In 1984 I rented an apartment in the Cairo district of Mounira, just off Kasr el Aini Street in the center of the city. There was a small grocery store near my flat called Blue Nile. Today a Coptic family owns the store, but back then I believe it was still owned by its original Greek proprietors. I used to go there often because the store reminded me of my time in Greece. Blue Nile sold Greek Feta cheese, yoghurt, dolmades, pita bread and other Greek specialties. Beside food they sold beer, wine and spirits, some which still had the original Greek labels. Gianaclis, Bolanachi and Zottos were just a few brand names that were reminiscent of a once thriving beverage industry dominated by Egypt’s Greek community.
The Greeks have had a long and vibrant history in Egypt. The first wave came during antiquity and, since then, the community has maintained a presence, though not always a great one. The largest influx in modern times came at the beginning of the nineteenth century, during the rise of the Mohammed Ali dynasty. Mohammed Ali Pasha’s obsession with turning Egypt into a modern country in European standards opened the doors to Greeks and other foreigners. Since the Egyptian proletariat was largely made up of farmers, it was unable to meet the sudden need for skilled labor, managers, entrepreneurs and merchants. A large number of people from across the Ottoman Empire and Europe flocked to Egypt seeking to fill these new work opportunities. It was only natural for the Greeks to settle in Alexandria, the port city named after their most famous compatriot.
The following exhibition is taken from a photo album created to showcase the Zottos distillery in the 1930s. Studio Ververis in Alexandria, Egypt, photographed the album.