Souvenirs d'Orient 1878

Félix Bonfils (1831-1885), “St. Sophia at Constantinople,” Souvenirs d’Orient: album pittoresque des sites, villes et ruines les plus remarquables d’Athenes & Constantinople (Alais: Chez l’auteur, 1878). Graphic Arts division GAX 2008. Acquired with matching funds provided by the Program in Hellenic Studies with the support of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund.

Completed in only five years, St. Sophia or Hagia Sophia is today a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. What began as a basilica, then a mosque, underwent a full restoration between 1847 and 1849, by the Swiss-Italian architects Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. In particular, the minarets were altered to make them equal in height, as seen in this photograph taken by Félix Bonfils taken in the 1870s.

Bonfils opened his first photography studio in Beirut in 1867, working together with his wife and son. They made numerous trips through Europe, the Middle East, and later the Far East. The photographs were sold individually and in luxurious bound albums published out of a second studio in Alès, France.

The introduction to this 1878 album states that the “collection of photographs of the Orient’s principal sites—initiated, executed and completed by Monsieur F. Bonfils with unequaled perseverance—should be regarded as one of the most considerable achievements—picturesque, artistic and scientific—of our epoch.”

For more information on the Bonfils business, see Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, “The Genius of Félix Bonfils,” Archaeology 54, no. 3 (May/June 2001).