Speech by Jan van Zanen at the official opening of the restored Egyptian residence, 12 January 2023
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say a few words to you.
Something I am more than happy to do.
Not the least, because the re-opening of the Egyptian residence is an important moment.
The building at Surinamestraat 20, after all, is one of great cultural and historical value.
And the heritage represented by this house goes well beyond The Hague.
For several years the great Dutch writer, Louis Couperus lived here in this house, built by his parents.
It was here that he wrote the first part of ‘Eline Vere’, for example.
Subtitled: a Hague novel.
Born in The Hague, Couperus was 24 years old at the time.
This novel first appeared as a serial in the newspaper and in the form of a book.
Eline Vere is not only renowned as being among the best of Dutch literature.
In this novel, as in his other books, Couperus also gives us a glimpse of life in The Hague in the late 19th and early 20th century.
And if there is one place in The Hague that could be described as the backdrop for his novels, his own life and The Hague of his times, it is the Surinamestraat.
However, to label Couperus only as a literary icon of The Hague would be to sell him short.
In the age of steam trains and steam ships, he was already a much travelled man.
His travels took him to various European countries, as well as Japan and today’s Indonesia, for example, where he had lived as a child.
A country which he did not visit but which he certainly celebrated in literary form, is Egypt.
In his novel ‘Antiek toerisme’ he had a wealthy Roman visit Egypt in the first century of our era.
The English translation is titled: “The Tour: A story of Ancient Egypt”.
That this building so closely associated with Couperus houses the Egyptian residence could thus also be said to be symbolic.
It is all the more fitting that this house has now been restored to its former glory.
We are indebted to the Egyptian government and Ambassador Kamaleldin in particular.
May this restoration be an example for other embassy buildings in The Hague that are also in need of restoration.