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Suez - Expo Paris 1889

Suez at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

When one follows the series of constructions that make up the history of human habitation, one is tempted to rank among them the Egyptian temple that stands at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, on the right as one arrives by the Iéna bridge.

However, it is only the simple coincidence of a comparison that places the Suez Pavilion among the works of M. Garnier, and it is not part of the series that surrounds it and in which the Egyptian dwelling is, moreover, represented by a house that is on the left of the bridge.

The Suez Pavilion is a square building, wider at the base than at the top. That is to say, each of its sides has the trapezoidal shape that is found in Egyptian monuments as well as in Inca and Aztec monuments, as can be seen on a visit to the Palace of Mexico or the Pavilion of Ecuador, which are right next door.

It must have been copied from some temple of Upper Egypt, and really it has a very archaic and religious appearance.

Its main façade faces, of course, the main avenue of the Champs de Mars. It opens with a recessed portico made up of two enormous fluted columns topped by an artichoke-shaped capital, the shafts of the columns are painted in bright colours, which are repeated on the side bases. The decoration of these bases consists of symbolic lotuses and water lilies.

Above these bases, the wall is occupied on each side by a large painted composition in half-relief, the subject of which is rather difficult to determine, having been taken from an Egyptian monument. Especially on the left side of the façade, the meaning is quite obscure. One can only recognise Anubis, the dog-headed god, to whom worshippers pay their respects.

On the other side, the panel depicts Osiris dispensing justice, or conferring land on some claimant. This no doubt symbolises the concession of the canal made by the khedive to M. de Lesseps. At the back, a procession passes: Nubians carry a sort of sedia gestatoria and are followed by other slaves holding dogs on a leash.

On the pediment, figures, also symbolic, continue in a long procession.

It may be naïve to try to make sense of it all, but since we read hieroglyphics, we risk being considered the most ignorant if we cannot explain these ancient rebus. It is, after all, quite possible that the decorator simply allowed himself to imitate Egypt, without attaching any meaning to his composition. In any case, I give you the legend of these paintings, as provided to me by a distinguished Egyptologist who was there.

Inside, this pavilion, which is a temple, has only two large rooms: in one, the first, is the relief plan of the Suez Canal, which is on display at all times at the headquarters of the Company.

In the second room, which communicates with the first by a long corridor, it has been made dark, so that a second plan representing the Suez Canal at night can be seen; tiny lamps, as big as the head of a pin, mark the way with their green and red lights, these lamps are only small reflectors illuminated by a source of electric light placed under the table; it is, in any case, a charming effect.

An injustice to be repaired. It would be futile to look in these two rooms, where there is no shortage of portraits, for a bust of Mr de Lesseps; it is a sign of lack of confidence not to have given the place of honour to the great Frenchman, who, although he succumbed under the weight of an overly grandiose undertaking, is nonetheless one of the glories of our country and of our time, as would have been the case a year ago.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Alfred Grandin.