Belgian expansionism and the making of Egyptology, 1830-1952

“My grandfather worked for Baume & Marpent!”. Retracing Jean Joseph Coppée’s contribution to Belgium’s industrial expansionism

Coppée 1

In response to the Pyramids & Progress exposition “Made in Belgium. Industriels belges en Égypte (1830 - 1952)" by the Musée royal de Mariemont at the Bois-du-Luc site, a remarkable message has reached our team. Stéphan Coppée contacted us with some images featuring his grandfather Jean Joseph Coppée. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Coppée first contributed to the Belgian railway project in China. According to his grandson, Coppée first worked as a steel mechanic, was promoted to construction site chief, and was in charge of Baume & Marpent’s project to bridge the Yellow River. Some of the pictures of this time also depict a long-bearded Coppée amongst his colleagues and Chinese labour forces and show the harsh working conditions.

Coppée’s next step was Cairo. As the numerous pictures of his stay in Egypt show, Coppée worked at the site of the Embebah Bridge. Whereas the plans and blueprints kept at the SAICOM archives are able to give an insight in the industrial ingenuity of Belgium’s engineers, these photographs provide a look at the daily life of a Belgian engineer in Egypt. This gives a unique and personal glimpse at the history of Belgium’s industrial expansionism across the world.

The whole P&P-team wants to thank Stéphan Coppée for these pictures and hopes they can welcome him at one of the follow-up expositions of our project.

© Image courtesy of Stéphan Coppée.

Blog by Gert Huskens

Jean Joseph Coppée in China

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Jean Joseph Coppée in Egypt


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Jean Joseph Coppée in Egypt



























26 Nov 2020 (17:23)