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The Spanish Founder of the Egyptian Artillery Academy

by Samir Raafat
The Egyptian Gazette, Tuesday, February 18, 1997

A descendant of Christopher Columbus through his great grandmother Dona Maria Atocha Colon de Portugal y Cabrera, Don Antonio de Sequera y Carvajal was born in Granada in January 1789. But unlike the fate of his ancestor which took him west to discover the Americas, Don Antonio's destiny took him east, to the land where it all began thousands of years ago. Perhaps Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Spain, who are visiting Egypt this week, do not realize that thanks in part to this valiant Spaniard, Egypt very nearly brought the Ottoman Empire to its knees.

De Sequera genealogy project.

The King and Queen of Spain are in town on a state visit. Egypt is not new to either royal, for King Juan Carlos paid us a state visit in 1977 during the Sadat era and Queen Sofia has fond childhood memories of Alexandria's English Girl's College, the Benachi mansion in Ramleh and the Couterelli beach cabin at Sidi Bishr No. 2. She may also remember the historic Mena House Hotel visited by her family when the Greek royal family took refuge in Egypt during part of WW-II. Active in social affairs, Dona Sofia returned several times heading various humanitarian and cultural delegations. The queen is also an honorary board member of the UNESCO-sponsored Alexandria Library.

Yet rather than fill this page with stories about exiled royal families and about political ties between the Middle East and Spain which of-course includes the Madrid Conference and the arrival of Spanish diplomat Miguel Angel Maratinos and his EU team of peacemakers, let's instead talk culture and history.

One can start with the Spanish cultural institute with branches in both Cairo and Alexandria and how many of its Egyptian alumni have mastered the language of Cervantes thanks to its excellent facilities. Egyptian Hispanists are often rewarded with scholarships to Spain where they can further their language skills while making time to visit the splendors of Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla, all three legacies from the Spanish Arabs. And there is that other wonder linking Europe to Asia, for how can we deny that the guest of honor at the opening of the Suez Canal in September 1869, was the Spanish born aristocrat, Eugenie de Montijo y Teba, that beautiful woman who had smitten our Khedive even though she was already spoken for as the wife of the Emperor of the French. It was Empress Eugenie's relation, Ferdinand de Lesseps, who master-minded the whole Suez Canal affair bringing this mammoth engineering task to a successful completion. De Lesseps was himself half Spanish through his Teba grandparents.

But even before the arrival of de Lesseps and Eugenie, other Spaniards had come to these shores. A little told story is how Egypt's first artillery academy was created by a Spaniard -- Don Antonio de Sequera y Carvajal, a descendant of Christopher Columbus.

Very early in his life and as befitting a member of his caste, Don Antonio spent three years at the Spanish military academy starting in 1802 as a cadet in the Royal College of Artillery. Upon graduating, he was drafted into a long drawn out war with Spain's formidable neighbor to the north. General Napoleon Bonaparte having completed his Egyptian and Italian campaigns had turned to the Iberian Peninsula where he would eventually place his elder brother Joseph on the throne of the Bourbons (ancestors of our royal guests).

As often happens in times of political and military defeat, regiments are disbanded, chiefs of staffs de-commissioned and new governments propped up. Former officers find themselves redundant choosing to serve in foreign armies, doing what they know best: fighting or training others to do so.

At about the time when Don Antonio was out of a job, Egypt was in expansion. The country's 'caudillo,' Mohammed Ali Pasha, was in the process of founding modern Egypt. A military man, the pasha was forever exploring ways to improve and modernize his Nizam al-Jedid or army. Since he had no qualms about using French, American or German expertise, why not Spaniards? Hadn't they valiantly fought against the Frenchman who temporarily occupied Egypt. At the recommendation of two of his Spanish recruits, Rafael Jimenez and Don Agusto Rubio (who later became Ibrahim Aga), Egypt's pasha employed Don Antonio in 1829. Upon his arrival, Don Antonio was conferred with the Ottoman military grade of Amiralai (Colonel) and placed under the command of Mohammed Ali's eldest son General Ibrahim Pasha.

Don Antonio's first priority was to create an artillery school based along the lines of his alma mater. The Egyptian version of El Colegio de Cuerpo was located in the small Nile town of Torah south of Cairo. Assisting Don Antonio were two Spaniards Jimenes and Rubio. Their task was to train and discipline a collection of unruly Turkish recruits fresh out of Kasr al-Aini elementary school. In one year, the Spaniard proved his metal and the first batch of artillery soldiers graduated from his new academy.

Besides target practice and how to use rifles and canons, the cadets learned mechanics, math's, strategic fortification as well as a spatter of French, Italian and English. Conversely, Don Antonio learned Arabic and supervised the translation of several military manuals.

The first graduates saw military action in Syria in 1833. They did the Pasha and their Spanish instructor proud. In his book Egypt Under Mohammed Ali, Prince (Herman Ludwig) Pueckler-Muskau of Germany gave high marks to the artillery cadets and their instructor Colonel Antonio Sequera. "Out of 48 marksmen, 28 got bulls' eyes at a distance of 700 meters," writes Muskau. From an anonymous report domiciled in Spain, published recently by Instituto Diego de Colmenares we learn that in June 1883, Viceroy Mohammed Ali paid a visit to the Artillery Academy in Torah accompanied by his son Ibrahim Pasha and the usual retinue of courtiers and foreign consuls. The Viceroy was so pleased with the organization, discipline and cleanliness of the academy that he expressed his desire to see all the other academies do the same. The Viceroy expressed his regrets for not being young enough to join the artillery academy himself.

On another visit, the Viceroy witnessed maneuvers and war games using live ammunition. Eight batteries were on display. Later in the year, Mohammed Ali Pasha discussed with Don Antonio the possibility of sending his navy's cannoneers to the academy for additional training. Between March 29 and July, Egypt had launched four frigates: "Acre", "Homs", "Menouf" and "Baylan" and new well-trained recruits were badly needed.

So pleased was Egypt's pasha that Don Antonio was asked to report directly to him circumventing the French-born Soliman al-Fransawi Pasha with whom relations had always been strained.

The Spanish-speaking British consul-general, Colonel P. Campbell, who had served in Spain and rewarded with the Cross of San Fernando & Carlos III, was quick to congratulate Don Antonio for his achievements stating that it was thanks to the Artillery Academy and the excellent performance of its cadets that muezzins (preachers) from Acre to Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Konya sang the praise from their lofty minarets on how Mohammed Ali's armies and artillery defeated the Turks.

When Mohammed Ali revisited the academy in April 1834, he awarded Don Antonio a diamond studded decoration and the rank of Lewa (General) which carried with it the honorific title of Bey. The head of the Artillery Academy was henceforth addressed as 'Sequera Bey'.

Turkish and French members of Mohammed Ali's retinue resented the pasha's glowing admiration of his favorite officer and a series of palace intrigues erupted to the detriment of an already homesick Don Antonio. King Fernando VII of Spain had passed away and Don Antonio's friends in Spain were beckoning him to return. Their appeals coincided with the death of Don Antonio's wife, Dona Mercedes Perez de Lema.

Don Antonio resigned his functions shortly after the burial of his wife by a Jesuit priest in Matariah near Shagaret Mariam, the tree under which Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus are said to have rested during their flight into Egypt. Mohammed Ali Pasha's attempts to deter Don Antonio from leaving and offers of a promotion and raise were courteously declined. (By then, Don Antonio was making 11,000 piasters per month, the approximate equivalent of 110 English pounds, a generous sum in those days.)

According to a contemporary Egyptian biographer, the academy's golden days were coming to an end. In 1847, ten years after Don Antonio's departure, the academy under the administration of a Colonel Ahmed Bahgat was shut down. Mohammed Ali's reign ended the following year.

Reader Comments
Dear Sir:

I read with much interest your recent article regarding my ancestor, Don Antonio de Sequera y Carvajal.

I had been searching for some time from here in San Diego, California for confirmation of the facts that I have regarding Don Antonio. I am reseaching our family history, and of course, Don Antonio figures prominently in that research. Incidentally, he is descended from Columbus, as you indicate in your article, through his great grandmother, Dona Maria Atocha Colon de Portugal y Cabrera.

If it's not to much trouble, I would be very interested in further researching your sources regarding Don Antonio--my search for details never seems to end. For example, until I read your article, I did not have information on the name of his wife. For that information, I thank you.


J.E. de Sequera
de Sequera Genealogy Project
8823 Production Avenue
San Diego, California 92121
(619) 549-8344
(619) 549-1466 (fax)

Subject: Don Antonio de Sequera y Carvajal
Date: Sep, 09, 2000 07:35:00 -0800
From:"J.E. de Sequera" <>


We are preparing our family genealogy book, and I wanted request your permission
to include your article about Don Antonio de Sequera y Carvajal, which appeared in
the Egyptian Gazette in February of 1997.

The book is not a commercial venture, and will be distributed to family members
only. (I would be happy to supply you with a copy when it's completed). Your article
would of course, include full credits, and an appropriate copyright notice. Due to the
cost of producing such a project, I anticipate that no more than 100 books will be

Thank you for you consideration of my request, I hope to hear from you in the near


J.E. de Sequera
San Diego, CA USA
J.E. de Sequera

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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