I am in Yemen for the week. I am done with work for today, and the only book I brought with me is Lady Anne Blunt’s invaluable Journals and Correspondence (Archer and Fleming, 1986). Lately I have been combing the Journal entries for references to non-Blunt, non-Ali Pasha Sherif early foundation stock of Egyptian Arabian breeding, in the hope of finding new direct or contextual information about these horses. I believe I have just made an interesting discovery which I am eager to share with you here.
During the later years of her life in Egypt, Lady Anne paid many visits to the studs of members of the Egyptian royal family like those of Prince Ahmad Pasha Kamal, Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfiq and other notables, and described their horses in her Journals with remarkable consistency and accuracy. Most of the horses she describes during these visits have bred on to become foundation horses of modern Egyptian Arabian horse breeding, including Bint Yemama, Om Dalal, Dalal, Tarfa, Doga, Radban, Saklawi II, Dahman El Azrak, Farida Debbanie, Roga El Beda, Sabha El Zarka, Jamil El Ahmar, Koheilan El Mossen, El Sennari, etc, etc. Lady Anne’s description of them and the information she provides on the particulars of their pedigrees add considerable value to what is already known about them from other sources.
One important line of modern Egyptian breeding I could never find a reference to in Lady Anne’s Journals is that of the mare Venus, a Hadbah from the stud of Khedive Abbas Hilmi II and the tail female for Ibn Rabdan, Nazeer, Aswan, and so many of the better known modern Egyptian Arabians. Venus is one mare I have been trying to learn more about for some time, given the scarcity of reliable information about her in primary sources, and the existence of some unreliable information about her in secondary sources (just so you know: I include Carl Raswan’s misguided attempt to link Venus to a hypothetical Yunus clan of the Shammar Bedouins by playing on the similarity of the names among the unreliable secondary information). Now I believe to have found a reference to a descendant of Venus in Lady Anne’s Journals.
The Journals entry on January 25, 1911, made in the context of a visit to Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfiq’s Manial Stud mentions a “Hadbe (no suffix) very fine mare the Prince had from Izzet el Abid, which I saw ridden” among the Prince’s horses. “No suffix” means no sub-strain in this context. Of course, this reference to a “Hadbe” (other spellings Hadbah, Hadba, feminine of Hadban) does not constitute sufficient evidence on its own to link this mare to the line of Venus, which is not known to have been represented outside the Khedive Abbas Hilmi’s Stud.
However, the Al Khamsa Oline Roster entry of Venus’ grand-daughter Gamila mentions that “an early herd book of Prince Mohamed Aly describes Gamila as a 1900 chestnut by “Sinari” out of “Hadba Bint Fenouse (‘Venus’),” from the Khedive.” This confirms that Venus’s grand-daughter Gamila (the maternal grand-dam of Ibn Radban) was part of the mare band at Manial, coming from the Khedive’s stud. It is therefore highly likely that Gamila was the mare Lady Anne saw at Manial in 1911 and described as “very fine“.
The reference to “Izzet el Abid” then remains the only puzzle in this entry. Why would Lady Anne casually mention that the mare was “from Izzet el Abid” — without further elaboration — if she were from the Khedive? and who/what is that “Izzet el Abid” in the first place? Let me take you to the intuitive process of my resolving this little puzzle.
At first sight, “Izzet el Abid” looks like it is the name of the person the Prince obtained the mare from and that’s what I believed for a long time. It is precisely that belief that prevented me from making a connection between the “Hadbe a very fine mare” and mares from the line of Venus. Upon taking a closer look, it occurred to me that this single reference to “Izzet el Abid” in the entire Journals of Lady Anne may not be to the name of a person. If it were, Lady Anne, in her usual attention to facts and detail, would have clarified who that person was, whether in this entry or an earlier one.
I thought to myself, ‘could this be the name of a place, an estate of the Khedive Abbas Hilmi II for instance, or a stud other than his main stud of Koubbeh?’ So I hit Google (my only resource here in Yemen) which took me straight to the Wikipedia entry on the Khedive Abbas Hilmi II. Here’s what I found: “His farm of cattle and horses at Qubbah, near Cairo, was a model for scientific agriculture in Egypt, and he created a similar establishment at Muntazah, near Alexandria.”
So I thought, ‘perhaps Izzet el Abid is just another name for this farm of Muntazah near Alexandria where Abbas Hilmi II also had horses’. I already knew about the royal estate and palace of Muntazah, one of the most visited monuments in Alexandria, and I believe I had driven by it some ten years ago. Muntazah (in Arabic, “the Park”) is known to most Egyptians as the last residence of King Farouk, the one he fled Egypt from on his yacht when the Free Officers did their military coup in 1952. Fewer people know that before King Farouk built his magnificent palace there, the place was founded by Abbas Hilmi II in 1892 as a hunting lodge and agricultural estate. I also knew, from my visits to the Tahawis that every other place in Lower Egypt is called “Izbet this” or “Izbet that”, with Izbet (with a b not a double z, also spelled ‘Ezbet’) meaning “settlement” or “hamlet”. My friend Yasser Ghanim has a house in Izbet Ghanim in the Nile delta area; my driver lives in Izbet el Nakhl, a popular suburb north of Cairo (which incidentally was the train station closest to Lady Anne’s Sheykh Obeyd Garden). Just look up “Nile Delta, Egypt” on Google Maps, zoom in a bit and you will see dozens of Izbets and Ezbet popping up.
At this stage, I was almost certain that the “Izzet el Abid” in Lady Anne’s Journal entry was an editor typo (the Journals are replete with them when it comes to Arabic words) or a misspelling of “Izbet el Abid” (literally “the hamlet of the slave” or a person named el Abid). But I needed proof. So I specifically looked up Izbet/Ezbet el Abid/Abd in its different spelling combinations in Google and Google Maps, and …. voila! A “Izbet el Abd” shows up directly adjoining the gardens and estate of Muntazah in the eastern suburbs of today’s sprawling Alexandria… Check it out here or simply type “el abd el montazah alexandria egypt” in Google Maps and it will show up.
From here it was easy to verify that the nearest existing location to where the Montazah (again, “the Park” in Arabic) estate of Abbas Hilmi was established in 1892 was this hamlet of “Izbet el Abd” and that the estate was known by the name of the nearby hamlet in its earlier years (just like the Inshass Stud of King Farouk takes the name of the adjoining peasant village of Inshass and the Kafr Ibrash Stud of Queen Nazli takes its name from the nearest village).
Putting all this together, the reference in Lady Anne’s Journals, made during her January 25, 1911 visit to Prince Mohammed Ali’s Manial Stud, to a “Hadbe (no suffix) very fine mare the Prince had from Izzet [sic] el Abid” becomes clear and the puzzle can be solved: on that day, Lady Anne saw a Hadba mare from the line of Venus, most likely Gamila, which she thought was very fine, and mentioned that Prince Mohammed Ali had obtained her from the farm estate of his brother the Khedive Abbas Hilmi II in Izbet el Abid, the place later known as Muntazah under king Farouk (photo below).