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Sunday, 13 June 2021

The legacy of khedival correspondence

In her book, Riham Arram publishes rare documents that tell what life was like during the khedival period

Amira Noshokaty , Wednesday 14 Apr 2021
The Khedive Family
An image From the book of Documents from the heritage of The Khedive Family by Dr. Reham Arram. Photo courtesy of Amira Noshokaty
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Last month, Riham Arram, professor of safeguarding heritage at Helwan University Faculty of Tourism and Hotels, celebrated her first published book on the correspondence that took place between the khedival family.

The book titled Documents from the Heritage of the Khedival Family contains rare documents that open up trails about what life in Egypt was like during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

However, what makes this book a treasure in itself is the fact that the author generously puts such documents within their historic realm. Targeting the general audience, Arram added a transcription, a scan of the original documents and a translation from French to Arabic of the original texts. She also commented on the documents with narratives that highlight the social history and intangible heritage that such documents represent.

The Khedive Family
A page From the book of Documents from the heritage of The Khedive Family by Dr. Reham Arram. Photo courtesy of Amira Noshokaty

“It took me a year to compile the book, and I did it during the lockdown last year,” Arram told Ahram Online.

The first document dates back to 1907. It is signed by Gaston Maspero, the then head of the Egyptian Museum. Another document reveals the opening of Egypt’s first museum during the reign of khedive Said in Boulaq in 1863.

The book contains the original design of the current Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square that was designed by Marcel Dourgon. The museum was opened in 1902 during the reign of Abbas Helmi II whose initials are inscribed on the main entrance to the museum.

 

The Khedive Family
A page From the book of Documents from the heritage of The Khedive Family by Dr. Reham Arram. Photo courtesy of Amira Noshokaty

“The importance of these documents lies in the fact that they tell history from a very unconventional angle,” noted Arram. “Some reveal the personalities of people like Hussein Fakhry who was a strong leader and his administration was very strict. They also show how the government’s administrative work flow was back in the day, and how prompt its response was to complaints and requests. The documents reflect how there were no barriers between the citizen and government official,” she added.

The papers document the daily social rituals at the khedival period. Arram’s book shows how parliament would look into every complaint or papers and how it worked internally. The documents reveal a lot about the government’s view of architecture and how it was keen that it would reflect the country’s identity. The rules of buildings and charting the buildings by Ali Mubarak Pasha in 1868 included the division of Cairo, or El-Mahrousa (The Protected) into four main areas: Bab El-Shearia/Azbakkia; El-Darb El-Ahmar and Gammaliya; Khalifa and Qonswan; and Abdeen and Darb El-Gamamiz.

The Khedive Family
A page From the book of Documents from the heritage of The Khedive Family by Dr. Reham Arram. Photo courtesy of Amira Noshokaty

There is a document that dates back to Khedive Tewfik. It reveals the issuing of the department of Tanzim (organization) of the laws of building and deconstruction all over Egypt. Apparently, the urban space was growing during that era and they needed to make sure they safeguarded old buildings and built new, matching ones.

There is a whole chapter dedicated to Helwan district. This suburban district overlooking the Nile has a long history for being an excellent therapeutic retreat because of its healing natural springs. However, the modern part of the district was established during the reign of Khedive Ismail in 1874.

“The documents reveal the prices of booking a spot in Helwan and what kind of people used to go there. They tell how there were certain days allocated for underprivileged citizens to go there and enjoy the therapeutic water springs for free,” she added.

The Khedive Family
Photo courtesy of Amira Noshokaty.

When asked from where she was able to get all of these gems, she answered that some were from collectors, and she saved some before being recycled by paper merchants.

“I believe the best way to safeguard our intangible heritage is to document it and publish it on all media so that it is accessible to everybody and people would be aware it exists,” she concluded.

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