Opinion| Historical maps of Egypt (Aspect two): The Golden Age of Egypt’s interest in the Nile

green grass field near body of water during daytime

The Egyptian interest in the River Nile’s sources throughout its golden age in the 19th Century (see the very first element of this op-ed series in the Every day News Egypt) could only reach its ambitions via relying on a diverse group of earth scientists like geographers, geologists, botanists, surveyors, and astronomers.

Atef Mohammed

Following Muhammad Ali’s rise to energy in Egypt in the very first half of the 19th Century, Egyptian-led geographical discoveries and military conquests multiplied.

This geographical and military momentum relied on two forms of professional enable.

The very first form was represented by prominent figures in the Alawite household who had led the military campaigns themselves, and incorporated, in the very first half of the 19th century, Muhammad Ali Pasha himself, and his sons, primarily Tosson, Ibrahim, and Ismail, along with his son-in-law Muhammad Bey Al-Daftardār.

In the second half of the century, Egypt also relied on property-grown officers, who would have had their names and perform immortalised, if the system of neighborhood documentation and archiving had been accomplished with the very same authentication strategies located abroad. Sadly, this form of Egyptian pioneers was not described, except in uncommon occasions.

The second form of masterminds had been these foreign professionals who came to Egypt with Napoleon’s French campaign (1798-1801), and later the Fraser campaign (1807) which was element of the Turkish-English war (1807-1809).

Muhammad Ali eyes had been abruptly opened to the possibilities presented by these professionals like military personnel, surveyors, sailors, explorers, and scholars. Muhammad Ali and his successors figured the value of searching for the help of this foreign input, specifically as Egyptian scientific knowledge throughout that period was weak following the Mamluk rule.

Ibrahim Pacha

These foreign professionals had been capable to reap the advantages of fame via printing and publishing their functions in Egypt and abroad, and as a outcome, possessing their names feted far a lot more than these of their Egyptian counterparts.

In addition to the earlier two forms of professionals, we can also refer to uncommon situations when exploring missions and campaigns gathered each Egyptian and foreign pioneers at the very same time. These campaigns had been, possibly, the most valuable form of all for exchanging knowledge, regardless of their scarcity.

We can recognize almost one hundred personnel of these travellers, explorers, geographers, and irrigation professionals who helped Muhammad Ali Pasha and his successors. It need to be noted that these people today had been not necessarily, as it is rumoured, of French origin due to the Turkish-French alliance at the time. They incorporated also Italians, English, Germans, and even some Russians and Americans.

Most influential personnel in Muhammad Ali’s Egypt

Regions of solutions

Regions of knowledge



Red Sea, Eastern Desert and White Nile

Geography, Exploration, irrigation and surveying


Linant de Bellefonds

Red Sea

Military education and Geological Exploration



(Soliman Pasha al-Faransawi)

Suez Canal, Eastern Desert and the Blue Nile

Exploration, Geography, and Geology



White Nile

Survey and Cartography


Ernest Bellefonds

Nile Valley and the Red Sea



Giovanni Batista Belzoni

Regional Geography

Geography and Cartography


Edme-Francois Jomard


River Geology



Decrease Nile

Engineering, Survey and Regional integration


Thomas Fletcher Waghorn


Doctor and Military officer



Blue Nile




Blue Nile




Sinai and Nile Valley



Le Fevre

Sinai and Kordofan




Eastern Desert of Egypt




Sinai, Kordofan, and White Nile




Blue Nile




Blue Nile

Geography and Exploration




Travelling and foreign affairs




Military education




Geographer and Military officer



Far more than 45% of this figure was interested in regional geography, anthropology, and regional chorography, though about 30% was involved in mining perform. The remaining professionals had been interested in antiquities, astronomy, surveying, irrigation, and military education.

Louis Maurice Adolphe Linant de Bellefonds, (1798 – 1883) explorer of Egypt, and chief engineer of Egypt’s Public Functions.

Egyptian Objectives

The use of foreign professionals varied, with their information directed to reach 5 principal ambitions throughout the very first half of the 19th Century, namely:

1. Military geography as a prelude to campaigns searching for to extend Egypt’s handle and sovereignty, and these extended to the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, the Libyan Desert, and Sudan. The professionals right here incorporated military officers, endemic pathologists, and military education instructors.

two. Mineral exploration in Egypt, in particular to come across the sulphur ores which had been essential for gunpowder. They had been located in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. The exploration also incorporated gold ores that the Egyptian spending budget was in dire require of. Right here, the campaigns headed to Sudan and the outskirts of Abyssinia (contemporary-day Ethiopia), while also undertaking exploration perform in Sinai, ahead of they despaired of obtaining any gold in the El-Tor Mountain region.

three. Activating trade among Egypt and other African nations, to safe the former’s desires of particular goods and goods that had been not obtainable in Egypt at the time.

four. Compulsory recruiting of soldiers from distant regions, in particular these challenging males in the Nile Basin area, throughout the reign of Muhammad Ali, ahead of Egypt abolished the slave trade and stopped human trafficking, beneath European stress, throughout the era of Muhammad Ali’s successors. The slave trade is one particular of the problems that impacted the supposed friendly relations among Egypt and other Nile Basin nations, and produced the typical hope for integration in the contemporary era tough.

five. Cleansing the course of the River Nile and its tributaries, to make certain the flow of navigation, monitor the safety scenario, and avoid European competitors, specifically from England, later France and Italy, in the Egypt-controlled locations in the Nile Basin.

Sève – Soliman Pasha al-Faransawi

Motives and Consequences

Evaluation of the historical context in that period reveals 3 principal motives that drove foreign scientists and scholars to perform in Egypt:

  • There was a passion for exploration, investigation, and scientific achievement as typified by these professionals or adventurous explorers.
  • Some of them had been spies (and each spy is a hero in his homeland!). They sent the final results of their trips and explorations back property, while at the very same time presenting them to the ruler in Egypt. In some instances, in scientific exploration, and geographical, anthropological, and cartographical investigation, Egypt’s rulers could not get these final results very first hand. Alternatively, they had been forced to wait till the scientists returned property and wrote up their scientific functions for printing or presentation at lectures at geographical societies about the planet. These findings had been only sent to Egypt’s ruling regime later. And it appears that it did not attain the typical people today of Egypt, who did not know any foreign languages, not to mention the higher illiteracy price amongst them, even of their mother tongue.
  • Other professionals served only their personal private glory, employing Egypt as a stepping stone to a life of luxury and satisfying the desires of wealth. These professionals frequently lived close to the ruler and the circle of energy, and engaged in seizing antiquities and smuggling them abroad beneath the eyes of Muhammad Ali himself.

This does not imply that the fate of these scholars, in which they would claw their way to funds and fame, was constantly safe. For some, their lives ended tragically, as some of them became mentally ill (like Frediani), other individuals had been killed at the hands of the locals (like Ernest Bellefonds, son of Linant de Bellefonds), or had been killed while on exploration trip (like Pacho), and but other individuals had been struck down by ailments and illnesses. The most nicely identified of these to die of fever was the navigation engineer Casamurat, who caught fever in a Blue Nile region, and when he sought therapy, barely reached Khartoum ahead of passing away in September 1826.

Frederic Cailliaud

The least doomed scientists had been cursed and rebuked by Muhammad Ali if they failed in their missions, and they had been consequently prevented from any privileges or gifts, and at times expelled.

Of course, there was also a state of semi-monopoly on info carried out by the foreign scientists and professionals. There are historically established instances in which the perform of Egyptian professionals was ridiculed and minimised.

Probably we need to highlight the renowned instance of Frenchman Linant de Bellefonds and Muhammad Bey Al-Daftardār, when the latter refused to be accompanied by foreigners on a purely Egyptian campaign to Kordofan (in Sudan). The Egyptians returned with information on the neighborhood population, their customs, and traditions the most significant crops in the region probable signifies of trade with the locals and maps of the trip. But when Muhammad Ali presented these findings to the European professionals, they mocked them.

“These are low-worth maps that include only roads and paths, a thing that reminds us of the maps of the Roman era hundreds of years ago,” wrote Linant de Bellefonds.

There is no doubt that foreign professionals had a outstanding superiority in geography that was not comparable to their Egyptian counterparts.

We have, for instance, Rifa’a Al-Tahtawi who focused on geography inside the limits of translation. Probably the most prominent of these translations into Arabic was a book by the French geographer Conrad Malte-Brun. It will have to be mentioned that the translation by Al-Tahtawi reveals, in truth, the modesty of his geographical information by the requirements of that time. This could be proof of the weakness of Egyptian geography education, which prompted Muhammad Ali later to make geography one particular of the principal education subjects at the Al-Alsun college in 1832, which was headed by Al-Tahtawi himself.

Thomas Fletcher Waghorn

In conclusion, we will have to appear objectively at what was gained throughout the period in which foreign professionals worked in Egypt throughout the very first half of the 19th Century. It brought quite a few advantages to geography and exploration in Egypt and Sudan, and supplied possibilities that had been not obtainable to the Egyptians throughout that period, like drawing maps or writing scientific literature which contributed to the development and expansion of the Egyptian state.

But on the other hand, we can not overlook the European occupations in the final element of the 19th century, regardless of whether it was the British in Egypt and Sudan, the French in the Middle and Horn of Africa, or the Italian in Libya and Abyssinia. The activities of these foreign powers could not have been accomplished had been it not for the efforts of the earlier decades’ exploration campaigns, that incorporated foreign professionals who carried out their functions and maps beneath the care and protection of Muhammad Ali and his successors. Really, all these efforts had been carried out with enormous funds from the Egyptian state spending budget, which was in the end poured into the interests of European colonialism, which occupied the African continent and controlled the sources of the Nile and divided the area.


Atef Moatamed: Professor of Physical Geography at Cairo University, and Egypt’s former cultural attaché to Russia.

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