Carry On up the Nile: The Tourist Gaze and the British Experience of Egypt, 1818–1932

  • Peter Lyth
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


For Europeans, Egypt and Egyptian history offer a more vivid and exotic picture of the ancient world than probably any other culture. With a history covering over 3,000 years, dynasties of pharaohs lasting for centuries, and extraordinary figures like Alexander, Cleopatra and Tutankhamun illuminating the story, this is hardly surprising. But by the late eighteenth century, Egypt’s light was all but extinguished; it had been reduced to nothing more than an impoverished and neglected corner of the Ottoman Empire, crippled by endless power struggles among its Mamluk leadership. It remained an important source of cotton textiles for Europe, as well as wheat and rice, but harvests were always uncertain, dependent as they had always been upon the annual Nile flood.1 Then in 1798 Napoleon arrived at the head of a French army, closely followed by the British, who had hitherto shown little interest in Egypt. After the French retreat, Egypt became gradually West-ernised under the Ottoman Khedive Mohammad Ali Pasha, so that by the time the English novelist Thackeray visited Alexandria in 1845, the Nile ‘was lined with steel mills’ and looked ‘scarcely Eastern at all’. 2 This, however, was strictly a minority view, hardly shared by the rising number of British travellers who visited the country in the first half of the nineteenth century; for them, Egypt was both classic and exotic, like drinking absinthe after a lifetime of whisky and soda.


Tour Operator Tourist Destination Suez Canal Tourism Research Tourist Imagination 
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© Peter Lyth 2013

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  • Peter Lyth

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