Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Lecture by Michael Haag - Author - Vintage Alexandria

Had the good fortune of attending a lecture by Michael Haag, eminent Photographer and author of multiple books about Egypt.

Although he is from London, he has been visiting Alexandria since 1973, prior to which he already had a lot of friends who had emigrated to the UK from Alexandria. Michael's passion for Alexandria emanates from every photograph and is evident in every word that he speaks.

For today's lecture, he focused on a series of old photographs that he collected from private family albums of long term residents of Alexandria. The pictures in this book span a century- between 1860 and 1960. He showcased 30 of the pictures and told us stories behind each one and took us on a marvelous journey into "Vintage Alexandria"

While the costumes were strange (3 piece suits worn while lounging on the sea shore for example) a lot of the buildings were recognisable. Although some of the buildings were destroyed in the bombing of the Western harbour during World War II and a lot of the buildings have been torn down to give way for new ones.

In Michael's eyes, Alexandria was the ultimate Cosmopolitan city until 1971, because the blend of cultures had not come through occupation or colonialism. The Greeks, Italians and other nationalities who lived in the city for over 150 years had been invited by Mohammed Ali to trade through the Alexandria port.

We saw a lot of previously unseen pictures of Lawrence Durell, Safinaz Zulfikar (later married to King Farouk as Queen Farida), Antony Benaki (the Greek cotton trader whose collection formed the basis of the famous Benaki Museum in Athens), Robert Koch (who isolated the cholera virus and developed a vaccine in an Alexandria laboratory) and other famous Alexandrians.

He showed us a picture of Constantine Cavafy from a business card he had printed and handed over to a friend during her wedding. The funny part was that the picture had been taken 15 years earlier! Cavafy continued to use the same picture for the rest of his life :)

The one thing that hasn't changed since the time of Cleopatra seems to be the layout of the Eastern Harbour, although a lot of the land has been reclaimed. The Hotel Cecil stands on reclaimed land and just beyond the original location of one of Celopatra's needles, which is currently in Central Park, New York.

It was an extremely illuminating lecture and it was a pleasure to be taken back in time to an era that was more gentle and cultured and "quiet"?

Most of his books that I browsed through seem worth buying. Visit Michael's website on
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...