Some World Heritage Sites in Egypt in Orientalist Drawings (Nagwa Bakr, Egypt, ITP 2019)

Written by Nagwa Bakr, Community Exhibition Officer / Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities (Egpyt, ITP Fellow 2019)

World Heritage Day is a celebrated in several countries around the world and takes place on 18 April of each year. It is a day set by the International Council on Archaeological Buildings and Sites (ICOMOS) sponsored by UNESCO and the World Heritage Organization as the World Day for the Protection of Human Heritage according to the convention approved by the General Conference for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris in 1972.

The idea of ​​the convention to protect world heritage came after a campaign to save Nubian antiquities in Egypt, where the Egyptian government decided to build the Aswan Dam (The High Dam) in 1954, which resulted in flooding the valley and its many antiquities. UNESCO launched a campaign around the world to protect these monuments. Both the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were dismantled, moved to higher positions, and laid back together. The rescue campaign was successful, which led to other campaigns to preserve the world cultural heritage in several other countries. Then UNESCO, together with the International Council of Monuments and Sites, began to develop a draft convention for the protection of the common cultural heritage of humanity. At a conference held at the White House, USA, in 1965, to preserve the world heritage, the picturesque natural areas, the magnificent historical and archaeological sites for the present and for the future generations of the whole world. All parties agreed on a single text of the convention for the protection of world cultural heritage and natural heritage and was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference on 16th November 1972.  

World Heritage Sites in Egypt: 



Orientalism is an intellectual and philosophical movement founded by bureaucrats in Britain with the aim of understanding the cultures, philosophies, and religions of the East during the British colonization of India in the mid-eighteenth century. The Orientalist movement was not limited to Britain and appeared in several European countries. Orientalists were interested in the Far East, the Near and Middle East, including the Arab countries.

Here we will shed light on three British Orientalists who visited Egypt in the 19th century and who have their works in the museums of England.

David Roberts

David Roberts was one of the great Victorian travellers and topographical painters.  He was a Scottish painter was born in Edinburgh (24 October 1796 – 25 November 1864) and began his career as a house painter and scene painter in Scotland. He visited Egypt in 1839, and like many others was inspired by the country.  It was visited by many travellers and lovers of collecting antiques to buy artwork depicting ancient Egypt. Muhammad Ali Pasha, ruler of Egypt at this time, received Roberts in Alexandria in 1839. Roberts travelled around Egypt to Luxor, Nubia, and the Sinai. He created a big collection of drawings and watercolour sketches.

William James Müller

William James Müller was a British landscape and figure painter, the best-known artist of the Bristol School. He was born in Bristol and studied painting under James Baker Pyne.  Müller visited the Middle East in 1838, where he visited Athens, and travelled onwards to Alexandria and Cairo, then went to Luxor, where he made drawings of the ruins and landscapes. His scenes of Egyptian streets and market proved especially popular. William James Müller visited Egypt from 1838 to 1839. This was at the same time as David Roberts and both artists were in search of subject matter.

William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt was an English painter, born in London 1827. He left England on 13 January 1854, hoping to rediscover the biblical lands in Egypt and Palestine.  In a letter to his fiancé, he wrote: “We intend, in seven or eight days, to take a tent and two camels with their drivers, and a servant to cook, and camp out by the Pyramids . . . By this plan we shall economize our hotel bill.”  His reaction to Egypt in a letter date to 1845: “There are palm trees which attract my passing admiration.” Also, he described the desert as “beautiful.” He painted mostly landscapes; three of these paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856.

Small etching shows the desolate landscape surrounding the Sphinx at Giza, illuminated by the light of the moon
The Great Pyramids 1854. Watercolour on Paper (image source: