Association internationale de Papyrologues

International Association of Papyrologists

In memoriam Hassan RAGAB


Discours prononcé durant l'Assemblée Générale de l'AIP réunie à Helsinki le 7 août 2004
Speech delivered during the General Assembly of the AIP gathered in Helsinki on August 7th, 2004
par - by: Alia HANAFI

When I met for the first time the late Dr Hassan Ragab, the pioneer who rediscovered papyrus and brought it back to Egypt, it was in 1989. I accompanied in that time our colleague the late Prof. Abdullah Hassan El-Mosallamy to meet Prof. Bingen in Dr. Hassan Ragab' Institute to arrange the schedule of the 19th International Congress of Papyrology held in Cairo at that time. Dr Hassan Ragab was sitting behind his desk on his houseboat. He was 78 years old, but his mind was clear and filled with ideas for the schedule of the Congress. The last time I met him when I was the director of the Center of Papyrological Studies and Inscriptions in Ain Shams University (ACPSI), and he honored us by donating his precious library and a collection of papyri to the Center plus helping us to prepare a laboratory for restoring the papyri. He was sitting, as usual, behind his desk on his houseboat. No change happened in him except that he was 90 years old, but his eyes were still sparkle, and his thinking, as usual, critical.

The late Dr Hassan Ragab was born in Helwan, a suburb of Cairo, on May 14th, 1911. He graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University, and got a Diplôme de l'École Supérieure d'Électricité de Paris. During World War II, he joined the army, rose to the rank of general in 1943. On September 17th, 1956, he was appointed the first Egyptian Ambassador to the People's Republic of China, later in 1959 as Ambassador of Egypt to Italy, and in 1961 as Ambassador of Egypt to Yugoslavia. In China (1956­1960), he visited the village, where T'sao Lin was born, and saw the ancient Chinese methods of papermaking. He decided that, on his return to Egypt, he would re-introduce the science of making papyrus.

In 1962, he started the process of re-discovery. But he faced two major obstacles. First, that papyrus was vanished in Egypt, and he had to go to Sudan to re-import the plant. Second, the entire process of papyrus making was maintained as a secret. Therefore, Dr. Ragab read books by Herodotus, Strabo and Theophrastus, but none could describe the process. The only but very vague indication he found in the studies of Pliny the Elder. Nevertheless, this description was so inaccurate that it did not help him in any way. So, he spent the next 4 years researching the method. In July 1966, he produced his first papyrus paper. In 1967, Dr. Ragab founded on a houseboat on the Nile an Institute for the remanufacturing of Papyrus. He started to collect some information from experts, and began his own experiments. Therefore, gradually he found the way to produce sheets in the same quality, the same structure as it was done some thousands years ago.

In 1979, Dr. Hassan Ragab, at the age of 68 years, and after 4 years of study, received his Ph.D. degree from the Institute Polytechnique de Grenoble (France). The subject of Ph.D. thesis was: Papyrus and the manufacture of paper by the ancient Egyptians. He wrote some scientific books, such as Contribution à l'étude du papyrus (Cyperus papyrus. L) et à sa transformation en support de l'écriture (papyrus des anciens) (Cairo, 1980), and Le Papyrus (Cairo, 1st ed. 1980, 2nd ed. 1981). He wrote also some articles such as: A New Theory Brought Forward About the Adhesion of Papyrus Strips, in 14th International Congress of Paper Historians, Manchester, 1978. I.P.H. Yearbook of Paper History 1 (1978), 113-130, and Resurrection of Papyrus as a National Heritage & The Harvest of 35 Years Experience with Papyrus, in Bulletin of the Center of Papyrological Studies, Cairo 10 (1994), 151-167.

Dr. Hassan Ragab who was named as the expert for papyrus all over the world received honors and medals for this achievement from the three presidents of Egypt, Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. After a visit to Disney World's EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida, Dr. Hassan Ragab had begun to think about the possibility of the Pharaonic Village as a living museum, with real people, actors in costume and in a realistic locale, taking the place of static exhibits. So, in 1974, Dr. Ragab began questioning Egyptologists at museums and universities all over the world, searching for the knowledge that would make the Pharaonic Village, after converting Jacob Island to a complete replica of an ancient Egyptian village. His first step was the planting of five thousand trees to block the view of modern Cairo that surrounded the island. The first trees planted were weeping willows, sycamores, and date palms; trees easily identified in tomb paintings as a part of ancient Egyptian life. However, many more plants, flowers, animals and birds also depicted in the paintings could no longer be found in Egypt. Yet, Dr. Ragab had travelled to the Sudan and Ethiopia to seek for them. He completed, also, work on an exacting construction of a life-size replica of Tutankhamen's tomb, just as it appeared in 1922 when Howard Carter opened it. In 1982, he was awarded first Prize by Rolex for the best innovative tourist's project.

On 11th of January 2004, he died in the age of 92 after a long and not easy life with many hard struggles. However, he granted two dreams of his life to produce papyri and to deal with the paintings on them.
Now, his son, Dr. Abdelsalam Ragab, who has been in charge of the Papyrus Institute and Pharaonic Village for the last 10 years, is the honest keeper on the heritage of his father and we hope he follows his father's way.