Eduard Toda, the first catalan egyptologist | Cultural Heritage. Goverment of Catalonia.


Eduard Toda, the first catalan egyptologist

Eduard Toda is one of the least known, but also one of the most important, figures in the Catalan cultural revival known as the Renaixença.

He was a consul, a man of culture, the first Catalan Egyptologist, a bibliophile, a patron of the arts and a traveller and yet, despite being one of the most important Renaixença figures, also the least known. Here we survey the most outstanding aspects of his life.

First studies in Reus

Eduard Toda was born in Reus in 1855. He was brought up by his mother and his maternal uncle, the journalist and republican, Josep Güell i Mercader, because his father, a highly influential local figure and former mayor of Reus, declined to assume his parental duties.

After finishing primary school he went to study at the Piarist school in Reus, where his school fellows and friends included the architect Antoni Gaudí and the Catalan doctor and surgeon Josep Ribera. During the years they spent at the school these three friends developed a great interest in literature and learning in general. Toda, aged just 15, wrote his first book, Poblet. Descripción histórica, about the monastery which, years later, he would restore.
Commemorative plaque on the house where Eduard Toda was born in Reus (Montsemedina - CC BY-SA 3.0 - Wikimedia Commons)

The start of a diplomatic career

Having finished his school studies, and the time to go to university having arrived, Toda left for Madrid to study Law, finishing his studies in just three years. While he was at university he met someone who would become one of his greatest friends, the writer, journalist and politician, Víctor Balaguer.

His university studies having concluded, he obtained a post in the diplomatic corps, and thus commenced his life as a traveller. After 1876 his diplomatic work took him to the Far East and Egypt as well as to many places around Europe, such as Glasgow, Helsinki, Le Havre, Hamburg, Brussels, Paris and Sardinia. He also visited India, Siam (today's Thailand), Cambodia, the Philippines and Japan, amongst other countries.

But of all the journeys he made abroad there were three places which were of special importance to him: China, Egypt and Sardinia.

Portrait of Eduard Toda

A Catalan in Egypt

During the course of his diplomatic career, it was the time he spent in Egypt and that was particularly outstanding. After having lived in Macau, Hong Kong and Shanghai between the ages of 21 and 27, and after a brief stay in Catalonia, Toda embarked once again on his diplomatic adventures, which led him this time to Egypt. It would prove to be one of the most important periods of his life, serving as Spain's general consul in Cairo.
During his years in Egypt he travelled a great deal, visiting the ruins of Alexandria, Sais and Tanis, and the pyramids and necropolises of Giza.

Eduard Toda dressed as a mummy at the Museum of Bulaq, Cairo (Wikimedia Commons)

Maspero's expedition

During one of his visits to the Nile Valley he met Gaston Maspero, a Frenchman who was, at the time, the director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and director of the Antiquities Service.

Their friendship led to Toda forming part of the archaeological expedition along the Nile, organised by Maspero in 1886, to inspect the condition of the archaeological remains and assess the excavation and conservation work being done there.

Eduard Toda, second from the left, during his stay in Egypt (Biblioteca Museu Víctor Balaguer (Víctor Balaguer Museum and Library) - Wikimedia Commons)

Opening of the tomb of Sennedjem

It was Maspero who entrusted Toda with the opening of the undisturbed tomb of Sennedjem, also known as Theban Tomb TT1, located in Deir el-Medina. With the help of seven workers it took three days to empty the tomb and, except for the items Toda brought back to Spain, which now form part of the National Archaeological and Víctor Balaguer museums' collections (Toda had met Balaguer in Madrid), the other items are now to be found in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The event was important for two reasons. Firstly because this was the first such excavation performed by a Spaniard, and secondly because this was the first undisturbed tomb to be found in Egypt. Toda, who published the results of the discovery and made an inventory of the items found, has since been considered to be the first Catalan and Spanish Egyptologist.

Images from the tomb of Sennedjem (Wikimedia Commons)

The great man of Escornalbou

Toda continued with his diplomatic career and, after spending some time in Alghero, in Sardinia, where he discovered that the Catalan language was used on the island, and after a much longer stay in London, where he lived for 18 years as a businessman, he returned to Catalonia in 1918.

Previously, in 1911, he had acquired the ruins of the former monastery of Escornalbou and had, since then, been directing the restoration work. It was, for some years, his home and today there is still evidence in the rooms of the collections, antiquities and works of art that he had gathered together during his travels, as well as his large private library.
The interior of the Castell Monestir d'Escornalbou (Agència Catalana del Patrimoni Cultural)

Prizes and awards

Amongst other posts that he held, Toda was elected vice-president, and later president, of the provincial monuments committee, president of the Royal Tarragona Archaeology Society, member of the Barcelona museum board and president of the Barcelona Academy of Literature, as well as being awarded numerous medals and awards by the governments of China, Cambodia, Siam, Portugal, Denmark and France.

He published a large number of books and articles about history, ethnography, archaeology, literature and bibliography and made donations of a number of valuable objects and books.

Exterior of the Castell Monestir d'Escornalbou (Agència Catalana del Patrimoni Cultural)

The restoration of Poblet

As part of his firmly-held desire to protect Catalan cultural heritage, Eduard Toda also directed the restoration of the Royal Abbey of Santa Maria de Poblet, with the aim of restoring its symbolic role and importance.

A year before his death, Toda was able to witness the return of monastic life to the abbey, something he had always been in favour of as something that gave meaning to its architectural restoration, it being after all, the reason for it having been built in the first place.

Eduard Toda died in 1941 at the monastery in Poblet.

The Royal Abbey of Santa Maria de Poblet (Josep Giribert - Departament de Cultura)