Universal Exposition of 1889, Paris
Inspired by the Rue des Nations, the 1889 exposition further developed the commercial potential of the street and brought together on it a number of thematically connected displays. Two memorable streets of the fair, the History of Habitation (L'Histoire de l'habitation) and the Cairo Street (Rue du Caire), included Islamic representations, both claiming archaeological and historical accuracy. Neither was merely an open-air museum; as nineteenth-century streets they incorporated urban and commercial life and became places of "spectacle."
The History of Habitation consisted of forty-four dwellings intended to tell the story of "the slow but inevitable march of humanity through the ages."
Located in a longitudinal park along the Seine, these houses contrasted in scale and style with the Eiffel Tower behind them. They were designed by Charles Garnier, renowned perhaps as much for his hostility to the expression of iron structure in buildings as for his Paris Opera. The "palaces, grottoes, tents, villas, cottages, huts, and various shelters forming the Exposition of Human Habitation" voiced tectonically Garnier's protest against Eiffel's work. Ironically, their location at the foot of the tower brought them to the forefront of the fair. The siting was particularly fortunate, because Garnier intended them as an architecture of spectacle, "a moving panorama, where all habitations parade before us."
The houses were presented in two main categories: prehistorical and historical. In the first group were natural habitats (in the open air, in sheltering woods, in rocks and grottoes) as well as some simple structures; in the second group were the structures of "primitive civilizations" (e.g., Egyptian, Assyrian, Phoenician), civilizations arising from Aryan invasion (e.g., Hindu, Persian, German, Gallic, Greek, and Roman), and, finally, "contemporary [versions] of primitive civilizations"—those that "did not exert any influence on the general advance of humanity" (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Eskimo, Indian, Aztec, Inca, and African). Although presented as a historical survey, the display featured anthropological and ethnographic elements: the dwellings were decorated in "typical" ways, and a "native" in authentic costume welcomed visitors. Furthermore, it included contemporary civilizations other than Western, thereby adhering to the definition of anthropology as the study of societies considered spatially and temporally distant.
Garnier did not consider his survey complete; he thought of the entire display as a "scenario," with several stars and a supporting cast. He insisted, however, that the dwellings themselves were historically accurate, that they reflected a "general type" based on a synthesis of crucial elements. He argued that in them "the resemblance to truth was truer than truth itself" (le vraisemblable est bien plus vrai que la verité ).
The History of Habitation included two Islamic houses, an Arab and a Sudanese (Figs. 35–36). Working in collaboration with a historian, A. Ammann, Garnier produced a book that presented a scholarly basis for the houses displayed at the exposition. The goal was to trace the development, the marche en avant, of the human habitat; Garnier and Ammann argued that the Muslim house offered little to this development because "Mohammadism sterilized all the regions it invaded."
Basing their findings on travelers' accounts of Arabia, the authors declared that the Arab house had not changed over time; in its overall simplicity, it resembled the nomad's tent and consisted of women's quarters, men's quarters, and outbuildings. Rooms were either square or rectangular, and courtyards were essential. In its ornamentation, however, the Arab house in the most splendid period of Arab history, the eighth and the ninth centuries, was remarkable. In houses of this period horseshoe arches were supported by elegant colonettes; arabesques were important decorative motifs, and brilliant colors
were used. The authors described Muslim life as they knew it from literature and painting: "The ideal of happy life consisted of resting lazily in a cool place, surrounded by exquisite light and forms. Oriental life flowed, softly and voluptuously, behind these walls burning in the sun."
Emphasizing that the Muslim house "had played no direct role in the grand architectural revolution of the Renaissance," Garnier displayed only two examples. The Arab house consisted of cubical masses enlivened with musharabiyyas (lattice woodwork on the windows) and an arcaded courtyard with horseshoe arches. To give a complete view of the design to passersby, only half of the courtyard was built. The Sudanese house, even simpler, was a rectangular structure with walls from 2 to 2.50 meters high; its only opening to the exterior was a small door.
Garnier understood Islamic culture as one that was fixed in history and was not a valuable resource for modern civilization. He argued that the salvation of Islamic architecture would be achieved by colonization: "the French conquest has just begun . . . to change [the] antique physiognomy" of Algerian, Tunisian, and Moroccan architecture.
Although Garnier presented the History of Habitation as an educational display, it was not necessarily received as such. The critics, by now familiar with the "authentic" representations of previous fairs, claimed Garnier's pavilions were not based on reliable documents but only on the architect's imagination. They argued that the result was "absolutely fanciful" and did not convey the "impression of truth and of life." The dwellings were "children's toys without any scientific utility." Furthermore, they were located randomly, "Oriental architecture next to European, only to daze the visitor."
Like the History of Habitation, the Rue du Caire vacillated between archaeological ambitions and the desire for spectacle. Its author Delort de Gleon, according to some sources, was a wealthy Frenchman who had lived in Egypt for about twenty-five years and was willing to pay for the exhibit. The title page of the booklet Gleon wrote on the Rue du Caire, La Rue du Caire à l'Exposition universelle de 1889, describes him as the "architect and general commissioner of the Egyptian section." Although Charles de Lesseps was nominated president of the committee, Gleon told his readers that Lesseps gave him carte blanche to create the Egyptian section.
Delort de Gleon collaborated with a young architect named Gillet. Using recycled architectural fragments (musharabiyya s, window and door details, decorative details, etc.) from demolished buildings in Cairo, the two men created a neighborhood street of twenty-five houses, representing different periods and styles of Cairene residential architecture (Fig. 37). Gleon's stated goal was to gather "various motifs from all belles époques " of Cairo's history. To complete the Cairene atmosphere, he integrated a religious monument into the street, a reduced copy of the Sultan Qaytbay complex, which he declared "the most gracious monument" of Cairene architecture, with its minaret, dome, and surface details that added picturesqueness to the perspective. Inside, the mosque was richly decorated with marble-covered walls, ceiling patterns highlighted in gold, and delicate woodwork.
Although he insisted on the authenticity of his representation, Gleon diverged from Cairene models in making the street wider than a typical Arab street (to allow the railroad to pass through) and in keeping building heights (including that of the minaret) lower because of construction problems. Otherwise, the buildings were "absolutely exact" and "faithfully reproduced." In fact, the Rue du Caire on the Champ de Mars was more authentic than the streets in Cairo itself, because, Gleon argued, it was impossible to find an untouched old street in Cairo. The old houses with musharabiyya s no longer abutted each other, but were "separated, alas, by modern houses in bad taste!" Collectors now salvaged beautiful parts from the old buildings of Cairo.
Many visitors to the exposition, Egyptians and Europeans alike, admired the local color of this street. Hippolyte Gautier was fascinated by the "authentic pieces . . . picked by a collector of great taste, by a real artist." An Egyptian visitor noted that "even the paint on the buildings was made to look dirty." A French observer agreed: "You are in Cairo; a winding and picturesque street opens in front of you, with its musharabiyya s, its ingenious wood lattices, . . . its balconies projecting on the street."
The "spectacle" of the street—the musicians, male and female dancers, artisans, and donkey drivers who crowded it—was intended to contribute archaeological exactitude (Fig. 38). That commerce and entertainment overshadowed
Gleon's concern for accuracy is illustrated by the mosque. Muhammad Amin Fikri, an Egyptian visitor, noted in disgust: "Its external form as a mosque was all that there was. As for the interior, it had been set up as a coffeehouse, where Egyptian girls performed dances with young males, and dervishes whirled."
The 1889 exposition turned out to be a national celebration for France rather than an international event like earlier expositions. Because it celebrated the centennial of the French Revolution, many governments (among them that of the Ottoman Empire) declined to participate, as a protest against the ideals of the revolution. Undeterred, France proceeded to display its power in a grandiose manner, as illustrated, for example, by the huge platform dedicated to its colonial possessions. Both "to convey a real idea of the economic state of [France's] diverse possessions overseas" and to show the nation to the subject people, the French organized the Esplanade des Invalides between the Quai d'Orsay and the Rue de Grenelle as a "striking display" of "original buildings" and artifacts (Fig. 39). The Algerian and Tunisian palaces occupied a prominent location at the entrance to the esplanade from the embankment. Behind
them souks, cafés, and restaurants clustered, complete with a replica of a Kabyle village and bedouin tents (Figs. 40–41). A crowd of "[indigenous] people of all races, all colors, and all classes" filled the winding streets of the
esplanade, their diversity creating "a profound impression of the grandeur [of France]." Here the colonized, dazzled by French civilization, could understand the privilege of being part of it.