Postcards of Nostalgia: Egypt at the Turn of the Century

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Postcard-Ismailia

During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the production of postcards went through a commercial boom in Egypt due to the heavy tourist traffic and the prosperous business atmosphere at the time. Benefiting from the rich production of the nineteenth-century photographs, several entrepreneurial companies in Europe and others that were founded in Cairo, Alexandria, and Port-Said catered to the tourist industry trafficking in the Suez Canal Zone (Port-Said, Suez, Ismailia), which turned to be a very lucrative business.

Details…

Each publishing house labeled its products with its own logo or initials either on the front of the card next to the legend line or at the back of the card. Another interesting characteristic of the postcards of this period is the appearance, on the top back of the cards, of the Union Postale Universelle (UPU) title, and a red crescent with three stars, symbolizing the Egyptian flag at the turn of the century. Those assured the sender that the card was according to the standards of the UPU, which was a better guarantee of its safe arrival to the destination. 

Producers…

One of the most prolific companies in that domain was Leon and Levy, whose initials “LL” were often erroneously mistaken for Lehnert and Landrock. In fact, they were those of the two partners Leon and Levy, who started their career as photographers two decades earlier. Other major companies such as Rudman, Lichstern and Harrari, Cairo Postcard Trust, etc.. were rather publishers who commissioned photographers with the purpose of turning them into postcards. 

Inspiration…

The inspiration behind postcards varied widely. Although Egyptomania and monuments were quite popular, there was a wide segment of buyers interested in the modern urbanization of major cities at the dawn of the nineteenth century, especially, but not limited to, Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, and the Suez Canal Cities. Among the most popular postcards were typically those that captured the tourists’ itinerary, or glimpses of the main streets of the cities. 

Most Popular…

The repertoire includes the Cairo Railway Station, the Fleming station in Alexandria, as well as the Bacos line, or that of Ramleh district located in Alexandria’s remarkable downtown district. Several leading hotels belonging to the George Nungovitch Co. became best sellers in the postcards of that era. Both, the legendary Shepheard’s that was burnt down during the riots of 26 January 1952, and the Mena House are considered the most nostalgic in the world of Cairene hospitality.

Postcard-Mena-House

Those were followed by the Continental Hotel, which had an even better location directly overlooking the Azbakeya gardens.  Although occupying a Nile front location, both, the Gezira Hotel (now the Marriott) and the Semiramis Hotel are less featured; the steel structure of the Gezira pavilion seemed to catch more attention. All the above, in addition to the San Stefano Hotel of Alexandria, had their own post office which sold stamps and franked the letters with an authorized seal from the Government postal administration.

Other landmarks and street scenes include the neo Mamluk house of the Spanish consul to Mansurah, the Barrages to the north of Cairo, the Suez Canal administration building in Port Said flanked by the commemorative statue of Ferdinand De Lesseps, its creator, and the Khedivial Opera House.

Postcard-Mansoura

*The selection featured here is a glimpse that portrays the colorful near past of Egypt in its cosmopolitan age.

Note: This Artice was previously published in the print edition of Discover Egypt Magazine – Courtesy of the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at the American University in Cairo.

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