“May the grace of God give us wonderful weather to Port Said, so that we do not arrive half ruined.”
THE LADY'S COMPANION
Miss Ida Uhse, to the right in the photo, came to Wilhelmina von Hallwyl as a lady's companion when they were both in their thirties. The two stayed by each other's side through thick and thin until the end.
Ida Uhse accompanied the von Hallwyls on all their journeys and kept detailed travel diaries including one covering the tour of Egypt. All quotes in this exhibition are taken from her diary.
FROM SWEDEN TO EGYPT
5 Nov. Departure from Stockholm
6 Nov. Arrival in Berlin
9 Nov. Departure from Berlin for Naples. The 46 hour long train trip goes past Munich, Innsbruck, the Brenner Pass, Verona and Milan. After that to Rome, before reaching Naples.
12 Nov. Arrival in Naples
13 Nov. Visit to Pompeii
14 Nov. Going on board the steamship Irene for the crossing of the Mediterranean.
17 Nov. Arrival in Port Said, Egypt.
In the early 19th century there were so few tourists coming to Egypt it was not profitable to run a hotel. The number of visitors increased rapidly and by the end of the century, the hotel business was fully developed.
Almost all tourists came to Egypt in winter. During the summer and up until October–November was the flooding season and the currents on the Nile were too strong to sail on. After March it got too hot. Therefore, hotels were only open from December to March. This made staying at hotels very expensive.
“The finest carriages have drivers and servants dressed in red fezzes as well as two runners in white costumes embroidered with gold. The latter run in front of the carriage while crying loudly in order to make room.”
As soon as the family had installed themselves at the elegant Savoy Hotel, it was time to go sightseeing. In Cairo, tourists were expected to visit mosques and Coptic churches. It was also common to visit private residences.
Female tourists might have been lucky enough to be invited to the “harem” of the home, i.e. the women's quarters. It was very popular and an experience that was talked about afterwards. There was great curiosity among western Europeans on the Muslim view of women.
“We were looking for mussels on the shore of the Red Sea. The previous day had been full of experiences and I can never thank the Countess enough for allowing me to accompany her on this trip.”
“I did not find it hard to ride a camel, neither was it hard to mount this long-legged animal.”
During the stay in Cairo, in November and December, Wilhelmina von Hallwyl and Ida Uhse spend many hours visiting museums and making purchases in the bazaars.
They buy jewellery, little sculptures, rugs and other souvenirs. They also buy things they will need for the coming voyage on the Nile, for example a number of fly whisks.
“I have no predilection for Egyptian art but it must be admired that such artistic objects could be made as early as 6,000 years ago.”
“22nd of Dec. In the morning we cared for our clothes, washed gloves, etc. After lunch we made some purchases. Went on a little boat over to Hotel Bûlâk which is situated on the opposite shore. Subsequently we went on a tram to the city park, Esbekiye, located in the centre or town where all the hotels are. In the evening we went to the Cedercrantz residence for dinner, together with Consul-General Östberg who invited us for dinner in the grand hall at the Gezirah Palace. In the evening our hotel arranged a great ball for the hotel's guests, as well as guests of other hotels. The lighting was splendid."
“Today we celebrate sacred Christmas Eve far away from Sweden. We have already dressed the Christmas tree for the evening [...]. In the evening the Cedercrantzes will come for dinner at the hotel and thereafter we will go up to our rooms in order to dance around the Christmas tree together, in accordance with the Swedish custom.”
Around the turn of the 19th century the hotels in Cairo had all the conveniences a European tourist could ask for, with running water, electricity and lifts.
The hotels were the basis for tourism and for the social life of the upper classes. That is where you would find good restaurants, bars, parties and balls.
The von Hallwyl family were repeatedly invited to dinner at the Gezirah Palace by the Swedish Consul-General, one occasion being Christmas dinner.
“27th Dec. At nine in the morning we went on board the Nile boat Columbia, which was moored by the hotel. The Count had hired the boat for the entire voyage on the Nile, from Cairo to Aswan.”
MODES OF TRANSPORT
Prior to the 1850s, travellers on the Nile had to hire their own boat and crew but starting from the late 1850s there were passenger steamships to Aswan.
The service for tourists developed quickly and a railway was built from Cairo all the way to Minyah, but hiring a more expensive and slower dahabeya (a traditional sailing vessel) had the highest status.
The von Hallwyl family hired their own steamship, which would have been the next best option.
ON THE NILE, DEC 27-JAN 16
27 Dec. From Cairo to Al Badrashin
28 Dec. Up the Nile
29 Dec. Via Beni Suef to Girga
30 Dec. Minya
31 Dec. Beni Hasan
1 Jan. El-Hag Kandeel
2-3 Jan. Asyut
4 Jan. Sohag
5 Jan. Abydos
6 Jan. Qena
7-8 Jan. Dendera
9 Jan. Towards Luxor
10-16 Jan. Luxor
“The journey continues towards Asyut; on the way we saw bands of wild ducks, pelicans, herons and other waterfowl. The men attempted to shoot one of them for a trophy from both the large boat and a rowing boat, but they were not successful.”
“The eastern side of the terrace has three rooms, the middle one of which has ceiling paintings depicting the famous ‘Dendera Zodiac’ (now housed in the National Library in Paris), the only circular representation of the zodiac found in Egypt.”
“It had been a very lovely day, rich in the enjoyment of nature and art. The Egyptian art, in my opinion, is somewhat monotonous; the greatest impression comes from its overwhelming supernatural size.”
“When we had crossed the Nile in the morning and had just set off on our ride, the Countess fell from her donkey and I was terribly frightened as I saw her lying on the ground with a bloody nose.”
“After breakfast, we went down to the temple again to admire its beauty in peace and quiet. However, a Cook boat with 65 passengers had arrived in the meantime, and the crowd of travellers hurled themselves towards the temple on the backs of donkeys. We found it unpleasant to see these people and their guide walking around. The latter gave his explanations in a monotonous voice, which made a ridiculous impression on us.”
In her diary, Ida Uhse is upset by the pillaging of temples and ruins, but at the same time, she describes how they themselves pick up objects they find on the ground, for example during their visit to Beni Hasan:
“On Monday, we again rode out to the cat tombs, where many mummies are scattered about. Captain de Maré took one to bring back for Rolf.”
"We then went on the Nile to look at the great floodgates that have been used to dam the river. We could not be too impressed with the Cataract, as we were used to seeing the river Ljusnan.”
“Today we continue on a tourist boat to Wadi Halfa to see the ruins. The boat is very good, the passengers are pleasant, the food is good, but the beds are terrible. The weather is lovely, everyone is in good spirits, poor Irma is the only one who looks displeased, I would say she never feels well and content.”
“Yesterday we left for the train at 5pm and at 7 the train set off, just after we had had dinner. There were seven of us ladies in the sleeping car, and it was neither as hot, as sandy nor as dusty as we had expected. This morning we got up at 6am as there were seven ladies who needed to perform their toilette.”
“The crocodiles only come to Khartoum later on, when the water is lower and there are no more boat tours. These dangerous animals make many blacks disappear while bathing.”
In older travelogues written by European travellers, the people in Egypt are often described on the basis of their appearance and race. You often come across perceptions such as “the Arabs try to swindle you out of money” and “the Nubians are primitive”.
Ida Uhse’s diary is relatively free from this type of opinion. She describes the people they meet rather sparingly and without much amazement. She does note the colour of their skin, but does not make any bid deal of it. This is probably partly due to her being well-travelled, but many experienced travellers of this period would describe the local population in very disparaging terms.
8 Feb. Abu Simbel
9-21 Feb. Aswan
22 Feb. Visit to Bisharin camp
27 Feb. Train to Luxor and then on for approximately 650 km to Cairo.
1 Mars. Back in Cairo
PHOTOGRAPHS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS
Some of the photographs in the von Hallwyl’s album from their journey to Egypt have been taken by members of the family, but most of them were purchased from a professional photographer. This was common practice, as few people owned a camera.
Nearly all the photos purchased on this journey come from the same studio: Photogr. Artistique G. Lekegian & Co. The person behind that studio, G. Lekegian, was an Armenian photographer and artist, who moved to Cairo from Constantinople. We do not know much about him as a person. His first name may have been Gabriel. His studio was very successful. It was located opposite the large Shepheard Hotel and over the course of 30 years, up until the 1920s, they sold vast numbers of photographs to European and American tourists.
Lekegian’s studio maintained a high level of artistic quality. They would photograph sights and tourist attractions, but also captured images of everyday life in Cairo in a sympathetic and vivid way.
THE LAST DAYS IN CAIRO
1 Mars. Cairo. It has rained.
2-9 Mars. Go shopping in the bazars, go to dinners, the opera, parties.
11 Mars. Back to the Pyramids.
18 Mars. Visit the wife of the Dutch General Consul.
21 Mars. Visit the mother of the Khedive.
24 Mars. To the Egyptian Museum. Buy “idols”.
27 Mars. Dinner with General Consul Östberg.
28 Mars. Continue to Palestine.
“At nine o’clock in the evening, we had our dinner and then went to bed, me with a heavy heart, thinking of the seasickness I would endure. However, there was no rough sea, thank God, and we arrived safely at Jaffa.”
Producer — Sara Dixon
Form and photo — Erik Lernestål