Lebanon – The French military post agent on the Beirut’s Marina

This article is inspired by observation of the great interest regarding an envelope as lot 41, starting at 700 Euro and sold for 1’100 Euros by Cedarstamps auction house in the 23 November 2019 sale (fig 1).

fig 1

It is an envelope most probably written and sent by an officer of the French navy embarked on the Dunkerque Aviso*. The consignor had the magnificent idea of attaching a cinderella stamp on the front of the envelope depicting the small warship and his crew on the ship’s deck. At the bottom of the stamp on the left is the inscription “International Express, La Seyne-sur-mer” which certainly refers to the publishing and printing house. Unfortunately I can’t say more about this cinderella. We now come to the means by which the envelope was routed, first in the military and then in the civilian postal system which the former used for transport the mail in “special military sack” in peacetime. I specify that this was due for normal correspondence between military and relatives/friends and not for the service releases for which radio encryption secure means was normally used.

The envelope was then written in the military port of Beirut, called at the time “Beyrouth Marina” and the stamp cinderella amicably canceled with the regulatory administrative stamp in violet “MARINE FRANCAISE – SERVICE A LA MER” which was used to authorize the free of charge shipment of mail for military who had the right.

In the military port of Beirut I have always assumed that there was a military relay service used to transport mail from the port (A) to the “Serrail” (B), imaginable through the indications on the map of the port of Beirut that I show (fig 2).

*adopted by the French and Portuguese navies to classify their medium-sized warships.

fig 2 – Port of Beirut, detail from a 1945 map drawn by the Free French Forces.

I have been able to observe various postal objects send with seals inscription “BEYROUTH MARINE”, they were affixed by the military relay to indicate their origin once they arrived at the military post office (figs 3 and 4). It is no coincidence that the envelope in figure 4 has the seal covered by the stamps: its presence was no longer needed since the envelope was consigned to the civil post office and regular franked with stamps used to pay the full free. Why to the Serrail? Because from the latest information in my possession that was the place where the French military post office was installed, indicated as “Sector Postal 600” which served the military based in Beirut and the surrounding areas.

fig 3 – Cover sent to France free of charge, forwarded on 18/10/1928 by Marina military relay to the P.A.A. 600 based in the Serrail.

fig 4 – Cover sent by air to Greece, originated from Beirut port and forwarded by the Marina military relay to the civilian post office

Then our envelope arrives in the French military post office which provided on 16/8/1932 to affix the regulatory cancellation “Postes Aux Armees 600” and a rectangular advertising seal praising the speed of mail sent by air. I also show an envelope sent by the civilian postal agency located near the military base that used a bilingual seal “AVENUE DES FRANCAIS BEYROUTH”, is very rare (fig 5).

fig 5 – Cover sent to Transjordan on 27/11/1935, originated from “AVENUE DES FRANCAIS BEYROUTH” post agency near the port area

I end by showing, by way of complement, an illustrated postcard of the port of Beirut (fig 6 and 7) sent on 2/7/1974 by the post office of “BEYROUTH PORT” probably established in the late 1950s, the final landing point for all mail sent from the port area of ​​Beirut.

fig 6 – The photo side Post card with image taken from the roof of one of the buildings in point “A” in fig 2. In the foreground a small Lebanese warship

fig 7 – The back side Post card sent to Italy with stamp of 40 Piastres cancelled by the bilingual postmark “BEYROUTH PORT” on 2/July/1974

Bernardo Longo

Non solo ora – Disinfezioni e quarantene nel passato – Not just now – Disinfections and quarantines in the past

Questo articolo e’ dedicato a tutti i miei connazionali in Italia costretti alla quarantena dal virus Covid 19. Eccezionalmente esso sara’ pubblicato anche nella lingua di Dante per facilitarne la lettura a quelli che come me poco sono avvezzi a quella di Shakespeare.

This article is dedicated to all my compatriots forced to quarantine in Italy by the Covid 19 virus. Exceptionally it will also be published in Dante’s language to facilitate its reading to those who, like me, are not very accustomed to that of Shakespeare.

 

Nel passato non poche furono le epidemie che colpirono le popolazioni umane, esse furono causate sia da batteri che da virus.  Come oggi anche nel passato gli scambi commerciali ed il turismo, che all’epoca si manifestava sotto forma di pellegrinaggio religioso, erano vettori di epidemie. Nel Bacino del Mediterraneo dal XVII secolo si generalizzarono i presidi sanitari di controllo finalizzati alla circoscrizione di queste forme epidemiche. Altri supposti vettori epidemici erano le comunicazioni epistolari: le lettere (fig 1). Tra le azioni di prevenzione attiva verso queste ultime, vi era quella della fumigazione, cioe’ si sottoponeva la lettera in arrivo da luoghi sospettati di essere focolai epidemici, al passaggio tra fumi di incenso, resine ed altri aromatizzanti (fig 2).

In the past there were many epidemics that affected human populations, they were caused by both bacteria and viruses. As today, even in the past, commercial exchanges and tourism, which at the time manifested itself in the form of a religious pilgrimage, were vectors of epidemics. In the Mediterranean basin from the 17th century was generalized a form of health supervision posts aimed at circumscribing these epidemic forms. Other supposed epidemic vectors were the epistolary communications: the letters (fig 1). Among the active prevention actions towards the latter, there was that of fumigation: the letter arriving from places suspected of being epidemic outbreaks was subjected to the passage between incense fumes, resins and other flavorings (fig 2).

(fig 1) Lettera spedita dal Console Sardo in Algeri il 15/8/1828 per Marsiglia via Livorno. Nella citta’ toscana venne apposto il tampone di controllo del Lazzareto di San Rocco. Sulla lettera non e’ visibile nessuna azione disinfettante.

(fig 1) Letter sent from the Sardinia Consul in Algiers on 15/8/1828 to Marseilles via Leghorn. The control seal of the San Rocco’s Lazaret was placed in the Tuscan city. No disinfectant action is visible on the letter.

 

(fig 2) Lettera spedita il 28/2/1829 dall’Agenzia consolare Sarda di Beirut per il Console generale di Alessandria d’Egitto. Non vi sono tracce apparenti di tamponi di controllo del Lazzareto Egiziano ma invece sone evidenti le tracce di disinfezione tramite fumigazione che ha provocato un imbrunimento della carta.

(fig 2) Letter sent on 28/2/1829 by the Sardinian consular Agency of Beirut to the Sardinian Consul General of Alexandria in Egypt. There are no apparent traces of Egyptian Lazaret control seal but evident traces of disinfection by fumigation that has browned the paper.

 

Un’altro sistema di “supposta” disinfezione era quella del taglio o della punzonatura della lettera per farne uscire la “cattiva aria” (fig 3, 4 e 5). Inutile dire che si trattava, come quello precedente, solo di un metodo empirico che non garantiva assolutamente la sterilizzazione da eventuali batteri o virus, ammettendo che essi fossero sopravvissuti alla lunga traversata marittima. Insomma un palese atto tendente piu’ ad un simbolico tentativo funzionale all’immagine di chi gestiva l’emergenza.

Another system of “supposed” disinfection was that of cutting or punching the letter to excrete out the “bad air” (fig 3, 4 and 5). Needless to say it was just an empirical method, like the previous one, that absolutely did not guarantee sterilization from any bacteria or viruses, admitting that they had survived the long sea crossing. In short, a clear act tending more to a symbolic attempt functional to the image of those who managed the emergency. 

(fig 3) Anche le lettere che accompagnavano i beni spediti via nave venivano sottoposte al taglio disinfettante. Come in questa lettera che accompagnava un sacco spedito da Aleppo il 29/3/1790 e diretto alla ditta Guerin basata presumibilmente a Marsiglia.

(fig 3) Even the letters that accompanied the goods sent by ship were subjected to the disinfection slits. As in this letter which accompanied a sack sent by Aleppo on 29/3/1790 and directed to the Guerin company presumably based in Marseilles.

 

(fig 4) Posta consolare sarda, inviata da Alessandria il 24/03/1837 per Beirut, all’epoca di Muhammad Ali, Khedive d’Egitto. Arrivando a Beirut in quella che ancora oggi si chiama “Quarantina”, la lettera fu sottoposta a disinfezione tramite i due tagli verticali inferti alla lettera. Si tratta di un’importante testimone del Lazzareto di Beirut, installato da Ibrahim Pasha nel 1834 e per molto tempo unico presidio sanitario sulla costa siriana.

(fig 4) Sardinian Consular mail, sent from Alexandria on 24/3/1837 to Beirut, under Muhammad Ali, Khedive of Egypt. In arrive at the “Quarantine” of Beirut, the letter was subjected to disinfection by two piercing vertical slits. Important witness of the operating Lazzaretto in Beirut, installed by Ibrahim Pasha in 1834, for a long time the only health facility on the Syrian coast.

 

 

(fig 5) Lettera spedita da Smirne il 29/5/1843 per Marsiglia. Uno dei presidi sanitari più importanti del Mediterraneo era quello di Malta. L’isola era tappa obbligata delle navi della compagnia di navigazione francese Messageries Maritimes, fondata nel 1835. Le lettere trasportate,  transitando dall’isola, venivano sottoposte a controllo e vistate con un caratteristico timbro a doppio cerchio con la dicitura in francese “PURIFIE AU LAZARET MALTA”. Ne esistono due tipi di differenti dimensioni.

(fig 5) Letter sent from Smyrna on 29/5/1843 to Marseilles. One of the most important health facilities in the Mediterranean was that of Malta. The island was a stop for ships of the French shipping company Messageries Maritimes, founded in 1835. The letters transported passing through the island, were checked and endorsed with a characteristic double circle stamp with the French wording “PURIFIE AU LAZARET MALTA “. There are two types of different sizes.

 

Sorprendente come l’azione di coordinamento tra le varie amministrazioni che supervisionavano i cordoni sanitari avvenisse in modo cosi formale come illustrato nella lettera ufficiale nella figura 6. Si ebbe notizia di focolai epidemici a volte in modo particolarmente anomalo, se non altro per la zona da cui venne divulgata l’informativa. Come nel caso di un rapporto sanitario partito non si sa come dalla Svizzera e diretta a Marsiglia a proposito di un’epidemia di colera manifestatasi sulla costa siriana, tappa abituale dei mercantili francesi.

Surprising how the coordination action between the various administrations that supervised the sanitary cordons took place in such a formal way as illustrated in the official letter in figure 6. There was news of epidemic outbreaks sometimes in a particularly anomalous way curiously from the area from which the information was disclosed. As in the case of the health report left from Switzerland and directed to Marseilles about a cholera epidemic that occurred on the Syrian coast, an usual stage of the French merchant ships.

(fig 6) Importante lettera del 17/12/1843 indirizzata al Presidente del Consiglio della Sanita’ di Napoli, allora capitale del Regno Delle Due Sicilie, spedita da Costantinopoli dall’Intendenza Generale della Salute dell’Impero Ottomano. Oltre che per i sigilli, il timbro del Lazzareto di Malta e l’arrivo a Napoli attraverso la linea francese di navigazione marittima, quello che rende particolarmente interessante la lettera e’ il contenuto scritto nel quale, oltre a redigere un sommario rapporto sulla situazione in Turchia, lo scrivente manifesta l’interesse per quelle che sono i sistemi di quarantena a cui sono soggetti gli arrivi a Napoli dall’Impero Ottomano. La lettera e’ firmata M. Marchand. Sicuramente si tratta del primo contatto tra i due presidi sanitari.

(fig 6) Important letter dated 17/12/1843 for the President of the Health Council of Naples, then capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies sent from Constantinople by the General Healthcare Manager of the Ottoman Empire. In addition to the wax seal, the stamp of the Lazaret of Malta and the arrival cancel of Naples via the French navigation line, what makes the letter particularly interesting is the written content where, in addition to drawing up a summary report on the situation in Turkey, it manifests the interest in what are the quarantine systems to which arrivals in Naples from the Ottoman Empire are subject. The letter is signed by the Healthcare Manager M. Marchand. It is certainly the first contact between the two health centers.

 

Curiosa e grave inefficienza si deduce dalla lettera nella figura 7, scritta dal “Console di Marina” di La Spezia, spedita da Genova il 27/2/1855 e diretta a Costantinopoli per chiedere notizie sulla morte li avvenuta per colera di un marinaio ligure. Dopo solo un mese il Regno di Sardegna partecipo’ alla guerra di Crimea senza tener conto alcuno dell’epidemia qui denunciata: essa provoco’ la maggior parte di morti nelle file sarde in quella spedizione militare.

Curious and serious inefficiency can be deduced from the letter in figure 7, written by the “Consul of Marina” of La Spezia but sent from Genoa on 27/2/1854 and directed to Constantinople to ask about the death of a Ligurian sailor due to cholera. After only a month the Kingdom of Sardinia participated in the Crimean war without taking into account any of the cholera epidemic: it caused most of the deaths in the Sardinian ranks in that military expedition.

(fig 7) La lettera di doppio porto, come si evince dalla cifra “2” apposta il alto a sinistra, fu spedita da Genova il 27/2/1855 tramite un battello delle Messageries Maritimes grazie alla convenzione tra la compagnia e l’Amministrazione Postale sarda. Essa giunse a Costantinopoli il 10 marzo seguente e fu assoggettata ad una tassa di 20 decimi di Franco (2 franchi Francesi) essendo appunto di doppio porto.

(fig 7) The double rate letter, as can be report by number “2” affixed to the top left, was sent from Genoa on 2/27/1855 by a steamer of Messageries Maritimes thanks to agreement between the company and the Sardinian Postal Administration. It arrived in Constantinople on 10 March following and was subject due the wight to a tax for double rate of 20 tenths of Franc corresponding to 2 French Francs. 

 

Virus e batteri si dice che non conoscono confini, ed e’ vero. Questo si evince dalla rara lettera con testo alla fig 8, spedita durante l’epidemia di colera del 1855 in Toscana. Lo scrivente, direttore del Real Collegio di Lucca, spiega al padre di uno degli allievi che a causa di alcuni focolai nella citta’ e stato costretto a rifugiarsi in campagna nella localita’ di Vicopelago da cui scrisse questo importante testimone cartaceo giunto fino a noi. Assicura della buona salute degli allievi e del fatto che essi siano sotto controllo medico ed allo stesso tempo impegnati a studiare per gli esami che si terranno “secondo le circostanze” in settembre o ottobre.

Viruses and bacteria are said to know no boundaries, and it’s true. This can be seen from the rare letter with text in fig 8, sent during the 1855 cholera epidemic in Tuscany. The writer, director of Real Collegio of Lucca, explains to the father of a student that due to some outbreaks in the city he was forced to take refuge in the countryside in the locality of Vicopelago from which he wrote this important paper-witness that has come to us. It ensures the good health of the students and that they are under medical supervision and at same time committed to studying for the tests that will be held “according to the circumstances” in September or October.

(fig 8) La lettera fu scritta in Vicopelago il 21/7/1855 ma fu spedita da Lucca per Ferrara il giorno dopo. Fu affrancata con una coppia orizzontale del francobollo da 2 crazie azzurro verdastro annullata con il muto a rombi di Lucca. La tariffa corrispondeva a quella stabilita dalla convenzione tra la Toscana e lo Stato Pontificio di cui Ferrara faceva parte. In arrivo fu attuata la punzonatura sanitari preventiva tramite due tagli verticali ed al verso fu apposto il timbro circolare con scritte in corsivo “Ferrara Netta Fuori e Dentro”.

(fig 8) The letter was written in Vicopelago on 7/21/1855 but was sent from Lucca to Ferrara the next day. It was franked with a horizontal pair of the stamp from 2 crazie greenish blue stamp canceled with the Lucca diamond mute. The rate correspond to that established by the agreement between Tuscany and the Papal States of which Ferrara was a part. On arrival the preventive health punching was carried out by means of two vertical slits attested by the circular seal affixed on the back with italics written “Ferrara Netta Fuori e Dentro” referred to the letter and translatable like “Ferrara Clean Inside and Outside”. 

 

Non solo le lettere trasportate dalla linea di navigazione francese erano soggette alla disinfezione. Nel Meditterraneo essa era generalizzata e come abbiamo gia visto si attuava anche sui tragitti brevi interni qualora vi erano focolai epidemici attivi. Ma le epidemie spostandosi generalmente da est ad ovest provocavano sovente il controllo e la supposta disinfezione sopratutto alle lettere provenienti dal levante e trasportate dalle varie compagnie di navigazione tra cui anche quella del Lloyd Austriaco (fig 9).

Not only were the letters carried by the French shipping line was subject to disinfection. In the Mediterranean Sea it was generalized and, as we have already seen, it also took place on internal surface transport, also short when there were active epidemic outbreaks. But epidemics, generally moving from east to west, often caused control and supposed disinfection above all to letters come from the Levant, transported by various shipping companies including that of the Austrian Lloyd (fig 9).

(fig 9) Lettera spedita da Costantinopoli il 27/1/1872 per Livorno via Brindisi con un inconsueta affrancatura di 35 soldi, trasportata dalla compagnia marittima del Lloyd Austriaco. Questa compagnia come quella francese, inizio’ ad operare dalla seconda meta’ degli anni 30 del XIX secolo. Ignoro se i due tagli di disinfezione furono effettuati a Brindisi o a Livorno ma sicuramente essi vennero inferti in un Lazzareto dell’allora territorio del Regno d’Italia.

(fig 9) Letter sent from Constantinople on 27/1/1872 to Livorno via Brindisi with an unusual franking of 35 soldi, transported by the Austrian Lloyd shipping company. This company, like the French one, began operating from the second half of the nineteenth century. I do not know if the two disinfection cuts was originated in Brindisi or Livorno but were certainly made in a Lazaret on then Kingdom of Italy.

 

Concludo con una rara cartolina (fig 10) del Lazzareto di Trieste, all’Epoca facente parte dell’Impero Austro-Ungarico. Essa fu scritta da un Viaggiatore proveniente dal levante e sottomesso a quarantena preventiva di “tre giorni” (sic) appunto nello stabilimento di prevenzione sanitaria di Trieste. All’epoca si riteneva impossibile d’estirpare le epidemie che avevano mietuto milioni di vittime ma con i progressi scientifici del XX secolo si e’ arrivati a debellarne la maggior parte. L’umanita’ ha sempre convissuto con le malattie epidemiche e se siamo giunti ad essere piu’ di sette miliardi di abitanti sulla terra significa che abbiamo superato crisi maggiori di questa attuale. Passera’.

I conclude with a rare postcard (fig 10) of the Lazzareto of Trieste, at the time belonging to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was written by a traveler come from the Levant and subjected to a “three day” (sic) preventive quarantine in the Trieste health prevention facility. At the time, it was considered impossible to eradicate the epidemics that had claimed millions of victims, but with the scientific progress of the twentieth century, most of them were eradicated. Humanity has always lived with epidemic diseases and if we have reached more than seven billion inhabitants on earth it means that we have overcome major crises than this one. It will pass.

(fig 10) Cartolina impostata tramite la cassetta di bordo del piroscafo del Lloyd Austriaco caratterizzato dal numero XLVII (47) come riportato nell’annullo postale che annullo’ il francobollo del Levante Austriaco da 20p/5k il 15/5/1900. Inoltrata all’ufficio di Trieste n1 il giorno dopo, arrivo’ a Bruxelles il 18 maggio del 1900. Alla luce delle nostre conoscenze risulta ridicola una quarantena di soli tre giorni, ma nel passato un povero ricco turista che poteva permettersi il Grand Tour aveva pur diritto a qualche piccolo sconto. O no?

(fig 10) Postcard posted on the post-box on board of the Austrian Lloyd steamer characterized by the number XLVII (47) as reported in the postmark that cancels on 15/5/1900 the 20p/5k Austrian Levant stamp. Forwarded to the Trieste Post branch n. 1 the next day, she arrived in Brussels on 18 May 1900. In the light of our knowledge, a quarantine of only three days is ridiculous, but in the past a poor wealthy tourist who could afford the Grand Tour had right to small discount. Or not?

 

Da Beirut con amore                                                                                             From Beirut with love

Bernardo Longo