Egypt: A Photographic History

With some of the world’s most famous monuments, Egypt became a popular subject for photography as the technology became more widely available in the mid-nineteenth century. But what began with European visitors posing in front of the Pyramids became a documentation of some fascinating, amusing, and poignant moments in Egyptian history. In this month’s Kobry, we’ll take a tour of Egyptian history through photography, and explore some forgotten moments in our country’s long history.

c. 1860
French photographer Arnoux Hippolyte took this very Egyptian photo of fellahin (peasants) on camelback in front of the Great Pyramid of Khufu


Worlds collide in this portrait of samurai standing in front of the Sphinx by Antonio Beato. Part of a diplomatic mission sent to France by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the samurai stopped in Egypt on the journey from Japan. The mission was not a success, and the Shogunate would fall just four years later; by 1870, the samurai class would be abolished. The Sphinx, however, remains.

c. 1870

A woman with a water jug walks in front of the temple of Akhenaten (then Amenhotep IV) at Karnak. While it might seem that the temple has decayed over centuries, it was actually torn down shortly after Akhenaten’s death in 1336 BC by those angry with the dead pharaoh’s attempt to institute monotheistic worship of the Aten, a sun god.

c. 1875

The medieval tombs of Mamluks (a military dynasty that began as slave-soldiers) in the foreground, with the Citadel (a fortress constructed by the great Kurdish general Saladin) in the background. The Citadel itself is crowned by the Mosque of Muhammed Ali Pasha, an ambitious Ottoman soldier who took over Egypt and built the Mosque mere decades before this photo was taken in imitation of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

c. 1880

The famous lion statues on the Qasr El Nil bridge, then called the El Gezira Bridge. The lions were designed French sculptor Henri Alfred Jacquemart.

c. 1900

Tahrir Square in the early twentieth century. The Egyptian Museum is clearly visible in the background.


Anglo-Egyptian soldiers rest while they await orders in a photo taken just before World War I.


As a British possession, Egypt served as an important staging ground for campaigns against the Ottoman Turks during World War I—including T.E. Lawrence’s famous Arab Revolt. This photo shows men from the 14th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, who flew reconnaissance missions across the Middle East.

c. Mid- to Late 1930s

King Farouk I (right, with his sisters) was the last king of Egypt, and tenth ruler of the dynasty founded by Muhammad Ali Pasha in the early 19th century. Crowned at the age of 16 in 1936, Farouk’s reign would only last until 1952, when he was deposed by a military coup let by Gamal Abdel Nasser. While he as come to symbolize a cosmopolitan and sophisticated time in Egyptian history, Farouk was a poor ruler more interested in luxurious living than government. He died at just 45 years of age, in 1965.


Stylish pedestrians in the streets of Cairo in the early 1940s.


A Vespa print ad aimed at Egyptian buyers featuring the Citadel and Muhammad Ali Pasha Mosque in the background.

c. 1955

Beachgoers in 1950s Alexandria.


A vintage advertisement for Egypt’s domestically-brewed Stella beer.


Famous American jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong plays in front of the Sphinx.


Anwar Sadat and Richard Nixon meet in front of the Pyramids.


The funeral of legendary Egyptian singer Omm Kolthoum in front of the 26th of July Bridge.


Model Tatjana Patitz enjoys a shisha in a Vogue magazine photoshoot.


The Cairo Tower at night (photo by Ayman Muhammad ElShahat).