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THE CONVENT OF THE PULLEY (DEIR EL ADRA OR THE MONASTERY OF THE VIRGIN MARY) AT GABAL AL-TAYR 3: OLD PHOTOGRAPH FROM 1923 BY THE AMERICAN JOHN NICHOLAS BROWN II

March 12, 2013

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Figure 1: Monastery of the Pulley- or Coptic Convent of Deir el Adra, January 14, 1923, by John Nicholas Brown II.

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Figure 2: Close up of the photograph above.

John Nicholas Brown II (1900 – 1979) was a member of one of the richest and major families in American life, and worked as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy (AIR) in the post-WWII years (1946 – 1949). When he was young, only 23 years, he visited Egypt in 1923, and sailed down the Nile in a dahabiya, taking on the way some of the most beautiful photographs of its monuments and scenes.

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Figure 3: John Nicholas Brown II, and his companions in the journey to Egypt, 1923. He is the highest figure in the photo, the man with the hat on.

One of the interesting photographs he took was the “Monastery of the Pulley- or Coptic Convent of Deir el Adra: January 14, 1923”. It was taken from the Nile position, and shows a felucca and behind it the steep cliff of Gabal al-Tayer or Gabal al-Kaff, and on top of it some buildings, including the monastery (right hand side) and some houses (left hand side).  There are two women villagers carrying pots (gullas) on their heads. One can see the modern stairway that leads to the convent. In the past, visitors used to be winched up the cliff using a pulley, hence the name Convent of the Pulley (in Arabic, دير البكارة).

This view is what Western travellers saw and wrote about and about the monks of the monastery, whom they could not avoid coming across in any Nile tour, and with whom they were immensely fascinated.

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