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 as well as modern life aspects.
George Darresy, creator of the collection, was assigned the job of curator of Boulaq Museum in 1887. The collection of the museum moved to Ismail Pasha Palace at Giza in 1891 and finally to Tahrir Square's Egyptian Museum in 1903. Meanwhile, Darresy was involved in the discovery of the Luxor Cachette in 1891. In 1892 he found, in the grounds of the temple of Ramses III at Madinet Habou, parts of the colossal statues of Amenhotep III and his wife Tiyi, which are now in the attrium of the Egyptian Museum. In 1914, he was appointed secretary general of the Egyptian service of antiquities and retired in 1923. After that Darresy returned to France. He died in 1938.
During his stay in Egypt, Darresy and his wife Marie used to exchange postcards each time they visited a new place in the country. Postcards at the time were mainly black and white photographs. Most of the cards carry postal stamps, showing the city from which they were posted along with the date. The collection runs to 1,372 postcards and confirms that Marie was a passionate cartophile, to the extent of sending herself 36 postcards from Alexandria, in order to have the postal stamps.
In 1997, Federico Mayor, director general of UNESCO, approved the production of a CD-ROM titled La description de L'Egypte au debut du XXéme Siecle (The Description of Egypt at the Beginning of the 20th Century) based on this collection of postcards as a part of UNESCO's Memory of the World programme. This programme is created to preserve the documentary heritage of the world, whether in the form of manuscrips, books or old photos and paintings that have special value.
The Darresy collection is of great value through its pictorial representation of Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. The collection complements the books published by France after the French Expedition at the beginning of the 19th century.
Inspired by the collection, as cultural counselor of Egypt to France I presented to the director general of UNESCO the request that the collection be included in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" programme.
Fathi Saleh is consultant to the prime minister for heritage affairs, founder and emeritus director of CULTNAT, and former ambassador of Egypt to UNESCO.