relieved of work supervision and Consul General held to ensure that. his name appears on the facade, so that the work should retain 'its french character. the name was actually recorded, but on the right side panel. as for the total cost, it was 220 000 £ E, a exceeded more than 47% of the initial budget! "
Dourgnon will not complete the work and do not attend the inauguration in 1902 ...
It should however be noted that " neither his imagination nor his jurisdiction were involved, since at the same time he was building on behalf of the Egyptian government the palace of the country at the World Exhibition in Paris, the main façade reproduces that of an ancient temple in Nubia, the other facades were entirely decorated with scenes and characters from the Pharaonic history . "
Its realization collects downstream of the public: " The exterior of the palace of Egypt was beautiful Its architect, Mr. Dourgnon, was reconstituted on the left of the portico Dandour Temple"
It is possible that there are some translation issues here (research on this time period in foreign countries is quite difficult, not just because of lack of information overall but also very little of it is in english), but the gist of it seems to be that someone took over midway through the project and he was never present for the inauguration which seems a bit strange, albeit convenient historically. Moreover, he unsurprisingly designed a building for the Paris World's Fair during that time.


Egypt Palace, Paris World's Fair - Marcel Dourgnon​

For anyone who wants to do some more digging in french, I also found this book in which he is mentioned written in 2006.

Suffice it to say, for a period of time in Egypt Beaux Arts design was the Architecture Du Jour, so to speak. Though it seems in Egypt this period is referred to as the Khedive times. This is certainly not the only example of Beaux Arts design in the city of Cairo.

Recent-photo-of-a-Khedivial-building-in-Cairo.pngCairo, The National Bank of Sq Treated.jpgA palace door of H.E. Fuad Serageddin, built in 1908. Taken in 2010..jpgKhedivial. Architecture. saint.catherine.cathedral.alex.jpgThe exterior structure of the Banco Italo-Egiziano, branch office located on Abou-El-Sebaa - S...jpgThe Metropolitan Hotel in Downtown Cairo in 1930s..jpg
If I didn't tell you where these buildings are from, would anyone have guessed it would have been Cairo of all places? This stuff looks like it came straight out of Renaissance Rome or Baltimore/St. Louis/Washington DC circa 1900s. What is unique about Cairo is that a lot of this architecture still seems to be standing for the most part (there is likely a lot more but photos of the city are fairly scarce and Cairo is far too huge to go scrounging around Google street view). This is because as far as I can tell, it is one of the only cities that did not experience any catastrophic fires.

I know that @Apollyon created this Battlefield Egypt thread to imply that there is some evidence of some major event that happened in Egypt - - however his evidence seems to be focused on Egyptian ruins which tend to exist outside the major Cairo metro, and may have happened at a completely different time period. Either way, a lot of these buildings seemed to be spared from the destruction of history and our overall points do not seem to contradict one another. However as a footnote to @Apollyon's post, there does seem to be precedence for a large "fire" in Cairo in 1321.

Speculations and Questions for discussion
It is clear there is something strange about the Museum itself. Why is it that they can't build out a security system? Is there something to the design of the building that would keep them from doing so? Perhaps some evidence of an alternative energy source are hidden inside the walls? Bonus points for anyone who can find anything that could be considered construction photos. You'd think for a building that is not only a monument but holds what Egyptians take the utmost pride in that there would be more information about this place.

Is this Marcel Dourgnon just another spooky possibly fake architect from the L'Ecole Beaux Arts? It seems like this architectural style is not only ubiquitous in the West during this time but also in North Africa. While I understand that there were many French and English living in Cairo at the time, it still strikes me that they were able to source the skilled labor for these designs in those days. According to this not very reliable source - - the population of Cairo at the time is thought to be around 1 million people. This is somewhat corroboroated by additional sources. Keep in mind, here is an example of what Tahrir Square looked like 10-20 years before the museum was built.


Here is a wide shot of the "old" section of the city taken 10 years before the above photo.


Other than the magnificent mosques which were likely not built by the population inhabiting Cairo in the 1870s, I don't see a ton of evidence that there were a bunch of highly skilled craftsman waiting in the wings to build all of the previous discussed opulence in a few decades. "Well certainly it was all those French and English folk who came to Cairo to build this stuff" you'll say to me. According to the census data, around 5% of the population were European - - so how many out of 50,000 people came to Egypt just to build all this stuff if that were true?

A Stolen History Footnote
This isn't explicitly related to architecture or the architects in my post, but I couldn't resist posting a few things I found in the comments section while researching some of this architecture. Specifically, I was looking at the history of this beautiful building - - the Villa Yousef Cattaui Pasha.


The author tends to come off a bit too smarmy for my taste - - but his goal in the article was to set the record straight on some subtle aspects to Egypt's history that was likely "stolen" from the major population.

However I came across these comments from Egyptian people (this is some old internet - - the comments date from 2000) that I thought we would get a kick out of, as it seems back 20 years ago the Egyptian people ran into the same frustrations we do here when it comes to trying to unpack what really happened "back then."

Subject: Kamal El Dine Salah
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2000 09:47:15 -0500
From: N.S in New York
Re: "Our Lady of Kasr al-Nil." I still remember the beautiful villa of Kout el Kouloub and the beautiful Tiffany-like stained window it had. Regrettably, our government did not keep any documents or information about anything. Sadly, we know very little about the Mohamed Ali Dynasty, albeit the (****) Nasser's dark era wanted us to know. No historian, no books, no nothing. We know the history of our great ancestors yet know nothing about our history 150 years ago.
Date: Sun, 05 Mar 2000 16:51:46 -0500
From: Mai Saleh

You are talking about ignorance and poor educational standards. Well, I know of kids who go to English schools in Cairo and actually don't know how to speak the language at all. Totally mind-boggling and a real shame. We're producing a severely mal-informed, mal-educated and a frighteningly narrow minded (to put it mildly) generation whose mere sense of knowledge revolves around "Hammam Fi Amsterdam" and the like!!
From Caroline Tucker

Samir Raafat decries the public's ignorance of local history, yet how does he expect it to know these facts if they're not taught in schools nor passed on orally from one generation to the next nor easily obtainable in general-interest books? No one contests that there's a general historical amnesia (and by no means just in Egypt), but instead of reveling in this to showcase his own knowledge, why doesn't Mr. Raafat concentrate on sharing that knowledge instead of whining about how we don't know anything.
Let's keep fighting the good fight, we aren't the first and we certainly won't be the last! :)



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I'm afraid that my French is probably worse than Google translate at this point, but it definitely sounds like the Egyptian government wanted this to be known as a French project and everyone pretty much sticks to that story today, even though it sounds like Dourgnon was more of a reluctant consultant by the end.

I'll try to read some more of the book, I think I probably need to pour myself some wine to get the French flowing.

Edit: The first passage that mentions him in the book refers to him as basically an innovator in the use of reinforced concrete. Interesting.

Edit edit: Basically the book is detailing the French interest post Napoleon in Egyptian history and it's basically their influence that resulted in the museum getting constructed.
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So what period do you think these structures were built?

The national intelligencer and Washington advertiser., August 26, 1801, Image 3


The national intelligencer and Washington advertiser. (Washington City [D.C.]) 1800-1810, August 26, 1801, Image 3

They skip over this event happening on the Timeline of Cairo page on Wikipedia:

The scale of the damage of these events in the 18th century seems to be barely discussed to me. The entire areas of the earthquakes that are listed here still look affected today. Way worse than the early 19th century numbers....

Red Bird

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Wow. Notice towards the end of the news clipping it states in two of the EQ people were petrified, not lost.
Perhaps Velikosky and his Mankind In Amnesia was right.

I am compelled to read these as we just had another bigger one. A 4.0 (plus several lesser). I was standing in the garden and my feet started vibrating and I heard BRRRRR. I looked at my husband, about 50 yards over, and he said he heard our building shaking. At first he said, saw, not heard...
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Wow. Notice towards the end of the news clipping it states in two of the EQ people were petrified, not lost.
Perhaps Velikosky and his Mankind In Amnesia was right.

I am compelled to read these as we just had another bigger one. A 4.0 (plus several lesser). I was standing in the garden and my feet started vibrating and I heard BRRRRR. I looked at my husband, about 50 yards over, and he said he heard our building shaking. At first he said, saw, not heard...
I think it says perished unless I'm missing it somewhere.


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Okay, here's the pertinent section of the link in the OP. This translation isn't perfect, but it's hopefully a bit better than Google. I've added some links for further elaboration:

The Museum of Antiquities Cairo: a place of memory for the Egyptians or for Westerners?
By Eric Gady

By its very nature, every museum is a place of memory. But, when it is built on an overseas space occupied by Westerners, the question arises whose memory this building houses: the occupied or occupants? The Museum of Antiquities Cairo has the distinction of having been built by Westerners for the memory of the ancient Egyptians before later going into the hands of contemporary Egyptians in order to preserve a heritage of all of humanity, which is conveyed very well in the building itself, even as the current century-old museum will be doubled in size in a few years by a much larger building. We will therefore be careful to present the memory that can be carried by this museum in twentieth century Egypt.

The idea of creating a museum of Egyptian antiquities in Cairo is above all European, even French. Without going back to the first archaeological collection formed by the scholars of Bonaparte at Cairo, it is Jean-François Champollion who, during his journey in Egypt in 1828-1829, alerted Mehemet Ali on the need to protect the heritage of the country of the Pharaohs. However, the ordinance of 1835 gave birth to a vague deposit administered by an Egyptian and thanks to which the pasha furnished himself in antiques offered to his guests. In 1855, the rest was given to the Austrian Archduke of Austrian Maximilian (BANTA: Too many historical Maximilians!!!) It was not until 1863, thanks to Auguste Mariette's tenacity, that an establishment worthy of the name was born in a small city (port?) of Boulaq on the banks of the Nile. It was supposed to be a temporary place, but the collections did not migrate into an ancient khedivial (BANTA: Based on the context, I think this means royal, as the Khedivial period of time was comtemporary… in other words, the building is older than the royals) palace, the palace of Ghizeh, that in the spring of 1890s. This museum being too far from downtown Cairo for European tourists and subject to the risk of fire, the need was felt to transfer to new collections. As early as 1892, French director Jacques de Morgan had proposed to the Egyptian cabinet council the construction of a new building, but the Egyptian government opposed it in because of the exorbitant cost. After a change of government, the Westerners finally convinced the Egyptians to spend £ 150,000, nearly 4 million francs at the time, for such construction. This decision was again a victory for the French. Indeed, during a trip to the Nile Valley in the previous fall, Xavier Charmes, the director of the secretary and accounting to the Ministry of Public Education (BANTA: His title is kind of rough, I don’t have a good background in French bureaucracy…) and in reality the man who for twenty years led the French policy during missions abroad, had urged the Egyptian government to reverse their decision and had even chosen the site of the new museum, Kasr el-Nil. An international competition was then created, on whose jury four of the sixteen members were French IO. Seventy-six projects were exhibited in March 1895, of which 26 came from Italian architects, 16 of British, as many French and 15 of various other countries. Unsurprisingly, Western projects therefore represented the almost all of the submitted set. The jury, theoretically ignoring the nationality of the candidates, retained four projects and granted four honorable mentions to eight French architects, resulting that the French colonial group did not fail to be recognized (BANTA: This is a little dicey too, but I think basically what the author was conveying). Finally, the project of the Parisian architect Marcel Dourgnon, whose originality resided in the new use of an reinforced concrete structure, won. Nevertheless, the work was suspended by considerations the Egyptian government having to save after the military expedition to Sudan. In Paris, Xavier Charmes was strongly married [to the project] and he solicited the intervention of the Quai d'Orsay [location of the French Ministry of French Affairs]. The European Commissioners of Egyptian Debt therefore came to the rescue of the archaeology by forcing the Egyptian government to resume work. In these circumstances, on April 1st, 1897, the Khedive himself, of his Prime Minister, was able to lay the first stone. This could not hide that this museum was then the interest of the Europeans, and, first and foremost, the French who had been running it since its creation.

Construction took its course, even though it was very quickly determined that there were difficulties in the architect's plan, which was deemed unworkable by the builders. Dourgnon asked to be discharged from monitoring the work but the Consul-General aimed to ensure that his name would appear on the facade, so that the work would keep its “entirely French character ". The name was actually engraved, but on the right side façade. As for the total cost, it was £ 220,000, an excess of more than 47% of the initial budget.

The style and decoration of this new museum constituted a true mirror of Western imperialism then present in Egypt. In this country of long architectural tradition for a building intended to house the wonders of Egyptian art, one would have expected to have an oriental or even Egyptian style (BANTA: Umm… Oriental OR EVEN Egyptian? Casual racism is casual...). Dourgnon, former student of l'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, had designed a building in the purest Western neoclassical style. Neither his imagination or his skill was involved, since at the same time he was building for the Egyptian government the palace of this country at the universal (world) Exposition of Paris, whose main facade reproduced that of an ancient temple of Nubia and whose other facades were entirely decorated with scenes and characters from Pharaonic history.

Thus, the façade of the new building imposed on the Egyptians models Western architecture style. Arcades, domes, ion columns, pilasters, everything was reminiscent of the classical architectural motifs of the Western world styles of the time and neglected Arabic or Pharaonic styles, except for two high reliefs sculpted by a Frenchman. Even the dedicatory inscription evoking the construction of the museum by the Khedive Abbas II placed above the main entrance door was written in Latin after being written by Oxford Latinists and corrected by the museum's new director, Gaston Maspero.

Dourgnon had originally planned the inscription Museum of Antiquities in French, but one might think that after Fachoda, the writing in Latin appeared as a kind of consensus between the French powers and who were still opposed in that country, and kept here a character that could be described as imperialist. Finally, it's also Latin and Roman numerals that the Egyptians owed the date of Inauguration Hegira [Hijrah (Arabic: 'immigration' from the point of view of the first religious congregation in Medina; "exile"; "break-up"; "separation") refers to the departure of Muhammad and several of his companions from Mecca to theoasis of Yathrib, ancient name of Medina,in 6221.], mentioned alongside that of the era Christian: "Anno Domini MCM; Anno Hegirae MCCCXVII". The museum was therefore a place of memory for Western tourists and the building reflected in its facade the weight of leading the country as well as almost total control Europeans in the field of pharaonic archeology. A last detail testified to this fact: 21 names of scholars had been engraved on the facade. None of them were of course Egyptian, the country of Pharaohs not possessing then a deceased Egyptologist to be honored in this way.

Finally, the question arose of the fate of the tomb of the founder of Museum. Mariette's body had indeed been buried in Boulaq in 1881; in 1890 he had been transferred to the gardens of the museum of Ghizeh. As early as 1894, Alfred Chélu, representing the interests of an Egyptologist family in Egypt had worried about the moving of the tomb. He addressed directly Lord Cromer who promised a £ 1,000 credit to transfer the monument, erect a statue of scholar and even give his name to a street in Cairo. An architect in Champollion made the statue there, which arrived in Cairo in 1904.

The inauguration in the museum's gardens resulted in a grand ceremony with ministers, diplomatic corps in full, Cromer included, and scholars of all nationalities, and it was the occasion during the speeches to recall most officially the French character of Egyptology. Cromer kept his promise and a sharia of Mariette near the museum was born in Cairo (BANTA: Bit confused what it’s saying here… sharia is Islamic canonical law). Finally, Maspero later add a number of scholarly busts to ensure Mariette's tomb: none of them were of course Egyptian. Wanted by the Europeans, designed and directed by a Frenchman, decorated in a style, a language and codes understandable more by Westerners than by Egyptians, the museum of Dourgnon constituted a place of memory for tourists came from developed countries which were the main customer base….
Le Musée des Antiquités du Caire : un lieu de mémoire pour les Egyptiens ou pour les Occidentaux ? - Persée

I translated through the last reference to Dourgnon. The rest of it talks about how after their government changed again, the Egyptians slowly began to take a more active role in researching/safeguarding their history, leading right up to the Rule of Hawiss!