In the Footsteps of an 1839 Expedition through the Holy Land

From the bustling streets of Cairo, through the desert of Sinai, the glorious ruins of Petra, the biblical sites of Palestine, the Old City of Jerusalem, the monasteries of Negev, the crusader castles of Eastern Mediterranean, and the Roman ruins of Ba’albec, Sunil Shinde discovered a region far removed from the newspaper headlines.

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Napoleon’s 1799 military campaign to Egypt ended in a disaster, but the accompanying scientific expedition was a resounding success. His army of savants explored and mapped the magnificent monuments of Egypt.

The fabled lands of the Pharaohs were accessible to the West for the first time since the Crusades

A Scottish artist-adventurer named David Roberts was lured by the magic of the Orient. He crossed the Mediterranean in a steamboat and arrived in Cairo in August 1838. His goal was to sketch the unseen sites and sights of the Near East.

For the next four months, Roberts rented a boat and floated the Nile as far south as he could. On the way, he plotted and sketched the crumbling Pharaonic edifices. Some of his sketches are the last known visual record of the two-thousand-year-old temples that were ultimately submerged under the waters of Lake Naseer in 1970.

In December 1838, David Roberts returned to Cairo and started preparing for his epic journey across the deserts in the east – From Cairo to Beirut.

Those were the best of the times and the worst of the times.

 War was in the air. The region was riddled with plague. The locals were revolting against Pasha Mehmet Ali’s conscription to fight the Ottoman.

Undeterred, David Roberts traversed the rugged landscape of the Holy Land.

All along, he prodigiously sketched the sights and colors of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria.

After returning to London, he published his travelogue. It was an instant best seller of its times.

The book contained beautifully produced lithographs based on Roberts sketches which gave Europe the first comprehensive glimpse of the biblical landscape

So accurate was Roberts’ depiction of the land that his sketches were used to represent the region until the advent of mainstream photography several decades later. 

In 2018, I set out to follow in the footsteps of David Roberts

Somebody had to do it!

I traveled through the ancient lands steeped in natural beauty, culture, architecture, and history

My goal was to locate the spots Roberts stood two hundred years ago and sketch what he sketched.


And missed! 

I realized so little had changed...

Yet nothing was the same...

“A touching and warm-hearted account, From Cairo to Beirut transports the reader through an alchemy of its own to the lands its pages so perfectly describe.” 

 Tahir Shah, bestselling author of The Caliph’s House

“A richly rewarding travelogue that describes a crucial part of the world, documented with an anthropological spirit and with potentially long-lasting appeal.” 

Prof. Uzi Baram, Archeologist.

“This can be a difficult part of the world to write about. The sketches included say as much- if not more- than the writing, and all of this makes it an unusual and special book.” 

Leon McCarron bestselling author of The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot through the Heart of the Middle East

“Shinde’s style is brilliant. His witty and free-flowing narrative shines through in his drawings, quickly executed on the spot with a sure hand.”  

Fabio Bourbon, Author, and expert in the history of ancient civilizations who has himself traveled in the footsteps of David Roberts.

Sunil Shinde has been an ardent urban-sketcher since 2013 and is a correspondent for the Urban Sketchers blog,

Over the last twenty years, Sunil has traveled to over thirty countries, tracing stories of history, religion, and culture. When he isn’t traveling, he is dreaming of traveling.

In his other life, Sunil building an AI-based population health product for a stealth mode startup .

He lives in a cottage in the woods in Redmond, WA, with his wife, two daughters, and their golden retriever, Oscar

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