Paul Collart: A Swiss Archaeologist and Photographer in the Middle East and North Africa

Paul Collart (1902-1981) was a Swiss archaeologist, Professor at the Universities of Lausanne and Geneva, Director of the Swiss Institute of Rome (1928-1970), was also an avid photographer.  This collection provides a sample of his photographs taken in the first half of the 20th century in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, and, most significantly, previously unpublished photographs of Syria.

In 1926, Paul Collart started assembling an important photographic collection documenting his travel around the Mediterranean. For several decades he traveled extensively in the Mediterranean and beyond, photographing numerous archaeological sites in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Italy, the Balkan region and Bulgaria. Paul Collart and his wife Madeleine compiled a series of 38 albums based on his photography and his archaeological projects. The albums, made with grey-blue card, contain more than 4,000 original, black and white photographs. In addition to providing important visual documentation of archaeological heritage, the photographs also show changes to landscapes and social life in the early 20th century.

The depository of the Paul Collart archive is the Institute of Archaeology and Ancient History of Lausanne University. The archive consists of 38 albums, 4000 black and white photographs, in addition to 1000 photographs not yet digitized, documentation of 190 sites, 100 original drawings, 500 letters and 20 excavation notebooks. A large part of the archive material is available to students and researchers on an online database "TIRESIAS" created in 2005-2006 by Dr. Patrick Maxime Michel, Senior Research and Teaching Assistant, from material previously inventoried by Professor Anne Bielman

This Archnet Special Collection offers an overview of the photographic collection of Paul Collart from his several expeditions in the Middle East and North Africa. The selection illustrates his work, his travel around the Mediterranean, his interest in archaeology, and in the social life in the areas he visited. It includes a representative selection of black and white photographs taken in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Turkey. 

Special emphasis is given to his work in Syria. In the 1950s, Collart led the first major Swiss excavation in Palmyra focused on Baal Shamin. The scientific results of the digs in Syria became an important source for documenting the eventual reconstruction of the Temple of Baal Shamin destroyed with explosives in 2015. These images of Palmyra and the Temple of Baal Shamin have not been published prior to inclusion in this collection. Given the extensive destruction of cultural heritage sites in Syria, the significance of this documentation cannot be overstated.  


Media and Documentation Officer
Aga Khan Trust for Culture

February 2018




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