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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Egypt 100 years ago: The Ceremony of the Holy Carpet (Mahmal)

A collection of postcards by Egyptologist George Darresy constitutes a time capsule of Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century

Fathi Saleh , Sunday 10 Jul 2016
Views: 9825
Views: 9825

The drive of this monthly series is to show Egypt a 100 years ago through a collection of postcards collected by Egyptologist George Darresy while working in Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. This collection is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris and contains images addressing a range of subjects in everyday life, including Pharaonic , Islamic, Coptic monuments.

The Darresy collection is of great value for its pictorial representation of Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. The collection complements the books on Egypt published by France after the French Expedition at the beginning of the 19th century.

As cultural counsellor of Egypt to France, I presented to the director-general of UNESCO a request that the collection be included in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" programme.

Here we see some images from the collection of the Holy Carpet “Mahmal” Ceremony. The double digits on some of the images denote years in the 20th century.

The Ceremony of the Holy Carpet “Mahmal”

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At the beginning of the century, there were several types of popular ceremonies in Egypt that have disappeared or faded with time. One such ceremony is the procession of “El Mahmal” or “The Holy Carpet.”

The yearly celebration involved the Egyptian government manufacturing a new cover for the Holy Kaaba and offering it to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. After the cover is prepared in the factory, a large ceremony takes place in Cairo, where a parade organised by the Egyptian army tours the different districts of the city.

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The parade included a caravan of decorated camels carrying the Holy Carpet, as well as many other gifts. After the caravan ends its tour in Cairo, it starts its long trip, guarded by the Egyptian army, across the eastern desert, then on to the Suez Canal and Sinai till it reaches Palestine.

From Palestine, it goes directly to Saudi Arabia, crossing its northern borders to the heart of Hijaz, then to Mecca. Normally it reached Mecca before the pilgrimage season, where another ceremony takes place that ends with the covering of the Kaaba with the Holy Carpet.

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Here is a series of post cards showing the ceremony

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Fathi Saleh is consultant to the prime minister for heritage affairs, founder and emeritus director of CULTNAT, and former ambassador of Egypt to UNESCO.

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