This is an unusually fine example of the first broadly accurate map of Egypt and Palestine, being the result of a grand Enlightenment project to scientifically map the region overseen by the cartographer Colonel Pierre Jacotin, on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte, during the French occupation of Egypt. Jacotin’s mapping proved to be one of the most influential cartographic works of the modern era, guiding and inspiring travellers, soldiers, archaeologists and adventurers for generations.
The beautifully engraved map embraces the Nile Valley from just above Aswan all the way down to the Delta on the Mediterranean, and the runs up to beyond Beirut and Damascus in the Levant, and then east to the outer reaches of the Arabian Desert. The mapping of the Nile Valley and Delta, and the Mediterranean coast is extremely dense and accurate, labelling all cities and towns of note, as well as innumerable archaeological sites, while delineating the major roads. By contrast, the charting of the desert regions beyond the coast and the major river valleys and caravan routes, is relatively sparing, as Jacotin was only able to survey the populated, or frequented areas.
The map is an extremely valuable record, as it reveals the true locations of many of the most famous wonders of the ancient world for the first time. The ‘Signes conventionels’ table, located below the title, explains the numerous symbols used to identify, all manner of manmade features, including pyramids, ruins, forts, windmills, bridges, as well as all kinds of topographic aspects. Also, located at the top of the composition, is chart providing the geodetic coordinates for numerous locations taken by astronomical observations, as well as a chart translating key Arabic geographical terms into French, along with a guide to pronunciation.
While the present map is not particularly rare, as many examples were issued due to high demand, the present offering is a maquis example, dissected and mounted upon fine dark linen, bearing the pastedown seller’s label of the respected house of ‘Artaria’ of Vienna, and housed within a fine decorative slipcase.
Egyptianisme and Colonel Jacotin’s Grand Projet
While the French Egyptian Campaign (1798-1801) was ultimately a military disaster and tragedy for many of the region’s people, the invasion resulted in some truly momentous scientific and social achievements. Fascinated by the wonders of Ancient Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte deployed some of France’s brightest scientists, artists and archaeologists to the country to conduct an extremely well-financed survey of Egypt’s culture, history, geography, and natural attributes, seeking to gain a panoptic view of a land that had always captured the European imagination, but nevertheless largely remained an enigma.
Of particular note, Dominque Vivant Denon, the future head of the Louvre, surveyed many of the country’s great archaeological sites, while 2,400 scholars, artists and printers worked for years on the Description de l‘Égypte, a colossal encyclopaedia of the country that featured 894 elephant folio plates, published in parts between 1809 and 1829. In the first decades of the 19th century, Egyptianisme became all the rage, with motifs of the ancient Nile influencing fashion, architecture and furniture design all over Europe.
Going hand in hand with the Description, Napoleon commissioned the military cartographer Pierre Jacotin (1765–1827) to map all of Egypt and ultimately much of Palestine (which the French briefly invaded) in a systematic manner, employing advanced trigonometric surveys, in a project called the ‘Carte de l’Égypte’. This was an awesome undertaking, especially as Egypt had never before been mapped with any degree of accuracy. Moreover, the territory was immense, the climate was often harsh, many of the locals were less that welcoming, and diseases stalked the country. The work was so grueling and ambitious that it was nearly a miracle that in only two years (1799 – 1800) Jacotin’s teams managed to survey the entire Nile from just above Aswan down to the Mediterranean, along with much of the coastal areas up through Palestine.
It was originally intended that Jacotin’s ‘Carte de l’Égypte’ would be published in short order; however, in 1808, before any aspects of the survey could be engraved, Napoleon ordered that the maps be classified ‘top secret’ and barred from publication. The French emperor was then seeking to form an alliance with the Ottoman Empire, which nominally ruled Egypt, and it was thought that the dissemination of the surveys might offend the Sublime Porte.
It was only after the Napoleonic Wars (1802-15) that the new French Royalist regime permitted the publication of Jacotin’s work. The resulting Carte topographique de l’Egypte was issued in two forms. In an ultra large form, Jacotin’s survey was to be printed to a grand scale of 1:100,000, on 47 folio sheets, bound as an atlas. The same survey was also the be reduced to a scale of 1:1,000,000, to show all of Egypt and Palestine in a single view, being the present map. To be clear the present, reduced version of the survey was published both separately (as here), as well as being included in the atlas, as an overview map.
For a fascinating experience, view the atlas version of the Carte topographique de l’Egypte, courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection:
Jacotin’s work had an enduring legacy, in that his maps served as the ‘gold standard’ for the cartography of Egypt and western Palestine for generations, acting as vital guides for businessmen, tourists, military expeditions and archaeological discovery.
Consequentially, Jacotin’s marking of the ‘Vestiges du Canal’ refering to the ancient canals that crossed the Suez Isthmus and connected the Nile to the Gulf of Suez, in part inspired Ferdinand de Lesseps to build the modern Suez Canal in 1858-1869. Indeed, the Carte topographique de l’Egypte would not be fully superseded until the Anglo-Egyptian regime re-surveyed the entire country from the 1880s.
References: Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE C-11298;
David Rumsey Map Collection: 3964.005. Cf. Hisham KHATIB, Palestine and Egypt Under the Ottomans: Paintings, Books, Photographs, Maps and Manuscripts (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003).