Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cairo: The City of the Caliphs


E.A. Reynolds-Ball
Dana Estes and Company
Boston
1897

This c.1897 book by E.A. Reynolds-Ball printed after c.1901 has started out stronger than I had had hopes for, of course when one reviews an antique book all must be forgiven in dates of chronology and other areas which a more accurate knowledge exists today.

The author starts the book with a overview of Pharaonic Egypt leading into the history of the Ptolemaic period it's fall and the rise of the Roman occupation and eventual abandonment to the Mohammedan conquest in the early seventh century.

Particularly of interest to me was chapter 3 on the rule of the Caliphs with dynasties of Mameluke rulers up to the Ottoman conquest in 1517 and on to its rulers including the financially ruinous reign of the Ismail which led to the British occupation of Egypt in 1882.

The author goes on to put out the political position the occupying English forces were faced with in order to right the Egyptian economy and ensure the foreign bond holders of the return on their loans to Egypt. A very interesting chapter is on the creation of the Suez canal and it's benefits for the future.

The book has excellent descriptions of the various mosques in Cairo including the tombs of the Caliphs and the condition of which the author found them more than 110 years ago including a wonderful assortment of old black and white pictures with the author making many interesting observations on the interactions of various cultural groups and people in Cairo.

The chapter on the national museum located at the Ghizeh palace and a tour of it's collection was tantalizingly way to small but sensational with only a few objects describe including the mummy of Amhose I, being in a gallery with the wooden statue known as the Sheik El beled and not displayed with the rest of the mummies.

Though I found in chapter XVI "The Pyramids of Ghizeh" a respect for the author who kept distancing himself from the quack pot theories on the great pyramid but instead spent much of the chapter quoting Sir Flinders Petrie and was not subject to flights of fantasy on the subject.

The chapter on the Serapeum and the apis bull was outstanding with his quaint descriptions of not only the apis bulls but the various Saqqara monuments complete with the authors distaste for a display in the national museum at Ghizeh titled "Fragments of King Unas"!

The author gives a nice round up of the various excursion to tombs and temples on his journey south to Tell el Amarna, Thebes and many other sites. The book closes off with the latest archaeological discoveries in Egypt as of c1897 of the Egypt Exploration fund and most deliciously with the words of Sir Flinders Petrie.

The appendix of the book is a letter written by Dana Estes M. A. from Assouan in February 1901 on the development of that area and particularly on the developments being made on the Assouan barrage.

"Cairo: The city of the Caliphs" is a romantic and intelligent look on a period long gone, a must read.

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