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Egypt – Ismailia / Suez Canal / ‘Operation Rodeo’ Egyptian Revolution Of 1952: Plan of Ismailia / Scale 1:5,000 approx. / First Edition.



Extremely rare – possibly a unique survivor – a stellar large format blueprint edition of a military survey of Ismailia, Egypt, the planned city that was long the headquarters of the Suez Canal Company, made by the British Royal Engineers during the tense period between World War II (when the canal was the ultimate strategic objective of the Nazi invasion of Egypt) and just before ‘Operation Rodeo’, a violent incident in Ismailia that sparked the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, leading to the nationalization of the Suez Canal the expulsion of the Western Powers.

Cyanotype (blueprint) (Very good, some light wear along old clean folds, old tack marks to corners), 62 x 87 cm (24.4 x 34.3 inches).



1 in stock


The construction of the Suez Canal, the great nexus of trade and military movement linking the East and West, was commenced in 1859. The mega-project was executed under the auspices of the French-controlled Universal Company of the Maritime Canal of Suez (Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez), generally known simply as the ‘Suez Canal Company’, that was given semi-sovereign control over the canal and adjacent territory. The head of the enterprise was the hard-charging French engineer and entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps.

In 1863, while the canal was still under construction, Lesseps commissioned the creation of the new city of ‘Ismailia’, named after the Egyptian ruler, Isma’il Pasha, which would act as the headquarters of the Suez Canal Company. It was built in what was hitherto a non-descript patch of desert, but by then at the midpoint of the canal, on the western bank, where it widened along the shores of Lake Timah.

Ismailia was a meticulously planned city, constructed with five axial neighborhoods, of which two were designated for Europeans, two for Greeks, and one for Arabs. The city would feature a plan of wide, straight tree-lined streets, public squares and parks with carefully placed institutions, utilities and industrial sites. Many fine building of hybrid Franco-Egyptian designs were constructed, and Ismailia was intended to stand in sharp contrast the ‘chaos’ that seemed to otherwise prevail in Egyptian urban centres.

Ismailia proper was made a ‘Concession’, placing it under the supervision of the Suez Canal Company and outside of the direct auspices of Egyptian authorities.

The Suez Canal was completed in 1869, forever revolutionizing international economics and connectivity. The Suez Canal Company became a joint Anglo-French venture in the late 1870s. In 1882, Britain assumed military control over Egypt and made the country a protectorate, while keeping the Khedive on the throne as a token ruler. By this time the Suez Canal had become the lifeblood of the British Empire, connecting the mother country with India, Malaya and Australia, etc. Britain procced to establish a major permanent military base at Ismailia, to guard the canal from attack by enemies both foreign and domestic.

While the Suez Canal was of incalculable benefit to Britain, London also arguably became over-dependent on the route, such that it came to be their ‘jugular’; taking the canal would immediately cripple the empire. During World War I, The Suez Canal was attacked twice by Ottoman-German forces from Palestine, but both attempts were repelled.

During World War II, in what was known as the Western Desert Campaign (1940-3), the German General Erwin Rommel, leading his Afrikakorps, invaded Egypt from Libya. This was done with the ultimate objective of seizing the Suez Canal. While the Germans gave the British forces a good fight (and a great scare), they fell short, losing the Second Battle of El Alamein (October 23 to November 11, 1942), only a little way east of Alexandria, and so forcing them out of Egypt for good.

The present map was made around 1950, in the post-war period, whereupon the British regime in Egypt had long overstayed its welcome. The Egyptian people were indignant at having been forced to suffer through a war that they believed did not concern them, with the country was buffeted by powerful nationalist and Pan-Arabist sentiments.

Armed anti-British fedayeen resistance groups began attacking Western targets, particularly in the Suez Canal Zone, a situation that the British high command found intolerable. They accused the Egyptian police, and notably those stationed in Ismailia, of aiding the ‘terrorists’.

In January 1952, the commander of the British garrison at Ismailia, Brigadier Kenneth Exham, issued an ultimatum to the 700-man strong Egyptian police force in Ismailia to surrender their weapons and to vacate the Canal Zone. This demand was flatly refused, at which point, on January 25, 1952, in what became known as ‘Operation Rodeo’, Exham surrounded the police station with 7,000 troops, reissuing his ultimatum.

When the Egyptian police garrison, once again, refused to surrender, Exhams’s men opened fire, killing 50 policemen and leaving another 80 injured, while taking the rest of the force prisoner.

The incident at Ismailia enraged the Egyptian people, and the following day, Cairo was engulphed in a massive anti-Western riot that became known as ‘Black Saturday’ (January 26, 1952). Huge crowds, led by still unidentified figures, attacked innumerable establishments and institutions associated with the West, bringing many to the torch. By the end of the night 300 shops, all the major department stores, 13 hotels, 8 auto dealerships, 40 theatres, 92 bars, 73 restaurants and coffee houses, and 16 social clubs were either destroyed or severely damaged; the bill for the lost property added up to £3.4 million – then an enormous sum.

While the Egyptian government condemned the rioting in no uncertain terms, it was curious that the Egyptian first responders were incredibly slow to arrive on the scene, always showing up at flashpoints after the damage was done and scarcely arresting anyone. This indicated that the rioters had the tacit support of the rank and file of the armed forces and police, a bad omen for the pro-British King of Egypt, Farouk.

The Egyptian nationalist side took the initiative when a group of young army commanders, the so-called ‘Free Officers’, mounted the 23 July Coup, or Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which overthrew the monarchy and installed a republican regime, soon led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser was a highly intelligent and enormously charismatic figure who soon galvanized the Middle East in a wave of nationalist, anti-imperialist sentiment, encouraging Arab countries to seize their independence.

In 1956, Nasser signed the death warrant for British, and Western, interference in Egypt’s affairs, seizing control of the Suez Canal. He then weathered the ‘Suez Crisis’, the botched combined British, French and Israeli attack upon Egypt, and charted a new course for the country in alliance with the Soviet Union.

The Map in Focus

The present work, which feature the best general mapping of Ismailia available at the time, shows the entire town, with a roughly westward orientation, with the Suez Canal and Lake Timah running along the bottom of the map. The town’s orderly and spacious plan is showcased, with wide streets, and many squares and parks, all in rational patterns. The ‘Concession’ boundaries clearly marked, while all streets are labeled, and topographic features defined. The railway is shown to divide the city, with the station in the centre, while the Moascar Army Base lies to the far left. Innumerable buildings and facilities are labeled, such as military and police installations, government offices, canal offices and services, places of worship, social clubs, schools, hospitals, and utilities, etc., essentially locating all features of any interest for military operational planning.

The map is an ephemeral cyanotype (blueprint) edition of a photolithographed masterplan of Ismailia drafted by the 42 Survey Engineer Regiment of the Royal Engineers, in 1949, based upon tracings supplied to them by the Headquarters British Troops Egypt (HQ BTE), dated 1947, which, in turn, were predicated upon a French survey, likely made for the Suez Canal Company (which explains why most of the text of the map is in French).

The 42 Survey Engineer Regiment was special mapping unit formed in 1947 for service in Egypt. Since 1948, the corps was posted at RAF Fayid, an airbase located about 23 km south of Ismailia, which is where the original photolithgraphed map was likely drafted.

The photolithographed masterplan would have been made in only a handful of examples for official military use. As the security situation in and around Ismailia deteriorated, British forces would have had a desperate need for copies of what was the best general plan of the city, but which were probably in short supply. As such, the map was hastily copied (as evidenced here by the crude lines of its technical reproduction) by the cyanotype (blueprint) printing technique, which is sometimes referred to as a ‘sunprint’. This photographic printing process involved the use of two chemicals: ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide. Invented in 1842 by the astronomer Sir John Herschel, the technique was favoured by engineers, as it produced technical diagrams of sharp contrast and clarity. It also had the advantage of being very low cost and easy to execute (by those properly trained). In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the technique gained wide popularity for architectural and engineering plans (i.e., ‘Blueprints’). This led it to be adapted to cartography, often to maps of a technical nature, such as urban models and plans for mines and infrastructure. A limitation of the cyanotype medium is that it could yield only a very limited number of copies, such that virtually all cyanotype maps are today extremely rare.

Cyanotype maps were especially popular with British military cartographers operating in colonial, or frontier, regions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The technique began to fall out use for cartography in many places by the 1920s, although it had a greater longevity in some locales, such as India and Egypt.

The present example of the map was likely run off quickly on the heels of the first printing of the photolithographed version and was quite possibly used by British forces during ‘Operation Rodeo’, as well as the many other military incidents that occurred in the Ismailia area during the early to mid-1950s.

A Note on Editions and Rarity

The present blueprint is copied from the first edition of the map, photolithographed in 1949, while a second edition was photolithographed in 1951 in Cairo by the Survey Directorate, Middle East.

Both conventional editions of the present map are today extremely rare; they would have been issued on only very small print runs, while the survival rate of such large military maps made for field use is incredibly low. We can trace only a single example of the photolithographed first edition of the map, held by the British library.

We have not been able to trace the existence of another examples of cyanotype issues of the map, perhaps making the present work a unique survivor.

References: N/A – No other cyanotype editions traced. Cf. (non-blueprint ed.:) British Library: Cartographic Items Maps * 64390.(36.), OCLC: 557779375.

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