An archive of photographs of Makkah and Medina dating from the early 20th century has been on display at Sotheby’s auction house in London in preparation for the Natural History, Travel, Atlases and Maps sale on May 9. The sale of the archive is expected to realise £40,000 to £60,000.
The photographs were taken by Muhammad ‘Ali Effendi Sa’oudi (1865-1955) who accompanied General Ibrahim Rif’at Pasha on two pilgrimages from Egypt to Makkah and Medina in 1904 and 1908. The general was responsible for protecting the mahmal procession which carried to Makkah the elaborate embroidered draperies known as the kiswa for the covering of the Ka’ba.
Sa’oudi worked for the Ministry of Justice in Cairo where he specialised in identifying forged documents. His Dresden Stereo Palmos camera, on of the most advances cameras of its day, is included in the sale along with a wooden stereoscope for viewing its slides. The stereoscopic slides appear as 3D images when viewed through the stereoscope.
There are 114 original photographs, 88 stereoscopic glass slides and a modern album containing a complete set of prints of the slides. There are also 80 stereoscopic photographs mounted on card.
There are images of Al Haram Mosque in Makkah, including internal shots with the Ka’ba and Zam Zam, and of the Prophet’s Mosqueon Medina. Other images show archaeological sites and intimate photographs of groups and individuals.
Although Sa’oudi’s photographs are of great interest, they are not the earliest photographs of the two holy cities. Muhammad Sadiq Bey, an Egyptian colonel and engineer photographed Medina in 1861 and Makkah in 1880. Sotheby’s sold his original photographs of Makkah in 1998 for a world record of £1.25 million.
General Rif’at Pasha wrote a lavishly-illustrated book, “Mir’at Al Haramayn Aw Al Rihlat Al Hijaziyya”, published in Cairo in 1925, on his four journeys to Makkah and Medina between 1901 and 1908. Many of the 557 photographs in the book were taken by Sa’oudi. The sale includes Sa’oudi’s copy of the first edition of the book.
Sa’oudi’s contribution to the book, as well as his literary skill and literary output, have not previously been fully recognised. Sotheby’s says that through the archive he “emerges from the shadows as a man who brought the natural and architectural splendour of the future Saudi Arabia to a wider audience just as the Kingdom was reaching pre-eminence.”
The sale includes two manuscripts written in Arabic in Sa’oudi’s hand. “A Synopsis of the Pilgrimage” was written after his first pilgrimage, and “The Construction of the Ka’ba” was written after 1905.
There is also Sa’oudi’s “Voyages au Hedjaz et en Arabie” (1919) with printed text in Arabic and French and manuscript annotations by the author, together with a modern English translation. And there is an unpublished translation into Arabic of the chapters on Makkah and Medina from J L Burckhardt’s “Travels in Arabia” published in 1829.
Saudi Gazette April 18 2006