By A’laa Koddous Allah
This exhibition takes you on a journey that spans a millennium.
‘Austria and the Arab World: A Journey of a thousand years’ exhibition was initiated by the Austrian Cultural Forum in Cairo and curated by Austrian historian Mathhias Pfaffenbichler.
“The exhibition is a journey that highlights the relations between Austria and the Arab World in general and Egypt in particular,” Anni Mashriki of the Austria Culture Forum told the Egyptian Mail.
“It also shows that the relation between Austria and the Arab World was on many sides as historic and artistic,” she added.
Austria and Egypt have had firm relations for thousands of years. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a centre of tarboush production in the nineteenth century, and that 80 per cent of all the tarboushes worn in Egypt were imported from Austria.
Moreover, Austria’s first giraffe ever was a present by Mohammed Ali Pasha in 1828.
The exhibition which is held in Abdeen Park, downtown, shows in 20 photos, each one with a caption, how deep the relations between Austria and the Arab World are in many levels.
As for the historic side, under the title of ‘Austrians in the land of the Pyramids’, the exhibition displays a photo showing the Arab Museum in Cairo, (now the Museum of Islamic Art), after its completion in 1902.
Another photo shows the detail of the al-Rifa‘i Mosque in Cairo. The work started in the Mosque in 1869, and it was designed by Max Herz Pasha. It was completed 1905-1911.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Austro-Hungarian subjects formed a sizable expat community in Egypt; the fourth-largest group of foreigners residing in the country, they numbered around 7,700 in 1897 and comprised expatriates of all walks of life – high-ranking officials in the Egyptian government, merchants and bankers, scientists and archaeologists, and those who worked as housekeepers, governesses or cooks.
Members of the professional class included numerous architects who designed remarkable buildings in Cairo.
Between 1890 and 1914, the Austro-Hungarian architect Max Herz Pasha headed the Egyptian government committee in charge of preserving Cairo’s historical monuments. He also completed the grand neo-Mamluk al-Rifa‘i Mosque, where many members of the Khedivial family are buried.
On the artistic side, under the title of ‘The creative exchange continues’, there is a photo showing an unforgettable open-air concert in Assuit in 2002 that brought together the Egyptian star Mohamed Mounir and his Austrian counterpart Hubert von Goisern, and which was attended by more than 10,000 people.
Another photo shows the Austrian instrumental duo Bartolomey Bittman performing their own compositions at the Sultan Qaitbey cultural centre in Cairo, in April 2019, in an event organised by the Austrian Cultural Forum.
Culture exchange plays an important part in Austria and the lives of her citizens and in how Austria wants to present herself to the world and engage with other countries and cultures.
Over the years, many renowned Austrian artists performed or showed their work in Egypt, and for some of them it was a springboard to international recognition and fame.
Even the social side also reflects the deepening relations between Austria and many other countries.
The exhibition displays a photo of a coffeehouse in Cairo in 1888, an oil painting by Arthur von Ferraris, who spent the winter of 1884/85 in Egypt.
A coffeehouse in Vienna is more than a place to have an espresso or a cappuccino; it is part of the fabric of social life.
At the turn of the twentieth century, at the height of their popularity, the city’s coffeehouses were places for intellectual exchange where writers, artists, revolutionaries and musicians rubbed shoulders with philosophers, scientists and state officials.
“Most of the photos in the exhibition are originally displayed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna,” Mishriki said.
The exhibition, which is in the Abdeen Park (el-Montaza el-Gedid) in front of Abdeen Palace, Abdeen, downtown Cairo, runs until Sunday, December 12. Open daily from 9am-midnight. Entrance fee LE5.