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Zarafa was the first living giraffe Europe had seen in 350 years and the first of her kind ever to arrive in France. Initially a politically motivated tribute to Charles X from Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, this gentle animal soon became an adored celebrity in her own right and the embodiment of an era in French history rich in new scientific and cultural ideas.
After being captured and tamed in the Ethiopian highlands, Zarafa travelled 3,500 miles along the Blue Nile and the Nile and then accross the Mediterranean. After landing incognito outside the bustling French port of Marseille, Zarafa was carefully and lovingly walked the 550 miles to Paris, along which the entire French population became captivated by the `beautiful African'. In Paris, the king, enthralled by his long-awaited curiosity, put Zarafa on daily exhibition in le Jardin du Roi. She became the rage of the city, providing a subject for songs, poems and political satires and the inspiration for fashion.
Michael Allin's book is not only the enchanting story of the giraffe's epic journey, but is also a tale imbued with history, linking primitive Africa with post-Napoleonic France. Zarafa was a symbol of an age fascinated by progress and the unfamiliar, and an amazing creature that captured the hearts and imagination of men and women throughout Europe.