Egypt’s Belle Epoque
by Mostyn, Trevor
Egypt’s Belle Epoque was a period of incredible extravagance during which the Khedive Ismail’s Cairo became the mirror image, both architecturally and socially, of decadent Paris. The glamour and hedonism of the era reached its peak during the magnificent celebrations for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Kings and emperors, artists, writers and Europe’s most sophisticated flocked to the dazzling new Cairo of sumptuous palaces and Parisian gardens, where glittering parties were held on the banks of the Nile and where Verdi’s Aida would later premiere at the new opera house. But the splendour was short-lived. Only a year after the Suez Canal opened, the Second Empire in France collapsed and the Khedive’s excesses plunged Egypt into crippling debt. Ismail was eventually forced to abdicate, leaving Cairo to the British who occupied Egypt in all but name.