Photo of Abu Simbel temple

One of the many unique pieces the City archive holds is a photographic print of the Abu Simbel temple in Egypt. Taken by A Barton Kent, it was donated to the Northampton Institute Camera club.

Abu Simbel Photo
A photo of Abu Simbel dated from c. 1920s

The photo shows an image of the Abu Simbel Great Temple. The Great Temple was dedicated in 1244 BCE by Ramesses II. The two statues here are both of Ramases II. They measure 67 feet.  It is a very grand temple in the Egyptian style, with four colossal statues of the pharaoh. The temple is dedicated to Ptah, Re-Horakthy and Amun. The temple may have been built to celebrate Ramesses II’s success in the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites. This battle was indecisive and both powers signed a peace treaty to conclude hostilities, a copy of which can be found on the walls of the UN Headquarters in New York. This temple is also very close to other temples including the Isis temple at Philae, which is notable for containing the very last hieroglyphics in use in Egypt (dated to 440s CE).

This image now preserves a lost world. The temple which survived from ancient times was moved in 1967 as part of the Aswan High Dam engineering project. The dam project was a major initiative for the government of General Nasser. The temple is in the south of Egypt, although the photo identifies the region as Nubia.  Nubia was the historic name for what was the region around the southern border of Egypt. In 1956 a large part of the region called Nubia formed the independent country of Sudan, following a referendum. In 2011 South Sudan became an independent country.

So much history reverberates in this object.

Photography became a very popular hobby in the first half of the twentieth century with the advent of the Kodak box camera. It was a very cheap camera and made photography more accessible. It is possible that several members of the photography club used these cameras and a darkroom on campus. The photographer of this print was likely a professional. He may have been invited to the Northampton Institute to talk on photography.

Travel to Egypt from Europe (and vice versa) was relatively common, but only for wealthy individuals. The interest in Egypt was likely piqued by the dramatic discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. The sensational news reports ignited a trend in Egyptian style objects, films and furnishings around the world. The first mummy film dates from this period.

If you are inspired to find out more about Egypt, you don’t have far to go. Islington has many notable Egyptian style buildings. The old Carlton Cinema on Essex Road and the old Carreras Cigarette Factory are both stunning examples of Egyptian-revival architecture on our doorstep. Richmond Avenue, once home to City alumnus Tony Blair, is notable for its Sphinxes and even the Mount Pleasant sorting office shows more than a passing resemblance to an Egyptian temple. You can also head to the British Museum and Petrie Museum for more information.