Weekly photo challenge: Symmetry

I found this photo of the Grand Hotel in my father’s war album, from his time in Egypt in 1941/42 with the AIF.  The hotel in central Cairo is part of the Gamalian complex built in 1939, designed by Kamal Ismail.  At street level are the hotel foyer and shops, above them is a mezzanine level of offices, and then eight floors of apartments.  The complex is an excellent example of stark modernist architecture with its streamlined, symmetrical arrangement of facade details, repetition of balconies, rounded corners, simple balustrades and lack of ornamentation.

On the right and left of the photo where it is out of focus there are small corner balconies on separate buildings, between which there are three pedestrian walkways leading to a central rotunda.  The walkways these days are blocked with shops and stalls, but they were designed to allow natural ventilation and illumination between the three parts of the complex, as you can see in the layout plan below the photo.

Grand Hotel, Cairo, c1941
Grand Hotel, Cairo, c1941

Layout plan Gamalian Complex and Grand Hotel Cairo

I found the plan at archnet.org in a very interesting article, “Gamalian:  a rediscovery”, about the design and innovations in the complex.  The author laments the deterioration of the buildings since their construction in 1939.

Thanks to the Daily Post for this photo challenge.


Weekly photo challenge: Descent

Descent:  a downwards movement, bad for a fragile object falling or a fragile person tripping.  A good thing if you descend from an airless mountaintop or from worthy ancestors.  It’s especially useful if you need an inexpensive system of water delivery, for even in the desert there’s the free pressure of gravity.  The photo here is taken in a desert during World War Two, one of the many photos my father brought back from the Middle East.  It’s captioned simply “Gravity Tank”, taken in North Africa, probably Egypt, in about 1941.

Gravity tank, North Africa, c1941
Gravity tank, North Africa, c1941

Prompted by the WordPress photo challenge.

Weekly photo challenge: Street life

I’m not old enough to have taken these photos.  Lol.  They’re from my father’s war album of photos taken in 1941-42.  He was sent to the Middle East for several months and brought back photos of the places he passed through.  He wasn’t always the one behind the camera;  some of them came from friends in swaps, so I can’t know who captured these images.

The first one is a snatch of street life during the early years of the war in Alexandria, Egypt.  Not much traffic!

In the mid-19th century, under the French, this was the Place des Consuls, where several Consulates were situated in what was then a cosmopolitan Alexandria.  It was then renamed Mohammed Ali Square in 1873 after the statue of the Ottoman governor, Mohammed Ali, was placed in the square (on the right of the photo).  British naval forces bombarded the area in 1882 and destroyed most of the original buildings.  It’s now Midan al-Tahrir, Tahrir Square (same as the famous square in Cairo).  In English, it’s Liberation Square.

Mohamed Ali Square, Alexandria, Egypt, c1941
Mohammed Ali Square, Alexandria, Egypt, c1941

The photo below is from the same album, but is unidentified.  It’s in the same era, and probably in Egypt, definitely in the Middle East, definitely during the war.  I like the perspective, the way the street curves into the distance behind buildings, and the way the buildings are flush with the street.  It’s not so much about street life since everyone seems to be inside except for a woman and two children quietly making their way  home.  The scalloped detail on the rooflines is particularly clear in monochrome, as is the mass of (what looks to be) a dovecote on the right.

Street scene, 1940s, Egypt?
Street scene, 1940s, Egypt?

I’m very thankful these days that my family kept these photos.  They’re possibly more meaningful now that several decades of history have passed, and we can compare the scenes then and now (thanks to all the images online).  Try looking for current photos of Tahrir Square in Alexandria.  The statue of Mohammed Ali is still there, but the square looks very different otherwise.  But perhaps black and white hides some of the grit of street life.



Ailsa wrote a story about a slim steep-sided trail on her way to Mount St Helens, and asks us to post photos of other things that reach to the skies.

I like this photo of a pyramid emerging from the desert sands.  See the rooftop at the sandline?  It looks tiny but is probably the normal size for normal humans.  Unlike pyramids.

Pyramid, Egypt, c1941,  from my father’s war album


Tomb of Queen Hatsepshut, Valley of the Kings, Egypt, c1941
Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings, Egypt, c1941

Hidden behind tall cliffs on the west bank of the Nile is the Valley of the Kings, Biban el-Muluk, in Luxor.

And trying to hide in the rock face of the limestone cliff is the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, known as Djeser Djeseru (Holy of Holies or Sacred of Sacreds), which is the main building of the mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri.  Hatshepsut ruled from 1473-1458 BC, one of the few women to rule as Pharaoh.

Excavations at the complex began in the 1890s and continued until 1936.  There seems to have been some archaeological work in progress when this photo was taken during WWII.  New photos available online (for example here), compared with the one above reveal some reconstruction since the 1940s.

The temple complex is a symmetrical structure, 30 metres tall and the length of about two and a half football fields.  On the lower terraces there were gardens; fossilised remains of trees have been found lining the walkway to the temple, fragrant incense trees which Queen Hatshepsut had brought back from Punt (south-east of Egypt, possibly present-day Somalia).  About 100 colossal statues of her as a sphinx guarded the entrance, and more massive statues of the queen wearing male clothing and a false beard adorned the temple.

The black and white photo above comes from my father’s WWII photo album.

The colour photos below are of statues of Hatshepsut in the Hatshepsut Room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Hatshepsut, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Hatshepsut, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Ailsa came across a few strange hidden things in her travels and posted photos of them on her blog, then asked us to find some things hiding in other parts of the world.  Ailsa comes up with fantastic prompts for photos and blogging, and I really appreciate the ideas.  Check out her post!

Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Big

Think ‘big’.  Now think ‘Egypt’.  Perhaps you’re having visions of big protests in the streets, and as I’ve just heard five minutes ago on the evening news:  ‘Another day of rage and bloodshed’.

Perhaps you’re thinking of other big Egyptian things:  pyramids, massive pharaonic statues, or the sphinx.  But here’s something else that’s big in Egypt: the citadel in Cairo, a 12th-century fortification against the Crusaders, and the mosque on its summit built centuries later by Muhammad Ali between 1824 and 1848.

In 1801, Muhammad Ali was appointed by the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople to be governor in Egypt.  But he had bigger plans.

In 1805 he began eliminating the Mamluks, his main competition, a warrior group who for centuries had worked for the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan.  In 1811, Muhammad Ali invited the Mamluk leaders to a ceremony in his palace in the citadel, and as they were leaving he had them massacred.  In the following days large numbers of Mamluks were killed in the city.  Years later, in 1824, he razed the Mamluk buildings in the citadel and in 1830 began building his mosque in the style of the Ottomans in Turkey.  The building, with its one main cupola, four smaller and four half-cupolas, resembles the Turkish Blue Mosque.  On his death in 1849 Muhammad Ali was buried under it.

Next to it in this photo is one of the Mamluk mosques that remained in the citadel, the Mosque of Mahmud Pasha built in 1567 in the Mamluk architectural tradition, with a pencil-shaped minaret characteristic of Ottoman mosques.

Muhammad Ali Mosque and Mosque of Mahmud Pasha on the Citadel, Cairo
Muhammad Ali Mosque and Mosque of Mahmud Pasha in the Citadel, Cairo (photo from my father’s war album)

The painting below by David Roberts in 1839 shows the citadel before Muhammad Ali’s mosque was built;  it looks quite different from the photo, but the title on the painting tells us it’s the same place:

Image: medinaarts.com

Even the painting evokes something big!  We can see the grandeur of the citadel viewed from above a parapet and also a sense of the size of the structures when compared with the Arab groups dotted in the foreground.

But return to the photo and take a moment to look at the street scene.  Peace.  It will come again.

Please have a look at Ailsa’s blog post because it was her BIG idea!


Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Architecture

My father was born 93 years ago today, so I knew I had to post some photos from his album.  I found these two in his collection of images from Heliopolis, Cairo in 1941/42.  They show the racecourse built as part of the plan for the model suburb of Heliopolis, designed by the Belgian industrialist, Baron Empain.  The baron had the idea of raising a garden city in the desert, to be a place of luxury and leisure for mostly European visitors and residents.  Heliopolis is now a part of greater Cairo.  Empain began his development of Heliopolis in 1905 and continued to build it over the next couple of decades.  The racecourse was built in 1910.

A colour image of the building shows its deteriorated state in 2011, though it has since become Merryland, an area of shops, cafés and gardens.  However, the colour photo also shows how beautiful the detail of the architecture was.

Racecourse, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Racecourse, track side, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Racecourse, street side, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Services Club, formally the Royal Pavilion at the Racecourse, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

Check out the beautiful photos of architecture on Ailsa’s blog pages.

Weekly photo challenge: Foreshadow

I almost posted a photo of a big player on the German side of WWII as a response to the prompt ‘foreshadow’.  But I’ve decided not to give him space.

I found the picture amongst my father’s photos, but there were others which, for the opponents of this grim man, undoutedly foreshadowed possible defeat. These two bombers would have had me worried if I were on the losing side (or possibly even if I were on the winning side and standing in the wrong place).

Under this one, the caption reads ‘Flying Fortress’, an American bomber.

Flying Fortress, Middle East, c1942
Flying Fortress, Middle East, c1942

The second is captioned simply ‘Bomber’.  I assume it’s British, judging by the insignia on the wings and fuselage.  Without knowing what the colours of the insignia are, I can take a guess that they are, from the centre out, red, white and blue, British colours:

Bomber, Middle East, c1942
Bomber, Middle East, c1942

Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Tilted

Feluccas are traditional motorless boats that have been used for transport on the Nile River since biblical times.  From the photo below you’d have to agree that they are graceful whether their masts are tilted into the wind or tilted at rest on the beach.  The design is simple, a small wooden boat with a few cushioned seats around the sides, a table in the middle, and sails made from cotton or other natural fibres.

Today feluccas carry tourists and locals on peaceful pleasure boat trips along the Nile.  This photo is from my father’s World War two album and was taken in 1941 or 1942.  Aren’t the large creamy triangular sails ideal in black and white photography!  I’ve posted a few felucca photos since I’ve begun blogging;  if you’d like to see more, look here and here and here.

Felucca, Egypt, c1941
Felucca, Egypt, c1941

Ailsa came up with this theme for a photo challenge.  Check out an amazing tilted tree and other photos here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

If you’re living in Cairo at present, you’re probably feeling nostalgic for a quieter city with fewer people in the streets.  Here’s a photo to prove that your city was once more peaceful, well, at least outside this hospital.  And there was a world war going on!

With a theme like ‘Nostalgic’ I just had to return to my father’s war album.  I often think I’ve blogged about his best photos, but when I dig around it long enough I can still find a photo to match a challenge, especially this week when Cairo is undergoing yet more trouble and millions of people are in the streets. It’s the ideal time to post a photo taken in Cairo in about 1941.  My father wrote “9th BGH Heliopolis” under it, that is, the 9th British General Hospital in the suburb of Heliopolis, Cairo.

Postscript:  Thanks to Ahmad Omar (see his comment below) I now know that this was originally the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, opened in 1910, which became a hospital in both WWI and WWII and since the 1980s has been one of the Presidential Palaces where presidential offices are located.

9th British General Hospital, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
9th British General Hospital, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941  (formerly Heliopolis Palace Hotel)