Opinion| Historical maps of Egypt (Element two): The Golden Age of Egypt’s interest in the Nile

green grass field near body of water during daytime

The Egyptian interest in the River Nile’s sources throughout its golden age in the 19th Century (see the 1st component of this op-ed series in the Each day News Egypt) could only obtain its targets by way of relying on a diverse group of earth scientists like geographers, geologists, botanists, surveyors, and astronomers.

Atef Mohammed

Following Muhammad Ali’s rise to energy in Egypt in the 1st half of the 19th Century, Egyptian-led geographical discoveries and military conquests multiplied.

This geographical and military momentum relied on two varieties of professional assist.

The 1st sort was represented by prominent figures in the Alawite family members who had led the military campaigns themselves, and integrated, in the 1st half of the 19th century, Muhammad Ali Pasha himself, and his sons, primarily Tosson, Ibrahim, and Ismail, along with his son-in-law Muhammad Bey Al-Daftardār.

In the second half of the century, Egypt also relied on dwelling-grown officers, who would have had their names and function immortalised, if the system of regional documentation and archiving had been completed with the similar authentication solutions discovered abroad. However, this sort of Egyptian pioneers was not talked about, except in uncommon occasions.

The second sort of masterminds have been these foreign specialists who came to Egypt with Napoleon’s French campaign (1798-1801), and later the Fraser campaign (1807) which was component of the Turkish-English war (1807-1809).

Muhammad Ali eyes have been all of a sudden opened to the possibilities presented by these specialists like military personnel, surveyors, sailors, explorers, and scholars. Muhammad Ali and his successors figured the value of in search of the help of this foreign input, specifically as Egyptian scientific knowledge throughout that period was weak following the Mamluk rule.

Ibrahim Pacha

These foreign specialists have been capable to reap the positive aspects of fame by way of printing and publishing their performs in Egypt and abroad, and as a outcome, getting their names feted far extra than these of their Egyptian counterparts.

In addition to the prior two varieties of specialists, we can also refer to uncommon situations when exploring missions and campaigns gathered each Egyptian and foreign pioneers at the similar time. These campaigns have been, probably, the most valuable sort of all for exchanging knowledge, regardless of their scarcity.

We can recognize almost one hundred personnel of these travellers, explorers, geographers, and irrigation specialists who helped Muhammad Ali Pasha and his successors. It need to be noted that these persons have been not necessarily, as it is rumoured, of French origin due to the Turkish-French alliance at the time. They integrated also Italians, English, Germans, and even some Russians and Americans.

Most influential personnel in Muhammad Ali’s Egypt

Regions of solutions

Locations of knowledge



Red Sea, Eastern Desert and White Nile

Geography, Exploration, irrigation and surveying


Linant de Bellefonds

Red Sea

Military education and Geological Exploration



(Soliman Pasha al-Faransawi)

Suez Canal, Eastern Desert and the Blue Nile

Exploration, Geography, and Geology



White Nile

Survey and Cartography


Ernest Bellefonds

Nile Valley and the Red Sea



Giovanni Batista Belzoni

Regional Geography

Geography and Cartography


Edme-Francois Jomard


River Geology



Reduce Nile

Engineering, Survey and Regional integration


Thomas Fletcher Waghorn


Doctor and Military officer



Blue Nile




Blue Nile




Sinai and Nile Valley



Le Fevre

Sinai and Kordofan




Eastern Desert of Egypt




Sinai, Kordofan, and White Nile




Blue Nile




Blue Nile

Geography and Exploration




Travelling and foreign affairs




Military education




Geographer and Military officer



A lot more than 45% of this figure was interested in regional geography, anthropology, and regional chorography, even though about 30% was involved in mining function. The remaining specialists have been interested in antiquities, astronomy, surveying, irrigation, and military instruction.

Louis Maurice Adolphe Linant de Bellefonds, (1798 – 1883) explorer of Egypt, and chief engineer of Egypt’s Public Operates.

Egyptian Objectives

The use of foreign specialists varied, with their know-how directed to obtain 5 principal targets throughout the 1st half of the 19th Century, namely:

1. Military geography as a prelude to campaigns in search of to extend Egypt’s manage and sovereignty, and these extended to the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, the Libyan Desert, and Sudan. The specialists right here integrated military officers, endemic pathologists, and military instruction instructors.

two. Mineral exploration in Egypt, particularly to obtain the sulphur ores which have been required for gunpowder. They have been discovered in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. The exploration also integrated gold ores that the Egyptian spending budget was in dire want of. Right here, the campaigns headed to Sudan and the outskirts of Abyssinia (modern day-day Ethiopia), while also undertaking exploration function in Sinai, prior to they despaired of acquiring any gold in the El-Tor Mountain location.

three. Activating trade amongst Egypt and other African nations, to safe the former’s requirements of particular goods and solutions that have been not offered in Egypt at the time.

four. Compulsory recruiting of soldiers from distant regions, particularly these hard guys in the Nile Basin area, throughout the reign of Muhammad Ali, prior to Egypt abolished the slave trade and stopped human trafficking, beneath European stress, throughout the era of Muhammad Ali’s successors. The slave trade is one particular of the difficulties that impacted the supposed friendly relations amongst Egypt and other Nile Basin nations, and produced the typical hope for integration in the modern day era complicated.

five. Cleansing the course of the River Nile and its tributaries, to guarantee the flow of navigation, monitor the safety scenario, and stop European competitors, specifically from England, later France and Italy, in the Egypt-controlled places in the Nile Basin.

Sève – Soliman Pasha al-Faransawi

Motives and Consequences

Evaluation of the historical context in that period reveals 3 principal motives that drove foreign scientists and scholars to function in Egypt:

  • There was a passion for exploration, study, and scientific achievement as typified by these specialists or adventurous explorers.
  • Some of them have been spies (and each and every spy is a hero in his homeland!). They sent the benefits of their trips and explorations back dwelling, while at the similar time presenting them to the ruler in Egypt. In some circumstances, in scientific exploration, and geographical, anthropological, and cartographical study, Egypt’s rulers could not obtain these benefits 1st hand. Rather, they have been forced to wait till the scientists returned dwelling and wrote up their scientific performs for printing or presentation at lectures at geographical societies about the planet. These findings have been only sent to Egypt’s ruling regime later. And it appears that it did not attain the typical persons of Egypt, who did not know any foreign languages, not to mention the higher illiteracy price amongst them, even of their mother tongue.
  • Other specialists served only their personal private glory, utilizing Egypt as a stepping stone to a life of luxury and satisfying the desires of wealth. These specialists frequently lived close to the ruler and the circle of energy, and engaged in seizing antiquities and smuggling them abroad beneath the eyes of Muhammad Ali himself.

This does not imply that the fate of these scholars, in which they would claw their way to dollars and fame, was normally safe. For some, their lives ended tragically, as some of them became mentally ill (like Frediani), other folks have been killed at the hands of the locals (like Ernest Bellefonds, son of Linant de Bellefonds), or have been killed while on exploration trip (like Pacho), and however other folks have been struck down by illnesses and illnesses. The most effectively identified of these to die of fever was the navigation engineer Casamurat, who caught fever in a Blue Nile location, and when he sought therapy, barely reached Khartoum prior to passing away in September 1826.

Frederic Cailliaud

The least doomed scientists have been cursed and rebuked by Muhammad Ali if they failed in their missions, and they have been consequently prevented from any privileges or gifts, and occasionally expelled.

Of course, there was also a state of semi-monopoly on details carried out by the foreign scientists and specialists. There are historically established circumstances in which the function of Egyptian specialists was ridiculed and minimised.

Maybe we need to highlight the popular instance of Frenchman Linant de Bellefonds and Muhammad Bey Al-Daftardār, when the latter refused to be accompanied by foreigners on a purely Egyptian campaign to Kordofan (in Sudan). The Egyptians returned with information on the regional population, their customs, and traditions the most significant crops in the location attainable suggests of trade with the locals and maps of the trip. But when Muhammad Ali presented these findings to the European specialists, they mocked them.

“These are low-worth maps that include only roads and paths, anything that reminds us of the maps of the Roman era hundreds of years ago,” wrote Linant de Bellefonds.

There is no doubt that foreign specialists had a exceptional superiority in geography that was not comparable to their Egyptian counterparts.

We have, for instance, Rifa’a Al-Tahtawi who focused on geography inside the limits of translation. Maybe the most prominent of these translations into Arabic was a book by the French geographer Conrad Malte-Brun. It should be stated that the translation by Al-Tahtawi reveals, in reality, the modesty of his geographical know-how by the requirements of that time. This might be proof of the weakness of Egyptian geography education, which prompted Muhammad Ali later to make geography one particular of the principal education subjects at the Al-Alsun college in 1832, which was headed by Al-Tahtawi himself.

Thomas Fletcher Waghorn

In conclusion, we should appear objectively at what was gained throughout the period in which foreign specialists worked in Egypt throughout the 1st half of the 19th Century. It brought numerous positive aspects to geography and exploration in Egypt and Sudan, and supplied possibilities that have been not offered to the Egyptians throughout that period, like drawing maps or writing scientific literature which contributed to the development and expansion of the Egyptian state.

But on the other hand, we can not overlook the European occupations in the final component of the 19th century, no matter whether it was the British in Egypt and Sudan, the French in the Middle and Horn of Africa, or the Italian in Libya and Abyssinia. The activities of these foreign powers could not have been accomplished have been it not for the efforts of the prior decades’ exploration campaigns, that integrated foreign specialists who carried out their performs and maps beneath the care and protection of Muhammad Ali and his successors. Truly, all these efforts have been carried out with enormous funds from the Egyptian state spending budget, which was in the end poured into the interests of European colonialism, which occupied the African continent and controlled the sources of the Nile and divided the area.


Atef Moatamed: Professor of Physical Geography at Cairo University, and Egypt’s former cultural attaché to Russia.

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