Fellaha: The Peasant Woman in Egyptian Art

Egyptians often refer to their homeland as Masr Om el Dunia, which means “Egypt, Mother of the World”.   Because of this, even since ancient times a fellaha (peasant woman) has been used in Egyptian art as a symbol of fertility and giving life. In my travels to Egypt, I have seen a number of beautiful fellaha statues in public places.

Nahdet el Masr (Awakening of Egypt)

The most famous of the fellaha statues in Egypt is the one at the top of this post, which is known as Nahdet el Masr (Awakening of Egypt).  It stands in front of Cairo University, near the Giza Zoo. The statue, made from rose granite, was unveiled in 1928. It symbolized Egypt’s struggle for independence from Britain following World War I and the 1919 revolution.

This statue uses both a Sphinx and a fellaha to represent Egypt. The woman unveiling her face represents Egypt’s post-revolution revival, while her companion the Sphinx recalls the greatness of Egypt’s history. (In Arabic, the Sphinx is called Abu el-Hool, which an Egyptian taxi driver told me means something similar to “father of all”.) The statue was erected facing east so that each day the sunrise would strike it as if to reawaken Egypt.

Google Doodle which appeared May 10, 2012 to honor sculptor Mahmoud Mukhtar.

The sculptor who created this statue was Mahmoud Mukhtar, a highly respected Egyptian artist of the early 20th century.  On May 10, 2012, Mukhtar was honored with a Google Doodle which features Nahdet el Masr  to commemorate his birth date.

The Agricultural Museum

Photo copyright 2017 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

The Agriculture Museum in Cairo, Egypt is a treasure that most tourists visiting Egypt have never heard of, and never been to. It resides inside a former palace, so even the architecture is well worth taking a moment to enjoy.  I think maybe the museum opened in the 1950’s, but I could be wrong about that.  The museum is near the Giza zoo and the Cairo Opera House.

Photo copyright 2017 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

There are two beautiful fellaha statues outdoors on the grounds of the museum.  Both celebrate the role of women in the agricultural lifestyle.

Basma Hotel in Aswan

When I go to Aswan, I enjoy staying at the Basma Hotel.  Its beautiful courtyard features a large swimming pool, adorned with a statue of a fellaha carrying a balas (water jug). A walkway leads from the edge of the pool out to the statue, so it is possible to pose for a photo with her.

Photo copyright 2018 by Jewel, all rights reserved.

The Fellaha Statue that Never Was

Today, we know the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi as the artist who created the Statue of Liberty.  What many of us don’t realize is that in 1867 he had approached Ismael Pasha, the Viceroy of Egypt, with the idea of creating a massive statue of a fellaha holding aloft a torch which would be placed at the entrance of the Suez Canal.  The statue would be called “Egypt – Carrying the Light to Asia”, and it would also serve as a lighthouse.

Bartholdi’s watercolor concept painting showing his vision for the fellaha statue.

Bartholdi submitted several sketches in 1869 for his proposed statue, hoping to receive a commission in time to complete it for the Suez Canal’s opening. Unfortunately, the project never went forward due to a lack of funds to pay for it.

I hope someday to visit the Suez Canal, and when I do, I’ll take a moment to fantasize about the fellaha statue that Bartholdi had dreamed of creating for it.

About My Egypt Travels

For several of my trips to Egypt, I have traveled with Sahra Kent, through her Journey Through Egypt program.  I discovered the fellaha statues shown in this post through traveling with her.  I highly recommend the Journey Through Egypt program to anyone who is interested in a cultural perspective of Egypt.

Cairo’s Agricultural Museum: The Wedding Scene

The Agriculture Museum in Cairo, Egypt is a treasure that most tourists visiting Egypt have never heard of, and never been to. It resides inside a former palace, so even the architecture is well worth taking a moment to enjoy.  I think maybe the museum opened in the 1950’s, but I could be wrong about that. It’s very kitschy, in a way that I find very appealing! The museum is near the Giza zoo and the Cairo Opera House.

On the ground floor, there is a series of tableaux showing what a rural wedding was like as of the 1950’s. It provides insight into what people wore, and what their customs were surrounding weddings.

Wedding Preparations

Fortuneteller in Agricultural Museum
A fortuneteller casts the stones to view omens for an upcoming wedding.

The above photo shows a fortuneteller casting the stones to view the omens for an upcoming wedding.

In Muslim tradition, weddings do not involve a religious ceremony the way traditional Christian weddings do.  Instead, there is a legal contract, which is signed by the men of the two families with witnesses. The photo below shows the men conducting this business.

While the men of the bride and groom’s families complete the contract transaction, the women of the households prepare for the wedding party that will follow.

The tableau pictured below shows a woman bringing a tray of drinks from the kitchen to serve to the other women as they wait.

As the women wait, one of them goes to the roof to the pigeon hut, to select a pigeon to serve for the meal at the celebration.

The photo below shows a belly dancer and a drummer performing for the bride and the women of her family while they wait for the men to be ready for the procession.  The dancer, of course, is the one with the most vibrant makeup!

A dancer entertains the bride and her family in this tableau of a wedding at the Agricultural Museum.

The Procession

One of the wedding-related exhibits shows the zeffa (bridal procession) in which the people of a village carry a bride in a litter to the wedding party.

The photo below shows the men leading the zeffa, playing musical instruments and doing balancing tricks. Behind them is a camel carrying a large decorated wooden box with the bride sitting inside.

Wedding Procession
Performers lead a wedding procession in this tableau at the Agricultural Museum.

This photo shows a closeup of the camel bearing the front part of the bride’s litter.

The next photo shows the bride inside her litter.  This angle of the photo doesn’t show it, but inside the litter there is a little boy with her.  His role would be to leave the litter and fetch anything she needs.

Wedding Procession Bride
In this tableau of a rural Egyptian wedding procession, the bride is carried inside a litter.

I have visited the Agricultural Museum several times, and it’s always fun to see it again.  In addition to the scenes of rural life, the main building also houses many other exhibits, including farm animals, insects, and more.   A separate building is dedicated to exhibits of Syria, referencing a period from 1958 to 1961 when Egypt and Syria banded together to create the United Arab Republic.

About My Egypt Travels

For several of my trips to Egypt, I have traveled with Sahra Kent, through her Journey Through Egypt program.  This Agricultural Museum is one of the places I have discovered through traveling with her.  I highly recommend the Journey Through Egypt program to anyone who is interested in a cultural perspective of Egypt.