Tourists Along the Nile
Tourists Along the Nile
Until 1830, the traveler to India faced a long, and often stormy, passage around the Cape of Good Hope. The advent of the steamship changed everything. Now you could take a steamer from England or Marseilles to Alexandria, then spend a few days or weeks in Cairo waiting for news that the ship for India was approaching Suez. You then took a camel, horse, or wagon across the desert to meet the vessel at what was then a small village. Hotels opened in Suez and Cairo to accommodate transit passengers. The British Hotel in Cairo, soon to be renamed Shepheard’s Hotel after its manager, welcomed its first guests in 1841. This magnificent Victorian institution became world famous, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, when it became the hotel of choice for the British Raj on its way to and from India. The hotel also catered to a new breed, the archaeological tourist. Bubonic plague epidemics periodically claimed thousands of lives in Egypt until 1844, when it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Cholera arrived from India to take its place, but despite this scourge, Egypt became a recommended destination for travelers wishing to escape damp European winters. By this time, a journey up the Nile to the First Cataract was routine, although one had to endure long quarantines on account of the plague. Nile travel became so popular that the London publisher John Murray commissioned the Egyptologist John Gardner Wilkinson to write a guide, one of a series aimed at a new audience of middle-class tourists.Wilkinson traveled in style, his baggage requiring a small army of porters. The contents of his baggage included an iron bedstead, a sword and other oddities, and “much more,” including a chicken coop, ample biscuits (cookies), and potted meats. He lamented the high cost of living in Egypt and the changes brought by a rising tide of visitors. “The travelers who go up the Nile will I fear soon be like Rhine tourists. & Cheapside will pour out its Legions upon Egypt.” His Handbook for Travellers in Egypt first appeared in 1847, went through multiple editions until 1873, and was still in common use half a century after its first appearance.
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