The Inauguration of Tôd House, donated to
the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo
By the Count and Countess de Fels Prince and Princess of Heffingen
5th of February 1934
A donation to the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo (1)
A number of Egyptologists working on the various excavations in the Theban necropolis, received an invitation from the Countess de Fels to come to lunch at Tod on February 5th to inaugurate the home for archaeologists offered by her and her husband to the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo.
We sometimes complain, and too often alas with reason, that scientific enterprises, primarily archaeological excavations, do not benefit in France of the support and help of generous or disinterested individuals or scholarly societies, who elsewhere liberally grant funds, especially in England and America. The Countess de Fells wanted to prove that, in this field, our country occasionally had no reason to envy others. May she be thanked not only for the beautiful gesture she made, but for its implications which, one hopes, will inspire many imitators, for the greater good of French archaeology.
Tod is a small village in Upper Egypt, located about thirty miles south of Luxor on the edge of the Arabian desert . The French Institute of Oriental Archaeology has begun large excavations in the ruins of a Ptolemaic temple dedicated to the old Theban god Montu, carried out on behalf of the Louvre, which followed naturally on those made previously for that museum at Medamud north of Karnak, on the foundations of another temple of the same period, once dedicated to the same god. Mr. Bisson de la Roque – who, with as much cheerfulness as skill, has already led the excavations at Medamud – and has now been entrusted with the task of directing those as at Tod.
The Countess de Fels, who had the opportunity during one of her previous trips to Egypt, to be received by him at Medamud under the tent where his colleagues and himself were camping beside their excavation, was very struck – and somewhat pitied – the contrast presented by this makeshift housing facility, [and those] usually more comfortable and sometimes even luxurious, lodgings of foreign archaeologists. From that moment it became her intention, should the director of Louvre excavations ask for the concession succeeding that of Medamud, to build on the archaeological site both a “home” and a house for study, a real home where they could taste the sweetness of family life while at the same time experience the somewhat austere and solitary joys of scientific work.
Yet she kept much more than this promise, already so generous. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Bisson de la Roque in Tod was built in the Arabian style by a young architect of great talent, Mr. Robichon, not only with its dome and arcaded galleries that flank the house’s three sides, infinitely elegant and pleasing to the eye; entrance hall, dining room, study, large and airy bedrooms, where they can really live, since they can work in the best conditions, the archaeologists attached to the excavations of Tod. Truly nothing is missing in this kind of scientific oasis that a great lady of France, whose sympathetic regard for interesting work, always happily active and fertile, has suddenly given rise to, for scholars of France, on the ground of ancient Egypt . All those honored to be invited to the party yesterday mentioned that they responded to the invitation with alacrity, and that they understood the nobility and experienced the rare quality of the sentiment that guided the Countess of Fels in this circumstance. HM King Fouad I, who, one is tempted to say, is the born protector of all scientific endeavors, had been willing to delegate, to represent him, His Excellency The Moudir of Kena (2) and His Excellency Fahkry Pasha, Ambassador to Egypt in Paris, currently in Egypt, had sent from Cairo, where he was unfortunately detained because of the state of his health, a long message to Countess de Fels, to applaud her initiative and express his deep regret at not being able to attend the ceremony. It is hardly necessary to say that the ceremony was carried out successfully.
After affixing a marble plaque on the front of the house recording the donation made by the Countess of Fels and her husband, a luncheon , held in the two rooms transformed into a dining-room, was served to thirty guests, including HE Moudir Kena; Mr. Capart, CEO of Museums of the Cinquantenaire in Brussels, and Ms. Capart; Mr. Lacau, Director General of the Department of Antiquities of Egypt, and Mrs. Lacau; Mr. Jouguet, member of the Institute, Director of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, and Mrs. Jouguet; Mr. Moret, member of the Institute, Professor at the Collège de France and Ms. Moret; Mr. Chassinat, Honorary Director of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, and Mrs. Chassinat; Tewfik Boulos, chief inspector of the Department of Antiquities for Upper Egypt ; Miss Werbrouck, assistant curator of the Egyptian Museum in Brussels; Mr. Bruyère, director of excavations at Deir el-Medina and Ms. Heather; Mr. Chevrier, supervisor of the temple of Karnak, and Ms. Chevrier; Mr. Robichon, architect of the excavations at Medamud and Ms. Robichon. Most residents of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, having left their work for a few hours, also joined Mr. and Mrs. Bisson de la Roque, and with them did the honours of the new house to the guests of the Countess of Fels.
One single speech was delivered during the meeting, but so excellent as to render all others pointless. In a short emotive speech, M. Jouguet, after paying homage to the Director General of the Antiquities Service for facilitating the work of archaeologists in Egypt, thanked the Countess of Fels for her interest in building Tod House, not only to facilitate their work but also to free them of the material difficulties which all too often obstruct scientific endeavors. He evoked the memory of Victor Bernard, who vainly denounced in the Senate gallery what he called “the regime of the hut,” a regime which French archaeologists are usually subject to, and which may, in many cases, mean “fatigue from not resting properly, hastily-written excavation journals, drawings and surveys set aside too long to be turned into a clear copy, insurmountable difficulties to produce good work. The house, on the contrary, is for where the work of the site was completed, the result of studious meditation under stable table lamps making plans and surveys, the shelf for essential books and also the thing most precious of all, the continuity of the household. One could not say it better, as one could not unreservedly subscribe to the terms in which Mr. Jouguet – who lives as much by taste as by profession, in the intimacy of the Ptolemies – saluted, in closing, the Count and Countess de Fels, who replaced the “hut” Medamud with the house Tod under the glorious guise of “benefactors” of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology and of French Egyptology itself.
Luxor, February 1934
Donation of an excavation house by The Count and Countess of Fels (3)
We received the following letter from Mr. Alexandre Moret, Professor of French Egyptology at the Institute.
“On February 5, there was inaugurated in Tod, a village about thirty kilometers south of Luxor, an excavation house built at the expense of the Count and Countess de Fels, prince and princess Heffingen, who have funded excavations in Upper Egypt. A large luncheon with thirty guests, Egyptologists and archaeologists, French and Belgians from the region of Luxor, was chaired by His Excellency Hamed Ismail Bey, governor of the province and Deputy of His Majesty King Fouad. The Minister of Egypt in Paris, Fahkry Pasha, currently staying in Cairo, was prevented from going to the opening ceremony but sent a long telegram of congratulations and good wishes. The Director of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, Mr. Jouguet, gave a warm speech in which he thanked His Majesty the King for his constant kindness to French Egyptologists, and also thanked their generous donors, mentioning the plaque perpetuating their memory. This will be further assured by the recognition of young scholars who, succeeding under this cozy roof, will pay tribute, through their work, to an initiative that has already been rewarded with the discovery of a new Ptolemaic temple.”
This is the message which we have sent to some newspapers, reserving more extensive information for the readers of le Temps.
The French archaeologists settled at the edge of the site in makeshift camps with poorly stocked shelves, paying dearly to have water fetched, passing freezing nights under canvas, buffeted by clouds of sand when the wind raised the stakes or the roof. After hard work on the site, one could be surprised when, pulling back the bed covers, to find scorpions or snakes. We would get up, fatigued from poor rest, stay all day in the hot sun in contact with dust, among the laborers and workers, among the rows of women and children with baskets of excavated material on their heads, but also among parasites who never miss an opportunity to move onto foreign territory for a kind of intimate excavation of their own.
Yet the Americans, with their practicality and powerful means, gave us, over the last twenty years, an excellent method of archaeological exploitation to imitate, even on a small scale. Thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Chicago has built in the Luxor area, on either side of the Nile, two palaces; one, at the temple of Medinet Habu, for the comprehensive publication of this building’s topography – translation, reproduction by rubbing, drawing and photography – statues, reliefs and the most important scenes. The other, more recent house, has been built along the road to Karnak Temple, where the temple of Ramses III is being studied. Each ‘Chicago House’ can accommodate a staff of eighteen to twenty Egyptologists, archaeologists, site managers, architects, designers, photographers, in twenty or twenty- five rooms with a dozen bathrooms, plus a library of five thousand volumes, workshops and darkrooms, shops, garages, a laundry and a power plant.
As for the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which took over the excavation of Deir el- Bahari from the Egypt Exploration Fund, it possesses a vast domed house which dominates the funerary temple, and another, smaller house, built on the cliff perforated with tombs which are (being) studied and reproduced in color in an edition of utmost luxury.
Thus considered, the dig house not only provides a comfortable shelter, but also the opportunity to work at night under stable lighting conditions, to review the plans and drawings and turn them into a clear copy, keep up the dig books, do library research and hone up on revisions of texts and documentation. It also facilitates the close collaboration of all the staff all the time – architect, designer, foreman, translator, historian, who thus can instruct and clarify each other’s work.
At the time of these wide-scale [foreign] initiatives, and others too long to list, what was France doing? While our French Institute of Archaeology at Cairo, luxuriously housed in a former palace, is a valuable study center for our Egyptologists, papyrologists, Arabists, etc., in the field we had nothing, and yet it is on the ground that our young scholars, trained in France, must complete their education! Twice when the opportunity came up to annex a building to our school in Cairo — the home of the French consulate and another building that we had in Luxor– they were sold. We maintained our encampments while the late Victor Bérard protested in the gallery of the Senate: “While archaeologists from other countries are accommodated in comfortable buildings, ours are still in huts.”
A first attempt was made at our concession of Deir el -Medina, not far from the valley of Queens, led by Mr. Bruyere. The cliff is made up of hollowed-out cavities – tombs of officials and employees of the royal necropolis, whose village and homes have been cleared. On a side of the rock, the Cairo Institute built a very simple house, using tombs carved into the rock, partially-empty since ancient times. These, when resurfaced with lime, provided simple rooms and shops. When furnished with good iron beds, benches and stools and sofas with secure wooden frames, it allows young scholars, sometimes married, to continue family life. Doors and windows are screened against the intrusion of mosquitoes and the tricolor flag flutters merrily on the veranda. The shelter is basic, but as comforting to see as a shelter or chalet, the sort of alpine club weary travelers smile on. And do we not know that the French are in the habit of doing great things with small budgets? This is true as long as the foreign competition, heavily endowed and equipped, makes competition impossible. Fortunately we have, in turn, met with our patrons, or, in the words of Mr. Jouguet, our benefactors – the Count and Countess de Fels.
While visiting our field excavations and Medamud during a previous trip and seeing our worn canvas tents, Countess of Fels took pity on the material difficulties of our archaeologists. The site is now exhausted and the new site is due to open in Tod so she wanted to offer a home to excavators: For the first time an architect was commissioned to build a house appropriate to the site and to the working conditions. Before describing it, we will explain why we asked the Department of Antiquities for these two concessions – Medamud and Tod.
Before the rise of Thebes, which became the capital of Egypt during the second millennium B.C., (called ‘City’, by eloquent abbreviation) before a new family of Theban rulers introduced Amon-Ra around 2000 B.C., an ancient god, Montu, ruled the Thebaid. He was a god of war, personified by a fighter falcon and a fighting bull. Even at the time when Amon took the role of dynastic god, Montu kept worshipers in its four main sanctuaries in Thebes – Karnak and Medamud in the north, and Armant and Tod in the south.
The Department of Antiquities reserved the archaeological perimeter of Karnak for themselves; Armant temples were visited by the Egyptian Committee in 1799, and by Champollion in 1829; now almost nothing remains of the site. In contrast, at Medamud and Tod, Maspero and Legrain had reported columns, walls covered with texts, and a pile of scattered blocks attesting to the importance of these local shrines that the Ptolemies and the Caesars had restored or rebuilt on ancient temples. The Louvre provided funds for the expropriation of fellahin housed in the ruins, and the purchase of land; the Institute of Archaeology in Cairo detached Mr. Bisson de la Roque, assisted by young helpers to clear the site, a job which lasted ten years. Debris from the Ptolemaic temple came to light; very decorative columns and bas-reliefs, new illustrations of the cult of Montu; a stable for the sacred animal, a court for promenades and his oracles, bullfighting games shown in various stages. In the substructures and the paving of the Greco-Roman temple, there was found reused, magnificent bas-reliefs of Senusret ( Sesostris ) of the Twelfth Dynasty, and statues of little-known kings of the Thirteenth Dynasty. The Abbe Drioton, Assistant Curator at the Louvre, did an excellent translation of texts relating to bull worship, and the architect, Mr. Robichon, cleverly restored the plan of the temple over different time periods.
Last December the team of Mr. Bisson de la Roque went off to Tod where [they discovered] that, during its earliest times, the temple-builders also reused old blocks, columns, lintels, stelae, and offering tables on behalf of Senusret I and a Sobekhetep of the thirteenth dynasty. Thus far, half- buried under the mound of rubble and fellahin huts, entire walls, cleared of their dung coating or whitewash, reveal readable scenes. The plan of the temple is revealed with the court, the hypostyle halls, the sacristy, the chapels with secret statues of Mentu and the goddess Tanent strangely depicted as two-or three-headed crocodiles. Will we see, like at Medamud, bullfighting scenes that illuminate the history, still so obscure, of the bull cult in Egypt? As [much as] we know about funeral rites and religion, little do we know about fables about the gods and sacred animals. Mythology, still abundant in Babylon, and so luxuriant in Greece, takes up little space in our texts, yet we glimpse her important role in explaining religion. We await the harvest, even richer than Medamud, from which our archaeologists have already gathered the first fruits.
Here they are installed in the Maison de Fels. Ten minutes from this part of the town where there are dusty porches, noisy crowds and souks, she [is a] dazzling white and elegant [building] between the desert and the oasis bordering the Nile. On a solid base of baked brick, stand walls made mud brick, and ceiling beams support a flat terrace. An arched gallery surrounds seven rooms, high and clear, of which four are used for sleeping. A toilet, adjacent to the rooms, allows for a tub that refreshes body and mind after work on the site; a neighboring pump fetches water from 20 meters below. Our workers at last have shelves for their books, and cabinets that shield them from the sand that invades notebooks and drawing boards, wide chairs and large tables. And, incredible luxury – they have a sink, not enamel or aluminum, but [made] of ornate earthenware – and finger bowls made of yellow Arabic glass, infused with the sun . Close to the house, the kitchen, the magazines and oil can storage form a separate building. On its front wall are drawings and portraitures of a joyful simplicity, the fantasy of a local artist, made with blue, yellow and green [pigments].
Henceforth, our archaeologists’ normally austere life is adorned with such amenities!
Countess de Fels, responding to the compliments of the speaker, kindly assured us of her solicitude. We expressed heartfelt thanks through the oriental saying,
‘May your bounty not diminish!‘
And the old Egyptian prayer:
‘May your name flourish here in this house that is your creation, for eternity!”
Speech by Pierre Jouget
Madam, Your Excellency, my dear friends,
You will certainly agree that our first duty is to express our gratitude to His Majesty King Fouad I. This enlightened ruler of the most hospital country in the world, who is able to judge so well – all those of us who have had the honor of meeting him will bear witness to [this fact] – the value of our work, not only desired that today’s friendly reunion should be put under his high patronage, [but] by wishing to be represented at this ceremony, he has again chosen to sit in for him, the same person we would have chosen ourselves, S. E. Ismail Hamed bey, moudir of Queneh, governnor of that province where the French Institute has worked for years for the honor of the two countries, under the protection of the generous laws of this country, the amicable courtesy of its officials, and today, under the faithful guard of its soldiers.(4).
Madam, Your Excellency, my dear friends, I suggest we first drink to the health of His Majesty the King, the happiness of his people, to the glory of His kingdom.
Before offering you the thanks of the French Institute, let me give the floor to Fahkry Pasha, Minister of Egypt in Paris, who sent the following:
Telegram sent by His Excellency Fahkry Pasha to Madame la Comtesse de Fels, Princess Heffingen February 3, 1934.
Detained in Cairo by the state of my health I am here to take part in the opening ceremony of your foundation Tod, I wish that the radiance of this luminous room should shed new light on the science of Egyptology with an eminently French essence, and strengthen the ties of affection that unite our two countries.
I pray you, Madam, and the Comte de Fels, will accept my grateful thanks for the benevolent interest that you never cease to show for the ancient past of my country, and I want to express my feelings of friendship, thinking of the eminent personalities who surround you on this happy day.
I will not try, madam, to express it better; I will only let our heart and memories speak. It is not necessary to have lived very long to remember a time when those responsible for archaeological missions moved into their work camps with a few pieces of metal tableware, a cot, boxes of canned food, which were stored under the worn canvas tent. This was the time when Victor Bérard could tell the French Senate: “While we see the other missions comfortably installed, the French archaeologists live in straw huts.” He thus wished the leaders to pity the fate of these valiant men. While admiring these brave men (there are some in this small meeting), we can see that the eloquent efforts of their director, however ardent, certainly did not completely succeed.
But you, madam, you came, you visited our camps, you saw our dear Roque under the Medamud tents . You understood, and you wished to put a stop to this situation. The regime of the hut will now be supplanted by that of the house. Thanks to you, Madame, and thanks to Count Fels, and the plans of our ingenious architect Clément Robichon, here has risen, has been achieved, and is inaugurated, decorated with flowers offered by our friend J. Christofari, (5), this charming Villa Tod where you have come to receive us. You acted according to your kindness, but not your kindness alone, because you have also been inspired by a very fair sense of the requirements of our work. You understand that for archaeologists an uncomfortable camp almost always means bad sleep, hasty journal entries, drawings and records waiting for the return to Cairo to be turned into clear copies, sometimes insurmountable difficulties for work well done. Home is where the work in the excavation was completed, the studious meditation under stable light lamps, tables for plans and surveys, the shelf for essential books, as well as the [most] precious thing of all — the continuity of home. You did not want to leave in makeshift shelters, these courageous young people and especially those brave young women who, increasingly, are associated with our work; they approach it with their natural grace and the passionate dedication that only women can bring to their work; but it is unnecessary for me to add more to what has already been said, when tomorrow we will have the example that you have set for us, madam, the mistress of this house.
Your generosity imposes duties and vows upon us. I can vouch that the young people around us, instructed by their own example – the director of the French Institute – are willing to assume these duties. Their vows are to the success of the excavations at Tod, recently so brilliantly begun. We want this success to match the confidence placed in us by the administration of the Louvre Museum sponsoring us, and I am glad to see my old friend Alexandre Moretafter coming along to guide me, at the same time as the eminent and amiable representative Boreux Charles, also a faithful friend. We want it for Egypt, for the enrichment of museums, to the honor of the Antiquities Service, which was founded in this country in the days of the generous Ismail, by one of us.
My dear Director of the Antiquities Service, the friendship between your Service and our School is more than fifty years old. Chassinat, who led the school before yourself, knows it is quite natural that you, who are associated with us, join us in thanking the Count and the Comtesse de Fels. The Countess will allow me, in return, to say to her that we owe you [a debt of thanks], we and all Egyptian and foreign missions, because your impartiality is well known to all. What we want is first [to express] the pride we feel in seeing you defend with such admirable and intense loyalty, the interests of Egypt, the wisdom with which you apply the Antiquities Act, one of the most generous and intelligent in existence in all the countries with archaeological interests, and, finally, the help we lend at any time to your archaeologists, your engineers, your architects, your inspectors – and yourself, with your rich experience and scientific confidence. Two of your collaborators, Chevrier and Tewfik Boulos are sitting at this table. Permit me to remember in particular, one of those who is like a providence that we have never invoked in vain, that is, I want to say to the excellent Baraize, who is being detained in France for health reasons.
Let us all together, my dear friends, turn towards the Countess de Fels, and to thank her for her unforgettable generosity, and let us add those which we also owe her for giving us the opportunity to develop awareness of the beautiful friendship that binds us in the same work. Let us thank her for making a place in this meeting for Belgian Egyptologists, ‘our dear friends of the Queen Elizabeth Foundation’, – this great name of a great sovereign is one whose name the French are always pleased to pronounce – and to Jean Capart and his faithful collaborators, represented here by Miss Marcelle Verbrouck .
Excellency, my dear Egyptian, Belgian and French friends: The generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Fels unite us today in the same sentiment; let us express it , according to the old custom , by drinking to the health of the Count and Countess of Fels, prince and princess Heffingen, and allow an old ptolémaist to say – our true benefactors.
Here is the text engraved on the marble plaque affixed above the main door:
THIS HOME HAS BEEN GIVEN
TO THE FRENCH INSTITUTE
OF ORIENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY
BY THE COUNT AND COUNTESS DE FELS
PRINCE AND PRINCESS HEFFINGEN
ANNO DOMINI MDCCCCXXXIIII
- Excerpt from “Le Journal des débats” of 18 February 1934
- HE Hamed Ismail Bey
- Excerpt from “Le Temps” dated 25 February 1934
- HE Ismail Hamed Bey had the grace to install on the road near the house, a guard of honor which all were invited to admire.
- Beatrix Midant-Reynes, Director of the IFAO, for letting us reproduce the original 1934 article on our website, including the photos,
- Raymond Betz, Groupe d’ Études Égypte, for getting us a copy of the article,
- Lyla Pinch-Brock for translating and editing the original French text.
- Sylvie Weens, Egyptologist and former EES assistant secretary, for tweaking the edited translation.