Monday, November 21, 2011

Travels In Egypt and Nubia


Today November 21st in 1818 Giovanni Battista Belzoni visited Edfu and "took a minute survey of these truly magnificent ruins." This was his third journey in Egypt, one purpose of this journey was to remove the obelisk from the island of Philoe.

Giovanni Battista Belzoni (15 November 1778 – 3 December 1823), was a great Italian adventurer. An extremely tall and strong man for his time he had a varied career until 1815 when he arrived in Egypt. Over the next couple of years he made three journeys around Egypt exploring and excavating tombs and temples. Since it was a time when foreigners could remove antiquities he send many to the British museum where they are still on display. Today of course Dr Zahi Hawass would be right along with him doing television interviews, photo ops, and making sure nothing was removed from Egypt. He married Sarah Bane an Englishwoman whom accompanied him on many of his journeys. Strangely a city in Mississippi is named for him. The town was originally known as “Greasy Row” because of the row of saloons along the bank of the Yazoo River, so I guess it was a step up for a name change to Belzoni.

I have recently been reading Belzoni's book "Travels in Egypt and Nubia." At times it is boring but also at times very exciting. He gives many details of how he climbed into tombs and made trips down the Nile and across the desert, very Indiana Jones like, only without the Nazis. I was impressed by the size of the monuments, tombs etc as he gives many measurements which in other readings I either did not pay attention too or were not given. It does renew your interest Egyptian antiquities. I found a number of points in the book to be interesting from a sidenote. First even he could not figure out how many of the tombs were built (aliens?) and second in the book he explains to an Egyptian leader why Europe was buying so much grain from Egypt in 1816. Which was of course due to the eruption of the volcano Mount Tambora creating the global climate anomalies that included the phenomenon known as "volcanic winter": 1816 became known as the "Year Without a Summer" because of the effect on North American and European weather. Below is how he described entering a tomb;

I descended, examined the place, pointed out to them where they might dig, and in an hour there was room enough for me to enter through a passage that the earth had left under the ceiling of the first corridor, which is thirty-six feet two inches long and eight feet eight inches wide, and when cleared of the ruins, six feet nine inches high. I perceived immediately by the painting on the ceiling, and by the hieroglyphics in basso relievo, which were to be seen where the earth did not reach that this was the entrance into a large and magnificent tomb. At the end of this corridor I came to a staircase twenty-three feet long, and of the same breadth as the corridor. The door at the bottom is twelve feet high. From the foot of the staircase I entered anther corridor, thirty-seven feet three inches long, and of the same width and height as the other, each side sculptured with hieroglyphics in basso relievo and painted. The ceiling also is finely painted, and in pretty good preservation. The more I saw, the more I was eager to see, such being the nature of man, but I was checked in my anxiety at this time, for at the end of this passage I reached a large pit, which intercepted my progress. This pit is thirty feet deep, and fourteen feet by twelve feet three inches wide. The upper part of the pit is adorned with figures, from the wall of the passage up to the ceiling. The passages from the entrance all the way to this pit have an inclination downward of an angle of eighteen degrees....

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