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L’Orientalisme architectural entre imaginaires et savoirs

Nabila Oulebsir
Mercedes Volait

II. Expressions

The Cairo Street at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893

István Ormos


Pour fêter la commémoration du 400e anniversaire de la découverte des Amériques par Christophe Colomb, une exposition universelle dite World’s Columbian Exposition a été organisée à Chicago en 1893. L’Égypte s’est fait remarquer par l’envoi de deux projets, dont la rue dite du Caire. Max Herz bey, architecte en chef du Comité de conservation des monuments de l’art arabe du Caire, fut le concepteur du projet ainsi que son maître d’œuvre. Dans la perspective de mieux situer la rue du Caire dans son contexte architectural, cette contribution donne un descriptif précis de l’Exposition universelle, suivi d’un historique du projet et d’une présentation des particularités propres à la rue du Caire. La priorité est donnée à la matérialité de la rue, sans omettre les aspects idéologiques et politiques.

Note de l’auteur

This paper is part of a bigger project supported by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA T048863).

Texte intégral

World’s fairs

  • 1  Stefan Goldmann, “Zur Rezeption der Völkerausstellungen um 1900”, in Hermann Pollig (ed.), Exotisc (...)
  • 2  On this subject see Alexis Gregory, The Golden Age of Travel 1880-1939, London: Cassell, 1998.
  • 3  Zeynep Çelik, Displaying the Orient. Architecture of Islam at nineteenth-century world’s fairs, Be (...)

1World’s fairs made their appearance in the middle of the 19th century as the result of a development based on a tradition of medieval church fairs, displays of industrial and craft produce, and exhibitions of arts and peoples that had been popular in Britain and France. Some of these early fairs were aimed primarily at the promotion of crafts and industry. Others wanted to edify and entertain: replicas of city quarters or buildings characteristic of a city were erected thereby creating a new branch of the building industry which became known as coulisse-architecture. A deep and unshakable belief in the power of knowledge and in the importance of acquiring it characterized this era. We should remember that it saw a continuous progress in the natural sciences, a series of discoveries and inventions that seemed to have no limits in the physical world. This then resulted in continuously accelerating progress in industry, which in turn gradually transformed the life of the masses. These changes were sometimes confusing because they did not necessarily herald the advent of a better epoch; yet it was assumed that these latter cases only represented a temporary setback in the otherwise continuous advance of mankind. There was also a widespread and deep-seated conviction that the possession of knowledge made humans impervious to evil influences; thus the importance of world’s fairs in the acquisition of knowledge and in the education of the masses was also greatly appreciated. World’s fairs were also regarded as more or less complete encyclopaedias of human knowledge. They included, among other things, the demonstration of peoples both from nearby and exotic countries in their accustomed surroundings, in addition to all sorts of animals from all over the world. This was also the period when museums, zoological and botanical gardens, and so-called panoramas were founded and became increasingly popular all over Europe and the rest of the world. It is interesting to note that from about 1870 on inhabitants of exotic countries were also displayed along with animals in zoological gardens under the name of “anthropologico-zoological expositions”, a peculiar custom which was later discontinued and faded into oblivion.1 In general, fairs were extremely popular in this period. Various sorts of fairs were organized in major centres and the population flocked to them: world’s fairs were perhaps the biggest and most comprehensive of all. World’s fairs had extremely complex and multifaceted ideological messages, which always depended on the given surroundings and on the exact ideological atmosphere of the organizing country. The assertion of national grandeur was always prominent: each country placed special emphasis on areas in which it considered itself pre-eminent. A world’s fair was always a good opportunity to show the world the face of one’s own country one considered characteristic and worthy of display. The strengthening of national consciousness and of the bonds within a given society was an important aspect of world’s fairs: parallel with the incredibly rapid progress of industrialization, the second half of the 19th century also saw the emergence of workers’ movements and trade unions, and it was by no means exceptional that simmering social tensions would result in more or less violent outbreaks of unrest. It was hoped that through their emphasis on nationalism world’s fairs would cement the bonds within a given society, thereby helping to defuse or at least diminish social tensions. Amusement always played a significant role in the history of world’s fairs, and this was especially the case with the representation of foreign populations. There can be no doubt, however, that in this latter field the aspect of education also played a significant role, and this must be seen in a positive light: no matter how artificial and rudimentary the display was, it afforded a possibility to see representatives of populations with whom one normally did not come into contact. In an era when travelling became fashionable and more and more popular, it was emphasized that visits to these shows were a substitute for journeys to these distant lands for those who could not afford them.2 Originally these shows were meant to be strictly scientific anthropological demonstrations of the evolution of the human species. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that within the framework of social-Darwinism, which was widely popular at the time, these peoples represented a lower level of development and – it was widely believed – could justly be regarded as primitive. Thus visitors were convinced that they had every right to look down on them, and could return home with the satisfaction that they themselves were so much superior to these wild beasts. In its turn, this circumstance also justified eventual imperialistic ambitions: raising the cultural level of these peoples and assuring proper rule for them made it appear desirable, even imperative, to subjugate them, because it provided them with the indispensable prerequisites of progress they were unable to attain by themselves.3

2In every world’s fair innumerable new inventions were also presented to the public, and many new implements that were to change people’s life to a considerable degree in the years to come became known, and, within a short period of time, acquired a popularity and circulation undreamt of under normal circumstances. The organizers of each world’s fair were keen to outdo the previous one in most respects, a circumstance which resulted in a real competition: each world’s fair was much bigger, more impressive and colourful than the preceding one, with ever new sights added, aspects and emphases modified.


3Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492 and to commemorate the 400th anniversary of this event a grandiose world’s fair was organized in America, the World’s Columbian Exposition – this was the official name – in Chicago in 1893. It was planned for 1892 but the opening was postponed until 1893 because of construction delays. In view of the numerous advantages and the considerable profit, both tangible and intangible, to be gained by hosting such an event there was very fierce competition among major towns such as New York, Washington DC, St Louis and Chicago as to who should organize it. On the other hand, it was also clear that only one exhibition was to be organized and it had to be a federal affair with the backing and support of the whole country because it was expected that the fair would give an impressive picture of America to the whole world. In the end Chicago outbid all its rivals and the US Congress awarded it the right to host this outstanding event on American soil. By that time Chicago had already become a major centre of industry and commerce as a consequence of the frenetic growth of previous decades, but it also had a rather bad reputation for poverty, disorder, crime and violence, which resulted in great social tension and massive continuous unrest among the population of the “Red City”, which consisted mainly of immigrants. A vivid example was the Haymarket Riot in 1886, which subsequently became the symbol of the oppression of the working classes, and to this day it is celebrated as May Day by workers all over the world. Only 22 years had passed since the great Chicago Fire of 1871 and, although its devastation had been repaired, the city had not yet fully overcome the impact of the tragedy. Chicago’s name still sounded barbaric to most American ears and the time had come, so the city’s leadership thought, to prove the contrary to America and the world alike by displaying their city as a haven of culture and order. Thus Chicago could at last assume its rightful place in the consciousness of the country on the basis of its achievements in industry and commerce. At the same time the organizers hoped that such an overwhelming event might help to defuse or at least ease social tensions in the city itself, in addition to the general boom involved in and resulting from the hosting of the fair: in a period of economic trouble the fair promised to generate commercial profits and increase real estate values. On the other hand, on a nationwide level, America also wanted to show the world that having become one of the leading nations in industry, agriculture and business, it had now come of age and was ready to take its place in the community of the world’s nations as Europe’s equal with respect to culture and art too. It was usually held that America’s performance at the world’s fair in Paris in 1889 was not congruous with its economic might and that it had failed to project the picture it wanted the world to see. Therefore one of the foremost aims of the Chicago fair was to undo this damage. In general, the basic requirement set before the organizing committee was to surpass the Paris fair of 1889 in every respect.

The site of the fair

  • 4  For a detailed description of the fair see, e.g., Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book of the Fair, Chic (...)

4First of all the site of the fair was selected. It was to consist of three grounds: Jackson Park on Lake Michigan, Washington Park, and the connecting small strip of land, Midway Plaisance. The plan to include Washington Park was later abandoned, and the fair was finally located in two areas: Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance. A unique fair plan was chosen for Jackson Park: by utilizing the natural landscape, a system of waterways and lagoons connected to Lake Michigan was created. It was here that the thematic buildings were erected. In general, this system followed a pattern that had been adopted at earlier world’s fairs. The displays were arranged according to subject matter: in Chicago the organizers secured the services of America’s best specialist on exhibitions, George Brown Goode (1851-1896) of the Smithsonian Institution. An ichthyologist by profession, and the foremost taxonomist and museologist of the United States, Goode conceptualized the fair as a complete encyclopaedia of civilization. The Administration Building adjoined the Court of Honour. There stood the Machinery Building, the Agriculture Building, the Peristyle, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, the US Government Building, the Women’s Building and the Palace of Fine Arts: altogether 14 “great buildings”. These central buildings were designed according to a carefully thought-out general plan: they were mostly erected in the Beaux-Arts style with its emphasis on classical elements, and were painted white. The result was a dignified ensemble radiating serenity, tradition, richness, order, culture and elegance. This was exactly the image of themselves that both Chicago and America wanted to impart to the world. This all stood in a marked contrast to the modern architecture of Chicago of course, where after the Great Fire a modern functional architecture devoid of unnecessary decoration was given precedence in the reconstruction of the city owing to the commercial nature of most buildings; the steel frame construction made the erection of skyscrapers possible. The choice of the Beaux-Arts style was an overwhelming success with the public and had a lasting impact on city architecture in the United States. It was only much later that voices could be heard that stressed the negative influence of the Chicago fair saying, for instance, that by deliberately choosing a style which was considered outdated by the time of construction the organizers set back American architecture by 40 years. On the other hand, the carefully balanced general plan of the 14 “great buildings” introduced town planning into the United States, and had a lasting impact on the appearance of American cities. Since the buildings were to be temporary, they were not built of stone but of wood and brick, and were covered with staff, a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fibres, a French invention which combined low construction costs with excellent results: painted white, the buildings gave the illusion of white marble glowing in the sunshine thus giving rise to the name “The White City”. However, visitors were confronted with a strange dichotomy in the architecture of the “great buildings”: the dignified façades radiating serenity and self-assurance hid interiors reminiscent of odd amalgamations of department stores with airplane hangars. Partly in these thematic central buildings and partly in finely separated, characteristic structures of their own in an adjoining area – more than 200 buildings altogether were erected for the fair – exhibitions were organized at their own expense by 43 states and territories from the United States and 23 foreign governments.4

Midway Plaisance

  • 5 Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, Cleveland; New York: Worl (...)
  • 6  On the distinction between the centre and the periphery in world’s fairs cf. Zeynep Çelik, Leila K (...)

5Midway Plaisance was born due to a dual consideration. First, a display of foreign – among others exotic – peoples had become a popular constituent of fairs in general and was an enormous success at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, where the French government chose to present the peoples of French colonies in living villages as scholarly anthropological shows. Thus there was no doubt that the Chicago fair was to have its own display of exotic peoples also. But ever since word began to spread about the world’s fair to be held in Chicago, entrepreneurs and various other representatives of the entertainment industry from all over the world began to bombard the organizers with applications to participate in the fair. There was no question that the fair was to be a great opportunity for entertainment too, but the organizers feared that both the display of exotic peoples and representations of the entertainment industry would scarcely harmonize with the dignified picture of classical serenity Chicago and America wanted to display to the world: they feared that they would even spoil it completely. It was therefore decided that these two sections of the fair were to be built as a sort of annex to the fair, and so they were relegated to Midway Plaisance, an area adjoining Jackson Park, the central ground of the fair. As we have seen, the name “Midway” referred to its location between Jackson and Washington Parks. The word “Plaisance” represented an old spelling for “pleasance”, a word of French extraction originally meaning “pleasure”, which subsequently came to mean “pleasure ground; a secluded garden or landscaped area laid out with trees and walks”.5 Midway Plaisance was conveniently regarded by the organizers as an anthropological exhibition forming part of the Department of Anthropology, which thus contributed to the educational aspect of the fair. This aspect was heavily present at the fair: innumerable congresses and conferences, also World’s Congresses, among them the mammoth week-long Parliament of Religions, were organized. Yet Midway Plaisance was a purely commercial venture, with concessions granted to private entrepreneurs on the basis of how much profit might result. Many “national” displays were organized representing various nations in the Midway Plaisance but in contradistinction to the central ground of Jackson Park, where foreign nations were represented by official exhibits organized by their respective governments, in Midway Plaisance displays of foreign nations were set up as private enterprises on the basis of concessions granted to them. This was often done under the aegis of governments or with their permission, but it was not necessarily the case, and, as a rule, it was not done in an official way. Entertainment was of paramount importance, and the chief aim of the entrepreneurs was of course to make the biggest profit possible. Whenever this aim seemed under threat in the course of the fair, swift changes were made to alter the situation in order to avoid material loss. This aspect had a profound influence upon the design and standard of these displays too.6

  • 7  See Stefan Goldmann, “Zur Rezeption...”, op. cit. (note 1), p. 88. Eva Walter, “Kleine Kulturgesch (...)
  • 8  See Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book of the Fair..., op. cit. (note 4), p. 835-883.

6Just to give an idea of the multi-coloured attractions of Midway Plaisance, here follows a brief list of the major displays on this mile-long strip of land: Wild East Show, Brazilian Concert Hall, Dahomey Village, Austrian Village, Chinese Village, American Indian Show, Panorama of Kilauea Volcano (Hawaii), Lapland Village, French Cider Press, National Hungarian Orpheum, Algerian Theatre, Tunisian Café and Concert Hall, Ferris Wheel or Great Wheel, Vienna Café, Moorish Palace, Turkish Village, German Village, Panorama of Bernese Alps (Switzerland), Natatorium, Javanese Village, Japanese Bazaar, Hagenbeck’s Animal Show7, Persian Theatre, Model of St Peter’s, Pompeii Theatre and Panorama, Indian Bazaar, Irish Village, Aztec Village, Dutch Settlement, Colorado Gold Mine, Ostrich Farm and Indian Bungalow. The Natatorium was a place where public swimming was held. The Ferris Wheel, named after George W. Ferris, its inventor, and also known as the Great Wheel, one of the sensations of the fair, was a technical invention to demonstrate the high level of American craftsmanship and to surpass the Eiffel Tower of the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris.8

Cairo Street

  • 9  See Paul Greenhalgh, Ephemeral vistas..., op. cit. (note 3), p. 102-105.
  • 10  “Mr. George Pangalo (Native of Smyrna)”, Portrait types of the Midway Plaisance. With an introduct (...)
  • 11  On Herz see István Ormos, “Max Herz (1856-1919): His life and activities in Egypt”, in Mercedes Vo (...)
  • 12  Arnold Wright (ed.), Twentieth century impressions of Egypt, London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub. (...)
  • 13  Ahmed Shafiq, who accompanied the prince and his brother during their visit to the Paris fair, doe (...)
  • 14  Djavidan Hanum, Harem. Erinnerungen der früheren Gemahlin des Khediven von Ägypten, [Reprint editi (...)
  • 15  Markus Kristan, Oskar Marmorek 1863-1909, Wien: Böhlau, 1996, p. 186-191.

7The most famous project in Midway Plaisance – and, as some say, in the whole Chicago world’s fair –, however, was “Cairo Street” or “Streets in Cairo”. It was at the Exposition Universelle of Paris in 1878 that a Rue du Caire was installed for the first time, but minor similar projects had been realized ever since the first world’s fair, the Great Exposition in the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. It was a great success at the Paris fair of 1889 too, having increased considerably both in size and scale.9 The person responsible for the Chicago project was George Pangalo. He was born in Smyrna, Turkey, of an English mother and a Greek father, and his paternal grandmother was Italian. He was educated in the prestigious Robert College in Bebek on the Bosphorus (near Istanbul), the predecessor of present-day University of the Bosphorus (Boğaziçi Üniversitesi), an American Protestant institution run at the time by the Congregationalists. On graduation he entered railroad service for five years. Then he spent a year as a bank clerk in Salonica. Subsequently he entered journalism spending a year in Bucharest with the Gazette de Roumanie. Then he moved on to Alexandria, became a bank clerk, and was subsequently promoted to manager of the Anglo-Egyptian Bank in Cairo.10 In December 1890, when he had been staying in Cairo for ten years, he heard of the Chicago fair for the first time. He at once requested an audience with Khedive Tawfiq and succeeded in securing his moral endorsement for the project. Pangalo then proceeded to obtain the cooperation of Max Herz, the architect in charge of the conservation of Arab and Islamic monuments in Cairo.11 In securing Herz’s services he was led by two considerations: he regarded Herz’s expert knowledge as indispensable and also thought that Herz’s official position with the Egyptian government would give a standing to his project. Herz seems to have been willing to participate, but Pangalo was first compelled to obtain the consent of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe, whose chief architect Herz was at the time. (It is to be observed in this context that it was Pangalo and not Herz who had to obtain the Comité’s permission.) Finally Pangalo was granted the permission in question on the condition that Herz would work for the project only after regular governmental business hours. On December 22, 1890, Pangalo left Cairo and sailed for America to look after his project on the spot. In Chicago he submitted a request for a concession to The Ways and Means Committee, and on February 6 received a promise of permission “to use a piece of ground, to contain about fifty thousand square feet” in connection with his project on the condition that the plans and specifications would be submitted to the committees in charge for approval so that the details of the concession could be arranged to the satisfaction of all parties. On Pangalo’s return to Cairo on March 12, 1891, he discussed the project with Herz, who agreed to prepare the plans. An office was set up and staff was recruited: the recently-arrived Austrian architect Eduard Matasek was on it – he would join the Comité after the conclusion of the project.12 During Pangalo’s trip to the United States Khedive Tawfiq died in January 1891. Pangalo was keen to obtain the support of his successor, Khedive Abbas II Hilmi. An audience was granted during which the Khedive showed great interest in the project and expressed his regret that he would not be able to visit it personally owing to the untimely death of his father. He also made it clear that he could not assist Pangalo and his undertaking in his official capacity but he personally sanctioned it and wished it all success. He also asked to see Herz’s plans as soon as they were ready. They were completed in April 1891 and Pangalo submitted them to his sovereign for approval. The Khedive summoned Pangalo and requested further information: he was worried what use the replica of the mosque was to be put to, because he had been dismayed to see, during his visit to the Paris fair in 1889, that the mosque in the Rue du Caire there had been desecrated.13 Pangalo assured him that the mosque would be kept sacred and serve as a place of prayer for the Muslim colony of Egyptians in Chicago. He added: “Your Highness, my principal object, as already stated, is to give the world at large a correct idea of Egypt and I feel confident that with a colony of about two-hundred pure Egyptians, including women and children, and comprising all the different trades and professions of Egypt, living in their very homes, which I will reproduce in Chicago, I can portray the Egyptian nation in its true light, and make my exhibit instructive as well as worthy of amusement seekers.” The young Khedive listened carefully to Pangalo’s explanations and said that if the project was carried out as outlined, he had no doubt it would be a success, and that he personally endorsed it. We know that Abbas II Hilmi greatly enjoyed projects of this kind. His eccentric and passionate Hungarian wife, Djawidan Hanum recounts in her memoirs that whenever they were in Vienna together the Khedive insisted on going to the exhibition “Venice in Vienna” every evening because he loved it and was especially fond of big crowds and loved to mingle with them, something he could not do in Egypt, where he was always supposed to behave in a way fitting for a ruling monarch.14 The “Venice in Vienna” project was realized by the Austrian architect Oskar Marmorek in 1895 and was only dismantled in 1910; Marmorek was an expert in coulisse-architecture specializing in the erection of similar projects.15

  • 16  According to another view Muhammad Ali prohibited the use of mashrabiyyas because wood was scarce (...)
  • 17  George Pangalo, “How the streets of Cairo came to the world’s fair. The story of some old friends” (...)

8Pangalo was back in Chicago by May 15, 1891, but it was not before the end of the year, December 1891, that The Ways and Means Committee officially granted him the concession. The delay in reaching a decision may have been connected with the fact that there were three other competitors. Pangalo at once organized The Egypt-Chicago Exposition Company “Streets of Cairo” with a working capital of USD 225,000 and left for Egypt on December 24. Back in Cairo he leased offices and started recruiting local people with whom to populate the Chicago exhibit. In the native quarters of Cairo he distributed Arabic handbills or circulars with a description of the Chicago fair and of its Egyptian section. He also engaged 20 people to go around and spread word by mouth about the enterprise and its advantages, with special attention to well-to-do merchants, who might like to participate in the project. Cairo Street was to house a considerable number of authentic Egyptian shops selling authentic Egyptian goods, and there were reasonable prospects of making good profits there. In order to secure an authentic appearance for the buildings in Cairo Street, Pangalo was keen to obtain the greatest possible number of mashrabiyyas. These closed balconies made of latticework of turned wood were conspicuous, characteristic and very picturesque elements of traditional architecture, which used to determine the general aspect of streets in Cairo. However, beginning with the rule of Muhammad Ali in the first half of the 19th century, they gradually began to disappear, partly because European-style glass windows became more and more fashionable and partly also because their use was prohibited by law on the grounds that being made of wood and projecting over the streets they were apt to catch fire and conduct it in no time to neighbouring houses in the densely built native quarters.16 Pangalo made use of this circumstance and amassed a great number of them. Sometimes Pangalo would buy items from destroyed buildings or others which were replaced with glass windows. In other cases he or his agents would persuade the owner of a fine mashrabiyya to replace it with a modern glass window and sell it to his enterprise. In other cases he would buy a whole house, strip it of its mashrabiyyas and resell it. In his own words: “It was now my turn to join the ranks of the despoilers, as my buildings could not be true and of interest without the genuine latticework; and although I blush in saying it, I went to work with a vim that would have done credit to a vandal.” It took him 9 months to collect the necessary number. During this time he despoiled more than 15 residences of their entire old woodwork, and over 50 others of singular items such as carved panels, doors etc.17

9On reading Pangalo’s description of his methods, the modern reader is apt to be filled with uneasiness and shame, his only consolation being that even without Pangalo’s activities these mashrabiyyas would have disappeared anyway. Herz’s role also raises doubts. We have no proof as yet that Herz was actively involved in this part of the project. No matter how highly we esteem Herz’s activities in general we cannot help but assume his tacit complicity in this matter. Yet even the idea of the participation of the Comité’s chief architect – who was so rigorous and demanding in all his doings – in a project involving such behaviour and activities seems incredible at the first hearing. On the other hand it is beyond doubt that Herz was very proud of the project and I am convinced that he would have refused to cooperate on it if he had had any professional or ethical doubts. If we try to understand his attitude the first thing that comes to mind is that these mashrabiyyas were not listed monuments and it is most likely that there was no place to store them in the Arab Museum (present-day Museum of Islamic Art) either. So Herz may have thought that they would soon have disappeared anyway, and this consideration may have cleared his eventual doubts.

10On January 23, 1892, everything was shipped to New York accompanied by a carpenter who would assist his American colleagues with any necessary repair work on the items. Pangalo then set about recruiting the people who would populate the street. In the meantime he had also secured the assistance of two policemen who regularly called at his office thereby creating the impression that the whole enterprise had the support of the government and was consequently in order. People flocked to his office and he had plenty to choose from: donkey boys, camel drivers, farriers, waiters, forerunners (sais), cooks, barbers, conjurers, wrestlers, jesters, coffee-grinders, musicians, scribes, men of religion, those who organize wedding processions, those who rent tents for festive occasions, pitch them and supply refreshment. Pangalo bought 4 tents, 20 donkeys, 7 camels with the necessary equipment such as saddles, trappings and the paraphernalia for the wedding procession, which was to be one of the main features on his programme.

11Then came the most difficult task: he had to hire dancing girls. At the beginning no one would apply. The main opposition came from the Greek and Syrian managers of the dancing halls, who feared great material losses if their leading artistes were to leave for Chicago. Pangalo resorted to a trick. He spread a false report among the guests of dancing halls saying that Farida Mazhar, the renowned dancer, had signed a contract with him, whereas he had been compelled to reject several of her colleagues because of their poor artistic standard. Farida felt flattered, while her rivals were furiously jealous. They did not believe Farida Mazhar’s denials, but were convinced that she wanted to get ahead of them. Before long all the important dancers were ready to sign a contract with Pangalo and he was able to engage whomever he wanted. In the end Pangalo’s caravan to the New World consisted of 175 persons (men, women and children), plus baggage, goods, 7 camels, 20 donkeys, monkeys, snakes and provisions. He chartered the British steamer Guildhall, which departed from Alexandria to New York on March 9, 1893, with an extra cargo of Egyptian cotton and sugar, thus reducing the cost of the charter. Herz travelled to the United States via England: he left Liverpool for New York on the ship Aurania of the Cunard Line on February 11, 1893.

12Cairo Street was not a faithful replica of any particular street in Cairo but combined 26 distinct buildings of Arab-Islamic style into harmonious entity which gave the illusion of a real street. The idea was not new. Similar projects had been realized in earlier world’s fairs – and were to be realized in subsequent enterprises too. Medieval Cairo was displayed within the framework of a royal palace at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. An Egyptian complex was exhibited in the Vienna world’s fair in 1873. Egypt had a similar offering at the Paris exhibition of 1878, and one of the main sights of the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889 was the Rue du Caire. In more general terms, with the wildly increasing popularity of all sorts of fairs in the second half of the 19th century, it was becoming more and more popular to erect relatively accurate replicas of architectural ensembles of days long gone or to assemble architectural groups of more or less authentic units of a given town or quarter of a town without, however, producing an exact copy but rather an ensemble that radiated the desired overall effect. In a similar way, the displays of peoples referred to above were also staged in authentic, architect-created surroundings. In all these, education and amusement were closely intertwined, with a preponderance of the former at times, of the latter at others, and sometimes these buildings served mainly the promotion of consumption as propaganda items.

  • 18  Miksa Max Herz, “Az Iszlám művészete [Islamic art]”, in Zsolt Beöthy (ed.), A művészetek története (...)
  • 19  He published a Hungarian article on it with illustrations in 1890.
  • 20  See Street in Cairo. World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago: Egypt-Chicago exposition Co., 1893. Hu (...)

13As mentioned before, Cairo Street was made of 26 distinct Cairene edifices, including a mosque, houses, shops, a public drinking fountain and an elementary school (sabil-kuttab). In the centre stood a replica of Abdalrahman Katkhuda’s sabil-kuttab, one of the landmarks of the Old City (fig. 1). The beautiful mosque was a copy of Qayitbay’s funerary mosque in the Northern Cemetery except for the minaret, which was an exact replica of the minaret of the fine Circassian mosque of Abu Bakr ibn Muzhir in Birgawan Street in the Old City (fig. 2). This choice is somewhat surprising. Qayitbay’s funerary mosque – including its minaret – is widely regarded as one of the finest monuments of art in any country, period or style.18 Herz also shared this opinion, which is why it is somewhat odd to find Herz replacing it with the minaret of Abu Bakr ibn Muzhir – an extremely fine minaret in its own right, true, but still an alien constituent in the present case. We can only guess at Herz Pasha’s motives. It is possible that he was working on Abu Bakr ibn Muzhir at the time, and may even have had some drawings he could use for this purpose, so perhaps it was much easier for him to resort to his work in progress instead of carrying out special studies – he seems to have worked under considerable time pressure. He enjoyed his work on Abu Bakr ibn Muzhir’s mosque and its restoration counted as a great personal success. Another possibility is that to avoid offending religious sensibilities he preferred not to erect a mosque which could easily be identified with one that genuinely existed: the mosque he created was an imaginary edifice, less likely to upset anybody’s feelings. It is also possible that he was motivated by both considerations. Five times a day the muezzin’s call to prayer could be heard from the minaret, and visitors were allowed to ascend the gallery inside the mosque to watch the prayer of the Muslims. It is worth remembering that there were few Muslims in America at the time, and the chance to attend a real prayer in an authentic mosque was really something exotic. The buildings in Cairo Street also included a replica of the mansion of Gamalaldin al-Dhahabi, an exquisite building erected in the Ottoman era but in the traditional style of the Mamluk period. This building was also closely connected to Herz. He was greatly interested in it. It is generally regarded that this rare specimen of secular architecture would have disappeared had Herz not been particularly involved. It is known that he carefully studied it before the Chicago fair19 but it was only at a later point in his career that he carried out an overall restoration of it. There was also an okala (okella; Ar. wikala) or caravanserai (fig. 2), which could be entered and inspected, just like the other buildings. There were over 57 booths and more than 50 stands in the various parts of the Street, where authentic Egyptian products were sold.20

1. Cairo Street scene with Abdalrahman Katkhuda’s sabil-kuttab in the centre.

1. Cairo Street scene with Abdalrahman Katkhuda’s sabil-kuttab in the centre.

Street in Cairo. World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.

2. The mosque and the interior of the okala.

2. The mosque and the interior of the okala.

Street in Cairo. World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.


  • 21  Cf. Karin van Nieuwkerk, A trade like any other. Female singers and dancers in Egypt, Cairo, 1996, (...)
  • 22  George Pangalo, “How the streets...”, op. cit. (note 17), p. 285.
  • 23  Donna Carlton, Looking for Little Egypt, Bloomington: IDD Books, 1994, p. 54-83.

14There was also a theatre with a seating capacity of over 1,500. It was in this theatre that the belly dancers performed – not advertised as “belly dancing” now but as danse du ventre, the French language being used probably to give the performance an aura of elegance and excitement. The show caused incredible excitement and was – according to all contemporary accounts – the greatest sensation of the whole fair. This type of dance was known to some travellers in Egypt, and readers of travel accounts may have heard of it without knowing exactly what it was: it was totally unknown to the general public in America. What people saw in this theatre was not in line with the morals of contemporary America and was evidently not with what they had been accustomed to. For most people the overriding impression was most likely not disapproval but simply astonishment: they had simply never imagined that women could dance in this style. The show certainly cannot have been as immoral as is often suggested, even by the standards of the time, because there was no official intervention, and although the Board of Lady Managers did raise protests, these were evidently not enough to have the show closed down, a step which the authorities would not have hesitated to take had anything counter to the law been going on. It is also possible that at least part of the public discussion of the outrageous nature of danse du ventre and the regular reports on its imminent prohibition formed part of a carefully-orchestrated media campaign destined to promote the show. The belly dance or Oriental dance of those days was different from what we are familiar with today, because modern belly dance evolved in the first half of the 20th century with some elements being imported from the West. We know for instance that it was regarded as semi-outrageous that one of the dancers occasionally lifted her skirt above her left knee. The dancers’ costumes in Chicago were also different from the modern belly dance outfit. The history of Oriental or belly dance has still to be written.21 It is beyond doubt that there was a rich dance tradition in the Arab-Islamic world in medieval times, yet it is open to serious doubt that danse du ventre is “as old as the Egyptians themselves”, as Pangalo maintained.22 On the contrary, there are good reasons to assume that in its present form it is the result of 19th- and 20th-century developments, at least partly due to Western influence, and thus it must to some extent be regarded as a corollary of imperialism and colonialism. The rise of tourism in the 19th and 20th centuries as well as prolonged presence of an occupying army no doubt considerably contributed to the long-term development and transformation of this profession. There were many British soldiers in Egypt between 1882 and 1956, reaching especially high numbers during the two wars. Contemporary descriptions of the dance are usually unfavourable, commenting with dismay on the vulgarity of the pelvic movements and the incessant, hideous, irritating music accompanying them, yet people flocked to the show in Chicago “to witness a dance that will deprive you of a peaceful night’s rest for months to come”, as a journalist remarked. Cairo Street had a long afterlife in this respect. Hootchy-Kootchy dancing became a household word and dancers calling themselves “Little Egypt” kept appearing at different places long after the fair was over. Recent efforts to identify this legendary figure have proved futile: several women seem to have used this stage-name, which – it was widely assumed – was the name under which one of the stars of the Cairo Street theatre had made her appearance, an assumption difficult to substantiate because nobody seems to have used this name during the fair. However, desperate quarrels were carried out in the press in later years as to who the real Little Egypt was, with one side categorically rejecting the lewd and totally immoral behaviour of the other. In any case, on one notorious occasion in 1896 a lady danced as “Little Egypt” at a New York Fifth Avenue bachelor party. A rival dancer reported that she was going to dance nude and the party was raided by the vice squad, an event which made headlines in the newspapers. It is beyond doubt that nobody danced nude in Cairo Street, yet the origins of strip-tease became associated with it in American minds in the picturesque afterlife of the Chicago fair.23

15Noisy and colourful wedding processions moved along the Street regularly, and picturesque mawlids, traditional celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday and of festivals of Muslim saints, were also regularly held in Cairo Street. Judging from contemporary descriptions, which are not always accurate, and from photographs showing the Sacred Litter, the Mahmal, it appears that the annual departure of the Mecca pilgrims’ caravan and its return were also regularly staged. As far as the population is concerned, in addition to Cairene Muslim and Christian Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Turks and Efrengis (Europeans), there were also Nubians and Sudanese warriors, whose awe-inspiring presence was greatly enhanced by the impact the Mahdi’s war against Anglo-Egyptian government forces had made on contemporary minds: although the Mahdi was dead by the time of the Chicago fair, his followers were still fighting and an end to the war was not yet in sight.

The Pharaonic temple

16At the entrance to Cairo Street there was also a replica of a Pharaonic temple in Luxor with obelisks at its doors, the “facsimiles” of important mummies inside, and priests and priestesses playing Pharaonic music. Scholarly explanations were offered to the interested visitor to this independent project, which, however, could not compete with the visual and acoustic temptations of Cairo Street proper, and where attendance was therefore considerably lower.

The success of the project

17All sources agree that Cairo Street was the most successful project on Midway Plaisance and of the fair as a whole both as regards attendance figures as well as concomitant material gains: during the six months of the fair there were over two and a quarter million paid admissions (fig. 3). At first only an entrance fee of 10 cents was charged. The price was then raised to 25 cents early in the season; but the crowds were not deterred and, to a large extent, left fortunes in the aggregate each day for donkey and camel rides, drinks at the booths, fees at the theatre, the temple and the side-shows: the fun of the Street seemed to make people extravagant.

3. Street in Cairo.

3. Street in Cairo.

James W. Shepp, Daniel B. Shepp, Shepp’s world’s fair photographed, Chicago; Philadelphia: Globe Bible Publishing Co., 1893, p. 507. URL:​details/​sheppsworldsfair00sheprich.

  • 24  The display of a guillotine in a Moorish palace can only be explained by the entrepreneur’s desire (...)

18What was it that made Cairo Street so irresistible, so unique? After all, it was not the only Oriental display, not even the only one from an Arab or Islamic country from the Mediterranean or the Middle East: there were Algerian and Tunisian shows, a Turkish village, a Persian palace, a Bedouin settlement, a Moorish palace – displaying also La Dijonnaise, the guillotine used in the French revolution – etc.24 Nor was it the only place where Muslim prayer could be witnessed: it was possible to attend one in the Turkish village also. A “Wedding in Damascus” was also shown in the Turkish village, and even the ignominious danse du ventre was staged in several other places.

  • 25  See Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book of the Fair..., op. cit. (note 4), p. 975-992, esp. p. 990 for (...)

19I think the success of Cairo Street was a result of several concomitant factors. In the first place, it was significant that instead of individual buildings, an entire native quarter was reproduced, which gave visitors the impression of being transported to the medieval city itself. In addition to this, Cairo is the richest city in medieval Arab-Islamic monuments in the world. Thus by clever selection of characteristic items and elements, and their faithful reproduction, sometimes even employing original constituent parts, it was easy to create a charming architectural ensemble with a genuine atmosphere. Thirdly, the great number of authentic Cairene types populating the Street and behaving as if they were simply going about their daily business greatly contributed to the authenticity of the project and gave the visitor the impression that he was really in the Middle Eastern metropolis (fig. 4). We must not forget that in the year 1893 a severe economic crisis hit America, and there can be no doubt that many visitors to the fair were seriously affected by it. Under such circumstances the ebullient joie de vivre of the Cairenes, their natural, inborn happiness and easy-going attitude to life in general cannot but have swept away the grim present, at least for a short while. I am personally always overwhelmed when I visit the poor native quarters of Cairo and see mostly smiling, fascinatingly happy faces of people going about their work: the streets are filled with the deafening noise of laughter, jokes, hilarity and a natural love of life. Such an atmosphere cannot fail to have impressed visitors to Cairo Street. There was also a lot to participate in, not only to watch passively. For instance, no one could resist the fun of the camel ride: it was an incredible experience to mount a camel and alight from it as well as even to watch the efforts of others. The presentation of a formerly unknown “sex show” in the form of belly dance proved irresistible to many spectators. In fact the success of Cairo Street was such that a similar project was also realized at the Midwinter Fair of January 1894 in San Francisco.25

4. The Western end of “The Street”. George Pangalo, “How the streets of Cairo came to the world’s fair. The story of some old friends”.

4. The Western end of “The Street”. George Pangalo, “How the streets of Cairo came to the world’s fair. The story of some old friends”.

The Cosmopolitan, 23, 1897, p. 287.


1  Stefan Goldmann, “Zur Rezeption der Völkerausstellungen um 1900”, in Hermann Pollig (ed.), Exotische Welten – Europäische Phantasien, Stuttgart: Cantz, 1987, p. 88-93. Eva Walter, “Kleine Kulturgeschichte des Zoologischen Gartens”, in Exotische Welten..., p. 94-97.

2  On this subject see Alexis Gregory, The Golden Age of Travel 1880-1939, London: Cassell, 1998.

3  Zeynep Çelik, Displaying the Orient. Architecture of Islam at nineteenth-century world’s fairs, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992 (Comparative studies on Muslim societies, 12), p. 17-32. Zeynep Çelik, Leila Kinney, “Ethnography and exhibitionism at the Expositions Universelles”, Assemblage, no 13, 1990, p. 38-40. URL: Accessed October 21, 2013. See Paul Greenhalgh, Ephemeral vistas. The Expositions Universelles, great exhibitions and world’s fairs, 1851-1939, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988 (Studies in imperialism), p. 82-111.

4  For a detailed description of the fair see, e.g., Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book of the Fair, Chicago; San Francisco: The Bancroft Company, 1893. A brief account is available in Stanley Appelbaum, The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. A photographic record, New York: Dover Publications, 1980 (Dover architectural series).

5 Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, Cleveland; New York: World Pub. Co., 1958, p. 1121. The New Penguin English Dictionary, London: Penguin, 2001, p. 1069.

6  On the distinction between the centre and the periphery in world’s fairs cf. Zeynep Çelik, Leila Kinney, “Ethnography...”, op. cit. (note 3), p. 36-40.

7  See Stefan Goldmann, “Zur Rezeption...”, op. cit. (note 1), p. 88. Eva Walter, “Kleine Kulturgeschichte...”, op. cit. (note 1), p. 96-97. In Chicago, Hagenbeck’s Animal Show was a real show: tigers could be seen riding on horses and similar highly unlikely performances were demonstrated to the enthusiastic public.

8  See Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book of the Fair..., op. cit. (note 4), p. 835-883.

9  See Paul Greenhalgh, Ephemeral vistas..., op. cit. (note 3), p. 102-105.

10  “Mr. George Pangalo (Native of Smyrna)”, Portrait types of the Midway Plaisance. With an introduction by Frederic Ward Putnam, St Louis: Thompson Pub. Co., 1894.

11  On Herz see István Ormos, “Max Herz (1856-1919): His life and activities in Egypt”, in Mercedes Volait (ed.), Le Caire – Alexandrie. Architectures européennes 1850-1950, Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 2001, p. 161-177 (Études urbaines, 5); id., Max Herz Pasha (1856-1919). His life and career, Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 2009, (Études urbaines, vol. 6, no. 1-2).

12  Arnold Wright (ed.), Twentieth century impressions of Egypt, London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Pub. Co., 1909, p. 363. Rudolf Agstner, “Dream and reality: Austrian architects in Egypt 1869-1914”, in Le Caire – Alexandrie..., op. cit. (note 11), p. 146-149. Before arriving in Egypt, Matasek spent three years with the highly successful Austrian firm Fellner & Helmer, which specialized in theatre architecture and erected around 50 theatres all over the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and in neighbouring countries (as far as Sofia and Odessa).

13  Ahmed Shafiq, who accompanied the prince and his brother during their visit to the Paris fair, does not mention this reaction of the heir to the throne, nor does he make any comment to this effect. Ahmed Shafiq Basha, Mudhakkirati fi nisf qarn, [Reprint edition], Cairo: al-Hay‛ah al-Mi‛rīyah al-‛Āmmah lil-Kitāb, 1994-1999, vol. 1, p. 482-489. In connection with the visit of the princes the Khedive awarded 42 decorations to various persons in their entourage and to participants in the erection of the Egyptian section. Egyptian National Library and Archives, Cairo, Abdin, no 323.

14  Djavidan Hanum, Harem. Erinnerungen der früheren Gemahlin des Khediven von Ägypten, [Reprint edition] Berlin: Verlag Vis-à-Vis, 1988, p. 333.

15  Markus Kristan, Oskar Marmorek 1863-1909, Wien: Böhlau, 1996, p. 186-191.

16  According to another view Muhammad Ali prohibited the use of mashrabiyyas because wood was scarce in Egypt and he needed it for his fleet and the grand-scale construction works of the ruling family in general.

17  George Pangalo, “How the streets of Cairo came to the world’s fair. The story of some old friends”, The Cosmopolitan, no 23, 1897, p. 277-288, esp. p. 283-284.

18  Miksa Max Herz, “Az Iszlám művészete [Islamic art]”, in Zsolt Beöthy (ed.), A művészetek története [The history of arts], Budapest: Lampel R. Könyvkereskedése, 1906-1912, vol. 2, p. 164.

19  He published a Hungarian article on it with illustrations in 1890.

20  See Street in Cairo. World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago: Egypt-Chicago exposition Co., 1893. Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book of the Fair..., op. cit. (note 4), p. 858-859 (illustrations), 864-868 (text).

21  Cf. Karin van Nieuwkerk, A trade like any other. Female singers and dancers in Egypt, Cairo, 1996, p. 21-50. Wendy Buonaventura, Serpent of the Nile. Women and dance in the Arab world, Austin: University of Tewas Press, 1994. Zeynep Çelik, Leila Kinney, “Ethnography...”, op. cit. (note 3), p. 35-59, esp. 39-41. Edward W. Said, Culture and imperialism, London: Vintage, 1994, p. 133-134.

22  George Pangalo, “How the streets...”, op. cit. (note 17), p. 285.

23  Donna Carlton, Looking for Little Egypt, Bloomington: IDD Books, 1994, p. 54-83.

24  The display of a guillotine in a Moorish palace can only be explained by the entrepreneur’s desire to use the most outlandish objects possible to make a large profit.

25  See Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book of the Fair..., op. cit. (note 4), p. 975-992, esp. p. 990 for Cairo Street.

Table des illustrations

Titre 1. Cairo Street scene with Abdalrahman Katkhuda’s sabil-kuttab in the centre.
Crédits Street in Cairo. World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.
Fichier image/jpeg, 412k
Titre 2. The mosque and the interior of the okala.
Crédits Street in Cairo. World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.
Fichier image/jpeg, 360k
Titre 3. Street in Cairo.
Crédits James W. Shepp, Daniel B. Shepp, Shepp’s world’s fair photographed, Chicago; Philadelphia: Globe Bible Publishing Co., 1893, p. 507. URL:​details/​sheppsworldsfair00sheprich.
Fichier image/jpeg, 208k
Titre 4. The Western end of “The Street”. George Pangalo, “How the streets of Cairo came to the world’s fair. The story of some old friends”.
Crédits The Cosmopolitan, 23, 1897, p. 287.
Fichier image/jpeg, 183k

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