Thanks to the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) we have not just access to the collection of late Ottoman periodicals from the library of al-Aqṣā Mosque (EAP119) in Jerusalem, but also to more than 3.000 photos of Maison Bonfils from the Fouad Debbas Collection in Beirut (EAP644) that were made available to the public in 2014.

Looking through this vast body of images—a large part of which documents the ruines and antiquities in the Levant and Egypt—one can find an astonishing record of late-nineteenth century graffiti: names and dates scribbled on walls and columns to document the visit of local and foreign travellers. The urge to record one’s existence was not restricted to the new middle-class traveller. Famously the Ottoman Sultan ʿAbdülḥamīd II and the German Kaiser Wilhelm II had marble plaques affixed to the ruins of Baalbek to commemorate the latter’s visit to the site in 1898. But looking through the images I stumbled over another graffiti

Shāhīn Makāriyūs 1878

Shāhīn Makāriyūs left his mark in Baalbek in 1878

This is the same Shāhīn Makāriyūs (also Chahin Macarius, Shaheen Makarius), who, together with Yaʿqūb Ṣarrūf and Fāris Nimr, published the monthly journal al-Muqtaṭaf from 1876 onwards—first in Beirut and, from 1884 onwards, in Cairo. He was also a prominent member of masonic lodges and authored a number of books on the history of freemasonry in Arabic and English. In 1890, al-Bashīr from Beirut already mentioned al-Muqtaṭaf and al-Laṭāʾif, another journal Shāhīn Makāriyūs edited between 1886–96, as being masonic papers.^[Bashīr 4 Nov. 1890 (#1037):3 and Bashīr 26 Nov. 1890 (#1040):1, which ran a front page article titled “The slander of al-Laṭāʾif” (iftirāʾ al-laṭāʾif).] Al-Laṭāʾif al-Muṣawwara, an illustrated successor journal to al-Laṭāʾif, that had most likely stopped being published around 1896, was edited by his son (?) Iskandar Makāriyūs in Cairo from 1915 onwards.


But it’s not just visitors leaving their traces for posterity, some images reveal that the walls of the ruins were also used for advertisements. Several photos of the entrance to the cella of Baalbek’s main temple of Jupiter dating to the 1870s and onwards show that the photo studio Bonfils itself had announced its services on the wall to the right:

BONFILS Photogra[phie …]

a Beyro[uth …]

Vues de Balbek […]


Probably the earliest photo judged from the state and number of graffiti

After 1880

Later stage than the previous photo with a much larger number of graffiti

After 1883

After 1883

After 1898 with the plague commemorating ʿAbdülḥamīd II and Kaiser Wilhelm II. The graffiti to the right of the entrance are still visible