Title: A Thousand Miles Up The Nile [Electronic Edition]

Author: Edwards, Amelia Ann Blanford, 1831-1892
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Note: Illustrations have been included from the print version.


Second revised edition
File size or extent: 3 p. l., [ix]-xxvii, 499 p. front., illus. 23 cm.
Place of publication: LONDON
Publication date: 1890
Identifier: From the collection of Dr. Paula Sanders, Rice University
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Origin/composition of the text: 1890
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  • English (eng)
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  • Nile River
  • Egypt -- Description and travel
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A Thousand Miles Up The Nile [Electronic Edition]






'It flows through old hush'd Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave, mighty thought, threading a dream.'--LEIGH HUNT




FIRST published in 1877, this book has been out of
print for several years. I have therefore very gladly
revised it for a new and cheaper edition. In so revising
it, I have corrected some of the historical notes by the
light of later discoveries; but I have left the narrative
untouched. Of the political changes which have come
over the land of Egypt since that narrative was written,
I have taken no note; and because I in no sense offer
myself as a guide to others, I say nothing of the altered
conditions under which most Nile travellers now perform
the trip. All these things will be more satisfactorily,
and more practically, learned from the pages of Baedeker
and Murray.



October 1888.



“Un voyage en égypte, c'est une partie d'ânes et une promenade en bateau
entremêlées de ruines.”

AMPÈRE has put Egypt in an epigram. “A donkey-ride
and a boating-trip interspersed with ruins” does, in fact, sum
up in a single line the whole experience of the Nile traveller.
Apropos of these three things—the donkeys, the boat, and the
ruins—it may be said that a good English saddle and a comfortable
dahabeeyah add very considerably to the pleasure of
the journey; and that the more one knows about the past
history of the country, the more one enjoys the ruins.
Of the comparative merits of wooden boats, iron boats, and
steamers, I am not qualified to speak. We, however, saw one
iron dahabeeyah aground upon a sandbank, where, as we afterwards
learned, it remained for three weeks. We also saw the
wrecks of three steamers between Cairo and the First Cataract.
It certainly seemed to us that the old-fashioned wooden dahabeeyah
—flat-bottomed, drawing little water, light in hand, and
easily poled off when stuck—was the one vessel best constructed
for the navigation of the Nile. Other considerations, as time
and cost, are, of course, involved in this question. The choice
between dahabeeyah and steamer is like the choice between
travelling with post-horses and travelling by rail. The one
is expensive, leisurely, delightful; the other is cheap, swift,

and comparatively comfortless. Those who are content to
snatch but a glimpse of the Nile will doubtless prefer the
steamer. I may add that the whole cost of the Philæ—food,
dragoman's wages, boat - hire, cataract, everything included
except wine—was about £10 per day.
With regard to temperature, we found it cool—even cold,
sometimes—in December and January; mild in February;
very warm in March and April. The climate of Nubia is
simply perfect. It never rains; and once past the limit of the
tropic, there is no morning or evening chill upon the air. Yet
even in Nubia, and especially along the forty miles which divide
Abou Simbel from Wady Halfeh, it is cold when the wind
blows strongly from the north.*
Touching the title of this book, it may be objected that
the distance from the port of Alexandria to the Second Cataract
falls short of a thousand miles. It is, in fact, calculated at
964 1/2 miles. But from the Rock of Abusir, five miles above
Wady Halfeh, the traveller looks over an extent of country far
exceeding the thirty or thirty-five miles necessary to make up
the full tale of a thousand. We distinctly saw from this point
the summits of mountains which lie about 145 miles to the
southward of Wady Halfeh, and which look down upon the
Third Cataract.
Perhaps I ought to say something in answer to the repeated
inquiries of those who looked for the publication of this volume
a year ago. I can, however, only reply that the Writer, instead
of giving one year, has given two years to the work. To write
* For the benefit of any who desire more exact information, I may add
that a table of average temperatures, carefully registered day by day and
week by week, is to be found at the end of Mr. H. Villiers Stuart's ‘Nile
.’ [Note to Second Edition.]

rapidly about Egypt is impossible. The subject grows with
the book, and with the knowledge one acquires by the way.
It is, moreover, a subject beset with such obstacles as must
impede even the swiftest pen; and to that swiftest pen I lay no
claim. Moreover, the writer who seeks to be accurate, has
frequently to go for his facts, if not actually to original sources
(which would be the texts themselves), at all events to translations
and commentaries locked up in costly folios, or dispersed
far and wide among the pages of scientific journals and the
transactions of learned societies. A date, a name, a passing
reference, may cost hours of seeking. To revise so large a
number of illustrations, and to design tailpieces from jottings
taken here and there in that pocket sketch-book which is the
sketcher's constant companion, has also consumed no small
amount of time. This by way of apology.
More pleasant is it to remember labour lightened than to
consider time spent; and I have yet to thank the friends who
have spared no pains to help this book on its way. To S.
Birch, Esq., LL.D., etc. etc., so justly styled “the Parent in
this country of a sound school of Egyptian philology,” who
besides translating the hieratic and hieroglyphic inscriptions
contained in Chapter xviii., has also, with infinite kindness, seen
the whole of that chapter through the press; to Reginald
Stuart Poole, Esq.; to Professor R. Owen, C.B., etc. etc.; to
Sir G. W. Cox, I desire to offer my hearty and grateful
acknowledgments. It is surely not least among the glories of
learning, that those who adorn it most and work hardest should
ever be readiest to share the stores of their knowledge.
I am anxious also to express my cordial thanks to Mr.
G. Pearson, under whose superintendence the whole of the
illustrations have been engraved. To say that his patience and

courtesy have been inexhaustible, and that he has spared
neither time nor cost in the preparation of the blocks, is but a
dry statement of facts, and conveys no idea of the kind of
labour involved. Where engravings of this kind are executed,
not from drawings made at first-hand upon the wood, but from
water-colour drawings which have not only to be reduced in
size, but to be, as it were, translated into black and white,
the difficulty of the work is largely increased. In order to
meet this difficulty and to ensure accuracy, Mr. Pearson has
not only called in the services of accomplished draughtsmen,
but in many instances has even photographed the subjects
direct upon the wood. Of the engraver's work—which speaks
for itself—I will only say that I do not know in what way
it could be bettered. It seems to me that some of these
blocks may stand for examples of the farthest point to which
the art of engraving upon wood has yet been carried.
The principal illustrations have all been drawn upon the
wood by Mr. Percival Skelton; and no one so fully as myself
can appreciate how much the subjects owe to the delicacy of
his pencil, and to the artistic feelings with which he has interpreted
the original drawings.
Of the fascination of Egyptian travel, of the charm of the
Nile, of the unexpected and surpassing beauty of the desert,
of the ruins which are the wonder of the world, I have said
enough elsewhere. I must, however, add that I brought home
with me an impression that things and people are much less
changed in Egypt than we of the present day are wont to
suppose. I believe that the physique and life of the modern
Fellâh is almost identical with the physique and life of that
ancient Egyptian labourer whom we know so well in the wall-paintings
of the tombs. Square in the shoulders, slight but

strong in the limbs, full-lipped, brown-skinned, we see him
wearing the same loin-cloth, plying the same shâdûf, ploughing
with the same plough, preparing the same food in the same
way, and eating it with his fingers from the same bowl, as
did his forefathers of six thousand years ago.
The household life and social ways of even the provincial
gentry are little changed. Water is poured on one's hands before
going to dinner from just such a ewer and into just such a basin
as we see pictured in the festival-scenes at Thebes. Though the
lotus-blossom is missing, a bouquet is still given to each guest
when he takes his place at table. The head of the sheep
killed for the banquet is still given to the poor. Those who
are helped to meat or drink touch the head and breast in
acknowledgment, as of old. The musicians still sit at the
lower end of the hall; the singers yet clap their hands in
time to their own voices; the dancing-girls still dance, and
the buffoon in his high cap still performs his uncouth antics,
for the entertainment of the guests. Water is brought to
table in jars of the same shape manufactured at the same
town, as in the days of Cheops and Chephren; and the mouths
of the bottles are filled in precisely the same way with fresh
leaves and flowers. The cucumber stuffed with minced-meat
was a favourite dish in those times of old; and I can testify
to its excellence in 1874. Little boys in Nubia yet wear the
side-lock that graced the head of Rameses in his youth; and
little girls may be seen in a garment closely resembling the
girdle worn by young princesses of the time of Thothmes the
First. A Sheykh still walks with a long staff; a Nubian
belle still plaits her tresses in scores of little tails; and the
pleasure-boat of the modern Governor or Mudîr, as well as
the dahabeeyah hired by the European traveller, reproduces

in all essential features the painted galleys represented in the
tombs of the kings.
In these and in a hundred other instances, all of which
came under my personal observation and have their place in
the following pages, it seemed to me that any obscurity which
yet hangs over the problem of life and thought in ancient
Egypt originates most probably with ourselves. Our own
habits of life and thought are so complex that they shut
us off from the simplicity of that early world. So it was with
the problem of hieroglyphic writing. The thing was so obvious
that no one could find it out. As long as the world persisted
in believing that every hieroglyph was an abstruse symbol, and
every hieroglyphic inscription a profound philosophical rebus,
the mystery of Egyptian literature remained insoluble. Then
at last came Champollion's famous letter to Dacier, showing
that the hieroglyphic signs were mainly alphabetic and syllabic,
and that the language they spelt was only Coptic after all.
If there were not thousands who still conceive that the sun
and moon were created, and are kept going, for no other
purpose than to lighten the darkness of our little planet; if
only the other day a grave gentleman had not written a
perfectly serious essay to show that the world is a flat plain,
one would scarcely believe that there could still be people who
doubt that ancient Egyptian is now read and translated as
fluently as ancient Greek. Yet an Englishman whom I met
in Egypt—an Englishman who had long been resident in
Cairo, and who was well acquainted with the great Egyptologists
who are attached to the service of the Khedive—
assured me of his profound disbelief in the discovery of
Champollion. “In my opinion,” said he, “not one of these
gentlemen can read a line of hieroglyphics.”


As I then knew nothing of Egyptian, I could say nothing
to controvert this speech. Since that time, however, and
while writing this book, I have been led on step by step to
the study of hieroglyphic writing; and I now know that
Egyptian can be read, for the simple reason that I find
myself able to read an Egyptian sentence.
My testimony may not be of much value; but I give it
for the little that it is worth.
The study of Egyptian literature has advanced of late years
with rapid strides. Papyri are found less frequently than they
were some thirty or forty years ago; but the translation of
those contained in the museums of Europe goes on now more
diligently than at any former time. Religious books, variants
of the Ritual, moral essays, maxims, private letters, hymns, epic
poems, historical chronicles, accounts, deeds of sale, medical,
magical, and astronomical treatises, geographical records, travels,
and even romances and tales, are brought to light, photographed,
facsimiled in chromo-lithography, printed in hieroglyphic type,
and translated in forms suited both to the learned and to the
general reader.
Not all this literature is written, however, on papyrus.
The greater proportion of it is carved in stone. Some is
painted on wood, written on linen, leather, potsherds, and
other substances. So the old mystery of Egypt, which was
her literature, has vanished. The key to the hieroglyphs is
the master-key that opens every door. Each year that now
passes over our heads sees some old problem solved. Each
day brings some long-buried truth to light.
Some thirteen years ago,1 a distinguished American artist
1 These dates, it is to be remembered, refer to the year 1877, when
the first edition of this book was published. [Note to Second Edition.]

painted a very beautiful picture called The Secret of the Sphinx.
In its widest sense, the Secret of the Sphinx would mean, I
suppose, the whole uninterpreted and undiscovered past of
Egypt. In its narrower sense, the Secret of the Sphinx was,
till quite lately, the hidden significance of the human-headed
lion which is one of the typical subjects of Egyptian Art.
Thirteen years is a short time to look back upon; yet great
things have been done in Egypt, and in Egyptology, since
then. Edfu, with its extraordinary wealth of inscriptions, has
been laid bare. The whole contents of the Boulak Museum
have been recovered from the darkness of the tombs. The very
mystery of the Sphinx has been disclosed; and even within
the last eighteen months, M. Chabas announces that he has
discovered the date of the pyramid of Mycerinus; so for the
first time establishing the chronology of ancient Egypt upon
an ascertained foundation. Thus the work goes on; students
in their libraries, excavators under Egyptian skies, toiling
along different paths towards a common goal. The picture
means more to-day than it meant thirteen years ago—means
more, even, than the artist intended. The Sphinx has no
secret now, save for the ignorant.
In the picture, we see a brown, half-naked, toil-worn Fellâh
laying his ear to the stone lips of a colossal Sphinx, buried to
the neck in sand. Some instinct of the old Egyptian blood
tells him that the creature is God-like. He is conscious of
a great mystery lying far back in the past. He has, perhaps,
a dim, confused notion that the Big Head knows it all, whatever
it may be. He has never heard of the morning-song of
Memnon; but he fancies, somehow, that those closed lips
might speak if questioned. Fellâh and Sphinx are alone
together in the desert. It is night, and the stars are shining.

Has he chosen the right hour? What does he seek to know?
What does he hope to hear?
Mr. Vedder has permitted me to enrich this book with an
engraving from his picture. It tells its own tale; or rather it
tells as much of its own tale as the artist chooses.

Each must interpret for himself The Secret of The Sphinx.



Dec. 1877.



Arrival at Cairo—Shepheard's Hotel—The Moskee — The Khan
Khaleel—The Bazaars—Dahabeeyahs—Ghîzeh—The Pyramids
The Mosque of Sultan Hassan — Moslems at prayer—Mosque of
Mehemet Ali—View from the Platform—Departure of the
Caravan for Mecca—The Báb en-Nasr—The Procession—The
Mahmal — Howling Dervishes —The Mosque of ‘Amr—The
Shubra Road
Departure for the Nile Voyage — Farewell to Cairo—Turra—The
Philæ and crew—The Dahabeeyah and the Nile sailor—Native
The Palms of Memphis—Three groups of Pyramids— The M. B.'s
and their groom—Relic-hunting—The Pyramid of Ouenephes
—The Serapeum — A royal raid—The Tomb of Ti — The
Fallen Colossus—Memphis


The rule of the Nile—The Shâdûf—Beni Suêf—Thieves by night—
The Chief of the Guards — A sand-storm — “Holy Sheykh
Cotton”—The Convent of the Pulley—A Copt—The Shadow
of the World—Minieh—A native market—Prices of provisions
—The Dôm palm—Fortune-telling—Ophthalmia
Christmas Day—The Party completed—Christmas Dinner on the
Nile—A Fantasia—Noah's Ark—Birds of Egypt—Gebel Abufayda
—Unknown Stelæ—Imprisoned — The Scarab-beetle —
Manfalût— Siût — Red and black pottery — Ancient tombs—
View over the plain—Biblical legend
An “Experienced Surgeon”—Passing scenery—Girgeh—Sheykh
Selim—Kasr es Syad—Forced labour—Temple of Denderah
Luxor—Donkey-boys—Topography of Ancient Thebes—Pylons of
Luxor—Poem of Pentaur—The solitary Obelisk—Interior of the
Temple of Luxor—Polite postmaster—Ride to Karnak—Great
Temple of Karnak—The Hypostyle Hall—A world of ruins
A storm on the Nile—Erment—A gentlemanly Bey—Esneh—A
buried Temple—A long day's sketching—Salame the chivalrous
—Remarkable Coin—Antichi—The Fellâh — The pylons of
Edfu —An exciting race — The Philæ wins by a length


Assûan—Strange wares for sale—Madame Nubia—Castor oil—The
black Governor—An enormous blunder—Tannhäuser in Egypt
—Elephantine—Inscribed potsherds—Bazaar of Assûan—The
Camel—A ride in the Desert—The Obelisk of the Quarry—A
death in the town
Scenery of the Cataract—The Sheykh of the Cataract—Vexatious
delays—The Painter's vocabulary—Mahatta—Ancient bed of
the Nile—Abyssinian Caravan
Pharaoh's Bed—The Temples—Champollion's discovery — The
Painted Columns—Coptic Philæ—Philæ and Desaix—Chamber
of Osiris—Inscribed Rock—View from the roof of the Temple
Nubian scenery—A sand-slope—Missing Yûsef—Trading by the
way—Panoramic views—Volcanic cones—Dakkeh—Korosko
Letters from home
El-‘Id el-Kebir—Stalking wild ducks—Temple of Amada—Fine art
of the Thothmes—Derr—A native funeral—Temple of Derr—
The “fair” families—The Sakkieh—Arrival at Abou Simbel by


Youth of Rameses the Great—Treaty with the Kheta—His wives—
His great works—The Captivity—Pithom and Rameses—
Kauiser and Keniamon—The Birth of Moses—Tomb of Osymandias
—Character of Rameses the Great
The Colossi—Portraits of Rameses the Great—The Great Sand-drift
—The smaller Temples—“Rameses and Nefertari”—The Great
Temple—A monster tableau—Alone in the Great Temple—
Trail of a crocodile—Cleaning the Colossus—The sufferings of
the sketcher
Volcanic mountains—Kalat Adda—Gebel esh-Shems — The first
crocodile—Dull scenery—Wady Halfeh—The Rock of Abusîr
—The Second Cataract—The great view—Crocodile-slaying—
Excavating a tumulus—Comforts of home on the Nile
Society at Abou Simbel—The Painter discovers a rock-cut chamber
—Sunday employment—Reinforcement of natives—Excavation
—The Sheykh—Discovery of human remains—Discovery of
pylon and staircase — Decorations of Painted Chamber—Inscriptions
Temples ad infinitum— Tosko—Crocodiles—Derr and Amada again
Wady Sabooah—Haughty beauty—A nameless city—A river
of sanda—Undiscovered Temple—Maharrakeh—Dakkeh—Fortress
of Kobban—Gerf Hossayn—Dendoor—Bayt-el-Welly—
The Karnak of Nubia—Silco of the Ethiopians—Tafah—Dabôd
—Baby-shooting—A dilemma—Justice in Egypt—The last of


Shooting the Cataract—Kom Ombo—Quarries of Silsilis—Edfu the
most perfect of Egyptian Temples—View from the pylons—
Sand columns
Luxor again — Imitation “Anteekahs”—Digging for Mummies—
Tombs of Thebes—The Ramesseum—The granite Colossus—
Medinet Habu — The Pavilion of Rameses III—The Great
Chronicle—An Arab story-teller—Gournah—Bab el Molûk—
The shadowless Valley of Death—The Tombs of the Kings
Stolen goods—The French House—An Arab dinner and fantasia
—The Coptic Church at Luxor—A Coptic service—A
Coptic Bishop
Last weeks on the Nile—Spring in Egypt—Ninety-nine in the shade
Samata—Unbroken donkeys—The Plain of Abydus—Harvest
-time—A Biblical idyll—Arabat the Buried—Mena—Origin
of the Egyptian People—Temple of Seti — New Tablet of
Abydus—Abydus and Teni—Kom-es-Sultan—Visit to a native
Aga—The Hareem—Condition of women in Egypt—Back at
Cairo—“In the name of the Prophet, Cakes!”—The Môliden
-Nebee—A human causeway—The Boulak Museum—Prince
Ra-hotep and Princess Nefer-t—Early drive to Ghîzeh—Ascent
of the Great Pyramid—The Sphinx—The view from the Top—
The end


I. A. M`Callum, Esq., to the Editor of `THE TIMES 493
II. The Egyptian Pantheon 493
III. The Religious Belief of the Egyptians 495
IV. Egyptian Chronology 497
V. Contemporary Chronology of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Babylon 499



GERTÁSSEE Title-page.


SHRINES OF OSIRIS, 1, 2, and 3 227, 228
RAMESES THE GREAT (Bayt-el-Welly) 286
RAMESES THE GREAT (Abou Simbel) 286
PROFILE OF RAMESES II (From the Southernmost Colossus; Abou


GODDESS TA-UR-T (Silsilis) 397
GODDESS TA-UR-T (Philæ) 397
VASES AND GOBLETS (Medinet Habu) 427



IT is the traveller's lot to dine at many table-d'hôtes in the
course of many wanderings; but it seldom befalls him to make
one of a more miscellaneous gathering than that which overfills
the great dining-room at Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo during
the beginning and height of the regular Egyptian season.
Here assemble daily some two to three hundred persons of all
ranks, nationalities, and pursuits; half of whom are Anglo-Indians
homeward or outward bound, European residents, or
visitors established in Cairo for the winter. The other half, it
may be taken for granted, are going up the Nile. So composite
and incongruous is this body of Nile-goers, young and
old, well-dressed and ill-dressed, learned and unlearned, that the
new-comer's first impulse is to inquire from what motives so
many persons of dissimilar tastes and training can be led to
embark upon an expedition which is, to say the least of it, very
tedious, very costly, and of an altogether exceptional interest.
His curiosity, however, is soon gratified. Before two days
are over, he knows everybody's name and everybody's business;
distinguishes at first sight between a Cook's tourist and an
independent traveller; and has discovered that nine-tenths of
those whom he is likely to meet up the river are English or
American. The rest will be mostly German, with a sprinkling
of Belgian and French. So far en bloc; but the details are
more heterogeneous still. Here are invalids in search of
health; artists in search of subjects; sportsmen keen upon
crocodiles; statesmen out for a holiday; special correspondents

alert for gossip; collectors on the scent of papyri and mummies;
men of science with only scientific ends in view; and the
usual surplus of idlers who travel for the mere love of travel,
or the satisfaction of a purposeless curiosity.
Now in a place like Shepheard's, where every fresh arrival
has the honour of contributing, for at least a few minutes, to
the general entertainment, the first appearance of L. and the
Writer, tired, dusty, and considerably sunburnt, may well have
given rise to some of the comments in usual circulation at
those crowded tables. People asked each other, most likely,
where these two wandering Englishwomen had come from;
why they had not dressed for dinner; what brought them to
Egypt; and if they also were going up the Nile—to which
questions it would have been easy to give satisfactory answers.
We came from Alexandria, having had a rough passage from
Brindisi followed by forty-eight hours of quarantine. We had
not dressed for dinner because, having driven on from the
station in advance of dragoman and luggage, we were but just
in time to take seats with the rest. We intended, of course,
to go up the Nile; and had any one ventured to inquire in so
many words what brought us to Egypt, we should have
replied:—“Stress of weather.”
For in simple truth we had drifted hither by accident, with
no excuse of health, or business, or any serious object what-ever;
and had just taken refuge in Egypt as one might turn
aside into the Burlington Arcade or the Passage des Panoramas
—to get out of the rain.
And with good reason. Having left home early in September
for a few weeks' sketching in central France, we had
been pursued by the wettest of wet weather. Washed out of
the hill-country, we fared no better in the plains. At Nismes,
it poured for a month without stopping. Debating at last
whether it were better to take our wet umbrellas back at once
to England, or push on farther still in search of sunshine, the
talk fell upon Algiers—Malta—Cairo; and Cairo carried it.
Never was distant expedition entered upon with less premeditation.
The thing was no sooner decided than we were
gone. Nice, Genoa, Bologna, Ancona flitted by, as in a dream;
and Bedreddin Hassan when he awoke at the gates of

Damascus was scarcely more surprised than the writer of these
pages, when she found herself on board the Simla, and
steaming out of the port of Brindisi.
Here, then, without definite plans, outfit, or any kind of
Oriental experience, behold us arrived in Cairo on the 29th
of November 1873, literally, and most prosaically, in search of
fine weather.
But what had memory to do with rains on land, or storms
at sea, or the impatient hours of quarantine, or anything dismal
or disagreeable, when one awoke at sunrise to see those grey-green
palms outside the window solemnly bowing their plumed
heads towards each other, against a rose-coloured dawn? It
was dark last night, and I had no idea that my room overlooked
an enchanted garden, far-reaching and solitary, peopled with
stately giants beneath whose tufted crowns hung rich cluster
of maroon and amber dates. It was a still, warm morning.
Grave grey and black crows flew heavily from tree to tree, or
perched, cawing meditatively, upon the topmost branches.
Yonder, between the pillared stems, rose the minaret of a very
distant mosque; and here where the garden was bounded by
a high wall and a windowless house, I saw a veiled lady walking
on the terraced roof in the midst of a cloud of pigeons.
Nothing could be more simple than the scene and its accessories;
nothing, at the same time, more Eastern, strange, and
But in order thoroughly to enjoy an overwhelming, ineffaceable
first impression of Oriental out-of-doors life, one should
begin in Cairo with a day in the native bazaars; neither
buying, nor sketching, nor seeking information, but just taking
in scene after scene, with its manifold combinations of light and
shade, colour, costume, and architectural detail. Every shop-front,
every street corner, every turbaned group is a ready-made
picture. The old Turk who sets up his cake-stall in the
recess of a sculptured doorway; the donkey-boy with his gaily
caparisoned ass, waiting for customers; the beggar asleep on
the steps of the mosque; the veiled woman filling her water
jar at the public fountain—they all look as if they had been
put there expressly to be painted.
Nor is the background less picturesque than the figures.

The houses are high and narrow. The upper stories project;
and from these again jut windows of delicate turned lattice-work
in old brown wood, like big bird-cages. The street is
roofed in overhead with long rafters and pieces of matting,


through which a dusty sunbeam straggles here and there, casting
patches of light upon the moving crowd. The unpaved
thoroughfare—a mere narrow lane, full of ruts and watered
profusely twice or thrice a day—is lined with little wooden
shop-fronts, like open cabinets full of shelves, where the
merchants sit cross-legged in the midst of their goods, looking
out at the passers-by and smoking in silence. Meanwhile, the
crowd ebbs and flows unceasingly—a noisy, changing, restless,
parti-coloured tide, half European, half Oriental, on foot, on
horseback, and in carriages. Here are Syrian dragomans in
baggy trousers and braided jackets; barefooted Egyptian
fellaheen in ragged blue shirts and felt skull-caps; Greeks in

absurdly stiff white tunics, like walking penwipers; Persians
with high mitre-like caps of dark woven stuff; swarthy Bedouins
in flowing garments, creamy-white with chocolate stripes a foot
wide, and head-shawl of the same bound about the brow with
a fillet of twisted camel's hair; Englishmen in palm-leaf hats
and knickerbockers, dangling their long legs across almost
invisible donkeys; native women of the poorer class, in black
veils that leave only the eyes uncovered, and long trailing
garments of dark blue and black striped cotton; dervishes in
patchwork coats, their matted hair streaming from under
fantastic head-dresses; blue-black Abyssinians with incredibly
slender, bowed legs, like attenuated ebony balustrades;
Armenian priests, looking exactly like Portia as the Doctor, in
long black gowns and high square caps; majestic ghosts of
Algerine Arabs, all in white; mounted Janissaries with jingling
sabres and gold-embroidered jackets; merchants, beggars,
soldiers, boatmen, labourers, workmen, in every variety of
costume, and of every shade of complexion from fair to dark,
from tawny to copper-colour, from deepest bronze to bluest
Now a water-carrier goes by, bending under the weight of
his newly-replenished goatskin, the legs of which being tied up,
the neck fitted with a brass cock, and the hair left on, looks
horribly bloated and life-like. Now comes a sweetmeat-vendor
with a tray of that gummy compound known to English
children as “Lumps of Delight”; and now an Egyptian lady
on a large grey donkey led by a servant with a showy sabre
at his side. The lady wears a rose-coloured silk dress and
white veil, besides a black silk outer garment, which, being
cloak, hood, and veil all in one, fills out with the wind as she
rides, like a balloon. She sits astride; her naked feet, in their
violet velvet slippers, just resting on the stirrups. She takes
care to display a plump brown arm laden with massive gold
bracelets, and, to judge by the way in which she uses a pair of
liquid black eyes, would not be sorry to let her face be seen
also. Nor is the steed less well dressed than his mistress.
His close-shaven legs and hindquarters are painted in blue
and white zigzags picked out with bands of pale yellow; his
high-pommelled saddle is resplendent with velvet and embroidery;

and his headgear is all tags, tassels, and fringes.
Such a donkey as this is worth from sixty to a hundred pounds
sterling. Next passes an open barouche full of laughing
Englishwomen; or a grave provincial sheykh all in black,
riding a handsome bay Arab, demi-sang; or an Egyptian
gentleman in European dress and Turkish fez, driven by an
English groom in an English phaeton. Before him, wand in
hand, bare-legged, eager-eyed, in Greek skull-cap and gorgeous
gold-embroidered waistcoat and fluttering white tunic, flies a
native Saïs, or running footman. No person of position
drives in Cairo without one or two of these attendants. The
Saïs (strong, light, and beautiful, like John of Bologna's
Mercury) are said to die young. The pace kills them. Next
passes a lemonade-seller, with his tin jar in one hand, and his
decanter and brass cups in the other; or an itinerant slipper-vendor
with a bunch of red and yellow morocco shoes dangling
at the end of a long pole; or a London-built miniature
brougham containing two ladies in transparent Turkish veils,
preceded by a Nubian outrider in semi-military livery; or,
perhaps, a train of camels, ill-tempered and supercilious, craning
their scrannel necks above the crowd, and laden with canvas
bales scrawled over with Arabic addresses.
But the Egyptian, Arab, and Turkish merchants, whether
mingling in the general tide or sitting on their counters, are
the most picturesque personages in all this busy scene. They
wear ample turbans, for the most part white; long vests of
striped Syrian silk reaching to the feet; and an outer robe of
braided cloth or cashmere. The vest is confined round the
waist by a rich sash; and the outer robe, or gibbeh, is generally
of some beautiful degraded colour, such as maize, mulberry,
olive, peach, sea-green, salmon-pink, sienna-brown, and the
like. That these stately beings should vulgarly buy and sell,
instead of reposing all their lives on luxurious divans and
being waited upon by beautiful Circassians, seems altogether
contrary to the eternal fitness of things. Here, for instance, is
a Grand Vizier in a gorgeous white and amber satin vest, who
condescends to retail pipe-bowls,—dull red clay pipe-bowls of
all sizes and prices. He sells nothing else, and has not only a
pile of them on the counter, but a binful at the back of his


shop. They are made at Siout in Upper Egypt, and may be
bought at the Algerine shops in London almost as cheaply as
in Cairo. Another majestic Pasha deals in brass and copper
vessels, drinking-cups, basins, ewers, trays, incense-burners,
chafing-dishes, and the like; some of which are exquisitely
engraved with Arabesque patterns or sentences from the poets.
A third sells silks from the looms of Lebanon, and gold and
silver tissues from Damascus. Others, again, sell old arms, old
porcelain, old embroideries, second-hand prayer-carpets, and
quaint little stools and cabinets of ebony inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Here, too, the tobacco-merchant sits behind a huge
cake of Latakia as big as his own body; and the sponge-merchant
smokes his long chibouk in a bower of sponges.
Most amusing of all, however, are those bazaars in which
each trade occupies its separate quarter. You pass through an
old stone gateway or down a narrow turning, and find yourself
amid a colony of saddlers stitching, hammering, punching,
riveting. You walk up one alley and down another, between
shop-fronts hung round with tasselled head-gear and hump-backed
saddles of all qualities and colours. Here are ladies'
saddles, military saddles, donkey-saddles, and saddles for great
officers of state; saddles covered with red leather, with crimson
and violet velvet, with maroon, and grey, and purple cloth;
saddles embroidered with gold and silver, studded with brass-headed
nails, or trimmed with braid.
Another turn or two, and you are in the slipper bazaar,
walking down avenues of red and yellow morocco slippers; the
former of home manufacture, the latter from Tunis. Here are
slippers with pointed toes, turned-up toes, and toes as round
and flat as horse-shoes; walking slippers with thick soles, and
soft yellow slippers to be worn as inside socks, which have no
soles at all. These absurd little scarlet bluchers with tassels
are for little boys; the brown morocco shoes are for grooms;
the velvet slippers embroidered with gold and beads and seed-pearls
are for wealthy hareems, and are sold at prices varying
from five shillings to five pounds the pair.
The carpet bazaar is of considerable extent, and consists of
a network of alleys and counter-alleys opening off to the right
of the Muski, which is the Regent Street of Cairo. The

houses in most of these alleys are rich in antique lattice-windows
and Saracenic doorways. One little square is tapestried all
round with Persian and Syrian rugs, Damascus saddle-bags,
and Turkish prayer-carpets. The merchants sit and smoke in
the midst of their goods; and up in one corner an old


“Kahwagee,” or coffee-seller, plies his humble trade. He has
set up his little stove and hanging-shelf beside the doorway of
a dilapidated Khan, the walls of which are faced with Arabesque
panellings in old carved stone. It is one of the most picturesque
“bits” in Cairo. The striped carpets of Tunis; the dim
grey and blue, or grey and red fabrics of Algiers; the shaggy

rugs of Laodicea and Smyrna; the rich blues and greens and
subdued reds of Turkey; and the wonderfully varied, harmonious
patterns of Persia, have each their local habitation in the
neighbouring alleys. One is never tired of traversing these
half-lighted avenues all aglow with gorgeous colour and peopled
with figures that come and go like the actors in some Christmas
piece of Oriental pageantry.
In the Khan Khaleel, the place of the gold and silversmiths'
bazaar, there is found, on the contrary, scarcely any display of
goods for sale. The alleys are so narrow in this part that two
persons can with difficulty walk in them abreast; and the
shops, tinier than ever, are mere cupboards with about three
feet of frontage. The back of each cupboard is fitted with tiers
of little drawers and pigeon-holes, and in front is a kind of
matted stone step, called a mastabah, which serves for seat and
counter. The customer sits on the edge of the mastabah; the
merchant squats, cross-legged, inside. In this position he can,
without rising, take out drawer after drawer; and thus the
space between the two becomes piled with gold and silver
ornaments. These differ from each other only in the metal,
the patterns being identical; and they are sold by weight, with
a due margin for profit. In dealing with strangers who do
not understand the Egyptian system of weights, silver articles
are commonly weighed against rupees or five-franc pieces, and
gold articles against napoleons or sovereigns. The ornaments
made in Cairo consist chiefly of chains and earrings, anklets,
bangles, necklaces strung with coins or tusk-shaped pendants,
amulet-cases of filigree or repoussé work, and penannular
bracelets of rude execution, but rich and ancient designs. As
for the merchants, their civility and patience are inexhaustible.
One may turn over their whole stock, try on all their bracelets,
go away again and again without buying, and yet be always
welcomed and dismissed with smiles. L. and the Writer spent
many an hour practising Arabic in the Khan Khaleel, without,
it is to be feared, a corresponding degree of benefit to the merchants.
There are many other special bazaars in Cairo, as the Sweetmeat
Bazaar; the Hardware Bazaar; the Tobacco Bazaar; the
Sword-mounters' and Coppersmiths' Bazaars; the Moorish

Bazaar, where fez caps, burnouses, and Barbary goods are
sold; and some extensive bazaars for the sale of English and
French muslins, and Manchester cotton goods; but these last
are, for the most part, of inferior interest. Among certain
fabrics manufactured in England expressly for the Eastern
market, we observed a most hideous printed muslin representing
small black devils capering over a yellow ground, and we
learned that it was much in favour for children's dresses.
But the bazaars, however picturesque, are far from being the
only sights of Cairo. There are mosques in plenty; grand old
Saracenic gates; ancient Coptic churches; the museum of
Egyptian antiquities; and, within driving distance, the tombs
of the Caliphs, Heliopolis, the Pyramids, and the Sphinx. To
remember in what order the present travellers saw these things
would now be impossible; for they lived in a dream, and were
at first too bewildered to catalogue their impressions very
methodically. Some places they were for the present obliged
to dismiss with only a passing glance; others had to be wholly
deferred till their return to Cairo.
In the meanwhile, our first business was to look at dahabeeyahs;
and the looking at dahabeeyahs compelled us constantly
to turn our steps and our thoughts in the direction of
Boulak—a desolate place by the river, where some two or three
hundred Nile-boats lay moored for hire. Now, most persons
know something of the miseries of house-hunting; but only
those who have experienced them know how much keener are
the miseries of dahabeeyah-hunting. It is more bewildering
and more fatiguing, and is beset by its own special and peculiar
difficulties. The boats, in the first place, are all built on the
same plan, which is not the case with houses; and except as
they run bigger or smaller, cleaner or dirtier, are as like each
other as twin oysters. The same may be said of their captains,
with the same differences; for to a person who has been only
a few days in Egypt, one black or copper-coloured man is
exactly like every other black or copper-coloured man. Then
each Reïs, or captain, displays the certificates given to him by
former travellers; and these certificates, being apparently in
active circulation, have a mysterious way of turning up again
and again on board different boats and in the hands of different

claimants. Nor is this all. Dahabeeyahs are given to
changing their places, which houses do not do; so that the
boat which lay yesterday alongside the eastern bank may be
over at the western bank to-day, or hidden in the midst of a
dozen others half a mile lower down the river. All this is very
perplexing; yet it is as nothing compared with the state of
confusion one gets into when attempting to weigh the advantages
or disadvantages of boats with six cabins and boats with
eight; boats provided with canteen, and boats without; boats
that can pass the cataract, and boats that can't; boats that are
only twice as dear as they ought to be, and boats with that
defect five or six times multiplied. Their names, again—Ghazal,
Sarawa, Fostat, Dongola,—unlike any names one has
ever heard before, afford as yet no kind of help to the memory.
Neither do the names of their captains; for they are all
Mohammeds or Hassans. Neither do their prices; for they
vary from day to day, according to the state of the market as
shown by the returns of arrivals at the principal hotels.
Add to all this the fact that no Reïs speaks anything but
Arabic, and that every word of inquiry or negotiation has to
be filtered, more or less inaccurately, through a dragoman, and
then perhaps those who have not yet tried this variety of the
pleasures of the chase may be able to form some notion of the
weary, hopeless, puzzling work which lies before the dahabeeyah
hunter in Cairo.
Thus it came to pass that, for the first ten days or so, some
three or four hours had to be devoted every morning to the
business of the boats; at the end of which time we were no
nearer a conclusion than at first. The small boats were too
small for either comfort or safety, especially in what Nile-travellers
call “a big wind.” The medium-sized boats (which
lie under the suspicion of being used in summer for the transport
of cargo) were for the most part of doubtful cleanliness.
The largest boats, which alone seemed unexceptionable, contained
from eight to ten cabins, besides two saloons, and
were obviously too large for a party consisting of only L.,
the Writer, and a maid. And all were exorbitantly dear.
Encompassed by these manifold difficulties; listening now to
this and now to that person's opinion; deliberating, haggling

comparing, hesitating, we vibrated daily between Boulak and
Cairo, and led a miserable life. Meanwhile, however, we met
some former acquaintances; made some new ones; and when
not too tired or down-hearted, saw what we could of the sights
of Cairo—which helped a little to soften the asperities of
our lot.
One of our first excursions was, of course, to the Pyramids,
which lie within an hour and a half's easy drive from the
hotel door. We started immediately after an early luncheon,
followed an excellent road all the way, and were back in time
for dinner at half-past six. But it must be understood that we
did not go to see the Pyramids. We went only to look at
them. Later on (having meanwhile been up the Nile and
back, and gone through months of training), we came again,
not only with due leisure, but also with some practical under-standing
of the manifold phases through which the arts and
architecture of Egypt had passed since those far-off days of
Cheops and Chephren. Then, only, we can be said to have
seen the Pyramids; and till we arrive at that stage of our
pilgrimage, it will be well to defer everything like a detailed
account of them or their surroundings. Of this first brief visit,
enough therefore a brief record.
The first glimpse that most travellers now get of the
Pyramids is from the window of the railway carriage as they
come from Alexandria; and it is not impressive. It does not
take one's breath away, for instance, like a first sight of the
Alps from the high level of the Neufchâtel line, or the outline
of the Acropolis at Athens as one first recognises it from the
sea. The well-known triangular forms look small and shadowy,
and are too familiar to be in any way startling. And the same,
I think, is true of every distant view of them,—that is, of every
view which is too distant to afford the means of scaling them
against other objects. It is only in approaching them, and
observing how they grow with every foot of the road, that one
begins to feel they are not so familiar after all.
But when at last the edge of the desert is reached, and the
long sand-slope climbed, and the rocky platform gained, and
the Great Pyramid in all its unexpected bulk and majesty
towers close above one's head, the effect is as sudden as it is

overwhelming. It shuts out the sky and the horizon. It shuts
out all the other Pyramids. It shuts out everything but the
sense of awe and wonder.
Now, too, one discovers that it was with the forms of the
Pyramids, and only their forms, that one had been acquainted
all these years past. Of their surface, their colour, their
relative position, their number (to say nothing of their size),
one had hitherto entertained no kind of definite idea. The
most careful study of plans and measurements, the clearest
photographs, the most elaborate descriptions, had done little or
nothing, after all, to make one know the place beforehand.
This undulating table-land of sand and rock, pitted with open
graves and cumbered with mounds of shapeless masonry, is
wholly unlike the desert of our dreams. The Pyramids of
Cheops and Chephren are bigger than we had expected;
the Pyramid of Mycerinus is smaller. Here, too, are nine
Pyramids, instead of three. They are all entered in the plans
and mentioned in the guide-books; but, somehow, one is unprepared
to find them there, and cannot help looking upon
them as intruders. These six extra Pyramids are small and
greatly dilapidated. One, indeed, is little more than a big
Even the Great Pyramid puzzles us with an unexpected
sense of unlikeness. We all know, and have known from
childhood, that it was stripped of its outer blocks some five
hundred years ago to build Arab mosques and palaces; but
the rugged, rock-like aspect of that giant staircase takes us by
surprise, nevertheless. Nor does it look like a partial ruin,
either. It looks as if it had been left unfinished, and as if the
workmen might be coming back to-morrow morning.
The colour again is a surprise. Few persons can be
aware beforehand of the rich tawny hue that Egyptian lime-stone
assumes after ages of exposure to the blaze of an Egyptian
sky. Seen in certain lights, the Pyramids look like piles of
massy gold.
Having but one hour and forty minutes to spend on the
spot, we resolutely refused on this first occasion to be shown
anything, or told anything, or to be taken anywhere—except,
indeed, for a few minutes to the brink of the sand-hollow in

which the Sphinx lies couchant. We wished to give our whole
attention, and all the short time at our disposal, to the Great
Pyramid only. To gain some impression of the outer aspect
and size of this enormous structure,—to steady our minds to
something like an understanding of its age,—was enough, and
more than enough, for so brief a visit.
For it is no easy task to realise, however imperfectly, the
duration of six or seven thousand years; and the Great Pyramid,
which is supposed to have been some four thousand two hundred
and odd years old at the time of the birth of Christ, is now in
its seventh millennary. Standing there close against the
base of it; touching it; measuring her own height against one
of its lowest blocks; looking up all the stages of that vast,
receding, rugged wall, which leads upward like an Alpine
buttress and seems almost to touch the sky, the Writer
suddenly became aware that these remote dates had never
presented themselves to her mind until this moment as anything
but abstract numerals. Now, for the first time, they
resolved themselves into something concrete, definite, real.
They were no longer figures, but years with their changes of
season, their high and low Niles, their seed-times and harvests.
The consciousness of that moment will never, perhaps, quite
wear away. It was as if one had been snatched up for an
instant to some vast height overlooking the plains of Time,
and had seen the centuries mapped out beneath one's feet.
To appreciate the size of the Great Pyramid is less difficult
than to apprehend its age. No one who has walked the length
of one side, climbed to the top, and learned the dimensions
from Murray, can fail to form a tolerably clear idea of its mere
bulk. The measurements given by Sir Gardner Wilkinson are
as follows:—length of each side, 732 feet; perpendicular
height, 480 feet 9 inches; area 535,824 square feet.1 That
is to say, it stands 115 feet 9 inches higher than the cross on
the top of St. Paul's, and about 20 feet lower than Box Hill
in Surrey; and if transported bodily to London, it would a little
1 Since the first edition of this book was issued, the publication of Mr.
W. M. Flinders Petrie's standard work, entitled The Pyramids and Temples
Gizeh, has for the first time placed a thoroughly accurate and scientific
description of the Great Pyramid at the disposal of students. Calculating
from the rock-cut sockets at the four corners, and from the true level of the
pavement, Mr. Petrie finds that the square of the original base of the
structure, in inches, is of these dimensions:—
Length. Difference from Mean. Azimuth. Difference from Mean.
N 9069.4 + .6 − 3′ 20′ + 23′
E 9067.7 − 1.1 − 3′ 57′ − 14′
S 9069.5 + .7 − 3′ 41′ + 2′
W 9068.6 − .2 − 3′ 54′ − 11′
Mean 9068.8 .65 − 3′ 43′ 12′
For the height, Mr. Petrie, after duly weighing all data, such as the
thickness of the three casing-stones yet in situ, and the presumed thickness
of those which formerly faced the upper courses of the masonry, gives
from his observations of the mean angle of the Pyramid, a height from
base to apex of 5776.0 ± 7.0 inches. See The Pyramids and Temples of
, chap. vi. pp. 37 to 43. [Note to the Second Edition].

more than cover the whole area of Lincoln's Inn Fields.
These are sufficiently matter-of-fact statements, and sufficiently
intelligible; but, like most calculations of the kind, they
diminish rather than do justice to the dignity of the subject.
More impressive by far than the weightiest array of figures
or the most striking comparisons, was the shadow cast by the
Great Pyramid as the sun went down. That mighty Shadow,
sharp and distinct, stretched across the stony platform of the
desert and over full three-quarters of a mile of the green plain
below. It divided the sunlight where it fell, just as its great
original divided the sunlight in the upper air; and it darkened
the space it covered, like an eclipse. It was not without a
thrill of something approaching to awe that one remembered
how this self-same Shadow had gone on registering, not only
the height of the most stupendous gnomon ever set up by
human hands, but the slow passage, day by day, of more than
sixty centuries of the world's history.
It was still lengthening over the landscape as we went
down the long sand-slope and regained the carriage. Some
six or eight Arabs in fluttering white garments ran on ahead
to bid us a last good-bye. That we should have driven over
from Cairo only to sit quietly down and look at the Great
Pyramid had filled them with unfeigned astonishment. With

such energy and despatch as the modern traveller uses, we
might have been to the top, and seen the temple of the
Sphinx, and done two or three of the principal tombs in the
“You come again!” said they. “Good Arab show you
everything. You see nothing this time!”
So, promising to return ere long, we drove away; well
content, nevertheless, with the way in which our time had
been spent.
The Pyramid Bedouins have been plentifully abused by
travellers and guide-books, but we found no reason to complain
of them now or afterwards. They neither crowded round us,
nor followed us, nor importuned us in any way. They are
naturally vivacious and very talkative; yet the gentle fellows
were dumb as mutes when they found we wished for silence.
And they were satisfied with a very moderate bakhshîsh at
As a fitting sequel to this excursion, we went, I think
next day, to see the mosque of Sultan Hassan, which is one of
those mediæval structures said to have been built with the
casing-stones of the Great Pyramid.

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THE mosque of Sultan Hassan, confessedly the most beautiful
in Cairo, is also perhaps the most beautiful in the Moslem
world. It was built at just that happy moment when Arabian
art in Egypt, having ceased merely to appropriate or imitate,
had at length evolved an original architectural style out of the
heterogeneous elements of Roman and early Christian edifices.
The mosques of a few centuries earlier (as, for instance, that of
Tulûn, which marks the first departure from the old Byzantine
model) consisted of little more than a courtyard with colonnades
leading to a hall supported on a forest of pillars. A
little more than a century later, and the national style had
already experienced the beginnings of that prolonged eclipse
which finally resulted in the bastard Neo-Byzantine Renaissance
represented by the mosque of Mehemet Ali. But the mosque
of Sultan Hassan, built ninety-seven years before the taking of
Constantinople, may justly be regarded as the highest point
reached by Saracenic art in Egypt after it had used up the
Greek and Roman material of Memphis, and before its newborn
originality became modified by influences from beyond
the Bosphorus. Its pre-eminence is due neither to the greatness
of its dimensions nor to the splendour of its materials.
It is neither so large as the great mosque at Damascus, nor so
rich in costly marbles as Saint Sophia in Constantinople; but
in design, proportion, and a certain lofty grace impossible to
describe, it surpasses these, and every other mosque, whether
original or adapted, with which the writer is acquainted.


The whole structure is purely national. Every line and
curve in it, and every inch of detail, is in the best style of the
best period of the Arabian school. And above all, it was designed
expressly for its present purpose. The two famous
mosques of Damascus and Constantinople having, on the contrary,
been Christian churches, betray evidences of adaptation.
In Saint Sophia, the space once occupied by the figure of the
Redeemer may be distinctly traced in the mosaic-work of the
apse, filled in with gold tesseræ of later date; while the magnificent
gates of the great mosque at Damascus are decorated, among
other Christian emblems, with the sacramental chalice. But the
mosque of Sultan Hassan, built by En Nasîr Hassan in the high
and palmy days of the Memlook rule, is marred by no discrepancies.
For a mosque it was designed, and a mosque it remains.
Too soon it will be only a beautiful ruin.
A number of small streets having lately been demolished
in this quarter, the approach to the mosque lies across a
desolate open space littered with débris, but destined to be
laid out as a public square. With this desirable end in view,
some half dozen workmen were lazily loading as many camels
with rubble, which is the Arab way of carting rubbish. If
they persevere, and the Minister of Public works continues to
pay their wages with due punctuality, the ground will perhaps
get cleared in eight or ten years' time.
Driving up with some difficulty to the foot of the great
steps, which were crowded with idlers smoking and sleeping,
we observed a long and apparently fast-widening fissure
reaching nearly from top to bottom of the main wall of the
building, close against the minaret. It looked like just such a
rent as might be caused by a shock of earthquake, and, being
still new to the East, we wondered the Government had
not set to work to mend it. We had yet to learn that
nothing is ever mended in Cairo. Here, as in Constantinople,
new buildings spring up apace, but the old, no matter how
venerable, are allowed to moulder away, inch by inch, till
nothing remains but a heap of ruins.
Going up the steps and through a lofty hall, up some more
steps and along a gloomy corridor, we came to the great court,
before entering which, however, we had to take off our boots

and put on slippers brought for the purpose. The first sight
of this court is an architectural surprise. It is like nothing
one has seen before, and its beauty equals its novelty.
Imagine an immense marble quadrangle, open to the sky and
enclosed within lofty walls, with, at each side, a vast recess
framed in by a single arch. The quadrangle is more than 100
feet square, and the walls are more than 100 feet high. Each
recess forms a spacious hall for rest and prayer, and all are
matted; but that at the eastern end is wider and considerably
deeper than the other three, and the noble arch that encloses it
like the proscenium of a splendid stage, measures, according to
Fergusson, 69 feet 5 inches in the span. It looks much
larger. This principal hall, the floor of which is raised one
step at the upper end, measures 90 feet in depth and 90 in
height. The dais is covered with prayer-rugs, and contains
the holy niche and the pulpit of the preacher. We observed
that those who came up here came only to pray. Having
prayed, they either went away or turned aside into one of the
other recesses to rest. There was a charming fountain in the
court, with a dome-roof as light and fragile-looking as a big
bubble, at which each worshipper performed his ablutions on
coming in. This done, he left his slippers on the matting and
trod the carpeted dais barefoot.
This was the first time we had seen Moslems at prayer,
and we could not but be impressed by their profound and
unaffected devotion. Some lay prostrate, their foreheads
touching the ground; others were kneeling; others bowing in
the prescribed attitudes of prayer. So absorbed were they,
that not even our unhallowed presence seemed to disturb them.
We did not then know that the pious Moslem is as devout out
of the mosque as in it; or that it is his habit to pray when
the appointed hours come round, no matter where he may be,
or how occupied. We soon became so familiar, however, with
this obvious trait of Mohammedan life, that it seemed quite a
matter of course that the camel-driver should dismount and
lay his forehead in the dust by the roadside; or the merchant
spread his prayer-carpet on the narrow mastabah of his little
shop in the public bazaar; or the boatman prostrate himself
with his face to the east, as the sun went down behind the
hills of the Libyan desert.


While we were admiring the spring of the roof and the
intricate Arabesque decorations of the pulpit, a custode came
up with a big key and invited us to visit the tomb of the
founder. So we followed him into an enormous vaulted hall
a hundred feet square, in the centre of which stood a plain,
railed-off tomb, with an empty iron-bound coffer at the foot.
We afterwards learned that for five hundred years—that is to
say, ever since the death and burial of Sultan Hassan—this
coffer had contained a fine copy of the Korân, traditionally
said to have been written by Sultan Hassan's own hand; but
that the Khedive, who is collecting choice and antique Arabic
MSS., had only the other day sent an order for its removal.
Nothing can be bolder or more elegant than the proportions
of this noble sepulchral hall, the walls of which are
covered with tracery in low relief incrusted with discs and
tesseræ of turquoise-coloured porcelain; while high up, in
order to lead off the vaulting of the roof, the corners are
rounded by means of recessed clusters of exquisite Arabesque
woodwork, like pendent stalactites. But the tesseræ are fast
falling out, and most of their places are vacant; and the
beautiful woodwork hangs in fragments, tattered and cobwebbed,
like time-worn banners which the first touch of a brush
would bring down.
Going back again from the tomb to the courtyard, we
everywhere observed traces of the same dilapidation. The
fountain, once a miracle of Saracenic ornament, was fast going
to destruction. The rich marbles of its basement were cracked
and discoloured, its stuccoed cupola was flaking off piecemeal,
its enamels were dropping out, its lace-like wood tracery
shredding away by inches.
Presently a tiny brown and golden bird perched with pretty
confidence on the brink of the basin, and having splashed,
and drunk, and preened its feathers like a true believer at his
ablutions, flew up to the top of the cupola and sang deliciously.
All else was profoundly still. Large spaces of light and
shadow divided the quadrangle. The sky showed overhead as
a square opening of burning solid blue; while here and there,
reclining, praying, or quietly occupied, a number of turbaned
figures were picturesquely scattered over the matted floors of

the open halls around. Yonder sat a tailor cross-legged,
making a waistcoat; near him, stretched on his face at full
length, sprawled a basket-maker with his half-woven basket
and bundle of rushes beside him; and here, close against the
main entrance, lay a blind man and his dog; the master asleep,
the dog keeping watch. It was, as I have said, our first
mosque, and I well remember the surprise with which we saw
that tailor sewing on his buttons, and the sleepers lying about
in the shade. We did not then know that a Mohammedan
mosque is as much a place of rest and refuge as of prayer; or
that the houseless Arab may take shelter there by night or day
as freely as the birds may build their nests in the cornice, or
as the blind man's dog may share the cool shade with his
sleeping master.
From the mosque of this Memlook sovereign it is but a
few minutes' uphill drive to the mosque of Mehemet Ali, by
whose orders the last of that royal race were massacred just
sixty-four years ago.1 This mosque, built within the precincts
of the citadel on a spur of the Mokattam Hills overlooking
the city, is the most conspicuous object in Cairo. Its attenuated
minarets and clustered domes show from every point of
view for miles around, and remain longer in sight, as one
leaves, or returns to, Cairo, than any other landmark. It is
a spacious, costly, gaudy, commonplace building, with nothing
really beautiful about it, except the great marble courtyard
and fountain. The inside, which is entirely built of Oriental
alabaster, is carpeted with magnificent Turkey carpets and
hung with innumerable cut-glass chandeliers, so that it looks
like a huge vulgar drawing-room from which the furniture has
been cleared out for dancing.
The view from the outer platform is, however, magnificent.
We saw it on a hazy day, and could not therefore distinguish
the point of the Delta, which ought to have been visible on the
north; but we could plainly see as far southward as the
Pyramids of Sakkârah, and trace the windings of the Nile for
many miles across the plain. The Pyramids of Ghîzeh, on
their daïs of desert rock about twelve miles off, looked, as they
1 Now, seventy-seven years ago; the first Edition of this book having
been published thirteen years ago. [Note to Second Edition.]

always do look from a distance, small and unimpressive; but
the great alluvial valley dotted over with mud villages and
intersected by canals and tracts of palm forest; the shining
river specked with sails; and the wonderful city, all flat roofs,
cupolas, and minarets, spread out like an intricate model at
one's feet, were full of interest and absorbed our whole attention.
Looking down upon it from this elevation, it is as easy
to believe that Cairo contains four hundred mosques, as it is to
stand on the brow of the Pincio and believe in the three
hundred and sixty-five churches of modern Rome.
As we came away, they showed us the place in which the
Memlook nobles, four hundred and seventy1 in number, were
shot down like mad dogs in a trap, that fatal first of March
A.D. 1811. We saw the upper gate which was shut behind
them as they came out from the presence of the Pasha, and the
lower gate which was shut before them to prevent their egress.
The walls of the narrow roadway in which the slaughter was
done are said to be pitted with bullet-marks; but we would
not look for them.
I have already said that I do not very distinctly remember
the order of our sight-seeing in Cairo, for the reason that we
saw some places before we went up the river, some after we
came back, and some (as for instance the Museum at Boulak)
both before and after, and indeed as often as possible. But I
am at least quite certain that we witnessed a performance
of howling dervishes, and the departure of the caravan for
Mecca, before starting.
Of all the things that people do by way of pleasure, the
pursuit of a procession is surely one of the most wearisome.
They generally go a long way to see it; they wait a weary
time; it is always late; and when at length it does come, it is
over in a few minutes. The present pageant fulfilled all these
conditions in a superlative degree. We breakfasted uncomfortably
early, started soon after half-past seven, and had taken up
1 One only is said to have escaped—a certain Emîn Bey, who leaped
his horse over a gap in the wall, alighted safely in the piazza below, and
galloped away into the desert. The place of this famous leap continued
to be shown for many years, but there are no gaps in the wall now, the
citadel being the only place in
Cairo which is kept in thorough repair.

our position outside the Báb en-Nasr, on the way to the desert,
by half-past eight. Here we sat for nearly three hours, exposed
to clouds of dust and a burning sun, with nothing to do but to
watch the crowd and wait patiently. All Shepheard's Hotel
was there, and every stranger in Cairo; and we all had smart
open carriages drawn by miserable screws and driven by barelegged
Arabs. These Arabs, by the way, are excellent whips,
and the screws get along wonderfully; but it seems odd at
first, and not a little humiliating, to be whirled along behind a
coachman whose only livery consists of a rag of dirty white
turban, a scant tunic just reaching to his knees, and the top-boots
with which Nature has provided him.
Here, outside the walls, the crowd increased momentarily.
The place was like a fair with provision-stalls, swings, storytellers,
serpent-charmers, cake-sellers, sweetmeat-sellers, sellers
of sherbet, water, lemonade, sugared nuts, fresh dates, hardboiled
eggs, oranges, and sliced water-melon. Veiled women
carrying little bronze Cupids of children astride upon the right
shoulder, swarthy Egyptians, coal-black Abyssinians, Arabs and
Nubians of every shade from golden-brown to chocolate, fellahs,
dervishes, donkey-boys, street urchins, and beggars with every
imaginable deformity, came and went; squeezed themselves in
and out among the carriages; lined the road on each side of
the great towered gateway; swarmed on the top of every wall;
and filled the air with laughter, a Babel of dialects, and those
odours of Araby that are inseparable from an Eastern crowd.
A harmless, unsavoury, good-humoured, inoffensive throng, one
glance at which was enough to put to flight all one's preconceived
notions about Oriental gravity of demeanour! For the
truth is that gravity is by no means an Oriental characteristic.
Take a Mohammedan at his devotions, and he is a model of
religious abstraction; bargain with him for a carpet, and he is
as impenetrable as a judge; but see him in his hours of relaxation,
or on the occasion of a public holiday, and he is as garrulous
and full of laughter as a big child. Like a child, too,
he loves noise and movement for the mere sake of noise and
movement, and looks upon swings and fireworks as the height
of human felicity. Now swings and fireworks are Arabic for
bread and circuses, and our pleb's passion for them is insatiable.

He not only indulges in them upon every occasion of public
rejoicing, but calls in their aid to celebrate the most solemn
festivals of his religion. It so happened that we afterwards
came in the way of several Mohammedan festivals both in
Egypt and Syria, and we invariably found the swings at work
all day and the fireworks going off every evening.
To-day, the swings outside the Báb en-Nasr were never idle.
Here were creaking Russian swings hung with little painted
chariots for the children; and plain rope swings, some of them
as high as Haman's gallows, for the men. For my own part, I
know no sight much more comic and incongruous than the
serene enjoyment with which a bearded, turbaned, middle-aged
Egyptian squats upon his heels on the tiny wooden seat of one
of these enormous swings, and, holding on to the side-ropes for
dear life, goes careering up forty feet high into the air at every
At a little before midday, when the heat and glare were
becoming intolerable, the swings suddenly ceased going, the
crowd surged in the direction of the gate, and a distant drumming
announced the approach of the procession. First came a
string of baggage-camels laden with tent-furniture; then some
two hundred pilgrims on foot, chanting passages from the
Korân; then a regiment of Egyptian infantry, the men in a
coarse white linen uniform consisting of coat, baggy trousers
and gaiters, with cross-belts and cartouche-boxes of plain black
leather, and the red fez, or tarboosh, on the head. Next after
these came more pilgrims, followed by a body of dervishes
carrying green banners embroidered with Arabic sentences in
white and yellow; then a native cavalry regiment headed by
a general and four colonels in magnificent gold embroidery and
preceded by an excellent military band; then another band
and a second regiment of infantry; then more colonels, followed
by a regiment of lancers mounted on capital grey horses and
carrying lances topped with small red and green pennants.
After these had gone by there was a long stoppage, and then,
with endless breaks and interruptions, came a straggling
irregular crowd of pilgrims, chiefly of the fellah class, beating
small darabukkehs, or native drums. Those about us estimated
their number at two thousand. And now, their guttural chorus

audible long before they arrived in sight, came the howling
dervishes—a ragged, wild-looking, ruffianly set, rolling their
heads from side to side, and keeping up a hoarse incessant cry
of “Allàh! Allàh! Allàh!” Of these there may have been a
couple of hundred. The sheykhs of the principal orders of
dervishes came next in order, superbly dressed in robes of
brilliant colours embroidered with gold, and mounted on magnificent
Arabs. Finest of all, in a green turban and scarlet
mantle, rode the Sheykh of the Hasaneyn, who is a descendant
of the Prophet; but the most important, the Sheykh el Bekree,
who is a sort of Egyptian Archbishop of Canterbury and head
of all the dervishes, came last, riding a white Arab with gold-embroidered
housings. He was a placid-looking old man, and
wore a violet robe and an enormous red and green turban.
This very reverend personage was closely followed by the
chief of the carpet-makers' guild—a handsome man sitting
sidewise on a camel.
Then happened another break in the procession—an eager
pause—a gathering murmur. And then, riding a gaunt
dromedary at a rapid trot, his fat sides shaking, and his head
rolling in a stupid drunken way at every step, appeared a
bloated, half-naked Silenus, with long fuzzy black locks and a
triple chin, and no other clothing than a pair of short white
drawers and red slippers. A shiver of delight ran through the
crowd at sight of this holy man—the famous Sheykh of the
Camel (Sheykh el-Gemel), the “great, good Priest”—the idol
of the people. We afterwards learned that this was his
twentieth pilgrimage, and that he was supposed to fast, roll his
head, and wear nothing but this pair of loose drawers, all the
way to and from Mecca.
But the crowning excitement was yet to come, and the
rapture with which the crowd had greeted the Sheykh el-Gemel
was as nothing compared with their ecstasy when the Mahmal,
preceded by another group of mounted officers and borne by a
gigantic camel, was seen coming through the gateway. The
women held up their children; the men swarmed up the
scaffoldings of the swings and behind the carriages. They
screamed; they shouted; they waved handkerchiefs and turbans;
they were beside themselves with excitement. Meanwhile

the camel, as if conscious of the dignity of his position
and the splendour of his trappings, came on slowly and
ponderously with his nose in the air, and passed close before
our horses' heads. We could not possibly have had a better
view of the Mahmal; which is nothing but a sort of cage, or
pagoda, of gilded tracery very richly decorated. In the days
of the Memlooks, the Mahmal represented the litter of the
Sultan, and went empty, like a royal carriage at a public
funeral;1 but we were told that it now carried the tribute-carpet
sent annually by the carpet-makers of Cairo to the
tomb of the Prophet.
This closed the procession. As the camel passed, the
crowd surged in, and everything like order was at an end.
The carriages all made at once for the Gate, so meeting the
full tide of the outpouring crowd and causing unimaginable
confusion. Some stuck in the sand half-way—our own among
the number; and all got into an inextricable block in the
narrow part just inside the gate. Hereupon the drivers abused
each other, and the crowd got impatient, and some Europeans
got pelted.
Coming back, we met two or three more regiments. The
men, both horse and foot, seemed fair average specimens, and
creditably disciplined. They rode better than they marched,
which was to be expected. The uniform is the same for
cavalry and infantry throughout the service; the only difference
being that the former wear short black riding boots, and the
latter, Zouave gaiters of white linen. They are officered up to
1 “It is related that the Sultan Ez-Zahir Beybars, King of Egypt, was
the fast who sent a Mahmal with the caravan of pilgrims to Mecca, in the
year of the Flight 670 (A.D. 1272) or 675; but this custom, it is generally
said, had its origin a few years before his accession to the throne. Shegered-Durr,
a beautiful Turkish female slave, who became the favourite wife
of the Sultan Es-Sáleh Negm-ed-Deen, and on the death of his son (with
whom terminated the dynasty of the house of the Eiyoob) caused herself to be
acknowledged as Queen of Egypt, performed the pilgrimage in a magnificent
‘hódag,’ or covered litter, borne by a camel; and for several successive
years her empty ‘hódag’ was sent with the caravan, merely for the sake
of state. Hence, succeeding princes of Egypt sent with each year's caravan
of pilgrims a kind of ‘hódag’ (which received the name of Mahmal) as an
emblem of royalty.”—The Modern Egyptians, by E. W. Lane, chap. xxiv.
London, 1860.

a certain point by Egyptians; but the commanding officers
and the staff (among whom are enough colonels and generals
to form an ordinary regiment) are chiefly Europeans and
It had seemed, while the procession was passing, that the
proportion of pilgrims was absurdly small when compared with
the display of military; but this, which is called the departure
of the caravan, is in truth only the procession of the sacred
carpet from Cairo to the camp outside the walls; and the
troops are present merely as part of the pageant. The true
departure takes place two days later. The pilgrims then
muster in great numbers; but the soldiery is reduced to a
small escort. It was said that seven thousand souls went out
this year from Cairo and its neighbourhood.
The procession took place on Thursday the 21st day of
the Mohammedan month of Showwál, which was our 11th of
December. The next day, Friday, being the Mohammedan
Sabbath, we went to the Convent of the Howling Dervishes,
which lies beyond the walls in a quiet nook between the riverside
and the part known as Old Cairo.
We arrived a little after two, and passing through a courtyard
shaded by a great sycamore, were ushered into a large,
square, whitewashed hall with a dome-roof and a neatly-matted
floor. The place in its arrangements resembled none of the
mosques that we had yet seen. There was, indeed, nothing to
arrange—no pulpit, no holy niche, no lamps, no prayer-carpets;
nothing but a row of cane-bottomed chairs at one end, some of
which were already occupied by certain of our fellow-guests at
Shepheard's Hotel. A party of some forty or fifty wild-looking
dervishes were squatting in a circle at the opposite side of the
hall, their outer kuftâns and queer pyramidal hats lying in a
heap close by.
Being accommodated with chairs among the other spectators,
we waited for whatever might happen. More dervishes and
more English dropped in from time to time. The new
dervishes took off their caps and sat down among the rest,
laughing and talking together at their ease. The English sat
in a row, shy, uncomfortable, and silent; wondering whether
they ought to behave as if they were in church, and mortally

ashamed of their feet. For we had all been obliged to take
off or cover our boots before going in, and those who had
forgotten to bring slippers had their feet tied up in pocket-handkerchiefs.
A long time went by thus. At last, when the number of
dervishes had increased to about seventy, and every one was
tired of waiting, eight musicians came in—two trumpets, two
lutes, a cocoa-nut fiddle, a tambourine, and two drums. Then
the dervishes, some of whom were old and white-haired and
some mere boys, formed themselves into a great circle, shoulder
to shoulder; the band struck up a plaintive, discordant air;
and a grave middle-aged man, placing himself in the centre of
the ring, and inclining his head at each repetition, began to
recite the name of Allàh.
Softly at first, and one by one, the dervishes took up the
chant:—“Allàh! Allàh! Allàh!” Their heads and their voices
rose and fell in unison. The dome above gave back a hollow
echo. There was something strange and solemn in the
Presently, however, the trumpets brayed louder—the voices
grew hoarser—the heads bowed lower—the name of Allàh
rang out faster and faster, fiercer and fiercer. The leader,
himself cool and collected, began sensibly accelerating the time
of the chorus; and it became evident that the performers were
possessed by a growing frenzy. Soon the whole circle was
madly rocking to and fro; the voices rose to a hoarse scream;
and only the trumpets were audible above the din. Now and
then a dervish would spring up convulsively some three or
four feet above the heads of the others; but for the most part
they stood rooted firmly to one spot—now bowing their heads
almost to their feet—now flinging themselves so violently back,
that we, standing behind, could see their faces foreshortened
upside down; and this with such incredible rapidity, that their
long hair had scarcely time either to rise or fall, but remained
as if suspended in mid-air. Still the frenzy mounted; still the
pace quickened. Some shrieked—some groaned—some, unable
to support themselves any longer, were held up in their places
by the bystanders. All were mad for the time being. Our
own heads seemed to be going round at last; and more than

one of the ladies present looked longingly towards the door.
It was, in truth, a horrible sight, and needed only darkness and
torchlight to be quite diabolical.
At length, just as the fury was at its height and the very
building seemed to be rocking to and fro above our heads, one
poor wretch staggered out of the circle and fell writhing and
shrieking close against our feet. At the same moment, the
leader clapped his hands; the performers, panting and exhausted,
dropped into a sitting posture; and the first zikr, as
it is called, came abruptly to an end. Some few, however,
could not stop immediately, but kept on swaying and muttering
to themselves; while the one in the fit, having ceased to shriek,
lay out stiff and straight, apparently in a state of coma.
There was a murmur of relief and a simultaneous rising
among the spectators. It was announced that another zikr,
with a reinforcement of fresh dervishes, would soon begin;
but the Europeans had had enough of it, and few remained for
the second performance.
Going out, we paused beside the poor fellow on the floor,
and asked if nothing could be done for him.
“He is struck by Mohammed,” said gravely an Egyptian
official who was standing by.
At that moment, the leader came over, knelt down beside
him, touched him lightly on the head and breast, and
whispered something in his ear. The man was then quite
rigid, and white as death. We waited, however, and after a
few more minutes saw him struggle back into a dazed, half-conscious
state, when he was helped to his feet and led away
by his friends.
The courtyard as we came out was full of dervishes sitting
on cane benches in the shade, and sipping coffee. The green
leaves rustled overhead, with glimpses of intensely blue sky
between; and brilliant patches of sunshine flickered down upon
groups of wild-looking, half-savage figures in parti-coloured
garments. It was one of those ready-made subjects that the
sketcher passes by with a sigh, but which live in his memory
for ever.
From hence, being within a few minutes' drive of Old
Cairo, we went on as far as the Mosque of ‘Amr—an uninteresting

ruin standing alone among the rubbish-mounds of the
first Mohammedan capital of Egypt. It is constructed on the
plan of a single quadrangle 225 feet square, surrounded by a
covered colonnade one range of pillars in depth on the west
(which is the side of the entrance); four on the north; three
on the south; and six on the east, which is the place of prayer,
and contains three holy niches and the pulpit. The columns,
245 in number, have been brought from earlier Roman and
Byzantine buildings. They are of various marbles and have
all kinds of capitals. Some being originally too short, have
been stilted on disproportionately high bases; and in one
instance the necessary height has been obtained by adding a
second capital on the top of the first. We observed one
column of that rare black and white speckled marble of which
there is a specimen in the pulpit of St. Mark's in Venice; and
one of the holy niches contains some fragments of Byzantine
mosaics. But the whole building seems to have been put
together in a barbarous way, and would appear to owe its
present state of dilapidation more to bad workmanship than to
time. Many of the pillars, especially on the western side, are
fallen and broken; the octagonal fountain in the centre is a
roofless ruin; and the little minaret at the S.E. corner is no
longer safe.
Apart, however, from its poverty of design and detail, the
Mosque of ‘Amr is interesting as a point of departure in the
history of Saracenic architecture. It was built by `Amr Ebn
el-`As, the Arab conqueror of Egypt, in the twenty-first year
of the Hegira (A.D. 642), just ten years after the death of
Mohammed; and it is the earliest Saracenic edifice in Egypt.
We were glad, therefore, to have seen it for this reason, if for
no other. But it is a barren, dreary place; and the glare
reflected from all sides of the quadrangle was so intense that
we were thankful to get away again into the narrow streets
beside the river.
Here we presently fell in with a wedding procession consisting
of a crowd of men, a band, and some three or four hired
carriages full of veiled women, one of whom was pointed out
as the bride. The bridegroom walked in the midst of the men,
who seemed to be teasing him, drumming round him, and

opposing his progress; while high above the laughter, the
shouting, the jingle of tambourines and the thrumming of
darabukkehs, was heard the shrill squeal of some instrument
that sounded exactly like a bagpipe.
It was a brilliant afternoon, and we ended our day's work,
I remember, with a drive on the Shubra road and a glance at
the gardens of the Khedive's summer palace. The Shubra
road is the Champs Elysées of Cairo, and is thronged every
day from four to half-past six. Here little sheds of roadside
cafés alternate with smart modern villas; ragged fellâheen on
jaded donkeys trot side by side with elegant attachés on
high-stepping Arabs; while tourists in hired carriages, Jew
bankers in unexceptionable phaetons, veiled hareems in London-built
broughams, Italian shopkeepers in preposterously fashionable
toilettes, grave sheykhs on magnificent Cairo asses, officers
in frogged and braided frocks, and English girls in tall hats
and close-fitting habits followed by the inevitable little solemn-looking
English groom, pass and repass, precede and follow
each other, in one changing, restless, heterogeneous stream, the
like of which is to be seen in no other capital in the world.
The sons of the Khedive drive here daily, always in separate
carriages and preceded by four Saïses and four guards. They
are of all ages and sizes, from the Hereditary Prince, a pale,
gentlemanly-looking young man of four or five and twenty,
down to one tiny, imperious atom of about six, who is dressed
like a little man, and is constantly leaning out of his carriage-window
and shrilly abusing his coachman.1
Apart, however, from those who frequent it, the Shubra
road is a really fine drive, broad, level, raised some six or
eight feet above the cultivated plain, closely planted on both
sides with acacias and sycamore fig-trees, and reaching straight
away for four miles out of Cairo, counting from the railway
terminus to the Summer Palace. The carriage-way is about
as wide as the road across Hyde Park which connects Bayswater
with Kensington; and towards the Shubra end, it runs
close beside the Nile. Many of the scyamores are of great size
and quite patriarchal girth. Their branches meet overhead
1 The Hereditary Prince, it need scarcely be said, is the present
Tewfik Pasha. [Note to Second Edition.]

nearly all the way, weaving a delicious shade and making a
cool green tunnel of the long perspective.
We did not stay long in the Khedive's gardens, for it was
already getting late when we reached the gates; but we went
far enough to see that they were tolerably well kept, not over
formal, and laid out with a view to masses of foliage, shady
paths, and spaces of turf inlaid with flower-beds, after the style
of the famous Sarntheim and Moser gardens at Botzen in the
Tyrol. Here are Sont trees (Acacia Nilotica) of unusual size,
powdered all over with little feathery tufts of yellow blossom;
orange and lemon-trees in abundance; heaps of little green
limes; bananas bearing heavy pendent bunches of ripe fruit;
winding thickets of pomegranates, oleanders, and salvias; and
great beds, and banks, and trellised walks of roses. Among
these, however, I observed none of the rarer varieties. As for
the Pointsettia, it grows in Egypt to a height of twenty feet,
and bears blossoms of such size and colour as we in England
can form no idea of. We saw large trees of it both here and
at Alexandria that seemed as if bending beneath a mantle of
crimson stars, some of which cannot have measured less than
twenty-two inches in diameter.
A large Italian fountain in a rococo style is the great sight
of the place. We caught a glimpse of it through the trees,
and surprised the gardener who was showing us over by
declining to inspect it more nearly. He could not understand
why we preferred to give our time to the shrubs and flower-beds.
Driving back presently towards Cairo with a big handful
of roses apiece, we saw the sun going down in an aureole of
fleecy pink and golden clouds, the Nile flowing by like a stream
of liquid light, and a little fleet of sailing boats going up to
Boulak before a puff of north wind that had sprung up as the
sun neared the horizon. That puff of north wind, those gliding
sails, had a keen interest for us now, and touched us nearly;
because—I have delayed this momentous revelation till the last
moment—because we were to start to-morrow!
And this is why I have been able, in the midst of so much
that was new and bewildering, to remember quite circumstantially
the dates, and all the events connected with these
last two days. They were to be our last two days in Cairo;

and to-morrow morning, Saturday the 13th of December, we
were to go on board a certain dahabeeyah now lying off the
iron bridge at Boulak, therein to begin that strange aquatic
life to which we had been looking forward with so many hopes
and fears, and towards which we had been steering through so
many preliminary difficulties.
But the difficulties were all over now, and everything was
settled; though not in the way we had at first intended. For,
in place of a small boat, we had secured one of the largest on
the river; and instead of going alone, we had decided to throw
in our lot with that of three other travellers. One of these
three was already known to the Writer. The other two,
friends of the first, were on their way out from Europe, and
were not expected in Cairo for another week. We knew
nothing of them but their names.
Meanwhile L. and the Writer, assuming sole possession of
the dahabeeyah, were about to start ten days in advance; it
being their intention to push on as far as Rhoda (the ultimate
point then reached by the Nile railway), and there to await
the arrival of the rest of the party. Now Rhoda (more
correctly Roda) is just one hundred and eighty miles south of
Cairo; and we calculated upon seeing the Sakkârah pyramids,
the Turra quarries, the tombs of Beni Hassan, and the famous
grotto of the Colossus on the Sledge, before our fellow-travellers
should be due.
“It depends on the wind, you know,” said our dragoman,
with a lugubrious smile.
We knew that it depended on the wind; but what then?
In Egypt, the wind is supposed always to blow from the north
at this time of the year, and we had ten good days at our
disposal. The observation was clearly irrelevant.

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A RAPID raid into some of the nearest shops, for things
remembered at the last moment—a breathless gathering up of
innumerable parcels—a few hurried farewells on the steps of
the hotel—and away we rattle as fast as a pair of rawboned
greys can carry us. For this morning every moment is of
value. We are already late; we expect visitors to luncheon
on board at midday; and we are to weigh anchor at two P.M.
Hence our anxiety to reach Boulak before the bridge is opened,
that we may drive across to the western bank against which
our dahabeeyah lies moored. Hence also our mortification
when we arrive just in time to see the bridge swing apart, and
the first tall mast glide through.
Presently, however, when those on the look-out have
observed our signals of distress, a smart-looking sandal, or
jolly-boat, decked with gay rugs and cushions, manned by five
smiling Arabs, and flying a bright little new Union Jack, comes
swiftly threading her way in and out among the lumbering
barges now crowding through the bridge. In a few more
minutes, we are afloat. For this is our sandal, and these are
five of our crew; and of the three dahabeeyahs moored over
yonder in the shade of the palms, the biggest by far, and the
trimmest, is our own dear, memorable ‘Philae.’
Close behind the Philae lies the ‘Bagstones,’—a neat little
dahabeeyah in the occupation of two English ladies who
chanced to cross with us in the ‘Simla’ from Brindisi, and of
whom we have seen so much ever since that we regard them

by this time as quite old friends in a strange land. I will call
them the M. B.'s. The other boat, lying off a few yards ahead,
carries the tricolor, and is chartered by a party of French
gentlemen. All three are to sail to-day.
And now we are on board, and have shaken hands with
the captain, and are as busy as bees; for there are cabins to
put in order, flowers to arrange, and a hundred little things to
be seen to before the guests arrive. It is wonderful, however,
what a few books and roses, an open piano, and a sketch or
two, will do. In a few minutes the comfortless hired look has
vanished, and long enough before the first comers are announced,
the Philae wears an aspect as cosy and home-like as if she had
been occupied for a month.
As for the luncheon, it certainly surprised the givers of the
entertainment quite as much as it must have surprised their
guests. Being, no doubt, a pre-arranged display of professional
pride on the part of dragoman and cook, it was more like an
excessive Christmas dinner than a modest midday meal. We
sat through it unflinchingly, however, for about an hour and
three quarters, when a startling discharge of firearms sent us all
running upon deck, and created a wholesome diversion in our
favour. It was the French boat signalling her departure,
shaking out her big sail, and going off triumphantly.
I fear that we of the Bagstones and Philae—being mere
mortals and Englishwomen—could not help feeling just a
little spiteful when we found the tricolor had started first; but
then it was a consolation to know that the Frenchmen were
going only to Assuân. Such is the esprit du Nil. The
people in dahabeeyahs despise Cook's tourists; those who are
bound for the Second Cataract look down with lofty compassion
upon those whose ambition extends only to the First; and
travellers who engage their boat by the month hold their heads
a trifle higher than those who contract for the trip. We, who
were going as far as we liked and for as long as we liked,
could afford to be magnanimous. So we forgave the Frenchmen,
went down again to the saloon, and had coffee and music.
It was nearly three o'clock when our Cairo visitors wished
us ‘bon voyage’ and good-bye. Then the M. B.'s, who, with
their nephew, had been of the party, went back to their own

boat; and both captains prepared to sail at a given signal.
For the M. B.'s had entered into a solemn convention to start
with us, moor with us, and keep with us, if practicable, all the
way up the river. It is pleasant now to remember that this
sociable compact, instead of falling through as such compacts
are wont to do, was quite literally carried out as far as Aboo
Simbel; that is to say, during a period of seven weeks' hard
going, and for a distance of upwards of eight hundred miles.
At last all is ready. The awning that has all day roofed
in the upper deck is taken down; the captain stands at
the head of the steps; the steersman is at the helm; the
dragoman has loaded his musket. Is the Bagstones ready?
We wave a handkerchief of inquiry—the signal is answered—
the mooring ropes are loosened—the sailors pole the boat off
from the bank—bang go the guns, six from the Philae, and six
from the Bagstones, and away we go, our huge sail filling as it
takes the wind!
Happy are the Nile travellers who start thus with a fair
breeze on a brilliant afternoon. The good boat cleaves her
way swiftly and steadily. Water-side palaces and gardens
glide by, and are left behind. The domes and minarets of
Cairo drop quickly out of sight. The mosque of the citadel,
and the ruined fort that looks down upon it from the mountain
ridge above, diminish in the distance. The Pyramids stand up
sharp and clear.
We sit on the high upper deck, which is furnished with
lounge-chairs, tables and foreign rugs, like a drawing-room in
the open air, and enjoy the prospect at our ease. The valley
is wide here and the banks are flat, showing a steep verge of
crumbling alluvial mud next the river. Long belts of palm
groves, tracts of young corn only an inch or two above the
surface, and clusters of mud huts relieved now and then by a
little whitewashed cupola or a stumpy minaret, succeed each
other on both sides of the river, while the horizon is bounded
to right and left by long ranges of yellow limestone mountains,
in the folds of which sleep inexpressibly tender shadows
of pale violet and blue.
Thus the miles glide away, and by and by we approach
Turra—a large, new-looking mud village, and the first of any

extent that we have yet seen. Some of the houses are whitewashed;
a few have glass windows, and many seem to be
unfinished. A space of white, stony, glaring plain separates
the village from the quarried mountains beyond, the flanks of
which show all gashed and hewn away. One great cliff seems
to have been cut sheer off for a distance of perhaps half a mile.
Where the cuttings are fresh, the limestone comes out dazzling
white, and the long slopes of débris heaped against the foot of
the cliffs glisten like snow-drifts in the sun. Yet the outer
surface of the mountains is orange-tawny, like the Pyramids.
As for the piles of rough-hewn blocks that lie ranged along the
bank ready for transport, they look like salt rather than stone.
Here lies moored a whole fleet of cargo boats, laden and
lading; and along the tramway that extends from the riverside
to the quarries, we see long trains of mule-carts coming
and going.
For all the new buildings in Cairo, the Khedive's palaces,
the public offices, the smart modern villas, the glaring new
streets, the theatres, and foot-pavements, and cafés, all come
from these mountains—just as the Pyramids did, more than
six thousand years ago. There are hieroglyphed tablets and
sculptured grottoes to be seen in the most ancient part of the
quarries, if one were inclined to stop for them at this early
stage of the journey; and Champollion tells of two magnificent
outlines done in red ink upon the living rock by some masterhand
of Pharaonic times, the cutting of which was never even
begun. A substantial new barrack and an esplanade planted
with sycamore figs bring the straggling village to an end.
And now, as the afternoon wanes, we draw near to a dense,
wide-spreading forest of stately date-palms on the western
bank, knowing that beyond them, though unseen, lie the
mounds of Memphis and all the wonders of Sakkârah. Then
the sun goes down behind the Libyan hills; and the palms
stand out black and bronzed against a golden sky; and the
Pyramids, left far behind, look grey and ghostly in the
Presently, when it is quite dusk and the stars are out, we
moor for the night at Bedreshayn, which is the nearest point
for visiting Sakkârah. There is a railway station here, and

also a considerable village, both lying back about half a mile
from the river; and the distance from Cairo, which is reckoned
at fifteen miles by the line, is probably about eighteen by water.
Such was our first day on the Nile. And perhaps, before
going farther on our way, I ought to describe the Philae, and
introduce Reis Hassan and his crew.
A dahabeeyah, at the first glance, is more like a civic or
an Oxford University barge, than anything in the shape of a
boat with which we in England are familiar. It is shallow
and flat-bottomed, and is adapted for either sailing or rowing.
It carries two masts; a big one near the prow, and a smaller
one at the stern. The cabins are on deck, and occupy the
after-part of the vessel; and the roof of the cabins forms the
raised deck, or open-air drawing-room already mentioned.
This upper deck is reached from the lower deck by two little
flights of steps, and is the exclusive territory of the passengers.
The lower deck is the territory of the crew. A dahabeeyah
is, in fact, not very unlike the Noah's Ark of our childhood,
with this difference—the habitable part, instead of occupying
the middle of the vessel, is all at one end, top-heavy and
many-windowed; while the fore-deck is not more than six feet
above the level of the water. The hold, however, is under the
lower deck, and so counterbalances the weight at the other
end. Not to multiply comparisons unnecessarily, I may say
that a large dahabeeyah reminds one of old pictures of the
Bucentaur; especially when the men are at their oars.
The kitchen—which is a mere shed like a Dutch oven in
shape, and contains only a charcoal stove and a row of stewpans—
stands between the big mast and the prow, removed as
far as possible from the passengers' cabins. In this position
the cook is protected from a favourable wind by his shed; but
in the case of a contrary wind he is screened by an awning.
How, under even the most favourable circumstances, these men
can serve up the elaborate dinners which are the pride of a
Nile cook's heart, is sufficiently wonderful; but how they
achieve the same results when wind-storms and sand-storms
are blowing, and every breath is laden with the fine grit of
the desert, is little short of miraculous.
Thus far, all dahabeeyahs are alike. The cabin arrangements

differ, however, according to the size of the boat; and it
must be remembered that in describing the Philae, I describe a
dahabeeyah of the largest build—her total length from stem
to stern being just one hundred feet, and the width of her upper
deck at the broadest part little short of twenty.
Our floor being on a somewhat lower level than the men's
deck, we went down three steps to the entrance door, on each
side of which was an external cupboard, one serving as a storeroom
and the other as a pantry. This door led into a passage
out of which opened four sleeping-cabins, two on each side.
These cabins measured about eight feet in length by four and
a half in width, and contained a bed, a chair, a fixed washing-stand,
a looking-glass against the wall, a shelf, a row of hooks,
and under each bed two large drawers for clothes. At the end
of this little passage another door opened into the dining saloon
—a spacious, cheerful room, some twenty-three or twenty-four
feet long, situate in the widest part of the boat, and lighted by
four windows on each side and a skylight. The panelled walls
and ceiling were painted in white picked out with gold; a
cushioned divan covered with a smart woollen reps ran along
each side; and a gay Brussels carpet adorned the floor. The
dining-table stood in the centre of the room; and there was
ample space for a piano, two little bookcases, and several
chairs. The window-curtains and portières were of the same
reps as the divan, the prevailing colours being scarlet and
orange. Add a couple of mirrors in gilt frames; a vase of
flowers on the table (for we were rarely without flowers of some
sort, even in Nubia, where our daily bouquet had to be made
with a few bean blossoms and castor-oil berries); plenty of
books; the gentlemen's guns and sticks in one corner; and
the hats of all the party hanging in the spaces between the
windows; and it will be easy to realise the homely, habitable
look of our general sitting-room.
Another door and passage opening from the upper end of
the saloon led to three more sleeping-rooms, two of which were
single and one double; a bath-room; a tiny back staircase
leading to the upper deck; and the stern cabin saloon. This
last, following the form of the stern, was semicircular, lighted
by eight windows, and surrounded by a divan. Under this, as

under the saloon divans, there ran a row of deep drawers,
which, being fairly divided, held our clothes, wine, and books.
The entire length of the dahabeeyah being exactly one
hundred feet, I take the cabin part to have occupied about
fifty-six or fifty-seven feet (that is to say, about six or seven
feet over the exact half), and the lower deck to have measured
the remaining forty-three feet. But these dimensions, being
given from memory, are approximate.
For the crew there was no sleeping accommodation whatever,
unless they chose to creep into the hold among the
luggage and packing-cases. But this they never did. They
just rolled themselves up at night, heads and all, in rough
brown blankets, and lay about the lower deck like dogs.
The Reïs, or captain, the steersman, and twelve sailors, the
dragoman, head cook, assistant cook, two waiters, and the boy
who cooked for the crew, completed our equipment. Reïs
Hassan—short, stern-looking, authoritative—was a Cairo Arab.
The dragoman, Elias Talhamy, was a Syrian of Beyrout. The
two waiters, Michael and Habîb, and the head cook (a wizened
old cordon bleu named Hassan Bedawee) were also Syrians.
The steersman and five of the sailors were from Thebes; four
belonged to a place near Philae; one came from a village
opposite Kom Ombo; one from Cairo, and two were Nubians
from Assuân. They were of all shades, from yellowish bronze
to a hue not far removed from black; and though, at the first
mention of it, nothing more incongruous can well be imagined
than a sailor in petticoats and a turban, yet these men in their
loose blue gowns, bare feet, and white muslin turbans, looked not
only picturesque, but dressed exactly as they should be. They
were for the most part fine young men, slender but powerful,
square in the shoulders, like the ancient Egyptian statues, with
the same slight legs and long flat feet. More docile, active,
good-tempered, friendly fellows never pulled an oar. Simple
and trustful as children, frugal as anchorites, they worked
cheerfully from sunrise to sunset, sometimes towing the dahabeeyah
on a rope all day long, like barge-horses sometimes
punting for hours, which is the hardest work of all; yet always
singing at their task, always smiling when spoken to, and made
as happy as princes with a handful of coarse Egyptian tobacco,

or a bundle of fresh sugar-canes bought for a few pence by the
river-side. We soon came to know them all by name—
Mehemet Ali, Salame, Khalîfeh, Riskali, Hassan, Mûsa, and so
on; and as none of us ever went on shore without one or two
of them to act as guards and attendants, and as the poor
fellows were constantly getting bruised hands or feet, and
coming to the upper deck to be doctored, a feeling of genuine
friendliness was speedily established between us.
The ordinary pay of a Nile sailor is two pounds a month,
with an additional allowance of about three and sixpence a
month for flour. Bread is their staple food, and they make it
themselves at certain places along the river where there are
large public ovens for the purpose. This bread, which is cut
up in slices and dried in the sun, is as brown as gingerbread
and as hard as biscuit. They eat it soaked in hot water,
flavoured with oil, pepper, and salt, and stirred in with boiled
lentils till the whole becomes of the colour, flavour, and consistence
of thick pea-soup. Except on grand occasions, such
as Christmas Day or the anniversary of the Flight of the
Prophet, when the passengers treat them to a sheep, this mess
of bread and lentils, with a little coffee twice a day, and now
and then a handful of dates, constitutes their only food throughout
the journey.
The Nile season is the Nile sailors' harvest-time. When
the warm weather sets in and the travellers migrate with the
swallows, these poor fellows disperse in all directions; some to
seek a living as porters in Cairo; others to their homes in
Middle and Upper Egypt where, for about fourpence a day,
they take hire as labourers, or work at Shâdûf irrigation till
the Nile again overspreads the land. The Shâdûf work is
hard, and a man has to keep on for nine hours out of every
twenty-four; but he prefers it, for the most part, to employment
in the government sugar-factories, where the wages
average at about the same rate, but are paid in bread, which,
being doled out by unscrupulous inferiors, is too often of light
weight and bad quality. The sailors who succeed in getting a
berth on board a cargo-boat for the summer are the most
Our captain, pilot, and crew were all Mohammedans. The

cook and his assistant were Syrian Mohammedans. The
dragoman and waiters were Christians of the Syrian Latin
church. Only one out of the fifteen natives could write or
read; and that one was a sailor named Egendi, who acted as
a sort of second mate. He used sometimes to write letters
for the others, holding a scrap of tumbled paper across the
palm of his left hand, and scrawling rude Arabic characters
with a reed-pen of his own making. This Egendi, though
perhaps the least interesting of the crew, was a man of many
accomplishments—an excellent comic actor, a bit of a shoemaker,
and a first-rate barber. More than once, when we
happened to be stationed far from any village, he shaved his
messmates all round, and turned them out with heads as smooth
as billiard balls.
There are, of course, good and bad Mohammedans as there
are good and bad churchmen of every denomination; and we
had both sorts on board. Some of the men were very devout,
never failing to perform their ablutions and say their prayers
at sunrise and sunset. Others never dreamed of doing so.
Some would not touch wine—had never tasted it in their lives,
and would have suffered any extremity rather than break the
law of their Prophet. Others had a nice taste in clarets, and
a delicate appreciation of the respective merits of rum or
whisky punch. It is, however, only fair to add that we never
gave them these things except on special occasions, as on
Christmas Day, or when they had been wading in the river, or
in some other way undergoing extra fatigue in our service.
Nor do I believe there was a man on board who would have
spent a para of his scanty earnings on any drink stronger than
coffee. Coffee and tobacco are, indeed, the only luxuries in
which the Egyptian peasant indulges; and our poor fellows
were never more grateful than when we distributed among
them a few pounds of cheap native tobacco. This abominable
mixture sells in the bazaars at sixpence the pound, the plant
from which it is gathered being raised from inferior seed in a
soil chemically unsuitable, because wholly devoid of potash.
Also it is systematically spoiled in the growing. Instead
of being nipped off when green and dried in the shade, the
leaves are allowed to wither on the stalk before they are

gathered. The result is a kind of rank hay without strength
or flavour, which is smoked by only the very poorest class,
and carefully avoided by all who can afford to buy Turkish or
Syrian tobacco.
Twice a day, after their midday and evening meals, our
sailors were wont to sit in a circle and solemnly smoke a certain
big pipe of the kind known as a hubble-bubble. This hubble-bubble
(which was of most primitive make and consisted of a
cocoa-nut and two sugar-canes) was common property; and,
being filled by the captain, went round from hand to hand,
from mouth to mouth, while it lasted.
They smoked cigarettes at other times, and seldom went
on shore without a tobacco-pouch and a tiny book of cigarette-papers.
Fancy a bare-legged Arab making cigarettes! No
Frenchman, however, could twist them up more deftly, or
smoke them with a better grace.
A Nile sailor's service expires with the season, so that he
is generally a landsman for about half the year; but the
captain's appointment is permanent. He is expected to live
in Cairo, and is responsible for his dahabeeyah during the
summer months, while it lies up at Boulak. Reïs Hassan had
a wife and a comfortable little home on the outskirts of Old
Cairo, and was looked upon as a well-to-do personage among
his fellows. He received four pounds a month all the year
round from the owner of the Philae—a magnificent broad-shouldered
Arab of about six foot nine, with a delightful smile,
the manners of a gentleman, and the rapacity of a Shylock.
Our men treated us to a concert that first night, as we lay
moored under the bank near Bedreshayn. Being told that it
was customary to provide musical instruments, we had given
them leave to buy a tar and darabukkeh before starting.
The tar, or tambourine, was pretty enough, being made of
rosewood inlaid with mother-of-pearl; but a more barbarous
affair than the darabukkeh was surely never constructed. This
primitive drum is about a foot and a half in length, funnel-shaped,
moulded of sun-dried clay like the kullehs, and covered
over at the top with strained parchment. It is held under the
left arm and played like a tom-tom with the fingers of the
right hand; and it weighs about four pounds. We would

willingly have added a double pipe or a cocoa-nut fiddle1 to
the strength of the band, but none of our men could play them.
The tar and darabukkeh, however, answered the purpose well
enough, and were perhaps better suited to their strange singing
than more tuneful instruments.
We had just finished dinner when they began. First came
a prolonged wail that swelled, and sank, and swelled again,
and at last died away. This was the principal singer leading
off with the keynote. The next followed suit on the third of
the key; and finally all united in one long, shrill descending


cry, like a yawn, or a howl, or a combination of both. This,
twice repeated, preluded their performance and worked them
up, apparently, to the necessary pitch of musical enthusiasm.
The primo tenore then led off in a quavering roulade, at the
end of which he slid into a melancholy chant to which the rest
sang chorus. At the close of each verse they yawned and
howled again; while the singer, carried away by his emotions,
broke out every now and then into a repetition of the same
amazing and utterly indescribable vocal wriggle with which he
1 Arabic—Kemengeh.

had begun. Whenever he did this, the rest held their breath
in respectful admiration, and uttered an approving “Ah!”—
which is here the customary expression of applause.
We thought their music horrible that first night, I remember;
though we ended, as I believe most travellers do, by liking it.
We, however, paid them the compliment of going upon deck
and listening to their performance. As a night-scene, nothing
could be more picturesque than this group of turbaned Arabs
sitting in a circle, cross-legged, with a lantern in the midst.
The singer quavered; the musicians thrummed; the rest softly
clapped their hands to time, and waited their turn to chime in
with the chorus. Meanwhile the lantern lit up their swarthy
faces and their glittering teeth. The great mast towered up
into the darkness. The river gleamed below. The stars shone
overhead. We felt we were indeed strangers in a strange land.

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HAVING arrived at Bedreshayn after dark and there moored
for the night, we were roused early next morning by the furious
squabbling and chattering of some fifty or sixty men and boys
who, with a score or two of little rough-coated, depressed-looking
donkeys, were assembled on the high bank above. Seen
thus against the sky, their tattered garments fluttering in the
wind, their brown arms and legs in frantic movement, they
looked like a troop of mad monkeys let loose. Every moment
the uproar grew shriller. Every moment more men, more
boys, more donkeys, appeared upon the scene. It was as if
some new Cadmus had been sowing boys and donkeys broadcast,
and they had all come up at once for our benefit.
Then it appeared that Talhamy, knowing how eight donkeys
would be wanted for our united forces, had sent up to the
village for twenty-five, intending, with perhaps more wisdom
than justice, to select the best and dismiss the others. The
result was overwhelming. Misled by the magnitude of the
order and concluding that Cook's party had arrived, every man,
boy, and donkey in Bedreshayn and the neighbouring village
of Mîtrahîneh had turned out in hot haste and rushed down
to the river; so that by the time breakfast was over there were
steeds enough in readiness for all the English in Cairo. I pass
over the tumult that ensued when our party at last mounted
the eight likeliest beasts and rode away, leaving the indignant
multitude to disperse at leisure.
And now our way lies over a dusty flat, across the railway

line, past the long straggling village, and through the famous
plantations known as the Palms of Memphis. There is a
crowd of patient-looking fellaheen at the little whitewashed
station, waiting for the train, and the usual rabble of clamorous
water, bread, and fruit-sellers. Bedreshayn, though a collection
of mere mud hovels, looks pretty, nestling in the midst of
stately date-palms. Square pigeon-towers, embedded round the
top with layers of wide-mouthed pots and stuck with rows of
leafless acacia-boughs like ragged banner-poles, stand up at
intervals among the huts. The pigeons go in and out of the
pots, or sit preening their feathers on the branches. The dogs
dash out and bark madly at us, as we go by. The little brown
children pursue us with cries of “Bakhshîsh!” The potter,
laying out rows of soft, grey, freshly-moulded clay bowls and
kullehs1 to bake in the sun, stops open-mouthed, and stares as
if he had never seen a European till this moment. His young
wife snatches up her baby and pulls her veil more closely over
her face, fearing the evil eye.
The village being left behind, we ride on through one long
palm grove after another; now skirting the borders of a large
sheet of tranquil back-water; now catching a glimpse of the
far-off pyramids of Ghîzeh, now passing between the huge
irregular mounds of crumbled clay which mark the site of
Memphis. Next beyond these we come out upon a high embanked
road some twenty feet above the plain, which here
spreads out like a wide lake and spends its last dark-brown
alluvial wave against the yellow rocks which define the edge of
the desert. High on this barren plateau, seen for the first time
in one unbroken panoramic line, there stands a solemn company
of pyramids; those of Sakkârah straight before us, those of
Dahshûr to the left, those of Abusîr to the right, and the great
Pyramids of Ghîzeh always in the remotest distance.
It might be thought there would be some monotony in such
a scene, and but little beauty. On the contrary, however, there
is beauty of a most subtle and exquisite kind—transcendent
beauty of colour, and atmosphere, and sentiment; and no
1 The goolah, or kulleh, is a porous water-jar of sun-dried Nile mud.
These jars are made of all sizes and in a variety of remarkably graceful
forms, and cost from about one farthing to twopence apiece.

monotony either in the landscape or in the forms of the
pyramids. One of these which we are now approaching is
built in a succession of platforms gradually decreasing towards
the top. Another down yonder at Dahshûr curves outward at
the angles, half dome, half pyramid, like the roof of the Palais
de Justice in Paris. No two are of precisely the same size, or
built at precisely the same angle; and each cluster differs somehow
in the grouping.
Then again the colouring!—colouring not to be matched
with any pigments yet invented. The Libyan rocks, like rusty
gold—the paler hue of the driven sand-slopes—the warm maize
of the nearer Pyramids which, seen from this distance, takes a
tender tint of rose, like the red bloom on an apricot—the
delicate tone of these objects against the sky—the infinite
gradation of that sky, soft and pearly towards the horizon, blue
and burning towards the zenith—the opalescent shadows, pale
blue, and violet, and greenish-grey, that nestle in the hollows
of the rock and the curves of the sand-drifts—all this is beautiful
in a way impossible to describe, and alas! impossible to
copy. Nor does the lake-like plain with its palm-groves and
corn-flats form too tame a foreground. It is exactly what is
wanted to relieve that glowing distance.
And now, as we follow the zigzags of the road, the new
pyramids grow gradually larger; the sun mounts higher; the
heat increases. We meet a train of camels, buffaloes, shaggy
brown sheep, men, women, and children of all ages. The
camels are laden with bedding, rugs, mats, and crates of
poultry, and carry, besides, two women with babies and one
very old man. The younger men drive the tired beasts. The
rest follow behind. The dust rises after them in a cloud. It
is evidently the migration of a family of three, if not four generations.
One cannot help being struck by the patriarchal
simplicity of the incident. Just thus, with flocks and herds and
all his clan, went Abraham into the land of Canaan close upon
four thousand years ago; and one at least of these Sakkârah
pyramids was even then the oldest building in the world.
It is a touching and picturesque procession—much more
picturesque than ours, and much more numerous; notwithstanding
that our united forces, including donkey-boys, porters, and

miscellaneous hangers-on, number nearer thirty than twenty
persons. For there are the M. B.s and their nephew, and L.
and the Writer, and L.'s maid, and Talhamy, all on donkeys;
and then there are the owners of the donkeys, also on
donkeys; and then every donkey has a boy; and every boy has
a donkey; and every donkey-boy's donkey has an inferior boy
in attendance. Our style of dress, too, however convenient, is
not exactly in harmony with the surrounding scenery; and one
cannot but feel, as these draped and dusty pilgrims pass us on
the road, that we cut a sorry figure with our hideous palm-leaf
hats, green veils, and white umbrellas.
But the most amazing and incongruous personage in our
whole procession is unquestionably George. Now George is
an English north-country groom whom the M. B.s have brought
out from the wilds of Lancashire, partly because he is a good
shot and may be useful to “Master Alfred” after birds and
crocodiles; and partly from a well-founded belief in his general
abilities. And George, who is a fellow of infinite jest and
infinite resource, takes to Eastern life as a duckling to the water.
He picks up Arabic as if it were his mother tongue. He skins
birds like a practised taxidermist. He can even wash and iron
on occasion. He is, in short, groom, footman, housemaid,
laundry-maid, stroke oar, gamekeeper, and general factotum
all in one. And besides all this, he is gifted with a comic
gravity of countenance that no surprises and no disasters can
upset for a moment. To see this worthy anachronism cantering
along in his groom's coat and gaiters, livery-buttons, spotted
neckcloth, tall hat, and all the rest of it; his long legs dangling
within an inch of the ground on either side of the most diminutive
of donkeys; his double-barrelled fowling-piece under his
arm, and that imperturbable look in his face, one would have
sworn that he and Egypt were friends of old, and that he had
been brought up on pyramids from his earliest childhood.
It is a long and shelterless ride from the palms to the
desert; but we come to the end of it at last, mounting just
such another sand-slope as that which leads up from the Ghîzeh
road to the foot of the Great Pyramid. The edge of the
plateau here rises abruptly from the plain in one long range of
low perpendicular cliffs pierced with dark mouths of rock-cut

sepulchres, while the sand-slope by which we are climbing
pours down through â breach in the rock, as an Alpine snowdrift
flows through a mountain gap from the ice-level above.
And now, having dismounted through compassion for our
unfortunate little donkeys, the first thing we observe is the
curious mixture of débris underfoot. At Ghîzeh one treads
only sand and pebbles; but here at Sakkârah the whole
plateau is thickly strewn with scraps of broken pottery, limestone,
marble, and alabaster; flakes of green and blue glaze;
bleached bones; shreds of yellow linen; and lumps of some
odd-looking dark brown substance, like dried-up sponge.
Presently some one picks up a little noseless head of one of
the common blue-ware funereal statuettes, and immediately
we all fall to work, grubbing for treasure—a pure waste of
precious time; for though the sand is full of débris, it has
been sifted so often and so carefully by the Arabs that it no
longer contains anything worth looking for. Meanwhile, one
finds a fragment of iridescent glass—another, a morsel of
shattered vase—a third, an opaque bead of some kind of yellow
paste. And then, with a shock which the present writer, at all
events, will not soon forget, we suddenly discover that these
scattered bones are human—that those linen shreds are shreds
of cerement cloths—that yonder odd-looking brown lumps are
rent fragments of what once was living flesh! And now for
the first time we realise that every inch of this ground on which
we are standing, and all these hillocks and hollows and pits in
the sand, are violated graves.
“Ce n'est que le premier pas que coûte.” We soon became
quite hardened to such sights, and learned to rummage among
dusty sepulchres with no more compunction than would have
befitted a gang of professional body-snatchers. These are
experiences upon which one looks back afterwards with wonder,
and something like remorse; but so infectious is the universal
callousness, and so overmastering is the passion for relic-hunting,
that I do not doubt we should again do the same things
under the same circumstances. Most Egyptian travellers, if
questioned, would have to make a similar confession. Shocked
at first, they denounce with horror the whole system of
sepulchral excavation, legal as well as predatory; acquiring,

however, a taste for scarabs and funerary statuettes, they soon
begin to buy with eagerness the spoils of the dead; finally,
they forget all their former scruples, and ask no better fortune
than to discover and confiscate a tomb for themselves.
Notwithstanding that I had first seen the Pyramids of
Ghîzeh, the size of the Sakkârah group—especially of the
Pyramid in platforms—took me by surprise. They are all
smaller than the Pyramids of Khufu and Khafra, and would no
doubt look sufficiently insignificant if seen with them in close
juxtaposition; but taken by themselves they are quite vast
enough for grandeur. As for the Pyramid in platforms (which
is the largest at Sakkârah, and next largest to the Pyramid of
Khafra) its position is so fine, its architectural style so exceptional,
its age so immense, that one altogether loses sight of
these questions of relative magnitude. If Egyptologists are
right in ascribing the royal title hieroglyphed on the inner door
of this pyramid to Ouenephes, the fourth king of the First
Dynasty, then it is the most ancient building in the world. It
had been standing from five to seven hundred years when King
Khufu began his Great Pyramid at Ghîzeh. It was over two
thousand years old when Abraham was born. It is now about
six thousand eight hundred years old according to Manetho
and Mariette, or about four thousand eight hundred according
to the computation of Bunsen. One's imagination recoils upon
the brink of such a gulf of time.
The door of this pyramid was carried off, with other
precious spoils, by Lepsius, and is now in the museum at
Berlin. The evidence that identifies the inscription is tolerably
direct. According to Manetho, an Egyptian historian who
wrote in Greek and lived in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus,
King Ouenephes built for himself a pyramid at a place called
Kokhome. Now a tablet discovered in the Serapeum by
Mariette gives the name of Ka-kem to the necropolis of
Sakkärah; and as the pyramid in stages is not only the largest
on this platform, but is also the only one in which a royal
cartouche has been found, the conclusion seems obvious.
When a building has already stood for five or six thousand
years in a climate where mosses and lichens, and all those
natural signs of age to which we are accustomed in Europe

are unknown, it is not to be supposed that a few centuries
more or less can tell upon its outward appearance; yet to my
thinking the pyramid of Ouenephes looks older than those of
Ghîzeh. If this be only fancy, it gives one, at all events, the
impression of belonging structurally to a ruder architectural
period. The idea of a monument composed of diminishing
platforms is in its nature more primitive than that of a smooth
four-sided pyramid. We remarked that the masonry on one
side—I think on the side facing eastwards—was in a much
more perfect condition than on either of the others.
Wilkinson describes the interior as “a hollow dome supported
here and there by wooden rafters,” and states that the
sepulchral chamber was lined with blue porcelain tiles.1 We
would have liked to go inside, but this is no longer possible,
the entrance being blocked by a recent fall of masonry.
Making up now for lost time, we rode on as far as the
house built in 1850 for Mariette's accommodation during the
excavation of the Serapeum—a labour which extended over a
period of more than four years.
The Serapeum, it need hardly be said, is the famous and
long-lost sepulchral temple of the sacred bulls. These bulls
(honoured by the Egyptians as successive incarnations of Osiris)
inhabited the temple of Apis at Memphis while they lived;
and, being mummied after death, were buried in catacombs
prepared for them in the desert. In 1850, Mariette, travelling
in the interests of the French Government, discovered both the
temple and the catacombs, being, according to his own narrative,
indebted for the clue to a certain passage in Strabo, which
describes the Temple of Serapis as being situate in a district
where the sand was so drifted by the wind that the approach
to it was in danger of being overwhelmed; while the sphinxes
on either side of the great avenue were already more or less
buried, some having only their heads above the surface. “If
Strabo had not written this passage,” says Mariette, “it is
probable that the Serapeum would still be lost under the sands
1 Some of these tiles are to be seen in the Egyptian department of
the British Museum. They are not blue, but of a bluish green. For a
view of the sepulchral chamber, see Maspero's Archélogie Egyptienne, Fig.
230, p. 256. [Note to the Second Edition.]

of the necropolis of Sakkârah. One day, however (in 1850),
being attracted to Sakkârah by my Egyptological studies, I
perceived the head of a sphinx showing above the surface. It
evidently occupied its original position. Close by lay a libation-table
on which was engraved a hieroglyphic inscription to
Apis-Osiris. Then that passage in Strabo came to my memory,
and I knew that beneath my feet lay the avenue leading to the
long and vainly sought Serapeum. Without saying a word to
any one, I got some workmen together and we began excavating.
The beginning was difficult; but soon the lions, the
peacocks, the Greek statues of the Dromos, the inscribed tablets
of the Temple of Nectanebo1 rose up from the sands. Thus
was the Serapeum discovered.”
The house—a slight, one-storied building on a space of
rocky platform—looks down upon a sandy hollow which now
presents much the same appearance that it must have presented
when Mariette was first reminded of the fortunate passage in
Strabo. One or two heads of sphinxes peep up here and there
in a ghastly way above the sand, and mark the line of the great
avenue. The upper half of a boy riding on a peacock, apparently
of rude execution, is also visible. The rest is already
as completely overwhelmed as if it had never been uncovered.
One can scarcely believe that only twenty years ago, the whole
place was entirely cleared at so vast an expenditure of time
and labour. The work, as I have already mentioned, took four
years to complete. This avenue alone was six hundred feet in
length and bordered by an army of sphinxes, one hundred and
forty-one of which were found in situ. As the excavation
neared the end of the avenue, the causeway, which followed a
gradual descent between massive walls, lay seventy feet below
the surface. The labour was immense, and the difficulties were
innumerable. The ground had to be contested inch by inch.
“In certain places,” says Mariette, “the sand was fluid, so to
speak, and baffled us like water continually driven back and
seeking to regain its level.”2
1 Nectanebo I and Nectanebo II were the last native Pharaohs of
ancient Egypt, and flourished between B.C. 378 and B.C. 340. An earlier
temple must have preceded the Serapeum built by Nectanebo I.
2 For an excellent and exact account of the Serapeum and the monuments
there discovered, see M. Arthur Rhoné's L'Egypte en Petites Journées,
of which a new edition is now in the press. [Note to Second Edition.]


If, however, the toil was great, so also was the reward. A
main avenue terminated by a semicircular platform, around
which stood statues of famous Greek philosophers and poets;
a second avenue at right angles to the first; the remains of
the great Temple of the Serapeum; three smaller temples;
and three distinct groups of Apis catacombs, were brought to
light. A descending passage opening from a chamber in the
great Temple led to the catacombs—vast labyrinths of vaults
and passages hewn out of the solid rock on which the Temples
were built. These three groups of excavations represent three
epochs of Egyptian history. The first and most ancient series
consists of isolated vaults dating from the XVIIIth to the
XXIInd dynasty; that is to say, from about B.C. 1703 to B.C.
980. The second group, which dates from the reign of Sheshonk
I (XXIInd dynasty, B.C. 980) to that of Tirhakah, the last
king of the XXVth dynasty, is more systematically planned,
and consists of one long tunnel bordered on each side by a
row of funereal chambers. The third belongs to the Greek
period, beginning with Psammetichus I (XXVIth dynasty, B.C.
665) and ending with the latest Ptolemies. Of these, the first
are again choked with sand; the second are considered unsafe;
and the third only is accessible to travellers.
After a short but toilsome walk, and some delay outside a
prison-like door at the bottom of a steep descent, we were
admitted by the guardian—a gaunt old Arab with a lantern
in his hand. It was not an inviting looking place within.
The outer daylight fell upon a rough step or two, beyond which
all was dark. We went in. A hot, heavy atmosphere met us
on the threshold; the door fell to with a dull clang, the echoes
of which went wandering away as if into the central recesses of
the earth; the Arab chattered and gesticulated. He was
telling us that we were now in the great vestibule, and that it
measured ever so many feet in this and that direction; but we
could see nothing—neither the vaulted roof overhead, nor the
walls on any side, nor even the ground beneath our feet. It
was like the darkness of infinite space.
A lighted candle was then given to each person, and the

Arab led the way. He went dreadfully fast, and it seemed at
every step as if one were on the brink of some frightful chasm.
Gradually, however, our eyes became accustomed to the gloom,
and we found that we had passed out of the vestibule into the
first great corridor. All was vague, mysterious, shadowy. A
dim perspective loomed out of the darkness. The lights
twinkled and flitted, like wandering sparks of stars. The Arab
held his lantern to the walls here and there, and showed us
some votive tablets inscribed with records of pious visits paid
by devout Egyptians to the sacred tombs. Of these they
found five hundred when the catacombs were first opened;
but Mariette sent nearly all to the Louvre.
A few steps farther, and we came to the tombs—a succession
of great vaulted chambers hewn out at irregular distances
along both sides of the central corridor, and sunk some six or
eight feet below the surface. In the middle of each chamber
stood an enormous sarcophagus of polished granite. The Arab,
flitting on ahead like a black ghost, paused a moment before
each cavernous opening, flashed the light of his lantern on the
sarcophagus, and sped away again, leaving us to follow as we
So we went on, going every moment deeper into the solid
rock, and farther from the open air and the sunshine. Thinking
it would be cold underground, we had brought warm wraps in
plenty; but the heat, on the contrary, was intense, and the
atmosphere stifling. We had not calculated on the dryness of
the place, nor had we remembered that ordinary mines and
tunnels are cold because they are damp. But here for incalculable
ages—for thousands of years probably before the Nile
had even cut its path through the rocks of Silsilis—a cloudless
African sun had been pouring its daily floods of light and heat
upon the dewless desert overhead. The place might well be
unendurable. It was like a great oven stored with the slowly
accumulated heat of cycles so remote, and so many, that the
earliest periods of Egyptian history seem, when compared with
them, to belong to yesterday.
Having gone on thus for a distance of nearly two hundred
yards, we came to a chamber containing the first hieroglyphed
sarcophagus we had yet seen; all the rest being polished, but

plain. Here the Arab paused; and finding access provided
by means of a flight of wooden steps, we went down into the
chamber, walked round the sarcophagus, peeped inside by the
help of a ladder, and examined the hieroglyphs with which it
is covered. Enormous as they look from above, one can form
no idea of the bulk of these huge monolithic masses except from
the level on which they stand. This sarcophagus, which dates
from the reign of Amasis, of the XXVIth dynasty, measured
fourteen feet in length by eleven in height, and consisted of a
single block of highly-wrought black granite. Four persons
might sit in it round a small card-table, and play a rubber
From this point the corridor branches off for another two
hundred yards or so, leading always to more chambers and
more sarcophagi, of which last there are altogether twenty-four.
Three only are inscribed; none measure less than from thirteen
to fourteen feet in length; and all are empty. The lids in
every instance have been pushed back a little way, and some
are fractured; but the spoilers have been unable wholly to
remove them. According to Mariette, the place was pillaged
by the early Christians, who, besides carrying off whatever they
could find in the way of gold and jewels, seem to have destroyed
the mummies of the bulls, and razed the great Temple nearly
to the ground. Fortunately, however, they either overlooked,
or left as worthless, some hundreds of exquisite bronzes and
the five hundred votive tablets before mentioned, which, as they
record not only the name and rank of the visitor, but also, with
few exceptions, the name and year of the reigning Pharaoh,
afford invaluable historical data, and are likely to do more than
any previously discovered documents towards clearing up disputed
points of Egyptian chronology.
It is a curious fact that one out of the three inscribed
sarcophagi should bear the oval of Cambyses—that Cambyses
of whom it is related that, having desired the priests of Memphis
to bring before him the God Apis, he drew his dagger in a
transport of rage and contempt, and stabbed the animal in the
thigh. According to Plutarch, he slew the beast and cast out
its body to the dogs; according to Herodotus, “Apis lay some
time pining in the temple, but at last died of his wound, and

the priests buried him secretly;” but according to one of these
precious Serapeum tablets, the wounded bull did not die till
the fourth year of the reign of Darius. So wonderfully does
modern discovery correct and illustrate tradition.
And now comes the sequel to this ancient story in the
shape of an anecdote related by M. About, who tells how
Mariette, being recalled suddenly to Paris some months after the
opening of the Serapeum, found himself without the means of
carrying away all his newly-excavated antiquities, and so buried
fourteen cases in the desert, there to await his return. One of
these cases contained an Apis mummy which had escaped discovery
by the early Christians; and this mummy was that of
the identical Apis stabbed by Cambyses. That the creature
had actually survived his wound was proved by the condition
of one of the thigh-bones, which showed unmistakable signs of
both injury and healing.
Nor does the story end here. Mariette being gone, and
having taken with him all that was most portable among his
treasures, there came to Memphis one whom M. About indicates
as “a young and august stranger” travelling in Egypt for his
pleasure. The Arabs, tempted perhaps by a princely bakhshîsh,
revealed the secret of the hidden cases; whereupon the
Archduke swept off the whole fourteen, despatched them to
Alexandria, and immediately shipped them for Trieste.1
“Quant au coupable,” says M. About, who professes to have
had the story direct from Mariette, “il a fini si tragiquement
dans un autre hemisphère que, tout bien pesé, je renonce à
publier son nom.” But through so transparent a disguise it is
not difficult to identify the unfortunate hero of this curious
The sarcophagus in which the Apis was found remains in
the vaults of the Serapeum; but we did not see it. Having
come more than two hundred yards already, and being by this
time wellnigh suffocated, we did not care to put two hundred
yards more between ourselves and the light of day. So we
turned back at the half distance—having, however, first burned
a pan of magnesian powder, which flared up wildly for a few
1 These objects, known as “The Miramar Collection,” and catalogued by
Professor Reinisch, are now removed to Vienna. [Note to Second Edition.]

seconds; lit the huge gallery and all its cavernous recesses and
the wondering faces of the Arabs; and then went out with a
plunge, leaving the darkness denser than before.
From hence, across a farther space of sand, we went in all
the blaze of noon to the tomb of one Ti, a priest and commoner
of the Fifth Dynasty, who married with a lady named Nefer-hetep-s,
the granddaughter of a Pharaoh, and here built himself
a magnificent tomb in the desert.
Of the façade of this tomb, which must originally have
looked like a little temple, only two large pillars remain. Next
comes a square courtyard surrounded by a roofless colonnade,
from one corner of which a covered passage leads to two
chambers. In the centre of the courtyard yawns an open pit
some twenty-five feet in depth, with a shattered sarcophagus
just visible in the gloom of the vault below. All here is
limestone—walls, pillars, pavements, even the excavated débris
with which the pit had been filled in when the vault was closed
for ever. The quality of this limestone is close and fine like
marble, and so white that, although the walls and columns of
the courtyard are covered with sculptures of most exquisite
execution and of the greatest interest, the reflected light is so
intolerable, that we find it impossible to examine them with
the interest they deserve. In the passage, however, where
there is shade, and in the large chamber, where it is so dark
that we can see only by the help of lighted candles, we find a
succession of bas-reliefs so numerous and so closely packed
that it would take half a day to see them properly. Ranged
in horizontal parallel lines about a foot and a half in depth,
these extraordinary pictures, row above row, cover every inch
of wall-space from floor to ceiling. The relief is singularly low.
I should doubt if it anywhere exceeds a quarter of an inch.
The surface, which is covered with a thin film of very fine
cement, has a quality and polish like ivory. The figures
measure an average height of about twelve inches, and all are
Here, as in an open book, we have the biography of Ti
His whole life, his pleasures, his business, his domestic relations,
are brought before us with just that faithful simplicity which
makes the charm of Montaigne and Pepys. A child might

read the pictured chronicles which illuminate these walls, and
take as keen a pleasure in them as the wisest of archaeologists.
Ti was a wealthy man, and his wealth was of the agricultural
sort. He owned flocks and herds and vassals in
plenty. He kept many kinds of birds and beasts—geese,
ducks, pigeons, cranes, oxen, goats, asses, antelopes, and
gazelles. He was fond of fishing and fowling, and used sometimes
to go after crocodiles and hippopotamuses, which came
down as low as Memphis in his time. He was a kind husband
too, and a good father, and loved to share his pleasures with
his family. Here we see him sitting in state with his wife and
children, while professional singers and dancers perform before
them. Yonder they walk out together and look on while the
farm-servants are at work, and watch the coming in of the
boats that bring home the produce of Ti's more distant lands.
Here the geese are being driven home; the cows are crossing
a ford; the oxen are ploughing; the sower is scattering his
seed; the reaper plies his sickle; the oxen tread the grain;
the corn is stored in the granary. There are evidently no
independent tradesfolk in these early days of the world. Ti
has his own artificers on his own estate, and all his goods and
chattels are home-made. Here the carpenters are fashioning
new furniture for the house; the shipwrights are busy on new
boats; the potters mould pots; the metal-workers smelt
ingots of red gold. It is plain to see that Ti lived like a king
within his own boundaries. He makes an imposing figure, too,
in all these scenes, and, being represented about eight times as
large as his servants, sits and stands a giant among pigmies.
His wife (we must not forget that she was of the blood royal)
is as big as himself; and the children are depicted about half
the size of their parents. Curiously enough, Egyptian art never
outgrew this early naïveté. The great man remained a big
man to the last days of the Ptolemies, and the fellah was
always a dwarf.1
1 A more exhaustive study of the funerary texts has of late revolutionised
our interpretation of these, and similar sepulchral tableaux. The scenes
they represent are not, as was supposed when this book was first written,
mere episodes in the daily life of the deceased; but are links in the elaborate
story of his burial and his ghostly existence after death. The corn
is sown, reaped, and gathered in order that it may be ground and made
into funerary cakes; the oxen, goats, gazelles, geese, and other live stock
are destined for sacrificial offerings; the pots, and furniture, and household
goods are for burying with the mummy in his tomb; and it is his “Ka,”
or ghostly double, that takes part in these various scenes, and not the
living man. [Note to Second Edition.]


Apart from these and one or two other mannerisms,
nothing can be more natural than the drawing, or more
spirited than the action, of all these men and animals. The
most difficult and transitory movements are expressed with
masterly certitude. The donkey kicks up his heels and brays
—the crocodile plunges—the wild duck rises on the wing;
and the fleeting action is caught in each instance with a truth
fulness that no Landseer could distance. The forms, which
have none of the conventional stiffness of later Egyptian work,
are modelled roundly and boldly, yet finished with exquisite
precision and delicacy. The colouring, however, is purely
decorative; and being laid on in single tints, with no attempt
at gradation or shading, conceals rather than enhances the
beauty of the sculptures. These, indeed, are best seen where
the colour is entirely rubbed off. The tints are yet quite
brilliant in parts of the larger chamber; but in the passage and
courtyard, which have been excavated only a few years and
are with difficulty kept clear from day to day, there is not a
vestige of colour left. This is the work of the sand—that
patient labourer whose office it is not only to preserve but to
destroy. The sand secretes and preserves the work of the
sculptor, but it effaces the work of the painter. In sheltered
places where it accumulates passively like a snow-drift, it brings
away only the surface-detail, leaving the under colours rubbed
and dim. But nothing, as I had occasion constantly to remark
in the course of the journey, removes colour so effectually as
sand which is exposed to the shifting action of the wind.
This tomb, as we have seen, consists of a portico, a court-yard,
two chambers, and a sepulchral vault; but it also contains
a secret passage of the kind known as a “serdab.” These
“serdabs,” which are constructed in the thickness of the walls
and have no entrances, seem to be peculiar to tombs of the
Ancient Empire (i.e. the period of the Pyramid Kings); and

they contain statues of the deceased of all sizes, in wood,
limestone, and granite. Twenty statues of Ti were here found
immured in the serdab of his tomb, all broken save one—a
spirited figure in limestone, standing about seven feet high,


and now in the museum at Boulak. This
statue represents a fine young man in a white
tunic, and is evidently a portrait. The
features are regular; the expression is good-natured;
the whole tournure of the head is
more Greek than Egyptian. The flesh is
painted of a yellowish brick tint, and the
figure stands in the usual hieratic attitude,
with the left leg advanced, the hands clenched,
and the arms straightened close to the sides. One seems to
know Ti so well after seeing the wonderful pictures in his tomb,
that this charming statue interests one like the portrait of a
familiar friend.1
How pleasant it was, after being suffocated in the Serapeum
and broiled in the tomb of Ti, to return to Mariette's deserted
house, and eat our luncheon on the cool stone terrace that
looks northward over the desert! Some wooden tables and
benches are hospitably left here for the accommodation of
travellers, and fresh water in ice-cold kullehs is provided by the
old Arab guardian. The yards and offices at the back are
full of broken statues and fragments of inscriptions in red and
black granite. Two sphinxes from the famous avenue adorn
the terrace, and look down upon their half-buried companions
in the sand-hollow below. The yellow desert, barren and
undulating, with a line of purple peaks on the horizon, reaches
away into the far distance. To the right, under a jutting
ridge of rocky plateau not two hundred yards from the house,
yawns an open-mouthed black-looking cavern shored up with
heavy beams and approached by a slope of débris. This is
1 These statues were not mere portrait-statues; but were designed as
bodily habitations for the incorporeal ghost, or “Ka,” which it was supposed
needed a body, food, and drink, and must perish everlastingly if not duly
supplied with these necessaries. Hence the whole system of burying food-offerings,
furniture, stuffs, etc., in ancient Egyptian sepulchres. [Note to
Second Edition.]

the forced entrance to the earlier vaults of the Serapeum, in
one of which was found a mummy described by Mariette as
that of an Apis, but pronounced by Brugsch to be the body of
Prince Kha-em-uas, governor of Memphis and the favourite
son of Rameses the Great.
This remarkable mummy, which looked as much like a bull
as a man, was found covered with jewels and gold chains
and precious amulets engraved with the name of Kha-em-uas,
and had on its face a golden mask; all which treasures are now
to be seen in the Louvre. If it was the mummy of an Apis,
then the jewels with which it was adorned were probably
the offering of the prince at that time ruling in Memphis. If,
on the contrary, it was the mummy of a man, then, in order to
be buried in a place of peculiar sanctity, he probably usurped
one of the vaults prepared for the god. The question is a
curious one, and remains unsolved to this day; but it could no
doubt be settled at a glance by Professor Owen.1
Far more startling, however, than the discovery of either
Apis or jewels, was the sight beheld by Mariette on first entering
that long-closed sepulchral chamber. The mine being
sprung and the opening cleared, he went in alone; and there,
on the thin layer of sand that covered the floor, he found the
footprints of the workmen who, 3700 years2 before, had laid
that shapeless mummy in its tomb and closed the doors upon
it, as they believed, for ever.
And now—for the afternoon is already waning fast—the
donkeys are brought round, and we are told that it is time to
move on. We have the site of Memphis and the famous
prostrate colossus yet to see, and the long road lies all before
us. So back we ride across the desolate sands; and with a
last, long, wistful glance at the pyramid in platforms, go down
from the territory of the dead into the land of the living.
There is a wonderful fascination about this pyramid. One
is never weary of looking at it—of repeating to one's self that
it is indeed the oldest building on the face of the whole earth.
1 The actual tomb of Prince Kha-em-uas has been found at Memphis
by M. Maspero, within the last three or four years. [Note to Second
2 The date is Mariette's.

The king who erected it came to the throne, according to
Manetho, about eighty years after the death of Mena, the
founder of the Egyptian monarchy. All we have of him is his
pyramid; all we know of him is his name. And these belong,
as it were, to the infancy of the human race. In dealing with
Egyptian dates, one is apt to think lightly of periods that count
only by centuries; but it is a habit of mind which leads to
error, and it should be combated. The present writer found it
useful to be constantly comparing relative chronological eras; as,
for instance, in realising the immense antiquity of the Sakkârah
pyramid, it is some help to remember that from the time when
it was built by King Ouenephes to the time when King Khufu
erected the great Pyramid of Ghîzeh, there probably lies a
space of years equivalent to that which, in the history of England,
extends from the date of the Conquest to the accession of
George the Second.1 And yet Khufu himself—the Cheops of
the Greek historians—is but a shadowy figure hovering upon
the threshold of Egyptian history.
And now the desert is left behind, and we are nearing the
palms that lead to Memphis. We have of course been dipping
into Herodotus—every one takes Herodotus up the Nile—and
our heads are full of the ancient glories of this famous city.
We know that Mena turned the course of the river in order to
build it on this very spot, and that all the most illustrious
Pharaohs adorned it with temples, palaces, pylons, and precious
sculptures. We had read of the great Temple of Ptah that
Rameses the Great enriched with colossi of himself; and of
the sanctuary where Apis lived in state, taking his exercise in
a pillared courtyard where every column was a statue; and of
the artificial lake, and the sacred groves, and the obelisks, and
all the wonders of a city which even in its later days was one
of the most populous in Egypt.
1 There was no worship of Apis in the days of King Ouenephes, nor,
indeed, until the reign of Kaiechos, more than one hundred and twenty
years after his time. But at some subsequent period of the Ancient Empire,
his pyramid was appropriated by the priests of Memphis for the mummies
of the Sacred Bulls. This, of course, was done before any of the known
Apis-catacombs were excavated. There are doubtless many more of these
catacombs yet undiscovered, nothing prior to the XVIIIth Dynasty having
yet been found.


Thinking over these things by the way, we agree that it is
well to have left Memphis till the last. We shall appreciate it
the better for having first seen that other city on the edge of the
desert to which, for nearly six thousand years, all Memphis
was quietly migrating, generation after generation. We know
now how poor folk laboured, and how great gentlemen amused
themselves, in those early days when there were hundreds of
country gentlemen like Ti, with town-houses at Memphis and
villas by the Nile. From the Serapeum, too, buried and
ruined as it is, one cannot but come away with a profound
impression of the splendour and power of a religion which could
command for its myths such faith, such homage, and such
public works.
And now we are once more in the midst of the palm-woods,
threading our way among the same mounds that we passed in
the morning. Presently those in front strike away from the
beaten road across a grassy flat to the right; and the next
moment we are all gathered round the brink of a muddy pool
in the midst of which lies a shapeless block of blackened and
corroded limestone. This, it seems, is the famous prostrate
colossus of Rameses the Great, which belongs to the British
nation, but which the British Government is too economical to
remove.1 So here it lies, face downward; drowned once a
year by the Nile; visible only when the pools left by the
inundation have evaporated, and all the muddy hollows are
dried up. It is one of two which stood at the entrance to the
great Temple of Ptah; and by those who have gone down into
the hollow and seen it from below in the dry season, it is
reported of as a noble and very beautiful specimen of one of
the best periods of Egyptian art.
Where, however, is the companion colossus? Where is
the Temple itself? Where are the pylons, the obelisks, the
avenues of sphinxes? Where, in short, is Memphis?
The dragoman shrugs his shoulders and points to the
barren mounds among the palms.
They look like gigantic dust-heaps, and stand from thirty
to forty feet above the plain. Nothing grows upon them, save
1 This colossus is now raised upon a brick pedestal. [Note to Second

here and there a tuft of stunted palm; and their substance
seems to consist chiefly of crumbled brick, broken potsherds,
and fragments of limestone. Some few traces of brick foundations
and an occasional block or two of shaped stone are to be
seen in places low down against the foot of one or two of the
mounds; but one looks in vain for any sign which might
indicate the outline of a boundary wall, or the position of a
great public building.
And is this all?
No—not quite all. There are some mud-huts yonder, in
among the trees; and in front of one of these we find a
number of sculptured fragments—battered sphinxes, torsos
without legs, sitting figures without heads—in green, black,
and red granite. Ranged in an irregular semicircle on the
sward, they seem to sit in forlorn conclave, half solemn, half
ludicrous, with the goats browsing round, and the little Arab
children hiding behind them.
Near this, in another pool, lies another red granite colossus
—not the fellow to that which we saw first, but a smaller one
—also face downwards.
And this is all that remains of Memphis, eldest of cities—a
few huge rubbish-heaps, a dozen or so of broken statues, and a
name! One looks round, and tries in vain to realise the lost
splendours of the place. Where is the Memphis that King
Mena came from Thinis to found—the Memphis of Ouenephes,
and Khufu, and Khafra, and all the early kings who built
their pyramid-tombs in the adjacent desert? Where is the
Memphis of Herodotus, of Strabo, of ‘Abd-el-Latîf? Where
are those stately ruins which, even in the middle ages, extended
over a space estimated at “half a day's journey in every direction”?
One can hardly believe that a great city ever flourished
on this spot, or understand how it should have been effaced
so utterly. Yet here it stood—here where the grass is green,
and the palms are growing, and the Arabs build their hovels
on the verge of the inundation. The great colossus marks the
site of the main entrance to the Temple of Ptah. It lies where
it fell, and no man has moved it. That tranquil sheet of
palm-fringed back-water, beyond which we see the village of
Mitrâhîneh and catch a distant glimpse of the pyramids of

Ghîzeh, occupies the basin of a vast artificial lake excavated
by Mena. The very name of Memphis survives in the dialect
of the fellah, who calls the place of the mounds Tell Monf1
just as Sakkârah fossilises the name of Sokari, one of the special
denominations of the Memphite Osiris.
No capital in the world dates so far back as this, or kept its
place in history so long. Founded four thousand years before
our era, it beheld the rise and fall of thirty-one dynasties; it
survived the rule of the Persian, the Greek, and the Roman; it
was, even in its decadence, second only to Alexandria in population
and extent; and it continued to be inhabited up to the
time of the Arab invasion. It then became the quarry from
which Fostât (Old Cairo) was built; and as the new city rose
on the eastern bank, the people of Memphis quickly abandoned
their ancient capital to desolation and decay.
Still a vast field of ruins remained. ‘Abd-el-Latîf, writing
at the commencement of the thirteenth century, speaks with
enthusiasm of the colossal statues and lions, the enormous
pedestals, the archways formed of only three stones, the basreliefs
and other wonders that were yet to be seen upon the
spot. Marco Polo, if his wandering tastes had led him to the
Nile,-might have found some of the palaces and temples of
Memphis still standing; and Sandys, who in A.D. 1610 went
at least as far south of Cairo as Kafr el Iyat, says that “up the
River for twenty miles space there was nothing but ruines.”
Since then, however, the very “ruines” have vanished; the
palms have had time to grow; and modern Cairo has doubtless
absorbed all the building material that remained from the
middle ages.
Memphis is a place to read about, and think about, and
remember; but it is a disappointing place to see. To miss it,
however, would be to miss the first link in the whole chain of
monumental history which unites the Egypt of antiquity with
the world of to-day. Those melancholy mounds and that
heron-haunted lake must be seen, if only that they may take
their due place in the picture-gallery of one’s memory.
1 Tell: Arabic for Mound. Many of these mounds preserve the
ancient names of the cities they entomb; as Tell Basta (Bubastis); Kóm
Ombo (Ombos); etc. etc. Tell and Kóm are synonymous terms.


It had been a long day's work, but it came to an end at
last; and as we trotted our donkeys back towards the river, a
gorgeous sunset was crimsoning-the palms and pigeon-towers
of Bedreshayn. Everything seemed now to be at rest. A
buffalo, contemplatively chewing the cud, lay close against the
path and looked at us without moving. The children and
pigeons were gone to bed. The pots had baked in the sun and
been taken in long since. A tiny column of smoke went up
here and there from amid the clustered huts; but there was
scarcely a moving creature to be seen. Presently we passed a
tall, beautiful fellah woman standing grandly by the wayside,
with her veil thrown back and falling in long folds to her feet.
She smiled, put out her hand, and murmured “Bakhshîsh!”
Her fingers were covered with rings, and her arms with silver
bracelets. She begged because to beg is honourable, and
customary, and a matter of inveterate habit; but she evidently
neither expected nor needed the bakhshîsh she condescended
to ask for.
A few moments more and the sunset has faded, the village
is left behind, the last half-mile of plain is trotted over. And
now—hungry, thirsty, dusty, worn out with new knowledge,
new impressions, new ideas—we are once more at home and at


[Back to top]



IT is the rule of the Nile to hurry up the river as fast as
possible, leaving the ruins to be seen as the boat comes back
with the current; but this, like many another canon, is by no
means of universal application. The traveller who starts late
in the season has, indeed, no other course open to him. He
must press on with speed to the end of his journey, if he would
get back again at low Nile without being irretrievably stuck on
a sand-bank till the next inundation floats him off again. But
for those who desire not only to see the monuments, but to
follow, however superficially, the course of Egyptian history as
it is handed down through Egyptian art, it is above all things
necessary to start early and to see many things by the way.
For the history of ancient Egypt goes against the stream.
The earliest monuments lie between Cairo and Siout, while the
latest temples to the old gods are chiefly found in Nubia.
Those travellers, therefore, who hurry blindly forward with or
without a wind, now sailing, now tracking, now punting, passing
this place by night, and that by day, and never resting till they
have gained the farthest point of their journey, begin at the
wrong end and see all their sights in precisely inverse order.
Memphis and Sakkârah and the tombs of Beni Hassan should
undoubtedly be visited on the way up. So should El Kâb
and Tell el Amarna, and the oldest parts of Karnak and Luxor.
It is not necessary to delay long at any of these places. They
may be seen cursorily on the way up, and be more carefully
studied on the way down; but they should be seen as they

come, no matter at what trifling cost of present delay, and
despite any amount of ignorant opposition. For in this way
only is it possible to trace the progression and retrogression of
the arts from the pyramid-builders to the Caesars; or to understand
at the time, and on the spot, in what order that vast
and august procession of dynasties swept across the stage of
For ourselves, as will presently be seen, it happened that we
could carry only a part of this programme into effect; but that
part, happily, was the most important. We never ceased to
congratulate ourselves on having made acquaintance with the
Pyramids of Ghîzeh and Sakkârah before seeing the tombs of
the kings at Thebes; and I feel that it is impossible to overestimate
the advantage of studying the sculptures of the tomb
of Ti before one's taste is brought into contact with the debased
style of Denderah and Esneh. We began the Great Book, in
short, as it always should be begun—at its first page; thereby
acquiring just that necessary insight without which many an
after-chapter must have lost more than half its interest.
If I seem to insist upon this point, it is because things contrary
to custom need a certain amount of insistance, and are
sure to be met by opposition. No dragoman, for example,
could be made to understand the importance of historical
sequence in a matter of this kind; especially in the case of a
contract trip. To him, Khufu, Rameses, and the Ptolemies are
one. As for the monuments, they are all ancient Egyptian,
and one is just as odd and unintelligible as another. He cannot
quite understand why travellers come so far and spend so
much money to look at them; but he sets it down to a habit
of harmless curiosity—by which he profits.
The truth is, however, that the mere sight-seeing of the Nile
demands some little reading and organising, if only to be
enjoyed. We cannot all be profoundly learned; but we can
at least do our best to understand what we see—to get rid of
obstacles—to put the right thing in the right place. For the
land of Egypt is, as I have said, a Great Book—not very easy
reading, perhaps, under any circumstances; but at all events
quite difficult enough already without the added puzzlement of
being read backwards.


And now our next point along the river, as well as our next
link in the chain of early monuments, was Beni Hassan, with its
famous rock-cut tombs of the XIIth dynasty; and Beni
Hassan was still more than a hundred and forty-five miles distant.
We ought to have gone on again directly—to have
weighed anchor and made a few miles that very evening on
returning to the boats; but we insisted on a second day in the
same place. This, too, with the favourable wind still blowing.
It was against all rule and precedent. The captain shook his
head, the dragoman remonstrated, in vain.
“You will come to learn the value of a wind, when you
have been longer on the Nile,” said the latter, with that air of
melancholy resignation which he always assumed when not
allowed to have his own way. He was an indolent good-tempered
man, spoke English fairly well, and was perfectly
manageable; but that air of resignation came to be aggravating
in time.
The M. B.'s being of the same mind, however, we had our
second day, and spent it at Memphis. We ought to have
crossed over to Turra, and have seen the great quarries from
which the casing-stones of the Pyramids came, and all the finer
limestone with which the temples and palaces of Memphis
were built. But the whole mountain-side seemed as if glowing
at a white heat on the opposite side of the river, and we said
we would put off Turra till our return. So we went our own
way; and Alfred shot pigeons; and the Writer sketched
Mitrâhîneh, and the palms, and the sacred lake of Mena; and
the rest grubbed among the mounds for treasure, finding many
curious fragments of glass and pottery, and part of an engraved
bronze Apis; and we had a green, tranquil, lovely day, barren
of incident, but very pleasant to remember.
The good wind continued to blow all that night; but fell
at sunrise, precisely when we were about to start. The river
now stretched away before us, smooth as glass, and there was
nothing for it, said Reïs Hassan, but tracking. We had heard
of tracking often enough since coming to Egypt, but without
having any definite idea of the process. Coming on deck,
however, before breakfast, we found nine of our poor fellows
harnessed to a rope like barge-horses, towing the huge boat

against the current. Seven of the M. B.'s crew, similarly
harnessed, followed at a few yards' distance. The two ropes
met and crossed and dipped into the water together. Already
our last night's mooring-place was out of sight, and the
Pyramid of Ouenephes stood up amid its lesser brethren on
the edge of the desert, as if bidding us good-bye. But the
sight of the trackers jarred, somehow, with the placid beauty
of the picture. We got used to it, as one gets used to every-thing,
in time; but it looked like slaves' work, and shocked our
English notions disagreeably.
That morning, still tracking, we pass the Pyramids of
Dahshûr. A dilapidated brick pyramid standing in the midst
of them looks like an aiguille of black rock thrusting itself up
through the limestone bed of the desert. Palms line the bank
and intercept the view; but we catch flitting glimpses here and
there, looking out especially for that dome-like pyramid which
we observed the other day from Sakkârah. Seen in the full
sunlight, it looks larger and whiter, and more than ever like
the roof of the old Palais de Justice far away in Paris.
Thus the morning passes. We sit on deck writing letters;
reading; watching the sunny river-side pictures that glide by
at a foot's pace and are so long in sight. Palm-groves, sand-banks,
patches of fuzzy-headed dura1 and fields of some yellow-flowering
herb, succeed each other. A boy plods along the
bank, leading a camel. They go slowly; but they soon leave
us behind. A native boat meets us, floating down side-wise
with the current. A girl comes to the water's edge with a
great empty jar on her head, and waits to fill it till the trackers
have gone by. The pigeon-towers of a mud-village peep above
a clump of lebbek trees, a quarter of a mile inland. Here a
solitary brown man, with only a felt skull-cap on his head and
a slip of scanty tunic fastened about his loins, works a shâdúf,2
1 Sorghum vulgare.
2 The Shâdûf has been so well described by the Rev. F. B. Zincke,
that I cannot do better than quote him verbatim:—” Mechanically, the
Shadoof is an application of the lever. In no machine which the wit of
man, aided by the accumulation of science, has since invented, is the
result produced so great in proportion to the degree of power employed.
The level of the Shadoof is a long stout pole poised on a prop. The pole
is at right angles to the river. A large lump of clay from the spot is
appended to the inland end. To the river end is suspended a goat-skin
bucket. This is the whole apparatus. The man who is working it stands
on the edge of the river. Before him is a hole full of water fed from the
passing stream. When working the machine, he takes hold of the cord by
which the empty bucket is suspended, and bending down, by the mere
weight of his shoulders dips it in the water. His effort to rise gives the
bucket full of water an upward cant, which, with the aid of the equipoising
lump of clay at the other end of the pole, lifts it to a trough into which, as
it tilts on one side, it empties its contents. What he has done has raised
the water six or seven feet above the level of the river. But if the river
has subsided twelve or fourteen feet, it will require another Shadoof to be
worked in the trough into which the water of the first has been brought.
If the river has sunk still more, a third will be required before it can be
lifted to the top of the bank, so as to enable it to flow off to the fields that
require irrigation.” Egypt of the Pharaohs and the Khedive, p. 445 et seq.

stooping and rising, stooping and rising, with the regularity of
a pendulum. It is the same machine which we shall see by
and by depicted in the tombs at Thebes; and the man is so


evidently an ancient Egyptian, that we find ourselves wondering
how he escaped being mummified four or five thousand
years ago.


By and by, a little breeze springs up. The men drop the
rope and jump on board—the big sail is set—the breeze
freshens—and away we go again, as merrily as the day we left'
Cairo. Towards sunset we see a strange object, like a giant
obelisk broken off half-way, standing up on the western bank
against an orange-gold sky. This is the Pyramid of Meydûm,
commonly called the False Pyramid. It looks quite near the
bank; but this is an effect of powerful light and shadow, for it
lies back at least four miles from the river. That night, having
sailed on till past nine o'clock, we moor about a mile from
Beni Suêf, and learn with some surprise that a man must be
despatched to the governor of the town for guards. Not that
anything ever happened to anybody at Beni Suêf, says
Talhamy; but that the place is supposed not to have a first-rate
reputation. If we have guards, we at all events make the
governor responsible for our safety and the safety of our possessions.
So the guards are sent for; and being posted on the
bank, snore loudly all night long, just outside our windows.
Meanwhile the wind shifts round to the south, and next
morning it blows full in our faces. The men, however, track
up to Beni Suêf to a point where the buildings come down to
the water's edge and the towing-path ceases; and there we
lay-to for awhile among a fleet of filthy native boats, close to
the landing-place.
The approach to Beni Suêf is rather pretty. The Khedive
has an Italian-looking villa here, which peeps up white and
dazzling from the midst of a thickly-wooded park. The town
lies back a little from the river. A few coffee-houses and a
kind of promenade face the landing-place; and a mosque built
to the verge of the bank stands out picturesquely against the
bend of the river.
And now it is our object to turn that corner, so as to get
into a better position for starting when the wind drops. The

current here runs deep and strong, so that we have both wind
and water dead against us. Half our men clamber round
the corner like cats, carrying the rope with them; the rest keep
the dahabeeyah off the bank with punting poles. The rope
strains—a pole breaks—we struggle forward a few feet, and
can get no farther. Then the men rest awhile; try again;
and are again defeated. So the fight goes on. The promenade
and the windows of the mosque become gradually crowded
with lookers-on. Some three or four cloaked and bearded men
have chairs brought, and sit gravely smoking their chibouques
on the bank above, enjoying the entertainment. Meanwhile
the water-carriers come and go, filling their goat-skins at the
landing-place; donkeys and camels are brought down to drink;
girls in dark blue gowns and coarse black veils come with
huge water-jars laid sidewise upon their heads, and, having
filled and replaced them upright, walk away with stately steps,
as if each ponderous vessel were a crown.
So the day passes. Driven back again and again, but still
resolute, our sailors, by dint of sheer doggedness, get us round
the bad corner at last. The Bagstones follows suit a little
later; and we both moor about a quarter of a mile above the
town. Then follows a night of adventures. Again our guards
sleep profoundly; but the bad characters of Beni Suëf are
very wide awake. One gentleman, actuated no doubt by the
friendliest motives, pays a midnight visit to the Bagstones;
but being detected, chased, and fired at, escapes by jumping
overboard. Our turn comes about two hours later, when the
Writer, happening to be awake, hears a man swim softly round
the Philae. To strike a light and frighten everybody into sudden
activity is the work of a moment. The whole boat is instantly
in an uproar. Lanterns are lighted on deck; a patrol of sailors
is set; Talhamy loads his gun; and the thief slips away in
the dark, like a fish.
The guards, of course, slept sweetly through it all. Honest
fellows! They were paid a shilling a night to do it, and they
had nothing on their minds.
Having lodged a formal complaint next morning against
the inhabitants of the town, we received a visit from a sallow
personage clad in a long black robe and a voluminous white

turban. This was the Chief of the Guards. He smoked a
great many pipes; drank numerous cups of coffee; listened to
all we had to say; looked wise; and finally suggested that the
number of our guards should be doubled.
I ventured to object that if they slept unanimously, forty
would not be of much more use than four. Whereupon he
rose, drew himself to his full height, touched his beard, and
said with a magnificent melodramatic air:—“If they sleep,
they shall be bastinadoed till they die!”
And now our good luck seemed to have deserted us. For
three days and nights the adverse wind continued to blow with
such force that the men could not even track against it.
Moored under that dreary bank, we saw our ten days' start
melting away, and could only make the best of our misfortunes.
Happily the long island close by, and the banks on both sides
of the river, were populous with sand-grouse; so Alfred went
out daily with his faithful George and his unerring gun, and
brought home game in abundance, while we took long walks,
sketched boats and camels, and chaffered with native women
for silver torques and bracelets. These torques (in Arabic
Tók) are tubular but massive, penannular, about as thick as
one's little finger, and finished with a hook at one end and a
twisted loop at the other. The girls would sometimes put
their veils aside and make a show of bargaining; but more
frequently, after standing for a moment with great wondering
black velvety eyes staring shyly into ours, they would take
fright like a troop of startled deer, and vanish with shrill cries,
half of laughter, half of terror.
At Beni Suêf we encountered our first sand-storm. It
came down the river about noon, showing like a yellow fog on
the horizon, and rolling rapidly before the wind. It tore the
river into angry waves, and blotted out the landscape as it
came. The distant hills disappeared first; then the palms
beyond the island; then the boats close by. Another second,
and the air was full of sand. The whole surface of the plain
seemed in motion. The banks rippled. The yellow dust
poured down through every rift and cleft in hundreds of tiny
cataracts. But it was a sight not to be looked upon with
impunity. Hair, eyes, mouth, ears, were instantly filled, and

we were driven to take refuge in the saloon. Here, although
every window and door had been shut before the storm came,
the sand found its way in clouds. Books, papers, carpets, were
covered with it; and it settled again as fast as it was cleared
away. This lasted just one hour, and was followed by a burst
of heavy rain; after which the sky cleared and we had a lovely
afternoon. From this time forth, we saw no more rain in
At length, on the morning of the fourth day after our first
appearance at Beni Suêf and the seventh since leaving Cairo,
the wind veered round again to the north, and we once more
got under way. It was delightful to see the big sail again
towering up overhead, and to hear the swish of the water under
the cabin windows; but we were still one hundred and nine
miles from Rhoda, and we knew that nothing but an extraordinary
run of luck could possibly get us there by the twenty-third
third of the month, with time to see Beni Hassan on the way.
Meanwhile, however, we make fair progress, mooring at sunset
when the wind falls, about three miles north of Bibbeh. Next
day, by help of the same light breeze which again springs up
a little after dawn, we go at a good pace between flat banks
fringed here and there with palms, and studded with villages
more or less picturesque. There is not much to see, and yet
one never wants for amusement. Now we pass an island of
sand-bank covered with snow-white paddy-birds, which rise
tumultuously at our approach. Next comes Bibbeh perched
high along the edge of the precipitous bank, its odd-looking
Coptic Convent roofed all over with little mud domes, like a
cluster of earth-bubbles. By and by we pass a deserted sugar-factory,
with shattered windows and a huge, gaunt, blackened
chimney, worthy of Birmingham or Sheffield. And now we
catch a glimpse of the railway, and hear the last scream of a
departing engine. At night, we moor within sight of the
factory chimneys and hydraulic tubes of Magagha, and next
day get on nearly to Golosanèh, which is the last station-town
before Minieh.
It is now only too clear that we must give up all thought
of pushing on to Beni Hassan before the rest of the party shall
come on board. We have reached the evening of our ninth day;

we are still forty-eight miles from Rhoda; and another adverse
wind might again delay us indefinitely on the way. All risks
taken into account, we decide to put off our meeting till the
twenty-fourth, and transfer the appointment to Minieh; thus
giving ourselves time to track all the way in case of need. So
an Arabic telegram is concocted, and our fleetest runner starts
off with it to Golosanèh before the office closes for the night.
The breeze, however, does not fail, but comes back next
morning with the dawn. Having passed Golosanèh, we come
to a wide reach in the river, at which point we are honoured
by a visit from a Moslem Santon of peculiar sanctity, named


“Holy Sheykh Cotton.” Now
Holy Sheykh Cotton, who is a
well-fed, healthy-looking young
man of about thirty, makes his
first appearance swimming, with
his garments twisted into a huge
turban on the top of his head, and
only his chin above water. Having
made his toilet in the small
boat, he presents himself on deck,
and receives an enthusiastic welcome.
Rei's Hassan hugs him—
the pilot kisses him—the sailors
come up one by one, bringing little
tributes of tobacco and piastres
which he accepts with the air of a
Pope receiving Peter's Pence. All dripping as he is, and smiling
like an affable Triton, he next proceeds to touch the tiller,
the ropes, and the ends of the yards, “in order,” says Talhamy,
“to make them holy;” and then, with some kind of final
charm or muttered incantation, he plunges into the river
again, and swims off to repeat the same performance on board
the Bagstones.
From this moment the prosperity of our voyage is assured.
The captain goes about with a smile on his stern face, and the
crew look as happy as if we had given them a guinea. For
nothing can go wrong with a dahabeeyah that has been “made
holy” by Holy Sheykh Cotton. We are certain now to have

favourable winds—to pass the Cataract without accident—to
come back in health and safety, as we set out. But what, it
may be asked, has Holy Sheykh Cotton done to make his
blessing so efficacious? He gets money in plenty; he fasts
no oftener than other Mohammedans; he has two wives; he
never does a stroke of work; and he looks the picture of sleek
prosperity. Yet he is a saint of the first water; and when he
dies, miracles will be performed at his tomb, and his eldest son
will succeed him in the business.
We had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a good
many saints in the course of our Eastern travels; but I do not
know that we ever found they had done anything to merit the
position. One very horrible old man named Sheykh Saleem
has, it is true, been sitting on a dirt heap near Farshût,
unclothed, unwashed, unshaven, for the last half-century or
more, never even lifting his hand to his mouth to feed himself;
but Sheykh Cotton had gone to no such pious lengths, and was
not even dirty.
We are by this time drawing towards a range of yellow
cliffs that have long been visible on the horizon, and which
figure in the maps as Gebel et Tâyr. The Arabian desert has
been closing up on the eastern bank for some time past, and
now rolls on in undulating drifts to the water's edge. Yellow
boulders crop out here and there above the mounded sand,
which looks as if it might cover many a forgotten temple.
Presently the clay bank is gone, and a low barrier of limestone
rock, black and shiny next the water-line, has taken its place.
And now, a long way ahead, where the river bends and the
level cliffs lead on into the far distance, a little brown speck is
pointed out as the Convent of the Pulley. Perched on the
brink of the precipice, it looks no bigger than an ant-heap.
We had heard much of the fine view to be seen from the platform
on which this Convent is built, and it had originally
entered into our programme as a place to be visited on the
way. But Minieh has to be gained now at all costs; so this
project has to be abandoned with a sigh.
And now the rocky barrier rises higher, quarried here and
there in dazzling gaps of snow-white cuttings. And now the
Convent shows clearer; and the cliffs become loftier; and the

bend in the river is reached; and a long perspective of flat-topped
precipice stretches away into the dim distance.
It is a day of saints and swimmers. As the dahabeeyah
approaches, a brown poll is seen bobbing up and down in the
water a few hundred yards ahead. Then one, two, three bronze
figures dash down a steep ravine below the Convent walls,
and plunge into the river—a shrill chorus of voices, growing
momentarily more audible, is borne upon the wind—and in a
few minutes the boat is beset by a shoal of mendicant monks
vociferating with all their might “Ana Christian ya Hawadji!
Ana Christian ya Hawadji!” (I am a Christian, oh traveller!)
As these are only Coptic monks and not Moslem santons, the
sailors, half in rough play, half in earnest, drive them off with
punting poles; and only one shivering, streaming object,
wrapped in a borrowed blanket, is allowed to come on board.
He is a fine shapely man, aged about forty, with splendid eyes
and teeth, a well-formed head, a skin the colour of a copper
beech-leaf, and a face expressive of such ignorance, timidity,
and half-savage watchfulness as makes one's heart ache.
And this is a Copt; a descendant of the true Egyptian
stock; one of those whose remote ancestors exchanged the
worship of the old gods for Christianity under the rule of
Theodosius some fifteen hundred years ago, and whose blood
is supposed to be purer of Mohammedan intermixture than
any in Egypt. Remembering these things, it is impossible to
look at him without a feeling of profound interest. It may be
only fancy, yet I think I see in him a different type to that of
the Arab—a something, however slight, which recalls the
sculptured figures in the tomb of Ti.
But while we are thinking about his magnificent pedigree,
our poor Copt's teeth are chattering piteously. So we give
him a shilling or two for the sake of all that he represents in
the history of the world; and with these, and the donation of
an empty bottle, he swims away contented, crying again and
again:—“Ketther-kháyrak Sittát! Ketther-kháyrak keter!
(Thank you, ladies! thank you much!”)
And now the Convent with its clustered domes is passed
and left behind. The rock here is of the same rich tawny hue
as at Turra, and the horizontal strata of which it is composed

have evidently been deposited by water. That the Nile must
at some remote time have flowed here at an immensely higher
level seems also probable; for the whole face of the range is
honeycombed and water-worn for miles in succession. Seeing
how these fantastic forms—arched, and clustered, and pendent
—resemble the recessed ornamentation of Saracenic buildings,
I could not help wondering whether some early Arab architect
might not once upon a time have taken a hint from some such
rocks as these.
Thus the day wanes, and the level cliffs keep with us all
the way—now breaking into little lateral valleys and culs-de-sac
in which nestle clusters of tiny huts and green patches of lupin;
now plunging sheer down into the river; now receding inland
and leaving space for a belt of cultivated soil and a fringe of
feathery palms. By and by comes the sunset, when every cast
shadow in the recesses of the cliffs turns to pure violet; and
the face of the rock glows with a ruddier gold; and the palms
on the western bank stand up in solid bronze against a crimson
horizon. Then the sun dips, and instantly the whole range of
cliffs turns to a dead, greenish grey, while the sky above and
behind them is as suddenly suffused with pink. When this
effect has lasted for something like eight minutes, a vast arch
of deep blue shade, about as large in diameter as a rainbow,
creeps slowly up the eastern horizon, and remains distinctly
visible as long as the pink flush against which it is defined yet
lingers in the sky. Finally the flush fades out; the blue
becomes uniform; the stars begin to show; and only a broad
glow in the west marks which way the sun went down. About
a quarter of an hour later comes the after-glow, when for a few
minutes the sky is filled with a soft, magical light, and the
twilight gloom lies warm upon the landscape. When this goes,
it is night; but still one long beam of light streams up in the
track of the sun, and remains visible for more than two hours
after the darkness has closed in.
Such is the sunset we see this evening as we approach
Minieh; and such is the sunset we are destined to see with
scarcely a shade of difference at the same hour and under
precisely the same conditions for many a month to come. It
is very beautiful, very tranquil, full of wonderful light and most

subtle gradations of tone, and attended by certain phenomena
of which I shall have more to say presently; but it lacks the
variety and gorgeousness of our northern skies. Nor, given
the dry atmosphere of Egypt, can it be otherwise. Those
who go up the Nile expecting, as I did, to see magnificent
Turneresque pageants of purple, and flame-colour, and gold,
will be disappointed as I was. For your Turneresque pageant
cannot be achieved without such accessories of cloud and vapour
as in Nubia are wholly unknown, and in Egypt are of the rarest
occurrence. Once, and only once, in the course of an unusually
protracted sojourn on the river, had we the good fortune to
witness a grand display of the kind; and then we had been
nearly three months in the dahabeeyah.
Meanwhile, however, we never weary of these stainless
skies, but find in them, evening after evening, fresh depths of
beauty and repose. As for that strange transfer of colour from
the mountains to the sky, we had repeatedly observed it while
travelling in the Dolomites the year before, and had always
found it take place, as now, at the moment of the sun's first disappearance.
But what of this mighty after-shadow, climbing half
the heavens and bringing night with it? Can it be the rising
Shadow of the World projected on the one horizon as the sun
sinks on the other? I leave the problem for wiser travellers to
solve. We had not science enough amongst us to account for it.
That same evening, just as the twilight came on, we saw
another wonder—the new moon on the first night of her first
quarter; a perfect orb, dusky, distinct, and outlined all round
with a thread of light no thicker than a hair. Nothing could
be more brilliant than this tiny rim of flashing silver; while
every detail of the softly-glowing globe within its compass
was clearly visible. Tycho with its vast crater showed like a
volcano on a raised map; and near the edge of the moon's
surface, where the light and shadow met, keen sparkles of
mountain-summits catching the light and relieved against the
dusk, were to be seen by the naked eye. Two or three evenings
later, however, when the silver ring was changed to a broad
crescent, the unilluminated part was as it were extinguished,
and could no longer be discerned even by help of a glass.
The wind having failed as usual at sunset, the crew set to

work with a will and punted the rest of the way, so bringing
us to Minieh about nine that night. Next morning we found
ourselves moored close under the Khedive's summer palace—
so close that one could have tossed a pebble against the lattice
windows of his Highness's hareem. A fat gate-keeper sat
outside in the sun, smoking his morning chibouque and gossiping
with the passers-by. A narrow promenade scantily planted
with sycamore figs ran between the palace and the river. A
steamer or two, and a crowd of native boats, lay moored under
the bank; and yonder, at the farther end of the promenade, a
minaret and a cluster of whitewashed houses showed which
way one must turn in going to the town.
It chanced to be market-day; so we saw Minieh under its
best aspect, than which nothing could well be more squalid,
dreary, and depressing. It was like a town dropped unexpectedly
into the midst of a ploughed field; the streets being
mere trodden lanes of mud dust, and the houses a succession
of windowless mud prisons with their backs to the thoroughfare.
The Bazaar, which consists of two or three lanes a little wider
than the rest, is roofed over here and there with rotting palm-rafters
and bits of tattered matting; while the market is held
in a space of waste ground outside the town. The former,
with its little cupboard-like shops in which the merchants sit
cross-legged like shabby old idols in shabby old shrines—the
ill - furnished shelves—the familiar Manchester goods—the
gaudy native stuffs—the old red saddles and faded rugs
hanging up for sale—the smart Greek stores where Bass's ale,
claret, curaçoa, Cyprus, Vermouth, cheese, pickles, sardines,
Worcester sauce, blacking, biscuits, preserved meats, candles,
cigars, matches, sugar, salt, stationery, fireworks, jams, and patent
medicines can all be bought at one fell swoop—the native
cook's shop exhaling savoury perfumes of Kebabs and lentil
soup, and presided over by an Abyssinian Soyer blacker than
the blackest historical personage ever was painted—the surging,
elbowing, clamorous crowd—the donkeys, the camels, the
street-cries, the chatter, the dust, the flies, the fleas, and the
dogs, all put us in mind of the poorer quarters of Cairo. In
the market, it is even worse. Here are hundreds of country
folk sitting on the ground behind their baskets of fruits and

vegetables. Some have eggs, butter, and buffalo-cream for
sale, while others sell sugar-canes, limes, cabbages, tobacco,
barley, dried lentils, split beans, maize, wheat, and dura. The
women go to and fro with bouquets of live poultry. The
chickens scream; the sellers rave; the buyers bargain at the
tops of their voices; the dust flies in clouds; the sun pours
down floods of light and heat; you can scarcely hear yourself
speak; and the crowd is as dense as that other crowd which
at this very moment, on this very Christmas Eve, is circulating
among the alleys of Leadenhall Market.
The things were very cheap. A hundred eggs cost about
fourteen-pence in English money; chickens sold for fivepence
each; pigeons from twopence to twopence - halfpenny; and
fine live geese for two shillings a head. The turkeys, however,
which were large and excellent, were priced as high as
three-and-sixpence; being about half as much as one pays in
Middle and Upper Egypt for a lamb. A good sheep may be
bought for sixteen shillings or a pound. The M. B.'s, who had
no dragoman and did their own marketing, were very busy
here, laying in stores of fresh provision, bargaining fluently in
Arabic, and escorted by a bodyguard of sailors.
A solitary dôm palm, the northernmost of its race and the
first specimen one meets with on the Nile, grows in a garden
adjoining this market-place: but we could scarcely see it for
the blinding dust. Now, a dôm palm is just the sort of tree
that De Wint should have painted—odd, angular, with long
forked stems, each of which terminates in a shock-headed
crown of stiff finger-like fronds shading heavy clusters of big
shiny nuts about the size of Jerusalem artichokes. It is, I
suppose, the only nut in the world of which one throws away
the kernel and eats the shell; but the kernel is as hard as
marble, while the shell is fibrous, and tastes like stale gingerbread.
The dôm palm must bifurcate, for bifurcation is the
law of its being; but I could never discover whether there was
any fixed limit to the number of stems into which it might
subdivide. At the same time, I do not remember to have
seen any with less than two heads or more than six.
Coming back through the town, we were accosted by a
withered one-eyed hag like a re-animated mummy, who

offered to tell our fortunes. Before her lay a dirty rag of
handkerchief full of shells, pebbles, and chips of broken glass
and pottery. Squatting toad-like under a sunny bit of wall,
the lower part of her face closely veiled, her skinny arms
covered with blue and green glass bracelets and her fingers
with misshapen silver rings, she hung over these treasures;
shook, mixed, and interrogated them with all the fervour of
divination; and delivered a string of the prophecies usually
forthcoming on these occasions.
“You have a friend far away, and your friend is thinking
of you. There is good fortune in store for you; and money
coming to you; and pleasant news on the way. You will soon
receive letters in which there will be something to vex you,
but more to make you glad. Within thirty days you will
unexpectedly meet one whom you dearly love,” etc. etc. etc.
It was just the old familiar story retold in Arabic, without
even such variations as might have been expected from the
lips of an old fellâha born and bred in a provincial town of
Middle Egypt.
It may be that ophthalmia especially prevailed in this part
of the country, or that being brought unexpectedly into the
midst of a large crowd, one observed the people more narrowly,
but I certainly never saw so many one-eyed human beings as
that morning at Minieh. There must have been present in
the streets and market-place from ten to twelve thousand
natives of all ages, and I believe it is no exaggeration to say
that at least every twentieth person, down to little toddling
children of three and four years of age, was blind of an eye.
Not being a particularly well-favoured race, this defect added
the last touch of repulsiveness to faces already sullen, ignorant,
and unfriendly. A more unprepossessing population I would
never wish to see—the men half stealthy, half insolent; the
women bold and fierce; the children filthy, sickly, stunted, and
stolid. Nothing in provincial Egypt is so painful to witness
as the neglected condition of very young children. Those
belonging to even the better class are for the most part shabbily
clothed and of more than doubtful cleanliness; while the off-spring
of the very poor are simply encrusted with dirt and
sores, and swarming with vermin. It is at first hard to believe

that the parents of these unfortunate babies err, not from
cruelty, but through sheer ignorance and superstition. Yet so
it is; and the time when these people can be brought to comprehend
the most elementary principles of sanitary reform is
yet far distant. To wash young children is injurious to health;
therefore the mothers suffer them to fall into a state of personal
uncleanliness which is alone enough to engender disease. To
brush away the flies that beset their eyes is impious; hence
ophthalmia and various kinds of blindness. I have seen infants
lying in their mothers' arms with six or eight flies in each
eye. I have seen the little helpless hands put down reprovingly,
if they approached the seat of annoyance. I have seen
children of four and five years old with the surface of one or
both eyes eaten away; and others with a large fleshy lump
growing out where the pupil had been destroyed. Taking
these things into account, the wonder is, after all, not that
three children should die in Egypt out of every five—not that
each twentieth person in certain districts should be blind, or
partially blind; but that so many as forty per cent of the
whole infant population should actually live to grow up, and
that ninety-five per cent should enjoy the blessing of sight.
For my own part, I had not been many weeks on the Nile
before I began systematically to avoid going about the native
towns whenever it was practicable to do so. That I may so
have lost an opportunity of now and then seeing more of the
street-life of the people is very probable; but such outside
glimpses are of little real value, and I at all events escaped the
sight of much poverty, sickness, and squalor. The condition
of the inhabitants is not worse, perhaps, in an Egyptian Beled1
than in many an Irish village; but the condition of the children
is so distressing that one would willingly go any number of
miles out of the way rather than witness their suffering, without
the power to alleviate it.2
If the population in and about Minieh are personally
1 Beled—village.
2 Miss Whately, whose evidence on this subject is peculiarly valuable,
states that the' majority of native children die off at, or under, two years of
age (Among the Huts, p. 29); while M. About, who enjoyed unusual
opportunies of inquiring into facts connected with the population and
resources of the country, says that the nation loses three children out of
every five. “L'ignorance publique, I'oubli des premiers éléments d'hygiène,
la mauvaise alimentation, l'absence presque totale des soins médicaux,
tarissent la nation dans sa source. Un peuple qui perd régulièrement
trios enfants sur cinq ne saurait croître sans miracle.”—Le. Fellah, p. 165.

unattractive, their appearance at all events matches their reputation,
which is as bad as that of their neighbours. Of the
manners and customs of Beni Suêf we had already some experience;
while public opinion charges Minieh, Rhoda, and
most of the towns and villages north of Siût, with the like
marauding propensities. As for the villages at the foot of Beni
Hassan, they have been mere dens of thieves for many generations;
and though razed to the ground some years ago by way
of punishment, are now rebuilt, and in as bad odour as ever.
It is necessary, therefore, in all this part of the river, not only
to hire guards at night, but, when the boat is moored, to keep a
sharp look-out against thieves by day. In Upper Egypt it is very
different. There the natives are good-looking, good-natured,
gentle, and kindly; and though clever enough at manufacturing
and selling modern antiquities, are not otherwise dishonest.
That same evening—(it was Christmas Eve)—nearly two
hours earlier than their train was supposed to be due, the rest
of our party arrived at Minieh.


[Back to top]



IT is Christmas Day. The M. B.'s are coming to dinner; the
cooks are up to their eyes in entrées; the crew are treated to
a sheep in honour of the occasion; the new-comers are unpacking;
and we are all gradually settling down into our respective
places. Now, the new-comers consist of four persons:—a
Painter, a Happy Couple, and a maid. The Painter has
already been up the Nile three times, and brings a fund of
experience into the council. He knows all about sandbanks,
and winds, and mooring-places; is acquainted with most of the
native governors and consuls along the river; and is great on
the subject of what to eat, drink, and avoid. The stern-cabin
is given to him for a studio, and contains frames, canvases,
drawing-paper, and easels enough to start a provincial school
of art. He is going to paint a big picture at Aboo-Simbel.
The Happy Couple, it is unnecessary to say, are on their wedding
tour. In point of fact, they have not yet been married a
month. The bridegroom is what the world chooses to call an
idle man; that is to say, he has scholarship, delicate health,
and leisure. The bride, for convenience, shall be called the
Little Lady. Of people who are struggling through that helpless
phase of human life called the honeymoon, it is not fair to
say more than that they are both young enough to make the
situation interesting.
Meanwhile the deck must be cleared of the new luggage
that has come on board, and the day passes in a confusion of
unpacking, arranging, and putting away. Such running to

and fro as there is down below; such turning-out of boxes and
knocking-up of temporary shelves; such talking, and laughing,
and hammering! Nor is the bustle confined to downstairs.
Talhamy and the waiters are just as busy above, adorning the
upper deck with palm-branches and hanging the boat all round
with rows of coloured lanterns. One can hardly believe, however,
that it is Christmas Day—that there are fires blazing at
home in every room; that the church-field, perhaps, is white
with snow; and that the familiar bells are ringing merrily
across the frosty air. Here at midday it is already too hot on
deck without the awning, and when we moor towards sunset
near a riverside village in a grove of palms, the cooler air of
evening is delicious.
There is novelty in even such a commonplace matter as
dining out, on the Nile. You go and return in your felucca,
as if it were a carriage; and your entertainers summon you by
firing a dinner-gun, instead of sounding a gong. Wise people
who respect the feelings of their cooks fire a dressing-gun as
well; for watches soon differ in a hopeless way for want of
the church-clock to set them by, and it is always possible that
host and guest may be an hour or two apart in their reckoning.
The customary guns having therefore been fired, and the
party assembled, we sat down to one of cook Bedawee's prodigious
banquets. Not, however, till the plum-pudding, blazing
demoniacally, appeared upon the scene, did any of us succeed
in believing that it was really Christmas Day.
Nothing could be prettier or gayer than the spectacle that
awaited us when we rose from table. A hundred and fifty
coloured lanterns outlined the boat from end to end, sparkled
up the masts, and cast broken reflections in the moving
current. The upper-deck, hung with flags and partly closed
in with awnings, looked like a bower of palms. The stars and
the crescent moon shone overhead. Dim outlines of trees and
headlands, and a vague perspective of gleaming river, were
visible in the distance; while a light gleamed now and then
in the direction of the village, or a dusky figure flitted along
the bank.
Meanwhile, there was a sound of revelry by night; for our
sailors had invited the Bagstones' crew to unlimited coffee and

tobacco, and had quite a large party on the lower deck. They
drummed, they sang, they danced, they dressed up, improvised a
comic scene, and kept their audience in a roar. Reïs Hassan
did the honours. George, Talhamy, and the maids sat apart
at the second table and sipped their coffee genteelly. We looked
on and applauded. At ten o'clock a pan of magnesium powder
was burned, and our Fantasia ended with a blaze of light, like
a pantomime.
In Egypt, by the way, any entertainment which is enlivened
by music, dancing, or fireworks is called a Fantasia.
And now, sometimes sailing, sometimes tracking, sometimes
punting, we go on day by day, making what speed we can.
Things do not, of course, always fall out exactly as one would
have them. The wind too often fails when we most need it, and
gets up when there is something to be seen on shore. Thus,
after a whole morning of tracking, we reach Beni Hassan at
the moment when a good breeze has suddenly filled our sails
for the first time in forty-eight hours; and so, yielding to
counsels which we afterwards deplored, we pass on with many
a longing look at the terraced doorways pierced along the
cliffs. At Rhoda, in the same way, we touch for only a few
minutes to post and inquire for letters, and put off till our
return the inland excursion to Dayr el Nakhl, where is to be
seen the famous painting of the Colossus on the Sledge. But
sights deferred are fated sometimes to remain unseen, as we
found by and by to our exceeding loss and regret.
Meanwhile, the skies are always cloudless, the days warm,
the evenings exquisite. We of course live very much in the
open air. When there is no wind, we land and take long
walks by the river-side. When on board, we sketch, write
letters, read Champollion, Bunsen, and Sir Gardner Wilkinson;
and work hard at Egyptian dynasties. The sparrows and
water-wagtails perch familiarly on the awnings and hop about
the deck; the cocks and hens chatter, the geese cackle, the
turkeys gobble in their coops close by; and our sacrificial
sheep, leading a solitary life in the felucca, comes baaing in
the rear. Sometimes we have as many as a hundred chickens
on board (to say nothing of pigeons and rabbits) and two or
even three sheep in the felucca. The poultry yard is railed

off, however, at the extreme end of the stern, so that the
creatures are well away from the drawing-room; and when we
moor at a suitable place, they are let out for a few hours to
peck about the banks and enjoy their liberty. L. and the
Little Lady feed these hapless prisoners with breakfast-scraps
every morning, to the profound amusement of the steersman,
who, unable to conceive any other motive, imagines they are
fatting them for table.
Such is our Noah's Ark life, pleasant, peaceful, and patriarchal.
Even on days when there is little to see and nothing
to do, it is never dull. Trifling incidents which have for us
the excitement of novelty are continually occurring. Other
dahabeeyahs, their flags and occupants, are a constant source
of interest. Meeting at mooring-places for the night, we now
and then exchange visits. Passing each other by day, we dip
ensigns, fire salutes, and punctiliously observe the laws of maritime
etiquette. Sometimes a Cook's Excursion-steamer hurries
by, crowded with tourists; or a government tug towing three
or four great barges closely packed with wretched-looking, half-naked
fellâheen bound for forced labour on some new railway
or canal. Occasionally we pass a dahabeeyah sticking fast
upon a sandbank; and sometimes we stick on one ourselves.
Then the men fly to their punting poles, or jump into the river
like water-dogs, and, grunting in melancholy cadence, shove the
boat off with their shoulders.
The birds, too, are new, and we are always looking out for
them. Perhaps we see a top-heavy pelican balancing his huge
yellow bill over the edge of the stream, and fishing for his
dinner—or a flight of wild geese trailing across the sky towards
sunset—or a select society of vultures perched all in a row upon
a ledge of rock, and solemn as the bench of bishops. Then
there are the herons who stand on one leg and doze in the
sun; the strutting hoopoes with their legendary top-knots; the
blue and green bee-eaters hovering over the uncut dura. The
pied kingfisher, black and white like a magpie, sits fearlessly
under the bank and never stirs, though the tow-rope swings
close above his head and the dahabeeyah glides within a few
feet of the shore. The paddy-birds whiten the sandbanks by
hundreds, and rise in a cloud at our approach. The sacred

hawk, circling overhead, utters the same sweet, piercing,
melancholy note that the Pharaohs listened to of old.
The scenery is for the most part of the ordinary Nile
pattern; and for many a mile we see the same things over and
over again:—the level bank shelving down steeply to the
river; the strip of cultivated soil, green with maize or tawny
with dura; the frequent mud-village and palm-grove; the
deserted sugar-factory with its ungainly chimney and shattered
windows; the water-wheel slowly revolving with its necklace
of pots; the shâduûf worked by two brown athletes; the file of


laden camels; the desert, all sand-hills and sand-plains, with
its background of mountains; the long reach, and the gleaming
sail ahead. Sometimes, however, as at Kom Ahmar, we
skirt the ancient brick mounds of some forgotten city, with
fragments of arched foundations, and even of walls and doorways,
reaching down to the water's edge; or, sailing close
under ranges of huge perpendicular cliffs, as at Gebel Abufayda,
startle the cormorants from their haunts, and peer as we pass
into the dim recesses of many a rock-cut tomb excavated just
above the level of the inundation.
This Gebel Abufayda has a bad name for sudden winds;
especially at the beginning and end of the range, where the

Nile bends abruptly and the valley opens out at right angles
to the river. It is fine to see Reïs Hassan, as we approach
one of the worst of these bad bits—a point where two steep
ravines divided by a bold headland command the passage like
a pair of grim cannon, and rake it with blasts from the North-Eastern
desert. Here the current, flowing deep and strong, is
met by the wind and runs high in crested waves. Our little
captain, kicking off his shoes, himself springs up the rigging
and there stands silent and watchful. The sailors, ready to
shift our mainsail at the word of command, cling some to the
shoghool1 and some to the end of the yard; the boat tears on
before the wind; the great bluff looms up darker and nearer.
Then comes a breathless moment. Then a sharp, sudden word
from the little man in the main rigging; a yell and a whoop
from the sailors; a slow, heavy lurch of the flapping sail; and
the corner is turned in safety.
The cliffs here are very fine; much loftier and less uniform
than at Gebel et Tayr; rent into strange forms, as of sphinxes,
cheesewrings, towers, and bastions; honeycombed with long
ranges of rock-cut tombs; and undermined by water-washed
caverns in which lurk a few lingering crocodiles. If at Gebel
et Tayr the rock is worn into semblances of Arabesque ornamentation,
here it looks as if inscribed all over with mysterious
records in characters not unlike the Hebrew. Records they
are, too, of prehistoric days—chronicles of his own deeds
carved by the great God Nile himself, the Hapimu of ancient
time—but the language in which they are written has never
been spoken by man.
As for the rock-cut tombs of Gebel Abufayda, they must
number many hundreds. For nearly twelve miles, the range
runs parallel to the river, and throughout that distance the face
of the cliffs is pierced with innumerable doorways. Some are
small and square, twenty or thirty together, like rows of portholes.
Others are isolated. Some are cut so high up that
they must have been approached from above; others again
come close upon the level of the river. Some of the doorways
are; faced to represent jambs and architraves; some, excavated
laterally, appear to consist of a series of chambers, and are lit
1 Arabic—shoghool: a rope by which the mainsail is regulated.

from without by small windows cut in the rock. One is
approached by a flight of rough steps leading up from the
water's edge; and another, hewn high in the face of the cliff,
just within the mouth of a little ravine, shows a simple but
imposing façade supported by four detached pillars. No
modern travellers seem to visit these tombs; while those of
the old school, as Wilkinson, Champollion, etc., dismiss them
with a few observations. Yet, with the single exception
of the mountains behind Thebes, there is not, I believe,
any one spot in Egypt which contains such a multitude of
sepulchral excavations. Many look, indeed, as if they might
belong to the same interesting and early epoch as those of
Beni Hassan.
I may here mention that about half-way, or rather less than
half-way, along the whole length of the range, I observed two
large hieroglyphed stelae incised upon the face of a projecting
mass of boldly-rounded cliff at a height of perhaps a hundred
and fifty feet above the river. These stelae, apparently royal
ovals, and sculptured as usual side by side, may have measured
from twelve to fifteen feet in height; but in the absence of any
near object by which to scale them, I could form but a rough
guess as to their actual dimensions. The boat was just then
going so fast, that to sketch or take notes of the hieroglyphs
was impossible. Before I could adjust my glass they were
already in the rear; and by the time I had called the rest of
the party together, they were no longer distinguishable.
Coming back several months later, I looked for them
again, but without success; for the intense midday sun was
then pouring full upon the rocks, to the absolute obliteration
of everything like shallow detail. While watching vainly,
however, for the stelae, I was compensated by the unexpected
sight of a colossal bas-relief high up on the northward face of
a cliff standing, so to say, at the corner of one of those little
recesses or culs-de-sac which here and there break the uniformity
of the range. The sculptural relief of this large subject was
apparently very low; but, owing to the angle at which it met
the light, one figure, which could not have measured less than
eighteen or twenty feet in height, was distinctly visible. I
immediately drew L's attention to the spot; and she not only

discerned the figure without the help of a glass, but believed
like myself that she could see traces of a second.
As neither the stelae nor the bas-relief would seem to have
been observed by previous travellers, I may add for the
guidance of others that the round and tower-like rock upon
which the former are sculptured lies about a mile to the southward
of the Sheykh's tomb and palm-tree (a strikingly picturesque
bit which no one can fail to notice), and a little beyond
some very large excavations near the water's edge; while the
bas-relief is to be found at a short distance below the Coptic
convent and cemetery.
Having for nearly twelve miles skirted the base of Gebel
Abufayda—by far the finest panoramic stretch of rock scenery
on this side of the second cataract—the Nile takes an abrupt
bend to the eastward, and thence flows through many miles of
cultivated flat. On coming to this sudden elbow, the wind
which had hitherto been carrying us along at a pace but little
inferior to that of a steamer, now struck us full on the beam,
and drove the boat to shore with such violence that all the
steersman could do was just to run the Philæs nose into the
bank, and steer clear of some ten or twelve native cangias that
had been driven in before us. The Bagstones rushed in next;
and presently a large iron-built dahabeeyah, having come
gallantly along under the cliffs with all sail set, was seen to
make a vain struggle at the fatal corner, and then plunge head-long
at the bank, like King Agib's ship upon the Loadstone
Imprisoned here all the afternoon, we exchanged visits of
condolence with our neighbours in misfortune; had our ears
nearly cut to pieces by the driving sand; and failed signally
in the endeavour to take a walk on shore. Still the fury of
the storm went on increasing. The wind howled; the river
raced in turbid waves; the sand drove in clouds; and the face
of the sky was darkened as if by a London fog. Meanwhile,
one boat after another was hurled to shore, and before nightfall
we numbered a fleet of some twenty odd craft, native and
It took the united strength of both crews all next day to
warp the Philæ and Bagstones across the river by means of a

rope and an anchor; an expedient that deserves special mention,
not for its amazing novelty or ingenuity, but because our
men declared it to be impracticable. Their fathers, they said,
had never done it. Their fathers' fathers had never done it.
Therefore it was impossible. Being impossible, why should
they attempt it.
They did attempt it, however, and, much to their astonishment,
they succeeded.
It was, I think, towards the afternoon of this second day,
when strolling by the margin of the river, that we first made
the acquaintance of that renowned insect, the Egyptian beetle.
He was a very fine specimen of his race, nearly half an inch
long in the back, as black and shiny as a scarab cut in jet,
and busily engaged in the preparation of a large rissole of mud,
which he presently began laboriously propelling up the bank.
We stood and watched him for some time, half in admiration,
half in pity. His rissole was at least four times bigger than
himself, and to roll it up that steep incline to a point beyond
the level of next summer's inundation was a labour of Hercules
for so small a creature. One longed to play the part of the
Dens ex machina, and carry it up the bank for him; but
that would have been a dénouement beyond his power of
We all know the old story of how this beetle lays its eggs
by the river's brink; encloses them in a ball of moist clay;
rolls the ball to a safe place on the edge of the desert; buries
it in the sand; and when his time comes, dies content, having
provided for the safety of his successors. Hence his mythic
fame; hence all the quaint symbolism that by degrees attached
itself to his little person, and ended by investing him with a
special sacredness which has often been mistaken for actual
worship. Standing by thus, watching the movements of the
creature, its untiring energy, its extraordinary muscular strength,
its business-like devotion to the matter in hand, one sees how
subtle a lesson the old Egyptian moralists had presented to
them for contemplation, and with how fine a combination of
wisdom and poetry they regarded this little black scarab not
only as an emblem of the creative and preserving power, but
perhaps also of the immortality of the soul. As a type, no

insect has ever had so much greatness thrust upon him. He
became a hieroglyph, and stood for a word signifying both To
Be and To Transform. His portrait was multiplied a million-fold;
sculptured over the portals of temples; fitted to the
shoulders of a God; engraved on gems; moulded in pottery;
painted on sarcophagi and the walls of tombs; worn by the
living and buried with the dead.
Every traveller on the Nile brings away a handful of the
smaller scarabs, genuine or otherwise. Some may not particularly
care to possess them; yet none can help buying them, if
only because other people do so, or to get rid of a troublesome
dealer, or to give to friends at home. I doubt, however, if
even the most enthusiastic scarab-fanciers really feel in all its
force the symbolism attaching to these little gems, or appreciate
the exquisite naturalness of their execution, till they have seen
the living beetle at its work.
In Nubia, where the strip of cultivable land is generally
but a few feet in breadth, the scarab's task is comparatively
light, and the breed multiplies freely. But in Egypt he has
often a wide plain to traverse with his burden, and is therefore
scarce in proportion to the difficulty with which he maintains
the struggle for existence. The scarab race in Egypt would
seem indeed to have diminished very considerably since the
days of the Pharaohs, and the time is not perhaps far distant
when the naturalist will look in vain for specimens on this side
of the first cataract. As far as my own experience goes, I can
only say that I saw scores of these beetles during the Nubian
part of the journey; but that to the best of my recollection
this was the only occasion upon which I observed one in Egypt.
The Nile makes four or five more great bends between
Gebel Abufayda and Siût; passing Manfalût by the way, which
town lies some distance back from the shore. All things taken
into consideration—the fitful wind that came and went continually;
the tremendous zigzags of the river; the dead calm
which befell us when only eight miles from Siût; and the long
day of tracking that followed, with the town in sight the whole
way—we thought ourselves fortunate to get in by the evening
of the third day after the storm. These last eight miles are,
however, for open, placid beauty, as lovely in their way as anything

north of Thebes. The valley is here very wide and
fertile; the town, with its multitudinous minarets, appears first
on one side and then on the other, according to the windings
of the river; the distant pinky mountains look almost as transparent
as the air or the sunshine; while the banks unfold an
endless succession of charming little subjects, every one of
which looks as if it asked to be sketched as we pass. A
shâdûf and a clump of palms—a triad of shaggy black buffaloes,
up to their shoulders in the river, and dozing as they stand—a
wide-spreading sycamore fig, in the shade of which lie a man
and camel asleep—a fallen palm uprooted by the last inundation,


with its fibrous roots yet clinging to the bank and its
crest in the water—a group of sheykhs' tombs with glistening
white cupolas relieved against a background of dark foliage—
an old disused water-wheel lying up sidewise against the bank
like a huge teetotum, and garlanded with wild tendrils of a
gourd—such are a few out of many bits by the way, which, if
they offer nothing very new, at all events present the old
material under fresh aspects, and in combination with a distance
of such ethereal light and shade, and such opalescent tenderness
of tone, that it looks more like an air-drawn mirage than a
piece of the world we live in.
Like a mirage, too, that fairy town of Siût seemed always
to hover at the same unattainable distance, and after hours of


tracking to be no nearer than at first. Sometimes, indeed,
following the long reaches of the river, we appeared of be
leaving it behind; and although, as I have said, we had eight
miles of hard work to get to it, I doubt whether it was ever
more than three miles distant as the bird flies. It was late in
the afternoon, however, when we turned the last corner; and
the sun was already setting when the boat reached the village
of Hamra, which is the mooring-place for Siût—Siût itself,
with clustered cupolas and arrowy minarets, lying back in the
plain, at the foot of a great mountain pierced with tombs.
Now, it was in the bond that our crew were to be allowed
twenty-four hours for making and baking bread at Siût, Esneh,
and Assuân. No sooner, therefore, was the dahabeeyah moored
than Reïs Hassan and the steersman started away at full speed
on two little donkeys, to buy flour; while Mehemet Ali, one of
our most active and intelligent sailors, rushed off to hire the
oven. For here, as at Esneh and Assuân, there are large flour-stores
and public bakehouses for the use of sailors on the river,
who make and bake their bread in large lots; cut it into slices;
dry it in the sun; and preserve it in the form of rusks for
months together. Thus prepared, it takes the place of ship-biscuit;
and it is so far superior to ship-biscuit that it neither
moulds nor breeds the maggot, but remains good and wholesome
to the last crumb.
Siût, frequently written Asyoot, is the capital of Middle
Egypt, and has the best bazaars of any town up the Nile. Its
red and black pottery is famous throughout the country; and
its pipe-bowls (supposed to be the best in the East), being
largely exported to Cairo, find their way not only to all parts
of the Levant, but to every Algerine and Japanese shop in
London and Paris. No lover of peasant pottery will yet have
forgotten the Egyptian stalls in the Ceramic Gallery of the
International Exhibition of 1871. All those quaint red vases
and lustrous black tazzas, all those exquisite little coffee services,
those crocodile paper-weights, those barrel-shaped and bird-shaped
bottles, came from Siût, There is a whole street of
such pottery here in the town. Your dahabeeyah is scarcely
made fast before a dealer comes on board and ranges his brittle
wares along the deck. Others display their goods upon the

bank. But the best things are only to be had in the bazaars;
and not even in Cairo is it possible to find Siût ware so choice
in colour, form, and design as that which the two or three best
dealers bring out, wrapped in soft paper, when a European
customer appears in the market.
Besides the street of pottery, there is a street of red shoes;
another of native and foreign stuffs; and the usual run of
saddlers' shops, kebab-stalls, and Greek stores for the sale of
everything in heaven or earth from third-rate cognac to patent
wax vestas. The houses are of plastered mud or sun-dried
bricks, as at Minieh. The thoroughfares are dusty, narrow,
unpaved and crowded, as at Minieh. The people are one-eyed,
dirty, and unfragrant, as at Minieh. The children's eyes are
full of flies and their heads are covered with sores, as at Minieh.
In short, it is Minieh over again on a larger scale; differing
only in respect of its inhabitants, who, instead of being sullen,
thievish, and unfriendly, are too familiar to be pleasant, and
the most unappeasable beggars out of Ireland. So our mirage
turns to sordid reality, and Siût, which from afar off looked
like the capital of Dreamland, resolves itself into a big mud
town as ugly and ordinary as its fellows. Even the minarets,
so elegant from a distance, betray for the most part but rough
masonry and clumsy ornamentation when closely looked into.
A lofty embanked road planted with fine sycamore-figs
leads from Hamra to Siût; and another embanked road leads
from Siût to the mountain of tombs. Of the ancient Egyptian
city no vestige remains, the modern town being built upon the
mounds of the earlier settlement; but the City of the Dead—
so much of it, at least, as was excavated in the living rock—
survives, as at Memphis, to commemorate the departed splendour
of the place.
We took donkeys next day to the edge of the desert, and
went up to the sepulchres on foot. The mountain, which looked
a delicate salmon pink when seen from afar, now showed bleached
and arid and streaked with ochreous yellow. Layer above
layer, in beds of strongly marked stratification, it towered overhead;
tier above tier, the tombs yawned, open-mouthed, along
the face of the precipice. I picked up a fragment of the rock,
and found it light, porous, and full of little cells, like pumice.

The slopes were strewn with such stones, as well as with
fragments of mummy, shreds of mummy-cloth, and human bones
all whitening and withering in the sun.
The first tomb we came to was the so-called Stabl Antar
—a magnificent but cruelly mutilated excavation, consisting of
a grand entrance, a vaulted corridor, a great hall, two side-chambers,
and a sanctuary. The ceiling of the corridor, now
smoke-blackened and defaced, has been richly decorated with
intricate patterns in light green, white, and buff, upon a ground
of dark bluish-green stucco. The wall to the right on entering is
covered with a long hieroglyphic inscription. In the sanctuary,
vague traces of seated figures, male and female, with lotus
blossoms in their hands, are dimly visible. Two colossal
warriors incised in outline upon the levelled rock—the one
very perfect, the other hacked almost out of recognition—stand
on each side of the huge portal. A circular hole in the
threshold marks the spot where the great door once worked
upon its pivot; and a deep pit, now partially filled in with
rubbish, leads from the centre of the hall to some long-rifled
vault deep down in the heart of the mountain. Wilful destruction
has been at work on every side. The wall-sculptures are
chipped and defaced—the massive pillars that once supported
the superincumbent rock have been quarried away—the
interior is heaped high with débris. Enough is left, however,
to attest the antique stateliness of the tomb; and the hieroglyphic
inscription remains almost intact to tell its age and
This inscription (erroneously entered in Murray's Guide as
uncopied, but interpreted by Brugsch, who published extracts
from it as far back as 1862) shows the excavation to have
been made for one Hepoukefa, or Haptefa, nomarch of the
Lycopolite Nome, and Chief Priest of the jackal god of Siût.1
It is also famous among scientific students for certain passages
which contain important information regarding the intercalary
1 The known inscriptions in the tomb of Haptefa have recently been
recopied, and another long inscription, not previously transcribed, has been
copied and translated, by Mr. F. Llewellyn Griffith, acting for the Egypt
Exploration Fund. Mr. Griffith has for the first time fixed the date of this
famous tomb, which was made during the reign of Usertesen I, of the
XIIth dynasty. [Note to Second Edition.]

days of the Egyptian kalendar.1 We observed that the
full-length figures on the jambs of the doorway appeared to
have been incised, filled in with stucco, and then coloured.
The stucco had for the most part fallen out, though enough
remained to show the style of the work.2
From this tomb to the next we crept by way of a passage,
tunnelled in the mountain, and emerged into a spacious, quadrangular
grotto, even more dilapidated than the first. It had
been originally supported by square pillars left standing in the
substance of the rock; but, like the pillars in the tomb of
Hepoukefa, they had been hewn away in the middle and looked
like stalactite columns in process of formation. For the rest,
two half-filled pits, a broken sarcophagus, and a few painted
hieroglyphs upon a space of stuccoed wall, were all that
One would have liked to see the sepulchre in which Ampère,
the brilliant and eager disciple of Champollion, deciphered the
ancient name of Siût; but since he does not specify the
cartouche by which it could be identified, one might wander
about the mountain for a week without being able to find it.
Having first described the Stabl Antar, he says:—“In another
grotto I found twice over the name of the city written in hieroglyphic
characters, çi-ou-t. This name forms part of an inscription
which also contains an ancient royal cartouche; so proving
that the present name of the city dates back to Pharaonic
Here, then, we trace a double process of preservation.
This town, which in the ancient Egyptian was written Ssout,
became Lycopolis under the Greeks; continued to be called
Lycopolis throughout the period of Roman rule in Egypt;
reverted to its old historic name under the Copts of the middle
ages, who wrote it Siôout; and survives in the Asyoot of the
1 See Recueil des Monuments Egyptiens, Brugsch. Part I. Planche
xi. Published 1862.
2 Some famous tombs of very early date, enriched with the same kind
of inlaid decoration, are to be seen at Meydûm, near the base of the Meydûm Pyramid.
3 Voyage en Egypte et en Nubie, by J. J. Ampère. The cartouche may
perhaps be that of Rakameri mentioned by Brugsch: Histoire d Egypte
chap. vi., first edition.

Arab fellâh. Nor is this by any means a solitary instance.
Khemmis in the same way became Panopolis, reverted to the
Coptic Chmin, and to this day as Ekhmîm perpetuates the
legend of its first foundation. As with these fragments of the
old tongue, so with the race. Subdued again and again by
invading hordes; intermixed for centuries together with
Phœnician, Persian, Greek, Roman, and Arab blood, it fuses
these heterogeneous elements in one common mould, reverts
persistently to the early type, and remains Egyptian to the
last. So strange is the tyranny of natural forces. The sun
and soil of Egypt demand one special breed of men, and will
tolerate no other. Foreign residents cannot rear children in
the country. In the Isthmus of Suez, which is considered the
healthiest part of Egypt, an alien population of twenty thousand
persons failed in the course of ten years to rear one infant born
upon the soil. Children of an alien father and an Egyptian
mother will die off in the same way in early infancy, unless
brought up in the simple native fashion. And it is affirmed of
the descendants of mixed marriages, that after the third generation
the foreign blood seems to be eliminated, while the traits
of the race are restored in their original purity.
These are but a few instances of the startling conservatism
of Egypt,—a conservatism which interested me particularly,
and to which I shall frequently have occasion to return.
Each Nome, or province, of ancient Egypt had its sacred
animal; and Siût was called Lycopolis by the Greeks1 because
the wolf (now almost extinct in the land) was there held in the
same kind of reverence as the cat at Bubastis, the crocodile at
Ombos, and the lion at Leontopolis. Mummy-wolves are, or
used to be, found in the smaller tombs about the mountain, as
well as mummy-jackals; Anubis, the jackal-headed god, being
the presiding deity of the district. A mummied jackal from
this place, curiously wrapped in striped bandages, is to be seen
in the First Egyptian Room at the British Museum.
But the view from the mountain above Siût is finer than
its tombs and more ancient than its mummies. Seen from
within the great doorway of the second grotto, it looks like a
1 The Greeks translated the sacred names of Egyptian places; the
Copts adopted the civil names.

framed picture. For the foreground, we have a dazzling slope
of limestone débris; in the middle distance, a wide plain
clothed with the delicious tender green of very young corn;
farther away yet, the cupolas and minarets of Siût rising from
the midst of a belt of palm-groves; beyond these again, the
molten gold of the great river glittering away, coil after coil,
into the far distance; and all along the horizon, the everlasting
boundary of the desert. Large pools of placid water left
by the last inundation lie here and there, like lakes amid the
green. A group of brown men are wading yonder with their
nets. A funeral comes along the embanked road—the bier
carried at a rapid pace on men's shoulders, and covered with a
red shawl; the women taking up handfuls of dust and scattering
it upon their heads as they walk. We can see the dust
flying, and hear their shrill wail borne upon the breathless air.
The cemetery towards which they are going lies round to the
left, at the foot of the mountain—a wilderness of little white
cupolas, with here and there a tree. Broad spaces of shade
sleep under the spreading sycamores by the road-side; a hawk
circles overhead; and Siût, bathed in the splendour of the
morning sun, looks as fairy-like as ever.
Lepsius is reported to have said that the view from this
hill-side was the finest in Egypt. But Egypt is a long country,
and questions of precedence are delicate matters to deal with.
It is, however, a very beautiful view; though most travellers
who know the scenery about Thebes and the approach to
Assûan would hesitate, I should fancy, to give the preference
to a landscape from which the nearer mountains are excluded
by the position of the spectator.
The tombs here, as in many other parts of Egypt, are said
to have been largely appropriated by early Christian anchorites
during the reigns of the later Roman emperors; and to these
recluses may perhaps be ascribed the legend that makes Lycopolis
the abode of Joseph and Mary during the years of their
sojourn in Egypt. It is, of course, but a legend, and wholly
improbable. If the Holy Family ever journeyed into Egypt
at all, which certain Biblical critics now hold to be doubtful,
they probably rested from their wanderings at some town not
very far from the eastern border—as Tanis, or Pithom, or

Bubastis, Siût would, at all events, lie at least 250 miles to
the southward of any point to which they might reasonably be
supposed to have penetrated.
Still, one would like to believe a story that laid the scene
of Our Lord's childhood in the midst of this beautiful and
glowing Egyptian pastoral. With what a profound and touching
interest it would invest the place! With what different
eyes we should look down upon a landscape which must have
been dear and familiar to Him in all its details, and which,
from the nature of the ground, must have remained almost
unchanged from His day to ours! The mountain with its
tombs, the green corn-flats, the Nile and the desert, looked
then as they look now. It is only the Moslem minarets that
are new. It is only the pylons and sanctuaries of the ancient
worship that have passed away.

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WE started from Siût with a couple of tons of new brown
bread on board, which, being cut into slices and laid to dry in
the sun, was speedily converted into rusks and stored away in
two huge lockers on the upper deck. The sparrows and water-wagtails
had a good time while the drying went on; but no
one seemed to grudge the toll they levied.
We often had a “big wind” now; though it seldom began
to blow before ten or eleven A.M., and generally fell at sunset.
Now and then, when it chanced to keep up, and the river was
known to be free from shallows, we went on sailing through
the night; but this seldom happened, and when it did happen
it made sleep impossible—so that nothing but the certainty of
doing a great many miles between bedtime and breakfast could
induce us to put up with it.
We had now been long enough afloat to find out that we
had almost always one man on the sick list, and were therefore
habitually short of a hand for the navigation of the boat.
There never were such fellows for knocking themselves to
pieces as our sailors. They were always bruising their feet,
wounding their hands, getting sunstrokes, and whitlows, and
sprains, and disabling themselves in some way. L., with her
little medicine chest and her roll of lint and bandages, soon
had a small but steady practice, and might have been seen
about the lower deck most mornings after breakfast, repairing
these damaged Alis and Hassans. It was well for them that
we carried “an experienced surgeon,” for they were entirely

helpless and despondent when hurt, and ignorant of the commonest
remedies. Nor is this helplessness confined to natives
of the sailor and fellâh class. The provincial proprietors and
officials are to the full as ignorant, not only of the uses of such
simple things as poultices or wet compresses, but of the most
elementary laws of health. Doctors there are none south of
Cairo; and such is the general mistrust of State medicine, that
when, as in the case of any widely-spread epidemic, a medical
officer is sent up the river by order of the Government, half the
people are said to conceal their sick, while the other half reject
the remedies prescribed for them. Their trust in the skill
of the passing European is, on the other hand, unbounded.
Appeals for advice and medicine were constantly being made
to us by both rich and poor; and there was something very
pathetic in the simple faith with which they accepted any little
help we were able to give them. Meanwhile L.'s medical
reputation, being confirmed by a few simple cures, rose high
among the crew. They called her the Hakîm Sitt (the Doctor-Lady);
obeyed her directions and swallowed her medicines as
reverently as if she were the College of Surgeons personified;
and showed their gratitude in all kinds of pretty, child-like
ways—singing her favourite Arab song as they ran beside her
donkey—searching for sculptured fragments whenever there
were ruins to be visited—and constantly bringing her little
gifts of pebbles and wild flowers.
Above Siût, the picturesqueness of the river is confined for
the most part to the eastern bank. We have almost always a
near range of mountains on the Arabian side, and a more distant chain on the Libyan horizon. Gebel Sheykh el Raáineh
succeeds to Gebel Abufayda, and is followed in close succession
by the cliffs of Gow, of Gebel Sheykh el Hereedee, of Gebel
Ayserat and Gebel Tûkh—all alike rigid in strongly-marked
beds of level limestone strata; flat-topped and even, like lines of
giant ramparts; and more or less pierced with orifices which we
know to be tombs, but which look like loopholes from a distance.
Flying before the wind with both sails set, we see the rapid
panorama unfold itself day after day, mile after mile, hour after
hour. Villages, palm-groves, rock-cut sepulchres, flit past and
are left behind. To-day we enter the region of the dôm palm.

To-morrow we pass the map-drawn limit of the crocodile. The
cliffs advance, recede, open away into desolate-looking valleys,
and show faint traces of paths leading to excavated tombs on
distant heights. The headland that looked shadowy in the
distance a couple of hours ago, is reached and passed. The
cargo-boat on which we have been gaining all the morning is
outstripped and dwindling in the rear. Now we pass a bold
bluff sheltering a sheykh's tomb and a solitary dôm palm—
now an ancient quarry from which the stone has been cut out
in smooth masses, leaving great halls, and corridors, and stages
in the mountain side. At Gow,1 the scene of an insurrection
headed by a crazy dervish some ten years ago, we see, in place
of a large and populous village, only a tract of fertile corn-ground,
a few ruined huts, and a group of decapitated palms.
We are now skirting Gebel Sheykh el Hereedee; here bordered
by a rich margin of cultivated flat; yonder leaving space for
scarce a strip of roadway between the precipice and the river.
Then comes Raáineh, a large village of square mud towers,
lofty and battlemented, with string-courses of pots for the
pigeons—and later on, Girgeh, once the capital town of Middle
Egypt, where we put in for half an hour to post and inquire
for letters. Here the Nile is fast eating away the bank and
carrying the town by storm. A ruined mosque with pointed
arches, roofless cloisters, and a leaning column that must surely
have come to the ground by this time, stands just above the
landing-place. A hundred years ago, it lay a quarter of a mile
1 According to the account given in her letters by Lady Duff Gordon,
this dervish, who had acquired a reputation for unusual sanctity by repeating
the name of Allah 3000 times every night for three years, believed that
he had by these means rendered himself invulnerable; and so, proclaiming
himself the appointed Slayer of Antichrist, he stirred up a revolt among the
villages bordering Gebel Sheykh Hereedee, instigated an attack on an
English dahabeeyah, and brought down upon himself and all that country-side
the swift and summary vengeance of the Government. Steamers with
troops commanded by Fadl Pasha were despatched up the river; rebels
were shot; villages sacked; crops and cattle confiscated. The women
and children of the place were then distributed among the neighbouring
hamlets; and Gow, which was as large a village as
Luxor, ceased to exist.
The dervish's fate remained uncertain. He was shot, according to some;
and by others it was said that he had escaped into the desert under the
protection of a tribe of Bedouins.

from the river; ten years ago it was yet perfect; after a few
more inundations it will be swept away. Till that time comes
however, it helps to make Girgeh one of the most picturesque
towns in Egypt.
At Farshût we see the sugar-works in active operation—
smoke pouring from the tall chimneys; steam issuing from the
traps in the basement; cargo-boats unlading fresh sugar-cane
against the bank; heavily-burdened Arabs transporting it to
the factory; bullock-trucks laden with cane-leaf for firing. A
little higher up, at Sahîl Bajûra on the opposite side of the
river, we find the bank strewn for full a quarter of a mile with
sugar-cane en masse. Hundreds of camels are either arriving
laden with it, or going back for more—dozens of cargo-boats
are drawn up to receive it—swarms of brown fellâheen are stacking
it on board for unshipment again at Farshût. The camels
snort and growl; the men shout; the overseers, in blue-fringed
robes and white turbans, stalk to and fro, and keep the work
going. The mountains here recede so far as to be almost out
of sight, and a plain rich in sugar-cane and date-palms widens
out between them and the river.
And now the banks are lovely with an unwonted wealth of
verdure. The young corn clothes the plain like a carpet,
while the yellow-tasselled mimosa, the feathery tamarisk, the
dôm and date palm, and the spreading sycamore-fig, border
the towing-path like garden trees beside a garden walk.
Farther on still, when all this greenery is left behind and
the banks have again become flat and bare, we see to our
exceeding surprise what seems to be a very large grizzled ape
perched on the top of a dust-heap on the western bank. The
creature is evidently quite tame, and sits on its haunches in
just that chilly, melancholy posture that the chimpanzee is
wont to assume in his cage at the Zoological Gardens. Some
six or eight Arabs, one of whom has dismounted from his camel
for the purpose, are standing round and staring at him, much
as the British public stands and stares at the specimen in the
Regent's Park. Meanwhile a strange excitement breaks out
among our crew. They crowd to the side; they shout; they
gesticulate; the captain salaams; the steersman waves his
hand; all eyes are turned towards the shore.




“Do you see Sheykh Selîm?” cries Talhamy breathlessly,
rushing up from below. “There he is! Look at him! That
is Sheykh Selîm!”
And so we find out that it is not a monkey but a man—
and not only a man, but a saint. Holiest of the holy, dirtiest
of the dirty, white-pated, white-bearded, withered, bent, and
knotted up, is the renowned Sheykh Selîm—he who, naked
and unwashed, has sat on that same spot every day through
summer heat and winter cold for the last fifty years; never
providing himself with food or water; never even lifting his
hand to his mouth; depending on charity not only for his food
but for his feeding! He is not nice to look at, even by this
dim light, and at this distance; but the sailors think him quite
beautiful, and call aloud to him for his blessing as we go by.
“It is not by our own will that we sail past, O father!”
they cry. “Fain would we kiss thy hand; but the wind blows
and the mérkeb (boat) goes, and we have no power to stay!”
But Sheykh Selîm neither lifts his head nor shows any
sign of hearing, and in a few minutes the mound on which he
sits is left behind in the gloaming.
At How, where the new town is partly built on the mounds
of the old (Diospolis Parva), we next morning saw the natives
transporting small boat-loads of ancient brick-rubbish to the
opposite side of the river, for the purpose of manuring those
fields from which the early durra crop had just been gathered
in. Thus, curiously enough, the mud left by some inundation
of two or three thousand years ago comes at last to the use
from which it was then diverted, and is found to be more
fertilising than the new deposit. At Kasr es Sayd, a little
farther on, we came to one of the well-known “bad bits”—a
place where the bed of the river is full of sunken rocks, and
sailing is impossible. Here the men were half the day punting
the dahabeeyah over the dangerous part, while we grubbed
among the mounds of what was once the ancient city of
Chenoboscion. These remains, which cover a large superficial
area and consist entirely of crude brick foundations, are very
interesting, and in good preservation. We traced the ground-plans
of several houses; followed the passages by which they
were separated; and observed many small arches which seemed

built on too small a scale for doors or windows, but for which
it was difficult to account in any other way. Brambles and
weeds were growing in these deserted enclosures; while rubbish-heaps,
excavated pits, and piles of broken pottery divided the
ruins and made the work of exploration difficult. We looked
in vain for the dilapidated quay and sculptured blocks mentioned
in Wilkinson's General View of Egypt; but if the
foundation stones of the new sugar-factory close against the
mooring-place could speak, they would no doubt explain the
mystery. We saw nothing, indeed, to show that Chenoboscion
had contained any stone structures whatever, save the broken
shaft of one small granite column.


The village of Kasr es Syad consists of a cluster of mud
huts and a sugar factory; but the factory was idle that day,
and the village seemed half deserted. The view here is particularly
fine. About a couple of miles to the southward, the
mountains, in magnificent procession, come down again at right
angles to the river, and thence reach away in long ranges of
precipitous headlands. The plain, terminating abruptly against
the foot of this gigantic barrier, opens back eastward to the
remotest horizon—an undulating sea of glistening sand, bordered
by a chaotic middle distance of mounded ruins. Nearest of
all, a narrow foreground of cultivated soil, green with young
crops and watered by frequent shâdûfs, extends along the
river-side to the foot of the mountains. A sheykh's tomb
shaded by a single dôm palm is conspicuous on the bank;

while far away, planted amid the solitary sands, we see a large
Coptic convent with many cupolas; a cemetery full of Christian
graves; and a little oasis of date palms indicating the presence
of a spring.
The chief interest of this scene, however, centres in the
ruins; and these—looked upon from a little distance, blackened,
desolate, half-buried, obscured every now and then, when the
wind swept over them, by swirling clouds of dust—reminded
us of the villages, we had seen not two years before, half-over-whelmed
and yet smoking, in the midst of a lava-torrent below
We now had the full moon again, making night more
beautiful than day. Sitting on deck for hours after the sun
had gone down, when the boat glided gently on with half-filled
sail and the force of the wind was spent, we used to wonder if
in all the world there was another climate in which the effect
of moonlight was so magical. To say that every object far or
near was visible as distinctly as by day, yet more tenderly, is
to say nothing. It was not only form that was defined; it
was not only light and shadow that were vivid—it was colour
that was present. Colour neither deadened nor changed; but
softened, glowing, spiritualised. The amber sheen of the sand-island
in the middle of the river, the sober green of the palmgrove,
the Little Lady's turquoise-coloured hood, were clear to
the sight and relatively true in tone. The oranges showed
through the bars of the crate like nuggets of pure gold. L.'s
crimson shawl glowed with a warmer dye than it ever wore by
day. The mountains were flushed as if in the light of sunset.
Of all the natural phenomena that we beheld in the course of
the journey, I remember none that surprised us more than this.
We could scarcely believe at first that it was not some effect
of afterglow, or some miraculous aurora of the East. But the
sun had nothing to do with that flush upon the mountains.
The glow was in the stone, and the moonlight but revealed the
local colour.
For some days before they came in sight, we had been
eagerly looking for the Theban hills; and now, after a night
of rapid sailing, we woke one morning to find the sun rising
on the wrong side of the boat, the favourable wind dead against

us, and a picturesque chain of broken peaks upon our starboard
bow. By these signs we knew that we must have come to the
great bend in the river between How and Kench, and that
these new mountains, so much more varied in form than those
of Middle Egypt, must be the mountains behind Denderah.
They seemed to lie upon the eastern bank, but that was an
illusion which the map disproved, and which lasted only till
the great corner was fairly turned. To turn that corner, however,
in the teeth of wind and current, was no easy task, and
cost us two long days of hard tracking.
At a point about ten miles below Denderah, we saw some
thousands of fellâheen at work amid clouds of sand upon the
embankments of a new canal. They swarmed over the
mounds like ants, and the continuous murmur of their voices
came to us across the river like the humming of innumerable
bees. Others, following the path along the bank, were pouring
towards the spot in an unbroken stream. The Nile must here
be nearly half a mile in breadth; but the engineers in European
dress, and the overseers with long sticks in their hands,
were plainly distinguishable by the help of a glass. The tents
in which these officials were camping out during the progress
of the work gleamed white among the palms by the river-side.
Such scenes must have been common enough in the old days
when a conquering Pharaoh, returning from Libya or the land
of Kush, set his captives to raise a dyke, or excavate a lake,
or quarry a mountain. The Israelites building the massive
walls of Pithom and Rameses with bricks of their own making,
must have presented exactly such a spectacle.
That we were witnessing a case of forced labour, could not
be doubted. Those thousands yonder had most certainly been
drafted off in gangs from hundreds of distant villages, and
were but little better off, for the time being, than the captives
of the ancient Empire. In all cases of forced labour under
the present régime, however, it seems that the labourer is paid,
though very insufficiently, for his unwilling toil; and that his
captivity only lasts so long as the work for which he has been
pressed remains in progress. In some cases the term of service
is limited to three or four months, at the end of which time
the men are supposed to be returned in barges towed by Government

steam-tugs. It too often happens, nevertheless, that the
poor souls are left to get back how they can; and thus many
a husband and father either perishes by the way, or is driven
to take service in some village far from home. Meanwhile his
wife and children, being scantily supported by the Sheykh el
Beled, fall into a condition of semi-serfdom; and his little
patch of ground, left untilled through seed-time and harvest,
passes after the next inundation into the hands of a stranger.
But there is another side to this question of forced labour.
Water must be had in Egypt, no matter at what cost. If the
land is not sufficiently irrigated, the crops fail and the nation
starves. Now, the frequent construction of canals has from
immemorial time been reckoned among the first duties of an
Egyptian ruler; but it is a duty which cannot be performed
without the willing or unwilling co-operation of several thousand
workmen. Those who are best acquainted with the character
and temper of the fellâh maintain the hopelessness of looking
to him for voluntary labour of this description. Frugal, patient,
easily contented as he is, no promise of wages, however high,
would tempt him from his native village. What to him are the
needs of a district six or seven hundred miles away? His own
shâdûf is enough for his own patch, and so long as he can raise
his three little crops a year, neither he nor his family will starve.
How, then, are these necessary public works to be carried out,
unless by means of the corvée? M. About has put an ingenious
summary of this “other-side” argument into the mouth of
his ideal fellâh. “It is not the Emperor,” says Ahmed to the
Frenchman, “who causes the rain to descend upon your lands;
it is the west wind—and the benefit thus conferred upon you
exacts no penalty of manual labour. But in Egypt, where the
rain from heaven falls scarcely three times in the year, it is the
prince who supplies its place to us by distributing the waters
of the Nile. This can only be done by the work of men's
hands; and it is therefore to the interest of all that the hands
of all should be at his disposal.”
We regarded it, I think, as an especial piece of good fortune,
when we found ourselves becalmed next day within three or
four miles of Denderah. Abydos comes first in order according
to the map; but then the Temples lie seven or eight miles


from the river, and as we happened just thereabouts to be
making some ten miles an hour, we put off the excursion till
our return. Here, however, the ruins lay comparatively near
at hand, and in such a position that we could approach them
from below and rejoin our dahabeeyah a few miles higher up
the river. So, leaving Reïs Hassan to track against the current,
we landed at the first convenient point, and finding neither
donkeys nor guides at hand, took an escort of three or four
sailors, and set off on foot.
The way was long, the day was hot, and we had only
the map to go by. Having climbed the steep bank and skirted
an extensive palm-grove, we found ourselves in a country without
paths or roads of any kind. The soil, squared off as usual
like a gigantic chess-board, was traversed by hundreds of tiny
water-channels, between which we had to steer our course as
best we could. Presently the last belt of palms was passed—
the plain, green with young corn and level as a lake, widened
out to the foot of the mountains—and the Temple, islanded in
that sea of rippling emerald, rose up before us upon its platform
of blackened mounds.
It was still full two miles away; but it looked enormous—
showing from this distance as a massive, low-browed, sharply-defined
mass of dead-white masonry. The walls sloped in
slightly towards the top; and the façade appeared to be supported
on eight square piers, with a large doorway in the centre.
If sculptured ornament, or cornice, or pictured legend enriched
those walls, we were too far off to distinguish them. All looked
strangely naked and solemn—more like a tomb than a temple.
Nor was the surrounding scene less deathlike in its solitude.
Not a tree, not a hut, not a living form broke the green
monotony of the plain. Behind the Temple, but divided from
it by a farther space of mounded ruins, rose the mountains—
pinky, aerial, with sheeny sand-drifts heaped in the hollows of
their bare buttresses, and spaces of soft blue shadow in their
misty chasms. Where the range receded, a long vista of
glittering desert opened to the Libyan horizon.
Then as we drew nearer, coming by and by to a raised
causeway which apparently connected the mounds with some
point down by the river, the details of the Temple gradually

emerged into distinctness. We could now see the curve and
under-shadow of the cornice; and a small object in front
of the façade which looked at first sight like a monolithic
altar, resolved itself into a massive gateway of the kind
known as a single pylon. Nearer still, among some low
outlying mounds, we came upon fragments of sculptured
capitals and mutilated statues half-buried in rank grass—upon
a series of stagnant nitre-tanks and deserted workshops—upon
the telegraph-poles and wires which here come striding along
the edge of the desert and vanish southward with messages for
Nubia and the Soudan.
Egypt is the land of nitre. It is found wherever a crude-brick
mound is disturbed or an antique stone structure demolished.
The Nile mud is strongly impregnated with it;
and in Nubia we used to find it lying in thick talc-like flakes
upon the surface of rocks far above the present level of the
inundation. These tanks at Denderah had been sunk, we
were told, when the great Temple was excavated by Abbas
Pasha more than twenty years ago. The nitre then found
was utilised out of hand; washed and crystallised in the tanks;
and converted into gunpowder in the adjacent workshops.
The telegraph wires are more recent intruders, and the work
of the Khedive; but one longed to put them out of sight, to
pull down the gunpowder sheds, and to fill up the tanks with
débris. For what had the arts of modern warfare or the
wonders of modern science to do with Hathor, the Lady
of Beauty and the Western Shades, the Nurse of Horus, the
Egyptian Aphrodite, to whom yonder mountain of wrought
stone and all these wastes were sacred?
We were by this time near enough to see that the square
piers of the façade were neither square nor piers, but huge
round columns with human-headed capitals; and that the
walls, instead of being plain and tomb-like, were covered with
an infinite multitude of sculptured figures. The pylon—rich
with inscriptions and bas-reliefs, but disfigured by myriads of
tiny wasps' nests, like clustered mud-bubbles—now towered
high above our heads, and led to a walled avenue cut direct
through the mounds, and sloping downwards to the main
entrance of the Temple


Not, however, till we stood immediately under those
ponderous columns, looking down upon the paved floor below
and up to the huge cornice that projected overhead like the
crest of an impending wave, did we realise the immense proportions
of the building. Lofty as it looked from a distance,
we now found that it was only the interior that had been
excavated, and that not more than two-thirds of its actual
height were visible above the mounds. The level of the
avenue, was indeed, at its lowest part full twenty feet above
that of the first great hall; and we had still a steep temporary
staircase to go down before reaching the original pavement.
The effect of the portico as one stands at the top of this
staircase is one of overwhelming majesty. Its breadth, its
height, the massiveness of its parts, exceed in grandeur all
that one has been anticipating throughout the long two miles
of approach. The immense girth of the columns, the huge
screens which connect them, the ponderous cornice jutting
overhead, confuse the imagination, and in the absence of given
measurements1 appear, perhaps, even more enormous than they
are. Looking up to the architrave, we see a kind of Egyptian
Panathenaic procession of carven priests and warriors, some with
standards and some with musical instruments. The winged
globe, depicted upon a gigantic scale in the curve of the cornice,
seems to hover above the central doorway. Hieroglyphs,
emblems, strange forms of Kings and Gods, cover every foot of
wall-space, frieze, and pillar. Nor does this wealth of surface-sculpture
tend in any way to diminish the general effect of size.
It would seem, on the contrary, as if complex decoration were
in this instance the natural complement to simplicity of form.
Every group, every inscription, appears to be necessary and in its
place; an essential part of the building it helps to adorn. Most
of these details are as perfect as on the day when the last workman
went his way, and the architect saw his design completed.
Time has neither marred the surface of the stone nor blunted
1 Sir G. Wilkinson states the total length of the Temple to be 93
paces, or 220 feet; and the width of the portico 50 paces. Murray
gives no measurements; neither does Mariette Bey in his delightful little
“Itineraire”; neither does Fergusson, nor Champollion, nor any other
writer to whose works I have had access.

the work of the chisel. Such injury as they have sustained is
from the hand of man; and in no country has the hand of
man achieved more and destroyed more than in Egypt. The
Persians overthrew the masterpieces of the Pharaohs; the
Copts mutilated the temples of the Ptolemies and Cæsars; the
Arabs stripped the pyramids and carried Memphis away piece-meal.
Here at Denderah we have an example of Græco-Egyptian
work and early Christian fanaticism. Begun by
Ptolemy XI,1 and bearing upon its latest ovals the name and
style of Nero, the present building was still comparatively new
when, in A.D. 379, the ancient religion was abolished by the
edict of Theodosius. It was then the most gorgeous as well
as the most recent of all those larger temples built during the
prosperous foreign rule of the last seven hundred years. It
stood, surrounded by groves of palm and acacia, within the
precincts of a vast enclosure, the walls of which, 1000 feet in
length, 35 feet in height, and 15 feet thick, are still traceable.
A dromos, now buried under twenty feet of débris, led from
1 The names of Augustus, Caligula, Tiberius, Domitian, Claudius, and
Nero are found in the royal ovals; the oldest being those of Ptolemy XI,
the founder of the present edifice, which was, however, rebuilt upon the
site of a succession of older buildings, of which the most ancient dated
back as far as the reign of Khufu, the builder of the
Great Pyramid.
This fact, and the still more interesting fact that the oldest structure of all
was believed to belong to the inconceivably remote period of the Horshesu,
or “followers of Horus” (i.e. the petty chiefs, or princes, who ruled in
Egypt before the foundation of the first monarchy), is recorded in the
following remarkable inscription discovered by Mariette in one of the
crypts constructed in the thickness of the walls of the present temple.
The first text relates to certain festivals to be celebrated in honour of
Hathor, and states that all the ordained ceremonies had been performed
by King Thothmes III (XVIIIth dynasty) “in memory of his mother,
Hathor of Denderah. And they found the great fundamental rules of
Denderah in ancient writing, written on goatskin in the time of the
Followers of Horus. This was found in the inside of a brick wall during
the reign of King Pepi (VIth dynasty).” In the same crypt, another
and a more brief inscription runs thus:—“Great fundamental rule of
Denderah. Restorations done by Thothmes III, according to what was
found in ancient writing of the time of King Khufu.” Hereupon Mariette
remarks—“The temple of Denderah is not, then, one of the most modern
in Egypt, except in so far as it was constructed by one of the later Lagidæ.
Its origin is literally lost in the night of time.” See Dendérah, Description
Générale, chap. i. pp. 55, 56.

the pylon to the portico. The pylon is there still, a partial
ruin; but the Temple, with its roof, its staircases, and its
secret treasure-crypts, is in all essential respects as perfect as
on the day when its splendour was given over to the spoilers.


One can easily imagine
how these spoilers sacked
and ravaged all before
them; how they desecrated
the sacred places,
and cast down the statues
of the Goddess, and
divided the treasures of
the sanctuary. They did
not, it is true, commit
such wholesale destruction
as the Persian invaders
of nine hundred
years before; but they
were merciless iconoclasts,
and hacked away the face
of every figure within
easy reach both inside
and outside the building.
Among those which
escaped, however, is the
famous external bas-relief
of Cleopatra on the back
of the Temple. This
curious sculpture is now
banked up with rubbish
for its better preservation,
and can no longer be seen
by travellers. It was,
however, admirably photographed
some years
ago by Signor Beati; which photograph is faithfully reproduced
in the annexed engraving. Cleopatra is here represented
with a headdress combining the attributes of three goddesses;
namely the Vulture of Maut (the head of which is modelled

in a masterly way), the horned disc of Hathor, and the
throne of Isis. The falling mass below the headdress is
intended to represent hair dressed according to the Egyptian
fashion, in an infinite number of small plaits, each finished
off with an ornamental tag. The women of Egypt and
Nubia wear their hair so to this day, and unplait it, I am
sorry to say, not oftener than once in every eight or ten weeks.
The Nubian girls fasten each separate tail with a lump of Nile
mud daubed over with yellow ochre; but Queen Cleopatra's
silken tresses were probably tipped with gilded wax or gum.
It is difficult to know where decorative sculpture ends and
portraiture begins in a work of this epoch. We cannot even be
certain that a portrait was intended; though the introduction
of the royal oval in which the name of Cleopatra (Klaupatra)
is spelt with its vowel sounds in full, would seem to point that
way. If it is a portrait, then large allowance must be made for
conventional treatment. The fleshiness of the features and the
intolerable simper are common to every head of the Ptolemaic
period. The ear, too, is pattern work, and the drawing of the
figure is ludicrous. Mannerism apart, however, the face wants
for neither individuality nor beauty. Cover the mouth, and
you have an almost faultless profile. The chin and throat are
also quite lovely; while the whole face, suggestive of cruelty,
subtlety, and voluptuousness, carries with it an indefinable
impression not only of portraiture, but of likeness.
It is not without something like a shock that one first sees
the unsightly havoc wrought upon the Hathor-headed columns
of the façade at Denderah. The massive folds of the head-gear
are there; the ears, erect and pointed like those of a heifer, are
there; but of the benignant face of the Goddess not a feature
remains. Ampère, describing these columns in one of his
earliest letters from Egypt, speaks of them as being still
“brilliant with colours that time had had no power to efface.”
Time, however, must have been unusually busy during the thirty
years that have gone by since then; for though we presently
found several instances of painted bas-reliefs in the small inner
chambers, I do not remember to have observed any remains of
colour (save here and there a faint trace of yellow ochre) on
the external decorations.


Without, all was sunshine and splendour; within, all was
silence and mystery. A heavy, death-like smell, as of long-imprisoned
gases, met us on the threshold. By the half-light
that strayed in through the portico, we could see vague outlines
of a forest of giant columns rising out of the gloom below and
vanishing into the gloom above. Beyond these again appeared
shadowy vistas of successive halls leading away into depths of
inpenetrable darkness. It required no great courage to go
down those stairs and explore those depths with a party of
fellow-travellers; but it would have been a gruesome place to
venture into alone.
Seen from within, the portico shows as a vast hall, fifty feet
in height and supported on twenty-four Hathor-headed columns.
Six of these, being engaged in the screen, form part of the
façade, and are the same upon which we have been looking
from without. By degrees, as our eyes become used to the
twilight, we see here and there a capital which still preserves
the vague likeness of a gigantic female face; while, dimly
visible on every wall, pillar, and doorway, a multitude of fantastic
forms—hawk-headed, ibis-headed, cow-headed, mitred,
plumed, holding aloft strange emblems, seated on thrones,
performing mysterious rites—seem to emerge from their places,
like things of life. Looking up to the ceiling, now smoke-blackened
and defaced, we discover elaborate paintings of
scarabæi, winged globes, and zodiacal emblems divided by
borders of intricate Greek patterns, the prevailing colours of
which are verditer and chocolate. Bands of hieroglyphic
inscriptions, of royal ovals, of Hathor heads, of mitred hawks,
of lion-headed chimeras, of divinities and kings in bas-relief,
cover the shafts of the great columns from top to bottom; and
even here, every accessible human face, however small, has been
laboriously mutilated.
Bewildered at first sight of these profuse and mysterious
decorations, we wander round and round; going on from the
first hall to the second, from the second to the third; and
plunging into deeper darkness at every step. We have been
reading about these gods and emblems for weeks past—we have
studied the plan of the Temple beforehand; yet now that we
are actually here, our book knowledge goes for nothing, and we

feel as hopelessly ignorant as if we had been suddenly landed
in a new world. Not till we have got over this first feeling of
confusion—not till, resting awhile on the base of one of the
columns, we again open out the plan of the building, do we
begin to realise the purport of the sculptures by which we are
The ceremonial of Egyptian worship was essentially processional.
Herein we have the central idea of every Temple,
and the key to its construction. It was bound to contain
store-chambers in which were kept vestments, instruments,
divine emblems, and the like; laboratories for the preparation
of perfumes and unguents; treasuries for the safe custody of
holy vessels and precious offerings; chambers for the reception
and purification of tribute in kind; halls for the assembling and
marshalling of priests and functionaries; and, for processional
purposes, corridors, staircases, courtyards, cloisters, and vast
enclosures planted with avenues of trees and surrounded by
walls which hedged in with inviolable secrecy the solemn rites
of the priesthood.
In this plan, it will be seen, there is no provision made for
anything in the form of public worship; but then an Egyptian
Temple was not a place for public worship. It was a treasure-house,
a sacristy, a royal oratory, a place of preparation, of
consecration, of sacerdotal privacy. There, in costly shrines,
dwelt the divine images. There they were robed and unrobed;
perfumed with incense; visited and worshipped by the King.
On certain great days of the kalendar, as on the occasion of the
festival of the new year, or the panegyries of the local gods,
these images were brought out, paraded along the corridors of
the temple, carried round the roof, and borne with waving of
banners, and chanting of hymns, and burning of incense, through
the sacred groves of the enclosure. Probably none were
admitted to these ceremonies save persons of royal or priestly
birth. To the rest of the community, all that took place within
those massy walls was enveloped in mystery. It may be
questioned, indeed, whether the great mass of the people had
any kind of personal religion. They may not have been rigidly
excluded from the temple-precincts, but they seem to have been
allowed no participation in the worship of the Gods. If now

and then, on high festival days, they beheld the sacred bark of
the deity carried in procession round the temenos, or caught a
glimpse of moving figures and glittering ensigns in the pillared
dusk of the Hypostyle Hall, it was all they ever beheld of the
solemn services of their church.
The Temple of Denderah consists of a portico; a hall of
entrance; a hall of assembly; a third hall, which may be called
the hall of the sacred boats; one small ground floor chapel;
and upwards of twenty side chambers of various sizes, most of
which are totally dark. Each one of these halls and chambers
bears the sculptured record of its use. Hundreds of tableaux
in bas-relief, thousands of elaborate hieroglyphic inscriptions,
cover every foot of available space on wall and ceiling and
soffit, on doorway and column, and on the lining-slabs of
passages and staircases. These precious texts contain, amid
much that is mystical and tedious, an extraordinary wealth of
indirect history. Here we find programmes of ceremonial
observances; numberless legends of the Gods; chronologies of
Kings with their various titles; registers of weights and
measures; catalogues of offerings; recipes for the preparation
of oils and essences; records of repairs and restorations done to
the Temple; geographical lists of cities and provinces; inventories
of treasure, and the like. The hall of assembly contains
a kalendar of festivals, and sets forth with studied precision the
rites to be performed on each recurring anniversary. On the
ceiling of the portico we find an astronomical zodiac; on the
walls of a small temple on the roof, the whole history of the
resurrection of Osiris, together with the order of prayer for the
twelve hours of the night, and a kalendar of the festivals of
Osiris in all the principal cities of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Seventy years ago, these inscriptions were the puzzle and despair
of the learned; but since modern science has plucked out the
heart of its mystery, the whole Temple lies before us as an
open volume filled to overflowing with strange and quaint and
heterogeneous matter—a Talmud in sculptured stone.1
1 See Mariette's Denderah, which contains the whole of these multitudinous
inscriptions in 166 plates; also a selection of some of the most
interesting in Brugsch and Dümichen's Recueil de Monuments Egyptieus
and Geographische Inschriften, 1862-3-5-6.


Given such help as Mariette's handbook affords, one can
trace out most of these curious things, and identify the uses of
every hall and chamber throughout the building. The King,
in his double character of Pharaoh and high priest, is the hero
of every sculptured scene. Wearing sometimes the truncated
crown of Lower Egypt, sometimes the helmet-crown of Upper
Egypt, and sometimes the pschent, which is a combination of
both, he figures in every tableau and heads every procession.
Beginning with the sculptures of the portico, we see him arrive,
preceded by his five royal standards. He wears his long robe;
his sandals are on his feet; he carries his staff in his hand.
Two goddesses receive him at the door and conduct him into
the presence of Thoth, the ibis-headed, and Horus, the hawk-headed,
who pour upon him a double stream of the waters of
life. Thus purified, he is crowned by the Goddesses of Upper
and Lower Egypt, and by them consigned to the local deities
of Thebes and Heliopolis, who usher him into the supreme
presence of Hathor. He then presents various offerings and
recites certain prayers; whereupon the goddess promises him
length of days, everlasting renown, and other good things.
We next see him, always with the same smile and always in
the same attitude, doing homage to Osiris, to Horus and other
divinities. He presents them with flowers, wine, bread, incense;
while they in return promise him life, joy, abundant harvests,
victory, and the love of his people. These pretty speeches—
chefs d'œuvre of diplomatic style and models of elegant flattery
—are repeated over and over again in scores of hieroglyphic
groups. Mariette, however, sees in them something more than
the language of the court grafted upon the language of the
hierarchy; he detects the language of the schools, and discovers
in the utterances here ascribed to the King and the
Gods a reflection of that contemporary worship of the Beautiful,
the Good, and the True, which characterised the teaching
of the Alexandrian Museum.1
1 Hathor (or more correctly Hat-hor, i.e. the abode of Horus), is not
merely the Aphrodite of ancient Egypt: she is the pupil of the eye of the
Sun: she is the goddess of that beneficent planet whose rising heralds the
waters of the inundation; she represents the eternal youth of nature, and
is the direct personification of the Beautiful. She is also Goddess of Truth.
“I offer the Truth to thee, O Goddess of Denderah!” says the King, in
one of the inscriptions of the sanctuary of the Sistrum; “for truth is thy
work, and thou thyself art Truth.” Lastly, her emblem is the Sistrum,
and the sound of the Sistrum, according to Plutarch, was supposed to
terrify and expel Typhon (the evil principle); just as in mediæval times
the ringing of church-bells was supposed to scare Beelzebub and his crew.
From this point of view, the Sistrum becomes typical of the triumph of
Good over Evil. Mariette, in his analysis of the decorations and inscriptions
of this temple, points out how the builders were influenced by the
prevailing philosophy of the age, and how they veiled the Platonism of
Alexandria beneath the symbolism of the ancient religion. The Hat-hor
of Denderah was in fact worshipped in a sense unknown to the Egyptians
of pre-Ptolemaic times.


Passing on from the portico to the Hall of Assembly, we
enter a region of still dimmer twilight, beyond which all is
dark. In the side-chambers, where the heat is intense and the
atmosphere stifling, we can see only by the help of lighted
candles. These rooms are about twenty feet in length; separate,
like prison cells; and perfectly dark. The sculptures
which cover their walls are, however, as numerous as those in
the outer halls, and indicate in each instance the purpose for
which the room was designed. Thus in the laboratories we
find bas-reliefs of flasks and vases, and figures carrying
perfume-bottles of the familiar aryballos form; in the tribute-chambers,
offerings of lotus-lilies, wheat sheaves, maize, grapes,
and pomegranates; in the oratories of Isis, Amen, and Sekhet,
representations of these divinities enthroned, and receiving the
homage of the King; while in the treasury, both King and
Queen appear laden with precious gifts of caskets, necklaces,
pectoral ornaments, sistrums, and the like. It would seem that
the image-breakers had no time to spare for these dark cells;
for here the faces and figures are unmutilated, and in some
places even the original colouring remains in excellent preservation.
The complexion of the goddesses, for instance, is
painted of a light buff; the King's skin is dark-red; that of
Amen, blue. Isis wears a rich robe of the well-known Indian
pine-pattern; Sekhet figures in a many-coloured garment
curiously diapered; Amen is clad in red and green chain
armour. The skirts of the goddesses are inconceivably scant;
but they are rich in jewellery, and their headdresses, necklaces,
and bracelets are full of minute and interesting detail. In one

of the four oratories dedicated to Sekhet, the King is depicted
in the act of offering a pectoral ornament of so rich and elegant
a design that, had there been time and daylight to spare, the
Writer would fain have copied it.
In the centre room at the extreme end of the Temple, exactly
opposite the main entrance, lies the oratory of Hathor.
This dark chamber, into which no ray of daylight has ever
penetrated, contains the sacred niche, the Holy of Holies, in
which was kept the great Golden Sistrum of the Goddess.
The King alone was privileged to take out that mysterious
emblem. Having done so, he enclosed it in a costly shrine,
covered it with a thick veil, and placed it in one of the sacred
boats of which we find elaborate representations sculptured on
the walls of the hall in which they were kept. These boats,
which were constructed of cedar-wood, gold, and silver, were
intended to be hoisted on wrought poles, and so carried in
procession on the shoulders of the priests. The niche is still
there—a mere hole in the wall, some three feet square and
about eight feet from the ground.
Thus, candle in hand, we make the circuit of these outer
chambers. In each doorway, besides the place cut out for the
bolt, we find a circular hole drilled above and a quadrant-shaped
hollow below, where once upon a time the pivot of the
door turned in its socket. The paved floors, torn up by
treasure-seekers, are full of treacherous holes and blocks of
broken stone. The ceilings are very lofty. In the corridors a
dim twilight reigns; but all is pitch-dark beyond these gloomy
thresholds. Hurrying along by the light of a few flaring
candles, one cannot but feel oppressed by the strangeness and
awfulness of the place. We speak with bated breath, and
even our chattering Arabs for once are silent. The very air
tastes as if it had been imprisoned here for centuries.
Finally, we take the staircase on the northern side of the
Temple, in order to go up to the roof. Nothing that we have
yet seen surprises and delights us so much, I think, as this
We have hitherto been tracing in their order all the preparations
for a great religious ceremony. We have seen the
King enter the Temple; undergo the symbolical purification;

receive the twofold crown; and say his prayers to each divinity
in turn. We have followed him into the laboratories, the
oratories, and the holy of holies. All that he has yet done,
however, is preliminary. The procession is yet to come, and
here we have it. Here, sculptured on the walls of this dark
staircase, the crowning ceremony of Egyptian worship is
brought before our eyes in all its details. Here, one by one,
we have the standard-bearers, the hierophants with the offerings,
the priests, the whole long, wonderful procession, with the
King marching at its head. Fresh and uninjured as if they
had but just left the hand of the sculptor, these figures—each in
his habit as he lived, each with his foot upon the step—mount
with us as we mount, and go beside us all the way. Their
attitudes are so natural, their forms so roundly cut, that one
could almost fancy them in motion as the lights flicker by.
Surely there must be some one weird night in the year when
they step out from their places, and take up the next verse of
their chanted hymn, and, to the sound of instruments long
mute and songs long silent, pace the moonlit roof in ghostly
The sun is already down and the crimson light has faded,
when at length we emerge upon that vast terrace. The roofing-stones
are gigantic. Striding to and fro over some of the
biggest, our Idle Man finds several that measure seven paces in
length by four in breadth. In yonder distant corner, like a
little stone lodge in a vast courtyard, stands a small temple
supported on Hathor-headed columns; while at the eastern
end, forming a second and loftier stage, rises the roof of the
Meanwhile, the afterglow is fading. The mountains are
yet clothed in an atmosphere of tender half-light; but mysterious
shadows are fast creeping over the plain, and the mounds
of the ancient city lie at our feet, confused and tumbled, like
the waves of a dark sea. How high it is here—how lonely—
how silent! Hark that thin plaintive cry! It is the wail of a
night-wandering jackal. See how dark it is yonder, in the
direction of the river! Quick, quick! We have lingered too
long. We must be gone at once; for we are already benighted.
We ought to have gone down by way of the opposite staircase

(which is lined with sculptures of the descending procession)
and out through the Temple; but there is no time to do
anything but scramble down by a breach in the wall at a point
where the mounds yet lie heaped against the south side of the
building. And now the dusk steals on so rapidly that before
we reach the bottom we can hardly see where to tread. The
huge side-wall of the portico seems to tower above us to the
very heavens. We catch a glimpse of two colossal figures, one
lion-headed and the other headless, sitting outside with their
backs to the Temple. Then, making with all speed for the


open plain, we clamber over scattered blocks and among
shapeless mounds. Presently night overtakes us. The mountains
disappear; the Temple is blotted out; and we have only
the faint starlight to guide us. We stumble on, however,
keeping all close together; firing a gun every now and then,
in the hope of being heard by those in the boats; and as
thoroughly and undeniably lost as the Babes in the Wood.
At last, just as some are beginning to knock up and all to
despair, Talhamy fires his last cartridge. An answering shot
replies from near by; a wandering light appears in the distance;
and presently a whole bevy of dancing lanterns and friendly

brown faces comes gleaming out from among a plantation of
sugar-canes, to welcome and guide us home. Dear, sturdy,
faithful little Reïs Hassan, honest Khalîfeh, laughing Salame,
gentle Mehemet Ali, and Mûsa “black but comely”—they were
all there. What a shaking of hands there was—what a gleaming
of white teeth—what a shower of mutually unintelligible
congratulations! For my own part, I may say with truth that
I was never much more rejoiced at a meeting in my life.

[Back to top]



COMING on deck the third morning after leaving Denderah,
we found the dahabeeyah decorated with palm-branches, our
sailors in their holiday turbans, and Reïs Hassan en grande tenue; that is to say in shoes and stockings, which he only
wore on very great occasions.
“Nehârak-sa‘ïd—good morning—Luxor!” said he, all in one
It was a hot, hazy morning, with dim ghosts of mountains
glowing through the mist, and a warm wind blowing.
We ran to the side; looked out eagerly; but could see
nothing. Still the Captain smiled and nodded; and the sailors
ran hither and thither, sweeping and garnishing; and Egendi,
to whom his worst enemy could not have imputed the charge
of bashfulness, said “Luxor—kharûf1—all right!” every time
he came near us.
We had read and dreamed so much about Thebes, and it
had always seemed so far away, that but for this delicate
allusion to the promised sheep, we could hardly have believed
we were really drawing nigh unto those famous shores. About
ten, however, the mist was lifted away like a curtain, and we
saw to the left a rich plain studded with palm-groves; to the
right a broad margin of cultivated lands bounded by a bold
range of limestone mountains; and on the farthest horizon
another range, all grey and shadowy.
Karnak—Gournah—Luxor!” says Reïs Hassan triumphantly,
1 Arabic, “kharûf,” pronounced “haroof”—English, sheep.

pointing in every direction at once. Talhamy tries to
show us Medinet Habu and the Memnonium. The Painter
vows he can see the heads of the sitting Colossi and the entrance
to the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings.
We, meanwhile, stare bewildered, incredulous; seeing none
of these things; finding it difficult, indeed, to believe that any
one else sees them. The river widens away before us; the
flats are green on either side; the mountains are pierced with
terraces of rock-cut tombs; while far away inland, apparently
on the verge of the desert, we see here a clump of sycamores—
yonder a dark hillock—midway between both a confused heap
of something that may be either fallen rock or fallen masonry;
but nothing that looks like a Temple, nothing to indicate that
we are already within recognisable distance of the grandest
ruins in the world.
Presently, however, as the boat goes on, a massive, windowless
structure which looks (Heaven preserve us!) just like a
brand-new fort or prison, towers up above the palm-groves to
the left. This, we are told, is one of the propylons of Karnak;
while a few whitewashed huts and a little crowd of masts now
coming into sight a mile or so higher up, mark the position of
Luxor. Then up capers Egendi with his never-failing “Luxor
—kharûf—all right!” to fetch down the tar and darabukkeh.
The captain claps his hands. A circle is formed on the lower
deck. The men, all smiles, strike up their liveliest chorus, and
so, with barbaric music and well-filled sails, and flags flying,
and green boughs waving overhead, we make our triumphal
entry into Luxor.
The top of another pylon; the slender peak of an obelisk;
a colonnade of giant pillars half-buried in the soil; the white
houses of the English, American, and Prussian Consuls, each
with its flagstaff and ensign; a steep slope of sandy shore; a
background of mud walls and pigeon-towers; a foreground of
native boats and gaily-painted dahabeeyahs lying at anchor—
such, as we sweep by, is our first panoramic view of this famous
village. A group of turbaned officials sitting in the shade of
an arched doorway rise and salute us as we pass. The assembled
dahabeeyahs dozing with folded sails, like sea-birds
asleep, are roused to spasmodic activity. Flags are lowered;

guns are fired; all Luxor is startled from its midday siesta.
Then, before the smoke has had time to clear off, up comes the
Bagstones in gallant form; whereupon the dahabeeyahs blaze
away again as before.


And now there is a rush of donkeys and donkey-boys,
beggars, guides, and antiquity-dealers, to the shore—the children
screaming for backshîsh; the dealers exhibiting strings of
imitation scarabs; the donkey-boys vociferating the names
and praises of their beasts; all alike regarding us as their
lawful prey.
“Hi, lady! Yankee-Doodle donkey; try Yankee-Doodle!”
cries one.
“Far-away Moses!” yells another. “Good donkey—fast
donkey—best donkey in Luxor!”
“This Prince of Wales’s donkey!” shouts a third, hauling
forward a decrepit little weak-kneed, moth-eaten looking animal,
about as good to ride upon as a towel-horse. “First-rate
donkey! splendid donkey! God save the Queen! Hurrah!”
But neither donkeys nor scarabs are of any importance in

our eyes just now, compared with the letters we hope to find
awaiting us on shore. No sooner, therefore, are the boats
made fast than we are all off, some to the British Consulate
and some to the Poste Restante, from both of which we return
rich and happy.
Meanwhile we proposed to spend only twenty-four hours
in Luxor. We were to ride round Karnak this first afternoon;
to cross to Medinet Habu and the Ramesseum1 to-morrow
morning; and to sail again as soon after midday as possible.
We hope thus to get a general idea of the topography of
Thebes, and to carry away a superficial impression of the architectural
style of the Pharaohs. It would be but a glimpse;
yet that glimpse was essential. For Thebes represents the
great central period of Egyptian art. The earlier styles lead
up to that point; the later depart from it; and neither the
earlier nor the later are intelligible without it. At the same
time, however, travellers bound for the Second Cataract do
well to put off everything like a detailed study of Thebes till
the time of coming back. For the present, a rapid survey of
the three principal groups of ruins is enough. It supplies the
necessary link. It helps one to a right understanding of Edfu,
of Philæ, of Abu Simbel. In a word, it enables one to put
things in their right places; and this, after all, is a mental
process which every traveller must perform for himself.
Thebes, I need scarcely say, was built like London on
both sides of the river. Its original extent must have been
very great; but its public buildings, its quays, its thousands
of private dwellings, are gone and have left few traces. The
secular city, which was built of crude brick, is represented by
a few insignificant mounds; while of the sacred edifices, five
large groups of limestone ruins—three on the western bank
and two on the eastern, together with the remains of several
small temples and a vast multitude of tombs—are all that
remain in permanent evidence of its ancient splendour. Luxor
1 This famous building is supposed by some to be identical both with
the Memnonium of Strabo and the Tomb of Osymandias as described by
Diodorus Siculus. Champollion, however, following the sense of the
hieroglyphed legends, in which it is styled “The House of Rameses” (the
Second), has given to it the more appropriate name of the

is a modern Arab village occupying the site of one of the oldest
of these five ruins. It stands on the eastern bank, close
against the river, about two miles south of Karnak and nearly
opposite the famous sitting Colossi of the Western plain. On
the opposite bank lie Gournah, the Ramesseum, and Medinet
Habu. A glance at the map will do more than pages of
explanation to show the relative position of these ruins. The
Temple of Gournah, it will be seen, is almost vis-à-vis of
Karnak. The Ramesseum faces about half-way between
Karnak and Luxor. Medinet Habu is placed farther to the
south than any building on the eastern side of the river.
Behind these three western groups, reaching far and wide
along the edge of the Libyan range, lies the great Theban
Necropolis; while farther back still, in the radiating valleys on
the other side of the mountains, are found the Tombs of the
Kings. The distance between Karnak and Luxor is a little
less than two miles; while from Medinet Habu to the Temple
of Gournah may be roughly guessed at something under four.
We have here, therefore, some indication of the extent, though
not of the limits, of the ancient city.
Luxor is a large village inhabited by a mixed population
of Copts and Arabs, and doing a smart trade in antiquities.
The temple has here formed the nucleus of the village, the older
part of which has grown up in and about the ruins. The
grand entrance faces north, looking down towards Karnak.
The twin towers of the great propylon, dilapidated as they are,
stripped of their cornices, encumbered with débris, are magnificent
still. In front of them, one on each side of the central
gateway, sit two helmeted colossi, battered, and featureless, and
buried to the chin, like two of the Proud in the doleful Fifth
Circle. A few yards in front of these again stands a solitary
obelisk, also half-buried. The colossi are of black granite;
the obelisk is of red, highly polished, and covered on all four
sides with superb hieroglyphs in three vertical columns. These
hieroglyphs are engraved with the precision of the finest gem.
They are cut to a depth of about two inches in the outer
columns, and five inches in the central column of the inscription.
The true height of this wonderful monolith is over
seventy feet, between thirty and forty of which are hidden

under the accumulated soil of many centuries. Its companion
obelisk, already scaling away by imperceptible degrees under
the skyey influences of an alien climate, looks down with
melancholy indifference upon the petty revolutions and counter-revolutions
of the Place de la Concorde. On a line with the two
black colossi, but some fifty feet or so farther to the west, rises
a third and somewhat smaller head of chert or limestone, the
fellow to which is doubtless hidden among the huts that encroach
half-way across the face of the eastern tower. The whole
outer surface of these towers is covered with elaborate sculptures
of gods and men, horses and chariots, the pageantry of triumph
and the carnage of war. The King in his chariot draws his
terrible bow, or slays his enemies on foot, or sits enthroned,
receiving the homage of his court. Whole regiments armed
with lance and shield march across the scene. The foe flies in
disorder. The King, attended by his fan-bearers, returns in
state, and the priests burn incense before him.
This king is Rameses the Second, called Sesostris and
Osymandias by ancient writers, and best known to history as
Rameses the Great. His actual names and titles as they stand
upon the monuments are Ra-user-ma Sotp-en-Ra Ra-messu
Mer-Amen; that is to say, “Ra strong in Truth, Approved of
Ra, Son of Ra, Beloved of Amen.”
The battle-scenes here represented relate to that memorable
campaign against the Kheta which forms the subject of the
famous Third Sallier Papyrus,1 and is commemorated upon the
walls of almost every temple built by this monarch. Separated
from his army and surrounded by the enemy, the King, attended
only by his chariot-driver, is said to have six times charged
the foe—to have hewn them down with his sword of might—
to have trampled them like straw beneath his horse's feet—to
have dispersed them single-handed, like a god. Two thousand
five hundred chariots were there, and he overthrew them; one
hundred thousand warriors, and he scattered them. Those
that he slew not with his hand, he chased unto the water's
1 Translated into French by the late Vicomte de Rougé under the title
of Le Poeme de Pentaour, 1856; into English by Mr. Goodwin, 1858;
and again by Professor Lushington in 1874. See Records of the Past,
vol. ii.

edge, causing them to leap to destruction as leaps the crocodile.
Such was the immortal feat of Rameses, and such the chronicle
written by the Royal Scribe, Pentaur.
Setting aside the strain of Homeric exaggeration which
runs through this narrative, there can be no doubt that it records
some brilliant deed of arms actually performed by the King
within sight, though not within reach, of his army; and the
hieroglyphic texts interpersed among these tableaux state that
the events depicted took place on the fifth day of the month
Epiphi, in the fifth year of his reign. By this we must understand
the fifth year of his sole reign, which would be five years
after the death of his father, Seti I, with whom he had, from
an early age, been associated on the throne. He was a man
in the prime of life at the time of this famous engagement,
which was fought under the walls of Kadesh on the Orontes;
and the bas-relief sculptures show him to have been accompanied
by several of his sons, who, though evidently very young, are
represented in their war-chariots fully armed and taking part
in the battle.1
The mutilated colossi are portrait statues of the conqueror.
The obelisk, in the pompous style of Egyptian dedications,
proclaims that “The Lord of the World, Guardian-Sun of
Truth, approved of Ra, has built this edifice in honour of his
Father Amen-Ra, and has erected to him these two great
obelisks of stone in face of the house of Rameses in the City
of Ammon.”
So stately was the approach made by Rameses the Great to
the temple founded about a hundred and fifty years before his
time by Amenhotep III. He also built the courtyard upon
which this pylon opened, joining it to the older part of the
building in such wise that the original first court became now the
second court, while next in order came the portico, the hall of
assembly, and the sanctuary. By and by, when the long line of
1 According to the great inscription of Abydos translated by Professor
Maspero, Rameses II would seem to have been in some sense King from
his birth, as if the throne of Egypt came to him through his mother, and
as if his father, Seti 1, had reigned for him during his infancy as King-Regent.
Some inscriptions, indeed, show him to have received homage
even before his birth.

Rameses had passed away, other and later kings put their hands
to the work. The names of Shabaka (Sabaco), of Ptolemy
Philopater, and of Alexander the Younger, appear among the
later inscriptions; while those of Amenhotep IV (Khu-en-Aten),
Horemheb, and Seti, the father of Rameses the Great, are found
in the earlier parts of the building. It was in this way that
an Egyptian temple grew from age to age, owing a colonnade
to this king and a pylon to that, till it came in time to
represent the styles of many periods. Hence, too, that frequent
irregularity of plan, which, unless it could be ascribed to the
caprices of successive builders, would form so unaccountable a
feature in Egyptian architecture. In the present instance, the
pylon and courtyard of Rameses II are set at an angle of five
degrees to the courtyard and sanctuary of Amenhotep III.
This has evidently been done to bring the Temple of Luxor
into a line with the Temple of Karnak, in order that the two
might be connected by means of that stupendous avenue of
sphinxes, the scattered remains of which yet strew the course
of the ancient roadway.
As I have already said, these half-buried pylons, this
solitary obelisk, those giant heads rising in ghastly resurrection
before the gates of the Temple, were magnificent still. But it
was as the magnificence of a splendid prologue to a poem of
which only garbled fragments remain. Beyond that entrance
lay a smoky, filthy, intricate labyrinth of lanes and passages.
Mud hovels, mud pigeon-towers, mud yards, and a mud
mosque, clustered like wasps' nests in and about the ruins.
Architraves sculptured with royal titles supported the roofs of
squalid cabins. Stately capitals peeped out from the midst of
sheds in which buffaloes, camels, donkeys, dogs, and human
beings were seen herding together in unsavoury fellowship.
Cocks crew, hens cackled, pigeons cooed, turkeys gobbled,
children swarmed, women were baking and gossiping, and all the
sordid routine of Arab life was going on, amid winding alleys
that masked the colonnades and defaced the inscriptions of the
Pharaohs. To trace the plan of this part of the building was
then impossible.
All communication being cut off between the courts and
the portico, we had to go round outside and through a door at

the farther end of the Temple, in order to reach the sanctuary
and the adjoining chambers. The Arab who kept the key
provided an inch or two of candle. For it was very dark in
there; the roof being still perfect, with a large, rambling,
modern house built on the top of it—so that if this part of the
Temple was ever partially lighted, as at Denderah and elsewhere,
by small wedge-like openings in the roof, even those
faint gleams were excluded.
The sanctuary, which was rebuilt in the reign of Alexander
ægus; some small side chambers; and a large hall, which was
perhaps the hall of assembly, were all that remained under
cover of the original roofing-stones. Some half-buried and broken
columns on the side next the river showed, however, that this
end was formerly surrounded by a colonnade. The sanctuary
—an oblong granite chamber with its own separate roof—
stands enclosed in a larger hall, like a box within a box, and
is covered inside and outside with bas-reliefs. These sculptures
(among which I observed a kneeling figure of the king,
offering a kneeling image to Amen Ra) are executed in the
mediocre style of the Ptolemies. That is to say, the forms are
more natural but less refined than those of the Pharaonic
period. The limbs are fleshy, the joints large, the features
insignificant. Of actual portraiture one cannot detect a trace;
while every face wears the same objectionable smirk which
disfigures the Cleopatra of Denderah.
In the large hall, which I have called the Hall of Assembly,
one is carried back to the time of the founder. Between
Amenhotep III and Alexander ægus there lies a great gulf
of 1200 years; and their styles are as widely separated
as their reigns. The merest novice could not possibly
mistake the one for the other. Nothing is, of course, more
common than to find Egyptian and Græco-Egyptian work side
by side in the same temple; but nowhere are the distinctive
characteristics of each brought into stronger contrast than in
these dark chambers of Luxor. In the sculptures that line the
hall of Amenhotep we find the pure lines, the severe and
slender forms, the characteristic heads, of a period when the
art, having as yet neither gained nor lost by foreign influences,
was entirely Egyptian. The subjects relate chiefly to the

infancy of the King; but it is difficult to see anything properly
by the light of a candle tied to the end of a stick; and here,
where the bas-relief is so low and the walls are so high, it is
almost impossible to distinguish the details of the upper tableaux.
I could make out, however, that Amen, Maut, and their
son Khonsu, the three personages of the Theban triad, are the
presiding deities of these scenes; and that they are in some
way identified with the fortunes of Thothmes IV, his queen,
and their son Amenhotep III. Amenhotep is born, apparently,
under the especial protection of Maut, the Divine Mother;
brought up with the youthful god Khonsu; and received by
Amen as the brother and equal of his own divine son. I think
it was in this hall that I observed a singular group representing
Amen and Maut in an attitude symbolical perhaps of troth-plight,
or marriage. They sit face to face, the goddess holding
in her right hand the left hand of the god, while in her left
hand she supports his right elbow. Their thrones, meanwhile,
rest on the heads, and their feet are upheld on the hands of
two female genii. It is significant that Rameses III and one
of the ladies of his so-called hareem are depicted in the same
attitude in one of the famous domestic subjects sculptured on
the upper storeys of the Pavilion at Medinet Habu.
We saw this interesting Temple much too cursorily; yet we
gave more time to it than the majority of those who year after
year anchor for days together close under its majestic columns.
If the whole building could be transported bodily to some
point between Memphis and Siût where the river is bare of
ruins, it would be enthusiastically visited. Here it is eclipsed
by the wonders of Karnak and the western bank, and is
undeservedly neglected. Those parts of the original building
which yet remain are, indeed, peculiarly precious; for Amenhotep,
or Amunoph, the Third, was one of the great builder-kings
of Egypt, and we have here one of the few extant
specimens of his architectural work.1
1 The ruins of the Great Temple of Luxor have undergone a complete
transformation since the above description was written; Professor Maspero,
during the two last years of his official rule as successor to the late
Mariette-Pasha, having done for this magnificent relic of Pharaonic times
what his predecessor did for the more recent Temple of Edfoo. The difficulties
of carrying out this great undertaking were so great as to appear at
first sight almost insurmountable. The fellaheen refused at first to sell
their houses; Mustapha Aga asked the exorbitant price of £3000 for his
Consular residence, built as it was between the columns of Horemheb
facing the river; and for no pecuniary consideration whatever was it
possible to purchase the right of pulling down the mosque in the first great
courtyard of the Temple. After twelve months of negotiation, the fellaheen
were at last bought out on fair terms, each proprietor receiving a stated
price for his dwelling and a piece of land elsewhere, upon which to build
another. Some thirty families were thus got rid of, about eight or ten
only refusing to leave at any price. The work of demolition was begun in
1885. In 1886, the few families yet lingering in the ruins followed the
example of the rest; and in the course of that season the Temple was
cleared from end to end, only the little native mosque being left standing
within the precincts, and Mustapha Aga's house on the side next the
landing-place. Professor Maspero's resignation followed in 1887, since
when the work has been carried on by his successor, M. Grébaut, with the
result that in place of a crowded, sordid, unintelligible labyrinth of mudhuts,
yards, stables, alleys, and dung-heaps, a noble Temple, second only
to that of Karnak for grandeur of design and beauty of proportion, now
marshals its avenues of columns and uplifts its sculptured architraves along
the crest of the ridge which here rises high above the eastern bank of the
Nile. Some of those columns, now that they are cleared down to the
level of the original pavement, measure 57 feet in the shaft; and in the
great courtyard built by Rameses II, which measures 190 feet by 170, a
series of beautiful colossal statues of that Pharaoh in highly polished red
granite have been discovered, some yet standing in situ, having been built
into the walls of mud structures and imbedded (for who shall say how many
centuries?) in a sepulchre of ignoble clay. Last of all, Mustapha Aga, the
kindly and popular old British Consul, whose hospitality will long be remembered
by English travellers, died about twelve months since, and the house
in which he entertained so many English visitors, and upon which he set
so high a value, is even now in course of demolition.


The Coptic quarter of Luxor lies north of the great pylon,
and partly skirts the river. It is cleaner, wider, more airy
than that of the Arabs. The Prussian Consul is a Copt; the
polite postmaster is a Copt; and in a modest lodging built
half beside and half over the Coptic church, lives the Coptic
Bishop. The postmaster (an ungainly youth in a European
suit so many sizes too small that his arms and legs appeared
to be sprouting out at the ends of his garments) was profuse
in his offers of service. He undertook to forward letters to us
at Assûan, Korosko, and Wady Halfah, where post-offices had
lately been established. And he kept his promise, I am bound
to say, with perfect punctuality;—always adding some queer
little complimentary message on the outer wrapper, such as

“I hope you well my compliments;” or “Wishes you good
news pleasant voyage.” As a specimen of his literary style I
copied the following notice, of which it was evident that he
was justly proud:—
NOTICE: On the commandation. We have ordered the
post stations in lower Egypt from Assiut to Cartoom. Belonging
to the Post Kedevy Egyptian in a good order. Now to
pay for letters in lower Egypt is as in upper Egypt twice.
Means that the letters which goes from here far than Asiut;
must pay for it two piastres per ten grs. Also that which
goes far than Cartoom. The letters which goes between Asiut
and Cartoom; must pay only one piastre per ten grs. This
and that is, to buy stamps from the Post and put it upon the
letter. Also if somebody wishes to send letters insuranced,
must two piastres more for any letter. There is orderation in
the Post to receive the letters which goes to Europe, America
and Asia, as England France, Italy Germany, Syria, Constantinople
etc. Also to send newspapers patterns and other
things. Luxor the 1st January 1874. L'Ispettore, M. ADDA.”
This young man begged for a little stationery and a
pen-knife at parting. We had, of course, much pleasure in
presenting him with such a modest testimonial. We afterwards
learned that he levied the same little tribute on every
dahabeeyah that came up the river; so I conclude that he
must by this time have quite an interesting collection of small
From the point where the railroad ends, the Egyptian and
Nubian mails are carried by runners stationed at distances of
four miles all along the route. Each man runs his four miles,
and at the end thereof finds the next man ready to snatch up
his bag and start off at full speed immediately. The next
man transfers it in like manner to the next; and so it goes by
day and night without a break, till it reaches the first railway
station. Each runner is supposed to do his four miles in half-an-hour,
and the mail which goes out every morning from
Luxor reaches Cairo in six days. Considering that Cairo was
450 miles away, that 268 miles of this distance had to be
done on foot, and that the trains went only once a day, we
thought this a very creditable speed.


In the afternoon we took donkeys, and rode out to Karnak.
Our way lay through the bazaar, which was the poorest we
had yet seen. It consisted of only a few open sheds, in one
of which, seated on a mud-built divan, cross-legged and turbanless
like a row of tumbler mandarins, we saw five of our sailors
under the hands of the Luxor barber. He had just lathered
all five heads, and was complacently surveying the effect of
his work, much as an artistic cook might survey a dish of
particularly successful méringues à la crême. The méringues
looked very sheepish when we laughed and passed by.
Next came the straggling suburb where the dancing girls
most do congregate. These damsels, in gaudy garments of
emerald green, bright rose, and flaming yellow, were squatting
outside their cabins or lounging unveiled about the thresholds
of two or three dismal dens of cafés in the market-place. They
showed their teeth, and laughed familiarly in our faces. Their
eyebrows were painted to meet on the bridge of the nose;
their eyes were blackened round with kohl; their cheeks were
extravagantly rouged; their hair was gummed, and greased,
and festooned upon their foreheads, and plaited all over in
innumerable tails. Never before had we seen anything in
female form so hideous. One of these houris was black; and
she looked quite beautiful in her blackness, compared with the
painting and plastering of her companions.
We now left the village behind, and rode out across a wide
plain, barren and hillocky in some parts; overgrown in others
with coarse halfeh grass; and dotted here and there with
clumps of palms. The Nile lay low and out of sight, so that
the valley seemed to stretch away uninterruptedly to the
mountains on both sides. Now leaving to the left a Sheykh's
tomb, topped by a little cupola and shaded by a group of
tamarisks; now following the bed of a dry watercourse; now
skirting shapeless mounds that indicated the site of ruins unexplored,
the road, uneven but direct, led straight to Karnak.
At every rise in the ground we saw the huge propylons towering
higher above the palms. Once, but for only a few moments,
there came into sight a confused and wide-spread mass of ruins,
as extensive, apparently, as the ruins of a large town. Then
our way dipped into a sandy groove bordered by mud-walls

and plantations of dwarf-palms. All at once this groove
widened, became a stately avenue guarded by a double file of
shattered sphinxes, and led towards a lofty pylon standing up
alone against the sky.
Close beside this grand gateway, as if growing there on
purpose, rose a thicket of sycamores and palms; while beyond
it were seen the twin pylons of a Temple. The sphinxes were
colossal, and measured about ten feet in length. One or two
were ram-headed. Of the rest—some forty or fifty in number
—all were headless, some split asunder, some overturned, others
so mutilated that they looked like torrent-worn boulders. This
avenue once reached from Luxor to Karnak. Taking into
account the distance (which is just two miles from Temple to
Temple) and the short intervals at which the sphinxes are
placed, there cannot originally have been fewer than five hundred
of them; that is to say two hundred and fifty on each side of
the road.
Dismounting for a few minutes, we went into the Temple;
glanced round the open courtyard with its colonnade of pillars;
peeped hurriedly into some ruinous side-chambers; and then
rode on. Our books told us that we had seen the small
Temple of Rameses the Third. It would have been called
large anywhere but at Karnak.
I seem to remember the rest as if it had all happened in
a dream. Leaving the small Temple, we turned towards the
river, skirted the mud-walls of the native village, and approached
the Great Temple by way of its main entrance. Here we
entered upon what had once been another great avenue of
sphinxes, ram-headed, couchant on plinths deep cut with
hieroglyphic legends, and leading up from some grand landing-place
beside the Nile.
And now the towers that we had first seen as we sailed by
in the morning rose straight before us, magnificent in ruin,
glittering to the sun, and relieved in creamy light against blue
depths of sky. One was nearly perfect; the other, shattered
as if by the shock of an earthquake, was still so lofty that an
Arab clambering from block to block midway of its vast height
looked no bigger than a squirrel.
On the threshold of this tremendous portal we again dismounted.

Shapeless crude-brick mounds, marking the limits
of the ancient wall of circuit, reached far away on either side.
An immense perspective of pillars and pylons leading up to
a very distant obelisk opened out before us. We went in, the
great walls towering up like cliffs above our heads, and entered
the First Court. Here, in the midst of a large quadrangle
open to the sky stands a solitary column, the last of a central
avenue of twelve, some of which, disjointed by the shock, lie
just as they fell, like skeletons of vertebrate monsters left
stranded by the Flood.
Crossing this Court in the glowing sunlight, we came to a
mighty doorway between two more propylons—the doorway
splendid with coloured bas-reliefs; the propylons mere cataracts
of fallen blocks piled up to right and left in grand confusion.
The cornice of the doorway is gone. Only a jutting fragment
of the lintel stone remains. That stone, when perfect, measured
forty feet and ten inches across. The doorway must have
been full a hundred feet in height.
We went on. Leaving to the right a mutilated colossus
engraven on arm and breast with the cartouche of Rameses II,
we crossed the shade upon the threshold, and passed into the
famous Hypostyle Hall of Seti the First.
It is a place that has been much written about and often
painted; but of which no writing and no art can convey more
than a dwarfed and pallid impression. To describe it, in the
sense of building up a recognisable image by means of words,
is impossible. The scale is too vast; the effect too tremendous;
the sense of one's own dumbness, and littleness, and incapacity,
too complete and crushing. It is a place that strikes you into
silence; that empties you, as it were, not only of words but of
ideas. Nor is this a first effect only. Later in the year, when
we came back down the river and moored close by, and spent
long days among the ruins, I found I never had a word to say
in the Great Hall. Others might measure the girth of those
tremendous columns; others might climb hither and thither,
and find out points of view, and test the accuracy of Wilkinson
and Mariette; but I could only look, and be silent.
Yet to look is something, if one can but succeed in remembering;
and the Great Hall of Karnak is photographed in

some dark corner of my brain for as long as I have memory.
I shut my eyes, and see it as if I were there—not all at once,
as in a picture; but bit by bit, as the eye takes note of large
objects and travels over an extended field of vision. I stand
once more among those mighty columns, which radiate into


avenues from whatever point one takes them. I see them
swathed in coiled shadows and broad bands of light. I see
them sculptured and painted with shapes of Gods and Kings,
with blazonings of royal names, with sacrificial altars, and forms
of sacred beasts, and emblems of wisdom and truth. The
shafts of these columns are enormous. I stand at the foot of

one—or of what seems to be the foot; for the original pavement
lies buried seven feet below. Six men standing with
extended arms, finger-tip to finger-tip, could barely span it
round. It casts a shadow twelve feet in breadth—such a
shadow as might be cast by a tower. The capital that juts
out so high above my head looks as if it might have been
placed there to support the heavens. It is carved in the
semblance of a full-blown lotus, and glows with undying colours
—colours that are still fresh, though laid on by hands that have
been dust these three thousand years and more. It would take
not six men, but a dozen to measure round the curved lip of
that stupendous lily.
Such are the twelve central columns. The rest (one
hundred and twenty-two in number) are gigantic too; but
smaller. Of the roof they once supported, only the beams
remain. Those beams are stones—huge monoliths1 carved
and painted, bridging the space from pillar to pillar, and
patterning the trodden soil with bands of shadow.
Looking up and down the central avenue, we see at the
one end a flame-like obelisk; at the other, a solitary palm
against a background of glowing mountain. To right, to left,
showing transversely through long files of columns, we catch
glimpses of colossal bas-reliefs lining the roofless walls in every
direction. The King, as usual, figures in every group, and
performs the customary acts of worship. The Gods receive
and approve him. Half in light, half in shadow, these slender,
fantastic forms stand out sharp, and clear, and colourless;
each figure some eighteen or twenty feet in height. They
could scarcely have looked more weird when the great roof
1 The size of these stones not being given in any of our books, I paced
the length of one of the shadows, and (allowing for so much more at each
end as would be needed to reach to the centres of the two capitals on
which it rested) found the block above must measure at least 25 feet in
length. The measurements of the Great Hall are, in plain figures, 170
feet in length by 329 in breadth. It contains 134 columns, of which the
central twelve stand 62 feet high in the shaft (or about 70 with the plinth
and abacus), and measure 34 feet 6 inches in circumference. The smaller
columns stand 42 feet 5 inches in the shaft, and measure 28 feet in circumference.
All are buried to a depth of between six or seven feet in the
alluvial deposits of between three and four thousand annual inundations.

was in its place and perpetual twilight reigned. But it is
difficult to imagine the roof on, and the sky shut out. It all
looks right as it is; and one feels, somehow, that such columns
should have nothing between them and the infinite blue depths
of heaven.
The great central avenue was, however, sufficiently lighted
by means of a double row of clerestory windows, some of
which are yet standing. Certain writers have suggested that
they may have been glazed; but this seems improbable for
two reasons. Firstly, because one or two of these huge
window-frames yet contain the solid stone gratings which in
the present instance seem to have done duty for a translucent
material: and, secondly, because we have no evidence to show
that the early Egyptians, though familiar since the days of
Cheops with the use of the blow-pipe, ever made glass in
sheets, or introduced it in this way into their buildings.
How often has it been written, and how often must it be
repeated, that the Great Hall at Karnak is the noblest architectural
work ever designed and executed by human hands?
One writer tells us that it covers four times the area occupied
by the Cathedral of Nôtre Dame in Paris. Another measures
it against St. Peter's. All admit their inability to describe it;
yet all attempt the description. To convey a concrete image
of the place to one who has not seen it, is, however, as I have
already said, impossible. If it could be likened to this place
or that, the task would not be so difficult; but there is, in
truth, no building in the wide world to compare with it. The
Pyramids are more stupendous. The Colosseum covers more
ground. The Parthenon is more beautiful. Yet in nobility of
conception, in vastness of detail, in majesty of the highest
order, the Hall of Pillars exceeds them every one. This
doorway, these columns, are the wonder of the world. How
was that lintel-stone raised? How were these capitals lifted?
Entering among those mighty pillars, says a recent observer,
“you feel that you have shrunk to the dimensions and feebleness
of a fly.” But I think you feel more than that. You are
stupefied by the thought of the mighty men who made them.
You say to yourself:—“There were indeed giants in those days.”
It may be that the traveller who finds himself for the first

time in the midst of a grove of Wellingtonia gigantea feels
something of the same overwhelming sense of awe and wonder;
but the great trees, though they have taken three thousand
years to grow, lack the pathos and the mystery that comes of
human labour. They do not strike their roots through six
thousand years of history. They have not been watered with
the blood and tears of millions.1 Their leaves know no sounds
less musical than the singing of birds or the moaning of the
night-wind as it sweeps over the highlands of Calaveros. But
every breath that wanders down the painted aisles of Karnak
seems to echo back the sighs of those who perished in the
quarry, at the oar, and under the chariot-wheels of the
The Hypostyle Hall, though built by Seti, the father
of Rameses II, is supposed by some Egyptologists to have
been planned, if not begun, by that same Amenhotep III who
founded the Temple of Luxor and set up the famous Colossi
of the Plain. However this may be, the cartouches so lavishly
sculptured on pillar and architrave contain no names but those
of Seti, who undoubtedly executed the work en bloc, and of
Rameses, who completed it.
And now, would it not be strange if we knew the name
and history of the architect who superintended the building of
this wondrous Hall, and planned the huge doorway by which
it was entered, and the mighty pylons which lie shattered on
either side? Would it not be interesting to look upon his
portrait, and see what manner of man he was? Well, the
Egyptian room in the Glyptothek Museum at Munich contains
a statue found some seventy years ago at Thebes, which almost
certainly represents that man, and is inscribed with his history.
His name was Bak-en-Khonsu (servant of Khonsu). He sits
upon the ground, bearded and robed, in an attitude of meditation.
That he was a man of unusual ability is shown by the
inscriptions engraved upon the back of the statue. These
inscriptions record his promotion step by step to the highest
grade of the hierarchy. Having attained the dignity of High
Priest and First Prophet of Amen during the reign of Seti the
1 It has been calculated that every stone of these huge Pharaonic
temples cost at least one human life.

First, he became Chief Architect of the Thebaid under Rameses
II, and received a royal commission to superintend the embellishment
of the Temples. When Rameses II “erected a
monument to his Divine Father Amen Ra,” the building thereof
was executed under the direction of Bak-en-Khonsu. Here
the inscription, as translated by M. Deveria, goes on to say
that “he made the sacred edifice in the upper gate of the
Abode of Amen.1 He erected obelisks of granite. He made
golden flagstaffs. He added very, very great colonnades.”
M. Deveria suggests that the Temple of Gournah may here
be indicated; but to this it might be objected that Gournah is
situated in the lower and not the upper part of Thebes; that
at Gournah there are no great colonnades and no obelisks;
and that, moreover, for some reason at present unknown to us,
the erection of obelisks seems to have been almost wholly
confined to the eastern bank of the Nile. It is, however,
possible that the works here enumerated may not all have
been executed for one and the same Temple. The “sacred
edifice in the upper gate of the Abode of Amen” might be the
Temple of Luxor, which Rameses did in fact adorn with the
only obelisks we know to be his in Thebes; the monument
erected by him to his Divine Father Amen (evidently a new
structure) would scarcely be any other than the Ramesseum;
while the “very, very great colonnades,” which are expressly
specified as additions, would seem as if they could only belong
to the Hypostyle Hall of Karnak. The question is at all
events interesting; and it is pleasant to believe that in the
Munich statue we have not only a portrait of one who at
Karnak played the part of Michael Angelo to some foregone
and forgotten Bramante, but who was also the Ictinus of the
Ramesseum. For the Ramesseum is the Parthenon of Thebes.
The ṣun was sinking and the shadows were lengthening
when, having made the round of the principal ruins, we at
length mounted our donkeys and turned towards Luxor. To
describe all that we saw after leaving the Great Hall would fill
1 i.e. Per Amen, or Pa-Amen;—one of the ancient names of Thebes,
which was the city especially dedicated to Amen. Also Apt, or Abot, or
Apetou, by some ascribed to an Indo-Germanic root signifying Abode.
Another name for Thebes, and probably the one most in use, was Uas.

a chapter. Huge obelisks of shining granite—some yet erect,
some shattered and prostrate; vast lengths of sculptured walls
covered with wondrous battle subjects, sacerdotal processions,
and elaborate chronicles of the deeds of Kings; ruined courtyards
surrounded by files of headless statues; a sanctuary
built all of polished granite, and engraven like a gem; a second
Hall of Pillars dating back to the early days of Thothmes the
Third; labyrinths of roofless chambers; mutilated colossi,
shattered pylons, fallen columns, unintelligible foundations and
hieroglyphic inscriptions without end, were glanced at, passed
by, and succeeded by fresh wonders. I dare not say how
many small outlying temples we saw in the course of that
rapid survey. In one place we came upon an undulating tract
of coarse halfeh grass, in the midst of which, battered, defaced,
forlorn, sat a weird company of green granite Sphinxes and
lioness-headed Basts. In another, we saw a magnificent
colossal hawk upright on his pedestal in the midst of a bergfall
of ruins. More avenues of Sphinxes, more pylons, more colossi
were passed before the road we took in returning brought us
round to that by which we had come. By the time we reached
the Sheykh's tomb, it was nearly dusk. We rode back across
the plain, silent and bewildered. Have I not said that it was
like a dream?

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HURRYING close upon the serenest of Egyptian sunsets
came a night of storms. The wind got up about ten. By
midnight the river was racing in great waves, and our
dahabeeyah rolling at her moorings like a ship at sea. The
sand, driving in furious gusts from the Lybian desert, dashed
like hail against our cabin windows. Every moment we were
either bumping against the bank, or being rammed by our own
felucca. At length, a little before dawn, a huge slice of the
bank gave way, thundering like an avalanche upon our decks;
whereupon Reïs Hassan, being alarmed for the safety of the
boat, hauled us up to a little sheltered nook a few hundred
yards higher. Taking it altogether, we had not had such a
lively night since leaving Benisouef.
The look-out next morning was dismal—the river running
high in yeasty waves; the boats all huddled together under
the shore; the western bank hidden in clouds of sand. To
get under way was impossible, for the wind was dead against
us; and to go anywhere by land was equally out of the
question. Karnak in a sand-storm would have been grand to
see; but one would have needed a diving helmet to preserve
eyes and ears from destruction.
Towards afternoon, the fury of the wind so far subsided
that we were able to cross the river and ride to Medinet Habu
and the Ramesseum. As we achieved only a passing glimpse
of these wonderful ruins, I will for the present say nothing
about them. We came to know them so well hereafter that
no mere first impression would be worth record.


A light but fitful breeze helped us on next day as far as
Erment, the Ptolemaic Hermonthis, once the site of a goodly
temple, now of an important sugar-factory. Here we moored
for the night, and after dinner received a visit of ceremony
from the Bey—a tall, slender, sharp-featured, bright-eyed man
in European dress, remarkably dignified and well-bred—who
came attended by his secretary, Kawass, and pipe-bearer.
Now the Bey of Erment is a great personage in these parts.
He is governor of the town as well as superintendent of the
sugar-factory; holds a military command; has his palace and
gardens close by, and his private steamer on the river; and is,
like most high officials in Egypt, a Turk of distinction. The
secretary, who was the Bey's younger brother, wore a brown
Inverness cape over a long white petticoat, and left his slippers
at the saloon door. He sat all the time with his toes curiously
doubled under, so that his feet looked like clenched fists in
stockings. Both gentlemen wore tarbooshes, and carried visiting
canes. The visiting cane, by the way, plays a conspicuous
part in modern Egyptian life. It measures about two and a
half feet in length, is tipped at both ends with gold or silver,
and is supposed to add the last touch of elegance to the bearer.
We entertained our guests with coffee and lemonade, and,
as well as we could, with conversation. The Bey, who spoke
only Turkish and Arabic, gave a flourishing account of the
sugar-works, and despatched his pipe-bearer for a bundle of
fresh canes and some specimens of raw and candied sugars.
He said he had an English foreman and several English workmen,
and that for the English as a nation he had the highest
admiration and regard; but that the Arabs “had no heads.”
To our inquiries about the ruins, his replies were sufficiently
discouraging. Of the large Temple every vestige had long
since disappeared; while of the smaller one only a few columns
and part of the walls were yet standing. They lay out beyond
the town and a long way from the river. There was very little
to see. It was all “sagheer” (small); “moosh-taïb” (bad); not
worth the trouble of the walk. As for “anteekahs,” they were
rarely found here, and when found were of slight value.
A scarab which he wore in a ring was then passed round
and admired. It fell to our Little Lady's turn to examine it

last, and restore it to the owner. But the owner, with a bow
and a deprecating gesture, would have none of it. The ring
was a toy—a nothing—the lady's—his no longer. She was
obliged to accept it, however unwillingly. To decline would
have been to offend. But it was the way in which the thing
was done that made the charm of this little incident. The
grace, the readiness, the courtesy, the lofty indifference of it,
were alike admirable. Macready in his best days could have
done it with as princely an air; but even he would probably
have missed something of the Oriental reticence of the Bey of
He then invited us to go over the sugar-factory (which we
declined on account of the lateness of the hour), and presently
took his leave. About ten minutes after, came a whole posse
of presents—three large bouquets of roses for the Sittàt
(ladies), two scarabei, a small funereal statuette in the rare
green porcelain, and a live turkey. We in return sent a complicated
English knife with all sorts of blades, and some pots
of English jam.
The wind rose next morning with the sun, and by breakfast-time
we had left Erment far behind. All that day the
good breeze served us well. The river was alive with cargo-boats.
The Philae put on her best speed. The little Bagstones
kept up gallantly. And the Fostat, a large iron dahabeeyah
full of English gentlemen, kept us close company all the afternoon.
We were all alike bound for Esneh, which is a large
trading town, and lies twenty-six miles south of Erment.
Now, at Esneh the men were to bake again. Great, therefore,
was Reïs Hassan's anxiety to get in first, secure the oven,
and buy the flour before dusk. The Reïs of the Fostat and
he of the Bagstones were equally anxious, and for the same
reasons. Our men, meanwhile, were wild with excitement,
watching every manoeuvre of the other boats; hanging on to
the shoghool like a swarm of bees; and obeying the word of
command with unwonted alacrity. As we neared the goal,
the race grew hotter. The honour of the boats was at stake,
and the bread question was for the moment forgotten. Finally
all three dahabeeyahs ran in abreast, and moored side by side
in front of a row of little open cafés just outside the town.


Esneh (of which the old Egyptian civil name was Sni, and
the Roman name Latopolis) stands high upon the mounds of
the ancient city. It is a large place—as large, apparently, as
Minieh, and like Minieh, it is the capital of a province. Here
dragomans lay in provision of limes, charcoal, flour, and live
stock, for the Nubian journey; and crews bake for the last
time before their return to Egypt. For in Nubia food is
scarce, and prices are high, and there are no public ovens.
It was about five o'clock on a market-day when we reached
Esneh, and the market was not yet over. Going up through
the usual labyrinth of windowless mud-alleys where the old
men crouched, smoking, under every bit of sunny wall, and the
children swarmed like flies, and the cry for backshîsh buzzed
incessantly about our ears, we came to an open space in the
upper part of the town, and found ourselves all at once in the
midst of the market. Here were peasant folk selling farm-produce;
stall-keepers displaying combs, looking-glasses, gaudy
printed handkerchiefs and cheap bracelets of bone and coloured
glass; camels lying at ease and snarling at every passer-by;
patient donkeys; ownerless dogs; veiled women; blue and
black robed men; and all the common sights and sounds of
a native market. Here, too, we found Reïs Hassan bargaining
for flour; Talhamy haggling with a charcoal-dealer; and the
M. B.'s buying turkeys and geese for themselves and a huge
store of tobacco for their crew. Most welcome sight of all,
however, was a dingy chemist's shop about the size of a sentry-box,
over the door of which was suspended an Arabic inscription;
while inside, robed all in black, sat a lean and grizzled
Arab, from whom we bought a big bottle of rose water to
make eye-lotion for L.'s ophthalmic patients.
Meanwhile there was a Temple to be seen at Esneh; and
this Temple, as we had been told, was to be found close
against the market-place. We looked round in vain, however,
for any sign of pylon or portico. The chemist said it was
“kureiyib,” which means “near by.” A camel-driver pointed
to a dilapidated wooden gateway in a recess between two
neighbouring houses. A small boy volunteered to lead the
way. We were greatly puzzled. We had expected to see the
Temple towering above the surrounding houses, as at Luxor,

and could by no means understand how any large building to
which that gateway might give access, should not be visible
from without.
The boy, however, ran and thumped upon the gate, and
shouted “Abbas! Abbas!” Mehemet Ali, who was doing escort,
added some thundering blows with his staff, and a little
crowd gathered, but no Abbas came.
The bystanders, as usual, were liberal with their advice;
recommending the boy to climb over, and the sailor to knock
louder, and suggesting that Abbas the absent might possibly
be found in a certain neighbouring café. At length I somewhat
impatiently expressed my opinion that there was “Mafeesh
Birbeh” (no Temple at all); whereupon a dozen voices were
raised to assure me that the Birbeh was no myth—that it was
“kebîr” (big)—that it was “kwy-ees” (beautiful)—and that
all the “Ingleez” came to see it.
In the midst of the clamour, however, and just as we are
about to turn away in despair, the gate creaks open; the
gentlemen of the Fostat troop out in puggeries and knickerbockers;
and we are at last admitted.
This is what we see—a little yard surrounded by mud-walls;
at the farther end of the yard a dilapidated doorway;
beyond the doorway, a strange-looking, stupendous mass of
yellow limestone masonry, long, and low, and level, and
enormously massive. A few steps farther, and this proves to
be the curved cornice of a mighty Temple—a Temple neither
ruined nor defaced, but buried to the chin in the accumulated
rubbish of a score of centuries. This part is evidently the
portico. We stand close under a row of huge capitals. The
columns that support them are buried beneath our feet. The
ponderous cornice juts out above our heads. From the level
on which we stand to the top of that cornice may measure
about twenty-five feet. A high mud-wall runs parallel to the
whole width of the façade, leaving a passage of about twelve
feet in breadth between the two. A low mud-parapet and a
hand-rail reach from capital to capital. All beyond is vague,
cavernous, mysterious—a great shadowy gulf, in the midst of
which dim ghosts of many columns are darkly visible. From
an opening between two of the capitals, a flight of brick steps

leads down into a vast hall so far below the surface of the
outer world, so gloomy, so awful, that it might be the portico
of Hades.
Going down these steps we come to the original level of
the Temple. We tread the ancient pavement. We look up
to the massive ceiling, recessed, and sculptured, and painted,
like the ceiling at Denderah. We could almost believe, indeed,
that we are again standing in the portico of Denderah. The
number of columns is the same. The arrangement of the
intercolumnar screen is the same. The general effect and the
main features of the plan are the same. In some respects,
however, Esneh is even more striking. The columns, though
less massive than those of Denderah, are more elegant, and
look loftier. Their shafts are covered with figures of gods,
and emblems, and lines of hieroglyphed inscription, all cut in
low relief. Their capitals, in place of the huge draped Hathorheads
of Denderah, are studied from natural forms—from the
lotus-lily, the papyrus-blossom, the plumy date-palm. The
wall-sculpture, however, is inferior to that at Denderah, and
immeasurably inferior to the wall-sculpture at Karnak. The
figures are of the meanest Ptolemaic type, and all of one size.
The inscriptions, instead of being grouped wherever there
happened to be space, and so producing the richest form of
wall-decoration ever devised by man, are disposed in symmetrical
columns, the effect of which, when compared with the florid
style of Karnak, is as the methodical neatness of an engrossed
deed to the splendid freedom of an illuminated manuscript.
The steps occupy the place of the great doorway. The
jambs and part of the cornice, the intercolumnar screen, the
shafts of the columns under whose capitals we came in, are
all there, half-projecting from, and half-imbedded in the solid
mound beyond. The light, however, comes in from so high
up, and through so narrow a space, that one's eyes need to
become accustomed to the darkness before any of these details
can be distinguished. Then, by degrees, forms of deities
familiar and unfamiliar emerge from the gloom.
The Temple is dedicated to Knum or Kneph, the Soul
of the World, whom we now see for the first time. He is
ram-headed, and holds in his hand the “ankh,” or emblem of


life.1 Another new acquaintance is Bes,2 the grotesque god of
mirth and jollity
Two singular little erections, built in between the columns
to right and left of the steps, next attract our attention. They
are like stone sentry-boxes. Each is in itself complete, with
roof, sculptured cornice, doorway, and, if I remember rightly,
a small square window in the side. The inscriptions upon two
similar structures in the portico at Edfû show that the right-hand
closet contained the sacred books belonging to the
Temple, while in the closet to the left of the main entrance
the King underwent the ceremony of purification. It may
therefore be taken for granted that these at Esneh were erected
for the same purposes.
And now we look round for the next Hall—and look in
vain. The doorway which should lead to it is walled up.
The portico was excavated by Mohammed Ali in 1842; not
in any spirit of antiquarian zeal, but in order to provide a safe
underground magazine for gunpowder. Up to that time, as
may be seen by one of the illustrations to Wilkinson's Thebes
and General View of Egypt
, the interior was choked to within
a few feet of the capitals of the columns, and used as a cottonstore.
Of the rest of the building, nothing is known; nothing
1 Knum was one of the primordial Gods of the Egyptian cosmogony;
the divine potter; he who fashioned man from the clay, and breathed into
him the breath of life. He is sometimes represented in the act of fashioning
the first man, or that mysterious egg from which not only man but the
universe proceeded, by means of the ordinary potter's wheel. Sometimes
also he is depicted in his boat, moving upon the face of the waters at the
dawn of creation. About the time of the XXth dynasty Knum became
identified with Ra. He also was identified with Amen, and was worshipped
in the Great Oasis in the Greek period as Amen-Knum. He is likewise
known as “The Soul of the Gods,” and in this character, as well as in his
Solar character, he is represented with the head of a ram, or in the form
of a ram. Another of his titles is “The Maker of Gods and Men.” Knum
was also one of the Gods of the Cataract, and chief of the Triad worshipped
at Elephantine. An inscription at
Philae styles him “Maker of all that is,
Creator of all beings, First existent, the Father of Fathers, the Mother of
2 Bes. “La culte de Bes parait être une importation Asiatique.
Quelquefois le dieu est armé d'une épée qu'il brandit au-dessus de sa tête;
dans ce rôle, il semble le dieu des combats. Plus souvent c'est le dieu de
la danse, de la musique, des plaisirs.”—Mariette Bey.

is visible. It is as large, probably, as Denderah or Edfû,
and in as perfect preservation. So, at least, says local tradition;
but not even local tradition can point out to what extent
it underlies the foundations of the modern houses that swarm
above its roof. An inscription first observed by Champollion
states that the sanctuary was built by Thothmes III. Is that
antique sanctuary still there? Has the Temple grown step
by step under the hands of successive Kings, as at Luxor?
Or has it been re-edified ab ovo, as at Denderah? These are
“puzzling questions,” only to be resolved by the demolition of
a quarter of the town. Meanwhile, what treasures of sculptured
history, what pictured chambers, what buried bronzes and
statues may here await the pick of the excavator!
All next day, while the men were baking, the Writer sat
in a corner of the outer passage, and sketched the portico of
the Temple. The sun rose upon the one horizon and set
upon the other before that drawing was finished; yet for
scarcely more than one hour did it light up the front of the
Temple. At about half-past nine A.M. it first caught the stone
fillet at the angle. Then, one by one, each massy capital
became outlined with a thin streak of gold. As this streak
widened, the cornice took fire, and presently the whole stood
out in light against the sky. Slowly then, but quite perceptibly,
the sun travelled across the narrow space overhead; the
shadows became vertical; the light changed sides; and by ten
o'clock there was shade for the remainder of the day. Towards
noon, however, the sun being then at its highest and the air
transfused with light, the inner columns, swallowed up till now
in darkness, became illumined with a wonderful reflected light,
and glowed from out the gloom like pillars of fire.
Never to go on shore without an escort is one of the rules
of Nile life, and Salame has by this time become my exclusive
property. He is a native of Assûan, young, active, intelligent,
full of fun, hot-tempered withal, and as thorough a gentleman
as I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. For a sample of
his good breeding, take this day at Esneh—a day which he
might have idled away in the bazaars and cafés, and which it
must have been dull work to spend cooped up between a mud-wall
and an outlandish Birbeh, built by the Djinns who reigned

before Adam. Yet Salame betrays no discontent. Curled up
in a shady corner, he watches me like a dog; is ready with an
umbrella as soon as the sun comes round; and replenishes a
water-bottle or holds a colour-box as deftly as though he had
been to the manner born. At one o'clock arrives my luncheon,
enshrined in a pagoda of plates. Being too busy to leave off
work, however, I put the pagoda aside, and despatch Salame
to the market, to buy himself some dinner; for which purpose,
wishing to do the thing handsomely, I present him with the
magnificent sum of two silver piastres, or about fivepence
English. With this he contrives to purchase three or four
cakes of flabby native bread, a black-looking rissole of chopped
meat and vegetables, and about a pint of dried dates.
Knowing this to be a better dinner than my friend gets
every day, knowing also that our sailors habitually eat at noon,
I am surprised to see him leave these dainties untasted. In
vain I say “Bismillah” (in the name of God); pressing him to
eat in vocabulary phrases eked out with expressive pantomime.
He laughs, shakes his head, and, asking permission to smoke a
cigarette, protests he is not hungry. Thus three more hours
go by. Accustomed to long fasting and absorbed in my
sketch, I forget all about the pagoda; and it is past four
o'clock when I at length set to work to repair tissue at the
briefest possible cost of time and daylight. And now the
faithful Salame falls to with an energy that causes the cakes,
the rissole, the dates, to vanish as if by magic. Of what
remains from my luncheon he also disposes in a trice. Never,
unless in a pantomime, have I seen mortal man display so
prodigious an appetite.
I made Talhamy scold him, by and by, for this piece of
voluntary starvation.
“By my Prophet!” said he, “am I a pig or a dog, that I
should eat when the Sitt was fasting?”
It was at Esneh, by the way, that that hitherto undiscovered
curiosity, an ancient Egyptian coin, was offered to me for sale.
The finder was digging for nitre, and turned it up at an
immense depth below the mounds on the outskirts of the town.
He volunteered to show the precise spot, and told his artless
tale with childlike simplicity. Unfortunately, however, for the

authenticity of this remarkable relic, it bore, together with the
familiar profile of George IV, a superscription of its modest
value, which was precisely one farthing. On another occasion,
when we were making our long stay at Luxor, a coloured glass
button of honest Birmingham make was brought to the boat
by a fellâh who swore that he had himself found it upon a
mummy in the Tombs of the Queens at Kûrnet Murraee.
The same man came to my tent one day when I was sketching,
bringing with him a string of more than doubtful scarabs—all
veritable “anteekahs,” of course, and all backed up with undeniable
“La, la (no, no),—bring me no more anteekahs,” I said,
gravely. “They are old and worn out, and cost much money.
Have you no imitation scarabs, new and serviceable, that one
might wear without the fear of breaking them?”
“These are imitations, O Sitt!” was the ready answer.
“But you told me a moment ago they were genuine anteekahs.”
“That was because I thought the Sitt wanted to buy
anteekahs,” he said, quite shamelessly.
“See now,” I said, “if you are capable of selling me new
things for old, how can I be sure that you would not sell me
old things for new?”
To this he replied by declaring that he had made the
scarabs himself. Then, fearing I should not believe him, he
pulled a scrap of coarse paper from his bosom, borrowed one
of my pencils, and drew an asp, an ibis, and some other
common hieroglyphic forms, with tolerable dexterity.
“Now you believe?” he asked, triumphantly.
“I see that you can make birds and snakes,” I replied;
“but that neither proves that you can cut scarabs, nor that
these scarabs are new.”
Nay, Sitt,” he protested, “I made them with these hands. I
made them but the other day. By Allah! they cannot be newer.”
Here Talhamy interposed.
“In that case,” he said, “they are too new, and will crack
before a month is over. The Sitt would do better to buy
some that are well seasoned.”
Our honest Fellâh touched his brow and breast.


“Now in strict truth, O Dragoman!” he said, with an air
of the most engaging candour, “these scarabs were made at
the time of the inundation. They are new; but not too new.
They are thoroughly seasoned. If they crack, you shall
denounce me to the governor, and I will eat stick for them!”
Now it has always seemed to me that the most curious
feature in this little scene was the extraordinary simplicity of
the Arab. With all his cunning, with all his disposition to
cheat, he suffered himself to be turned inside-out as unsuspiciously
as a baby. It never occurred to him that his untruthfulness
was being put to the test, or that he was committing
himself more and more deeply with every word he uttered.
The fact is, however, that the Fellâh is half a savage. Not-withstanding
his mendacity—(and it must be owned that he
is the most brilliant liar under heaven)—he remains a
singularly transparent piece of humanity, easily amused, easily
deceived, easily angered, easily pacified. He steals a little,
cheats a little, lies a great deal; but on the other hand he
is patient, hospitable, affectionate, trustful. He suspects no
malice, and bears none. He commits no great crimes. He
is incapable of revenge. In short, his good points outnumber
his bad ones; and what man or nation need hope for a much
better character?
To generalise in this way may seem like presumption on
the part of a passing stranger; yet it is more excusable as
regards Egypt than it would be of any other equally accessible
country. In Europe, and indeed in most parts of the East,
one sees too little of the people to be able to form an opinion
about them; but it is not so on the Nile. Cut off from
hotels, from railways, from Europeanised cities, you are brought
into continual intercourse with natives. The sick who come
to you for medicines, the country gentlemen and government
officials who visit you on board your boat and entertain you
on shore, your guides, your donkey-boys, the very dealers who
live by cheating you, furnish endless studies of character, and
teach you more of Egyptian life than all the books of Nile-travel
that ever were written.
Then your crew, part Arab, part Nubian, are a little world
in themselves. One man was born a slave, and will carry the

dealer's brand-marks to his grave. Another has two children
in Miss Whateley's school at Cairo. A third is just married,
and has left his young wife sick at home. She may be dead
by the time he gets back, and he will hear no news of her
meanwhile. So with them all. Each has his simple story—
a story in which the local oppressor, the dreaded conscription,
and the still more dreaded corvée, form the leading incidents.
The poor fellows are ready enough to pour out their hopes,
their wrongs, their sorrows. Through sympathy with these, one
comes to know the men; and through the men, the nation.
For the life of the Beled repeats itself with but little variation
wherever the Nile flows and the Khedive rules. The characters
are the same; the incidents are the same. It is only the mise
en scène
which varies.
And thus it comes to pass that the mere traveller who
spends but half-a-year on the Nile may, if he takes an interest
in Egypt and the Egyptians, learn more of both in that short
time than would be possible in a country less singularly
narrowed in all ways—politically, socially, geographically.
And this reminds me that the traveller on the Nile really
sees the whole land of Egypt. Going from point to point in
other countries, one follows a thin line of road, railway, or
river, leaving wide tracts unexplored on either side; but there
are few places in Middle or Upper Egypt, and none at all in
Nubia, where one may not, from any moderate height, survey
the entire face of the country from desert to desert. It is
well to do this frequently. It helps one, as nothing else can
help one, to an understanding of the wonderful mountain
waste through which the Nile has been scooping its way for
uncounted cycles. And it enables one to realise what a mere
slip of alluvial deposit is this famous land which is “the gift of
the river.”
A dull grey morning, a faint and fitful breeze, carried us
slowly on our way from Esneh to Edfû. The new bread—a
heavy boat-load when brought on board—lay in a huge heap at
the end of the upper deck. It took four men one whole day
to cut it up. Their incessant gabble drove us nearly distracted.
“Uskût, Khaleefeh! Uskût, Ali!” (Silence, Khaleefeh!
Silence, Ali!) Talhamy would say from time to time. “You

are not on your own deck. The Howadji can neither read
nor write for the clatter of your tongues.”
And then, for about a minute and a half, they would be
But you could as easily keep a monkey from chattering as
an Arab. Our men talked incessantly; and their talk was
always about money. Listen to them when we might, such
words as “Khámsa gurûsh” (five piastres), “nûs riyâl”
(half-a-dollar), “ethneen shilling” (two shillings), were perpetually
coming to the surface. We never could understand how
it was that money, which played so small a part in their lives,
should play so large a part in their conversation.
It was about midday when we passed El Kab, the ancient
Eileithyias. A rocky valley narrowing inland; a Sheykh's
tomb on the mountain-ridge above; a few clumps of date-palms;
some remains of what looked like a long crude-brick
wall running at right angles to the river; and an isolated mass
of hollowed limestone rock left standing apparently in the
midst of an exhausted quarry, were all we saw of El Kab as
the dahabeeyah glided by.
And now, as the languid afternoon wears on, the propylons
of Edfû loom out of the misty distance. We have been
looking for them long enough before they come into sight—
calculating every mile of the way; every minute of the daylight.
The breeze, such as it was, has dropped now. The
river stretches away before us, smooth and oily as a pond.
Nine of the men are tracking. Will they pull us to Edfû in
time to see the Temple before nightfall?
Reïs Hassan looks doubtful; but takes refuge as usual
in “Inshallah!” (God willing). Talhamy talks of landing a
sailor to run forward and order donkeys. Meanwhile the Philae
creeps lazily on; the sun declines unseen behind a filmy veil;
and those two shadowy towers, rising higher and ever higher
on the horizon, look grey, and ghostly, and far distant still.
Suddenly the trackers stop, look back, shout to those on
board, and begin drawing the boat to shore. Reïs Hassan
points joyously to a white streak breaking across the smooth
surface of the river about half-a-mile behind. The Fostât's
sailors are already swarming aloft—the Bagstones' trackers are

making for home—our own men are preparing to fling in the
rope and jump on board as the Philae nears the bank.
For the capricious wind, that always springs up when we
don't want it, is coming!
And now the Fostât, being hindmost, flings out her big
sail and catches the first puff; the Bagstones' turn comes next;
the Philae shakes her wings free, and shoots ahead; and in
fewer minutes than it takes to tell, we are all three scudding
along before a glorious breeze.
The great towers that showed so far away half-an-hour
ago are now close at hand. There are palm-woods about their
feet, and clustered huts, from the midst of which they tower
up against the murky sky magnificently. Soon they are passed
and left behind, and the grey twilight takes them, and we see
them no more. Then night comes on, cold and starless; yet
not too dark for going as fast as wind and canvas will carry us.
And now, with that irrepressible instinct of rivalry that
flesh—especially flesh on the Nile—is heir to, we quickly turn
our good going into a trial of speed. It is no longer a mere
business-like devotion to the matter in hand. It is a contest
for glory. It is the Philae against the Fostât, and the Bagstones
against both. In plain English, it is a race. The two leading
dahabeeyahs are pretty equally matched. The Philae is larger
than the Fostât; but the Fostât has a bigger mainsail. On
the other hand, the Fostât is an iron boat; whereas the Philae,
being wooden-built, is easier to pole off a sandbank, and lighter
in hand. The Bagstones carries a capital mainsail, and can
go as fast as either upon occasion. Meanwhile, the race is one
of perpetually varying fortunes. Now the Fostât shoots ahead;
now the Philae. We pass and re-pass; take the wind out of
one another's sails; economise every curve; hoist every stitch
of canvas; and, having identified ourselves with our boats, are
as eager to win as if a great prize depended on it. Under
these circumstances, to dine is difficult—to go to bed superfluous—to
sleep impossible. As to mooring for the night, it
is not to be thought of for a moment. Having begun the
contest, we can no more help going than the wind can help
blowing; and our crew are as keen about winning as ourselves.
As night advances, the wind continues to rise, and our

excitement with it. Still the boats chase each other along the
dark river, scattering spray from their bows and flinging out
broad foam-tracks behind them. Their cabin-windows, all
alight within, cast flickering flames upon the waves below. The
coloured lanterns at their mast-heads, orange, purple, and
crimson, burn through the dusk like jewels. Presently the
mist blows off; the sky clears; the stars come out; the wind
howls; the casements rattle; the tiller scroops; the sailors
shout, and race, and bang the ropes about overhead; while we,
sitting up in our narrow berths, spend half the night watching
from our respective windows.
In this way some hours go by. Then, about three in the
morning, with a shock, a recoil, a yell, and a scuffle, we all
three rush headlong upon a sandbank! The men fly to the
rigging, and furl the flapping sail. Some seize punting poles.
Others, looking like full-grown imps of darkness, leap overboard
and set their shoulders to the work. A strophe and antistrophe
of grunts are kept up between those on deck and those in the
water. Finally, after some ten minutes' frantic struggle, the
Philae slips off, leaving the other two aground in the middle of
the river.
Towards morning, the noisy night having worn itself away,
we all fall asleep—only to be roused again by Talhamy's voice
at seven, proclaiming aloud that the Bagstones and Fostât are
once more close upon our heels; that Silsilis and Kom Ombo
are passed and left behind; that we have already put forty-six
miles between ourselves and Edfû; and that the good wind
is still blowing.
We are now within fifteen miles of Assûan. The Nile is
narrow here, and the character of the scenery has quite changed.
Our view is bounded on the Arabian side by a near range of
black granitic mountains; while on the Libyan side lies a
chain of lofty sand-hills, each curiously capped by a crown of
dark boulders. On both banks the river is thickly fringed
with palms.
Meanwhile the race goes on. Last night it was sport;
to-day it is earnest. Last night we raced for glory; to-day
we race for a stake.
“A guinée for Reïs Hassan, if we get first to Assûan!”


Reïs Hassan's eyes glisten. No need to call up the
dragoman to interpret between us. The look, the tone, are as
intelligible to him as the choicest Arabic; and the magical
word ‘guinée’ stands for a sovereign now, as it stood for one
pound one in the days of Nelson and Abercrombie. He
touches his head and breast; casts a backward glance at the
pursuing dahabeeyahs, a forward glance in the direction of
Assûan; kicks off his shoes; ties a handkerchief about his
waist; and stations himself at the top of the steps leading to
the upper deck. By the light in his eye and the set look about
his mouth, Reïs Hassan means winning.
Now to be first in Assûan means to be first on the
governor's list, and first up the Cataract. And as the passage
of the Cataract is some two or three days' work, this little
question of priority is by no means unimportant. Not for
five times the promised ‘guinée’ would we have the Fostât
slip in first, and so be kept waiting our turn on the wrong side
of the frontier.
And now, as the sun rises higher, so the race waxes hotter
At breakfast time, we were fifteen miles from Assûan. Now
the fifteen miles have gone down to ten; and when we reach
yonder headland, they will have dwindled to seven. It is
plain to see, however, that as the distance decreases between
ourselves and Assûan, so also it decreases between ourselves
and the Fostât. Reïs Hassan knows it. I see him measuring
the space by his eye. I see the frown settling on his brow.
He is calculating how much the Fostât gains in every quarter
of an hour, and how many quarters we are yet distant from
the goal. For no Arab sailor counts by miles. He counts
by time, and by the reaches in the river; and these may be
taken at a rough average of three miles each. When, therefore,
our captain, in reply to an oft-repeated question, says we have
yet two bends to make, we know that we are about six miles
from our destination.
Six miles—and the Fostât creeping closer every minute!
Just now we were all talking eagerly; but as the end draws
near, even the sailors are silent. Reïs Hassan stands motionless
at his post, on the look-out for shallows. The words
“Shamàl—Yemîn” (left—right), delivered in a short, sharp

tone, are the only sounds he utters. The steersman, all eye
and ear, obeys him like his hand. The sailors squat in their
places, quiet and alert as cats.
And now it is no longer six miles but five—no longer five,
but four. The Fostât, thanks to her bigger sail, has well-nigh
overtaken us; and the Bagstones is not more than a hundred
yards behind the Fostât. On we go, however, past palm-woods
of nobler growth than any we have yet seen; past forlorn
homeward-bound dahabeeyah lying-to against the wind; past
native boats, and river-side huts, and clouds of driving sand;
till the corner is turned, and the last reach gained, and the
minarets of Assûan are seen as through a shifting fog in the
distance. The ruined tower crowning yonder promontory
stands over against the town; and those black specks midway
in the bed of the river are the first outlying rocks of the
Cataract. The channel there is hemmed in between reefs and
sandbanks, and to steer it is difficult in even the calmest
weather. Still our canvas strains to the wind, and the Philae
rushes on full-tilt, like a racer at the hurdles.
Every eye now is turned upon Reïs Hassan; and Reïs
Hassan stands rigid, like a man of stone. The rocks are close
ahead—so close that we can see the breakers pouring over
them, and the swirling eddies between. Our way lies through
an opening between the boulders. Beyond that opening, the
channel turns off sharply to the left. It is a point at which
everything will depend on the shifting of a sail. If done too
soon, we miss the mark; if too late, we strike upon the rocks.
Suddenly our Captain flings up his hand, takes the stairs
at a bound, and flies to the prow. The sailors spring to their
feet, gathering some round the shoghool, and some round the
end of the yard. The Fostât is up beside us. The moment
for winning or losing is come.
And now, for a couple of breathless seconds, the two
dahabeeyahs plunge onward side by side, making for that
narrow passage which is only wide enough for one. Then the
iron boat, shaving the sandbank to get a wider berth, shifts
her sail first, and shifts it clumsily, breaking or letting go her
shoghool. We see the sail flap, and the rope fly, and all
hands rushing to retrieve it.


In that moment Reïs Hassan gives the word. The Philae
bounds forward—takes the channel from under the very bows
of the Fostât—changes her sail without a hitch—and dips
right away down the deep water, leaving her rival hard and
fast among the shallows.
The rest of the way is short and open. In less than five
minutes we have taken in our sail, paid Reïs Hassan his well-earned
guinée, and found a snug corner to moor in. And so
ends our memorable race of nearly sixty-eight miles from
Edfû to Assûan.


[Back to top]



THE green island of Elephantine, which is about a mile
in length, lies opposite Assûan and divides the Nile in two
channels. The Libyan and Arabian deserts—smooth amber
sand-slopes on the one hand; rugged granite cliffs on the
other—come down to the brink on either side. On the Libyan
shore a Sheykh's tomb, on the Arabian shore a bold fragment
of Moorish architecture with ruined arches open to the sky,
crown two opposing heights, and keep watch over the gate
of the Cataract. Just under the Moorish ruin, and separated
from the river by a slip of sandy beach, lies Assûan.
A few scattered houses, a line of blank wall, the top of a
minaret, the dark mouths of one or two gloomy alleys, are all
that one sees of the town from the mooring-place below. The
black boulders close against the shore, some of which are
superbly hieroglyphed, glisten in the sun like polished jet.1
The beach is crowded with bales of goods; with camels laden
and unladen; with turbaned figures coming and going; with
damaged cargo-boats lying up high and dry, and half heeled
over, in the sun. Others, moored close together, are taking
in or discharging cargo. A little apart from these lie some
1 “At the Cataracts of the great rivers Orinoco, Nile, and Congo, the
syenitic rocks are coated by a black substance, appearing as if they had
been polished with plumbago. The layer is of extreme thinness; and on
analysis by Berzelius it was found to consist of the oxides of manganese
and iron.... The origin, however, of these coatings of metallic oxides,
which seem as if cemented to the rocks, is not understood; and no reason,
I believe, can be assigned for their thickness remaining the same.”—
Journal of Researches, by Charles Darwin, chap. i. p. 12, ed. 1845.

three or four dahabeeyahs flying English, American, and Belgian
flags. Another has cast anchor over the way at Elephantine.
Small row-boats cross and recross, meanwhile, from shore to
shore; dogs bark; camels snort and snarl; donkeys bray;
and clamorous curiosity-dealers scream, chatter, hold their
goods at arm's length, battle and implore to come on board,
and are only kept off the landing plank by means of two big
sticks in the hands of two stalwart sailors.
The things offered for sale at Assûan are altogether new
and strange. Here are no scarabaei, no funerary statuettes, no
bronze or porcelain gods, no relics of a past civilisation; but,
on the contrary, such objects as speak only of a rude and
barbarous present—ostrich eggs and feathers, silver trinkets of
rough Nubian workmanship, spears, bows, arrows, bucklers of
rhinoceros-hide, ivory bracelets cut solid from the tusk, porcupine
quills, baskets of stained and plaited reeds, gold nose-rings,
and the like. One old woman has a Nubian lady's dressing-case
for sale—an uncouth, Fetish-like object with a cushion for
its body, and a top-knot of black feathers. The cushion contains
two Kohl-bottles, a bodkin, and a bone comb.
But the noisiest dealer of the lot is an impish boy blessed
with the blackest skin and the shrillest voice ever brought
together in one human being. His simple costume consists of
a tattered shirt and a white cotton skull-cap; his stock-in-trade,
of a greasy leather fringe tied to the end of a stick. Flying
from window to window of the saloon on the side next the
shore, scrambling up the bows of a neighbouring cargo-boat so
as to attack us in the rear, thrusting his stick and fringe in
our faces whichever way we turn, and pursuing us with eager
cries of “Madame Nubia! Madame Nubia!” he skips, and
screams, and grins like an ubiquitous goblin, and throws every
competitor into the shade.
Having seen a similar fringe in the collection of a friend
at home, I at once recognised in “Madame Nubia” one of
those curious girdles which, with the addition of a necklace
and a few bracelets, form the entire wardrobe of little girls
south of the Cataract. They vary in size according to the age
of the wearer; the largest being about twelve inches in depth
and twenty-five in length. A few are ornamented with beads

and small shells; but these are parures de luxe. The ordinary
article is cheaply and unpretentiously trimmed with castor-oil.
That is to say, the girdle when new is well soaked in the oil,
which softens and darkens the leather, besides adding a perfume
dear to native nostrils.
For to the Nubian, who grows his own plants and bruises
his own berries, this odour is delicious. He reckons castor-oil
among his greatest luxuries. He eats it as we eat butter. His
wives saturate their plaited locks in it. His little girls perfume
their fringes with it. His boys anoint their bodies with it.
His home, his breath, his garments, his food, are redolent of
it. It pervades the very air in which he lives and has his
being. Happy the European traveller who, while his lines are
cast in Nubia, can train his degenerate nose to delight in the
aroma of castor-oil!
The march of civilisation is driving these fringes out of
fashion on the frontier. At Assûan, they are chiefly in
demand among English and American visitors. Most people
purchase a “Madame Nubia” for the entertainment of friends
at home. L., who is given to vanities in the way of dress,
bought one so steeped in fragrance that it scented the Philae
for the rest of the voyage, and retains its odour to this day.
Almost before the mooring-rope was made fast, our Painter,
arrayed in a gorgeous keffîyeh1 and armed with the indispensable
visiting-cane, had sprung ashore and hastened to call upon the
Governor. A couple of hours later the Governor (having
promised to send at once for the Sheykh of the Cataract and
to forward our going by all means in his power) returned the
visit. He brought with him the Mudîr2 and Kadi3 of Assûan,
each attended by his pipe-bearer.
We received our guests with due ceremony in the saloon.
The great men placed themselves on one of the side-divans,
and the Painter opened the conversation by offering them
champagne, claret, port, sherry, curaçoa, brandy, whisky, and
Angostura bitters. Talhamy interpreted.
The Governor laughed. He was a tall young man, graceful,
1 Keffîyeh: A square head-shawl, made of silk or woollen. European
travellers wear them as puggarees.
2 Mudîr: Chief Magistrate.
3 Kadi: Judge.

lively, good-looking, and black as a crow. The Kadi and
Mudîr, both elderly Arabs, yellow, wrinkled, and precise, looked
shocked at the mere mention of these unholy liquors. Somebody
then proposed lemonade.
The Governor turned briskly towards the speaker.
“Gazzoso?” he said interrogatively.
To which Talhamy replied: “Aïwah (Yes), Gazzoso.”
Aerated lemonade and cigars were then brought. The
Governor watched the process of uncorking with a face of
profound interest, and drank with the undisguised greediness
of a schoolboy. Even the Kadi and Mudîr relaxed somewhat
of the gravity of their demeanour. To men whose habitual
drink consists of lime-water and sugar, bottled lemonade represents
champagne mousseux of the choicest brand.
Then began the usual attempts at conversation; and only
those who have tried small-talk by proxy know how hard it is
to supply topics, suppress yawns, and keep up an animated
expression of countenance, while the civilities on both sides are
being interpreted by a dragoman.
We began, of course, with the temperature; for in Egypt,
where it never rains and the sun is always shining, the
thermometer takes the place of the weather as a useful
platitude. Knowing that Assûan enjoys the hottest reputation
of any town on the surface of the globe, we were agreeably
surprised to find it no warmer than England in September.
The Governor accounted for this by saying that he had never
known so cold a winter. We then asked the usual questions
about the crops, the height of the river, and so forth; to all of
which he replied with the ease and bonhomie of a man of the
world. Nubia, he said, was healthy—the date-harvest had
been abundant—the corn promised well—the Soudan was
quiet and prosperous. Referring to the new postal arrangements,
he congratulated us on being able to receive and post
letters at the Second Cataract. He also remarked that the
telegraphic wires were now in working order as far as Khartûm.
We then asked how soon he expected the railway to reach
Assûan; to which he replied—“In two years, at latest.”
At length our little stock of topics came to an end, and the
entertainment flagged.


“What shall I say next?” asked the dragoman.
“Tell him we particularly wish to see the slave-market.”
The smile vanished from the Governor's face. The Mudîr
set down a glass of fizzing lemonade, untasted. The Kadi all
but dropped his cigar. If a shell had burst in the saloon,
their consternation could scarcely have been greater.
The Governor, looking very grave, was the first to speak.
“He says there is no slave-trade in Egypt, and no slave-market
in Assûan,” interpreted Talhamy.
Now we had been told in Cairo, on excellent authority,
that slaves were still bought and sold here, though less
publicly than of old; and that of all the sights a traveller
might see in Egypt, this was the most curious and pathetic.
“No slave-market!” we repeated incredulously.
The Governor, the Kadi, and the Mudîr shook their heads,
and lifted up their voices, and said all together, like a trio of
Mandarins in a comic opera:—
“Là, là, là! Mafeesh bazaar—mafeesh bazaar!” (No, no,
no! No bazaar—no bazaar!)
We endeavoured to explain that in making this inquiry
we desired neither the gratification of an idle curiosity, nor
the furtherance of any political views. Our only object was
sketching. Understanding, therefore, that a private bazaar still
existed in Assûan ….
This was too much for the judicial susceptibilities of the
Kadi. He would not let Talhamy finish.
“There is nothing of the kind,” he interrupted, puckering
his face into an expression of such virtuous horror as might
become a reformed New Zealander on the subject of cannibalism.
“It is unlawful—unlawful.”
An awkward silence followed. We felt we had committed
an enormous blunder, and were disconcerted accordingly.
The Governor saw, and with the best grace in the world
took pity upon, our embarrassment. He rose, opened the
piano, and asked for some music; whereupon the Little Lady
played the liveliest thing she could remember, which happened
to be a waltz by Verdi.
The Governor, meanwhile, sat beside the piano, smiling and
attentive. With all his politeness, however, he seemed to be

looking for something—to be not altogether satisfied. There
was even a shade of disappointment in the tone of his “Ketther-khayrik
ketîr,” when the waltz finally exploded in a shower of
arpeggios. What could it be? Was it that he wished for a
song? Or would a pathetic air have pleased him better
Not a bit of it. He was looking for what his quick eye
presently detected—namely some printed music, which he
seized triumphantly and placed before the player. What he
wanted was “music played from a book.”
Being asked whether he preferred a lively or a plaintive
melody, he replied that “he did not care, so long as it was
Now it chanced that he had pitched upon a volume of
Wagner; so the Little Lady took him at his word, and gave
him a dose of “Tannhaüser.” Strange to say, he was delighted.
He showed his teeth; he rolled his eyes; he uttered the long-drawn
“Ah!” which in Egypt signifies applause. The more
crabbed, the more far-fetched, the more unintelligible the
movement, the better, apparently, he liked it.
I never think of Assûan but I remember that curious scene
—our Little Lady at the piano; the black Governor grinning
in ecstasies close by; the Kadi in his magnificent shawl-turban;
the Mudîr half asleep; the air thick with tobacco-smoke;
and above all—dominant, tyrannous, overpowering—
the crash and clang, the involved harmonies, and the multitudinous
combinations of Tannhaüser.
The linked sweetness of an Oriental visit is generally
drawn out to a length that sorely tries the patience and politeness
of European hosts. A native gentleman, if he has any
business to attend to, gets through his work before noon, and
has nothing to do but smoke, chat, and doze away the remainder
of the day. For time, which hangs heavily on his hands, he
has absolutely no value. His main object in life is to consume
it, if possible, less tediously. He pays a visit, therefore, with
the deliberate intention of staying as long as possible. Our
guests on the present occasion remained the best part of two
hours; and the Governor, who talked of going to England
shortly, asked for all our names and addresses, that he might
come and see us at home.


Leaving the cabin, he paused to look at our roses, which
stood near the door. We told him they had been given to us
by the Bey of Erment.
“Do they grow at Erment?” he asked, examining them
with great curiosity. “How beautiful! Why will they not
grow in Nubia?”
We suggested that the climate was probably too hot for
He stooped, inhaling their perfume. He looked puzzled.
“They are very sweet,” he said. “Are they roses?”
The question gave us a kind of shock. We could hardly
believe we had reached a land where roses were unknown.
Yet the Governor, who had smoked a rose-water narghilé, and
drunk rose-sherbet, and eaten conserve of roses all his days,
recognised them by their perfume only. He had never been
out of Assûan in his life; not even as far as Erment. And
he had never seen a rose in bloom.
We had hoped to begin the passage of the Cataract on the
morning of the day following our arrival at the frontier; but
some other dahabeeyah, it seemed, was in the act of fighting
its way up to Philae; and till that boat was through, neither
the Sheykh nor his men would be ready for us. At eight
o'clock in the morning of the next day but one, however, they
promised to take us in hand. We were to pay £12 English
for the double journey; that is to say, £9 down, and the
remaining £3 on our return to Assûan.
Such was the treaty concluded between ourselves and the
Sheykh of the Cataract at a solemn conclave over which the
Governor, assisted by the Kadi and Mudîr, presided.
Having a clear day to spend at Assûan, we of course gave
part thereof to Elephantine, which in the inscriptions is called
Abu, or the Ivory Island. There may perhaps have been a
depôt, or “treasure-city,” here for the precious things of the
Upper Nile country; the gold of Nubia and the elephant-tusks
of Kush.
It is a very beautiful island—rugged and lofty to the
south; low and fertile to the north; with an exquisitely varied
coast-line full of wooded creeks and miniature beaches, in
which one might expect at any moment to meet Robinson

Crusoe with his goat-skin umbrella, or man Friday bending
under a load of faggots. They are all Fridays here, however;
for Elephantine, being the first Nubian outpost, is peopled by
Nubians only. It contains two Nubian villages, and the
mounds of a very ancient city which was the capital of all
Egypt under the Pharaohs of the VIth Dynasty, between three
and four thousand years before Christ. Two temples, one of
which dated from the reign of Amenhotep III, were yet
standing here some seventy years ago. They were seen by
Belzoni in 1815, and had just been destroyed to build a palace
and barracks when Champollion went up in 1829. A ruined
gateway of the Ptolemaic period and a forlorn-looking sitting
statue of Menephtah, the supposed Pharaoh of the Exodus,
alone remain to identify the sites on which they stood.
Thick palm-groves and carefully-tilled patches of castor-oil
and cotton plants, lentils, and durra, make green the heart of
the island. The western shore is wooded to the water's edge.
One may walk here in the shade at hottest noon, listening to
the murmur of the Cataract and seeking for wild flowers
—which, however, would seem to blossom nowhere save in
the sweet Arabic name of Gezîret-el-Zahr, the Island of
Upon the high ground at the southern extremity of the
island, among rubbish heaps, and bleached bones, and human
skulls, and the sloughed skins of snakes, and piles of particoloured
potsherds, we picked up several bits of inscribed terracotta—evidently
fragments of broken vases. The writing was
very faint, and in part obliterated. We could see that the
characters were Greek; but not even our Idle Man was equal
to making out a word of the sense. Believing them to be
mere disconnected scraps to which it would be impossible to
find the corresponding pieces—taking it for granted, also, that
they were of comparatively modern date—we brought away
some three or four as souvenirs of the place, and thought no
more about them.
We little dreamed that Dr. Birch, in his cheerless official
room at the British Museum so many thousand miles away,
was at this very time occupied in deciphering a collection of
similar fragments, nearly all of which had been brought from

this same spot.1 Of the curious interest attaching to these
illegible scrawls, of the importance they were shortly to acquire
in the eyes of the learned, of the possible values of any chance
additions to their number we knew, and could know, nothing.
Six months later, we lamented our ignorance and our lost
For the Egyptians, it seems, used potsherds instead of
papyrus for short memoranda; and each of these fragments
which we had picked up contained a record complete in itself.
I fear we should have laughed if any one had suggested that
they might be tax-gatherer's receipts. Yet that is just what
they were—receipts for government dues collected on the
frontier during the period of Roman rule in Egypt. They
were written in Greek, because the Romans deputed Greek
The results of Dr. Birch's labours were given to the public in his
“Guide to the First and Second Egyptian Rooms,” published by order of
the Trustees of the British Museum in May 1874. Of the contents of
case 99 in the Second Room, he says: “The use of potsherds for documents
received a great extension at the time of the Roman Empire, when
receipts for the taxes were given on these fragments by the collectors of
revenue at Elephantine or
Syene, on the frontier of Egypt. These receipts
commenced in the reign of Vespasian, A.D. 77, and are found as late as
M. Aurelius and L. Verus, A.D. 165. It appears from them that the
capitation and trades tax, which was 16 drachms in A.D. 77, rose to 20 in
A.D. 165, having steadily increased. The dues were paid in instalments
called merismoi, at three periods of the year. The taxes were farmed out
to publicans, misthotai, who appear from their names to have been Greeks.
At Elephantine the taxes were received by tax-gatherers, prakteres, who
seem to have been appointed as early as the Ptolemies. Their clerks were
Egyptians, and they had a chest and treasure, phylax” See p. 109, as
; also Birch's History of Ancient Pottery, chap. i. p. 45.
These barren memoranda are not the only literary curiosities found at
Elephantine. Among the Egyptian MSS. of the Louvre may be seen
some fragments of the XVIIIth Book of the Iliad, discovered in a tomb
upon the island. How they came to be buried there no one knows. A
lover of poetry would like to think, however, that some Greek or Roman
officer, dying at his post upon this distant station, desired, perhaps, to
have his Homer laid with him in his grave.
NOTE TO SECOND EDITION.—Other fragments of the Iliad have been
found from time to time in various parts of Egypt; some (now in the
Louvre) being scrawled, like the above-mentioned tax-receipts, on mere
potsherds. The finest specimen ever found in Egypt or elsewhere, and
the earliest, has however been discovered this year, 1888, by Mr. Flinders
Petrie in the grave of a woman at Hawara, in the Fayûm.

scribes to perform the duties of this unpopular office; but the
Greek is so corrupt and the penmanship so clownish that
only a few eminent scholars can read them.
Not all the inscribed fragments found at Elephantine, however,
are tax-receipts, or written in bad Greek. The British
Museum contains several in the demotic, or current script of
the people, and a few in the more learned hieratic or priestly
hand. The former have not yet been translated. They are
probably business memoranda and short private letters of
Egyptians of the same period.
But how came these fragile documents to be preserved,
when the city in which their writers lived, and the temples in
which they worshipped, have disappeared and left scarce a
trace behind? Who cast them down among the potsherds
on this barren hillside? Are we to suppose that some kind
of Public Record - Office once occupied the site, and that
the receipts here stored were duplicates of those given to
the payers? Or is it not even more probable that this place
was the Monte Testaccio of the ancient city, to which all
broken pottery, written as well as unwritten, found its way
sooner or later?
With the exception of a fine fragment of Roman quay
nearly opposite Assûan, the ruined gateway of Alexander and
the battered statue of Menephtah are the only objects of
archæological interest in the island. But the charm of Elephantine
is the everlasting charm of natural beauty—of rocks,
of palm-woods, of quiet waters.
The streets of Assûan are just like the streets of every
other mud town on the Nile. The bazaars reproduce the
bazaars of Minieh and Siût. The environs are noisy with
cafés and dancing girls, like the environs of Esneh and Luxor.
Into the mosque, where some kind of service was going on,
we peeped without entering. It looked cool, and clean, and
spacious; the floor being covered with fine matting, and some
scores of ostrich-eggs depending from the ceiling. In the
bazaars we bought baskets and mats of Nubian manufacture,
woven with the same reeds, dyed with the same colours, shaped
after the same models, as those found in the tombs at Thebes.
A certain oval basket with a vaulted cover, of which specimens

are preserved in the British Museum, seems still to be the
pattern most in demand at Assûan. The basket-makers have
neither changed their fashion nor the buyers their taste since
the days of Rameses the Great.
Here also, at a little cupboard of a shop near the Shoe
Bazaar, we were tempted to spend a few pounds in ostrich
feathers, which are conveyed to Assûan by traders from the
Soudan. The merchant brought out a feather at a time, and
seemed in no haste to sell. We also affected indifference.
The haggling on both sides was tremendous. The bystanders,
as usual, were profoundly interested, and commented on every
word that passed. At last we carried away an armful of
splendid plumes, most of which measured from two and a half
to three feet in length. Some were pure white, others white
tipped with brown. They had been neither cleaned nor curled,
but were just as they came from the hands of the ostrich-hunters.
By far the most amusing sight in Assûan was the traders'
camp down near the landing-place. Here were Abyssinians
like slender-legged baboons; wild-looking Bisharîyah and
Ababdeh Arabs with flashing eyes and flowing hair; sturdy
Nubians the colour of a Barbedienne bronze; and natives
of all tribes and shades, from Kordofân and Sennâr, the
deserts of Bahuda and the banks of the Blue and White
Niles. Some were returning from Cairo; others were on their
way thither. Some, having disembarked their merchandise at
Mahatta (a village on the other side of the Cataract), had come
across the desert to re-embark it at Assûan. Others had just
disembarked theirs at Assuan, in order to re-embark it at
Mahatta. Meanwhile, they were living sub Jove; each entrenched
in his own little redoubt of piled-up bales and packing-cases,
like a spider in the centre of his web; each provided
with his kettle and coffee-pot, and an old rug to sleep and
pray upon. One sulky old Turk had fixed up a roof of matting,
and furnished his den with a Kafas, or palm-wood couch; but
he was a self-indulgent exception to the rule.
Some smiled, some scowled, when we passed through the
camp. One offered us coffee. Another, more obliging than
the rest, displayed the contents of his packages. Great bundles

of lion and leopard skins, bales of cotton, sacks of henna-leaves,
elephant-tusks swathed in canvas and matting, strewed the
sandy bank. Of gum-arabic alone there must have been
several hundred bales; each bale sewn up in a raw hide and
tied with thongs of hippopotamus leather. Towards dusk, when
the camp-fires were alight and the evening meal was in course
of preparation, the scene became wonderfully picturesque.
Lights gleamed; shadows deepened; strange figures stalked
to and fro, or squatted in groups amid their merchandise.
Some were baking flat cakes; others stirring soup, or roasting
coffee. A hole scooped in the sand, a couple of stones to
support the kettle, and a handful of dry sticks, served for
kitchen-range and fuel. Meanwhile all the dogs in Assûan
prowled round the camp, and a jargon of barbaric tongues
came and went with the breeze that followed the sunset.
I must not forget to add that among this motley crowd we
saw two brothers, natives of Khartûm. We met them first
in the town, and afterwards in the camp. They wore voluminous
white turbans, and flowing robes of some kind of creamy
cashmere cloth. Their small proud heads and delicate
aristocratic features were modelled on the purest Florentine
type; their eyes were long and liquid; their complexions,
free from any taint of Abyssinian blue or Nubian bronze, were
intensely, lustrously, magnificently black. We agreed that we
had never seen two such handsome men. They were like
young and beautiful Dantes carved in ebony; Dantes unembittered
by the world, unsicklied by the pale cast of thought,
and glowing with the life of the warm South.
Having explored Elephantine and ransacked the bazaars,
our party dispersed in various directions. Some gave the
remainder of the day to letter-writing. The Painter, bent on
sketching, started off in search of a jackal-haunted ruin up a
wild ravine on the Libyan side of the river. The Writer and
the Idle Man boldly mounted camels and rode out into the
Arabian desert.
Now the camel-riding that is done at Assûan is of the
most commonplace description, and bears to genuine desert
travelling about the same relation that half-an-hour on the
Mer de Glace bears to the passage of the Mortaretsch glacier

or the ascent of Monte Rosa. The short cut from Assuan
to Philæ, or at least the ride to the granite quarries, forms part
of every dragoman's programme, and figures as the crowning'
achievement of every Cook's tourist. The Arabs themselves
perform these little journeys much more pleasantly and expeditiously
on donkeys. They take good care, in fact, never to
scale the summit of a camel if they can help it. But for the
impressionable traveller, the Assûan camel is de rigueur. In
his interests are those snarling quadrupeds be-tasselled and berugged,
taken from their regular work, and paraded up and
down the landing-place. To transport cargoes disembarked
above and below the Cataract is their vocation. Taken from
this honest calling to perform in an absurd little drama got up
especially for the entertainment of tourists, it is no wonder if
the beasts are more than commonly ill-tempered. They know
the whole proceeding to be essentially cockney, and they resent
it accordingly.
The ride, nevertheless, has its advantages; not the least
being that it enables one to realise the kind of work involved
in any of the regular desert expeditions. At all events, it
entitles one to claim acquaintance with the ship of the desert,
and (bearing in mind the probable inferiority of the specimen)
to form an ex pede judgment of his qualifications.
The camel has his virtues—so much at least must be
admitted; but they do not lie upon the surface. My Buffon
tells me, for instance, that he carries a fresh-water cistern in
his stomach; which is meritorious. But the cistern ameliorates
neither his gait nor his temper—which are abominable. Irreproachable
as a beast of burden, he is open to many objections
as a steed. It is unpleasant, in the first place, to ride an
animal which not only objects to being ridden, but cherishes
a strong personal antipathy to his rider. Such, however, is
his amiable peculiarity. You know that he hates you, from
the moment you first walk round him, wondering where and
how to begin the ascent of his hump. He does not, in fact,
hesitate to tell you so in the roundest terms. He swears
freely while you are taking your seat; snarls if you but move
in the saddle; and stares you angrily in the face, if you
attempt to turn his head in any direction save that which he

himself prefers. Should you persevere, he tries to bite your
feet. If biting your feet does not answer, he lies down.
Now the lying-down and getting-up of a camel are
performances designed for the express purpose of inflicting
grievous bodily harm upon his rider. Thrown twice forward
and twice backward, punched in his “wind” and damaged in
his spine, the luckless novice receives four distinct shocks,
each more violent and unexpected than the last. For this
“execrable hunchback” is fearfully and wonderfully made.
He has a superfluous joint somewhere in his legs, and uses it
to revenge himself upon mankind.
His paces, however, are more complicated than his joints
and more trying than his temper. He has four:—a short
walk, like the rolling of a small boat in a chopping sea; a
long walk which dislocates every bone in your body; a trot
that reduces you to imbecility; and a gallop that is sudden
death. One tries in vain to imagine a crime for which the
peine forte et dure of sixteen hours on camel-back would not be
a full and sufficient expiation. It is a punishment to which
one would not willingly be the means of condemning any
human being—not even a reviewer.
They had been down on the bank for hire all day long—
brown camels and white camels, shaggy camels and smooth
camels; all with gay worsted tassels on their heads, and rugs
flung over their high wooden saddles, by way of housings.
The gentlemen of the Fostât had ridden away hours ago,
cross-legged and serene; and we had witnessed their demeanour
with mingled admiration and envy. Now, modestly conscious
of our own daring, we prepared to do likewise. It was a
solemn moment when, having chosen our beasts, we prepared
to encounter the unknown perils of the desert. What wonder
if the Happy Couple exchanged an affecting farewell at
We mounted and rode away; two imps of darkness following
at the heels of our camels, and Salame performing the part
of bodyguard. Thus attended, we found ourselves pitched,
swung, and rolled along at a pace that carried us rapidly up
the slope, past a suburb full of cafés and grinning dancing
girls, and out into the desert. Our way for the first half-mile

or so lay among tombs. A great Mohammedan necropolis,
part ancient, part modern, lies behind Assuan, and covers more
ground than the town itself. Some scores of tiny mosques,
each topped by its little cupola, and all more or less dilapidated,
stand here amid a wilderness of scattered tombstones. Some
are isolated; some grouped picturesquely together. Each
covers, or is supposed to cover, the grave of a Moslem Santon;
but some are mere commemorative chapels dedicated to saints
and martyrs elsewhere buried. Of simple head-stones defaced,
shattered, overturned, propped back to back on cairns of loose
stones, or piled in broken and dishonoured heaps, there must
be many hundreds. They are for the most part rounded at
the top like ancient Egyptian stelæ, and bear elaborately-carved
inscriptions, some of which are in the Cufic character,
and more than a thousand years old. Seen when the sun is
bending westward and the shadows are lengthening, there is
something curiously melancholy and picturesque about this
City of the Dead in the dead desert.
Leaving the tombs, we now strike off towards the left,
bound for the obelisk in the quarry, which is the stock sight
of the place. The horizon beyond Assûan is bounded on all
sides by rocky heights, bold and picturesque in form, yet
scarcely lofty enough to deserve the name of mountains. The
sandy bottom under our camel's feet is strewn with small
pebbles, and tolerably firm. Clustered rocks of black and red
granite profusely inscribed with hieroglyphed records crop up
here and there, and serve as landmarks just where landmarks
are needed. For nothing would be easier than to miss one's
way among these tawny slopes, and to go wandering off, like
lost Israelites, into the desert.
Winding in and out among undulating hillocks and tracts
of rolled boulders, we come at last to a little group of cliffs,
at the foot of which our camels halt unbidden. Here we
dismount, climb a short slope, and find the huge monolith at
our feet.
Being cut horizontally, it lies half buried in drifted sand,
with nothing to show that it is not wholly disengaged and
ready for transport. Our books tell us, however, that the
under-cutting has never been done, and that it is yet one with

the granite bottom on which it seems to lie. Both ends are
hidden; but one can pace some sixty feet of its yet visible
surface. That surface bears the tool-marks of the workmen.
A slanting groove pitted with wedge-holes indicates where it
was intended to taper towards the top. Another shows where
it was to be reduced at the side. Had it been finished, this
would have been the largest obelisk in the world. The great
obelisk of Queen Hatshepsu at Karnak, which, as its inscriptions
record, came also from Assûan, stands ninety-two feet high, and
measures eight feet square at the base;1 but this which lies
sleeping in the desert would have stood ninety-five feet in the
shaft, and have measured over eleven feet square at the base.
We can never know now why it was left here, nor guess with
what royal name it should have been inscribed. Had the king
said in his heart that he would set up a mightier obelisk than
was ever yet seen by eyes of men, and did he die before the
block could be extracted from the quarry? Or were the
quarrymen driven from the desert, and the Pharaoh from his
throne, by the hungry hordes of Ethiopia, or Syria, or the
islands beyond the sea? The great stone may be older than
Rameses the Great, or as modern as the last of the Romans;
but to give it a date, or to divine its history, is impossible.
Egyptology, which has solved the enigma of the Sphinx, is
powerless here. The obelisk of the quarry holds its secret
safe, and holds it for ever.
Ancient Egyptian quarrying is seen under its most striking
aspect among extensive limestone or sandstone ranges, as at
Turra and Silsilis; but the process by which the stone was
extracted can nowhere be more distinctly traced than at
Assûan. In some respects, indeed, the quarries here, though
on a smaller scale than those lower down the river, are even
more interesting. Nothing surprises one at Silsilis, for instance,
more than the economy with which the sandstone has been cut
from the heart of the mountain; but at Assûan, as the material
1 These are the measurements given in Murray's Handbook. The
new English translation of Marietta's Itinéraire de la Haute
gives the obelisk of Hatshepsu 108 feet 10 inches in height. See
The Monuments of Upper Egypt, translated by Alphonse Mariette:
London, 1877.

was more precious, so does the economy seem to have been
still greater. At Silsilis, the yellow cliffs have been sliced as
neatly as the cheeses in a cheesemonger's window. Smooth,
upright walls alone mark the place where the work has been
done; and the amount of débris is altogether insignificant.
But at Assuan, when extracting granite for sculptural purposes,
they attacked the form of the object required, and cut it out
roughly to shape. The great obelisk is but one of many cases
in point. In the same group of rocks, or one very closely
adjoining, we saw a rough-hewn column, erect and three-parts
detached, as well as the semi-cylindrical hollow from which
its fellow had been taken. One curious recess from which
a quadrant - shaped mass had been cut away puzzled us
immensely. In other places the blocks appeared to have been
coffer-shaped. We sought in vain, however, for the broken
sarcophagus mentioned in Murray.
But the drifted sands, we may be sure, hide more precious
things than these. Inscriptions are probably as abundant here
as in the breccia of Hamamat. The great obelisk must have
had a fellow, if we only knew where to look for it. The
obelisks of Queen Hatshepsu, and the sarcophagi of many
famous kings, might possibly be traced to their beds in these
quarries. So might the casing stones of the Pyramid of
Menkara, the massive slabs of the Temple of the Sphinx, and
the walls of the sanctuary of Philip Aridæus at Karnak.
Above all, the syenite Colossus of the Ramesseum and the
monster Colossus of Tanis,1 which was the largest detached
statue in the world, must each have left its mighty matrix
among the rocks close by. But these, like the song of the
sirens or the alias of Achilles, though “not beyond all conjecture,”
are among the things that will never now be discovered.
As regards the process of quarrying at Assuan, it seems
that rectangular granite blocks were split off here, as the
softer limestone and sandstone elsewhere, by means of wooden
wedges. These were fitted to holes already cut for their
1 For an account of the discovery of this enormous statue and the
measurements of its various parts, see
Tanis , Part I, by W. M. Flinders
Petrie, chap. ii. pp. 22 et seq. published by the Egypt Exploration Fund,
1885. [Note to Second Edition.]

reception; and, being saturated with water, split the hard rock
by mere force of expansion. Every quarried mass hereabouts
is marked with rows of these wedge-holes.
Passing by the way a tiny oasis where there were camels,
and a well, and an idle water-wheel, and a patch of emerald-green
barley, we next rode back nearly to the outskirts of
Assûan, where, in a dismal hollow on the verge of the desert,
may be seen a small, half-buried temple of Ptolemaic times.
Traces of colour are still visible on the winged globe under the
cornice, and on some mutilated bas-reliefs at either side of the
principal entrance. Seeing that the interior was choked with
rubbish, we made no attempt to go inside; but rode away again
without dismounting.
And now, there being still an hour of daylight, we signified
our intention of making for the top of the nearest hill, in order
to see the sun set. This, clearly, was an unheard-of innovation.
The camel-boys stared, shook their heads, protested there was
“mafeesh sikkeh” (no road), and evidently regarded us as
lunatics. The camels planted their splay feet obstinately in
the sand, tried to turn back, and, when obliged to yield to the
force of circumstances, abused us all the way. Arrived at the
top, we found ourselves looking down upon the island of
Elephantine, with the Nile, the town, and the dahabeeyahs at
our feet. A prolongation of the ridge on which we were
standing led, however, to another height crowned by a ruined
tomb; and seemed to promise a view of the Cataract. Seeing
us prepare to go on, the camel-boys broke into a furore of
remonstrance, which, but for Salame's big stick, would have
ended in downright mutiny. Still we pushed forward, and,
still dissatisfied, insisted on attacking a third summit. The
boys now trudged on in sullen despair. The sun was sinking;
the way was steep and difficult; the night would soon come
on. If the Howadji chose to break their necks, it concerned
nobody but themselves; but if the camels broke theirs, who
was to pay for them?
Such—expressed half in broken Arabic, half in gestures—
were the sentiments of our youthful Nubians. Nor were the
camels themselves less emphatic. They grinned; they sniffed;
they snorted; they snarled; they disputed every foot of the

way. As for mine (a gawky, supercilious beast with a blood
shot eye and a battered Roman nose), I never heard any dumb
animal make use of so much bad language in my life.
The last hill was very steep and stony; but the view from
the top was magnificent. We had now gained the highest
point of the ridge which divides the valley of the Nile from
the Arabian desert. The Cataract, widening away reach after
reach and studded with innumerable rocky islets, looked more
like a lake than a river. Of the Libyan desert we could see
nothing beyond the opposite sand-slopes, gold-rimmed against
the sunset. The Arabian desert, a boundless waste edged by
a serrated line of purple peaks, extended eastward to the
remotest horizon. We looked down upon it as on a raised
map. The Moslem tombs, some five hundred feet below,
showed like toys. To the right, in a wide valley opening away
southwards, we recognised that ancient bed of the Nile which
serves for the great highway between Egypt and Nubia. At
the end of the vista, some very distant palms against a rocky
background pointed the way to Philæ.
Meanwhile the sun was fast sinking—the lights were crimsoning—the
shadows were lengthening. All was silent; all
was solitary. We listened, but could scarcely hear the murmur
of the rapids. We looked in vain for the quarry of the obelisk.
It was but one group of rocks among scores of others, and to
distinguish it at this distance was impossible.
Presently, a group of three or four black figures, mounted
on little grey asses, came winding in and out among the tombs,
and took the road to Philæ. To us they were moving specks;
but our lynx-eyed camel-boys at once recognised the “Sheykh
el Shellál” (Sheykh of the Cataract) and his retinue. More
dahabeeyahs had come in; and the worthy man, having spent
the day in Assûan visiting, palavering, bargaining, was now
going home to Mahatta for the night. We watched the retreating
riders for some minutes, till twilight stole up the ancient
channel like a flood, and drowned them in warm shadows.
The afterglow had faded off the heights when we at length
crossed the last ridge, descended the last hill-side, and regained
the level from which we had started. Here once more we met
the Fostât party. They had ridden to Philæ and back by the

desert, and were apparently all the worse for wear. Seeing us,
they urged their camels to a trot, and tried to look as if they
liked it. The Idle Man and the Writer wreathed their countenances
in ghastly smiles, and did likewise. Not for worlds
would they have admitted that they found the pace difficult.
Such is the moral influence of the camel. He acts as a tonic;
he promotes the Spartan virtues; and if not himself heroic, is
at least the cause of heroism in others.
It was nearly dark when we reached Assûan. The cafés
were all alight and astir. There were smoking and coffee-drinking
going on outside; there were sounds of music and
laughter within. A large private house on the opposite side
of the road was being decorated, as if for some festive occasion.
Flags were flying from the roof, and two men were busy putting
up a gaily-painted inscription over the doorway. Asking, as
was natural, if there was a marriage or a fantasia afoot, it was
not a little startling to be told that these were signs of mourning,
and that the master of the house had died during the interval
that elapsed between our riding out and riding back again.
In Egypt, where the worship of ancestry and the preservation
of the body were once among the most sacred duties of the
living, they now make short work with their dead. He was
to be buried, they said, to-morrow morning, three hours after


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AT Assûan, one bids good-bye to Egypt and enters Nubia
through the gates of the Cataract—which is, in truth, no
cataract, but a succession of rapids extending over two-thirds
of the distance between Elephantine and Philæ. The Nile—
diverted from its original course by some unrecorded catastrophe,
the nature of which has given rise to much scientific
conjecture—here spreads itself over a rocky basin bounded by
sand-slopes on the one side, and by granite cliffs on the other.
Studded with numberless islets, divided into numberless channels,
foaming over sunken rocks, eddying among water-worn
boulders, now shallow, now deep, now loitering, now hurrying,
here sleeping in the ribbed hollow of a tiny sand-drift, there
circling above the vortex of a hidden whirlpool, the river,
whether looked upon from the deck of the dahabeeyah or the
heights along the shore, is seen everywhere to be fighting its
way through a labyrinth, the paths of which have never yet
been mapped or sounded.
Those paths are everywhere difficult and everywhere
dangerous; and to that labyrinth the Shellalee, or Cataract-Arab,
alone possesses the key. At the time of the inundation,
when all but the highest rocks are under water, and navigation
is as easy here as elsewhere, the Shellalee's occupation is gone.
But as the floods subside and travellers begin to reappear, his
work commences. To haul dahabeeyahs up those treacherous
rapids by sheer stress of rope and muscle; to steer skilfully
down again through channels bristling with rocks and boiling

with foam, becomes now, for some five months of the year,
his principal industry. It is hard work; but he gets well
paid for it, and his profits are always on the increase. From
forty to fifty dahabeeyahs are annually taken up between
November and March; and every year brings a larger influx
of travellers. Meanwhile, accidents rarely happen; prices tend
continually upwards; and the Cataract Arabs make a little
fortune by their singular monopoly.1
The scenery of the First Cataract is like nothing else in
the world—except the scenery of the Second. It is altogether
new, and strange, and beautiful. It is incomprehensible that
travellers should have written of it in general with so little
admiration. They seem to have been impressed by the wildness
of the waters, by the quaint forms of the rocks, by the
desolation and grandeur of the landscape as a whole; but
scarcely at all by its beauty—which is paramount.
The Nile here widens to a lake. Of the islands, which it
would hardly be an exaggeration to describe as some hundreds
in number, no two are alike. Some are piled up like the rocks
at the Land's End in Cornwall, block upon block, column upon
column, tower upon tower, as if reared by the hand of man.
Some are green with grass; some golden with slopes of drifted
sand; some planted with rows of blossoming lupins, purple
and white. Others again are mere cairns of loose blocks,
with here and there a perilously balanced top-boulder. On
one, a singular upright monolith, like a menhir, stands conspicuous,
as if placed there to commemorate a date, or to
point the way to Philæ. Another mass rises out of the water
squared and buttressed, in the likeness of a fort. A third,
humped and shining like the wet body of some amphibious
beast, lifts what seems to be a horned head above the surface
of the rapids. All these blocks and boulders and fantastic
rocks are granite; some red, some purple, some black. Their
forms are rounded by the friction of ages. Those nearest the
1 The increase of steamer traffic has considerably altered the conditions
of Nile travelling since this was written, and fewer dahabeeyahs are consequently
employed. By those who can afford it, and who really desire to
get the utmost pleasure, instruction, and interest from the trip, the dahabeeyah
will, however, always be preferred. [Note to Second Edition.]

brink reflect the sky like mirrors of burnished steel. Royal
ovals and hieroglyphed inscriptions, fresh as of yesterday's
cutting, start out here and there from those glittering surfaces
with startling distinctness. A few of the larger islands are
crowned with clumps of palms; and one, the loveliest of any,
is completely embowered in gum-trees and acacias, dôm and
date palms, and feathery tamarisks, all festooned together
under a hanging canopy of yellow-blossomed creepers.
On a brilliant Sunday morning, with a favourable wind, we
entered on this fairy archipelago. Sailing steadily against the
current, we glided away from Assûan, left Elephantine behind,
and found ourselves at once in the midst of the islands. From
this moment every turn of the tiller disclosed a fresh point of
view, and we sat on deck, spectators of a moving panorama.
The diversity of subjects was endless. The combinations of
form and colour, of light and shadow, of foreground and distance,
were continually changing. A boat or a few figures alone
were wanting to complete the picturesqueness of the scene;
but in all those channels, and among all those islands, we saw
no sign of any living creature.
Meanwhile the Sheykh of the Cataract—a flat-faced, fish-eyed
old Nubian, with his head tied up in a dingy yellow silk
handkerchief—sat apart in solitary grandeur at the stern, smoking
a long chibouque. Behind him squatted some five or six
dusky strangers; and a new steersman, black as a negro, had
charge of the helm. This new steersman was our pilot for
Nubia. From Assûan to Wady Halfeh, and back again to
Assûan, he alone was now held responsible for the safety of
the dahabeeyah and all on board.
At length a general stir among the crew warned us of the
near neighbourhood of the first rapid. Straight ahead, as if
ranged along the dyke of a weir, a chain of small islets barred
the way; while the current, divided into three or four headlong
torrents, came rushing down the slope, and reunited at the
bottom in one tumultuous race.
That we should ever get the Philæ up that hill of moving
water seemed at first sight impossible. Still our steersman
held on his course, making for the widest channel. Still the
Sheykh smoked imperturbably. Presently, without removing

the pipe from his mouth, he delivered the one word—“Roóhh!”
Instantly, evoked by his nod, the rocks swarmed with
natives. Hidden till now in all sorts of unseen corners, they
sprang out shouting, gesticulating, laden with coils of rope,
leaping into the thick of the rapids, splashing like water-dogs,
bobbing like corks, and rnaking as much show of energy as
if they were going to haul us up Niagara. The thing was
evidently a coup de théatre, like the apparition of Clan Alpine's
warriors in the Donna del Lago—with backshîsh in the
The scene that followed was curious enough. Two ropes
were carried from the dahabeeyah to the nearest island, and
there made fast to the rocks. Two ropes from the island were
also brought on board the dahabeeyah. A double file of men
on deck, and another double file on shore, then ranged themselves
along the ropes; the Sheykh gave the signal; and, to
a wild chanting accompaniment and a movement like a
barbaric Sir Roger de Coverley dance, a system of double
hauling began, by means of which the huge boat slowly and
steadily ascended. We may have been a quarter of an hour
going up the incline; though it seemed much longer. Meanwhile,
as they warmed to their work, the men chanted louder
and pulled harder, till the boat went in at last with a rush,
and swung over into a pool of comparatively smooth water.
Having moored here for an hour's rest, we next repeated
the performance against a still stronger current a little higher
up. This time, however, a rope broke. Down went the
haulers, like a row of cards suddenly tipped over—round
swung the Philæ, receiving the whole rush of the current on
her beam! Luckily for us, the other rope held fast against
the strain. Had it also broken, we must have been wrecked
then and there ignominiously.
Our Nubian auxiliaries struck work after this. Fate, they
said, was adverse; so they went home, leaving us moored for
the night in the pool at the top of the first rapid. The Sheykh
promised, however, that his people should begin work next
morning at dawn, and get us through before sunset. Next
morning came, however, and not a man appeared upon the

scene. At about mid-day they began dropping in, a few at
a time; hung about in a languid, lazy way for a couple of
hours or so; moved us into a better position for attacking the
next rapid; and then melted away mysteriously by twos and
threes among the rocks, and were no more seen.
We now felt that our time and money were being recklessly
squandered, and we resolved to bear it no longer. Our Painter
therefore undertook to remonstrate with the Sheykh, and to
convince him of the error of his ways. The Sheykh listened;
smoked; shook his head; replied that in the Cataract, as
elsewhere, there were lucky and unlucky days, days when men
felt inclined to work, and days when they felt disinclined.
To-day, as it happened, they felt disinclined. Being reminded
that it was unreasonable to keep us three days going up five
miles of river, and that there was a governor at Assûan to
whom we should appeal to-morrow unless the work went on
in earnest, he smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and muttered
something about “destiny,”
Now the Painter, being of a practical turn, had compiled
for himself a little vocabulary of choice Arabic maledictions,
which he carried in his note-book for reference when needed.
Having no faith in its possible usefulness, we were amused by
the industry with which he was constantly adding to this
collection. We looked upon it, in fact, as a harmless pleasantry
—just as we looked upon his pocket-revolver, which was never
loaded; or his brand-new fowling-piece, which he was never
known to fire.
But the Sheykh of the Cataract had gone too far. The fatuity
of that smile would have exasperated the meekest of men; and
our Painter was not the meekest of men. So he whipped out his
pocket-book, ran his finger down the line, and delivered an
appropriate quotation. His accent may not have been faultless;
but there could be no mistake as to the energy of his style or
the vigour of his language. The effect of both was instantaneous.
The Sheykh sprang to his feet as if he had been shot—turned
pale with rage under his black skin—vowed the Philæ might
stay where she was till doomsday, for aught that he or his
men would do to help her a foot farther—bounded into his
own ricketty sandal and rowed away, leaving us to our fate.


We stood aghast. It was all over with us. We should
never sec Abou Simbel now—never write our names on the
Rock of Aboosîr, nor slake our thirst at the waters of the
Second Cataract. What was to be done? Must the Sheykh
be defied, or propitiated? Should we appeal to the Governor,
or should we immolate the Painter? The majority were for
immolating the Painter.
We went to bed that night, despairing; but lo! next
morning at sunrise appeared the Sheykh of the Cataract, all
smiles, all activity, with no end of ropes and a force of two
hundred men. We were his dearest friends now. The Painter
was his brother. He had called out the ban and arriére ban
of the Cataract in our service. There was nothing, in short,
that he would not do to oblige us.
The dragoman vowed that he had never seen Nubians
work as those Nubians worked that day. They fell to like
giants, tugging away from morn till dewy eve, and never
giving over till they brought us round the last corner, and up
the last rapid. The sun had set, the afterglow had faded, the
twilight was closing in, when our dahabeeyah slipped at last
into level water, and the two hundred, with a parting shout,
dispersed to their several villages.
We were never known to make light of the Painter's
repertory of select abuse after this. If that note-book of his
had been the drowned book of Prospero, or the magical
Papyrus of Thoth fished up anew from the bottom of the Nile,
we could not have regarded it with a respect more nearly
bordering upon awe.
Though there exists no boundary line to mark where
Egypt ends and Nubia begins, the nationality of the races
dwelling on either side of that invisible barrier is as sharply
defined as though an ocean divided them. Among the
Shellalee, or Cataract villagers, one comes suddenly into the
midst of a people that have apparently nothing in common
with the population of Egypt. They belong to a lower
ethnological type, and they speak a language derived from
purely African sources. Contrasting with our Arab sailors
the sulky-looking, half-naked, muscular savages who thronged
about the Philæ during her passage up the Cataract, one could

not but perceive that they are to this day as distinct and
inferior a people as when their Egyptian conquerors, massing
together in one contemptuous epithet all nations south of the
frontier, were wont to speak of them as “the vile race of Kush.”
Time has done little to change them since those early days.
Some Arabic words have crept into their vocabulary. Some
modern luxuries—as tobacco, coffee, soap, and gunpowder—
have come to be included in the brief catalogue of their daily
wants. But in most other respects they are living to this day
as they lived in the time of the Pharaohs; cultivating lentils
and durra, brewing barley beer, plaiting mats and baskets of
stained reeds, tracing rude patterns upon bowls of gourd-rind,
flinging the javelin, hurling the boomerang, fashioning bucklers
of crocodile-skin and bracelets of ivory, and supplying Egypt
with henna. The dexterity with which, sitting as if in a wager
boat, they balance themselves on a palm-log, and paddle to
and fro about the river, is really surprising. This barbaric substitute
for a boat is probably more ancient than the pyramids.
Having witnessed the passage of the first few rapids, we
were glad to escape from the dahabeeyah, and spend our time
sketching here and there on the borders of the desert, and
among the villages and islands round about. In all Egypt
and Nubia there is no scenery richer in picturesque bits than
the scenery of the Cataract. An artist might pass a winter
there, and not exhaust the pictorial wealth of those five miles
which divide Assuan from Philæ. Of tortuous creeks shut in
by rocks fantastically piled—of sand-slopes golden to the
water's edge—of placid pools low-lying in the midst of lupinfields
and tracts of tender barley—of creeking Sakkiehs, half
hidden among palms and dropping water as they turn—of
mud dwellings, here clustered together in hollows, there
perched separately on heights among the rocks, and perpetuating
to this day the form and slope of Egyptian pylons—of
rude boats drawn up in sheltered coves, or going to pieces
high and dry upon the sands—of water-washed boulders of
crimson, and black, and purple granite, on which the wild fowl
cluster at mid-day and the fisher spreads his nets to dry at sunset
—of camels, and caravans, and camps on shore—of cargo-boats
and cangias on the river— of wild figures of half-naked athletes—of

dusky women decked with barbaric ornaments, unveiled,
swift-gliding, trailing long robes of deepest gentian blue—of
ancient crones, and little naked children like live bronzes—of
these, and a hundred other subjects, in infinite variety and
combination, there is literally no end. It is all so picturesque,
indeed, so biblical, so poetical, that one is almost in danger of
forgetting that the places are something more than beautiful
backgrounds, and that the people are not merely appropriate
figures placed there for the delight of sketchers, but are made
of living flesh and blood, and moved by hopes, and fears, and
sorrows, like our own.
Mahatta—green with sycamores and tufted palms; nestled
in the hollow of a little bay; half-islanded in the rear by an arm
of backwater, curved and glittering like the blade of a Turkish


scimetar—is by far the most beautifully situated village on the
Nile. It is the residence of the principal Sheykh, and, if one
may say so, is the capital of the Cataract. The houses lie
some way back from the river. The bay is thronged with
native boats of all sizes and colours. Men and camels, women
and children, donkeys, dogs, merchandise, and temporary huts
put together with poles and matting, crowd the sandy shore.
It is Assûan over again; but on a larger scale. The shipping
is tenfold more numerous. The traders' camp is in itself a
village. The beach is half a mile in length, and a quarter of
a mile in the slope down to the river. Mahatta is, in fact,

the twin port to Assûan. It lies, not precisely at the other
extremity of the great valley between Assûan and Philæ, but
at the nearest accessible point above the Cataract. It is here
that the Soudan traders disembark their goods for re-embarkation
at Assûan. Such ricketty, barbaric-looking craft as these
Nubian cangias we had not yet seen on the river. They
looked as old and obsolete as the Ark. Some had curious
carved verandahs outside the cabin - entrance. Others were
tilted up at the stern like Chinese junks. Most of them had
been slavers in the palmy days of Defterdar Bey; plying then
as now between Wady Halfeh and Mahatta; discharging their
human cargoes at this point for re-shipment at Assûan; and
rarely passing the Cataract, even at the time of inundation.
If their wicked old timbers could have spoken, they might
have told us many a black and bloody tale.
Going up through the village and the palm-gardens, and
turning off in a north-easterly direction towards the desert, one
presently comes out about midway of that valley to which I
have made allusion more than once already. No one, however
unskilled in physical geography, could look from end to
end of that huge furrow and not see that it was once a riverbed.
We know not for how many tens of thousands, or
hundreds of thousands, of years the Nile may have held on its
course within those original bounds. Neither can we tell when
it deserted them. It is, however, quite certain that the river
flowed that way within historic times; that is to say, in the
days of Amenemhat III (circa B.C. 2800). So much is held to
be proven by certain inscriptions1 which record the maximum
“The most important discovery which we have made here, and which
I shall only mention briefly, is a series of short rock-inscriptions, which
mark the highest rises of the Nile during a series of years under the
government of Amenemhat III and of his immediate successors….
They prove that the river, above four thousand years ago, rose more than
twenty-four feet higher than now, and thereby must have produced totally
different conditions in the inundation and in the whole surface of the
ground, both above and below this spot.”—Lepsius's Letters from Egypt,
, Letter xxvi.
“The highest rise of the Nile in each year at Semneh was registered by
a mark indicating the year of the king's reign, cut in the granite, either on
one of the blocks forming the foundation of the fortress, or on the cliff,
and particularly on the east or right bank, as best adapted for the purpose.
Of these markings eighteen still remain, thirteen of them having been
made in the reign of Mœris (Amenemhat III) and five in the time of
his next two successors…. We have here presented to us the remarkable
facts that the highest of the records now legible, viz. that of the thirtieth
year of the reign of Amenemhat, according to exact measurements which
I made, is 8.17 metres (26 feet 8 inches) higher than the highest level
to which the Nile rises in years of the greatest floods; and, further, that
the lowest mark, which is on the east bank and indicated the fifteenth
year of the same king, is still 4.14 metres (13 feet 6 1/2 inches); and the
single mark on the west bank indicating the ninth year, is 2.77 metres
(9 feet) above the highest level.”—Lepsius's Letter fo Professor Ehrenberg.
See Appendix to the above.

height of the inundation at Semneh during various years of
that king's reign. The Nile then rose in Ethiopia to a
level some 27 feet in excess of the highest point to which
it is ever known to attain at the present day. I am not
aware what relation the height of this ancient bed bears
to the levels recorded at Semneh, or to those now annually
self-registered upon the furrowed banks of Philæ; but one
sees at a glance, without aid of measurements or hydrographic
science, that if the river were to come down again next summer
in a mighty “bore,” the crest of which rose 27 feet above
the highest ground now fertilised by the annual overflow, it
would at once refill its long-deserted bed, and convert Assûan
into an island.
Granted, then, that the Nile flowed through the desert in
the time of Amenemhat III, there must at some later period
have come a day when it suddenly ran dry. This catastrophe
is supposed to have taken place about the time of the expulsion
of the Hyksos (circa B.C. 1703), when a great disruption of the
rocky barrier at Silsilis is thought to have taken place; so
draining Nubia, which till now had played the part of a vast
reservoir, and dispersing the pent-up floods over the plains of
Southern Egypt. It would, however, be a mistake to conclude
that the Nile was by this catastrophe turned aside in order to
be precipitated in the direction of the Cataract. One arm of
the river must always have taken the present lower and deeper
course; while the other must of necessity have run low—
perhaps very nearly dry—as the inundation subsided every


There remains no monumental record of this event; but
the facts speak for themselves. The great channel is there.
The old Nile-mud is there—buried for the most part in sand,
but still visible on many a rocky shelf and plateau between
Assûan and Philæ. There are even places where the surface
of the mass is seen to be scooped out, as if by the sudden rush
of the departing waters. Since that time, the tides of war
and commerce have flowed in their place. Every conquering
Thothmes and Rameses bound for the land of Kush, led his
armies that way. Sabacon, at the head of his Ethiopian
hordes, took that short cut to the throne of all the Pharaohs.
The French under Desaix, pursuing the Memlooks after the
battle of the Pyramids, swept down that pass to Philæ. Meanwhile
the whole trade of the Soudan, however interrupted at
times by the ebb and flow of war, has also set that way. We
never crossed those five miles of desert without encountering a
train or two of baggage-camels laden either with European
goods for the far South, or with Oriental treasures for the
I shall not soon forget an Abyssinian caravan which we
met one day just coming out from Mahatta. It consisted of
seventy camels laden with elephant tusks. The tusks, which
were about fourteen feet in length, were packed in half-dozens
and sewn up in buffalo hides. Each camel was slung with two
loads, one at either side of the hump. There must have been
about eight hundred and forty tusks in all. Beside each
shambling beast strode a bare-footed Nubian. Following
these, on the back of a gigantic camel, came a hunting leopard
in a wooden cage, and a wild cat in a basket. Last of all
marched a coal-black Abyssinian nearly seven feet in height,
magnificently shawled and turbaned, with a huge scimetar
dangling by his side, and in his belt a pair of enormous inlaid
seventeenth-century pistols, such as would have become the
holsters of Prince Rupert. This elaborate warrior represented
the guard of the caravan. The hunting leopard and the wild
cat were for Prince Hassan, the third son of the Viceroy. The
ivory was for exportation. Anything more picturesque than
this procession, with the dust driving before it in clouds, and
the children following it out of the village, it would be difficult

to conceive. One longed for Gerôme to paint it on
the spot.
The rocks on either side of the ancient river-bed are profusely
hieroglyphed. These inscriptions, together with others
found in the adjacent quarries, range over a period of between
three and four thousand years, beginning with the early reigns
of the Ancient Empire, and ending with the Ptolemies and
Cæsars. Some are mere autographs. Others run to a considerable
length. Many are headed with figures of gods and worshippers.
These, however, are for the most part mere graffiti, ill
drawn and carelessly sculptured. The records they illustrate are
chiefly votive. The passer-by adores the gods of the Cataract;
implores their protection; registers his name, and states
the object of his journey. The votaries are of various ranks,
periods, and nationalities; but the formula in most instances
is pretty much the same. Now it is a citizen of Thebes performing
the pilgrimage to Philæ; or a general at the head of
his troops returning from a foray in Ethiopia; or a tributary
Prince doing homage to Rameses the Great, and associating
his suzerain with the divinities of the place. Occasionally we
come upon a royal cartouche and a pompous catalogue of
titles, setting forth how the Pharaoh himself, the Golden
Hawk, the Son of Ra, the Mighty, the Invincible, the Godlike,
passed that way.
It is curious to see how royalty, so many thousand years
ago, set the fashion in names, just as it does to this day.
Nine-tenths of the ancient travellers who left their signatures
upon these rocks were called Rameses or Thothmes or Usertasen.
Others, still more ambitious, took the names of gods.
Ampére, who hunted diligently for inscriptions both here and
among the islands, found the autographs of no end of merely
mortal Amens and Hathors.1
Our three days' detention in the Cataract was followed by
1 For copies and translations of a large number of the graffiti of
Assûan, see Lepsius's Denkmälery; also, for the most recent and the
fullest collection of the rock-cut inscriptions of Assûan and its neighbourhood,
including the hitherto uncopied inscriptions of the Saba Rigaleh
Valley, of Elephantine, of the rocks above Silsileh, etc. etc., see Mr. W.
M. Flinders Petrie's latest volume, entitled A Season's Work in Egypt,
, published by Field and Tuer, 1888. [Note to Second Edition.]

a fourth of glassy calm. There being no breath of air to fill
our sails and no footing for the trackers, we could now get
along only by dint of hard punting; so that it was past
midday before the Philæ lay moored at last in the shadow of
the holy island to which she owed her name.


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HAVING been for so many days within easy reach of Philæ,
it is not to be supposed that we were content till now with only
an occasional glimpse of its towers in the distance. On the
contrary, we had found our way thither towards the close of
almost every day's excursion. We had approached it by land
from the desert; by water in the felucca; from Mahatta by
way of the path between the cliffs and the river. When I add
that we moored here for a night and the best part of two
days on our way up the river, and again for a week when we
came down, it will be seen that we had time to learn the lovely
island by heart.
The approach by water is quite the most beautiful. Seen
from the level of a small boat, the island, with its palms, its
colonnades, its pylons, seems to rise out of the river like a
mirage. Piled rocks frame it in on either side, and purple
mountains close up the distance. As the boat glides nearer
between glistening boulders, those sculptured towers rise
higher and ever higher against the sky. They show no sign
of ruin or of age. All looks solid, stately, perfect. One
forgets for the moment that anything is changed. If a sound
of antique chanting were to be borne along the quiet air—if
a procession of white-robed priests bearing aloft the veiled ark
of the God, were to come sweeping round between the palms
and the pylons—we should not think it strange.
Most travellers land at the end nearest the Cataract; so
coming upon the principal temple from behind, and seeing it

in reverse order. We, however, bid our Arabs row round to
the southern end, where was once a stately landing-place with
steps down to the river. We skirt the steep banks, and pass
close under the beautiful little roofless Temple commonly
known as Pharaoh's Bed—that Temple which has been so
often painted, so often photographed, that every stone of it,
and the platform on which it stands, and the tufted palms
that cluster round about it, have been since childhood as
familiar to our mind's eye as the Sphinx or the Pyramids.
It is larger, but not one jot less beautiful than we had expected.
And it is exactly like the photographs. Still, one is conscious
of perceiving a shade of difference too subtle for analysis;
like the difference between a familiar face and the reflection of
it in a looking-glass. Anyhow, one feels that the real Pharaoh's
Bed will henceforth displace the photographs in that obscure
mental pigeon-hole where till now one has been wont to store
the well-known image; and that even the photographs have
undergone some kind of change.
And now the corner is rounded; and the river widens
away southwards between mountains and palm-groves; and
the prow touches the débris of a ruined quay. The bank is
steep here. We climb; and a wonderful scene opens before
our eyes. We are standing at the lower end of a courtyard
leading up to the propylons of the great Temple. The courtyard
is irregular in shape, and enclosed on either side by
covered colonnades. The colonnades are of unequal lengths
and set at different angles. One is simply a covered walk;
the other opens upon a row of small chambers, like a monastic
cloister opening upon a row of cells. The roofing-stones of
these colonnades are in part displaced, while here and there
a pillar or a capital is missing; but the twin towers of the
propylon, standing out in sharp unbroken lines against the
sky and covered with colossal sculptures, are as perfect, or
very nearly as perfect, as in the days of the Ptolemies who
built them.
The broad area between the colonnades is honeycombed
with crude-brick foundations; vestiges of a Coptic village of
early Christian time. Among these we thread our way to the
foot of the principal propylon, the entire width of which is


120 feet. The towers measure 60 feet from base to parapet.
These dimensions are insignificant for Egypt; yet the propylon,
which would look small at Luxor or Karnak, does not look
small at Philæ. The key-note here is not magnitude, but
beauty. The island is small—that is to say it covers an area
about equal to the summit of the Acropolis at Athens; and
the scale of the buildings has been determined, by the size of
the island. As at Athens, the ground is occupied by one
principal Temple of moderate size, and several subordinate
Chapels. Perfect grace, exquisite proportion, most varied and
capricious grouping, here take the place of massiveness; so
lending to Egyptian forms an irregularity of treatment that is
almost Gothic, and a lightness that is almost Greek.
And now we catch glimpses of an inner court, of a second
propylon, of a pillared portico beyond; while, looking up to
the colossal bas-reliefs above our heads, we see the usual mystic
forms of kings and deities, crowned, enthroned, worshipping
and worshipped. These sculptures, which at first sight looked
no less perfect than the towers, prove to be as laboriously
mutilated as those of Denderah. The hawk-head of Horus
and the cow-head of Hathor have here and there escaped
destruction; but the human-faced deities are literally “sans
eyes, sans nose, sans ears, sans everything.”
We enter the inner court—an irregular quadrangle enclosed
on the east by an open colonnade, on the west by a
chapel fronted with Hathor-headed columns, and on the north
and south sides by the second and first propylons. In this
quadrangle a cloistral silence reigns. The blue sky burns
above—the shadows sleep below—a tender twilight lies about
our feet. Inside the chapel there sleeps perpetual gloom. It
was built by Ptolemy Euergetes II, and is one of that order
to which Champollion gave the name of Mammisi. It is a
most curious place, dedicated to Hathor and commemorative
of the nurture of Horus. On the blackened walls within,
dimly visible by the faint light which struggles through screen
and doorway, we see Isis, the wife and sister of Osiris, giving
birth to Horus. On the screen panels outside we trace the
story of his infancy, education, and growth. As a babe at the
breast, he is nursed in the lap of Hathor, the divine foster-mother.

As a young child, he stands at his mother's knee and
listens to the playing of a female harpist (we saw a bare-footed
boy the other day in Cairo thrumming upon a harp of just
the same shape, and with precisely as many strings); as a
youth, he sows grain in honour of Isis, and offers a jewelled
collar to Hathor. This Isis, with her long aquiline nose, thin
lips, and haughty aspect, looks like one of the complimentary
portraits so often introduced among the temple sculptures of
Egypt. It may represent one of the two Cleopatras wedded
to Ptolemy Physcon.
Two greyhounds with collars round their necks are sculptured
on the outer wall of another small chapel adjoining.
These also look like portraits. Perhaps they were the favourite
dogs of some high priest of Philae.
Close against the greyhounds and upon the same wall-space,
is engraven that famous copy of the inscription of the
Rosetta Stone first observed here by Lepsius in A.D. 1843.
It neither stands so high nor looks so illegible as Ampère
(with all the jealousy of a Champollionist and a Frenchman)
is at such pains to make out. One would have said that it
was in a state of more than ordinarily good preservation.
As a reproduction of the Rosetta decree, however, the
Philae: version is incomplete. The Rosetta text, after setting
forth with official pomposity the victories and munificence of
the King, Ptolemy V, the Ever-living, the Avenger of Egypt,
concludes by ordaining that the record thereof shall be engraven
in hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek characters, and set up in
all temples of the first, second, and third class throughout the
Empire. Broken and battered as it is, the precious black
basalt1 of the British Museum fulfils these conditions. The
Mariette, at the end of his Apercu de I'histoire d'Egypte, gives the
following succinct account of the Rosetta Stone, and the discovery of
“Découverte, il y a 65 ans environ, par des soldats francais qui
creusaient un retranchement près d'une redoute située à Rosette, la pierre
qui porte ce nom a joué le plus grand rôle dans l'archéologie égyptienne.
Sur la face principale sont gravées trois inscriptions. Les deux premières
sont en langue égyptienne et écrites dans les deux écritures qui avaient
cours à cette époque. L'une est en écriture hiéroglyphique réservée aux
prêtres: elle ne compte plus que 14 lignes tronquées par la brisure de
la pierre. L'autre est en une écriture cursive appliquée principalement
aux usages du peuple et comprise par lui: celle-ci offre 32 lignes de
texte. Enfin, la troisième inscription de la stèle est en langue grecque
et comprend 54 lignes. C'est dans cette dernière partie que réside I'intérêt
du monument trouvé à Rosette. II résulte, en effet, de l'interprétation
du texte grec de la stèle que ce texte n'est qu'une version de I'original
transcrit plus haut dans les deux écritures égyptiennes. La Pierre de
Rosette nous donne done, dans une langue parfaitement connue (le grec)
la traduction d'un texte conçu dans une autre langue encore ignorée au
moment où la stèle a été découverte. Qui ne voit l'utilité de cette mention?
Remonter du connu à l'inconnu n'est pas une opération en dehors des
moyens d'une critique prudente, et déjà l'on devine que si la Pierre de
Rosette a acquis dans la science la célébrité dont elle jouit aujourd'hui,
c'est qu'elle a fourni la vraie clef de cette mystérieuse écriture dont I'Egypte
a si longtemps gardé le secret. II ne faudrait pas croire cependant que le
déchiffrement des hiéroglyphes au moyen de la Pierre de Rosette ait été
obtenu du premier coup et sans tâtonnements. Bien au contraire, les
savants s'y essayèrent sans succès pendant 20 ans. Enfin, Champollion
parut. Jusqu'à lui, on avait cru que chacune des lettres qui composent
l'écriture hiéroglyphique était un symbole; c'est à dire, que dans une seule
de ces lettres était exprimée une idée complète. Le mérite de Champollion
été de prouver qu'au contraire l'écriture égyptienne contient des signes qui
expriment véritablement des sons. En d'autres termes qu'elle est Alphabétique.
II remarqua, par exemple, que partout oü dans le texte grec de
Rosette se trouve le nom propre Ptolémée, on rencontre à l'endroit correspondant
du texte égyptien un certain nombre de signes enfermés dans
un encadrement elliptique. II en conclut: 1°, que les noms des rois
étaient dans le systeme hiéroglyphique signalés à l'attention par une sorte
d'écusson qu'il appela cartouche: 2°, que les signes contenus dans cet
écusson devaient être lettre pour lettre le nom de Ptolémée. Déjà done
en supposant les voyelles omises, Champollion était en possession de cinq
lettres—P, T, L, M, S. D'un autre côté, Champollion savait, d'après une
seconde inscription grecque gravée sur une obélisque de Philae, que sur cet
obélisque un cartouche hiéroglyphique qu'on y voit devait être celui de
Cléopâtre. Si sa première lecture était juste, le P, le L, et le T, de
Ptolémée devaient se retrouver dans le second nom propre; mais en même
temps ce second nom propre fournissait un K et un R nouveaux. Enfin,
appliqué à d'autres cartouches, l'alphabet encore trés imparfait révélé à
Champollion par les noms de Cléopâtre et de Ptolémée le mit en possession
d'à peu près toutes les autres consonnes. Comme prononciation des signes,
Champollion n'avait done pas à hésiter, et dés le jour oû cette constatation
eut lieu, il put certifier qu'il était en possession de l'alphabet égyptien.
Mais restait la langue; car prononcer des mots n'est rien si I'on ne sait
pas ce que ces mots veulent dire. Ici le génie de Champollion se donna
libre cours. II s'aperçut en effet que son alphabet tiré des noms propres
et appliqué aux mots de la langue donnait tout simplement du Copte. Or,
le Copte à son tour est une langue qui, sans être aussi explorée que le grec,
n'en était pas moins depuis longtemps accessible. Cette fois le voile était
done complétement levé. La langue éyptienne n'est que du Copte écrit
en hiéroglyphes; ou, pour parler plus exactement, le Copte n'est que la
langue des anciens Pharaons, écrite, comme nous l'avons dit plus haut, en
lettres grecques. Le reste se devine. D'indices en indices, Champollion
procéda véritablement du connu à l'inconnu, et beientôt l'illustre fondateur
de l'égyptologie put poser les fondements de cette belle science qui a pour
objet l'interprétation des hiéroglyphes. Tel est la Pierre de Rosette.”—
Aperçu de I'histoire d'Egypte: Mariette Bey, p. 189 et seq.: 1872.
In order to have done with this subject, it may be as well to mention
that another trilingual tablet was found by Mariette while conducting
his excavations at Sân (Tanis) in 1865. It dates from the ninth year of
Ptolemy Euergetes, and the text ordains the deification of Berenice, a
daughter of the king, then just dead (B.C. 254). This stone, preserved in
the museum at Boulak, is known as the Stone of Sân, or the Decree of
Canopus. Had the Rosetta Stone never been discovered, we may fairly
conclude that the Canopic Decree would have furnished some later Champollion
with the necessary key to hieroglyphic literature, and that the great
discovery would only have been deferred till the present time.
NOTE TO SECOND EDITION.—A third copy of the Decree of Canopus,
the text engraved in hieroglyphs only, was found at Tell Nebireh in
1885, and conveyed to the Boulak Museum. The discoverer of this tablet,
however, missed a much greater discovery, reserved, as it happened, for
Mr. W. M. F. Petrie, who came to the spot a month or two later, and found
that the mounds of Tell Nebireh entombed the remains of the famous and
long-lost Greek city of Naukratis. See Naukratis, Part I, by W. M. F.
Petrie, published by the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1886.

three writings are there. But at Philae, though the original
hieroglyphic and demotic texts are reproduced almost verbatim,
the priceless Greek transcript is wanting. It is provided for,
as upon the Rosetta Stone, in the preamble. Space has been
left for it at the bottom of the tablet. We even fancied we
could here and there distinguish traces of red ink where the
lines should come. But not one word of it has ever been cut
into the surface of the stone.


Taken by itself, there is nothing strange in this omission;
but taken in connection with a precisely similar omission in
another inscription a few yards distant, it becomes something
more than a coincidence.
This second inscription is cut upon the face of a block of
living rock which forms part of the foundation of the easternmost
tower of the second propylon. Having enumerated
certain grants of land made to ‘the Temple by the VIth and

VIIth Ptolemies, it concludes, like the first, by decreeing that
this record of the royal bounty shall be engraven in the hieroglyphic,
demotic, and Greek: that is to say, in the ancient
sacred writing of the priests, the ordinary script of the people,
and the language of the Court. But here again the sculptor
has left his work unfinished. Here again the inscription breaks
off at the end of the demotic, leaving a blank space for the
third transcript. This second omission suggests intentional
neglect; and the motive for such neglect would not be far to
seek. The tongue of the dominant race is likely enough to
have been unpopular among the old noble and sacerdotal
families; and it may well be that the priesthood of Philae,
secure in their distant, solitary isle, could with impunity evade
a clause which their brethren of the Delta were obliged to
It does not follow that the Greek rule was equally unpopular.
We have reason to believe quite otherwise. The conqueror
of the Persian invader was in truth the deliverer of Egypt.
Alexander restored peace to the country, and the Ptolemies
identified themselves with the interests of the people. A
dynasty which not only lightened the burdens of the poor but
respected the privileges of the rich; which honoured the priesthood,
endowed the Temples, and compelled the Tigris to
restore the spoils of the Nile, could scarcely fail to win the
suffrages of all classes. The priests of Philae might despise
the language of Homer while honouring the descendants of
Philip of Macedon. They could naturalise the King. They
could disguise his name in hieroglyphic spelling. They could
depict him in the traditional dress of the Pharaohs. They
could crown him with the double crown, and represent him in
the act of worshipping the gods of his adopted country. But
they could neither naturalise nor disguise his language. Spoken
or written, it was an alien thing. Carven in high places, it
stood for a badge of servitude. What could a conservative
hierarchy do but abhor, and, when possible, ignore it?
There are other sculptures in this quadrangle which one
would like to linger over; as, for instance, the capitals of the
eastern colonnade, no two of which are alike, and the
grotesque bas-reliefs of the frieze of the Mammisi. Of these,

a quasi-heraldic group, representing the sacred hawk sitting in
the centre of a fan-shaped persea tree between two supporters,
is one of the most curious; the supporters being on the one side
a maniacal lion, and on the other a Typhonian hippopotamus,
each grasping a pair of shears.
Passing now through the doorway of the second propylon,
we find ourselves facing the portico—the famous painted
portico of which we had seen so many sketches that we
fancied we knew it already. That second-hand knowledge
goes for nothing, however, in presence of the reality; and we
are as much taken by surprise as if we were the first travellers
to set foot within these enchanted precincts.
For here is a place in which time seems to have stood as
still as in that immortal palace where everything went to sleep
for a hundred years. The bas-reliefs on the walls, the intricate
paintings on the ceilings, the colours upon the capitals, are
incredibly fresh and perfect. These exquisite capitals have
long been the wonder and delight of travellers in Egypt.
They are all studied from natural forms—from the lotus in
bud and blossom, the papyrus, and the palm. Conventionalised
with consummate skill, they are at the same time so justly
proportioned to the height and girth of the columns as to give
an air of wonderful lightness to the whole structure. But
above all, it is with the colour—colour conceived in the tender
and pathetic minor of Watteau and Lancret and Greuze—that
one is most fascinated. Of those delicate half- tones, the
facsimile in the “Grammar of Ornament” conveys not the
remotest idea. Every tint is softened, intermixed, degraded.
The pinks are coralline; the greens are tempered with
verditer; the blues are of a greenish turquoise, like the western
half of an autumnal evening sky.
Later on, when we returned to Philae from the Second
Cataract, the Writer devoted the best part of three days to
making a careful study of a corner of this portico; patiently
matching those subtle variations of tint, and endeavouring to
master the secret of their combination.1
1 The famous capitals are not the only specimens of admirable colouring
in Philae. Among the battered bas-reliefs of the great colonnade at
the south end of the island, there yet remain some isolated patches of
uninjured and very lovely ornament. See, more particularly, the mosaic
pattern upon the throne of a divinity just over the second doorway in
the western wall; and the designs upon a series of other thrones a little
farther along towards the north, all most delicately drawn in uniform
compartments, picked out in the three primary colours, and laid on in flat
tints of wonderful purity and delicacy. Among these a lotus between two
buds, an exquisite little sphinx on a pale red ground, and a series of
sacred hawks, white upon red, alternating with white upon blue, all most
exquisitely conventionalised, may be cited as examples of absolutely perfect
treatment and design in polychrome decoration. A more instructive and
delightful task than the copying of these precious fragments can hardly be
commended to students and sketchers on the Nile.


The annexed woodcut can do no more than reproduce the
Architecturally, this court is unlike any we have yet seen,
being quite small, and open to the sky in the centre, like the
atrium of a Roman house. The light thus admitted glows
overhead, lies in a square patch on the ground below, and is
reflected upon the pictured recesses of the ceiling. At the
upper end, where the pillars stand two deep, there was originally
an intercolumnar screen. The rough sides of the columns
show where the connecting blocks have been torn away. The
pavement, too, has been pulled up by treasure-seekers, and the
ground is strewn with broken slabs and fragments of shattered
These are the only signs of ruin—signs traced not by the
finger of Time, but by the hand of the spoiler. So fresh, so
fair is all the rest, that we are fain to cheat ourselves for a
moment into the belief that what we see is work not marred,
but arrested. Those columns, depend on it, are yet unfinished.
That pavement is about to be relaid. It would not surprise us
to find the masons here to-morrow morning, or the sculptor,
with mallet and chisel, carrying on that band of lotus buds and
bees. Far more difficult is it to believe that they all struck
work for ever some two-and-twenty centuries ago.
Here and there, where the foundations have been disturbed,
one sees that the columns are constructed of sculptured blocks,
the fragments of some earlier Temple; while, at a height of
about six feet from the ground, a Greek cross cut deep into the
side of the shaft stamps upon each pillar the seal of Christian




For the Copts who choked the colonnades and courtyards
with their hovels seized also on the Temples. Some they
pulled down for building material; others they appropriated.
We can never know how much they destroyed; but two large
convents on the eastern bank a little higher up the river, and
a small basilica at the north end of the island, would seem tc
have been built with the magnificent masonry of the southern


quay, as well as with blocks taken from a structure which
once occupied the south-eastern corner of the great colonnade.
As for this beautiful painted portico, they turned it into a
chapel. A little rough-hewn niche in the east wall, and an
overturned credence-table fashioned from a single block of
limestone, mark the site of the chancel. The Arabs, taking

this last for a gravestone, have pulled it up, according to their
usual practice, in search of treasure buried with the dead. On
the front of the credence-table,1 and over the niche which some
unskilled but pious hand has decorated with rude Byzantine
carvings, the Greek cross is again conspicuous.
The religious history of Philae is so curious that it is a
pity it should not find an historian. It shared with Abydos
and some other places the reputation of being the burial-place
of Osiris. It was called “the Holy Island.” Its very soil was
sacred. None might land upon its shores, or even approach
them too nearly, without permission. To obtain that permission
and perform the pilgrimage to the tomb of the God, was
to the pious Egyptian what the Mecca pilgrimage is to the
pious Mussulman of to-day. The most solemn oath to which
he could give utterance was “By Him who sleeps in Philae.”
When and how the island first came to be regarded as the
resting-place of the most beloved of the Gods does not appear;
but its reputation for sanctity seems to have been of comparatively
modern date. It probably rose into importance as
Abydos declined. Herodotus, who is supposed to have gone
as far as Elephantine, made minute enquiry concerning the river
above that point; and he relates that the Cataract was in the
occupation of “Ethiopian nomads.” He, however, makes no
mention of Philae or its Temples. This omission on the part
of one who, wherever he went, sought the society of the priests
and paid particular attention to the religious observances of the
country, shows that either Herodotus never got so far, or that the
island had not yet become the home of the Osirian mysteries.
Four hundred years later, Diodorus Siculus describes it as the
holiest of holy places; while Strabo, writing about the same
time, relates that Abydos had then dwindled to a mere village.
It seems possible, therefore, that at some period subsequent to
the time of Herodotus and prior to that of Diodorus or Strabo,
the priests of Isis may have migrated from Abydos to Philae;
in which case there would have been a formal transfer not only
of the relics of Osiris, but of the sanctity which had attached
1 It has since been pointed out by a writer in The Saturday Review
that this credence-table was fashioned with part of a shrine destined for
one of the captive hawks sacred to Horus. [Note to Second Edition.]

for ages to their original resting-place. Nor is the motive for
such an exodus wanting. The ashes of the God were no
longer safe at Abydos. Situate in the midst of a rich corn
country on the high road to Thebes, no city south of Memphis
lay more exposed to the hazards of war. Cambyses had
already passed that way. Other invaders might follow. To
seek beyond the frontier that security which might no longer
be found in Egypt, would seem therefore to be the obvious
course of a priestly guild devoted to its trust. This, of course,
is mere conjecture, to be taken for what it may be worth.
The decadence of Abydos coincides, at all events, with the
growth of Philae; and it is only by help of some such assumption
that one can understand how a new site should have
suddenly arisen to such a height of holiness.
The earliest Temple here, of which only a small propylon
remains, would seem to have been built by the last of the
native Pharaohs (Nectanebo II, B.C. 361); but the high and
palmy days of Philae belong to the period of Greek and
Roman rule. It was in the time of the Ptolemies that the
Holy Island became the seat of a Sacred College and the
stronghold of a powerful hierarchy. Visitors from all parts of
Egypt, travellers from distant lands, court functionaries from
Alexandria charged with royal gifts, came annually in crowds
to offer their vows at the tomb of the God. They have cut
their names by hundreds all over the principal Temple, just
like tourists of to-day. Some of these antique autographs
are written upon and across those of preceding visitors; while
others—palimpsests upon stone, so to say—having been
scratched on the yet unsculptured surface of doorway and
pylon, are seen to be older than the hieroglyphic texts which
were afterwards carved over them. These inscriptions cover
a period of several centuries, during which time successive
Ptolemies and Caesars continued to endow the island. Rich
in lands, in temples, in the localisation of a great national
myth, the Sacred College was yet strong enough in A.D. 379
to oppose a practical resistance to the Edict of Theodosius.
At a word from Constantinople, the whole land of Egypt was
forcibly Christianised. Priests were forbidden under pain of
death to perform the sacred rites. Hundreds of temples were

plundered. Forty thousand statues of divinities were destroyed
at one fell swoop. Meanwhile, the brotherhood of Philae,
entrenched behind the Cataract and the desert, survived the
degradation of their order and the ruin of their immemorial
faith. It is not known with certainty for how long they
continued to transmit their hereditary privileges; but two of
the above-mentioned votive inscriptions show that so late as
A.D. 453 the priestly families were still in occupation of the
island, and still celebrating the mysteries of Osiris and Isis.
There even seems reason for believing that the ancient worship
continued to hold its own till the end of the sixth century, at
which time, according to an inscription at Kalabsheh, of which
I shall have more to say hereafter, Silco, “King of all the
Ethiopians,” himself apparently a Christian, twice invaded
Lower Nubia, where God, he says, gave him the victory, and
the vanquished swore to him “by their idols” to observe the
terms of peace.1
There is nothing in this record to show that the invaders
went beyond Tafa, the ancient Taphis, which is twenty-seven
miles above Philae; but it seems reasonable to conclude that so
long as the old gods yet reigned in any part of Nubia, the
island sacred to Osiris would maintain its traditional sanctity.
At length, however, there must have come a day when for
the last time the tomb of the God was crowned with flowers,
1 In the time of Strabo, the island of Philae, as has been recently
shown by Professor Revillout in his Seconde Mémoire sur les Blemmys,
was the common property of the Egyptians and Nubians, or rather of that
obscure nation called the Blemmys, who, with the Nobades and Megabares,
were collectively classed at that time as “Ethiopians.” The Blemmys
(ancestors of the present Barabras) were a stalwart and valiant race,
powerful enough to treat on equal terms with the Roman rulers of Egypt.
They were devout adorers of Isis, and it is interesting to learn that in the
treaty of Maximin with this nation, it is expressly provided that, “according
to the old law,” the Blemmys were entitled to take the statue of Isis every
year from the sanctuary of Philae to their own country for a visit of a stated
period. A graffito at Philae, published by Letronne, states that the writer
was at Philae when the image of the goddess was brought back from one
of these periodical excursions, and that he beheld the arrival of the sacred
boats “containing the shrines of the divine statues.” From this it would
appear that other images than that of Isis had been taken to Ethiopia;
probably those of Osiris and Horus, and possibly also that of Hathor, the
divine nurse. [Note to Second Edition.]

and the “Lamentations of Isis” were recited on the threshold
of the sanctuary. And there must have come another day
when the cross was carried in triumph up those painted
colonnades, and the first Christian mass was chanted in the
precincts of the heathen. One would like to know how these
changes were brought about; whether the old faith died out
for want of worshippers, or was expelled with clamour and
violence. But upon this point, history is vague1 and the
graffiti of the time are silent. We only know for certain
that the old went out, and the new came in; and that where
the resurrected Osiris was wont to be worshipped according to
the most sacred mysteries of the Egyptian ritual, the resurrected
Christ was now adored after the simple fashion of the primitive
Coptic Church.
And now the Holy Island, near which it was believed no
fish had power to swim or bird to fly, and upon whose soil
no pilgrim might set foot without permission, became all at
once the common property of a populous community. Courts,
colonnades, even terraced roofs, were overrun with little crude-brick
dwellings. A small basilica was built at the lower end
of the island. The portico of the Great Temple was converted
into a Chapel, and dedicated to Saint Stephen. “This good
work,” says a Greek inscription traced there by some monkish
hand of the period, “was done by the well-beloved of God,
the Abbot-Bishop Theodore.” Of this same Theodore, whom
another inscription styles “the very holy father,” we know
nothing but his name.
The walls hereabout are full of these fugitive records.
“The cross has conquered, and will ever conquer,” writes one
anonymous scribe. Others have left simple signatures; as, for
instance—“I, Joseph,” in one place, and “I, Theodosius of
Nubia,” in another. Here and there an added word or two
give a more human interest to the autograph. So, in the
pathetic scrawl of one who writes himself “Johannes, a slave,”
we seem to read the story of a life in a single line. These
Coptic signatures are all followed by the sign of the cross.
1 The Emperor Justinian is credited with the mutilation of the sculptures
of the large Temple; but the ancient worship was probably only temporarily
suspended in his time.


The foundations of the little basilica, with its apse towards
the east and its two doorways to the west, are still traceable.
We set a couple of our sailors one day to clear away the
rubbish at the lower end of the nave, and found the font—
a rough stone basin at the foot of a broken column.
It is not difficult to guess what Philae must have been like
in the days of Abbot Theodore and his flock. The little
basilica, we may be sure, had a cluster of mud domes upon the
roof; and I fancy, somehow, that the Abbot and his monks
installed themselves in that row of cells on the east side of
the great colonnade, where the priests of Isis dwelt before
them. As for the village, it must have been just like Luxor
—swarming with dusky life; noisy with the babble of children,
the cackling of poultry, and the barking of dogs; sending up
thin pillars of blue smoke at noon; echoing to the measured
chime of the prayer-bell at morn and even; and sleeping at
night as soundly as if no ghost-like, mutilated Gods were
looking on mournfully in the moonlight.
The Gods are avenged now. The creed which dethroned
them is dethroned. Abbot Theodore and his successors, and
the religion they taught, and the simple folk that listened to
their teaching, are gone and forgotten. For the Church of
Christ, which still languishes in Egypt, is extinct in Nubia.
It lingered long; though doubtless in some such degraded and
barbaric form as it wears in Abyssinia to this day. But it was
absorbed by Islamism at last; and only a ruined convent
perched here and there upon some solitary height, or a few
crosses rudely carved on the walls of a Ptolemaic Temple,
remain to show that Christianity once passed that way.
The mediaeval history of Philae is almost a blank. The
Arabs, having invaded Egypt towards the middle of the
seventh century, were long in the land before they began to
cultivate literature; and for more than three hundred years
history is silent. It is not till the tenth century that we once
again catch a fleeting glimpse of Philae. The frontier is now
removed to the head of the Cataract. The Holy Island has
ceased to be Christian; ceased to be Nubian; contains a
mosque and garrison, and is the last fortified outpost of the
Moslems. It still retains, and apparently continues to retain

for some centuries longer, its ancient Egyptian name. That
is to say (P being as usual converted into B) the Pilak of the
hieroglyphic inscriptions becomes in Arabic Belak;1 which is
much more like the original than the Philae of the Greeks.
The native Christians, meanwhile, would seem to have
relapsed into a state of semi-barbarism. They make perpetual
inroads upon the Arab frontier, and suffer perpetual defeat.
Battles are fought; tribute is exacted; treaties are made and
broken. Towards the close of the thirteenth century, their
king being slain and their churches plundered, they lose one-fourth
of their territory, including all that part which borders
upon Assuan. Those who remain Christians are also condemned
to pay an annual capitation tax, in addition to the
usual tribute of dates, cotton, slaves, and camels. After this
we may conclude that they accepted Islamism from the Arabs,
as they had accepted Osiris from the Egyptians and Christ
from the Romans. As Christians, at all events, we hear of
them no more; for Christianity in Nubia perished root and
branch, and not a Copt, it is said, may now be found above
the frontier.
Philae was still inhabited in A.D. 1799, when a detachment
of Desaix’s army under General Beliard took possession of the
island, and left an inscription2 on the soffit of the doorway of
the great pylon to commemorate the passage of the Cataract.
Denon, describing the scene with his usual vivacity, relates
1 These and the following particulars about the Christians of Nubia
are found in the famous work of Makrizi, an Arab historian of the fifteenth
century, who quotes largely from earlier writers. See Burckhardt's Travels
in Nubia
, 4to, 1819, Appendix iii. Although Belak is distinctly described
as an island in the neighbourhood of the Cataract, distant four miles from
Assüan, Burckhardt persisted in looking for it among the islets below
Mahatta, and believed Philae to be the first Nubian town beyond the
frontier. The hieroglyphic alphabet, however, had not then been deciphered.
Burckhardt died at Cairo in 1817, and Champollion's discovery
was not given to the world till 1822.
2 This inscription, which M. About considers the most interesting thing
Philae, runs as follows: “L'An VI de la République, le 15 Messidor,
une Armée Francaise commandée par Bonaparte est descendue a Alexandrie.
L'Armée ayant mis, vingt jours après, les Mamelouks en fuite
aux Pyramides, Desaix, commandant la première division, les a poursuivis
au dela des Cataractes, ou il est arrivé le 18 Ventôse de l'an VII.”

how the natives first defied and then fled from the French,
flinging themselves into the river, drowning such of their
children as were too young to swim, and escaping into the
desert. They appear at this time to have been mere savages
—the women ugly and sullen; the men naked, agile, quarrelsome,
and armed not only with swords and spears, but with
matchlock guns, which they used to keep up “a brisk and
well-directed fire.”
Their abandonment of the island probably dates from this
time; for when Burckhardt went up in A.D. 1813, he found it,
as we found it to this day, deserted and solitary. One poor
old man—if indeed he still lives—is now the one inhabitant of
Philae; and I suspect he only crosses over from Biggeh in the
tourist-season. He calls himself, with or without authority,
the guardian of the island; sleeps in a nest of rags and straw
in a sheltered corner behind the great Temple; and is so
wonderfully wizened and bent and knotted up, that nothing of
him seems quite alive except his eyes. We gave him fifty
copper paras1 for a parting present when on our way back to
Egypt; and he was so oppressed by the consciousness of
wealth, that he immediately buried his treasure and implored
us to tell no one what we had given him.
With the French siege and the flight of the native population
closes the last chapter of the local history of Philae. The
Holy Island has done henceforth with wars of creeds or kings.
It disappears from the domain of history, and enters the domain
of science. To have contributed to the discovery of the hieroglyphic
alphabet is a high distinction; and in no sketch of
Philae, however slight, should the obelisk2 that furnished
Champollion with the name of Cleopatra be allowed to pass
unnoticed. This monument, second only to the Rosetta Stone
in point of philological interest, was carried off by Mr. W.
Bankes, the discoverer of the first Tablet of Abydos, and is
now in Dorsetshire. Its empty socket and its fellow obelisk,
mutilated and solitary, remain in situ at the southern extremity
of the island.
And now—for we have lingered over long in the portico—
it is time we glanced at the interior of the Temple. So we
1 About two-and-sixpence English.
2 See previous note, p. 211.

go in at the central door, beyond which open some nine or
ten halls and side-chambers leading, as usual, to the sanctuary.
Here all is dark, earthy, oppressive. In rooms unlighted by
the faintest gleam from without, we find smoke-blackened walls
covered with elaborate bas-reliefs. Mysterious passages, pitch-dark,
thread the thickness of the walls and communicate by
means of trap-like openings with vaults below. In the sanctuary
lies an overthrown altar; while in the corner behind it stands
the very niche in which Strabo must have seen that poor
sacred hawk of Ethiopia which he describes as “sick, and
nearly dead.”
But in this Temple dedicated not only to Isis, but to the
memory of Osiris and the worship of Horus their son, there
is one chamber which we may be quite sure was shown neither
to Strabo nor Diodorus, nor to any stranger of alien faith, be
his repute or station what it might; a chamber holy above all
others; holier even than the sanctuary;—the chamber sacred
to Osiris. We, however, unrestricted, unforbidden, are free to
go where we list; and our books tell us that this mysterious
chamber is somewhere overhead. So, emerging once again
into the daylight, we go up a well-worn staircase leading out
upon the roof.
This roof is an intricate, up-and-down place; and the
room is not easy to find. It lies at the bottom of a little flight
of steps—a small stone cell some twelve feet square, lighted only
from the doorway. The walls are covered with sculptures
representing the shrines, the mummification, and the resurrection
of Osiris.1 These shrines, containing each some part of his
The story of Osiris—the beneficent God, the friend of man, slain
and dismembered by Typhon; buried in a score of graves; sought by Isis;
recovered limb by limb; resuscitated in the flesh; transferred from earth
to reign over the dead in the world of Shades—is one of the most complex
of Egyptian legends. Osiris under some aspects is the Nile. He
personifies Abstract Good, and is entitled Unnefer, or “The Good Being.”
He appears as a Myth of the Solar Year, He bears a notable likeness to
Prometheus, and to the Indian Bacchus.
“Osiris, dit-on, était autrefois descendu sur la terre. étre bon par
excellence, il avait adouci les moeurs des hommes par la persuasion et la
bienfaisance. Mais il avait succombé sous les embûches de Typhon, son
frère, le génie du mal, et pendant que ses deux soeurs, Isis et Nephthys,
recueillaient son corps qui avait été jeté dans le fleuve, le dieu ressuscitait
d'entre les morts et apparaissait à son fils Horus, qu'il instituait son
vengeur. C'est ce sacrifice qu'il avait autrefois accompli en faveur des
hommes qu'Osiris renouvelle ici en faveur de l'âme dégagée de ses liens
terrestres. Non seulement il devient son guide, mais il s'identifie à elle;
il l'absorbe en son propre sein. C'est lui alors qui, devenu le défunt lui-même,
se soumet à toutes les épreuves que celui-ci doit subir avant d'être
proclamé juste; c'est lui qui, à chaque âme qu'il doit sauver, fléchit les
gardiens des demeures infernales et combat les monstres compagnons de
la nuit et de la mort; c'est lui enfin qui, vainqueur des ténèbres, avec
l'assistance d'Horus, s'assied au tribunal de la supreme justice et ouvre à
l'âme déclarée pure les portes du séjour éternel. L'image de la mort aura
été empruntée au soleil qui disparaît à l'horizon du soir: le soleil resplendissant
du matin sera la symbole de cette seconde naissance à une vie qui,
cette fois, ne connaît à pas la mort.
“Osiris est done le principe du bien…. Chargé de sauver les âmes
de la mort définitive, il est l'intermédiaire entre l'homme et Dieu; il est
le type et le sauveur de l'homme.” Notice des Monuments à Boulaq—
AUG. MARIETTE BEY, 1872, pp. 105 et seq.
[It has always been taken for granted by Egyptologists that Osiris was
originally a local God of
Abydos, and that Abydos was the cradle of the
Osirian Myth. Professor Maspero, however, in some of his recent lectures
at the Collége de France, has shown that the Osirian cult took its rise in
the Delta; and, in point of fact, Osiris, in certain ancient inscriptions, is
styled the King Osiris “Lord of Tattu” (Busiris), and has his name
enclosed in a royal oval. Up to the time of the Graeco-Roman rule, the
only two cities of Egypt in which Osiris reigned as the principal God
were Busiris and Mendes.
“Le centre terrestre du culte d'Osiris, était dans les cantons nord-est
du Delta, situés entre la branche Sébennytique et la branche Pélusiaque,
comme le centre terrestre du culte de Sit, le frère et le meurtrier d'Osiris:
les deux dieux étaient limitrophes l'un de l'autre, et des rivalités de voisinage
expliquent peut-être en partie leurs querelles…. Tous les traits de la
tradition Osirienne ne sont pas également anciens: le fond me parait être
d'une antiquité incontestable. Osiris y réunit les caractères des deux
divinités qui se partageaient chaque nome: il est le dieu des vivants et
le dieu des morts en même temps; le dieu qui nourrit et le dieu qui
détruit. Probablement, les temps oü, saisi de pitié pour les mortels, il
leur ouvrit l'acces de son royaume, avaient éte précédés d'autres temps oü
il était impitoyable et ne songeait qu'à les anéantir. Je crois trouver un
souvenir de ce rôle destructeur d'Osiris dans plusieurs passages des textes
des Pyramides, oü l'on promet au mort que Harkhouti viendra vers lui,
‘déliant ses liens, brisant ses chaines pour le délivrer de la ruine; il ne le
livrera pas à Osiris, si bien qu’il ne mourra pas
, mais il sera glorieux dans
l'horizon, solide comme le Did dans la ville de Didou.' L'Osiris farouche
et cruel fut absorbé promptement par l'Osiris doux et bienveillant.
L'Osiris qui domine toute la religion égyptienne dès le début, c'est l'Osiris
Onnofris, l'Osiris étre bon, que les Grecs ont connu. Commes ses
parents, Sibou et Nouit, Osiris Onnofris appartient à la classe des dieux
généraux qui ne sont pas confinés en un seul canton, mais qui sont adorés
par un pays entier.” See Les Hypogées Royaux de Thèbes (Bulletin
critique de la religion égyptienne) par Professeur G. Maspero—Revue de
l'histoire des Réligions
, 1888. Note to Second Edition.]
“The astronomical and physical elements are too obvious to be mistaken.
Osiris and Isis are the Nile and Egypt. The myth of Osiris
typifies the solar year—the power of Osiris is the sun in the lower hemisphere,
the winter solstice. The birth of Horus typifies the vernal equinox
—the victory of Horus, the summer solstice—the inundation of the Nile.
Typhon is the autumnal equinox.” Egypt's Place in Universal History—
BUNSEN, ist ed. vol. i. p. 437.
“The Egyptians do not all worship the same gods, excepting Isis and
Osiris.”—HERODOTUS, Book ii.

body, are variously fashioned. His head, for instance, rests on
a Nilometer; his arm, surmounted by a head, is sculptured on

a stela, in shape resembling a high-shouldered bottle, surmounted
by one of the head-dresses peculiar to the God; his legs and

feet lie at full length in a pylon-shaped mausoleum. Upon
another shrine stands the mitre-shaped crown which he wears

as Judge of the Lower World. Isis and Nephthys keep guard
over each shrine. In a lower frieze we see the mummy of the

god laid upon a bier, with the four so-called canopic jars1
ranged underneath. A little farther on, he lies in state,


surrounded by lotus buds on tall stems, figurative of growth,
or returning life.2 Finally, he is depicted lying on a couch;
his limbs reunited; his head, left hand, and left foot upraised,
as in the act of returning to consciousness. Nephthys, in the
guise of a winged genius, fans him with the breath of life.
1 “These vases, made of alabaster, calcareous stone, porcelain, terracotta,
and even wood, were destined to hold the soft parts or viscera of
the body, embalmed separately and deposited in them. They were four
in number, and were made in the shape of the four genii of the Karneter,
or Hades, to whom were assigned the four cardinal points of the compass.”
Birch's Guide to the First and Second Egyptian Rooms, 1874, p. 89. See
also Birch's History of Ancient Pottery, 1873, p. 23 et seq.
2 Thus depicted, he is called “the germinating Osiris.” [Note to
Second Edition.]

Isis, with outstretched arms, stands at his feet and seems to
be calling him back to her embraces. The scene represents,
in fact, that supreme moment when Isis pours forth her
passionate invocations, and Osiris is resuscitated by virtue of
the songs of the divine sisters.1
Ill-modelled and ill-cut as they are, there is a clownish
naturalness about these little sculptures which lifts them above
the conventional dead level of ordinary Ptolemaic work. The
figures tell their tale intelligibly. Osiris seems really struggling
to rise, and the action of Isis expresses clearly enough the
intention of the artist. Although a few heads have been
mutilated and the surface of the stone is somewhat degraded,
the subjects are by no means in a bad state of preservation.
In the accompanying sketches, nothing has been done to
improve the defective drawing or repair the broken outlines of
the originals. Osiris in one has lost his foot, and in another
his face; the hands of Isis are as shapeless as those of a bran
doll; and the naiveté of the treatment verges throughout upon
caricature. But the interest attaching to them is altogether
apart from the way in which they are executed.
And now, returning to the roof, it is pleasant to breathe
the fresher air that comes with sunset—to see the island, in
shape like an ancient Egyptian shield, lying mapped out
beneath one's feet. From here, we look back upon the way
we have come, and forward to the way we are going. North-ward
lies the Cataract—a network of islets with flashes of
river between. Southward, the broad current comes on in
one smooth, glassy sheet, unbroken by a single rapid. How
eagerly we turn our eyes that way; for yonder lie Abou
Simbel and all the mysterious lands beyond the Cataracts!
But we cannot see far, for the river curves away grandly to the
right, and vanishes behind a range of granite hills. A similar
chain hems in the opposite bank; while high above the palm-groves
fringing the edge of the shore stand two ruined convents
on two rocky prominences, like a couple of castles on the
Rhine. On the east bank opposite, a few mud houses and a
group of superb carob trees mark the site of a village, the
1 See M. P. J. de Horrack's translation of The Lamentations of Isis
and Nephthys.
RECORDS OF THE PAST, vol. ii. p. 117 et seq.

greater part of which lies hidden among palms. Behind this
village opens a vast sand valley, like an arm of the sea from
which the waters have retreated. The old channel along
which we rode the other day went ploughing that way straight
across from Philae. Last of all, forming the western side of
this fourfold view, we have the island of Biggeh—rugged,
mountainous, and divided from Philae by so narrow a channel
that every sound from the native village on the opposite steep
is as audible as though it came from the courtyard at our feet.
That village is built in and about the ruins of a tiny Ptolemaic
Temple, of which only a screen and doorway and part of a
small propylon remain. We can see a woman pounding coffee
on the threshold of one of the huts, and some children
scrambling about the rocks in pursuit of a wandering turkey.
Catching sight of us up here on the roof of the Temple, they
come whooping and scampering down to the water-side, and
with shrill cries importune us for backshish. Unless the
stream is wider than it looks, one might almost pitch a piastre
into their outstretched hands.
Mr. Hay, it is said, discovered a secret passage of solid
masonry tunnelled under the river from island to island. The
entrance on this side was from a shaft in the Temple of Isis.1
We are not told how far Mr. Hay was able to penetrate in the
direction of Biggeh; but the passage would lead up, most
probably, to the little Temple opposite.
Perhaps the most entirely curious and unaccustomed
features in all this scene are the mountains. They are like
none that any of us have seen in our diverse wanderings.
Other mountains are homogeneous, and thrust themselves up
from below in masses suggestive of primitive disruption and
upheaval. These seem to lie upon the surface foundationless;
rock loosely piled on rock, boulder on boulder; like stupendous
cairns, the work of demigods and giants. Here and there, on
shelf or summit, a huge rounded mass, many tons in weight,
hangs poised capriciously. Most of these blocks, I am persuaded,
would “log,” if put to the test.
But for a specimen stone, commend me to yonder amazing
1 Operations carried on at the Pyramids of Ghizeh—Col., HOWARD VYSE., London, 1840, vol. i. p. 63.

monolith down by the water's edge opposite, near the carob
trees and the ferry. Though but a single block of orange-red
granite, it looks like three; and the Arabs, seeing in it some
fancied resemblance to an arm-chair, call it Pharaoh's throne.
Rounded and polished by primaeval floods, and emblazoned
with royal cartouches of extraordinary size, it seems to have
attracted the attention of pilgrims in all ages. Kings, conquerors,
priests, travellers, have covered it with records of


victories, of religious festivals, of prayers, and offerings, and
acts of adoration. Some of these are older by a thousand
years and more than the temples on the island opposite.
Such, roughly summed up, are the fourfold surroundings
of Philae—the cataract, the river, the desert, the environing
mountains. The Holy Island—beautiful, lifeless, a thing of
the far past, with all its wealth of sculpture, painting, history,
poetry, tradition—sleeps, or seems to sleep, in the midst.
It is one of the world's famous landscapes, and it deserves
its fame. Every sketcher sketches it; every traveller describes

it. Yet it is just one of those places of which the objective
and subjective features are so equally balanced that it bears
putting neither into words nor colours. The sketcher mus'
perforce leave out the atmosphere of association which informs
his subject; and the writer's description is at best no better
than a catalogue raisonnée.

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SAILING gently southward—the river opening wide before
us, Philae dwindling in the rear—we feel that we are now
fairly over the border; and that if Egypt was strange and far
from home, Nubia is stranger and farther still. The Nile here
flows deep and broad. The rocky heights that hem it in so
close on either side are still black on the one hand, golden on
the other. The banks are narrower than ever. The space in
some places is little wider than a towing-path. In others,
there is barely room for a belt of date-palms and a slip of
alluvial soil, every foot of which produces its precious growth
of durra or barley. The steep verge below is green with
lentils to the water's edge. As the river recedes, it leaves
each day a margin of fresh, wet soil, in which the careful
husbandman hastens to scratch a new furrow and sow another
line of seeds. He cannot afford to let so much as an inch of
that kindly mud lie idle.
Gliding along with half-filled sail, we observe how entirely
the population seems to be regulated by the extent of arable
soil. Where the inundation has room to spread, villages come
thicker; more dusky figures are seen moving to and fro in
the shade of the palms; more children race along the banks,
shrieking for backshish. When the shelf of soil is narrowed,
on the contrary, to a mere fringe of luminous green dividing
the rock from the river, there is a startling absence of everything
like life. Mile after mile drags its slow length along,
uncheered by any sign of human habitation. When now and

then a solitary native, armed with gun or spear, is seen striding
along the edge of the desert, he only seems to make the
general solitude more apparent.
Meanwhile, it is not only men and women whom we miss
—men labouring by the river-side; women with babies astride
on their shoulders, or water-jars balanced on their heads—
but birds, beasts, boats; everything that we have been used
to see along the river. The buffaloes dozing at midday in
the shallows, the camels stalking home in single file towards
sunset, the water-fowl haunting the sandbanks, seem suddenly
to have vanished. Even donkeys are now rare; and as for
horses, I do not remember to have seen one during the seven
weeks we spent in Nubia. All night, too, instead of the usual
chorus of dogs barking furiously from village to village, we
hear only the long-drawn wail of an occasional jackal. It is
not wonderful, however, that animal life should be scarce in a
district where the scant soil yields barely food enough for those
who till it. To realise how very scant it is, one needs only
to remember that about Derr, where it is at its widest, the
annual deposit nowhere exceeds half-a-mile in breadth; while
for the most part of the way between Philae and Wady Halfeh
—a distance of 210 miles—it averages from six to sixty
Here, then, more than ever, one seems to see how entirely
these lands which we call Egypt and Nubia are nothing but
the banks of one solitary river in the midst of a world of
desert. In Egypt, the valley is often so wide that one forgets
the stony waste beyond the corn-lands. But in Nubia, the
desert is ever present. We cannot forget it, if we would.
The barren mountains press upon our path, showering down
avalanches of granite on the one side and torrents of yellow
sand on the other. We know that those stones are always
falling; that those sands are always drifting; that the river
has hard work to hold its own; and that the desert is silently
encroaching day by day.
These golden sand - streams are the newest and most
beautiful feature in the landscape. They pour down from the
high level of the Libyan desert just as the snows of Switzer-land
pour down from the upper plateaux of the Alps. Through

every ravine and gap they find a channel—here trickling in
tiny rivulets; flowing yonder in broad torrents that widen to
the river.
Becalmed a few miles above Philae, we found ourselves
at the foot of one of these largest drifts. The M. B.'s
challenged us to climb the slope, and see the sunset from the
desert. It was about six o'clock, and the thermometer was
standing at 80° in the coolest corner of the large saloon. We
ventured to suggest that the top was a long way up; but the
M. B.'s would take no refusal. So away we went; panting,
breathless, bewailing our hard fate. L. and the Writer had
done some difficult walking in their time, over ice and snow,
on lava cold and hot, up cinder-slopes and beds of mountain
torrents; but this innocent-looking sand-drift proved quite as
hard to climb as any of them. The sand lies wonderfully
loose and light, and is as hot as if it had been baked in an
oven. Into this the foot plunges ankle-deep, slipping back at
every step, and leaving a huge hole into which the sand pours
down again like water. Looking back, you trace your course
by a succession of funnel-shaped pits, each larger than a wash-hand
basin. Though your slipper be as small as Cinderella's,
the next comer shall not be able to tell whether it was a lady
who went up last, or a camel. It is toilsome work, too; for
the foot finds neither rest nor resistance, and the strain upon
the muscles is unremitting.
But the beauty of the sand more than repays the fatigue
of climbing it. Smooth, sheeny, satiny; fine as diamond-dust;
supple, undulating, luminous, it lies in the most exquisite
curves and wreaths, like a snow-drift turned to gold. Remodelled
by every breath that blows, its ever-varying surface
presents an endless play of delicate lights and shadows. There
lives not the sculptor who could render those curves; and I
doubt whether Turner himself, in his tenderest and subtlest
mood, could have done justice to those complex greys and
Having paused to rest upon an out-cropping ledge of rock
about half-way up, we came at length to the top of the last
slope and found ourselves on the level of the desert. Here,
faithful to the course of the river, the first objects to meet

our eyes were the old familiar telegraph-posts and wires.
Beyond them, to north and south, a crowd of peaks closed in
the view; but westward, a rolling waste of hillock and hollow
opened away to where the sun, a crimson globe, had already
half-vanished below the rim of the world.
One could not resist going a few steps farther, just to
touch the nearest of those telegraph posts. It was like reaching
out a hand towards home.
When the sun dropped, we turned back. The valley below
was already steeped in dusk. The Nile, glimmering like a
coiled snake in the shade, reflected the evening sky in three
separate reaches. On the Arabian side, a far-off mountain-chain
stood out, purple and jagged, against the eastern horizon.
To come down was easy. Driving our heels well into the
sand, we half ran, half glissaded, and soon reached the bottom.
Here we were met by an old Nubian woman, who had trudged
up in all haste from the nearest village to question our sailors
about one Yüsef, her son, of whom she had heard nothing for
nearly a year. She was a very poor old woman—a widow—
and this Yüsef was her only son. Hoping to better himself,
he had worked his passage to Cairo in a cargo-boat some
eighteen months ago. Twice since then he had sent her
messages and money; but now eleven months had gone by
in silence, and she feared he must be dead. Meanwhile her
date-palm, taxed to the full value of its produce, had this year
yielded not a piastre of profit. Her mud-hut had fallen in,
and there was no Yüsef to repair it. Old and sick, she now
could only beg; and her neighbours, by whose charity she
subsisted, were but a shade less poor than herself.
Our men knew nothing of the missing Yüsef. Reis Hassan
promised when he went back to make inquiries among the
boatmen of Boulak: “But then,” he added, “there are so
many Yüsefs in Cairo!”
It made one's heart ache to see the tremulous eagerness
with which the poor soul put ‘her questions, and the crushed
look in her face when she turned away.
And now, being fortunate in respect of the wind, which for
the most part blows steadily from the north between sunrise
and sunset, we make good progress, and for the next ten

days live pretty much on board our dahabeeyah. The main
features of the landscape go on repeating themselves with but
little variation from day to day. The mountains wear their
habitual livery of black and gold. The river, now widening,
now narrowing, flows between banks blossoming with lentils
and lupins. With these, and yellow acacia-tufts, and blue
castor-oil berries, and the weird coloquintida, with its downy
leaf and milky juice and puff-bladder fruit, like a green peach
tinged with purple, we make our daily bouquet for the dinnertable.
All other flowers have vanished, and even these are
hard to get in a land where every green blade is precious to
the grower.
Now, too, the climate becomes sensibly warmer. The heat
of the sun is so great at midday that, even with the north
breeze blowing, we can no longer sit on deck between twelve
and three. Towards sundown, when the wind drops, it turns
so sultry that to take a walk on shore comes to be regarded
as a duty rather than as a pleasure. Thanks, however, to that
indomitable Painter who is always ready for an afternoon
excursion, we do sometimes walk for an hour before dinner;
striking off generally into the desert; looking for onyxes and
carnelians among the pebbles that here and there strew the
surface of the sand, and watching in vain for jackals and
Sometimes we follow the banks instead of the desert,
coming now and then to a creaking Sakkieh turned by a
melancholy buffalo; or to a native village hidden behind
dwarf-palms. Here each hut has its tiny forecourt, in the
midst of which stand the mud-oven and mud-cupboard of the
family — two dumpy cones of smooth grey clay, like big
chimney-pots—the one capped with a lid, the other fitted with
a little wooden door and wooden bolt. Some of the houses
have a barbaric ornament palmed off, so to say, upon the
walls; the pattern being simply the impression of a human
hand dipped in red or yellow ochre, and applied while the
surface is moist.
The amount of “bazaar” that takes place whenever we
enter one of these villages, is quite alarming. The dogs first
give notice of our approach; and presently we are surrounded

by all the women and girls of the place, offering live pigeons,
eggs, vegetable marrows, necklaces, nose - rings and silver
bracelets for sale. The boys pester us to buy wretched half-dead
chameleons. The men stand aloof, and leave the
bargaining to the women.
And the women not only know how to bargain, but how
to assess the relative value of every coin that passes current
on the Nile. Rupees, roubles, reyals, dollars and shillings are
as intelligible to them as paras or piastres. Sovereigns are
not too heavy nor napoleons too light for them. The times are
changed since Belzoni’s Nubian, after staring contemptuously at
the first piece of money he had ever seen, asked,” Who would
give anything for that small piece of metal?”
The necklaces consist of onyx, carnelian, bone, silver, and
coloured glass beads, with now and then a stray scarab or
amulet in the ancient blue porcelain. The arrangement of
colour is often very subtle. The brow - pendants in gold
repoussée, and the massive old silver bracelets, rough with
knobs and bosses, are most interesting in design, and perpetuate
patterns of undoubted antiquity. The M. B.'s picked up one
really beautiful collarette of silver and coral, which might have
been worn three thousand years ago by Pharaoh's daughter.
When on board, we begin now to keep a sharp look-out for
crocodiles. We hear of them constantly—see their tracks upon
the sand-banks in the river—go through agonies of expectation
over every black speck in the distance; yet are perpetually
disappointed. The farther south we go, the more impatient we
become. The E.'s, whose dahabeeyah, homeward-bound, drifts
slowly past one calm morning, report “eleven beauties,” seen
all together yesterday upon a sand island, some ten miles
higher up. Mr. C. B.'s boat, garlanded with crocodiles from
stem to stern, fills us with envy. We would give our ears
(almost) to see one of these engaging reptiles dangling from
either our own mainmast, or that of the faithful Bagstones.
Alfred, who has set his heart on bagging at least half-a-dozen,
says nothing, but grows gloomier day by day. At night, when
the moon is up and less misanthropic folk are in bed and
asleep, he rambles moodily into the desert, after jackals.
Meanwhile, on we go, starting at sunrise; mooring at

sunset; sailing, tracking, punting; never stopping for an hour
by day, if we can help it; and pushing straight for Abou
Simbel with as little delay as possible. Thus we pass the
pylons of Daböd with their background of desert; Gertássee,
a miniature Sunium, seen towards evening against the glowing
sunset; Tafah, rich in palms, with white columns gleaming
through green foliage by the water-side; the cliffs, islands, and
rapids of Kalabsheh, and the huge Temple which rises like a
fortress in their midst; Dendur, a tiny chapel with a single
pylon; and Gerf Hossayn, which from this distance might be
taken for the mouth of a rock-cut tomb in the face of the
About half way between Kalabsheh and Dendür, we
enter the Tropic of Cancer. From this day till the day when
we repass that invisible boundary, there is a marked change
in the atmospheric conditions under which we live. The days
get gradually hotter, especially at noon, when the sun is almost
vertical; but the freshness of night and the chill of early
morning are no more. Unless when a strong wind blows from
the north, we no longer know what it is to need a shawl on
deck in the evening, or an extra covering on our beds towards
dawn. We sleep with our cabin-windows open, and enjoy a
delicious equality of temperature from sundown to sunrise.
The days and nights, too, are of almost equal length.
Now, also, the Southern Cross and a second group of stars,
which we conclude must form part of the Centaur, are visible
between two and four every morning. They have been creeping
up, a star at a time, for the last fortnight; but are still so
low upon the eastern horizon that we can only see them when
there comes a break in the mountain-chain on that side of the
river. At the same time, our old familiar friends of the
northern hemisphere, looking strangely distorted and out of
their proper place, are fast disappearing on the opposite side
of the heavens. Orion seems to be lying on his back, and the
Great Bear to be standing on his tail; while Cassiopeia and a
number of others have deserted en masse. The zenith, meanwhile,
is but thinly furnished; so that we seem to have
travelled away from the one hemisphere, and not yet to have
reached the other. As for the Southern Cross, we reserve our

opinion till we get farther south. It would be treason to hint
that we are disappointed in so famous a constellation.
After Gerf Hossayn, the next place of importance for
which our maps bid us look out is Dakkeh. As we draw near,
expecting hourly to see something of the Temple, the Nile
increases in breadth and beauty. It is a peaceful, glassy
morning. The men have been tracking since dawn, and stop
to breakfast at the foot of a sandy bank, wooded with tamarisks
and gum-trees. A glistening network of gossamer floats from
bough to bough. The sky overhead is of a tender luminous
blue, such as we never see in Europe. The air is wonderfully
still. The river, which here takes a sudden bend towards the
east, looks like a lake, and seems to be barred ahead by the
desert. Presently a funeral passes along the opposite bank;
the chief mourner flourishing a long staff, like a drum-major;
the women snatching up handfuls of dust, and scattering it
upon their heads. We hear their wild wail long after the procession
is out of sight.


Going on again presently, our whole attention becomes
absorbed by the new and singular geological features of the
Libyan desert. A vast plain covered with isolated mountains
of volcanic structure, it looks like some strange transformation
of the Puy de Dôme plateau, with all its wind-swept pastures
turned to sand, and its grassy craters stripped to barrenness.
The more this plain widens out before our eyes, the more it
bristles with peaks. As we round the corner, and Dakkeh, like

a smaller Edfû, comes into sight upon the western bank, the
whole desert on that side, as far as the eye can see, presents
the unmistakable aspect of one vast field of volcanoes. As in
Auvergne, these cones are of all sizes and heights; some low
and rounded, like mere bubbles that have cooled without
bursting; others ranging apparently from 1000 to 1500 feet in
height. The broken craters of several are plainly distinguishable
by the help of a field-glass. One in particular is so like our old
friend the Puy de Pariou, that in a mere black-and-white sketch,
the one might readily be mistaken for the other.
We were surprised to find no account of the geology of this
district in any of our books. Murray and Wilkinson pass it in
silence; and writers of travels—one or two of whom notice
only the “pyramidal” shape of the hills—are for the most part
content to do likewise. None seem to have observed their
obvious volcanic origin.
Thanks to a light breeze that sprang up in the afternoon,
we were able to hoist our big sail again, and to relieve the men
from tracking. Thus we glided past the ruins of Maharrakeh,
which, seen from the river, looked like a Greek portico set in a
hollow waste of burning desert. Next came Wady Sabooah, a
temple half buried in sand, near which we met a tiny dahabeeyah,
manned by two Nubians and flying the star and crescent. A
shabby Government Inspector, in European dress and a fez, lay
smoking on a mat outside his cabin door; while from a spar
overhead there hung a mighty crocodile. This monster was of
a greenish brown colour, and measured at least sixteen feet
from head to tail. His jaws yawned; and one fat and flabby
arm and ponderous paw swung with the motion of the boat,
looking horribly human.
The Painter, with an eye to foregrounds, made a bid for
him on the spot; but the shabby Inspector was not to be
moved by considerations of gain. He preferred his crocodile
to infidel gold, and scarcely deigned even to reply to the offer.
Seen in the half-light of a tropical afterglow—the purple
mountains coming down in detached masses to the water's edge
on the one side; the desert with its volcanic peaks yet rosy
upon the other—we thought the approach to Korosko more
picturesque than anything we had yet seen south of the

Cataract. As the dusk deepened, the moon rose; and the
palms that had just room to grow between the mountains and
the river turned from bronze to silver. It was half-twilight,
half-moonlight, by the time we reached the mooring-place where
Talhamy, who had been sent forward in the small boat half an
hour ago, jumped on board laden with a packet of letters, and
a sheaf of newspapers. For here, where the great caravan-route
leads off across the desert to Khartûm, we touched the first
Nubian post-office. It was only ten days since we had received
our last budget at Assûan; but it seemed like ten weeks.


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IT so happened that we arrived at Korosko on the eve
of El-‘Id el-Kebîr, or the anniversary of the Sacrifice of
Abraham; when, according to the Moslem version, Ishmael
was the intended victim, and a ram the substituted offering.
Now El-`Id el-Kebîr, being one of the great Feasts of the
Mohammedan Kalendar, is a day of gifts and good wishes.
The rich visit their friends and distribute meat to the poor;
and every true believer goes to the mosque to say his prayers
in the morning. So, instead of starting as usual at sunrise,
we treated our sailors to a sheep, and waited till past noon,
that they might make holiday.
They began the day by trooping off to the village mosque
in all the glory of new blue blouses, spotless turbans, and
scarlet leather slippers; then loitered about till dinner-time,
when the said sheep, stewed with lentils and garlic, brought
the festivities to an end. It was a thin and ancient beast,
and must have been horribly tough; but an epicure might
have envied the child-like enjoyment with which our honest
fellows squatted, cross-legged and happy, round the smoking
cauldron; chattering, laughing, feasting; dipping their fingers
in the common mess; washing the whole down with long
draughts of Nile water; and finishing off with a hubble-bubble
passed from lip to lip, and a mouthful of muddy coffee. By
a little after midday they had put off their finery, harnessed
themselves to the tow-rope, and set to work to haul us through
the rocky shoals which here impede the current.


From Korosko to Derr, the actual distance is about eleven
miles and a half; but what with obstructions in the bed of the
river, and what with a wind that would have been favourable
but for another great bend which the Nile takes towards the
east, those eleven miles and a half cost us the best part of
two days’ hard tracking.
Landing from time to time when the boat was close in
shore, we found the order of planting everywhere the same,
lupins and lentils on the slope against the water-line; an
uninterrupted grove of palms on the edge of the bank; in the
space beyond, fields of cotton and young corn; and then the
desert. The arable soil was divided off, as usual, by hundreds
of water channels; and seemed to be excellently farmed as
well as abundantly irrigated. Not a weed was to be seen;
not an inch of soil appeared to be wasted. In odd corners
where there was room for nothing else, cucumbers and vegetable-marrows
flourished and bore fruit. Nowhere had we seen
castor-berries so large, cotton-pods so full, or palms so lofty.
Here also, for the first time out of Egypt, we observed
among the bushes a few hoopoes and other small birds; and
on a sand-slope down by the river, a group of wild-ducks.
We—that is to say, one of the M. B.'s and the Writer—had
wandered off that way in search of crocodiles. The two
dahabeeyahs, each with its file of trackers, were slowly labouring
up against the current about a mile away. All was
intensely hot, and intensely silent. We had walked far, and
had seen no crocodile. What we should have done if we had
met one, I am not prepared to say. Perhaps we should have
run away. At all events, we were just about to turn back
when we caught sight of the ducks sunning themselves, half-asleep,
on the brink of a tiny pool about an eighth of a mile
Creeping cautiously under the bank, we contrived to get
within a few yards of them. They were four—a drake, a
duck, and two young ones—exquisitely feathered, and as
small as teal. The parent-birds could scarcely have measured
more than eight inches from head to tail. All alike had
chestnut coloured heads with a narrow buff stripe down the
middle, like a parting; maroon backs; wing-feathers maroon

and grey; and tails tipped with buff. They were so pretty,
and the little family party was so complete, that the Writer
could not help secretly rejoicing that Alfred and his gun were
safe on board the Bagstones.
High above the Libyan bank on the sloping verge of the
desert, stands, half-drowned in sand, the little Temple of
Amada. Seeing it from the opposite side while duck-hunting
in the morning, I had taken it for one of the many stone
shelters erected by Mohammed Ali for the accommodation of
cattle levied annually in the Sûdan. It proved, however, to be
a temple, small but massive; built with squared blocks of sandstone;
and dating back to the very old times of the Usurtesens
and Thothmes. It consists of a portico, a transverse atrium,
and three small chambers. The pillars of the portico are
mere square piers. The rooms are small and low. The roof,
constructed of oblong blocks, is flat from end to end. As an
architectural structure it is in fact but a few degrees removed
from Stonehenge.
A shed without, this little temple is, however, a cameo
within. Nowhere, save in the tomb of Ti, had we seen basreliefs
so delicately modelled, so rich in colour. Here, as
elsewhere, the walls are covered with groups of Kings and
Gods and hieroglyphic texts. The figures are slender and
animated. The head-dresses, jewellery, and patterned robes
are elaborately drawn and painted. Every head looks like a
portrait; every hieroglyphic form is a study in miniature.
Apart from its exquisite finish, the wall-sculpture of Amada
has, however, nothing in common with the wall-sculpture of
the Ancient Empire. It belongs to the period of Egyptian
Renaissance; and, though inferior in power and naturalness
to the work of the elder school, it marks just that moment of
special development when the art of modelling in low relief
had touched the highest level to which it ever again attained.
That highest level belongs to the reigns of Thothmes the
Second and Thothmes the Third; just as the perfect era in
architecture belongs to the reigns of Seti the First and Rameses
the Second. It is for this reason that Amada is so precious.
It registers an epoch in the history of the art, and gives us
the best of that epoch in the hour of its zenith. The sculptor

is here seen to be working within bounds already prescribed;
yet within those bounds he still enjoys a certain liberty. His
art, though largely conventionalised, is not yet stereotyped.
His sense of beauty still finds expression. There is, in short,
a grace and sweetness about the bas-relief designs of Amada
for which one looks in vain to the storied walls of Karnak.
The chambers are half-choked with sand, and we had
to crawl into the sanctuary upon our hands and knees. A
long inscription at the upper end records how Amenhotep the
Second, returning from his first campaign against the Ruten,
slew seven kings with his own hand; six of whom were
gibbeted upon the ramparts of Thebes, while the body of the
seventh was sent to Ethiopia by water and suspended on the
outer wall of the city of Napata,1 “in order that the negroes
might behold the victories of the Pharaoh in all the lands of
the world.”
In the darkest corner of the atrium we observed a curious
tableau representing the King embraced by a Goddess. He
holds a short straight sword in his right hand, and the crux
ansata in his left. On his head he wears the khepersh, or
war-helmet; a kind of a blue mitre studded with gold stars and
ornamented with the royal asp. The Goddess clasps him
lovingly about the neck, and bends her lips to his. The artist
has given her the yellow complexion conventionally ascribed
to women; but her saucy mouth and nez retroussé are distinctly
European. Dressed in the fashion of the nineteenth century,
she might have served Leech as a model for his Girl of the
The sand has drifted so high at the back of the Temple,
that one steps upon the roof as upon a terrace only just raised
above the level of the desert. Soon that level will be equal;
and if nothing is done to rescue it within the next generation
or two, the whole building will become engulfed, and its very
site be forgotten.
1 A city of Ethiopia, identified with the ruins at Gebel Barkal. The
worship of Amen was established at Napata towards the end of the XXth
Dynasty, and it was from the priests of Thebes who settled at that time
in Napata, that the Ethiopian conquerors of Egypt (XXIIIrd Dynasty) were


The view from the roof, looking back towards Korosko
and forward towards Derr, is one of the finest—perhaps quite
the finest—in Nubia. The Nile curves grandly through the
foreground. The palm-woods of Derr are green in the distance.
The mountain region which we have just traversed ranges, a
vast crescent of multitudinous peaks, round two-thirds of the
horizon. Ridge beyond ridge, chain beyond chain, flushing
crimson in light and deepening through every tint of amethyst
and purple in shadow, those innumerable summits fade into
tenderest blue upon the horizon. As the sun sets, they seem
to glow; to become incandescent; to be touched with flame—
as in the old time when every crater was a fount of fire.
Struggling next morning through a maze of sand-banks, we
reached Derr soon after breakfast. This town—the Nubian
capital—lies a little lower than the level of the bank, so that
only a few mud walls are visible from the river. Having
learned by this time that a capital town is but a bigger village,
containing perhaps a mosque and a market-place, we were not
disappointed by the unimposing aspect of the Nubian metropolis.
Great, however, was our surprise when, instead of the usual
clamorous crowd screaming, pushing, scrambling, and bothering
for backsheesh, we found the landing-place deserted. Two or
three native boats lay up under the bank, empty. There was
literally not a soul in sight. L. and the Little Lady, eager to
buy some of the basket-work for which the place is famous,
looked blank. Talhamy, anxious to lay in a store of fresh
eggs and vegetables, looked blanker.
We landed. Before us lay an open space, at the farther
end of which, facing the river, stood the Governor's palace; the
said palace being a magnified mud hut, with a frieze of baked
bricks round the top, and an imposing stone doorway. In
this doorway, according to immemorial usage, the great man
gives audience. We saw him—a mere youth, apparently—
puffing away at a long chibouque, in the midst of a little group
of greybeard elders. They looked at us gravely, immovably;
like smoking automata. One longed to go up and ask them if
they were all transformed to black granite from the waists to
the feet, and if the inhabitants of Derr had been changed into
blue stones.


Still bent on buying baskets, if baskets were to be bought,
—bent also on finding out the whereabouts of a certain rock-cut
temple which our books told us to look for at the back of
the town, we turned aside into a straggling street leading
towards the desert. The houses looked better built than
usual; some pains having evidently been bestowed in smoothing
the surface of the mud, and ornamenting the doorways
with fragments of coloured pottery. A cracked willow-pattern
dinner-plate set like a fanlight over one, and a white soup-plate
over another, came doubtless from the canteen of some English
dahabeeyah, and were the pride of their possessors. Looking
from end to end of this street—and it was a tolerably long
one, with the Nile at one end, and the desert at the other—we
saw no sign or shadow of moving creature. Only one young
woman, hearing strange voices talking a strange tongue, peeped
out suddenly from a half-opened door as we went by; then,
seeing me look at the baby in her arms (which was hideous
and had sore eyes) drew her veil across its face, and darted
back again. She thought I coveted her treasure, and she
dreaded the Evil Eye.
All at once we heard a sound like the far-off quivering cry
of many owls. It shrilled—swelled—wavered—dropped—
then died away, like the moaning of the wind at sea. We held
our breath and listened. We had never heard anything so wild
and plaintive. Then suddenly, through an opening between
the houses, we saw a great crowd on a space of rising ground
about a quarter of a mile away. This crowd consisted of men
only—a close, turbaned mass some three or four hundred in
number; all standing quite still and silent; all looking in the
same direction.
Hurrying on to the desert, we saw the strange sight at
which they were looking.
The scene was a barren sandslope hemmed in between the
town and the cliffs, and dotted over with graves. The actors
were all women. Huddled together under a long wall some
few hundred yards away, bareheaded, and exposed to the blaze
of the morning sun, they outnumbered the men by a full third.
Some were sitting, some standing; while in their midst, pressing
round a young woman who seemed to act as leader, there

swayed and circled and shuffled a compact phalanx of dancers.
Upon this young woman the eyes of all were turned. A black
Cassandra, she rocked her body from side to side, clapped her
hands above her head, and poured forth a wild declamatory
chant, which the rest echoed. This chant seemed to be divided
into strophes, at the end of each of which she paused, beat her
breast, and broke into that terrible wail that we had heard just
now from a distance.
Her brother, it seemed, had died last night; and we were
witnessing his funeral.
The actual interment was over by the time we reached the
spot; but four men were still busy filling the grave with sand,
which they scraped up, a bowlful at a time, and stamped down
with their naked feet.
The deceased being unmarried, his sister led the choir of
mourners. She was a tall, gaunt young woman of the plainest
Nubian type, with high cheekbones, eyes slanting upwards at
the corners, and an enormous mouth full of glittering teeth.
On her head she wore a white cloth smeared with dust. Her
companions were distinguished by a narrow white fillet, bound
about the brow, and tied with two long ends behind. They
had hidden their necklaces and bracelets, and wore trailing
robes and shawls, and loose trousers of black or blue calico.
We stood for a long time watching their uncouth dance.
None of the women seemed to notice us; but the men made
way civilly and gravely, letting us pass to the front, that we
might get a better view of the ceremony.
By and by an old woman rose slowly from the midst of
those who were sitting, and moved with tottering uncertain
steps towards a higher point of ground, a little apart from the
crowd. There was a movement of compassion among the men;
one of whom turned to the Writer and said gently: “His
She was a small, feeble old woman, very poorly clad. Her
hands and arms were like the hands and arms of a mummy,
and her withered black face looked ghastly under its mask of
dust. For a few moments, swaying her body slowly to and
fro, she watched the gravediggers stamping down the sand;
then stretched out her arms, and broke into a torrent of lamentations.

The dialect of Derr1 is strange and barbarous; but
we felt as if we understood every word she uttered. Presently
the tears began to make channels down her cheeks—her voice
became choked with sobs—and falling down in a sort of helpless
heap, like a broken-hearted dog, she lay with her face to
the ground, and there stayed.
Meanwhile, the sand being now filled in and mounded up,
the men betook themselves to a place where the rock had given
way, and selected a couple of big stones from the débris.
These they placed at the head and foot of the grave; and all
was done.
Instantly—perhaps at an appointed signal, though we saw
none given—the wailing ceased; the women rose; every tongue
was loosened; and the whole became a moving, animated, noisy
throng dispersing in a dozen different directions.
We turned away with the rest, the Writer and the Painter
rambling off in search of the temple, while the other three
devoted themselves to the pursuit of baskets and native jewellery.
When we looked back presently, the crowd was gone;
but the desolate mother still lay motionless in the dust.
It chanced that we witnessed many funerals in Nubia; so
many that one sometimes felt inclined to doubt whether the
Governor of Assûan had not reported over-favourably of the
health of the province. The ceremonial, with its dancing and
chanting, was always much the same; always barbaric, and in
the highest degree artificial. One would like to know how
much of it is derived from purely African sources, and how
much from ancient Egyptian tradition. The dance is most
probably Ethiopian. Lepsius, travelling through the Sûdan in
A.D. 1844,2 saw something of the kind at a funeral in Wed
Medineh, about half-way between Sennaar and Khartûm. The
white fillet worn by the choir of mourners is, on the other hand,
distinctly Egyptian. We afterwards saw it represented in
paintings of funeral processions on the walls of several tombs
1 The men hereabout can nearly all speak Arabic; but the women of
Nubia know only the Kensee and Berberee tongues, the first of which is
spoken as far as Korosko.
2 Lepsius's Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, etc., Letter xviii. p. 184.
Bohn's ed. A.D. 1853.

at Thebes,1 where the wailing women are seen to be gathering
up the dust in their hands and casting it upon their heads, just
as they do now. As for the wail—beginning high, and descending
through a scale divided, not by semi-tones, but thirds of
tones, to a final note about an octave and a half lower than
that from which it started—it probably echoes to this day the
very pitch and rhythm of the wail that followed the Pharaohs
to their sepulchres in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings.
Like the zaghareet, or joy-cry, which every mother teaches to
her little girls, and which, it is said, can only be acquired in
very early youth, it has been handed down from generation to
generation through an untold succession of ages. The song to
which the Fellâh works his shâdûf, and the monotonous chant
of the sakkieh-driver, have perhaps as remote an origin. But
of all old, mournful, human sounds, the death-wail that we
heard at Derr is perhaps one of the very oldest—certainly the
most mournful.
The Temple here, dating from the reign of Rameses II, is
of rude design and indifferent execution. Partly constructed,
partly excavated, it is approached by a forecourt, the roof of
which was supported by eight square columns. Of these
columns only the bases remain. Four massive piers against
which once stood four colossi, upheld the roof of the portico
and gave admission by three entrances to the rock-cut chambers
beyond. That portico is now roofless. Nothing is left of the
colossi but their feet. All is ruin; and ruin without beauty.
Seen from within, however, the place is not without a kind
of gloomy grandeur. Two rows of square columns, three at each
side, divide the large hall into a nave and two aisles. This hall
is about forty feet square, and the pillars have been left standing
in the living rock, like those in the early tombs at Siût. The
daylight, half blocked out by the fallen portico, is pleasantly
subdued, and finds its way dimly to the sanctuary at the farther
end. The sculptures of the interior, though much damaged,
are less defaced than those of the outer court. Walls, pillars,
doorways, are covered with bas-reliefs. The King and Ptah,
1 See the interesting account of funereal rites and ceremonies in Sir
G. Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, vol. ii. ch. x., Lond. 1871. Also woodcuts
Nos. 493 and 494 in the same chapter of the same work.

the King and Ra, the King and Amen, stand face to face,
hand in hand, on each of the four sides of every column.
Scenes of worship, of slaughter, of anointing, cover the walls;
and the blank spaces are filled in as usual with hieroglyphic
inscriptions. Among these Champollion discovered an imperfect
list of the sons and daughters of Rameses the Second


Four gods once sat enthroned at the upper end of the sanctuary;
but they have shared the fate of the colossi outside, and only
their feet remain. The wall sculptures of this dark little
chamber are, however, better preserved, and better worth preservation,
than those of the hall. A procession of priests,
bearing on their shoulders the bari, or sacred boat, is quite
unharmed; and even the colour is yet fresh upon a full-length
figure of Hathor close by.
But more interesting than all these—more interesting
because more rare—is a sculptured palm-tree against which the
king leans while making an offering to Amen-Ra. The trunk
is given with elaborate truthfulness; and the branches, though

formalised, are correct and graceful in curvature. The tree is
but an accessory. It may have been introduced with reference
to the date-harvests which are the wealth of the district; but
it has no kind of sacred significance, and is noticeable only for
the naturalness of the treatment. Such naturalness is unusual
in the art of this period, when the conventional persea, and the
equally conventional lotus are almost the only vegetable forms
which appear on the walls of the Temples. I can recall, indeed,
but one similar instance in the bas-relief sculpture of the New
Empire—namely, the bent, broken, and waving bulrushes in
the great lion-hunting scene at Medinet Habu, which are
admirably free, and studied apparently from nature.
Coming out, we looked in vain along the courtyard walls
for the battle-scene in which Champollion was yet able to trace
the famous fighting lion of Rameses the Second, with the legend
describing him as “the Servant of His Majesty rending his foes
in pieces.” But that was forty-five years ago. Now it is with
difficulty that one detects a few vague outlines of chariot-wheels
and horses.
There are some rock-cut tombs in the face of the cliffs close
by. The Painter explored them while the Writer sketched the
interior of the Temple; but he reported of them as mere
sepulchres, unpainted and unsculptured.
The rocks, the sands, the sky, were at a white heat when
we again turned our faces towards the river. Where there had
so lately been a great multitude there was now not a soul.
The palms nodded; the pigeons dozed; the mud town slept in
the sun. Even the mother had gone from her place of weeping,
and left her dead to the silence of the desert.
We went and looked at his grave. The fresh-turned sand
was only a little darker than the rest, and but for the trampled
foot-marks round about, we should scarcely have been able to
distinguish the new mound from the old ones. All were alike
nameless. Some, more cared for than the rest, were bordered
with large stones and filled in with variegated pebbles. One
or two were fenced about with a mud wall. All had a bowl of
baked clay at the head. Wherever we saw a burial-ground in
Nubia, we saw these bowls upon the graves. The mourners,
they told us, mourn here for forty days; during which time

they come every Friday and fill the bowl with fresh water, that
the birds may drink from it. The bowls on the other graves
were dry and full of sand; but the new bowl was brimming
full, and the water in it was hot to the touch.
We found L. and the Happy Couple standing at bay with
their backs against a big lebbich tree, surrounded by an immense
crowd and far from comfortable. Bent on “bazaaring,” they
had probably shown themselves too ready to buy; so bringing
the whole population, with all the mats, baskets, nose-rings,
finger-rings, necklaces and bracelets in the place, about their
ears. Seeing the straits they were in, we ran to the dahabeeyah
and despatched three or four sailors to the rescue, who brought
them off in triumph.
Even in Egypt, it does not answer, as a rule, to go about
on shore without an escort. The people are apt to be
importunate, and can with difficulty be kept at a pleasant
distance. But in Nubia, where the traveller's life was scarcely
safe fifty years ago, unprotected Ingleezeh are pretty certain to
be disagreeably mobbed. The natives, in truth, are still mere
savages au fond—the old war-paint being but half disguised
under a thin veneer of Mohammedanism.
Some of the women who followed our friends to the boat,
though in complexion as black as the rest, had light blue eyes
and frizzy red hair, the effect of which was indescribably
frightful. Both here and at Ibrim there are many of these
“fair” families, who claim to be descended from Bosnian fathers
stationed in Nubia at the time of the conquest of Sultan Selim
in A.D. 1517. They are immensely proud of their alien blood,
and think themselves quite beautiful.
All hands being safe on board, we pushed off at once,
leaving about a couple of hundred disconsolate dealers on the
bank. A long-drawn howl of disappointment followed in our
wake. Those who had sold, and those who had not sold, were
alike wronged, ruined, and betrayed. One woman tore wildly
along the bank, shrieking and beating her breast. Foremost
among the sellers, she had parted from her gold brow-pendant
for a good price; but was inconsolable now for the loss of it.
It often happened that those who had been most eager to
trade, were readiest to repent of their bargains. Even so, however,

their cupidity outweighed their love of finery. Moved
once or twice by the lamentations of some dark damsel who
had sold her necklace at a handsome profit, we offered to annul
the purchase. But it invariably proved that, despite her tears,
she preferred to keep the money.
The palms of Derr and of the rich district beyond, were the
finest we saw throughout the journey. Straight and strong and
magnificently plumed, they rose to an average height of seventy
or eighty feet. These superb plantations supply all Egypt with
saplings, and contribute a heavy tax to the revenue. The fruit,
sun-dried and shrivelled, is also sent northwards in large
The trees are cultivated with strenuous industry by the
natives, and owe as much of their perfection to laborious irrigation
as to climate. The foot of each separate palm is surrounded
by a circular trench into which the water is conducted by a
small channel about fourteen inches in width. Every palm-grove
stands in a network of these artificial runlets. The reservoir
from which they are supplied is filled by means of a Sakkich,
or water-wheel—a primitive and picturesque machine consisting
of two wheels, the one set vertically to the river and slung with
a chain of pots; the other a horizontal cog turned sometimes
by a camel, but more frequently in Nubia by a buffalo. The
pots (which go down empty, dip under the water, and come up
full) feed a sloping trough which in some places supplies a
reservoir, and in others communicates at once with the irrigating
channels. These sakkiehs are kept perpetually going; and are
set so close just above Derr, that the Writer counted a line of
fifteen within the space of a single mile. There were probably
quite as many on the opposite bank.
The sakkiehs creak atrociously; and their creaking ranges
over an unlimited gamut. From morn till dewy eve, from
dewy eve till morn, they squeak, they squeal, they grind, they
groan, they croak. Heard after dark, sakkieh answering to
sakkieh, their melancholy chorus makes night hideous. To
sleep through it is impossible. Being obliged to moor a few
miles beyond Derr, and having lain awake half the night, we
offered a sakkieh-driver a couple of dollars if he would let his
wheel rest till morning. But time and water are more precious

than even dollars at this season; and the man refused. All
we could do, therefore, was to punt into the middle of the river,
and lie off at a point as nearly as possible equidistant from our
two nearest enemies.


The native dearly loves the tree which costs him so much
labour, and thinks it the chef d'œuvre of creation. When Allah
made the first man, says an Arab legend, he found he had a
little clay to spare; so with that he made the palm. And to
the poor Nubian, at all events, the gifts of the palm are almost
divine; supplying food for his children, thatch for his hovel,
timber for his water-wheel, ropes, matting, cups, bowls, and
even the strong drink forbidden by the Prophet. The date-wine

is yellowish-white, like whisky. It is not a wine, however,
but a spirit; coarse, fiery, and unpalatable.
Certain trees—as for instance the perky little pine of the
German wald—are apt to become monotonous; but one never
wearies of the palm. Whether taken singly or in masses, it is
always graceful, always suggestive. To the sketcher on the
Nile, it is simply invaluable. It breaks the long parallels of
river and bank, and composes with the stern lines of Egyptian
architecture as no other tree in the world could do.
“Subjects indeed!” said once upon a time an eminent
artist to the present Writer; “fiddlesticks about subjects!
Your true painter can make a picture out of a post and a
Substitute a palm, however, for a post; combine it with
anything that comes first—a camel, a shadoof, a woman with
a water-jar upon her head—and your picture stands before you
ready made.
Nothing more surprised me at first than the colour of the
palm-frond, which painters of eastern landscape are wont to
depict of a hard, bluish tint, like the colour of a yucca leaf.
Its true shade is a tender, bloomy, sea-green grey; difficult
enough to match, but in most exquisite harmony with the glow
of the sky and the gold of the desert.
The palm - groves kept us company for many a mile,
backed on the Arabian side by long level ranges of sandstone
cliffs horizontally stratified, like those of the Thebaid. We
now scarcely ever saw a village—only palms, and sakkiehs, and
sandbanks in the river. The villages were there, but invisible;
being built on the verge of the desert. Arable land is too
valuable in Nubia for either the living to dwell upon it or
the dead to be buried in it.
At Ibrim—a sort of ruined Ehrenbreitstein on the top of
a grand precipice overhanging the river—we touched for only a
few minutes, in order to buy a very small shaggy sheep which
had been brought down to the landing-place for sale. But for
the breeze that happened just then to be blowing, we should
have liked to climb the rock, and see the view and the ruins—
which are part modern, part Turkish, part Roman, and little, if
at all, Egyptian.


There are also some sculptured and painted grottoes to be
seen in the southern face of the mountain. They are, however,
too difficult of access to be attempted by ladies. Alfred, who
went ashore after quail, was drawn up to them by ropes; but
found them so much defaced as to be scarcely worth the
trouble of a visit.
We were now only thirty-four miles from Abou Simbel;
but making slow progress, and impatiently counting every foot
of the way. The heat at times was great; frequent and fitful
spells of Khamsîn wind alternating with a hot calm that tried
the trackers sorely. Still we pushed forward, a few miles at a
time, till by and by the flat-topped cliffs dropped out of sight
and were again succeeded by volcanic peaks, some of which
looked loftier than any of those about Dakkeh or Korosko.
Then the palms ceased, and the belt of cultivated land
narrowed to a thread of green between the rocks and the
water's edge; and at last there came an evening when we
only wanted breeze enough to double two or three more bends
in the river.
“Is it to be Abou Simbel to-night?” we asked, for the
twentieth time before going down to dinner.
To which Reïs Hassan replied, “Aiwah” (certainly).
But the pilot shook his head, and added, “Bûkra” (tomorrow).
When we came up again, the moon had risen, but the
breeze had dropped. Still we moved, impelled by a breath so
faint that one could scarcely feel it. Presently even this failed.
The sail collapsed; the pilot steered for the bank; the captain
gave the word to go aloft—when a sudden puff from the north
changed our fortunes, and sent us out again with a well-filled
sail into the middle of the river.
None of us, I think, will be likely to forget the sustained
excitement of the next three hours. As the moon climbed
higher, a light more mysterious and unreal than the light of
day filled and overflowed the wide expanse of river and desert.
We could see the mountains of Abou Simbel standing as it
seemed across our path, in the far distance—a lower one first;
then a larger; then a series of receding heights, all close
together, yet all distinctly separate.


That large one—the mountain of the Great Temple—held
us like a spell. For a long time it looked a mere mountain
like the rest. By and by, however, we fancied we detected a
something—a shadow—such a shadow as might be cast by a
gigantic buttress. Next appeared a black speck no bigger
than a porthole. We knew that this black speck must be the
doorway. We knew that the great statues were there, though
not yet visible; and that we must soon see them.
For our sailors, meanwhile, there was the excitement of
a chase. The Bagstones and three other dahabeeyahs were
coming up behind us in the path of the moonlight. Their
galley fires glowed like beacons on the water; the nearest
about a mile away, the last a spark in the distance. We were
not in the mood to care much for racing to-night; but we were
anxious to keep our lead and be first at the mooring-place.
To run upon a sandbank at such a moment was like being
plunged suddenly into cold water. Our sail flapped furiously.
The men rushed to the punting poles. Four jumped overboard,
and shoved with all the might of their shoulders. By
the time we got off, however, the other boats had crept up
half a mile nearer; and we had hard work to keep them from
pressing closer on our heels.
At length the last corner was rounded, and the Great
Temple stood straight before us. The façade, sunk in the
mountain-side like a huge picture in a mighty frame, was now
quite plain to see. The black speck was no longer a porthole,
but a lofty doorway.
Last of all, though it was night and they were still not
much less than a mile away, the four colossi came out, ghostlike,
vague, and shadowy, in the enchanted moonlight. Even
as we watched them, they seemed to grow—to dilate—to be
moving towards us out of the silvery distance.
It was drawing on towards midnight when the Philæ at
ength ran in close under the Great Temple. Content with
what they had seen from the river, the rest of the party then
went soberly to bed; but the Painter and the Writer had no
patience to wait till morning. Almost before the mooring-rope
could be made fast, they had jumped ashore and begun climbing
the bank.


They went and stood at the feet of the colossi, and on the
threshold of that vast portal beyond which was darkness. The
great statues towered above their heads. The river glittered
like steel in the far distance. There was a keen silence in the
air; and towards the east the Southern Cross was rising. To
the strangers who stood talking there with bated breath, the
time, the place, even the sound of their own voices, seemed
unreal. They felt as if the whole scene must fade with the
moonlight, and vanish before morning.

[Back to top]



THE central figure of Egyptian history has always been,
probably always will be, Rameses the Second. He holds this
place partly by right, partly by accident. He was born to
greatness; he achieved greatness; and he had borrowed greatness
thrust upon him. It was his singular destiny not only
to be made a posthumous usurper of glory, but to be forgotten
by his own name and remembered in a variety of aliases. As
Sesoosis, as Osymandias, as Sesostris, he became credited in
course of time with all the deeds of all the heroes of the new
Empire, beginning with Thothmes III, who preceded him by
300 years, and ending with Sheshonk, the captor of Jerusalem,
who lived four centuries after him. Modern science, however,
has repaired this injustice; and, while disclosing the long-lost
names of a brilliant succession of sovereigns, has enabled us to
ascribe to each the honours which are his due. We know now
that some of these were greater conquerors than Rameses II.
We suspect that some were better rulers. Yet the popular
hero keeps his ground. What he has lost by interpretation on
the one hand, he has gained by interpretation on the other;
and the beau sabreur of the Third Sallier Papyrus remains to
this day the representative Pharaoh of a line of monarchs
whose history covers a space of fifty centuries, and whose
frontiers reached at one time from Mesopotamia to the ends of
the Soudan.
The interest that one takes in Rameses II begins at
Memphis, and goes on increasing all the way up the river.

It is a purely living, a purely personal interest; such as one feels
in Athens for Pericles, or in Florence for Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Other Pharaohs but languidly affect the imagination.
Thothmes and Amenhotep are to us as Darius or Artaxerxes
—shadows that come and go in the distance. But with the


second Rameses we are on terms of
respectful intimacy. We seem to
know the man—to feel his presence
—to hear his name in the air. His
features are as familiar to us as those
of Henry the Eighth or Louis the
Fourteenth. His cartouches meet us
at every turn. Even to those who
do not read the hieroglyphic character,
those well-known signs convey,
by sheer force of association, the
name and style1 of Rameses, beloved of Amen.
This being so, the traveller is ill equipped who goes through
Egypt without something more than a mere guide-book knowledge
of Rameses II. He is, as it were, content to read the
Argument and miss the Poem. In the desolation of Memphis,
in the shattered splendour of Thebes, he sees only the ordinary
pathos of ordinary ruins. As for Abou Simbel, the most
stupendous historical record ever transmitted from the past
to the present, it tells him a but half-intelligible story. Holding
to the merest thread of explanation, he wanders from hall
to hall, lacking altogether that potent charm of foregone
association which no Murray can furnish. Your average
Frenchman straying helplessly through Westminster Abbey
under the conduct of the verger has about as vague a conception
of the historical import of the things he sees.
Rendered thus into Latin by M. Chabas: Sol dominus veritatis
electus a Sole, Sol genuit eum; amans Ammonem
. Anglice—Sun Lord
of Truth, Chosen of the Sun, Son of the Sun, Ammon-loving. The following
is an extract translation of the hieroglyphs:—

  • Ra strong (in) Truth Approved of Ra Ra Son (of) Beloved (of) Amen.


What is true of the traveller is equally true of those who
take their Nile vicariously “in connection with Mudie.” If
they are to understand any description of Abou Simbel, they
must first know something about Rameses II. Let us then,
while the Philæ lies moored in the shadow of the rock of
Abshek,1 review, as summarily as may be, the leading facts of
this important reign; such facts, that is to say, as are recorded
in inscriptions, papyri, and other contemporary monuments.
Rameses the Second2 was the son of Seti I, the second
Pharaoh of the XIXth Dynasty, and of a certain Princess
Tuaa, described on the monuments as “royal wife, royal mother,
and heiress and sharer of the throne.” She is supposed to
have been of the ancient royal line of the preceding dynasty,
and so to have had, perhaps, a better right than her husband
to the double crown of Egypt. Through her, at all events,
Rameses II seems to have been in some sense born a king,3
equal in rank, if not in power, with his father; his rights,
1 Abshek:—The hieroglyphic name of Abou Simbel. Gr. Aboccis.
Rameses II began to reign B.C.
According to
Brugsch 1407
Mariette 1405
Lepsius 1388
Bunsen 1352
3 See chap. viii. footnote, p. 140.

moreover, were fully recognised by Seti, who accorded him
royal and divine honours from the hour of his birth, or, in the
language of the Egyptian historians, while he was “yet in the
egg.” The great dedicatory inscription of the Temple of
Osiris at Abydos,1 relates how his father took the royal child
in his arms, when he was yet little more than an infant,
showed him to the people as their king, and caused him to be
invested by the great officers of the palace with the double
crown of the two lands. The same inscription states that he
was a general from his birth, and that as a nursling he
“commanded the body guard and the brigade of chariot-fighters”;
but these titles must of course have been purely
honorary. At twelve years of age, he was formally associated
with his father upon the throne, and by the gradual retirement
of Seti I from the cares of active government, the co-royalty
of Rameses became, in the course of the next ten or fifteen
years, an undivided responsibility. He was probably about
thirty when his father died; and it is from this time that the
years of his reign are dated. In other words, Rameses II, in
his official records, counts only from the period of his sole
reign, and the year of the death of Seti is the “year one” of
the monumental inscriptions of his son and successor. In the
second, fourth, and fifth years of his monarchy, he personally
conducted campaigns in Syria, more than one of the victories
then achieved being commemorated on the rock-cut tablets of
Nahr-el-Kelb near Beyrût; and that he was by this time recognised
as a mighty warrior is shown by the stela of Dakkeh,
which dates from the “third year,” and celebrates him as
terrible in battle—“the bull powerful against Ethiopia, the
griffin furious against the negroes, whose grip has put the
mountaineers to flight.” The events of the campaign of his
“fifth year” (undertaken in order to reduce to obedience the
revolted tribes of Syria and Mesopotamia) are immortalised in
the poem of Pentaur.2 It was on this occasion that he fought his
famous single-handed fight, against overwhelming odds, in the
sight of both armies under the walls of Kadesh. Three years
1 See Essai sur l'Inscription Dédicatoire du Temple d'Abydos et la
Jeunesse de Sesotris.— G. MASPERO, Paris, 1867.
2 See chap. viii. p. 139.

later, he carried fire and sword into the land of Canaan, and
in his eleventh year, according to inscriptions yet extant upon
the ruined pylons of the Ramesseum at Thebes, he took,
among other strong places on sea and shore, the fortresses of
Ascalon and Jerusalem.
The next important record transports us to the twenty-first
year of his reign. Ten years have now gone by since the fall
of Jerusalem, during which time a fluctuating frontier warfare
has probably been carried on, to the exhaustion of both armies.
Khetasira, Prince of Kheta,1 sues for peace. An elaborate treaty
is thereupon framed, whereby the said Prince and “Rameses,
Chief of Rulers, who fixes his frontiers where he pleases,” pledge
themselves to a strict offensive and defensive alliance, and to
the maintenance of good-will and brotherhood for ever. This
treaty, we are told, was engraved for the Khetan prince “upon
a tablet of silver adorned with the likeness of the figure of
Sutekh, the Great Ruler of Heaven;” while for Rameses Mer-Amen
it was graven on a wall adjoining the Great Hall at
Karnak,2 where it remains to this day.
According to the last clause of this curious document, the
contracting parties enter also into an agreement to deliver up
to each other the political fugitives of both countries; providing
at the same time for the personal safety of the offenders.
“Whosoever shall be so delivered up,” says the treaty, “himself,
his wives, his children, let him not be smitten to death;
moreover, let him not suffer in his eyes, in his mouth, in
his feet; moreover, let not any crime be set up against
him.”3 This is the earliest instance of an extradition treaty
1 i.e. Prince of the Hittites; the Kheta being now identified with that
2 This invaluable record is sculptured on a piece of wall built out,
apparently for the purpose, at right angles to the south wall of the Hypostyle
Hall at
Karnak. The treaty faces to the west, and is situate about
half-way between the famous bas-relief of Sheshonk and his captives, and
the Karnak version of the poem of Pentaur. The former lies to the west
of the southern portal; the latter to the east. The wall of the treaty juts
out about sixty feet to the east of the portal. This south wall and its
adjunct, a length of about 200 feet in all, is perhaps the most precious and
interesting piece of sculptured surface in the world.
3 See Treaty of Peace between Rameses II and the Hittites, translated
by C. W. Goodwin, M.A.—RECORDS OF THE PAST, vol. iv. p. 25.

upon record; and it is chiefly remarkable as an illustration of
the clemency with which international law was at that time
Finally, the convention between the sovereigns is placed
under the joint protection of the gods of both countries:
“Sutekh of Kheta, Amen of Egypt, and all the thousand gods,
the gods male and female, the gods of the hills, of the rivers, of
the great sea, of the winds and the clouds, of the land of Kheta
and of the land of Egypt.”
The peace now concluded would seem to have remained
unbroken throughout the rest of the long reign of Rameses the
Second. We hear, at all events, of no more wars; and we
find the king married presently to a Khetan princess, who in
deference to the gods of her adopted country takes the official
name of Ma-at-iri-neferu-Ra, or “Contemplating the Beauties of
Ra.” The names of two other queens—Nefer-t-ari and Astnefert
—are also found upon the monuments.
These three were probably the only legitimate wives of
Rameses II, though he must also have been the lord of an
extensive hareem. His family, at all events, as recorded upon
the walls of the Temple at Wady Sabooah, amounted to no
less than 170 children, of whom 111 were princes. This may
have been a small family for a great king three thousand years
ago. It was but the other day, comparatively speaking, that
Lepsius saw and talked with old Hasan, Kashef of Derr—the
same petty ruler who gave so much trouble to Belzoni, Burckhardt,
and other early travellers—and he, like a patriarch of
old, had in his day been the husband of sixty-four wives, and
the father of something like 200 children.
For forty-six years after the making of the Khetan treaty,
Rameses the Great lived at peace with his neighbours and
tributaries. The evening of his life was long and splendid. It
became his passion and his pride to found new cities, to raise
dykes, to dig canals, to build fortresses, to multiply statues,
obelisks, and inscriptions, and to erect the most gorgeous and
costly temples in which man ever worshipped. To the monuments
founded by his predecessors he made additions so magnificent
that they dwarfed the designs they were intended to
complete. He caused artesian wells to be pierced in the stony

bed of the desert. He carried on the canal begun by his father,
and opened a water-way between the Mediterranean and the
Red Sea.1 No enterprise was too difficult, no project too vast,
for his ambition. “As a child,” says the stela of Dakkeh, “he
superintended the public works, and his hands laid their foundations.”
As a man, he became the supreme Builder. Of his
gigantic structures, only certain colossal fragments have survived
the ravages of time; yet those fragments are the wonder of
the world.
To estimate the cost at which these things were done is
now impossible. Every temple, every palace, represented a
1 Since this book was written, a further study of the subject has led
me to conjecture that not Seti I, but Queen Hatshepsu (Hatasu) of the
XVIIIth Dynasty, was the actual originator of the canal which connected
the Nile with the
Red Sea. The inscriptions engraved upon the walls of
her great Temple at Dayr-el-Baharî expressly state that her squadron sailed
from Thebes to the Land of Punt, and returned from Punt to Thebes, laden
with the products of that mysterious country which Mariette and Maspero
have conclusively shown to have been situate on the Somali coast-line
between Bab-el-Mandeb and Cape Guardafui. Unless, therefore, some
water-way existed at that time between the Nile and the Red Sea, it
follows that Queen Hatshepsu's squadron of discovery must have sailed
northward from Thebes, descended the Nile to one of its mouths, traversed
the whole length of the Mediterranean Sea, gone out through the Pillars
of Hercules, doubled the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at the Somali
coast by way of the Mozambique Channel and the shores of Zanzibar. In
other words, the Egyptian galleys would twice have made the almost complete
circuit of the African continent. This is obviously an untenable
hypothesis; and there remains no alternative route except that of a canal,
or chain of canals, connecting the Nile with the Red Sea. The old Wady
Tûmilât canal has hitherto been universally ascribed to Seti I, for no other
reason than that a canal leading from the Nile to the ocean is represented
on a bas-relief of his reign on the north outer wall of the Great Temple of
Karnak; but this canal may undoubtedly have been made under the preceding
dynasty, and it is not only probable, but most likely, that the great
woman - Pharaoh, who first conceived the notion of venturing her ships
upon an unknown sea, may also have organised the channel of communication
by which those ships went forth. According to the second edition of
Sir J. W. Dawson's Egypt and Syria, the recent surveys conducted by
Lieut.-Col. Ardagh, Major Spaight, and Lieut. Burton, all of the Royal
Engineers, “render it certain that this valley [i.e. the Wady Tûmilât] once
carried a branch of the Nile which discharged its waters into the Red Sea
(see chap. iii. p. 55); and in such case, if that branch were not already
navigable, Queen Hatshepsu would only have needed to canalise it, which
is what she probably did. [Note to Second Edition.]

hecatomb of human lives. Slaves from Ethiopia, captives
taken in war, Syrian immigrants settled in the Delta, were
alike pressed into the service of the State. We know h