The city of Mansoura in history

Ola R. Seif, Thursday 26 Dec 2013

The northern town, which was the target of a violent and bloody terrorist attack this week, has a long cosmopolitan history

Mansoura,Courtesy of Ola R. Seif

Mansoura, a city 128km north of Cairo in the Nile Delta, was hit by a deadly bomb attack on Tuesday which left at least 16 people dead and 135 injured.  

The violent attack targeted the Daqahliya governorate's Security Directorate, which is located in the 500,000 strong city.

Mansoura, unlike many other cities in the Delta, does not have Pharaonic roots. Instead, the people of Mansoura pride themselves on their more recent heritage.

Few locals are aware that Mansoura (The Victorious) was the name originally chosen by the Fatimid founders for Cairo when it was established more than a thousand years ago.

Legend has it that Egypt’s capital, however, was instead given its current name, Al-Qahira (The Conqueror), after a star that was shining at the moment the first stone was laid in the city, and the name Al-Mansoura was never used.

Mansoura was given its name in the thirteenth century, in celebration of the fact that it was not defeated by Louis IX of France during the Seventh Crusade.

Mansoura was also host to another important foreign encounter, when Napoleon and his army visited the city in the eighteenth century.

Mansoura

Although in the 1860s Mansoura accommodated a fair number of Europeans constituting a cosmopolitan structure that necessitated the presence of a postal service operated by the Posta Europea, it did not attract travelling photographers nor the late nineteenth century studios, who instead prioritised archaeology and tourist destinations along the Nile of Upper Egypt.

The photographic heritage of Mansoura started in the 1920s after the birth of the postcard industry a decade earlier. Many publishers who operated in Egypt in the first quarter of the twentieth century noticed the charm of Mansoura as a provincial town, including Max Rudmann and the Greeks Papastefanou and Ephtimios. The town went on to become the most popular Delta location for postcards in the early twentieth century.

The surviving postcards of this period allow a rough reconstruction of the city's urban and social life from that time. Being one of the few Egyptian towns that hosted a Mixed Court for legal disputes between foreigners and Egyptians, and due to its proximity to the Damietta harbour, Mansoura’s main activity centred around trade between Egypt and Europe.

One of the many architectural gems resulting from such trade was a house that seems more important than its consecutive occupants. The house of the Spanish consul, which occupied the plot of land on the Corniche next to the house of the governor in the Torell district, stood as witness to the Neo-Mamluk style and eclecticism of the city, until it was torn down in the 1970s.

But the modernity of how the rest of the community in Mansoura lived was also worth a postcard labelled "Al-Sikka Al-Gedida (the new path) Street." Cairo also had an Al-Sikka Al-Gedida Street which became a commercial district, but in Mansoura the street maintained a semi-residential urban character and was frequented equally by the effendis wearing tarboush hats, the khawajas (Europeans) wearing broad-rimmed hats, and the locals dressed in galabiyas.  

Photos are courtesy of Ola R. Seif

Short link: