Water Carriers in Cairo


Around 1915 Achilles De Maertelaere painted a series of canvases intended to serve as decor for the Café Bentos in the Lammerstraat, 15 in Ghent. There are scenes from Japan, Africa, America, etc. As far as we know, De Maertelaere has never been to these countries. He must have worked on the basis of photographic material. One canvas depicts Cairo, in Egypt. There are a few water carriers in the foreground, with mosques in the first background and a large mosque on a mountain at the very back.

We know the painter as someone who knows how to pay attention to detail. That's why we thought it would be interesting to check how detailed Cairo's canvas is. We consulted an Egypt expert, Prof. Jo Van Steenbergen (Ghent University, Research group Languages, and Cultures of The Middle East and North Africa), who was able to confirm that the work depicts a fairly exact part of Cairo. To confirm, he even sent a postcard from the site.


"This is a view from the Qarafa (the old cemetery of Cairo) northwards with the citadel and the Muqattam mountain in the background. In the background, you can see the two pencil minarets and the domes of the Muhammad 'Ali mosque, on the citadel of Cairo, built in the first half of the 19th century. The minarets and domes in the foreground are mosques and mausoleums of the 14th and 15th century; hence the postcard speaks of 'Tombs of the Mameluks'. Today you should still be able to find this place and this view".

Achilles De Maertelaere, therefore, worked meticulously. The facade of the mosque on the right, for example, has been reproduced very faithfully. The minaret at the far left is exactly what we see on the postcard. He adapted the foreground a bit to accommodate the water carriers because it wasn't that open area. Clearly, some trees have been added as well.

Translated with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator