You know it is summertime when you get a heatstroke in the shade, when you eat grilled corn despite the fact that its smoke makes it hard to breath, and when street noise continues through midnight despite frequent power cuts. Welcome to summer in Egypt, where jasmine necklaces are your road companions in the heat, along with handmade kites that linger on the horizon to defy gravity.
The way Egyptians see it, the summer is “officially” split into occasional pre-summer coastal visits and summer vacation. Pre-summer times are dominated by traditional ways to combat the heat – such as rolling carpets and folding rugs away to sprinkle the floor with cooling mazahr (water infused with floral essence). In the evening, balconies morph into living rooms with rounds of lemonade pitchers, watermelon slices, radios and backgammon. Others can be found planning the family’s summer vacation.
Summer vacations mean a lot to Egyptians. In Galal Amin’s famous book Whatever Happened to the Egyptians, he dedicates an entire chapter to the topic. “Tasyif, the term denoting summer holidaymaking, specifically implies that the holiday is spent by the sea; Egyptians even have a special noun for people who spend the summer this way: mustafin […] There is also a word for summer breeze, bahari, which literally means the breeze that comes from the direction of the sea.”
Amin reveals how the summer holiday season was much longer in the past. The concept of weekends did not exist. It was a long leave of absence that involved “a copious number of suitcases and trunks, and perhaps even mattresses, blankets and the like.” The book highlights the fact that, pre-1952 Revolution, the government would moved its headquarters and main offices to Alexandria at the beginning of every summer and return to Cairo at its end.
Pre-1952 Revolution, Al-Montaza Palace was the royal summer residence, and its neighbouring Alexandria beaches were open to the public. Post-revolution, both the palace and beach were open to the public. As the royal elite fled the area, Amin explains that the revolution generated its own elite which created new cabins and beaches in Al-Montaza area. Over the past 50 years, fashionable Egyptian summer beach resorts have been shifting, with a general westward direction: first Agami, then Marina and now all that have come to follow along the North Coast.
Photos courtesy of Al-Ahram digital Archive and Ola. R Seif
For more info please check our photo heritage articles:
Ras Al-Barr, or the golden beach
Alexandria: Coast of Passion
Heading to the North Coast
The Canal Trio