Pilgrims at ‘Arafat by Sadiq Bey, the first photographer of Mecca and Medina on Collections Sphere from
Sadiq Bey’s Collection de Vues Photographiques de La Mecque et de Médine, consisting of 12 views of Mecca, Medina and the stations of pilgrimage that included four panoramas, was presented as a portfolio album in 1881 in Venice at the Third International Congress of Geographers. At this conference his photographic achievements were recognized by both the Arab and European worlds and he was awarded a gold medal for his work. The album was published by the Société Khédiviale de Géographie and was sold via its secretary-general Monsieur le Chevalier Bosola Bey. The cost of a single photograph in 1881 was 40 francs (unmounted) or 50 francs (mounted on card). The Société Khédiviale de Géographiehad hosted Sadiq Bey three times to talk to its members on the subject of his 1861 expedition to Mecca and Medina and we can assume that the set presented at the Third International Congress of Geographers contained at least one photograph from his visit to Medina in 1861. The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Hajj and The Arts of Pilgrimage holds the full set of photographs from this important album which even to this day pays testament to Sadiq Bey’s ground breaking work. Sadiq Bey also published three important works: Mash‘al al-mahmal (‘The Torch of the Mahmal’) in 1881, Kawkab al-hajj fi sayr al-mahmal bahran wa sayrihi barran (‘The Star of the Hajj along the Travels of the Mahmal by Sea and Land’) in 1886 and Dalil al-hajj li’l-warid nin Makkah wa al-Madinah (‘The Guide to the Hajj for Those Arriving in Makkah and Madinah from every Direction’) in 1896, all of which included his photographs and detailed observations of his journeys.
Muhammad Sadiq Bey was the first person to take photographs of Mecca, Medina and the Hajj. An Egyptian army engineer and surveyor, he was also the treasurer of the Egyptian Hajj caravan, travelling numerous times to the Hijaz. Using a technique first invented in the 1850s, Sadiq Bey took his first photographs in 1861 using glass plate negatives, especially useful for large-format frames. His most important photographs, of both the buildings and interiors of the sanctuaries at Mecca and Medina, as well as sites at Arafat and Mina, were taken in 1861, 1880 and 1881. For the first time, the pilgrimage and the holy cities were precisely and realistically documented.