Nov 5, 1900

A Trip to Egypt

Hallwyl Museum

On 5 November 1900, Walther and Wilhelmina von Hallwyl leave Stockholm and begin a long journey accompanied by a couple of their daughters and their husbands and Wilhelmina's lady's companion, Miss Ida Uhse. They spend more than four months in Egypt before continuing on to Palestine. In this exhibition we follow them through bazaars and luxury hotels and as they sail up the Nile all the way to Sudan. Please click on the images and then on “details” if you want to read longer texts and diary excerpts.

“May the grace of God give us wonderful weather to Port Said, so that we do not arrive half ruined.”

On the donkeys, from the left: Wilhelm von Geijer, Walther and Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, Henric de Maré, probably a guide and the lady companion, Ida Uhse. Irma von Geijer and Ellen de Maré (nées von Hallwyl) are missing in the picture.

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.

Ida Uhse on a camel's back at Mena House Hotel.

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 older travelogues it is common to disembark in Alexandria. The travellers were often shocked by the myriads of people fighting for the money of the foreign visitors. In the diarly of Ida Uhse we find nothing of this. Perhaps Port Said was a calmer place.
Upon their arrival in Cairo, the party checked in at the elegant Savoy Hotel.

HOTELS

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 "Moorish Gallery" at the Gezirah Palace, which was one of the fancier hotels in Cairo at the turn of the century.
Cairo appeared as exotic to the Swedish travellers, but also offered all the conveniences that they were used to have at home.

“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.”

In 1900 Cairo was a modern metropolitan, where European and American tourists could find everything they wanted.

VISITING HOMES

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.

The first part of the Amr ibn al-As mosque was constructed in the 7th century and was the first mosque in Egypt.
The dome in the background belongs to the Emir Akhor mosque.
On 9th December, Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, Ida Uhse and the dragoman Abdul travel to Suez. The next morning they go by boat across the Red Sea to the Moses Springs, while three donkeys are being shipped over on another boat. Then the ladies ride for two hours to the bitter water sources, where they have breakfast before they ride back. 
A dragoman was a guide and interpreter and was indisposable to the European tourists in Egypt.

“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.”

According to the travel diary the Sfinx was almost covered in sand during the winter 1900-1901.

“I did not find it hard to ride a camel, neither was it hard to mount this long-legged animal.”

From 1899 there was an electric tram line from central Cairo to the pyramids. Now the trip took 40 minutes, instead of a whole day or two.

GOING SHOPPING

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."

A list of clothes and items that were to be packed for the trip.

“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.”

CONVENIENCES

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.”

The party on board the SS Columbia. The flag at the fore was brought from Sweden by Walther von Hallwyl.
The crew of the Steamship Columbia.

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.

The main attraction for most tourists was not Cairo, but the historical Egypt. A trip to Egypt should include a boat tour up the Nile, to Aswan via Thebes, Karnak, Luxor and the Valley of Kings. Those with more time and money could also chose to continue to the second Cataract and the temple at Abu Simbel.

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.”

A temple in Dendera.
Luxor appears to have been the highlight of this trip. The von Hallwyls stay here for six days and visit most of the historic sites. The ladies are tireless in their exploring of temples and monuments. The gentlemen are perhaps not quite as interested. They go hunting instead.

“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.”

Ida Uhse admires the Temple of Horus in Edfu but is horrified by the hoards of tourists that arrive, making a terrible noise.

“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.”

DOUBLE STANDARDS

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.”

From the left: Walther von Hallwyl, unknown person, Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, Ida Uhse and Irma von Geijer, all dressed for exploring.

"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.”

DESCRIBING PEOPLE

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.

GOING BACK

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.”

Credits: Story

Producer  — Sara Dixon
Form and photo  — Erik Lernestål

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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