Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East at The Queen's Gallery

By Culture24 Reporter | 04 April 2013

Exhibition preview: Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East, The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, until July 21 2013

A black and white photo of a mid-19th century man in a suit
The Prince of Wales at the end of his four-month tour in 1862. Abdullah Freres studio, Constantinople© Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Starting with a train to Venice and peaking, visually at least, in processions past pyramids on horseback, the tour the Prince of Wales made around the crumbling Ottoman Empire was far from your average royal visit in 1862.

Described as having “educational” purposes – the idea was to expand the man who would become King Edward VII’s knowledge of an uncertain area which was key to the British route to India – he was joined by the British photographer Francis Bedford, who returned with the kind of photographs which remain pretty arresting today, let alone to an audience back home intrigued by the possibilities of the camera.

Even more interestingly, the Prince became something of an archaeologist during his four-month sojourn. An exotic stopgap between his studies and marriage, he returned with an Egytian papyrus pathway to the Afterlife, a pained wooden funerary stela of a priest (displayed here in a striking frame) and numerous ancient scarabs set into Egyptian-style gold jewellery, which came in handy when he needed gifts for his fiancée, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the following year.

The lie of the land was as complex as it is today. Edward passed through Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, meeting rulers, politicians and notable figures in an era when the introduction of steamships to Alexandria had cut journey times and made the region easier for European tourists to reach.

On his part, Bedford – commissioned to accompany her son by the Queen, who he had regularly portrayed – became one of the first photographers to win permission to picture Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, not to mention the ruined Christian quarter in Damascus and his shots of Abd al-Qadir, an exiled Algerian freedom fighter admired in Europe for his bravery in protecting Christians.

He produced 172 photos, lauded by the British Journal of Photography as “perhaps the most important photographic exhibition that has hitherto been placed before the public, whether we regard it as an aid to history or as a collection in which unity of design has been a ruling principle in the artist’s mind”.

A further 20, which were not given widespread exposure at the time, also see the light of day here.

  • Open 9.30am-6pm. Tickets £3.15-£6.25 (free for under-5s, family ticket £16). Book online. Continues to The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, October 2014 – February 2015. Visit the exhibition online for more and follow the Royal Collection Trust on Twitter @britishmonarchy.

More pictures:

A black and white photo of an Egpytian pyramid during the mid-19th century
Francis Bedford, Pyramids at Giza, Cairo, Egypt© Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
A black and white photo of various middle-eastern artefacts during the mid-19th century
Antiquities from Rhodes, purchased by the Prince of Wales© Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
A black and white photo of a crumbled Egyptian temple during the mid-19th century
Temple of Jupiter, Baalbek, Lebanon© Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
A black and white photo of an Egyptian garden during the mid-19th century
Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem© Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
A black and white photo of a grand temple in Egypt during the mid-19th century
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem© Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
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