Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace 7 November 2014 - 22 February 2015
In 1862, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was sent on an educational tour of the Middle East, accompanied by the British photographer Francis Bedford (1815-94). An exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, documents this journey through the work of Bedford, the first photographer to join a royal tour. It explores the cultural and political significance Victorian Britain attached to the region, which was then as complex and contested as it remains today.
The expedition was designed to increase the heir to the throne’s understanding of the area at a time when the Ottoman Empire (nominally in control of the lands through which the Prince was travelling) was disintegrating and Britain needed to secure the route to India. Against this backdrop, leisure travel to the region was increasing, stimulated by recent major archaeological discoveries in the Middle East. The introduction of steamships to Alexandria in 1840 cut journey times and made the region more accessible for European pilgrims and tourists. By 1867, the British travel company Thomas Cook & Son was even running package tours to Egypt and the Holy Land.
The Prince’s four-month tour had been planned by his parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, to occupy him after he had finished university and before he was married. The tour included Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. The Prince met rulers, politicians and other notable figures, and travelled in a manner unassociated with royalty, by horse and camping out in tents. The art of photography had been introduced to the public in 1839 and Bedford’s skill as a landscape photographer had already secured two royal commissions. The success of those early commissions led to his appointment on the royal tour.
Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, 2 April 1862