Title: Egypt: Ancient Sites and Modern Scenes [Electronic Edition]

Author: Maspero, Gaston
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Title: Egypt: Ancient Sites and Modern Scenes

Author: Gaston Maspero
File size or extent: 330 p., 17 pl. (incl. col. front.) 23 cm.
Publisher: T. F. Unwin
Place of publication: London
Publication date: 1910
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  • Egypt--Description and travel
  • Lee, Elizabeth (translator)
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Egypt: Ancient Sites and Modern Scenes [Electronic Edition]


Contents










EGYPT: ANCIENT SITES AND MODERN SCENES

EGYPT: ANCIENT SITES
AND MODERN SCENES

NEW LIGHT ON
ANCIENT EGYPT

By G. MASPERO, Author of “Egypt:
Ancient Sites and Modern Scenes.”
Translated by ELIZABETH LEE. Illustrated.
Cheap Edition, demy 8vo,
cloth, 6s. net. (Inland postage, 4d.)
“M. Maspero's book is the ripe fruit of fifteen
years' digging among the ruins of ancient Egypt,
and of an industry and enthusiasm for research
that perhaps no other living man can equal.
Certainly there is no one else who possesses at
once the antiquarian knowledge, the imaginative
power, and the literary genius to recreate anew
the life of past ages as the French scientist is
able to do. In these pages live again the Egypt
that was the earliest birthplace of recorded
history.”—The Outlook.
On sale at all Booksellers.
T. FISHER UNWIN. LONDON.



THE RUINS OF PHILÆ






EGYPT:

ANCIENT SITES
AND MODERN SCENES

By
SIR GASTON MASPERO

HON. K.C.M.G., HON, D.C.L., AND FELLOW OF QUEEN'S
COLLEGE, OXFORD; MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTE OF
FRANCE, PROFESSOR AT THE COLLEGE DE FRANCE, DIRECTOR
-GENERAL OF THE SERVICE DES ANTIQUITES, CAIRO
TRANSLATED BY
ELIZABETH LEE
WITH SEVENTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS
T. FISHER UNWIN LONDON: ADELPHI TERRACE LEIPSIC: INSELSTRASSE 20 1910 3 1272 00120 2306


5

PREFATORY NOTE

A PART of my duties as Director of the “Service
des Antiquités” in Egypt consists in an annual
inspection of the monuments. From 1881 to
1886, the period of my first sojourn in Egypt, a
steamboat, the Menchieh, was put at my disposal.
She was better known to the riverside
population by the name of Nimro Hadachere,
No. 11. She was a flat-bottomed brigantine, provided
with an engine of a type archaic enough
to deserve a place in the Museum of Arts and
Crafts. From 1840 to 1860 she had regularly performed
the journey to and fro between Alexandria
and Cairo once a month. She was then invalided
on account of old age, but was again put into
working order for the visit of Prince Napoleon to
Egypt in 1863. In 1875 she was presented to
Mariette, and after a long period of inaction,
descended to me, and I made my journeys in her
for five years. My successors, however, did not
preserve her, and on my return I found a princely
old dahabieh, the Miriam, which I have used ever
since.

6

At the beginning of my campaign, about the
middle of December, I tow her, without making
a halt, to the limit of my course, to Assouân
or Ouadi-Halfah. Thence I abandon myself to
the stream, the wind sometimes assisting my
progress, but more often preventing it, so that
day after day we are obliged to have recourse
to the oars in order to advance a mile or two.
Such a method of navigation, although no longer
to the taste of the tourist, offers great advantages
to the Director of the “Antiquités.” It gives him
an opportunity of visiting less important sites
where no one stops unless compelled, sites that
he would not himself have thought of visiting
had not the impossibility of proceeding against
the wind forced him to drop anchor in their
neighbourhood. To these unpremeditated delays
I owe not only several monuments which make
no bad figure in the Museum, but also impressions
of modern Egypt that help me to a
better understanding of ancient Egypt. I noted
down these impressions from day to day without
any object beyond that of giving adequate
expression to what I felt or observed, and from
1900 printed in Le Temps every year those of
them that seemed likely to interest Egyptologists,
and at the same time to make appeal to the
general public.

7

M. Guilmoto, the publisher of “New Light
on Ancient Egypt,” suggested that I should
collect these articles and issue them in volume
form. The idea found favour with me, and I
consented. I obtained M. Hébrard's permission
to use the articles that had appeared in Le
Temps
, and I added to them some that had
been printed in La grande Revue and in La
Revue d'Orient
.
May I express the hope that readers who
know Egypt will recognise it in this book, and
those who do not yet know it, may be inspired
by these pages to make its acquaintance?
G. MASPERO.
BIBEH.

8

NOTE ON THE SPELLING OF THE
EGYPTIAN NAMES
(Written specially for the English edition)

THE transcriptions of the Egyptian names in this volume differ so
materially from those in general use in England that a word of explanation
in regard to them seems advisable. For such barbarous pronunciations
as Thoutmes, Ahmes, Râusormâ, I have substituted Thoutmôsis,
Ahmôsis, Ousimarês, a vocalisation nearer that of the ancient pronunciation.
Some of the vowel sounds,1 like those of the three names just
quoted, are derived from the Greeks, or from the Egyptians of the
Græco-Roman period; others are deduced by analogy with Greek
transcriptions from forms the exact transliteration of which has not been
preserved for us by the ancients. The reader will easily recognise the
former in those where I have kept the Greek or Latin terminations cs,
os
, or us, is, ous; where those terminations are wanting, the form is
deduced by analogy, or determined in accordance with the rules of
grammar. Thus Amenôthes (Amenhotep), Khâmois (Kha-em-uas), Harmakhis
(Hor-em-Khou) are pronunciations justified by the Greek
renderings; Amenemhaît (Amenemhat), Hatshopsouîtou (Hatasou,
Hashepsou) are grammatical deductions. Many points are still doubtful
and some of the vowel sounds will have to be modified in the future;
but they have at least the merit of testifying to an effort towards the
truth, and of undeceiving the public who, on the faith of the
Egyptologists, accept as legitimate, pronunciations which would have
been considered monstrous by the Egyptians themselves.
An error is easily corrected when it first arises, but if it is allowed
to persist it is an exceedingly difficult matter to eradicate it. No better
proof can be given than the persistence of the form Hatasou for the
name of the great queen who shared the throne of the Pharaohs with
Thoutmôsis III. For the sake of uniformity, I have adopted the
orthography and vocalisation of the Græco-Roman period, in the same
way as in France we use the French forms, Clovis, Clotaire, Thierry,
for the Merovingian kings in order not to introduce very dissimilar
words into our history books. We must, however, remember that the
vocalisation and pronunciation of names do not remain unchanged
during the course of history. Not to mention dialect forms which
would be too difficult to determine, I established a long while ago, partly
by means of the Assyrian transcriptions, that many names of which the
tonic syllable is vocalised in ô, ôu, in the Greek period, have the same
syllable vocalised in â under the second Theban empire, in the vernacular
of the age of the Ramses: the Amenôthes, i.e., the Amenhotep of
Manethon, is Amanhatep in the inscriptions of El-Amarna. The recent
discovery of Hittite archives confirms that fact, for they give among
others, for the Ramses Meiamoun Ousimares of the Ptolemaic age, a
Ouashmarîya Riamâsha Maiamânou which corresponds with an Egyptian
pronunciation Ouasimarîya Riamasa (ou) Maiamânou. But I did not
think it advisable to introduce such variants into a book intended for
the general public.
1 They should be pronounced as in French.

9

CONTENTS

PAGE
I. FROM CAIRO TO RODAH 13
II. A FOG ON THE NILE 23
III. THE CONVENT OF THE PULLEY AT GEBEL-ABOU-FEDÂ 32
IV. THE CROCODILE GROTTO AT MAABDEH 42
V. A CAB DRIVE IN SIOUT 56
VI. ON THE NILE 63
VII. KENEH AND ITS MUNICIPALITY 75
VIII. DENDERAH 83
IX. THE ARRIVAL AT THEBES 94
X. A PARLIAMENT OF KINGS AT THE TOMB OF
AMENÔTHES II.
104
XI. THE TOMB OF AMENÔTHES II. 111
XII. THE DEPARTURE OF THE ROYAL MUMMIES 118
XIII. KARNAK AND THE WORKS IN THE HYPOSTYLE HALL 128
XIV. THE TEMPLE OF THE THEBAN PHTAH AT KARNAK 143
XV. KARNAK: LEGENDS AND SUPERSTITIONS 155

10

XVI. FISHING FOR STATUES IN THE TEMPLE OF KARNAK 168
XVII. THE PHARAOHS BY ELECTRIC LIGHT 183
XVIII. AN ARAB TALE 194
XIX. THE OPENING OF A NEW ROYAL TOMB AT THEBES 204
XX. WITH SCHWEINFURTH ON A VISIT TO THOT 218
XXI. A NEW PHARAOH 229
XXII. ESNEH 238
XXIII. EL-KAB 248
XXIV. THE ENGLISH EXCAVATIONS AT KOM-EL-AHMAR 262
XXV. EDFOU 270
XXVI. ASSOUÂN 281
XXVII. THE CONVENT OF ST. SIMEON, NEAR ASSOUÂN 294
XXVIII. PHILÆ 312
INDEX 325

11

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

THE RUINS OF PHILÆ Frontispiece
A natural colour photograph, reproduced from A. Miethe's “Unter der
Sonne Ober-Ägyptens,” by permission of the publisher, Herr Dietrich
Reimer, of Berlin.
TO FACE PAGE
A TYPICAL MIDDLE EGYPTIAN VILLAGE 13
AN UPPER EGYPTIAN PEASANT 44
THE NILE, NEAR ASSOUÂN 63
DENDERAH. RELIEF ON THE OUTSIDE WALL 86
ENTRANCE TO ONE OF THE ROYAL TOMBS IN THE VALLEY
OF THE KINGS
104
THEBES. THE TOMBS OF THE KINGS 118
KARNAK. GENERAL VIEW OF THE RUINS NEAR THE
SANCTUARY
128
KARNAK. PTOLEMAIC GATEWAY IN FRONT OF THE TEMPLE
OF KHONSOU
159
KARNAK. AVENUE OF SPHINXES LEADING TO THE MAIN
ENTRANCE
168
THE HILLS OF THEBES WITH THE TEMPLE OF DEÎR EL-BAHARI
AT THEIR FOOT
218

12

A TYPICAL MIDDLE EGYPTIAN VILLAGE.
To face p. 12.



13

Egypt:
Ancient Sites and Modern Scenes
I
FROM CAIRO TO RODAH

THE sky is overcast, melancholy trails of mist float
over the banks of the river, and here and there
yellowish patches indicate the place where the
sun ought to shine. Can this really be Egypt?
What has become of her light during the thirteen
years I have been away? Now, it seems, we
shiver on the Nile, and cannot venture on the
upper deck of the boat without a warm overcoat.
I left Cairo the day before yesterday, very uncertain
of my impressions, and somewhat anxious
to discover if the aspect of the river and its banks
had changed as much as the climate. Not so long
ago, in losing sight of the last minarets of the citadel,
we seemed to bid farewell to the present century.
A few factory chimneys were to be seen here and

there among the palm-trees, or one of Cook's
steamers noisily went its way with its cargo of
tourists. But such accidents of civilisation quickly
disappeared on the horizon, and with the help of
the Pyramids, along which we coasted for two
days, we felt as if we were setting out for a corner
of the antique world that had somehow lingered on
in the midst of the modern world. Between Cairo
and Philae we traversed an Egypt of the past, not
an Egypt of any precise epoch, but a country
undefined as to age and local colour, resembling
in some places that of the Pharaohs, in others
that of the Turks or Mamelouks; in fact, each
traveller, according to the nature of his studies,
or the turn of his imagination, could believe himself
to be visiting the land of the Pharaoh Sesostris,
or that of the Sultans of the “Arabian Nights.”
For three days the landscapes of a former age
have been passing before my eyes. Although I
recognise their salient points, I find something
in them which used not to be there, and which
has modified their character. Industrial life has
taken possession of them, and is secretly transforming
them.
The change becomes apparent directly we leave
the bridge of Kasr-en-Nil behind us. The background
of the picture is the same, the green island
of Rodah, with its clumps of trees and its Nilometer

painted in variegated colours, at its southern
point, then the picturesque buildings of Old Cairo ,
the pretty mosque of Atar-en-Nabi, standing out
so boldly on its promontory, the big mounds of
débris topped by the windmills of the French
occupation; and as we progress the panorama of
the citadel keeps with us for about an hour. But
everywhere along the bank new buildings succeed
each other almost as far as Helouan opposite the
site of Memphis; barracks are to be seen at intervals,
chimneys smoke, and as night falls electric
lights flash out to right and left. We have to
realise that Cairo in growing rich has built
suburbs, as is the way of all great capitals, and
we must thank fortune that modern industries
have been established in these beautiful spots
without too greatly disfiguring them.
Beyond Helouan and Bedrechein, if we carefully
follow the line of the embankments, although the
changes in the outskirts are fewer, they are not the
less real. On the Libyan side, the dike, which
formerly showed disorderly curves and was broken
here and there—and no one thought of rectifying
such caprices—now runs straight, and is properly
supported without breaches or indentations in the
coping. Iron posts placed at regular intervals
mark out the course, and allow of its being
restored to its former direction when, as sometimes

happens, a more violent rising of the river
encroaches on it. Thanks to its stability, land
which used to be constantly threatened with the
depredations of the Nile has been definitely gained
for cultivation, and near Bedrechein I found a
field of Indian millet on exactly the same spot
where I had formerly sailed in about six or nine
feet of water. On the Arabian side progress has
been equally great, and at first I was astonished
to see verdure and groups of well-built houses
where my memory told me there had been the
uninterrupted yellow of the sand and a cluster of
wretched hovels. From Atfieh to Bibeh, for a whole
day, I ceased to observe the Libyan bank in order
to concentrate my attention on the Arabian one.
On my first visit it remained almost exactly
as French scholars had described it at the
end of the eighteenth century. Although the
hills lay far towards the interior, the space
utilised was generally restricted and unequally
cultivated for lack of sufficient water. Two
or three fragments of canals watered it here
and there, and in the spots where a little verdure
was to be seen the chadouf or sakieh alone provided
for the needs of the peasants at the cost
of incessant labour. Nearly everywhere the
desert or barren land extended to the edge of
the stream; a few villages steeped in mud

occupied the most favoured spots; a santon or
a dilapidated Coptic monastery might be seen
at long intervals. The few attempts to revive
the perishing district made under Mehemet Ali
and Ismail Pacha had failed, and it seemed as
if Egypt on that side of the river was almost
dead. Now it is recovering from its long exhaustion,
and nothing is more curious than to
note in passing the signs of re-awakening life.
At the end of the tortuous pass, where the
insufficient height of the water forces the stream
to flow to the south of the town of Karimât,
there used to be a half-ruined monastery, Deirel-Mêmoun,
around the walls of which dwelt a
few dozen fellahs who with the monks were
the only human beings who persisted in remaining
in the place. About twenty ill-cared for
palm-trees formed the shelter of their straw
pallets, and their wretched plots of beans or
millet scarcely produced a greenish film in the
foreground of the landscape. Now the monastery
has been repaired; stone houses are grouped
round it, the palm-trees have spread and form
a small wood, the fields have invaded the desert,
and the stir of cattle and donkeys betrays the
presence of a hard-working and prosperous population.
Six or eight hamlets have grown up in
the empty space which stretched from Deîr-el-Mêmoun

to El Marazi, and the colonists, partly
emigrants from the other bank, are gradually
conquering the desert places. The chadouf,
worked by hand, still pumps up the water with
its rhythmic movement, but at the same time
fixed steam-pumps, or movable steam-engines
which can be used when and where necessity
arises, supplement and indeed tend to replace
the old-fashioned machine. Plantations of sugar-cane
are increasing, then millet, corn, beans, and
on the mud left by the rising of the river the
vegetables of which the native is so fond—lupins,
onions, mallows, cucumbers, and water-melons—
are cultivated.
Most of the new villages are of hewn stone,
and the surprising increase of the buildings has
necessitated the opening up of numerous quarries
in all the places where the rocks are close
enough to the river to make exploitation easy.
Now and again occur the sheds and shafts of
a budding factory, then a large farm flanked
with a rudimentary garden, then clumps of young
date-trees, then a number of barges moored to
the quay awaiting their cargoes. One of them
near Deîr-el-Bayâd carried a new steam-engine,
and the sailors were hurrying to erect another
engine on the bank in front of a plantation of
full-grown canes.

19

The sun has reappeared, and Egypt is herself
again. The softness of the air and the beauty
of the sky invite the mind and likewise the
powers of observation to idle contemplation or
somnolent meditation; a real effort is required
to resume my study of the right bank, and
to determine to note the new and surprising
changes I see there. At first, beyond Bibeh
activity seems to slacken, and the former
lethargy to prevail. Industry has been transported
to the left bank, into the domains and
factories of Dairah Sanieh. The rugged slopes
of Gebel Cheîkh Embarek come down so close
to us that they exclude all possibility of irrigation
by machinery, and the narrow strips of alluvium
at their foot are watered and cultivated in the
old-fashioned way. But beyond Charronah the
view changes. A broad green track stretches
for miles where I recollect a dusty plain
with sickly palms and rare cultivated patches
thinly scattered over it, bounded on the south
by the inactive chimneys of Cheikh-Fadl. The
factory, founded in the good times of Ismaïl
Pacha, was never finished. Sand accumulated
at the foot of its half-built walls; iron shafts
and portions of machinery, mere heaps of old
iron, lay on the ground, abandoned before ever
having been used. Now cultivated fields and

plantations of young trees alternate almost
from Charronah, steam-pumps distribute the
water regularly behind the dikes, railway lines
intersect the plain, and as we passed, several
steam-engines were at work on the quay, busy
with the wagons of sugar-cane. Barges as
heavily loaded as the trains are placed in line
along the bank, engaged in unloading. Three
steam-tugs, with steam up, are waiting until they
have been emptied to tow them, a dozen at a
time, to the villages where they have to take
in a fresh cargo. It is done rapidly amidst
the deafening noise that accompanies all work
in this country; the sailors shout at the porters,
who answer in still shriller tones, the chimneys
snort, the engines pant and whistle, the donkeys
bray in a common harmony. The factory itself
has become unrecognisable; its workshops are
finished, and as a consequence all the suitable
subordinate buildings have risen from the earth.
First of all comes a fine house that seems
to be that of the manager. Then a sort of
triumphal gate in Moorish style opens its
pointed arch of horseshoe shape framed by
Arabic inscriptions traced in black on a red
and white ground. It stands in front of brick
buildings the use of which cannot well be
determined from the river. Lower down a long

building with two rows of arcades, one on top
of the other, contains shops on the ground
floor, and in the upper story rooms with
balconies for the employees; it might be called
the social habitation of a co-operative society. I
made out several shop signs: Épicerie et café,
Tabacs
, &c.—all in French. In fact, a French
engineer, M. Mahoudeau, founded this enormous
factory for the Say-Suares Company and awoke
the district from its lethargy. It is no small
satisfaction to note the part played by Frenchmen
in the redemption of the land.
Is it, however, merely a frontage behind which
the old poverty is as acute as ever? What does
the fellah gain from all this wealth? Beyond
Cheikh-Fadl the landscape resumes its old physiognomy,
and seems scarcely touched by modern
industry. Deîr-el-Bakara has whitewashed the
domes of its churches and cut convenient steps
in the cliff to serve instead of the breakneck staircases
by which its destitute monks descended in
order to beg from the dahabiehs. The region of
the ancient tombs which begins at Minieh has
lost nothing of its primitive barbarism: only the
masons and fellahs of the other bank have attacked
the hill on all sides, and destroy it even more
than they work it as a quarry. The change
is nowhere more apparent than in the places

where Messrs. Cook & Co. assemble their tourists
for the excursion to the tombs of Beni-Hassan;
the houses there are better cared for, the
inhabitants are cleaner and better clothed, and
demands for bakhshîsch are universal.

[Back to top]


23

II
A FOG ON THE NILE

DIRECTLY the first rays of the sun touched the
Nile this morning a fog arose. Wreaths of
white vapour began to pass over the water and
in less than ten minutes we were enveloped in
it, and had to cast anchor in the middle of the
stream. It is not like a European fog, thick
and heavy, which shuts out light and deadens
sound. It is an aerial, fluid substance, a curtain
of almost transparent muslin which the light impregnates
with silvery tones, and through which
every sound clearly penetrates. Life goes on
around us, but invisible, and we hear it without
knowing where it is. A donkey brays somewhere,
a cock crows amid a chorus of clucking
hens, sounds of quarrelling are heard on one of
the neighbouring barges, a quail calls, and in the
distance the big steamer full of tourists that we
sighted at dawn whistles desperately to warn
the other boats to get out of her way. Now
and again the curtain is drawn aside and a

piece of landscape, floating at hazard as it
seems, is discovered, but the sun, insinuating
itself through the opening, warms the cold
water, and so causes mists to rise which again
engulf us. After about an hour there is some
movement in the fog; it becomes less dense,
is stretched out, is torn in pieces, and flies off
in shreds, which are soon destroyed and finally
vanish in the twinkling of an eye. The world
reappears in a chaos of uncertain forms, which,
however, become more clearly defined every second.
Five women emerge on a narrow mass of brown
earth, busy with their water-jars. An embankment
is visible behind them, and rises steeply
in graduated terraces of vegetation; it ends
in a dike above which the tops of palm-trees
are seen, and almost simultaneously we
perceive the line of hills, pink in colour, outlined
against the background of the opaline sky.
For a few minutes the remains of the fog soften
the contours, bring out the shadows, accentuate
the reliefs, and lightly touching the various
objects, clearly mark out the sites they occupy.
As the mist evaporates the relief is softened,
the contours become sharp and clear-cut, distances
are effaced. It seems as if objects on
the far-off horizon are thrown forward, and that
the foreground and the objects on it approach

and, indeed, almost join it, and that they are
placed one upon the other just as they appear
in the pictures which decorate the walls of the
tombs of Memphis or of Thebes.
Indeed, who is there who has sailed on the Nile,
even for only a couple of days, who does not come
to realise how closely the scenes drawn by the
old Egyptians on their monuments resemble those
of to-day, and how faithfully they interpreted
them, even in those of their conventions which
seem to us to depart farthest from reality?
The fog having entirely lifted, the dahabieh
continues its way. The boatmen row vigorously,
keeping the strokes in time with the voice of
the singer:—
Fi'r-rodh ra'et—hebbi'l-gamil.
(In the garden I saw —my handsome friend.)
And all repeat in chorus with a low, drawling
intonation, Hebbi'l - gamîl. Before they have
finished, the soloist attacks the high notes of
the sacramental refrain, ia lêl (O night!). He
indulges in shakes, prolongs the sounds, swells
them, stifles them, and then, out of breath, stops
the last note with a single dry sound. He is
almost choked by his runs and trills, and while
the crew are bursting with applause I observe
the river and the two banks. Low down in a

line on a bank of tawny-coloured sand a number
of big vultures are warming themselves in the
sun; with claws spread out, backs bent, necks
driven down into the shoulders, wings folded in
front on each side of the breast, they joyfully
receive the flood of sunshine which spreads over
their feathers and penetrates them with its warmth.
It is exactly how the old sculptors represented
the vulture of Nekhabit in repose, the goddess-protector
of the Pharaohs, who shelters them
with her wings. In imagination, take out the
biggest of the group, put the pschent or the
white cap on its head, the sceptre of power in
its talons, place it in profile on the tuft of full-blown
lotus which symbolises Upper Egypt, and
you will have the bas-relief which adorns one of
the sides of the principal doors of the temple
of Khonsou, and yet under all this apparatus a
veritable vulture; for the covering of religious attributes
has not suppressed the real bird. A fishing
eagle comes and goes above our heads in quest
of his morning meal. He describes immense
circles, slowly beating the air, then suddenly
lets himself drift along, leaning on his wings,
his body suspended between them, his feet
stretched out, his head bent, his eyes searching
the depths of the water. Watching him progress
thus, scarcely moving at all, he resembles a hawk

of the Theban sculptors, Horus, who hovers above
the helmet of the Pharaoh in battle, or who,
displayed on the ceilings of the temples, dominates
the sweep of the central nave from the doors of
the hypostyle to those of the sanctuary. When
presently he descends and rises again with his
prey, it will be with the same gesture and bearing
with which Horus in battle manipulated his
mystical fly-net and his ring symbolic of eternity.
A troop of donkeys coming out of a hollow behind
the embankment under a load of well-filled sacks
might be the very one that served as model to
the draughtsmen of the tomb of Ti for the carrying
in of the harvest. The mingled flock of sheep
and goats which follows at a gentle trot stand
out with so exact a profile, that they seem to
be solely composed of moving silhouettes; it is
indeed a picture come down from its ancient wall
to go to the neighbouring market. And as the
banks pass before me with their episodes of contemporary
life, it seems to me that the bas-reliefs
of the tombs have become alive and of natural
size; there are the oxen going to the fields with
measured tread, the ploughing, the fishermen
yoked to their net, the carpenters building a barge.
They have installed their ladders on a sloping piece
of shore, and crouching in the attitudes of monkeys,
nail the timbers with blows of the hammer.

28

The creators of Egyptian art took the Nile for
their point of view when they set to work to put
these isolated objects together, and to engrave
them harmoniously in the chapels of the tombs in
order to ensure their dead continuation of earthly
existence for an indefinite period. They placed
all that characterised life on the river itself or
on the canals at the bottom of the wall—the
convoys of laden boats, the disputes of the sailors,
the fishing scenes, the hunting of water-fowl.
Above came the seasons of the agricultural year
—ploughing, sowing, reaping, threshing, storing
in the granaries. Higher still came the pastures
with ruminating oxen, and above, almost touching
the ceiling, the desert and the hunters on the
track of the gazelle. The panorama widens out
or is closed in according to the extent of the
surface to be covered, and all the elements which
compose it are not necessarily reproduced everywhere;
one part is suppressed here, or developed
there, or combined elsewhere, but what is used
follows the invariable order from bottom to top.
The variations of the ancient theme were forming
and changing every moment under my eyes as
the day advanced. In some places the river is
deserted and its banks empty, but the ploughs
make furrows in the plain, and the hills show
their cold slopes above them. A little farther

on the hills sink behind the horizon, and the
plain seems a flat, empty space without vegetation
or visible habitations. Three or four miles
higher up stream the Nile becomes suddenly animated
and a long series of boats cross each other,
and are driven back or thrust gaily forward by the
north wind. But the surfaces on which life circulates,
instead of falling back one behind the other,
seem to rise one above the other as in the works
of the old masters, who certainly both simplified
and complicated the different subjects they chose
to bring together. They almost all made it
a rule not to attempt to depict the ground,
substituting for it a single straight line on which
the persons included in the same scene moved
and by which they were supported. In the
upper rows they depict scenes that distance did
not permit them to perceive any more than it
does us, despite the incredible transparency of the
air, and they attribute to them the same proportions
as those of the scenes in the lower rows.
These defects were imposed on them by the
ritual of their religion. Were not these pictures,
so carefully and accurately executed, really magic
charms on the composition of which depended
the survival of a human being after death? The
slightest error might imperil the destiny of the
double, and so the artists were obliged to sacrifice

the probabilities of perspective to minute truth
of detail.
The dahabieh goes on its way, and the singer,
grown tired, pauses to take breath, but his companions
brutally recall him to his duty. “You
are paid fifty piastres more than us to sing, and
you want to rest: go on, open your mouth, and
use your voice.” He allowed himself to be implored
for a few minutes and then began again:—
“In the garden I saw —my handsome friend,
Who was gently swaying—like the branch of
the nabeca,”
and the crew repeats:—
“like the leaf of the nabeca.
Permit and grant—O my beloved,
And fulfil thy promises for the best.”
On the bank the men on the barges at anchor,
the carpenters, the donkey-boys, the women drawing
water, leave off their work and listen; when
the refrain is reached their delight bursts forth
in enthusiastic exclamations of “Ah!” or of
“Allah! Allah!—Blessed be thy mother, O thou
man of songs!—May our divine master guard
thee! Again, again, and again may the benediction
of the Prophet fall on you!” We advance

to the sounds of the general jubilation, and with
approving laughter our boatmen respond to the
benedictions which rain on them from the bank.
The tune is slow, sweet, somewhat sad, adapted
to the rhythm of the oars; it has undergone no
change during the five-and-twenty years I have
known it, and it must certainly have been transmitted
intact for generations. It must have been
sung with Egyptian words when Egypt had
Pharaohs, and perhaps Ramses II. heard it when,
returning from his Syrian campaigns, he regained
victorious Thebes in triumph.

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32

III
THE CONVENT OF THE PULLEY AT
GEBEL-ABOU-FEDÂ

A LITTLE before Omm-el-Kouçour the cliff is
broken, and through the opening appears a row
of red and white tombs dominated by a wall
of greyish bricks supported against the rock. It
is a furtive apparition, vanishing almost as soon
as perceived, but so strange that it leaves a permanent
impression on the mind. Once, four years
ago, I wanted to approach it, but I arrived at
nightfall, and my boatmen told me stories of
ghouls lying in wait in the mountain fastnesses;
it would be all up with our lives if we dared to
land after sunset; perhaps even we were not safe
on the Nile aboard the dahabieh. I respected
their fears, and agreed to wait till the next day.
But the captain put off at dawn, while I was still
asleep, and I was obliged to postpone the visit.
I have now1 just accomplished it, thanks to
a fresh northerly breeze which forced us to put
1 February, 1906.

in here. It was half-past two in the afternoon,
and porters on the bank were loading boats with
rough stone. As neither ghouls nor afrîtes care
to risk themselves in the sun, no one was afraid
or refused to accompany me. The ouady is
not more than 100 yards wide. It extends
northwards for about 1,500 yards, then divides
into two branches, one running straight to the
south parallel with the river, while the other
slants to the north-east and is lost in the desert.
Twenty years ago there were ancient quarries on
the southern slope which were visible from the
shore: they have now been destroyed. Most of
the Græco-Roman tombs which prolonged the
line of the quarries towards the interior have also
been destroyed; one, however, still stands, on
which the remains of a resurrection scene may
be distinguished, an Anubis under the mask of a
jackal, and a Nephthys on guard over a mummy
lying on its funeral bed. The hill stood out
sharply, and the stone lay scattered about in
broad white slabs, stained with black where the
chambers of the mine had exploded. How many
more summers will it spread itself in the sun?
A few seasons of defective exploitation have
miserably devastated what twenty centuries had
respected, and has spoiled, almost wantonly, one
of the most original landscapes of Egypt.

34

At close quarters the cemetery does not preserve
the picturesque aspect it had at a distance. It had
long been deserted when the Copts reoccupied it
in the middle of the nineteenth century. At first
they came one at a time, at long intervals; then,
fashion aiding, the notables of the villages built on
the western bank of the river held it an honour
to repose there, as if in ground sanctified by the
bones of holy monks. The convoy arrives in
several boats, lands noisily, and as soon as it is
disembarked the procession is formed, the clergy
with the cymbals and big drum which accompany
the cadence of the liturgical prayers, the hand-bier
covered with its purple pall, the family and friends
in ceremonial garments, the women methodically
dishevelled, and ready to howl at the first signal.
The tombs are arranged on the same principle
as those of the Musulmans. For the poor, a mere
hole, or at best a shallow trench walled up with
dry bricks, both covered with a heap of earth or
pebbles, a stone set up at the head and feet. A step
higher in the social scale, the irregular mound becomes
a bank, a rectangular brick mastaba, bare or
hastily covered with whitewash. For families in
easy circumstances there are veritable concessions
in perpetuity. The tomb is placed in the midst
of a brick framework surmounted by a cylindrical
vault, also of brick, the height of which is sometimes

a little over 6 feet. The narrow faces
remind us of the arched stelæ of the Pharaonic
age, and on one of them, most often the west
face, the mason designs in burnt bricks the Greek
cross, the monogram of Christ, a crown, a lozenge.
The rich have enclosures where they are immured
in pomp when their days on earth are ended.
Neither battlements with rounded embrasures nor
domed chapels, as in Musulman cemeteries, are to
be seen. They include tombs for the master, his
wife, his brothers, his children. Everything is
crowded together in disorder, and the low mound
of the poor man is found side by side with the
brand-new mausoleum of the proprietor of a
hundred feddans. The most ancient sepulchres
are crowded together near the river. When there
was no longer room there, they spread quickly
towards the east; now they very nearly touch
the bottom of the valley.
When the monks settled there, probably at the
beginning of the sixth century, they took up their
abode in the pagan tombs on the southern slope,
and they adapted one of the hollowed-out quarries
on the northern slope as a church. It comprised
a part open to the sky, forming an esplanade, and
two or three subterranean chambers supported by
pillars cut out of the rock; these were devoted
to divine worship, and they built a wall round

them strong enough to protect them in case of a
sudden attack. Repeatedly destroyed, the Deîr
has always been restored, and was lately entirely
rebuilt by a rich personage whom local tradition
calls the Emir Tadrous. From without it is a
mass of bricks leaning up against the rock, and
pierced on the south side by five dormer windows
placed high up. The door opens at right angles
at the southern extremity of the west face, a bay
just large enough to admit one man; then come
two steps in the masonry, a heavy wooden swing-door,
a steep slope enclosed by two massive
buildings. The courtyard is bordered by buildings
on three sides, some of which still stand, while
others have been razed to the ground; on the
north side are benches on which visitors or guards
spent the night, then vaulted chambers, of which
one, occupying the corner of the rocky wall and of
the western curtain, contains a bakery and kitchen
stoves, while the others were used for storing forage
and provisions. The use of the small chambers
along the southern side is uncertain; in one of them
are four water-jars, and perhaps another may have
served as a lavatory. In the middle, the ground
has lately been trampled; it is sprinkled with
asses' dung. In one corner is a heap of ashes
round the stones of a rustic fireplace; bread has
been baked there, and some one has watched the

fire. Have the coastguardsmen encamped there
on one of their rounds? or quarrymen who were
prevented returning home by an unfavourable
wind? or some of the faithful from the opposite
shore to celebrate a festival or pray for their dead?
The natives are little sensible of the picturesque
interest of the place, and the beauty of the spot
of itself would not be sufficient either to bring
them or to keep them there. And yet the view
from here, although perhaps not one of the
most beautiful, has an irresistible charm for a
European: at our feet are the tombs, of a funereal
whiteness, the ouady intersected with little
streams, the result of the January rains, then
the violated hypogeums, the hill with its
bruised and peeled surface, a glimpse of the
shining Nile, the coming and going of barges
with sails set, an embankment striped with black
and green, a line of trees, a background of rose-coloured
hills, and spread over all the wonderful
light of Egypt that harmonises the most discordant
tones and makes them pleasing to the eye.
A brick screen bars the entrance to the quarry,
up to about 2 feet 8 inches from the ceiling. It
is adorned half-way up with a lozenge and a cross
in burnt bricks, the red colour standing out against
the dull-grey of the bare earth. The little rough,
low door which shelters itself under the cross is

entirely covered with iron and bristles with big
nails. The key is probably to be found on the
other bank, five or six miles from here, but it is
always possible to make a compromise with
Oriental locks: one of the boatmen pulls to the
right, pushes to the left, gives the lower corner
two or three blows with his fist, invokes the name
of the Prophet, and there we are in the church.
The Coptic architects had not greatly altered the
work of the heathens. They preserved the two
pillars which supported the ceiling, and behind,
on the great axis of the building, they built a
rectangular enclosure pierced on the west by the
ritual doors: it is the hekal, the sanctuary, with
three niches in which the altar is set up and the
priest performs the Mass. It is covered with
the inevitable whitewash, to which time gives
the creamy tones of old ivory, and it, as well as the
pillars, is adorned with red crosses and interlaced
ornaments like those found as headings of chapters
in the elaborate evangelistaries of the tenth and
eleventh centuries. There is space enough between
the hekal and the pillars and then between
the pillars and the façade to resemble the plan of
the ordinary basilica, and to allow us to imagine in
a sort of way the nave and the narthex. With some
crowding a small number of the faithful would
have been able to get in at the moment of the

Communion; the rest of the congregation would
have had to remain in the broad corridor that surrounded
the sanctuary. Behind the altar, benches
had been cut in the rock, and also a small chamber
which seemed to be used as a sacristy. On the
south wall opposite the door a staircase with
uneven steps led to a sort of curtain along the
east wall almost under the ceiling. An irregular
fissure allowed it to communicate on the south
with a long, low, narrow chamber, which obtained
light at the side from three dormer windows
opening on to the ouady. It was a half-formed
gallery that the monks, when they appropriated
the rest, omitted to use. It acted as a sort of
ventilating shaft, and the air it took in kept the
atmosphere of the Holy of Holies pure and fresh.
Although the church was nearly always shut up,
it lacked the feeling of heaviness and suffocation so
disagreeable in most of the crypts of Christian
Egypt.
A common lantern of cut tin and clouded
glass hung between the two pillars; a three-legged
wooden stool was upside down in a corner, near
a fragment of ragged straw matting. There was
neither furniture nor table utensils to tempt
the cupidity of a thief or excite the rage of a
fanatic. When a service was held, a circumstance
that only occurred three or four times a year,

the priest brought the necessary material with
him. The rest of the time the church was deserted,
but its bareness does not give a sense of melancholy.
Daily life must be hard for the unfortunate
men whom the religious vocation has
exiled to this corner of the desert. It is cold
there in winter, when the north wind takes up its
abode in the ouady and sweeps it in gusts; and
in summer the heat is torrid and the nights
bring no relief from the tortures of the day.
The monks, ill-clothed, worse fed, weakened by
the excessive fasting that the rule prescribes,
each isolated in his hypogeum among the relics
and memorials of pagan death, endure the same
torments as did the hermits of the Theban laures.
The mummies whose dwellings they have seized
return to life, and relate the history of their
damnation. Satyrs and monsters arise in front
of them and try to lead them away into the
desert. Unchaste fairies offer themselves to
them in all the glory of their tempting beauty,
and sometimes while they are meditating on
the Scriptures demons, expert in theological
subtleties, suddenly confront them with the
most captious objections. After these infernal
struggles the church is their harbour of refuge.
The evil spirit does not dare to follow them
there, and during the respite he is forced to

grant them, they strengthen their minds for
future assaults by conversing with their spiritual
fathers and brothers or in communion with the
Lord. I am told that demoniacal temptations
are still sometimes experienced in the convents
on the borders of the Red Sea. The time for
such things is over in our case; but the sense
of having once again found the peace that was
the possession of the monks of old still persists,
and so strongly, that even the passing stranger
is affected by it. It steals on us without our
knowledge, penetrates us, and when, as the first
shades of evening draw on, we quit the convent
we carry something of the feeling back with
us to the dahabieh.

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42

IV
THE CROCODILE GROTTO AT MAABDEH

THE caves which the eddies of the river have
bored in the low-lying rocks of Abou-Fedâ
sheltered the last crocodiles of Middle Egypt.
Thirty years ago we might count twenty:
to-day there are none. Have the inhabitants of
the neighbouring villages killed them one by
one, or have the creatures secretly emigrated
southwards in order to join their Nubian
cousins? No one would suspect in what numbers
they had swarmed in this district, if we did
not possess the proof in the thousands and
thousands of mummies the remains of which
fill the hypogeum of Maabdeh.
If we desire to visit it we must disembark
at Chekalkîl. The embankment is so high that
it entirely shuts out any view of the country
beyond, and does not allow us to estimate the
distance that separates the hill from the Nile.
In stepping ashore it would seem to be scarcely
more than one or two hundred yards, but as

soon as we reach the top of the high bank
we see that we are far out in our reckoning.
A broad, deep plain is revealed, varied in aspect
and in vegetation: we see much corn, much
barley, helbeh, flowering beans, the sweet and
delicate scent of which permeates the morning
freshness, chickpeas, lupins, clover, but all
weakly and poor, for in the last two winters1
the rising of the river was insufficient, and the
ground does not yield its usual crops. A part
of the fodder has already been cut for lack of
water for irrigation, or the cattle have been
turned on to it before it should become
burnt up. We meet a vanguard of goats and
kids straggling along, with swaying ears, led
by two little girls. Farther on, about forty
tethered buffaloes and cows are feeding, and
they leave off in order to study us.
The herdsman, an enormous bearded fellow
who spends his leisure in spinning wool, cannot
get over his astonishment at seeing so many
Europeans together. Much surprised at our
sudden appearance, he greets us gravely with a
salam aleikoum, as if we were Musulmans. Two
sleek asses' foals who are gambolling round him
leave him, and after smelling at us for a minute
determine to accompany us to the village, and
1 1902-3.

gallop, braying, kicking, and shaking their comical
ears with all the joy befitting their youth. My
guide assures me that they are own nephews of
my donkey, and in their gambols he discerns a
touching sign of family concord.
Maabdeh has increased greatly in the last
twenty years. It formerly consisted of two or
three groups of wretched hovels separated by
mounds of dirt and evil-smelling pools. The
Maazeh Bedouins prowled about on the outskirts,
stealing the cattle and pillaging the crops;
sometimes, even, if they chanced to meet a
woman or child alone, they carried them off to
their tents and did not restore them. The
supervision that has been exercised over them
since that time has forced them to give up
these evil habits. Those who did not prefer to
withdraw to the desert bought land, and have
become improvised agriculturists: they meet
their former victims as friends, and instead of
plundering them, buy their sheep, or ask their
daughters' hands in marriage. But the memory
of their raids lingers sufficiently for the fellahs
to continue to take precautions against any
return of their savage customs. The new houses
are built of burnt bricks to a height of about
5 feet, so as to prevent sapping, and then
above that base rises a wall of unburnt bricks,

AN UPPER EGYPTIAN PEASANT.
To face p. 44.


without projection or opening, to the point
where the light ladders in common use in the
district reach. The wall would defy the Bedouins'
assaults for two or three days at least, certainly
long enough for the police stationed in the
neighbourhood to come to the rescue. Maabdeh
presents the common type of the villages of
Upper Egypt, narrow winding alleys, rubbish-heaps,
a litter of dung and dry dourah straw,
troops of half-wild dogs who wander listlessly
round in quest of bones, or sleep stretched across
the path, and growl, but without disturbing
themselves, under our donkeys' hoofs. To right
and left through the half-open doors may be
seen the usual interior—a little irregular-shaped
courtyard, with its bench of beaten earth, a few
coarse earthen vessels scattered about in one
corner, the fireplace, the heavy water-jar that the
women have filled at the river that morning, hens
pecking, children crying, and at the back the
recess into which the whole family crowd each
night for sleeping. It is disorder and dirt in all
its hideousness, but it is not want, although the
inundation had been far from satisfactory and
the cholera had raged. The people live in these
hovels because it is an inveterate habit: they
lived so six thousand and more years ago under
the reign of Menes, and what was good enough

for the fathers is good enough for the sons from
generation to generation. The canal which
bounds the village on the east is almost everywhere
empty, and the little water it contains is
concentrated in greenish spots in the hollowest
parts of the bed. The flocks and herds bathe
in it, the children paddle in it, the women wash
the clothes in it, and, if they have no time to go
down to the Nile, draw water from it for drinking
and cooking purposes. The donkeys refuse
to touch it with the tips of their lips, but men
drink it without flinching, to die like flies in the
autumn at a period of epidemic. Beyond lies
the cemetery round its cheîkh with a greyish
cupola, and its two or three family tombs with
low, slightly crenellated walls, its rows of nameless
graves scarcely marked by a fragment of
stone at the head, and then behind the cemetery
the ascent begins.
The base of the hill is set in a sort of
moraine, through which beds of bright limestone
appear more and more frequently as we ascend:
they soon stand right out and form a sort of
vast staircase, the steps of which are joined by
inclined planes of débris and sand. At the
bottom of the ascent the quarrymen have lately
brought to light two or three vaults, rough,
low-ceilinged, narrow, without either inscriptions

or sculpture, furnished with loculi, in which the
mummies formerly lay: violated at the Roman
epoch, a Greek cross drawn in red on the wall
at the back proves that they served for the
retreat of Christian hermits. A little higher up
a bed of limestone of finer quality than the rest
was worked in ancient times, and the silhouette
of the blocks, as well as the marks of the chisels
that cut them out, are everywhere clearly
defined. Higher up still, a mass of rock stands
out, and forms a spur surmounted by two or
three peaks of fantastic, broken, jagged shape,
and so worn away at the base that they
are right out of the perpendicular, and we
expect to see them collapse every moment.
To avoid them the path slants towards the
north, and then ascends in zigzag the long
side of the hill for about five or six hundred
yards before reaching the edge of the plateau.
The slope is steep, the heat, intensified by
the limestone wall by the side of which we
walked, envelops us and slowly bakes us; near
the summit at the last turn a fresh breeze
strikes our faces, and an immense panorama
is suddenly displayed at our feet—the
green and yellow plain, the villages hidden
among the palms, the Nile winding in large
curves, the water whipped into frothy waves

by the wind, the towns on the other bank—Manfalout,
El-Hawatka, Kawali—white and grey
round their minarets; then in the extreme
distance the hill of Siout projects its profile,
delicately tinted with pink and lilac, on to the
horizon. Innumerable sounds rise up to us: the
song of the workman manipulating his chadouf,
the greeting of a couple of passers-by who meet
on the canal quay, the bleating of sheep, the
laughter of a band of women who have come to
draw water, the shrill whistle of a tug desperately
panting with a convoy of sugar-canes. The
atmosphere of Egypt, which causes every object
to stand out in sharp outline, does not allow of
the mingling of sounds any more than it does
of the various parts of the landscape. It gives
each sound its full value, and if it somewhat
tones down the discords, it never brings them
into the harmony that country sounds in Europe
acquire in summer-time.
A short gallop to the right, and in two minutes
the whole of the view opening on to the valley is
again shut out by a screen of rock. The plateau
unrolls itself before us in slow and supple rhythmical
movements which melt insensibly on the east
into the mass of the Arabian hills. Everywhere
the ground sparkles and shines as if it was crystal
or salt: as a matter of fact it is only talc in small

pieces, the waste of a quarry formerly worked by
the Egyptians, and that they thought to be exhausted,
but where modern industry would perhaps
still find large supplies. The path slants across this
carpet of luminous dust, winding over the slope at
its own sweet will without seeming to bring us any
nearer to our goal. But at last, after half an hour,
our guide shows us a cleft, the shape of which is
defined on the rock as a triangle. It is from 9
to 12 feet long, and almost half-closed up by a
block of stone thrown across it on the side of the
base. Ignorant of the real entrance, that is the
way to get into the Crocodile Grotto. Most
tourists just glance at the opening and depart:
only archæologists persist, although even for them
the interest of the visit scarcely compensates for
the fatigue it engenders. We catch on to the
rough places, placing a foot here and a foot there,
for a depth of 12 to 15 feet, and at first encounter
the sickening odour of damp mummy that has
slowly fermented. At the back, towards the left,
under the transverse block there is a smoky vent-hole
into which the guide had already thrown
himself, candle in hand. It is a veritable fox-hole
which widens out and narrows again at every
turn, sometimes scarcely 3 feet high, sometimes
so narrow that stout travellers can only just slip
through with a somewhat severe rubbing. You

have to make your way as best you can: on your
knees, or your side, or your back, or your stomach,
crawling, twisting, sliding to right and left. The
bad smell increases; the air is rarefied and seems
sticky, so impregnated is it with dust of pitch
or bitumen; the heat is insufferable: it takes five
minutes, and they seem interminable, to reach
the first gallery of the hypogeum.
It is neither spacious nor sweet-smelling, but we
can at least stand upright and move without knocking
our heads against the ceiling. It adjoins other
galleries, the windings and entwinings of which
form as tangled a maze as that of the Catacombs
of Rome. The Arabs tell fearsome tales o tourists
who, venturing in alone, were never able to regain
the entrance, and died of thirst or exhaustion.
They believe the grotto to be haunted by ghouls
or afrîtes, for whom the flesh and blood of a
European are an unparalleled feast, and they
firmly believe that the lost travellers were eaten
alive by that cursed brood of God and His Prophet.
It would be interesting to get them to describe the
creatures on the actual scene of their exploits, but
if we ventured to approach the subject our guides
would be capable of running away on the spot and
leaving us to shift for ourselves. Once inside the
labyrinth, the ghouls prowl round us, seeking whom
to devour, and merely to utter their name would

be to incite them to attack us. We proceed then
in silence, examining the place as well as the dim
light of our candles allows. On my first visit,
twenty years ago,1 crocodile mummies abounded,
not only the giant crocodiles that are to be seen in
the necropolises of the Fayoum or of Kom-Ombo,
but young crocodiles who died a few days or a few
hours after their birth. They were buried singly
or in bundles, and then piled up so as entirely to
fill the secondary corridors. Indeed, the gravediggers
scarcely preserved a track in the principal
galleries, in order to make it possible to inspect
the condition of the mummies. Now and again
we came upon a few human mummies, those of
the priests of the god Sovkou and of the faithful
who had specially consecrated themselves to him.
They had to pay dear for the privilege of lying
for ever among the incarnations of their mystic
patron. What gave them all, men or beasts, a
special value, is that they were often covered with
papyri, notarial acts, private letters, receipts, discharges,
circulars, administrative circulars, and
also torn or odd volumes of the Greek classical
writers. Mr. Harris owed to them, sixty years
ago, fragments of Homer, and leaves of a manuscript
containing the lost orations of Hyperides,
the Athenian. Is there not a chance of finding
1 This was written in 1903.

more important works still, those of Sappho or
Alcman? About 1890, Arab excavators, encouraged
by the European scholars, surreptitiously
made their way into the grotto and damaged what
had escaped the injury of centuries. They ripped
up the large mummies and crushed the small ones.
One day, in the midst of their operations, two of
them upset one of the wretched petroleum lamps
they are accustomed to use to light themselves
over the débris. We can imagine with what
swiftness the fire would spread in that heap of
rags and organic matter saturated with natron and
pitch. Legend has it that a long while ago an
Englishman and his dragoman perished in the
flames caused by his carelessness, and the men
accompanying me declare that two Bedouins met
a similar fate. Whether the tale be true or not,
there are lying about everywhere fragments of
linen scorched, or reduced to tinder, carbonised
mummies, calcined bones. The ceiling and the
side walls are covered with a kind of greasy soot
which sometimes falls and shrivels up in the flame
of our candles. The guide assures us that he
knows the whereabouts of the real door, the door
through which the Egyptians took the corpses,
but the débris that has been heaped up against it
forms so thick a covering that it would cost a mint
of money to remove it, more money certainly than

it was worth. He suggests taking us to it, but
the indecision of his manner proves to us that he
does not much like the job. Later, when we shall
have returned to the upper air, he will declare that
some sort of unnameable thing had stirred behind
us in the darkness, doubtless an evil spirit animated
by the worst intentions. For a quarter of an hour
he demonstrated to us that it was far off, very far,
and that our three candles were half consumed.
It was a good reason, and besides, we had seen
enough to be assured that archæology had little to
hope from so devastated a site. We found our
way out then on all-fours. A little light filters
under the rock, there is the opening of the vent-hole,
the cleft, a triangle of blue sky above our
heads, then the full light of day. We are tugged
and pulled on to the platform, winking our eyes
like owls, but, all said and done, delighted with
our expedition to the crocodiles.
It is pleasant to see the sun again and to
breathe freely the wholesome north wind, but it
is unexpected and flattering to receive military
honours on coming out of a mummy-hole. While
we were exploring the grotto the older of the
two omdehs who divide the government of
Maabdeh, learning that the Director of the Service
des Antiquités was visiting the place incognito,
had sent the local armed force with manifold

excuses for the rheumatism which prevented
him from coming himself. It consisted of six
ghafirs in blue shirts, black caps with red bands,
and carrying percussion guns. Salutations, presentation
of arms, and we are forced to make a
dignified descent into the plain, not like simple
travellers free in their movements, but like distinguished
persons hemmed in by the most rigorous
etiquette. The omdeh awaited us at his house to
offer us the traditional coffee, and to refuse his
invitation would wound him. He lives in the
largest of the new houses we had admired in
passing in the morning. The doorway, hidden in
the south-west corner of the outer wall, took us
into a corridor running between two blind walls;
at the end towards the left a bay was cut in it,
through which we reached the court of honour.
The house itself has a verandah in front, the steps up
to it being framed between two bronze candelabra.
It is arranged on the usual plan with a vestibule
lighted by stained-glass windows, a drawing-room
furnished with divans, and behind, a reception-room
furnished in the European fashion. Before returning
to his native village our host had lived for
some years in Cairo, where he filled a small post
in a Government office. He brought back courteous
manners and a flowery language, which contrast
with the rusticity of his surroundings. He

possesses I do not know how many feddans of
good land between Maabdeh and Abnoub, and
although not as profitable as he could wish, he is
not on the whole dissatisfied. While we drink his
coffee, smacking our lips out of politeness, he
informs us that despite the poorness of the inundation
the year has not been altogether a bad one.
His cows and ewes were fruitful, his daughters-in-law
presented him with three fine boys a few
weeks back, and no member of the family has
fallen a victim to cholera. His house is warm in
winter, cool in summer, and now that we have
honoured him with our visit misfortune will not
dare to touch it and prosperity will dwell there
for all time.

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56

V
A CAB DRIVE IN SIOUT

FORMERLY to reach Siout you landed at the hamlet
of El Hamra. There was nothing to distinguish
El Hamra from all the numerous villages hitherto
encountered: the port was merely the dike, more
or less worn down by the coming and going of
the crowd, but bigger craft than almost anywhere
else were moored there, pleasure dahabiehs awaiting
their hirers for the season, two or three
steamers, coal barges, the post boats, and working
alone in its corner was the indefatigable
dredging machine of the Ibrahimieh Canal. The
river had its caprices, sometimes hugging the
banks, sometimes throwing up heaps of sand at
their base, and so separating the banks from the
boatmen. From 1883 to 1885 this improvised
shore was two or three hundred yards wide, but
the inundation of 1885 swept it away at one stroke
and brought back the traffic to the bank. A good
road, shady and winding, led the traveller first to
the post-office, then to the railway station, and

thence to the town. It ended with a bridge over
the winding canal which surrounded Siout, and
those who know the Egypt of those days by means
of photographs will have admired the pretty
picture it offered: its houses and gardens reflected
in the still waters of the canal, the bridge with its
unequal arches, the group of thick sycamores which
shaded the gateway of the Moudirieh, the Moudirieh
itself with its oblong courtyard planted with
trees, the clerks running from office to office, papers
in hand and pen behind the ear, and the motley
crowd which went its way unmindful of the
administrative work. But all that is of the past.
The enlargement of the Ibrahimieh Canal, the
building of the dike, and the displacement of the
mud that has resulted, have all been fatal to the
old port; small boats still use it, but the vessels
of the navigation companies, the coal barges, the
post boats, the dahabiehs—all that made the life
of El Hamra—have been transported to the other
extremity of the roadstead, to the south-east point
almost opposite El Ouastah.1
The first thing we notice in getting alongside
are the cabs prowling about round the landing-places.
1 The above was written in 1899. But since the completion
of the
barrage in 1902 the traffic has gone back towards
the north and is now at nearly the same point as it was
thirty years ago.

They are the little Parisian victorias with
movable hood, leathern apron, and flap-seat at the
back, two lean horses, and a numbered driver;
the price of the drive is 3 francs 75 centimes, if we
are satisfied to keep to the town; 5 francs if we
venture among the hills to visit the tombs.
Donkey-boys still abound, pushing and shouting,
but they no longer assume the haughty insolence
of a former day; they feel that their reign is ending,
and they are humble in the hope of carrying off
a customer despite the competition. But usually
nothing comes of their efforts at civility. A cab
is called, four people crowd into it, holding on as
best they can, and the equipage sets out by the
grace of God. At first you drive by the river
along the towing-path between the edge of a field
of ragged dourah and the sloping embankment.
There is a prospect of a fall of 6 or 9 feet at
every jerk made by the horses, and for ten minutes
the carriage rolls, pitches, jumps over the irrigation
posts and trenches, has a narrow escape of losing a
back wheel, heels over, is about to upset, when by
the grace of the unknown saint who presides over
the safety of cabs in Egypt, it escapes for that
time. After five or six minutes of this preliminary
exercise we turn to the left and proceed towards
the town at a trot through the boatmen's quarter,
a row of houses in process of building, two or three

bacals piled up with preserves, petroleum, and
cotton goods, a Sudanese bar dripping with raki
and adulterated spirits, painted, unveiled women
in loud-coloured garments, an open-air cookshop
where stews of doubtful appearance simmer with a
seasoning of dust. Next comes an empty space, the
haunt of wandering dogs and hens, then a wealthy
suburb with blue, pink, apple-green, or yellow
villas inhabited chiefly by Copts, gardens, cafés,
restaurants, hotels with French, Greek, or Italian
names, and at last the railway. Two goods trains
are manœuvring on a siding by a caravan of camels
loaded with sugar-canes, and the 5.55 train for
Minieh whistles loudly as it departs.
Beyond there are more villas, more restaurants,
more hotels, and of a sudden we come on the
entry to Old Siout, disfigured by European embellishments.
One side of the canal is dry, the
gateway of the Moudirieh has been pulled down
to make way for the traffic, but the courtyard
remains as before, and the town has changed very
little. The sloping street that fits on, as it were,
to the back of the Moudirieh is exactly as I
knew it in 1881, and if the alleys to the left
in the direction of the hill have been widened,
the new buildings are in the usual Arab style and
do not clash with the old ones. The carriage
scarcely lessens its pace when driving through

them, but the crowd, as distrustful as that of
Cairo in regard to the talents of the drivers,
keeps well out of our way. A sudden turn and
we are in the market-place, still crowded with men
and beasts, and then the curved jetty by which the
tombs are approached, the bridge partly built on
the piles of the Mamelouk Bridge, known to the
soldiers of Desaix and the scholars of the Commission;
there on the right beyond the canal the
palm-tree and cupolas of the Musulman cemetery,
and here—but what has happened to the hill? A
sort of grey and white factory is fastened to it
half-way up, the slope is dotted with rubbish, a
big iron pipe, partly hidden by the débris, climbs
it, quarry holes are to be seen almost everywhere,
and lime-kilns smoke at the base on the road to
Dronkah. The Water Company has taken possession
of it and has formed its reservoirs there. The
slaughter-house has been installed below against
the first modern tombs. The ancient tombs have
been saved from the contractors, but not without
difficulty; each has its iron railing, its number, its
door, and a Bedouin, also numbered, keeps the
keys for the use of tourists.
The day draws to a close. The last visitors to
the cemetery wend their way back to the town,
and with them the bands of chained convicts
who are working in the quarries under the surveillance

of a squad of police. The traditional
cannon-shot has just announced the end of the
fast for the day. The streets swarm with people,
and the shopkeepers, who had been slightly drowsy
from hunger during the heavy hours of the afternoon,
become lively again before closing for the
night. The large bazaar has preserved its original
physiognomy, and perhaps corresponds better than
those of Cairo to the idea of an Oriental market,
since it has so little of the European or Levantine
element. Wooden planks, as formerly, roof in the
whole length of the principal avenue and even
some of the by-streets. It used to be a matter of
some difficulty to traverse it on a donkey, and you
had to manage the beast with a certain skill so as
not to upset the flat baskets which encumbered
the path to right and left; now, however, the
drivers rush into it with their fares as if it was a
deserted street. It is true they go at a walking
pace, and the shopkeepers make use of their circumspection
to offer their wares to the Europeans.
One man addresses himself to the ladies and shakes
out before them veils in a sort of black net embroidered
and spangled with gold or copper, silver
or nickel. They cost a mere nothing, a couple
of guineas each, and it is indeed only to be
agreeable to you that the price is made so low;
but do not offer him 20 francs in the hope of

getting rid of him by so extravagant a discount;
he would end by taking you at your word
and would gain more than half the object's
real value. Another offers fly-flaps of ivory or
ebony incrusted with gold or silver and touched
up with vermilion. Yet another draws your attention
to the beauty of the vases he makes, the
pretty vases varnished red and black, most of
which are servile copies of a French or Viennese
model in metal. Still the carriage manages to
push its way along, leaving a space of scarcely
1 foot 8 inches between the wheel and the stalls,
along which the crowd of foot-passengers make
their way with difficulty. Now and again a man
hemmed in in his booth becomes quietly impatient,
and asks them in a low voice to get out of the
way, or a lounger pinned by the axle kicks out
and curses, according to the Arab formula, the
father of the tiresome person who is crushing him.
But such impatience is rare, and the crowd, accommodating
itself as well as it can to such
hindrances, takes an interest in the discussions of
its fellow-citizens with their chance customers.
Think of some idle tourist blocking one of the
business thoroughfares of London or Paris for half
an hour, and then imagine, if you can, the temper
of the tradesmen who inhabit it.


THE NILE, NEAR ASSOUÂN.
To face p. 63.

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63

VI
ON THE NILE

THE Nile goes and comes and winds in immense
curves through the plain, and the current, rebounding
from one side to the other, leaves bare a sandy
shore on the bank from which it recedes and pitilessly
eats its way into the bank on which it
encroaches. The bank thus continually eaten
away is perpetually crumbling under the strain;
whole fields disappear with their crops, and the
villages themselves gradually descend to the river.
The palm-trees defend them at first, and keep the
earth back by their bearded roots; then they capsize
and fall on the slope. They may be seen hanging
their heads in the water for some time, the clod of
earth in the air, until the eddies detach them and
they drift away. The fellahs, who have done
nothing to save the trees, are as little careful
to protect their houses. They may attempt to
shore them up with a few stones after the earth
has already fallen away under them. Then as
the work of destruction progresses they flee from

room to room as long as any space remains which
can shelter them and their families. When at
last they are forced to leave, their recent experience
does not teach them wisdom, and they choose
a new encampment almost as exposed as the former
one. The land is granted them by the community,
and building materials cost little or nothing.
Interwoven twigs or dried bricks covered with
mud for the walls, veins of the palm-leaf or stems
of dourah coated with mud for the roof,
one or two low rooms, an airless courtyard inhabited
by poultry and cattle, a fireplace of flat
stones, straw mats, one of two wooden chests,
water-jars, some coarse pottery, are all they need.
A family of fellahs can move house once or twice
a year at a cost of little more than ten days' work,
and in thus dispossessing them every season the
Nile causes them little material damage. Increase
of wealth, however, is beginning to awaken them
from their hereditary apathy, and as soon as they
have earned enough money to obtain a suitable
house, like those they would have in the towns,
they try to combat the fantasies of the river, and
occasionally succeed in repressing them for a brief
space, but without entirely disarming them. So
far as we observed, the river ended by baffling
their attempts, and in spite of the embanking
the spot chosen succumbs sooner or later.

65

Abnoub is a large town of the Arabian plain in
the bend of one of the “seven turns” made by the
Nile between Gebel-Abou-Fedâ and Siout. It
formerly consisted of a number of cabins grouped
round two or three white ill-kept houses, and like
many villages of the Saîd concealed its wealth
under a dilapidated and poor exterior. Five or six
years ago a few Copts and Europeans built less
rudimentary habitations. The natives, instigated
by their example, demolished their cabins, and
replaced them by dwellings more in keeping with
their fortunes. The Abnoub of to-day may be
recognised in the distance, towards the north, by a
dozen villas built along the bank, the aspect and
colour of which recall the Pharaonic villas represented
in the paintings of the Theban tombs;
we might say that one of them had been copied
straight on to a celebrated fresco in the tomb
of Anna, with its cubical shape, flat roof, façade
pierced by a single narrow door on the ground
floor and two small windows on the first floor,
its long wall, broken by three doors painted red,
the top bristling with a row of branches, and its
garden of palms, doums, and acacias. Beyond is
a sort of irregular square shaded by nabecas and
sycamores, then the bulk of the buildings, some
just begun, others nearly finished, and dominating
all three Turkish pavilions, the first dark red, the

second grey, the third in two tones of blue, the
walls framed in red moucharabiehs, and a glass
roof to light the drawing-room. At their foot,
cone-shaped heaps of débris are spread over the
bank at the spot where the Nile encroaches. The
water has not only undermined the ordinary
buildings in clay or dried bricks: it has attacked
edifices of burnt bricks and ashlar, the deep
foundations of which seemed to defy its power,
and has dismantled the greater part of them.
Some portions of the wall have subsided whole,
and only partly emerge from the water, or
partly hang over it. A fragment of a solitary
alley may be recognised in passing through the
bay of a door, which is all that remains of the
building to which it belonged. A disembowelled
hotel shows its inner court bordered by two semicircular
rows of arcades. Chickens peck about the
ruins, long, lean pigs explore them with their
snouts in quest of problematical food; the children
make a playground of them, and the neighbouring
inhabitants meet there to look at the passing boat,
or to discuss the quality of the foreigners aboard it.
And everywhere, on the right as on the left,
from Siout to Keneh, there is scarcely a town or
a riverside hamlet that has not suffered more or
less from the rapacity of the stream. It has
swallowed up the portico of the temple of

Antæus, at Gaou-el-Kebir, half of the Mosque
of Tiles at Girgeh, farms, sakiehs, fire-engines,
factories and their surroundings. It has undermined
the steep Tell of Heou, under which the
ruins of Diospolis Parva have slept for centuries,
and if precautions had not been taken would have
utterly destroyed them. About 1884 it was at
least a hundred yards off, and we might have
sworn that it would never touch them, but the
fellahs helped to prepare the catastrophe. They
exploited the heaps of nitreous dust, the sebakh
with which they manure their fields, and thus
lowered the level of the land in every sense. The
water rushes in through the breaches and the
trenches they cut, and so, wearing away the mass,
carries off large slices from year to year. A
mosque erected under one of the last Mamelouk
Sultans stands almost intact, near scattered blocks
of stone which mark the site of a Ptolemaic
temple. One fine day the portion bathed by the
river subsided; the minaret stands firm and
straight, having lost nothing except its white
coating, but the north wall has collapsed, the
courtyard gapes open, and the condition of the
arches which adorn the back and sides proclaims
a speedy catastrophe. Nevertheless the fellahs
continue their evil practices, and even while
lamenting the misfortune that has attacked their

most venerated sanctuary, hasten, by their imprudence,
the moment of its complete destruction.
They supply the whole province with sebakh from
it; when passing Heou you invariably see a dozen
barges loaded or in process of loading.
Is there less life on the Nile than formerly?1
In Middle Egypt, between Cairo and Siout, the
sugar refineries keep up a considerable stream of
navigation. At intervals we meet the long
strings of boats which lend the Nile so
picturesque an aspect, boats with two or three
masts sailing proudly on their way with their
lateen sails; smaller boats that swaggeringly
carry their one sail horizontally across the mast;
barges with grain or forage, barges with cut straw
which look from the distance like floating millstones,
barges with reddish jars or porous vases,
the zîr and the goulleh which will filter and
keep fresh the water of the inhabitants of Cairo.
Tugs go up and down in the vicinity of the
factories with their interminable chain of laden
or empty barges, and at least in the sugar-cane
season there is a perpetual noise of steam whistles
and paddle-wheels.
South of Siout the noise subsides. The post boats
break the silence for about an hour at fixed times,
and in winter so do Cook's steamers or those of
1 This was written in 1899.

rival companies. But once they have gone round
the next bend solitude reigns again for whole
days, scarcely disturbed by the passage of a few
isolated boats or by the evolutions of local
haulers and fishermen. Much merchandise that
was formerly transported by water is now sent to
Cairo by train, and the greater number of tourists
prefer to take the railway to Louxor and the
Cataracts. They do not abound; the plague at
Alexandria and the war have frightened off a good
many, and those who decided to go, did so with
a certain amount of anxiety on account of the
rapid fall of the river. But to tell the truth,
when they first saw the breadth and strength of
its current, they could not help thinking that
people were making fun of them in telling them
that the rise of the Nile was slight this year.
The water spreads before their eyes from 800 to
1,200 yards in width, more like a lake than a
river. How is it possible to imagine that it is
not sufficient to allow of navigation?
The experience of a day or two soon shows
them the truth of things. Long ridges of sand
stretch everywhere across the immense bed, some
still hidden, but betraying their existence by a
slight trembling on the surface of the water;
others emerge only to the extent of a few inches,
others are already several feet in height, and form

an archipelago of little islands, curiously indented,
where all the water-fowl of the Nile seem to have
congregated. Cormorants, plovers, blue and ash-coloured
herons, cranes, pelicans, storks, ducks of
variegated plumage, are at work fishing, or arrange
themselves in long rows on the sandy shore meditating,
and digesting their food. If some tiresome
creature disturbs them, they fly off at one sweep
by the order of their leader, to take up their
position somewhere else and continue their meditations.
The stream winds capriciously between
the visible and invisible sandbanks, in places so
narrow and following such sudden turns that a
medium-sized boat can only manœuvre with
precaution, and so shallow that to get through it
the vessel should not draw more than about 3 feet
of water. The pilot is in front, his eye ready to
seize the least sign—a change of colour, a rippling,
a wrinkle imperceptible to all but him—and, his
long staff, the medreh, in his hand, he goes on
taking soundings every moment. He transmits
his orders to the steersman by word and gesture,
and it is only the complete accord of the two men
that prevents accidents in the most dangerous
places. The first time of running aground seldom
annoys the tourist; indeed, he nearly always finds
the novelty of the situation and the confusion
attendant on the extrication amusing. At the

first shock the crew seize the medrehs and
plant the iron points firmly in the gravel,
and with the other end against their shoulders,
put forth all their strength. As no one in
Egypt works in silence, and the boatmen less
than others, invocations burst forth to God,
to the Prophet, to local and general saints,
“Allah! Houa! la Mohammad! la Ahmad!
la Embahi! la Abbasi!” and, interspersed with
the everlasting “Hele, hele” keep time to their
movements. If the effort comes to nothing, the
felucca stands off, the anchor is dropped, they pull
upon it, and in so pulling drag big steamers over
the gravel or mud for a hundred yards or more.
When the operation only lasts an hour or two
interest does not flag, and the tourist sets out
again, delighted to have taken part in one of the
accidents of life on the Nile. But sometimes,
if recourse is not had to the strongest measures,
a boat may be aground for six hours, or ten or
twelve or twenty-four hours, or even for whole
months, until the inundation of the river. The
captain lands and goes to the nearest village to
ask the notables, the omdeh or the cheîkh-elbeled,
to supply him with reinforcements. It is a
compulsory service which is occasionally paid for,
but more often taken gratuitously. All the
fellahs available throw themselves into the river,

pulling at the rope, stiffening their arms, bending
double, and raise the boat, move it, lead it into
deep water. You soon grow tired of running
aground, and when the accident occurs the Arab
vocabulary does not contain enough bad language
in which to curse the pilot's and helmsman's lack of
skill, and then, as there are no more oaths available,
you grow tired of your own wrath and determine
philosophically to get what profit you can from
the accident. It is not so bad after all if it
happens at a fine spot, and I have only to be
thankful for the accident that grounded me several
times at the foot of Gebel-Abou-Fedâ. If, on
the other hand, the only consolation is the view
of a sandy shore and a horizon bounded by dikes
enlivened with telegraph poles, it is a good
moment for dealing with arrears of correspondence
and urgent business, the settlement of
which had been deferred through the attractiveness
of the river banks.
But what is merely an annoyance for the traveller
threatens to become a calamity for the
native. The Nile is as low this year1 at the end
of December as in ordinary years at the end of
April, and the fall, far from lessening as we
might hope, goes regularly on, or even at moments
increases; a few weeks more and the river will
1 This was written in 1899.

be fordable in more than one place. The news
from the interior is very bad. There has been
less snow and rain in Abyssinia and the region
of the Equator, and the reservoirs that feed the
river were not sufficiently filled last year. The
Blue Nile is at the end of its resources, the White
Nile is falling more and more, and the vast basin
of the Victoria Nyanza is 3 feet below its
customary level. Two-thirds of the Saîd have
not been irrigated, and will produce nothing before
the return of the inundation. Near Akhmîm the
French engine has procured the watering of the
fields situated round the town, but in spite of the
incessant action of the chadouf the rest of the
district is fallow. What ought to be immense
tracts of young corn or beans in flower are only
dry mounds. Between Bellianeh and Abydos the
plain, which usually resembles that of Normandy in
its fertility and its rich crops, is now languishing
and promises only a meagre harvest in those places
where it is not wholly barren. Beyond Bellianeh
the banks to right and left are covered with vegetation,
but as soon as they are left behind it ceases,
and as far as the beginning of the desert only
the bare ground, dusty in the sun, is to be seen.
Persons in high places grow anxious, and actively
seek means of obviating the consequences of the
drought. Engineers are busy storing up water,

financiers are trying to reduce taxation for
the worst sufferers, without compromising the
Budget, and the exemption from taxation of
land that has had to remain uncultivated is
under discussion. The fellahs alone, although
most concerned, do not seem to trouble much
about the future. When questioned, they agree
that the year is bad, that poverty threatens,
that perhaps they will not know where to get
bread till the harvest of next year, but the
possibility of a reduction of the taxes overwhelms
them with joy, and outweighs the certainty of
future trouble. Those who, by selling antiquities
or hiring out donkeys, are comfortably off, take
no care to save their profits for a bad season, but
spend them day by day according to their fancy
and leave the care of getting them out of the mess
when the crisis comes to the Government. If the
Government fails, then God will provide.

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75

VII
KENEH AND ITS MUNICIPALITY

IT would seem as if all the animals of an Egyptian
farm had assembled on the shore by the side of
the dahabieh. A whining camel is exchanging
surly reflections with a disconsolate donkey, two
buffaloes bellow in two different keys, dogs brawl,
barking loudly, turkeys cluck, a half-dozen cocks
challenge one another loudly and shrilly, and now
and again an Arab flute, snuffling and shrill,
accompanies the cadence of a lamentable melopoeia.
The noise increases, and at length becomes so bad
that I can stand it no longer, and go up on deck
to send the menagerie to finish its serenade elsewhere.
But neither camel, nor ass, nor dog is to
be seen, only on the shore a sort of turbaned
juggler, who, puffing out his cheeks and waddling
along, is making the uproar all by himself,
imitating the cries of animals in the hope of
bakhshîsch. He is respected for twenty leagues
round, and pointed out to tourists as one of
the wonders of Keneh.

76

Twenty years ago Keneh was famous for its
manufacture of porous goullehs for keeping the
water fresh, and for its colony of somewhat elderly
almehs, the last of a company of them exiled by
Abbas Pacha in 1853. Keneh was then separated
from the river by a barren plain bounded on the
west by a canal that was dry in winter. Its
appearance was most commonplace, with its public
buildings in front, moudirieh, barracks, powder-magazine,
the houses of the Coptic consuls with
the arms of France and Germany, groups of clay
hovels separated by muddy, stagnant alleys, an ill-provided
bazaar, all the poverty and dirt of Upper
Egypt. At the present time Keneh continues to
manufacture goullehs, but the last almehs died
a dozen years ago, full of days and rich enough to
have deserved universal esteem. It possesses
instead a new institution, of which it seems to
be very proud, a municipal commission, almost a
municipality, recruited among the most notable inhabitants.
The town is connected with the Nile by
an avenue of fine lebakhs. The municipality planted
them and tends them. In the middle of the roadway
a large iron roller drawn by an ox crushes the
pebbles and so renders the road smooth. The municipality
have brought it from Cairo. On one side
squads of workmen dig a trench and lay pipes in it.
The municipality have decided to bring water from

the Nile and are making the conduits. The road
winds through a well-cultivated country where
patches of green corn alternate with squares of
beans or lupins and with strips of many-coloured
poppies. Keneh makes large quantities of
Theban extract, and for several centuries has been
the principal opium market in Egypt. A dam
furnished with sluice-gates bars and regulates the
canal, always by virtue of the municipality, and the
bank is no longer bordered with large buildings.
It has been invaded by a mass of new houses,
which hides them and shuts out for them the view
of the plain. At the end of the dike the municipality
have laid out a public garden, two or three
gravelled walks and beds of flowers, not over full,
but which brighten the entrance. We turn to
the right and at once recognise the beneficent
action of the municipality. The ground is no
longer, as before, a bed of dust, soft, uneven, ill-smelling,
soiled with all kinds of unnameable
rubbish and dirt. It is firm under the feet, clean
and freshly watered, but not too wet, so that the
donkeys may not slip. A busy crowd circulates,
carts loaded with cases, or barrows pass and meet
in good order, itinerant tradesmen cry their goods
under the vigilant eye of the police, and now and
again a numbered cab drives discreetly along.
Keneh is decidedly a civilised town and a large town.

78

The bazaar looks well under its worm-eaten
wooden roof; although not as good as that of
Siout, its variety is pleasing to the eye. The
shops are well provided and attract many
customers, but you must not expect Oriental
colour. With the exception of the babouches,
everything comes from Europe and Cairo, where
stuffs, pottery, glassware, furniture, preserved
comestibles, are all made after European models.
One of the principal okelles used to be reserved
for merchants from Hedjaz, who brought barbaric
camel-hair carpets, but of a quite good design;
the largest were worth from two to three guineas,
and with some chicanery were sold in Paris as
antique carpets. The okelle is there, but it is
changed into a café, and merchants do not stop
at Keneh any more; they take their carpets to
Suez, to Port Saîd, or to Cairo, whence the brokers
send them to Europe. The vegetable and poultry
market is properly an extension of the bazaar, and
there astonishing progress is to be seen. Twenty
years ago only indigenous vegetables were sold,
pumpkins, cucumbers, bamiahs, meloukhiahs, lupins,
beans; now there are nearly all the European
vegetables, carrots, turnips, cauliflowers, cabbages,
beetroots, peas, beans, red and yellow potatoes,
without mentioning salads such as lettuce and
chicory. To tell the truth, they are not as good

as ours, and for this reason. The good people of
the Saîd especially value size and solidity in what
they eat; they like, as French peasants say, something
that fills the stomach. Our new potatoes
and young peas and beans, our small carrots and
turnips would seem very poor food to them, since
it does not after eating sufficiently stifle the empty
feeling; they like woody turnips and carrots, hard
peas as big as balls, overgrown cabbages and
cauliflowers run to seed; they prefer the
exaggeration of our vegetables to our vegetables
themselves, but the exaggeration as seen on a
vegetable stall or in baskets as the visitor rides
through the town on his donkey is very pleasing
to the eye. Doubtless, local colour loses through
this invasion of a new order, but even in Egypt
we cannot feed on local colour for long, and those
tourists who are most hostile to the changes that
spoil the physiognomy of the country would
grumble at the hotelkeepers of Louxor if they
gave them the former native vegetables instead of
French early ones.
Behind the poultry market the high street winds
towards the railway station with all the sights and
sounds of a populous suburban street in a French
provincial town. Sometimes the shops cease and
yield place to the bare façade of a middle-class
house or a cheîkh's tomb. The windows of the

tomb are barred, but have neither glass panes nor
shutters, and through the opening the interior is
visible. The coffin rests on trestles or on a
low platform and is concealed by an ample
mortuary cloth, the pieces of which are arranged
according to a curious pattern. From a distance
they remind us of the geometrical patterns that
decorate the doors of mosques, and the colours
are combined in a harsh and careless manner, light
chestnut with dazzling yellows and greens; the
seams are hidden under a braid of tarnished tinsel,
which helps somewhat to tone down the discords.
The turban is laid on the cloth at the level of the
head, rags and various objects are hung above the
coffin, offerings of sick persons who have been
cured, or of the faithful saved by the intervention
of the saint. A man crouching at the head recites
a chapter of the Koran in a low voice, distracted
neither by the noises of the street nor the gaze of
the curious.
Near the railway station, on the right of the
roadway against the wall, a sarcophagus of the
Græco-Roman epoch may be seen, very much
damaged and three parts buried in the ground.
Tradition has it that this was the place of
embarkation used by Sidi Abderrahîm el Kenaouî,
one of the greatest saints of the district, when he
crossed the Nile in going from his farms at

Denderah to his house at Keneh. He is buried
not far from there on the other side of the railway
line, at the entrance of the cemetery itself, and
three tall lebakhs distinguish his tomb, the oldest
certainly of all the trees of the kind I have seen in
Egypt, as the size of the trunks and the thickness
of the branches testify. The last of them is hollow,
and its twisted roots form a sort of niche or
rather corridor at the level of the ground which
divides it into parts. A beggar-woman has installed
her kitchen there, and while we passed was
occupied in blowing up her fire with great energy.
The flame rose high up and licked the bark. It
is evident that some day it will catch the dry
trunk, and there will be a fine blaze which will
probably extend to the neighbouring trees. A few
steps from there a fourth lebakh, still young,
shades a fountain in beaten clay that the mortmain
of the saint fills each day with the water of the
Nile for the use of passers-by. It was in its shade
that Sidi Abderrahîm crouched when he came to
the cemetery to pray. A wooden dahabieh is
suspended from the principal branches instead of
the stone sarcophagus, which would have been too
heavy, and near it the usual rags testify to an incredible
number of prayers granted or cures accomplished.
The tomb itself is quite close, a new or a
restored chapel, adorned outside with very primitive

drawings, into which a most amiable cheîkh
invites us to enter. It has nothing striking to
show; as in any ordinary mosque, you pass through
the whitewashed halls of ablution and prayer
and then a small courtyard before reaching the
vaulted chapel in which the coffin rests, covered
with a variegated cloth, renewed every year. A
ragged beggar sleeps in a corner; on the threshold
an effendi in a light-coloured jacket and a high
tarbouche murmurs a prayer with great fervour.

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83

VIII
DENDERAH

THE ordinary way of reaching Denderah is so
devious that, if pressed for time, it is better to
avoid it. So we go down among the sugar-canes
to find a short cut, and proceed in Indian file
along the irrigation trenches as best we can. The
donkey-boys have their work cut out for them
in preventing their beasts from slipping in the
mud or stumbling over the fallen canes. The
harvest began a fortnight ago, to the benefit of
the sugar refineries of Nag - Hammadi. Vast
spaces are already cleared. In spite of the
approaching darkness two or three gangs of
labourers were still at work cutting down the
canes and tying them on to the growling camels.
But the day's task is over almost everywhere,
and the reapers are wending homewards chattering
as they go. As we meet them, they suspend
their conversation and assail us with the usual
request for bakhshîsch, but in so good-humoured
a tone that it is almost a friendly greeting.

We have already left them far behind when we
still hear the women's laugh and the shrill tones
of the children. The ground soon rises, and the
sebakh diggers have dug into it so terribly, that
it is necessary to be very careful not to fall
into some hole. Rows of ruined walls show the
positions of the ancient streets and mark on the
ground the grouping of the buildings: here the
ruins of a vaulted house, there a half-overturned
basilica, its pillars of grey stone, its architraves
broken, its mortar in black basalt, the whole
submerged in incredible masses of broken glass
and reddish potsherds. On the top of the
eminence is a thick, heavy gate, the sides cut
about and covered with mediocre hieroglyphics
in praise of the Emperor Domitian and of the
Antonines. We enter, and suddenly at the end
of a kind of dusty avenue see a dozen yards above
us in the air an army of large, calm, smiling faces
sheltered by a stiff, hard cornice. It is as if the
temple was starting from the ground to go to
meet the visitor.
Mariette and his successors tried to disengage
it completely, but they only succeeded in emptying
the interior, and the exterior remained buried half-way
up. The descent was made by a modern
staircase, instead of entering on the flat through
the ancient gateway. The banisters and the steps

were worn away; it seemed as if we were going
down into a cellar. But for some years now the
rubbish which disgraced the façade has been
cleared away, and entrance is gained just under
the portico. Six rows of enormous columns, rising
about fifteen yards above the ground, support a
roof of gigantic flat stones. Slender figures, stiff
and formal, turn in rows round the shaft with
sacerdotal gestures. Four women's faces with
cow's ears, with a sort of rectangular case like
the music-box of certain timbrels for headdress,
formed a capital of elegant strangeness. The
timbrel was Hathor's favourite instrument, the
emblem into which she preferred to put a little
of herself, so that the architect conceived the
columns as so many huge timbrels out of reverence
for her. The light flows between the columns,
and striking the surfaces unequally, brings out
some of the pictures that adorn them, while others
are scarcely seen in the half-light. From the
ground-line to the rise of the roof there is not
an inch of stone on the panels that connect the
columns, on the walls at the back, on the door-posts
or the lintels, on the cornices, on the architraves,
that does not contain a carved or painted
figure or inscription. They represent the ordinary
ceremonials of the religious services, and principally
those observed at the building or dedication of

temples. The king strides over the site he has
chosen in order to settle the boundaries; he marks
the line of the walls with a cord, he hoes out the
foundations, he spreads the sand on which the
first course of stones or bricks is to be laid, he
fashions the brick for the outer enclosure. The
execution sometimes shows Greek influence, but
the subjects are those usual in the earlier periods.
Thoutmôsis III. or Ramses II., if they returned
to earth, would recognise at the first glance the
ritual they celebrated in their lifetime. It would
be as well, however, that after having examined
the whole they should not desire to discover the
names of the kings who founded the temple, for
the reading of the cartouches would afford them
unwelcome surprises. The sovereigns who attitudinise
so proudly before the native gods, with
their short petticoats and varied headdresses, their
lions' or jackals' tails, their censers, are not
Egyptians, but Emperors of Rome—Tiberius,
Caligula, Claudius, Nero—whom the sculptor has
dressed as Egyptians. The priest of Hathor, on
whom the misfortunes of the times had inflicted
these Romans for masters, could not resign himself
to believe that they were entirely alien to his
race; he felt that they were exiled compatriots
whom the gods had caused to be born in
barbarous lands far from the banks of the Nile.

DENDERAH. RELIEF ON THE OUTSIDE WALL.
To face p. 86.


Tiberius, Caligula, Nero were themselves deceived
by appearances and proclaimed themselves
Romans, and they were Romans for those of
their subjects who were condemned to live outside
Egypt. In Egypt only was it guessed that
they were of the flesh of Râ, the authentic
descendants of the national dynasties. They were
dressed in the ancient fashion of the country, the
language and the ideas of a bygone day were put
into their mouths, and when duly disguised as
Pharaohs little was wanting for them to imagine
that, so equipped, they reigned over the immensity
of the universe.
The portico was always accessible to all. The
townspeople offered their sacrifices and their
prayers there; their devotions ended, they withdrew,
and the greater number of them never
penetrated beyond: they only frequented the
forecourt of the sacred house. Free access to the
interior was the privilege of those alone whom
wealth, rank, birth, and education lifted above
the common herd. According to the Egyptian
religion, a man could not pass directly from the
clouded brightness of this world to the pure
splendour of the gods; before actually confronting
such radiance men's eyes must be weaned from
terrestrial light. The halls immediately beyond
the portico, then, were plunged in perpetual twilight,

and the darkness increased as the dwelling
of the divinity was approached, and in the
Holy of Holies it was almost entirely dark. The
twilight which begins within the portico prevails
in the central nave as far as the threshold of
the sanctuary. But the aisles are enveloped in
darkness, the decorations of the walls look vague
and blurred as they did in the old days when the
religion of Hathor flourished in its vigour. The
Chapel of the New Year alone welcomes us bright
and luminous, a miniature temple placed in the
very centre of the large temple. We find a narrow
courtyard enclosed by high walls, between which
a scrap of sky shines, a flight of jagged steps, a
pierced façade, the gate of which is framed by
two columns with Hathor's head, a single chamber
where about the dog-days the rising of Sirius
and the beginning of the year was celebrated,
the whole making a very strange effect, and worth
examining at leisure if we had the time. But
our guide informs us that it grows late, and that
we must hasten if we would terminate our visit
before night closes in. What he does not dare
to confess, and what I have known for a long
time, is that the chapel is haunted and that
he is afraid. Hathor lives there, and continues
to watch over the treasure that the Pharaohs
entrusted to her. She only comes out at rare

intervals, at full moon, to feed among the corn
in the shape of a white cow. A certain man
of Denderah, who met her some twenty-five years
ago, cleverly conjectured that while she was
foraging about, the hiding-place would be open
and the treasure accessible. He hastened to the
chapel, saw an open vent-hole in a corner, crept
through it, and filled a sack he had with him
with gold. He escaped from the beast, who
returned furious, and as soon as he reached his
home put his plunder into an old iron saucepan
in which he kept his savings. He might have
known that bewitched coin does not stay long
in hands which have unrighteously seized it. The
first time he went to take some of it, the saucepan
disappeared through the earth, thus carrying off
his savings as well as the property of the
goddess. There would have been nothing to
alarm us in a tête-à-tête with Hathor, but our
guide was so terrified that, out of pity for him,
we did not insist, and ascended to the roof of
the temple.
It is arranged in three stories which retire one
behind the other from the end of the sanctuary
to the top of the pronaos. The first and the
lowest is a kind of cloister, the sides surrounded
by the high parapet which crowns the outer
walls. Nothing that went on in it could be seen

from outside. The priest and the ladies of the
town assembled there every year to celebrate the
passion and resurrection of Osiris. They established
themselves in the two chapels that terminated
it on the north, and represented the
tomb of the god. There they made an image of
wood and stone and precious metals, with which
they imitated the rites of mummification and the
laying of the mummy in the coffin. For two
days they watched and wept over this pretended
corpse, while the priests and women charged
with representing the principal personages of the
legend—Isis and Nephthys, Anubis and Horus—
performed the operations which were to bring
him to life. At length the magic of the words
and gestures worked: Osiris moved on his
funeral couch, lifted his head, and sat up. The
songs of lamentation changed into songs of joy,
which, heard by the crowd gathered outside,
announced the consummation of the sacred
mystery. A loud shout of joy sounded across
the plain, carrying the good news afar. To-day
the mason wasps have taken possession of the
chapels in which the Osirian drama was played,
and their clay nests cover the inscriptions. Just
at present the winter keeps them torpid, but
in spring and summer raging swarms of them
have to be confronted in climbing from terrace

to terrace up to the platform of the pronaos.
The old staircase is destroyed, and the sort of
iron ladder that replaces it is disquietingly fragile,
but the view is one of the most extensive in
Egypt. In the distance the grand yet simple lines
of the hills extend in somewhat monotonous
fashion. The Nile, its shining surface dotted with
white sails, flows among the trees. The country
stretches green and pleasant, with tufts of acacias
and palms scattered about it. Here and there a
village on a hill stands out grey amid the greenness.
The evening mists begin to be visible above
the houses. The wind brings in gusts the scent of
flowering beans, and so penetrating a sweetness
breathes from everything that we can do nothing
but look vaguely at what is before us in a sort of
voluptuous languor. The sun has just gone
down; at the edge of the horizon a ripple of
flame and liquid gold marks its course and lends
colour to the growing twilight. The tones change
and follow each other unceasingly, become lighter,
melt into each other, graduate from flaming red
to purple amethyst, golden yellow, soft pink,
faded green, pale blue. For three-quarters of an
hour there is a play of colour of inexhaustible
strength and richness; then as darkness gains on
the world the tints grow confused and melt
away, the reflections vanish, the air thickens, the

sky becomes a uniform dark blue. We must
break the charm and go down.
The temple is undoubtedly beautiful in the
daytime when the sun shines on it and brings out
all the details. But to see it as it used to be, and
to recapture something of the emotions it roused
in the souls of the faithful, it should be visited at
night. The guards have lighted their lantern, but
its feeble glimmer by contrast rather emphasises
than dissipates the darkness in which we move.
It seems as if the air has hardened and refuses
to take the light. The building seems to have
disappeared. Here and there a door-post, the
shaft or the base of a column, a panel of a wall
with its decoration of figures only half visible,
rises and floats before our eyes for a moment,
then suddenly fades away and is reabsorbed in
the darkness. A flight of bats envelops us in a
circle of short, rapid cries, the pattering of swift
claws resounds at our approach, the echoes awake
with a hollow noise which does not seem to
coincide with our footsteps. A kind of vague
presence seems to hover in the gloom, and to
pursue us from chamber to chamber. Should we
be really greatly astonished if at the turn of a
corridor we met a priest come back to his post
after centuries of absence, or if the sound of
distant timbrels which announced the theophanies

of the goddess began to vibrate in the depths of
the sanctuary? In the open air and under the
starry vault of heaven the feeling of religious
awe remains with us. Silently and almost fearfully
we take the road to the river. When, at
the end of the avenue, we turned round for
a last look, the grand heads of Hathor seemed
to become alive, and reply with kindliness to our
farewell greeting. A moonbeam lit a spark of
life in their eyes, and accentuated on their lips
the melancholy smile that gives the Egyptian
statues a mysterious attraction.

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94

IX
THE ARRIVAL AT THEBES

AS I rushed on to the platform with the unhappy
expression of a man who has just missed his train,
the station-master with a reassuring gesture showed
me the inscription chalked on the traditional
blackboard: I might have spared myself the loss
of breath, for the Cairo express is fifty-three
minutes late. I could have imagined myself in
Europe, and the general aspect of the place aided
the impression; and had it not been for the palm-trees
in the distance and the employees' tarbouches,
I might have been in a railway station
in Provence or the Bordelais. Everything was
there: the neat verandah, the little garden, the
hens pecking on the lines, the puzzled dog who
seemed to be asking in which direction he was
presently to depart. A pile of luggage was
waiting at the end of the platform, rows of
carriages were at rest on the sidings, an engine
with steam up was puffing impatiently in its
corner, while the men were at work making up

the train. It is now only fourteen hours from
Cairo to Louxor, and the nine Pharaohs who dwell
there in the tomb of Amenôthes II. could get from
the royal sepulchre to the comfortable glass cases
prepared for them in the Museum in one day. After
a night of shaking, cold and dust, you are assailed
on your arrival by a crowd of importunate hotel
touts and dragomans, each shouting the name of
his hotel—Hôtel de Louxor, Hôtel de Karnak,
Hôtel Tewfikieh; the omnibuses are at the door,
and about ten cabs. The traveller manages as
best he can, and a drive of five or six minutes
through narrow streets deposits him all confused
at the hotel of his choice; no sight of the
monuments permits him to imagine that he is
in the capital of Ramses, and not in some
village of modern Egypt.
But it is in approaching Thebes by the Nile
that the imperial beauty of the site on which it
has been enthroned for centuries is best realised.
Several hours before it is reached, while passing
by El Khizâm and Gamoleh, a large headland
of precipitous cliffs rises on the horizon, dominated
on the right by a pyramidal summit; while
lower down, towards the left, three pointed peaks
rise bent back at the top, like trees bowed by
the wind. These testify to the Theban plain,
the boundaries between which it stretches, and

which arrest its expansion. At the fatal periods
of history when the hordes of invaders from the
banks of the Tigris or the tablelands of Ethiopia
saw those landmarks, they knew that the end
of their fatigues was at hand, and prepared for
a final onset to gain the long coveted prey.
The three peaks soon vanish, for the channel
faithfully follows the windings of the right bank,
and the high embankment cut out of the earth
as if by a knife, wooded with acacias, tamarisks,
nabecas, date-palms, almost shuts out the view on
that side, but the landscape of the left bank can
be clearly seen, and changes every moment.
The cliff is smoother at the foot and joined by
ridges between which are gorges, the last of
which, standing out very dark against the yellow
background, marks the entrance to the ravines
that lead to the Valley of the Kings. At the
turn of the first bend a second row of heights
is revealed, which fall back ladder-wise to the
extreme south, and are lost near Erment among
the distant purple hills. But almost immediately
a strange vision seems to rise out of the river
itself; standing out clearly against a screen of
trees we see the crenellated towers and the narrow
gateway of a little Saracen fortress striped red and
white, built by a Dutchman, M. Insinger, on a
promontory beyond Louxor. From that moment

we are in Thebes. The city of the dead passes as
in a panorama on the left bank, the undulating
slopes of Drah-abou'1-reggah, the amphitheatre
of Deîr el-Bahari, its long white colonnade, its
inclined planes, its stories of superimposed porticoes,
its irregular façade, then the hill of Cheîkh
Abd-el-Gournah riddled with tombs, and then,
clinging to the sides of the hill, a mass of grey
walls in which the chapel of Deîr el-Medineh is
enclosed, and then almost in the background,
between spots of verdure, the indistinct silhouette
of Medinet-Habou. On the right the domes
and towers of Karnak are visible for a moment
level with the ground before they are concealed by
the trees. The yards of the boats melt into each
other behind a spur of land, a mass of variegated
buildings appears on an irregular mound of ancient
débris at the bend, and while the steamer makes
ready to land we behold minarets, the point of an
obelisk, the bold cornice of a pylon, an avenue of
gigantic columns, a whole temple with its courtyards
framed by porticoes, its hypostyle halls, its chambers
open to the air, its walls chased with hieroglyphics
and darkened by time. The quay at which we land
is the old quay of the Ptolemies, restored and
repaired in places about ten years ago. A murmur
of donkey-boys, dragomans, European loafers,
and sellers of antiquities annoys the traveller as he

lands; the hotel porters fight for him under the
watchful eyes of two policemen; two steps off
is the Louxor hotel, its hospitable door decorated
with pseudo-Egyptian ornaments by a native
painter.
The temple looks very grand now that it is
entirely dug out, and in the evening, after the
noisy throng of tourists has departed, we can easily
imagine it as it was in the time of its splendour.
The oncoming darkness hides its breaches, veils
the damage done by the Copts, clothes the poverty
of the columns, and repairs the injuries of the bas-reliefs
The cry of the Muezzin, coming suddenly
from the mosque of Abou'1-Haggag, resounds
through the ruins like the call to prayer of some
priest of Amon, king of the gods, forgotten at his
post, and we almost expect to hear a choir of voices
and a faint sound of harps answering him from the
sanctuary with a melancholy hymn to the setting sun.
Soon, in the imagination, the rows of figures on
the walls descend to earth, and with banners raised
aloft and smoking censers march in solemn procession,
the sacred boat in which sleeps the image
of the god on the shoulders of its bearers, through
the airless corridors, the columned halls, the courtyards,
through the triumphal doors, the avenue
of sphinxes or colossal rams, the remainder of
which go towards Karnak amid the silent plains.

But there is always risk of encountering some
odd procession like that I met yesterday almost
at the level of the square of the obelisk, a collection
of very shabby Louis XIII. musketeers,
bravely blowing their trumpets and beating the big
drum with great force, two children in fair wigs
and pink tunics riding astride a long-haired pony,
then side by side a most correct amazon and a
Hercules of the fair in white vest and red-spangled
tights, then a string of Empire postilions mounted
on white asses, and so grave that at first sight you
would have thought them a company of learned
men, but it was actually an itinerant circus parading
before a gala performance. From time to
time the orchestra was silent, the Hercules made
his mountebank's speech in Arabic adjuring the
inhabitants not to be sparing of their piastres, then
the music redoubled its strength, and the cavalcade
went prancing on its way.
Heaven knows what their takings would be, and
if they would have enough to provide the poor
devils with a dinner. The Louxor of twenty years
ago was satisfied with the traditional almehs, but
the dances and the mournful chants of the
singing-girls of yester-year no longer suffice the
Louxor of to-day. Year in, year out, at least
two thousand tourists visit it, and they have transformed
it. Americans and English form the

largest number, Germans and French are not rare,
and the other countries of Europe, from gay Portugal
to Holy Russia, furnish their contingent. On
certain days of the week Cook's boats and those of
other companies deposit their troops of travellers,
who invade everything, set everything to work, so
to speak, purchase or bargain for all the antiquities,
real or faked, that they find offered for sale, then
depart as hurriedly as they came—the tourist
anxious to see everything properly pell-mell with
the good people for whom the expedition to Egypt
is a donkey-ride spoiled by the monuments.
Louxor is now a whiter place colonised from
December to the beginning of April by scholars,
idle folk, and invalids. They chatter, intrigue,
exchange cards, invite each other from hotel to
hotel, or from boat to boat, as may be; they play
Tennis and bridge, plan picnics in the Valley of the
Kings or the ruins of Karnak, organise athletic
sports and mock races in which the native donkey
-boys compete for the magnificent prize of
three shillings; sometimes, even, a party is made
up for the circus or the theatre. A chance
company was playing in a tent every evening
tragedies or comedies in Arabic, and its repertory
included a Joseph sold by his brethren, a Telemachus
imitated from that of Fénelon, a miser who
dimly recalled Molière's Harpagon, and dramas

adapted from Racine or Shakespeare. The impresario
was on the point of departure when I arrived,
but I was told that “Romeo and Juliet,” as interpreted
by him and his companions, was no ordinary
spectacle. From the moment in which old Montague,
in classical costume, rushes into the fray
exclaiming, “Oskout ir Gaboullette” (“Thou villain,
Capulet!”), until that when Romeo, finding Juliet
stretched on a red divan by way of tomb, drinks
the poison from a bottle labelled Cognac vieux,
the European, familiar with Arabic, has no reason
to be bored.
The native, however, sees no cause for complaint,
and is not scandalised by the incongruities
of the dialogue or the staging. He laughs at
the comic scenes, is moved to tears by the tragic
episodes, is terrified by the murders, and it is
really astonishing how easily he follows the
threads of an action so alien to his habits. It
is no slight indication of the changes that have
now for some years been taking place in his
mind that plays can be performed throughout
the land that certainly did not have their origin
in Alexandria or Cairo, and that the company
can live on their takings.
Under the invasion of the foreigner old Louxor
has almost entirely disappeared. The central
street, the only one that formerly showed some

sort of life, is now nearly always deserted; the
little bazaar which gave it animation, and that
had to be traversed to reach Karnak, has closed
its shops, and the tradesmen have migrated to
the new quarter of the town. In the north
the large irregular square in which the market
was held every Tuesday has vanished. A hotel
bounds it on one side, the police station shuts
in the farther side, and the Catholic convent
projects the shadow of its Latin cross over
the site of the wretched hovels where the
almehs used to dance. A picturesque pond of
stagnant water, the last relic of the sacred
lake on which the priest of Amon on certain
days set afloat the mystic boat of their god,
lay formerly on the north side, and the women
used to draw water from it morning and
evening for household use. Buffaloes bathed in
it at midday in summer-time, only the snout
and the backbone showing above the surface.
Now it is filled up, and a new town has
arisen on its site between the old street of the
bazaar and the railway station. Building goes
on unceasingly, gardens are being planted, and
the native population is contaminated by
European elements now established there, Greek
bakals, Maltese tavern-keepers, subordinate railway
employees, Italian photographers. On the
south the canal which formerly bordered the

gardens of the Hôtel Pagnon has lately been
filled up, and the land thus recovered sold.
An enterprising landlord has built an esplanade
there with frontage on the Nile, with a row
of shops all resembling each other. It forms
the outskirts of Louxor, and its vulgarity and
ugliness is increased by the contrast it offers
to the pure lines and severe beauty of the
neighbouring temple. In one of the houses
dwells a photographer, in another a chemist and
druggist, in a third wily, insinuating Indians
offer tourists trashy stuffs and exotic knickknacks
at 200 per cent, above their value. Two
stuffed gazelles flank the door of a seller of
antiquities, drinking-booths with vulgar signs try
to attract customers with the promise of incomparable
whisky. However, at the foot of these
wretched booths the old Nile spreads his broad,
pearly waters, and the undulating movement of
their flow makes them glitter in the sun. The
sandbank of Ourouzieh lifts its yellow back still
wet from the waters that have scarcely retired,
and far behind it the western plain of Thebes
recedes with its verdure to the lowest slopes of
the Libyan mountains. The mountains are of a
luminous delicate pink, while an almost imperceptible
blue colours the edge of the horizon:
high up towards the west a few milky clouds
float slowly in the calm whiteness of the sky.

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104

X
A PARLIAMENT OF KINGS AT THE TOMB
OF AMENÔTHES II.

THE eleven sovereigns discovered by M. Loret at
Biban-el-Molouk in the hypogeum of Amenôthes
II. have been awaiting the verdict concerning
their fate for eighteen months. They modestly fill
the ante-chamber, packed, labelled, numbered, put
in ill-polished white wooden cases, like so many
packages ready to start for a distant destination.
We can scarcely imagine the anxiety that the
defunct Pharaohs caused their successor the day
after the burial. As it was incumbent that the
splendour of their funeral equipment should
equal or at least approach that of their terrestrial
life, they were allotted not only quantities of
furniture, stuffs, painted and decorated plates
and dishes, but masses of jewels and royal
orders, necklaces, bracelets, rings, amulets,
weapons of war and of the chase, mostly in gold
or silver, inlaid with enamel and precious stones.
And these valuables were not delivered to them

ENTRANCE TO ONE OF THE ROYAL TOMBS IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS.
To face p. 104.


at night or furtively: the pieces of jewellery that
were not applied to the corpse during the
wrapping of the mummy cloths round it were
displayed in full daylight to the sight of the
crowd who assisted at the funeral ceremony, so
that every one in the land knew their value and
number. So much wealth would certainly attract
the robbers who exploited the Theban burying
places, and they would soon have carried them
off, had not efficient measures been taken to
guard against their enterprises. Each tomb had
its guards, who were relieved night and day and
never lost sight of the entrance. Sentryposts
were placed all along the valley and
enclosed it with an impenetrable barrier for all
who did not know the password, while police
made continuous rounds in the outskirts and
relentlessly challenged any one who ventured too
near.
At irregular intervals distinguished persons,
appointed by the High Priest of Amon or by
the King, descended on the places unexpectedly.
They visited the hall, opened the sarcophagus,
examined the mummy, clothed it with a new
shroud or wrapping, if they found the old ones
in bad condition, and usually before leaving
wrote an account of their proceedings on the
wooden cover of the coffin or on the shroud

itself. Even if these precautions checked the
violation of the tombs, they did not succeed
in entirely preventing it, and the sacrilege that
professional robbers did not dare to risk was
often accomplished by the guards themselves.
They were underpaid, ill-fed, and ill-lodged, and
only performed their duty from fear of punishment,
and so, as soon as they saw an opportunity of
plundering the Pharaohs entrusted to their care,
they profited by it either alone or in partnership
with persons outside. It is not unusual to-day
for a professional excavator, making an incursion
into forbidden ground, to furnish himself with
food, water, and means of artificial light for
several days, then to shut himself up in a tomb
and not to stir until he has finished despoiling
it.
The predatory spirits of former days did not do
differently. Once shut up with the dead, they
stayed as long as was necessary to rob him of all
he possessed. They unwrapped the mummy at
leisure, tore off its necklaces, bracelets, rings,
jewels, and at need bared the breast in the hope
of finding some valuable amulet. Sometimes
they left it half-naked and bruised on the ground;
sometimes, to save the guards, their accomplices,
from punishment, they put everything tidy again,
and left it, outwardly at least, as if it had not

been touched. Indeed, so skilful were they in
that sort of fraud, that unless a very detailed
inspection was made, no one would believe that
under the eminently correct wrappings there
was merely a parcel of broken bones, supplemented
with palm branches or pieces of wood. The
Pharaohs thus profaned reposed in their tombs
till about the tenth century B.C., and then the
High Priests of Amon of the XXIInd Dynasty,
despairing of longer preserving them from
destruction, resolved to get rid of them by
hiding them in places so secret that no one
would be able to hunt them out. They divided
them into several groups, and buried them, one
at the south of Deîr el-Baharî, another in the
vault of Amenôthes II., others, again, in recesses
of the mountain, where they will certainly be
found some day. And so they ascend to the
upper air after 2,800 years of tranquillity, and as
soon as they appear cause their modern guards
as much anxiety as they did those of a former
day.
One question is, of course, put forward at the
moment of their resurrection. Are they to be
taken to Cairo and united once again with the
members of their family who since 1881 rest in
the galleries of the Museum, or is it better to
leave them where they are to show travellers

Pharaoh in the tomb where his sons laid him?
The sight of the royal mummies of Gizeh rouses
in the visitors a curious feeling, partly of attraction,
partly of repulsion. The heroes of classic
times, those of Greece and of Rome, have cast
off for ever their mortal coil, but the actors in
the old Egyptian drama, their elders by so many
centuries, are shown to us with all the substance
of the body they inhabited, flesh and bone,
figure, hair, the shape of the head, the features
of the face. That slender, short personage is
Thoutmôsis III., the conqueror of Syria, and
the most formidable of the Theban Pharaohs,
almost a dwarf in stature. The slim hands that
Ramses II. peacefully crosses on his breast, strung
the bow and manipulated the lance for a whole
spring day under the walls of Qodshou, until
his determined effort brought back victory to
the Egyptian banners. Setouî I. possesses the
serene countenance of a priest, a fact that did
not prevent him from fighting boldly when the
call came. Ramses III., on the other hand,
appears like a stout, heavy rustic. History,
certainly, gains a singular reality when written
in the very presence of those who made it, and
yet the advantages for many are more than outweighed
by the horror with which this funereal
parade fills them. It is, they say, a want of

respect, not to a royalty so long departed, but
to humanity itself, to exhibit these emaciated
bodies, wrinkled and blackened skins, grimacing
faces, torn shrouds, and mummy cloths reduced
to parcels of rags by the indiscretion of the
archæologist. They deplore the stroke of fortune
that has opened to us this charnel-house of kings,
and beg that they may be spared the evil
curiosity of the loafer. It would be a pious
action of the man in command to send these
Pharaohs back to the darkness that has so long
protected them, and since the mystery of their
Theban hiding-place is divulged, to assure them
a retreat in one of the most solid of the Memphian
pyramids. At first the idea seems somewhat
attractive, but when we recall to mind
that the pyramids when they were intact were
not able to preserve their masters from desecration,
we ask ourselves whether those same
pyramids now they are in ruins would offer
better protection to their precious inmates. An
authentic king in the antiquity market has an
incalculable value, and all the excavators in the
land would soon enter on a campaign, each to
try and unearth his piece of the dynasty. It
would be necessary to recommence the old sentry
rounds and inspections, only to arrive at a similar
result after more or less delay. Ramses II. and

Setouî I. would vanish one fine day, to reappear
after a while in some eccentric collection at
Sydney or San Francisco. Now that we hold
the Pharaohs, they hold us in their turn, and we
have no right to turn them away from our halls
at the risk of losing them, but at the same time
we ought not to exhibit them in a way that
would wound any one. In the Museum being
built for us is a hall reserved for Mariette's tomb;
there as in a sort of chapel they ought to be
placed, by the side and under the protection of
the great scholar who did so much to revive their
names and spread abroad their memory.
Most of the mummies imprisoned in the tomb
of Amenothes II. are only there by accident;
they will go to Gizeh, near the kings of Deîr el-Baharî.
But Amenôthes II. will not depart: he
will remain in his hypogeum, provisionally, and as
a trial, in company with four mutilated and naked
corpses that are thought to be those of human
victims sacrificed on the day of his burial. So
that we have two series of distinct operations to
carry out. First the hypogeum must be restored
as far as possible to the condition in which it
was at the time of its discovery. Then we
must remove the Pharaohs designed for exile,
and convey them across the plain of Thebes to
the banks of the Nile, where they will embark.

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111

XI
THE TOMB OF AMENÔTHES II.

THE tomb of Amenôthes II. is dug out in the
prolongation of an enormous fissure which cuts
the face of the rock vertically in its whole
height. A sandy slope of mingled stone chips
and stone dust hides the opening. The plan
is the same that prevailed at the beginning of the
XVIIIth Dynasty, and with slight modifications
served for Thoutmôsis III. and Thoutmôsis I.,
the father and great-grandfather of the sovereign:
there is first a vertical trench, on the right side of
which was a staircase with clumsy steps for the
convenience of the workmen and excavators; then
in the west wall at the back, a steeply sloping
corridor, bored in the rock with great exertion,
without inscriptions or decoration; next comes a
second steep staircase, a deep shaft of about 24
feet, destined to bar the way to robbers, and,
beyond, a low ante-chamber, its walls and ceiling
scarcely shaped out, divided into two naves of
equal dimensions by two dumpy pillars. When

M. Loret entered it wooden statuettes and
the remains of offerings lay scattered over the
ground, and on these had fallen four large
boats, between two and three yards long,
formerly despoiled by thieves; a mummy lay
crosswise on one of them, naked and bruised. All
the small objects have been for some time in
the Museum, but eleven cases remain in distress
in the right nave, which contains the bodies
of the Pharaohs. The left nave is almost
entirely filled by the staircase which leads to
a last corridor, formerly strewn with a litter of
débris, but empty now. The funeral hall, large
and high, is supported in the middle by two
rows of three pillars each. The ceiling is dark
blue dotted with yellow stars in close rows. The
journey of the sun in the region of the hours
of the night is developed in all its wanderings
on the walls in three superimposed rows; in
the middle is the celestial Nile, on which the
sacred boat floats without either oars or sails,
struggling with the monsters of the darkness;
above and below are the banks of the river
and the mysterious retreats in which the gods
of the dead and their Egyptian subjects vegetate.
The figures are boldly but summarily drawn, the
hieroglyphics are hurriedly engraved; it is like
an enormous papyrus stuck on the wall for the

guidance of the sovereign, and in fact it is a copy
on a large scale of the “Book of that which is
in the Under World,” that served as a guide to
the souls during their peregrinations beyond the
tomb. There they may see the faithful representation
of the good or evil creatures
they have to meet in the domain, they
may become familiar with the characters and
attributes as well as the names of the genii, they
may read the formulas which, learnt by heart,
will ensure a free passage to those who can
repeat them without error, and can thus be certain
of never being in danger, either on earth or in
heaven, and of being able to enjoy the privileges
granted to properly instructed souls wherever
their destiny may take them. The ground is
dug out at the western extremity, and a few
steps set closely in between the two last pillars
lead to an alcove lower than the rest of the hall.
The sarcophagus fills the centre, a fine basin of
sandstone, covered with a red plaster, imitating
the granite of Syene; the cover was destroyed
by robbers in ancient times, and pieces of it are
scattered here and there. It still contained its
wooden coffin with the mummy, and everywhere
around in its near vicinity little figures of
blackened wood, fragments of glass or stone
vases, dried wreaths and factitious weapons were

heaped together in confusion. The four cells
which flank the vault were equally crowded with
furniture and despoiled corpses. In the two on
the left were earthen jars for water, wine, beer,
oil, perfumes, mummified joints of meat or
mummified poultry, a quantity of fruit or
cereals, in fact, everything that the Egyptian
soul required for its nourishment. The first of
the cells on the right offers a striking spectacle,
three mummies lying side by side among the
statuettes: a young man, a child of twelve to
fourteen years old, a woman still adorned with
long, silky hair, but all with the head or chest
split open, like servants sacrificed in order to
provide an escort for the sovereign to the other
world. The second cell was walled up. It contained
the nine kings that the high priests brought
to the tomb when they gave up the attempt
to preserve the neighbouring tombs from pillage.
The mummies were taken out, but the wall
was rebuilt stone by stone by the order of
M. Loret, and the hieratic legends, written in
black ink by one of the scribes who watched
the operation about the tenth century B.C., can
easily be seen.
It might almost be said that the old
Egyptian architect foresaw our project, and
wished to render its accomplishment easy. Three

iron gratings or three balustrades set between
the pillars and the walls allow us to transform
the alcove into a distinct hall, and so to
isolate the sarcophagus and save it from the
indiscreet. Visitors view the mummy from
above at a distance of 6 feet, and if there is
sufficient light, no detail of the scene need
escape them. Afterwards we shall put the three
supposed victims in their primitive positions,
likewise guarding the door of their cell with a
railing. Shall we light the scene by electricity or
by some substance like acetylene instead of the
candles or magnesium lamps, the smoke of which
has been so destructive to the tombs that
have long been opened? Experience will
teach us the best method; for the moment
we have to carry back those of the mummies
who are to remain on the spot. Amenothes II.
and his three companions descend again to the
vault, borne by four native workmen. With
M. Loret's plan in his hand, Mr. Carter restored
the mummies to their cell in the old order, first
the man leaning against the wall, then the
child, then the woman; the business took
scarcely half an hour.
The restoration of Amenôthes exacted more
thought and time. If the coffin was laid flat in
the sarcophagus it would disappear entirely, and

the visitors, kept at a distance by the railing,
would see nothing. It was necessary to raise it
so that its cover might be level with the edge
of the sarcophagus. To keep it in that position a
support of suitable height must be placed under
it. While waiting for the carpenters to make
the requisite trestles, Mr. Carter piled up some
of the blocks which barred the door before the
irruption of the ancient thieves into the
sarcophagus, and put the coffin on the improvised
support. Three hours had been spent in reinstating
the sovereign in his dwelling, three
unforgettable hours for those who took part in
the work. The air was thick, warm, motionless,
heavy with fine dust, and impregnated with an imperceptible
odour of musty aromatics; a gradually
increasing sensation of oppression in breathing
and heaviness of head was felt, there was an overwhelming
silence, and at the same time that sort
of almost religious awe which makes us dislike
speaking, or, if speech is necessary, makes us
talk in whispers. A few pieces of candle placed
in a corner vaguely lighted the ante-chamber
while the workmen were taking the Pharaoh out
of his modern case. With their bare feet and
legs, the upper part of the body naked, a soft
linen cloth round their loins, the head boxed in
their tawny takieh, like the figures whose

silhouettes adorn the walls of the Theban tombs,
the Egyptians of to-day seem to be the
Egyptians of long ago, resuscitated in order to
recommence their funereal duties. The royal
coffin, lifted without a sound, passed into their
hands, and moved off in the darkness of the
staircase; it slowly traversed the vault, descended
the steps, slipped into the sarcophagus, fitted
into it with a dry cracking sound, and for an
instant I thought that time had suddenly gone
backwards, and that at one swoop I had
travelled back thirty-four centuries to be present
at the burial of Amenôthes.

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118

XII
THE DEPARTURE OF THE ROYAL MUMMIES

THE removal of the mummies ought to be done
all at once, in a single day. Some of the coffins,
made of thick planks of close-grained wood, attain
a considerable weight and are difficult to handle,
requiring eight men at least. As the road to be
traversed between the tomb and the river bank
is over five miles in length, it will be wise to
provide relays several times during the march.
Then add to the ordinary workmen the chiefs of
the squads, the guards, a few carpenters in case of
accident, some water-carriers, and there will be about
a hundred lusty fellows to send into the funereal
valley. There might perhaps have been difficulty
in finding them if the workshops of Karnak had not
just then been filled with men accustomed to deal
with blocks of sandstone heavier than the heaviest
of our kings. M. Legrain kindly put them at
our disposal, and on January 12th, at nine o'clock
in the morning, the picked men of his troop
came to Biban-el-Molouk furnished with the

THEBES. THE TOMBS OF THE KINGS.
To face p. 118.


ropes, levers, rollers, hand-barrows, and all the
apparatus required for the work. The barrows
stand in single file along the pathway in readiness
for their load, and form an almost uninterrupted
line from the tomb of Ramses VI. to that of
our Amenôthes II. The men, for whom an
expedition of this kind, so different from their
ordinary employment, is a sort of holiday excursion,
remain in groups near the barrows. Some
are eating or drinking, others are sleeping in the
sun as a provision against the fatigue to come,
others, again, hum a tune or tell each other tales,
some reckon up the value of the Pharaohs, and
cannot imagine guineas enough to arrive at it;
bursts of quarrelling and of laughter, immediately
suppressed by the overseers, sometimes escape from
their ranks. A few hawks, astonished at the
noise, hover above the crowd, uttering shrill cries.
A company of tourists, whose evil star has
brought them to the tombs that day, cannot
believe either their eyes or their ears, and with
a stupefied air contemplate the spectacle of such
unusual activity.
Now, at the orders of Baskharoun, two selected
gangs glide under ground. For twenty-five years
Baskharoun has been one of the most useful
servants of the Museum. He is a Copt of pure
breed, and his rough features remind us of those

of certain of our Pharaonic statues. Take off
his blue shirt, his turban, his full trousers, and
his red babouches, and dress him in the striped
waist-cloth, the close-fitting cap, the rush sandals,
and you will obtain an Egyptian of the best
period, one of those, if you like, who helped to
seal up Amenôthes in his vault. Although there
is no appearance of it, he is of immense strength,
knocking down his man with a blow of the fist,
and easily moving the most unlikely weights.
Once at Boulaq, when one of the gigantic statues
of Ramses II. while being moved from one room
in the Museum to the other lost its balance on
its rollers, he held it for a whole minute, long
enough for the others to come to his assistance
and set it right again. Here it is less brute
force that is required of him than skill in working
in a confined space, and in moving fragile objects,
as these thousand-years-old coffins must be, without
knocking them against the walls or damaging
any of their contents. Mr. Carter points out to
him the mummy that is to go first. With the
tips of his fingers, almost without seeming to
touch it, Baskharoun and his companions move
it and lift it above the shaft, carry it along the
staircases and rough-hewn corridors. It is the
inverse of its former journey, from darkness to
light, from the gloomy Amentît to the land of

the Sun. The others have followed by the same
road in less than two hours. The ante-chamber
is empty, and the nine kings, restored to the
upper air, lie each on his bier, the lighter ones
laid flat without any sort of fastening, the heavy
ones tied to the trolley with ropes as a precaution
against a fall. The men might take up their
burdens at once and carry them to what is left
of their Thebes after so many centuries if it was
not necessary first to make their hiding-place neat.
A corpse had been left behind that the large
number of cases had prevented from being put
back into its place the other day—the unfortunate
creature that the thieves had left naked on one
of the funerary boats of Amenôthes. It was
carried back into the ante-chamber, boat and all,
near the first pillar. Its disordered hair, bruised
face, and the traces of violence visible on the
chest gave it a horrible aspect. It would seem
as if there had been a struggle before the man
succumbed. Possibly he was a sentinel who,
surprised by assassins at the entrance of his
sovereign's apartments, had been mortally
wounded, and had died on the spot where he
had fallen. But times flies while we are effacing
the traces of our work. It was one o'clock in the
afternoon when, all our preparations finished, we
determined to leave the tomb. At the first signal,

each gang of men shouldering their king, the
column got into line with Baskharoun at the head,
M. Legrain, M. Chauvin, M. Insinger, and the few
Europeans who had been present bringing up the
rear to the right and left on donkey-back and horse-back.
At the second signal it began to move,
at first slowly and in silence, then faster as the
men, in order to give a rhythm to their march,
intoned the traditional invocation, “Sallé an-nabi,
sallé!
” (“Pray to the Prophet, pray!”) The
advance guard reach the gorge which passes out
of the valley into the Ouadiên, and march into it
to the sound of the singing. It seems as if one of
the most striking pictures of the tombs has taken
bodily form and descended from the walls into
modern life. It is the picture that represents
the funeral procession, and more particularly that
part of the procession containing the furniture
and equipment of the dead man. There were
the variegated chests carried on barrows just like
the cases of our royal mummies. They contained
the linen, cloths, jewels, wigs, sacred oils,
and the number was in proportion to the wealth
of the personage whose funeral they followed.
A sort of vague track marks the whole length
of the Ouadiêi. It was made by the Egyptians
of the Theban epoch in order to facilitate the
approach of the funeral processions of the

Pharaohs to the tombs. Since the burials there
have ceased it has been effaced; and although
the Service des Antiquités cleared it of the most
encumbering obstacles six or seven years ago in
preparing for a probable visit of the Khedive, it is
still covered with chips of stone and pebbles
sharp enough to make it painful for those who
walk over it barefoot. Our men, rendered awkward
and heavy-footed by the burden they carried,
stumbled every minute against a sharp piece of
rock or groaned when a splinter of flint cut into
the skin. The sun burnt their eyes, the wood
of the litter rubbed their shoulders, and although
relays succeeded each other every five minutes,
fatigue and depression soon laid hold of them.
At the end of the first three-quarters of a mile
they mutinied, encouraging each other to drop
the litters, and there would have been a general
stampede had not the all-powerful Baskharoun by
shouts and gestures, and also by the rod, reduced
his men to obedience. He seemed to be everywhere
at once, lending his shoulder to the weak
when the road was rough, giving the malcontents
a shake and forcing them to hum a march tune.
Although a Christian, his knowledge of the
Musulman saints is astounding. He is the first
to invoke them, and as soon as one had no more
weight with the workmen, he immediately invoked

another, perhaps a local saint like the Cheîkh
Abou'1-Haggag of Louxor, or general saints of the
Moghrebins, Arabs, Syrians, the beatified of Irak
and of Persia. At each fresh name even the
most fatigued of the men pulled themselves
together, stiffened their backs, and walked steadily
on, but after three or four minutes their energy
failed. The voices died away one after the other
and the grumbling was redoubled, and there were
slight attempts at revolt. A little man, his
figure hidden by the long, variegated cloak of a
Soudanese dervish, was distinguished for his laziness
and his seditious spirit. If one of us had not
been continually at his side to watch him, he
would soon have deserted his post and caused
his companions to become disaffected. Perspiring,
panting, groaning, shouting in some way or other,
the procession got through the second three-quarters
of a mile, then the third. At the last
bend the trees came in sight, and knowing, therefore,
that the plain was near at hand, the courage
and spirits of the men revived. The refrains
sounded with greater volume, backs were
straightened, and a wag chaffed the grumblers:
“Well, what have you got to complain of?
Aren't you carrying your fathers, the Pharaohs?
They have gold with them, much gold, and
you'll have some of it, God willing.” And as

he sees that I am listening to him: “Our bacha
this evening will give us much bakhshîsch, one
piastre bakhshîsch, two piastres bakhshîsch, won't
you, Sir Pacha?” The troop, who perceived
the allusion, repeated in chorus: “One piastre
bakhshîsch, two piastres bakhshîsch, won't you, Sir
Pacha?” And so they are all happy till the
halt. A little beyond the Temple of Gournah,
near the village, there are ten minutes' rest for
all, and most rightly. They have only taken an
hour and a quarter to do the two and a quarter
miles of the ouady, loaded as they are. The
worst part of the business is over. They have,
it is true, to traverse the causeway that dams
the irrigation canal, the Fadîlieh, then to cross
the sandbanks which separate the western river
bank from the place where the water flows this
year—that is, three and three-quarter miles—but
the ground is soft and supple and does not hurt
the feet. Surveillance is no longer needed, so we
ride on fast in advance to prepare the last part
of the operation—the embarkation.
The dahabieh is already at the place appointed,
standing well out in the stream; the
shallowness of the water will necessitate the
use of launches to put the cases on board.
About four o'clock the increasing sound of
rhythmic chanting announces the approach of

our men, and almost immediately the first
of them can be seen above the undulation of
the sand; observed from the distance, through
clouds of dust that half conceal the details, our
band resembles more and more the cortege of an
Egyptian funeral. Thus shouting and running, it
reached the banks of the Nile, in order to join
the baris who carried death toward the west,
to its eternal abode. There was the same mixture
of joy and woe, the same sounds, the same
invocations to saints or gods, the same lack of
order, the same jostling. Every moment absurd
accidents disturbed the gravity of the ceremony:
a porter would let his load fall, a boat in turning
would strike against another smaller boat and ill-treat
it. I call to mind the episode in the tomb
of Harmhabi, in which figures the captain of a
launch upset, with the offerings he was taking
on board, by a stroke of the rudder of the funeral
cange, and suddenly one of our men slips and
falls just as he is getting into the launch. The
case, the corner of which he was holding, falls
with him, upsets bearers and rowers, but fortunately
stops before falling into the water, and
for a moment, between laughter and oaths, it is
the exact scene that the ancient artist had drawn
three thousand years before. An hour to arrange
the nine mummies on the deck, speeches of thanks,

and, what our heroes appreciate more, a splendid
tip of a piastre, a whole piastre each, and then
the dahabieh lifts anchor, moves away slowly,
and tugged by its feluccas towards the temple of
Louxor, reaches its accustomed anchorage with its
royal freight.

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128

XIII
KARNAK AND THE WORKS IN THE HYPOSTYLE
HALL

SLABS of earth arranged in stories in order to get
blocks of stone 60 feet up, derricks like those
used under the XIXth Dynasty, blocks under
transportation on acacia runners and pulling at
the ropes, files of vigorous fellahs, the blue
galabieh on their backs or the white drawers on
their loins, the brown takieh on their heads: if
Ramses II. returned to inspect the works going
on just then at Karnak, he would imagine at first
that nothing had changed in Egypt. Most of
our workmen are wearing nearly the same costume
as his, and the methods employed by us
for moving the columns upset at the time of the
catastrophe of October 3, 1899, are very nearly the
same as those employed by him when building
them. He must not, however, look too closely
nor try to regulate the work. His orders issued
in excellent Egyptian, at least I like to think so,
would not be understood by our overseers, and

KARNAK. GENERAL VIEW OF THE RUINS NEAR THE SANCTUARY.
To face p. 128.


M. Legrain, who in grey jacket and mushroom-shaped
hat was directing the work, would in no
way remind him of the late High Priest of
Amonrâ, Baoukouni-khonsou, King of the Gods,
who presided in his reign over the building at
Thebes. The derricks are furnished with differential
pulleys, of the play of which he would
understand nothing. The ease with which the
big architraves are moved on the Decauville
trucks would appear to him to be magic, and I
do not know how we could explain to him the
mechanism of the hydraulic cranes. We had
resolutely excluded costly apparatus and the perfected
machinery, the action of which would have
been too rough for the venerable stones with
which we had to deal, from our workshops. But
although in principle we adopted the ancient
methods, we were not forbidden to combine with
them those modern engines which enabled us to
work quickly and cheaply.
After the first feeling of stupefaction had
passed away and we could regard the disaster
coolly, it was recognised that three series of
operations would be necessary to remedy it.
First of all, the five columns which threatened
to fall must be taken down, then the débris of
the eleven columns that had already fallen must
be removed and put away very carefully so as

not to confuse the parts. That done, there would
be a large empty space in the north aisle of the
Hypostyle Hall, which would have to be tested
yard by yard to ascertain the condition of the
sub-structure, and to decide what was needed to
strengthen it before beginning the restorations.
A committee, composed of archæologists, architects,
and engineers, would be sent to the spot
and would conduct the inquiry at their leisure.
When it had sent in its report, the Service des
Antiquités would carry out the operations recommended,
and proceed to put up again all that
was possible of the fallen columns. The Caisse
de la Dette, on the demand of the Egyptian
Government, granted a liberal sum of money, and
M. Legrain, sent to Karnak in December, 1899,
energetically set to work. The aspect of the
ruins was not encouraging; the disjointed tambours
filled up the north nave, and five shafts
emerged from the irregular heaps, but so bent
and out of the perpendicular, that it seemed that
they too must fall every moment. It was necessary
to sink them in order to set up the derricks
at the height of the capitals, and M. Legrain
hastened to begin the work. By the end of
December, 1899, the abacus of the most dangerous
column, a square slab weighing ten tons, had
been brought down and sent to the store. The

rest quickly followed, and all seemed to be going
splendidly when an incident occurred which
seemed to prognosticate a new disaster. The
northern pier of the pylon, which bounds the
Hall on the west, had long been a cause of
uneasiness. It had seemed to be giving way
in 1883 and 1884, and I had been obliged to
shore up the most unsafe portions. The posts
with which I had then supported it were
destroyed in 1895, and in their stead the low
parts of the wall were lined with rubble-work
in stone and cement. Did the disturbance caused
by the fall of the columns produce a movement
in the masonry, or did the foundations, eaten
away by saltpetre, suddenly give way? About
the end of January, 1900, the whole of the south
front split, sank down, bent outwards, and blocks
began to pour down from the upper courses in
such quantities that we deemed it prudent to
keep tourists away. We approached the Caisse
de la Dette again, once more it granted the sum
of money demanded, the Office of Public Works
lent us its chief architect, Manescalco-Bey, who
sketched out the first draft of a method of shoring
it up, then M. Legrain, letting the taking
down of the columns go more slowly, proceeded to
receive and to transport to the place of the work
the materials dispatched to him from Cairo. At

the beginning of April, when everything was
ready, M. Ehrlich, a German engineer, borrowed
from the barrage work at Assouân, came and
helped us with his experience. For a month
and a half there were two independent gangs
of men in the Hypostyle Hall, that of M.
Legrain at the columns, that of M. Ehrlich at
the pylon. When they were dismissed on May 23,
1900, the threatening columns had gone to
rest in peace in the place reserved for them in
the store, and the pylon, boarded up the whole
of its height, no longer inspired fear.
So many disturbances of the ground and restorations
did not tend to make Karnak beautiful.
Those who visited it previously will remember the
admirable view which spread before them when,
arriving by the river, they approached the temple
by the triumphal entry of the west. First came
the avenue of Setouî II. with its rams crowded
one against the other, the huge pylon of the
Ptolemies, the court of the Ethiopians and its
gigantic column, the half-fallen pylon of the
Ramessides, and framed between its two towers
the central aisle of the Hypostyle Hall, then the
magnificent chaos of granite and sandstone blocks
whence the two obelisks of Thoutmôsis and the
Queen Hatshopsouîtou stood out: no other
monument in the world gives as vivid an impression
of strength and immensity.

133

To-day, the view is cut in the centre by M.
Ehrlich's scaffolding, four stories of beams thrown
across the central bay. A Decauville railway line
winds under this disconcerting apparatus and
penetrates into the Hall. If we follow it we come
on the left against the shore of dry pebbles topped
with sacks of sand which completes the efficacy
of the woodwork, then we confront the mound
of earth heaped up by M. Legrain. Tourists,
knowing little about the accident, have assured
me with conviction that the Hall was more beautiful
formerly and that it would have been better
not to touch it. We console them by telling them
that all this mess is only transitory, and that if they
will come back in four or five years we shall have
finished the restorations to their satisfaction. They
depart in bad humour, and I cannot help sympathising
with their annoyance. It is always a pity to
touch a monument, even when necessity compels,
but could we have acted differently? I have often
told tourists that if they knew the precarious state
of the walls underneath which they stood for
hours in admiration, they would not dare to enter
the temple.
The foundations have given way without showing
any appearance of such a state of things, the
blocks of stone are only kept in place by a miracle
of equilibrium, the architraves, which are broken in

two or three places, are literally suspended at
30 to 60 feet above the earth. If a sparrow
alights on them we fear they will not bear the
weight, and will end by falling. Slight occurrences
prove every moment how incapable the apparently
most solid of the buildings and tombs are of resistance.
A month ago one of the pillars of the
ante-chamber in the tomb of Setouî I. suddenly
broke. A fortnight after one of the sandstone
beams which cover the right lateral sanctuary of
the Temple of Khonsou literally melted away after
thirty-six hours' rain, and a week later a portion
of the ceiling of the Hypostyle Hall of Edfou fell
with a great crash. At the moment there was no
one underneath, and a panel reduced to powder
was all the damage; two hours earlier or later,
tourists would have been visiting the place, and it
is impossible to say what disasters we should have
had to deplore. It is therefore high time to take
the Egyptian temples in hand one after the other,
and without doing anything that might alter their
character, to undertake works that may preserve
them for some centuries to the admiration of the
world.
As soon as we approach the door, the ear is
struck by a loud noise; the tunes to which Egyptian
workmen adapt their slightest movements are soon
recognised. First there is a slow bass, the chant of

navvies at their work; then a lively, tripping melody,
that of the children who are helping the navvies;
now and again a sound rises which dominates all
the others—the voices of the porters who are
moving an enormous block of stone. Two distinct
gangs share the field of work, I was going to say
the field of battle. The first, on the west near the
pylon, are removing the earth which served last
year to bring down the capitals or the architraves,
but which now prevents the finding and extraction
of the shafts. It contains about thirty men.
Arranged in an irregular line, and half bent over
their task, they ply their pickaxes with short, sharp
blows. Most of them are natives of Karnak, who,
having nothing to do for the moment either in the
fields or in the house, ask nothing better than to
earn the high wage of from fivepence to sevenpence
in the service of the Antikah.1 They are
engaged by the week or the day. They arrive
every morning at dawn, the touriah, the short-handled
pickaxe, on their shoulder, and immediately
set to work under the surveillance of one of our
native workmen. They each have two squads of
four, five, or six children, who are hired for 2½d. a
day per head on condition of themselves providing
their tool, the basket of palm fibre in which to
1 The people in Egypt call the Service des Antiquités
familiarly by the term Antikah.

carry away the rubbish. Each group is like a freelance
in the regular companies of our royal armies.
The navvy fills the basket with two or three strokes
of his pickaxe, and as soon as a squad has its load
complete, it goes, running and singing, to empty
it into a Decauville wagon in waiting outside.
Meanwhile the second squad is loaded in its turn,
and while it is running to the wagon it meets the
other returning. This to-and-fro movement, once
begun, is only interrupted at noon for an hour, just
time to eat and to take a brief rest, and then it
begins again and continues till sunset. Twenty
years ago girls were found in these squads, but now
they remain at home and we have only boys.
They range in age from eleven to five, but all are
equally skilful and strong, all dowered with a shrill
soprano voice and a throat that never suffers from
hoarseness. The refrains they bawl out are generally
unremarkable, but whenever a distinguished
visitor or some high official presents himself, one
of them improvises a new couplet for the occasion,
and the rest repeat it in chorus. On my first visit
to Egypt the boys who were working at Louxor,
and who saw me arrive at the workshop always in
a jacket with big pockets and under a large green
umbrella, composed a couplet in my honour which
they rattled out without fatigue for two mortal
hours: “Bachet-na taht ech-chamsieh” (“Our pacha is

under the umbrella”); “Bachet-na abou gabeîn
(“Our pacha is the father with two pockets”). Those
children are now men, but the tradition remains,
and whenever I appear at Karnak the children
of to-day intone the chant of former years.
Looking at the disproportion between the
baskets, which hold at most 6 lbs. or 8 Ibs. of earth,
and the mound which has to be cleared away, we
are tempted to pity our fate and to think we shall
never be finished. But when we come back day
after day and see the results, we are astonished at
the rapidity with which the clearing away has progressed.
It is a veritable ant-hill, the accomplishment
of a colossal work by the infinitely little. In
five minutes two wagons are full, and depart in all
speed in the direction of the Oriental door, where
we are filling up the breaches made by the peasants
in the girdle wall of the ancient city. Before they
have time to get back others are setting out to
rejoin them; there is all day a perpetual rolling of
wagons. The toy baskets of the children spread
15,000 cubic yards of earth in the Hypostyle
Hall during the campaign of 1900. They will have
removed the same quantity when the campaign of
1901 is ended.
The second gang consists only of men, about
ten porters brought from Cairo, and about thirty
strong fellows recruited at Louxor and Karnak.

It works under the orders of Baskharoun A wad,
who helped us so admirably last year to remove
the kings from the tomb of Amenôthes,1 and who
has moved more stones than any one in the
Museum. Each of the columns consists of thirteen
tambours divided in two segments of equal
dimensions, viz., twenty-six segments of 5 tons, plus an abacus of 10 tons, the whole column weighing
140 tons; the intact architraves weighing from 35
to 40 tons. Reckoning that we have sixteen
whole columns and eight fragments of columns
to raise before our work is done, it is easy to
understand that if we wished to give up the
ground in time to be of use to the Commission
entrusted to examine the state of the foundations,
we could not afford to lose a minute. Here again
chance visitors imagine that the effort does not
correspond with the magnitude of the task. They
see about twenty men stirring around a very heavy
block. Some are slightly lifting it with wooden
levers, others place runners beneath it, and when
they have slipped in the number required, they
yoke themselves to the ropes and pull it along in
cadence. The mass advances a few inches, knocks
up against a neighbouring fragment, nearly falls;
the men immediately put it right, and begin to
1 Cf. Chapter XII.

draw it again. Half an hour, three-quarters of an
hour, sometimes more, passes before they succeed
in bringing it near a Decauville truck. It is
lifted on to it with great difficulty, and a special
squad wheels it away into the store, while its own
men with Baskharoun's gang begin work on a
fresh segment. The space produced each time is
hardly noticeable, and yet by the end of the day
six segments of 5 tons each have disappeared.
The pieces of architraves and the abaci required
rougher treatment, but they too end by yielding.
When after being away for a week we take note of
the progress made, we see that the heap is a yard
less in height and that a large portion of the
Hypostyle Hall is free up to the panelling.
Nothing equals the endurance of our men, unless it
be the suppleness with which they adapt their
action to the position of each block, to its shape,
dimensions, and to the position of the neighbouring
blocks. When they come to the workshops
for the first time it does not need a long
apprenticeship before they are as good as their
comrades, and after two or three days they are fit
for the most complicated pieces of work. It
would seem that they know by intuition the exact
point in each stone with which it is best to begin
in order to ensure the greatest result with the
smallest effort. They never break or injure

anything, and get through all dangers without
serious accident. Two or three grazed hands, two
or three sprained feet make up all the casualties in
a six months' campaign. Much of the skill acquired
by their ancestors in the service of the Pharaohs
has remained in their blood.
It was necessary to store the pieces without
danger of confusing them, and M. Legrain
admirably succeeded in so doing. To the north
of the Hypostyle Hall, between the wall of
Setouî I. and the temple of Phtah, was a flat
space, and it was there that he made his depôt.
The position of each column was indicated in
length on the ground, and the position of each
tambour for each column. A number of circles of
small stones were made in advance and represented
the courses of masonry. As soon as a piece was
detached it was marked with the number of the
column and with that of the course of masonry of
which it formed a part in that column, then it was
enclosed in the corresponding circle of stones. A
plan continually filled in showed the progress
made from day to day. Only two or three whole
columns were found, and they were left on the
spot to await the moment of being set up again.
The others were so terribly destroyed by their fall
that the pieces are mingled in inextricable confusion.
The workmen attack the stones as they

come, and take them out; then M. Legrain has to
decide to which column they belong and to fasten
each in its respective place. Where they are
intact or only slightly injured, there is but little
hesitation and the difficulty is soon overcome.
Unfortunately many of them, those that had
already suffered from age or weather, were broken
in falling, some even had crumbled into small
pieces and only shapeless chips and lumps
remained. Still it was possible to define the place
that most of the débris held, at least those that
possessed any fragment of painting or of
hieroglyphics. We had to discuss the best means
to take, whether to readjust them and join them
sufficiently safely with cement to form a solid mass
capable of supporting the upper courses without
being crushed by the weight, or if it would be
necessary to substitute blocks of new stone for the
damaged ones. Sufficient for the day is the evil
thereof, and when the business of setting up the
columns has to be taken in hand, we shall try to
act in each particular case in the best possible way
that circumstances permit. At the moment it was
necessary to get rid of the mass of ruins that filled
the Hypostyle Hall, to classify and co-ordinate the
fragments, to piece together the dislocated units in
a safe spot, and to arrange them so that we might
easily be able to lay our hands on them when

required. This is more than half accomplished,
and I hope that in ten weeks from now1 M.
Legrain will be able to give over the ground quite
cleared to the examination of the Commission.
1 Written in January, 1901.

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143

XIV
THE TEMPLE OF THE THEBAN PHTAH AT
KARNAK

M. LEGRAIN did not find the earth he needed
in one of the uninteresting heaps of rubbish that
encumber the land at Karnak. He found it in the
ruins extending at the north-east along the girdle
wall, and he thus brought to light one of the
prettiest temples imaginable, that of the Theban
Phtah. Mariette had sent a few workmen into
the place, and obtained thence several valuable
monuments, that is, five or six panels with
inscriptions. Since his death the site had been left
to itself. A few Egyptologists may have carelessly
glanced at it, not from real interest but in order to
say that they had neglected nothing that was to be
seen at Karnak. The excavation is not finished
and the exterior dependencies are still buried, but
the main building is free, and it deserves to be
visited by the curious traveller and studied by the
expert.
It touches one of the posterns of the town that
we freed on the same occasion. Its outer wall ran

for about 150 feet along a street which, starting
from the postern gate, went to join obliquely the
north-east corner of the Hypostyle Hall. The
gateway was of Gebeleîn sandstone; it stood up
straight, surmounted by a bent gorgerin, and the
sculptured and painted uprights stood out strongly
on the whitewash with which the brick wall was
covered. It led through a series of similar gateways
and small courts to a portal supported by
four columns with highly decorated capitals,
behind which stood the pylon, a miniature pylon,
hardly 24 or 27 feet high, with a rectangular
opening and two towers. Beyond the pylon was
a very small open-air court, then a pronaos with
two columns, a Hypostyle Hall, and lastly the
sanctuary flanked by two chapels for the members
of the local triad; it is, in fact, a complete temple.
All the parts are covered with sacred pictures and
inscriptions, many of which still preserve their
brightness of colour. The exterior of the aisles
had received no official decoration, but the piety of
the inhabitants had sketched sacred scenes or
engraved pious formulas on it.
There, besides Phtah, his wife, Sokhît, the
goddess with the head of a lioness, was worshipped,
and their son Imouthes, the patron
of scholars, as well as an old Theban scribe of
the XVIIIth Dynasty, Amenôthes, son of

Pahapi, whom the people almost canonised for
his fame in magic.1 After accomplishing their
duties in the temple, the most fervent of the
faithful, those at least who had obtained some
special favour by the power of Phtah or by the
intercession of his companions, either themselves
engraved or paid some one to engrave for them
a bas-relief on the outer walls of the sanctuary,
which showed them in prayer before one or other
of the divinities. Some of these ex voto are in
quite good style and do honour to the sculptors
of the Græco-Roman period. The greater number,
however, make no claim to be art and are the work
of the dedicator himself, figures of gods out of the
perpendicular, sgraffite in awkward hieroglyphics,
portraits of worshippers who resemble in a most
unfortunate way the figures chalked by street boys
on old walls in European cities. Doubtless Phtah
and Imouthes would forgive the poverty of execution
in consideration for the feeling which prompted
it, and, in fact, faith was strong among the poor
folk who inhabited the ruined Thebes during the
imperial epoch. Amonrâ certainly still monopolised
most of their veneration, and he remained the
master-god of their city. But his temple had been
half destroyed by the mercenaries of Ptolemy
1 The strange history of this personage is briefly related
in “New Light on Ancient Egypt,” chap. xxv.

Lathyrus at the beginning of the first century B.C.,
during the revolt of Upper Egypt in which Thebes
definitely succumbed, and was not in a condition to
serve for regular worship. Its courts, its hypostyles,
its limestone and granite chambers, its corridors, were
almost as much encumbered with dirt and rubbish
as they are now. The secondary temples sufficed
for the needs of the moment, and they alone were
frequented by what remained of the population.
Phtah seems to have been one of those that
prospered under the first Emperors, but he was
soon after abandoned. The roofs of his temple fell
in, its portal and monumental gateways gave way,
sand and bricks fallen from the neighbouring wall
filled up its courts. At the moment when paganism
ended it was in such a bad state that the Christians
disdained to establish themselves there and transform
it into a church.
To that circumstance we owe the possession of its
bas-reliefs and inscriptions almost intact. Certainly
here and there the personages lack limbs, and the
inscriptions are mere fragments of lines, but there
is no absolute defacement of the inscriptions nor
systematic destruction of the figures, and the
history of the building can still be read on the
walls. The kings of the XIth and XIIth Dynasties
are actually the most ancient of the Pharaohs of
whom we have records, but they did not found it;

they only repaired or restored it. Every city in
Egypt liked to entertain the master-gods of other
cities. Thus Thebes, placed under the protection
of Amon, gave hospitality to Phtah, the supreme
divinity of Memphis, and it was by way of return,
for Memphis had done as much for Amon. However,
the first sanctuary of Theban Phtah was
only an oratory. Neglected during the centuries
of misery that followed the invasion of the
Shepherd Kings, it was in a deplorable condition
at the beginning of the XVIIIth Dynasty,
when Thoutmôsis III. thought of remedying the
destruction. He rebuilt it with the money he had
gained during his Syrian campaigns, and enriched
it with splendid gifts, a list of which is preserved
on a stela. He respected the altars consecrated by
his ancestors, but he built around them the halls
we see to-day, and multiplied there his own image.
The king, who may be seen on every part of the
walls offering wine, milk, water, bread, and fruits to
the mummy of Phtah, to the lioness-headed goddess
Sokhît, to the lord Amonrâ and his wife Maout,
is Thoutmôsis III. in twenty postures and in
twenty different costumes. The relief is delicate,
the action joyful, the expression of the faces
smiling, the colour bright enough for us to guess
what it must have been like formerly. The god
enjoyed his good fortune in peace for about

a century, and then persecution raged against
Amon. The fanatic Khouniatonou pursued him
even unto the house of Phtah, erased his name
and his emblems wherever he found them, and
there, as elsewhere, did so much damage that the
halls remained as though dishonoured. When the
heresy disappeared, Setouî I. touched up the
damaged pictures and inscriptions after a fashion,
Phtah took up again the routine of his
monotonous life, and continued it for eight or nine
centuries without any notable occurrences. But
his good fortune decreased with that of Thebes,
his property was seized during the civil wars or the
Assyrian and Persian invasions, his revenues were
reduced to nothing, his walls fell into decay, and he
was at the last extremity when the Ptolemies took
upon themselves the charge of settling the destinies
of Egypt. Their rule was favourable to him, for
they rebuilt his pylon, his portal, his monumental
gateways, the brick rampart which formed the
boundary of his domain. They certainly had a
right to inscribe their titles on what they restored,
but by a strange derogation from Egyptian
custom they only partly profited by it. If we
examine the pictures which are introduced on the
exterior of the bay of the pylon, we read the
protocol of Thoutmôsis III. and that of Setouî—
the first would have built the monument, the

second would have restored it—and at the same
time easily recognise in these works of a so-called
Pharaonic epoch the well-characterised peculiarities
of Ptolemaic art. We see the soft round prominence,
the slightly flabby muscling, the thick contours,
and the neutral and often stupid expression of the
face, the loose appearance of the body which is
usual from the beginning of the Saîd renaissance,
and the hieroglyphics themselves, carefully as they
are cut, in no way resemble those of the XVIIIth
or XIXth Dynasty. Only an artist living under
the Ptolemies could have executed those sculptures,
and yet he attributes them to sovereigns
much more ancient. What reason had those who
commissioned his labour so greatly to contravene
traditional etiquette and to make the pylon they
were setting up pass for the work of a Pharaoh of
the XVIIIth Dynasty?
From the day of his accession the first Ptolemy
set his mind on winning the affection of his people
by his profound respect for the native religions,
and his successors continued to imitate him.
Wherever the Persians had caused ruins they
repaired them to the best of their ability, and to
their political piety the cities of the Saîd owe the
possession of their magnificent temples, Denderah,
Edfou, Ombos, Philæ. Thebes naturally attracted
their attention, and not only such buildings as

Louxor or Karnak offered; their solicitude did
not neglect the chapels scattered through the
town, and that of Phtah profited like the others.
The sacerdotal colleges, encouraged by their
liberality, at the same time as they repaired the
walls attempted to restore the ancient fortune of
the gods, but there they met with serious difficulties.
Not only had the sacred property been seized
by kings or private individuals, but the acts of
donation and the title-deeds which would have made
it possible to claim restitution were destroyed or
lost. The clergy set to work above all to reconstitute
their archives. They collected wherever
they could documents which seemed to them to
commemorate some gift of a Pharaoh, and when
authentic documents were not forthcoming they
did not hesitate to manufacture apocryphal ones.
Criticism of inscriptions was not then highly
developed, and the people accepted with entire
credulity all the fables told them. We see here
and there forged archaic inscriptions, in which
Pharaohs of the most diverse Dynasties, those even
of the 1st or IInd, related how they had assigned
such or such lands, such or such revenues, yearly
pensions of bread and perfumes, oxen, stuffs, wine,
precious metals to such or such a local god who
had saved the whole country from famine or
plague, who had put an end to a dangerous war by

means of an eclipse, or who had freed a daughter
of a foreign king from the evil spirit that possessed
her. The clergy of the Theban Phtah acted like
the rest, and M. Legrain brought to light in the
courts part of the doubtful architrave that they
had placed there. It consists of five stelæ in
moderate preservation, which all show an illustrious
Pharaoh in adoration before the god. The most
ancient was already only a mere fragment when the
priests obtained possession of it, but a fragment of
the greatest value. It showed that an Antouf of the
XIth Dynasty had already associated Phtah with
Amon and Maout, the patrons of Thebes. The
next stela is a veritable deed of gift by which
Thoutmôsis III. grants Phtah an income to
celebrate a solemn fête in his honour every year.
Damaged in parts under Khouniatonou, it was
re-engraved under Setouî I., and is, in the main,
complete. The three last Stelae are, like the first,
only fragments of rather confused inscriptions,
and only one among them has the value of
a title-deed, that in which Setouî sets forth
how it came into his mind to reconvey to the
god what he had been despoiled of by the heretic
princes. The restoration of the pylon in the
names of Thoutmôsis III. and of Setouî I. was
destined to confirm the testimony of these stelæ:
where those declared that the two sovereigns had

worked for the greatest glory of Phtah, the uprights
of the gateway exhibited their portrait from
the very threshold and proved that they spoke the
truth. It is most probable that the clergy invented
nothing on that head. They had only to restore
a decoration that had really dated from the
Theban age, but which was now destroyed, or
which had at least become too indistinct to prove
anything with certainty. The forgery here does not
consist in entirely fabricating a document, but in
replacing the primitive work by a copy with the
idea of giving it the appearance of the original
itself.
In clearing out the chamber which opens on
the right of the sanctuary, there were picked out
from the heaps of sand fragments of black granite,
evidently the remains of two or three idols
destroyed by the early Christians; a lioness's head
still intact proved that there had once been there
a grim Sokhît, Phtah's beloved, the one of his
wives whom he most often associated with himself
in his worship. M. Legrain patiently sorted the
fragments, and succeeded in piecing together
a complete image of the goddess. She really
looks most attractive; and although no king's name
is to be found on her, she doubtless belongs to
the XVIIIth Dynasty, and goes back to the
Amenôthes III. who dedicated several hundred

statues to Sokhît in the sanctuary of Maout alone.
Replaced in her old position at the back of the
hall, she produces a deep impression on visitors,
who, entering the doorway without suspecting her
presence, suddenly fall “under the place of
her face,” according to the phrase usual in such
cases in the religious inscriptions. The natives
have a terror of her which daily increases. They
declare that she stares at them from the empty
sockets of her eyes when they enter her chamber
and when they leave it: she notes their dress,
their gait, their features, their voice, in order to
recognise them later at need. They will soon
declare that she does not remain in her place
during the night, but secretly leaves it and prowls
about the ruins seeking some one to devour.
Until now all the monuments, statues, naos,
stelæ, sarcophagi, mummies, unearthed in the
course of the excavations, have been sent to the
Museum without delay, provided that their weight
or dimensions did not fix them immovable to the
spot. The people of Karnak impatiently await the
hour when we shall rid them of this disquieting
person, but I fear that hour will not strike for them
as soon as they wish. Indeed, I believe that it is
time to drop the custom, and I hope we shall be
able to leave on the spot, if not all the objects
found, at least those which can be saved from the

rapacity of the natives or from the covetousness
of foreign collectors. Amenôthes II. furnished an
example last year1 when we refused to move him
from Bibân-el-Molouk. Sokhît shall not leave the
chapel assigned to her in the harem of her divine
husband, and if my attempt succeeds, Khonsou
will not desert Thebes for Gizeh. The temples
will be gradually repopulated, and will become
what they were formerly, the house in which the
gods dwelt, visible to mortal eyes in all their
many and various forms.2
1 Cf. Chapters X., XI., and XII.
2 I was not able to carry out my intentions. The next
year (1902) men of the Cheîkh Abd-el-Gournah got into the
tomb of Amenôtbes II., robbed the royal mummy, stole
the boat mentioned in Chapters XI. and XII., and although
the men were known, they were not punished. Both
Amenôthes II. and the Sokhît remained in their places, but
all fresh monuments not sufficiently protected by their size
and weight were, in accordance with the old custom, henceforward
dispatched to the Museum.

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155

XV
KARNAK: LEGENDS AND SUPERSTITIONS

OUR workpeople, men and boys, are nearly all
recruited in Karnak: only a few come from
Louxor. They represent the medium type of
the Upper Egypt peasant with his qualities and
defects, his religious beliefs and his superstitions.
As a rule he is patient and gentle, industrious as
long as you whip him, sure to idle and loaf as soon
as the surveillance is withdrawn. He is sober, and
is contented for a whole day with three or four
galettes with an onion for relish, and with turbid
water to drink. But this is from necessity, for
when fortune smiles on him he gorges himself
with victuals and drink, so that he is quite besotted
until digestion is over. He is not brutal to his
wife, he loves his children, and if he beats his
animals it is without malice: a stick falling
rhythmically on a donkey laden with corn or
nitrous earth, the sebakh with which he manures
his fields, marks time in pleasant fashion for the
donkey's trot and the guide's steps. His religion

consists in reciting by heart a few chapters of the
Koran, and in praying every day at the appointed
times with the gestures belonging to the ritual.
He is charitable towards those poorer than himself
and very hospitable. The better we come to know
him, the more we realise that he belongs to a good
race, and the more pleasure we have in talking
to him, but he is very reserved with strangers,
especially with Europeans. He fears that the
European will laugh at his ideas or will use against
him words he may have let fall when off his guard,
and I must confess that his mistrust is only too
often justified. But we tame him when we spend
days in his company, occupied in directing his
work, and persuade him that we have no evil
intentions towards him. Once he begins to talk,
his tongue runs away with him, and there is no
tale that he will not tell you as long as you will
listen to his chatter.
All the ancient sites are more or less bewitched,
but Karnak with its magnificent monuments is
pre-eminently the enchanted land—el-ardh marsoud.
A tradition, transmitted from father to
son through two changes of religion, keeps alive
among them the memory of the treasures contained
in the sanctuary of Amon at the period of Theban
greatness and even later. Gold shone on the wood
of the doors, on the bronze of the ornaments and

statues, on the limestone of the walls or on the
granite of the obelisks, without mentioning the
gold ingots and vases kept in the sacristies.
The inscription engraved on the pedestal of the
obelisk set up by the Queen Hatshopsouîtou
assures us that it was gilded from top to bottom,
and describes new generations asking how
sufficient metal could ever have been procured
for the purpose: “I do not know, I do not know
by what means it was possible to do this thing, a
mountain of gold, the summit of which reaches to
heaven.” The gilding has long since been rubbed
off, and no trace of it is to be distinguished, but
the fellah continues to believe that it is there. If
any one does not see it, it is because the old
magicians, those incomparable men of learning,
have cast a charm on it which hides it from all
eyes. Any one clever enough to exorcise the spell
would suddenly see the obelisk sparkle in the sun
as at the time of its first freshness. And it is not
the only one of the monuments of Karnak which
thus deceives the visitor. Most of the blocks of
granite, alabaster, or even of limestone scattered
over the ground, are also under a spell. More than
one guard has taken me mysteriously to one of
them lying half-buried in an isolated pit, and after
making sure that no one was spying on us, has
knocked it with his stick and told me to notice the

metallic sound that followed: the magician has
veiled the brightness of the gold, but was not
clever enough to disguise the sound. If the stone
was broken to the recital of an appropriate spell,
the gold would immediately reappear. Not a
year passes but a Moghrebin, a man from Tunis or
Algiers or Morocco, comes to try his luck. He
arrives on the day and at the hour prescribed by the
books of magic, draws the circle, burns the incense,
mutters the invocations. The fellahs declare that
many fail, but that those who succeed enrich
themselves for the rest of their life. Genii
naturally watch over these treasures, and sometimes
defend them or distribute them to individuals
whom their caprice delights to honour. One of
them, who is a negro of the name of Morgâni,
inhabits the northern doorway of the temple of
Montou, which for that reason we call Bab-el-abd,
the Door of the Slave. About twenty years ago
the captain of a boat laden with lentils and beans
was obliged through stress of weather to cast
anchor opposite Karnak. As he lay alongside a
beggar came up and asked first for an ardeb1 of
lentils, then for half the quantity, then for a
quarter; he was allowed at last to take away as
much as he could hold in the hollow of his hands.
The beggar thanked the captain and gave him a
1 About 330 Ibs.


KARNAK. PTOLEMAIC GATEWAY IN FRONT OF THE TEMPLE OF KHONSOU.
To face p. 159.

written paper, advising him to go by night to the
Door of the Slave. If he knocked three times
with his finger on a certain stone, a negro would
come out, to whom he was to say: “Oh, Morgâni,
look at this paper,” and he was to wait. The night
before his departure the captain repaired to the
Door of the Slave, knocked three times, and
showed the paper. The negro immediately led
him into an inner chamber, gave him gold in
the same quantity as he had given the beggar
lentils, and then added: “If you had given an
ardeb you would have received an ardeb; depart
your ways and profit by the lesson, and hence-forth
be more generous.”
All the genii are not equally amiable. The monumental
doorway of the south, that which closes the
avenue of Rams and precedes the Temple of Khonsou,
serves as dwelling-place for a lakhia, that is, a
dwarf with a big head and crooked legs, adorned
with a formidable beard. He walks abroad in the
mists of the evening, and takes the air in the surrounding
places. If a passing stranger laughs at
his grotesque appearance, he jumps at his throat and
strangles him. The banks of the crescent-shaped
pond that has taken the place of the old sacred lake
of the Temple of Maout have a very bad reputation,
and the natives do not like to venture there
after sunset. They would run the risk of meeting

an enormous cat who walks there on moonless
nights and whose eyes shine in the darkness like
two balls of fire. She fascinates those on whom
she fixes her eyes, and drags them into the water
and they are drowned. The cat ceases her
prowling at full moon, and a woman, scantily
clothed in a short clinging white tunic, takes her
place. She is very beautiful, it is said, and solicits
young men with her sweet voice, but as soon as
she has seduced one of them she smothers him.
There is no mystery about the origin of these
supernatural beings. The lakhia of the Temple of
Khonsou is the Bîsou of the old Egyptians, the
dwarf who came from the Pouanît, and who was
laughed at by all on account of his enormous
head, hairy cheeks, crooked legs, and headdress
of feathers. The cat and the white lady are
two different forms of Maout, one animal, the
other purely human. Here, as in many other
lands, the gods are neither dead nor in exile; they
are still in their hereditary domains, but they have
changed their nature and have become demons.
Sometimes they celebrate the ancient rites with the
pomp of a former day. More than one fellah kept
out late has seen a mysterious cortège passing by
night from Karnak to Louxor. A troop of horsemen
heads the procession, then comes a Sultan
mounted on a white horse and surrounded by foot-guards,

then women carried in litters, and a confused
crowd of soldiers and common people. All
these shades walk silently, seeing nothing of what
is going on around them, but if the spectator
recites the Musulman profession of faith—”There
is no God if it is not God and Mohammed is the
prophet of God
”—they vanish as if carried off by
a whirlwind.
Once or twice a year the old sacred lake of the
Temple of Amon is illuminated and a golden
dahabieh sails round it. The rowers are statues of
gold, the cabins are filled with gold furniture.
Whoever likes may go aboard and seize the
treasure, then return to land without hindrance,
provided that during the adventure he does not
utter a word. There is no example of a fellah
being able to restrain himself from crying “Ah!”
or invoking Allah at the sight of so much treasure
spread out before him: then everything vanishes,
and the foolish fellow, falling into the water, has to
swim ashore. The people of Karnak declare that
Mariette alone was able to keep silent, and that is
why there are so many gold jewels in the Cairo
Museum. I have been told how a peasant of
Karnak, walking by night along the sacred lake,
saw the boat moored to the shore. As a brilliant
light came from it and an echo of strange voices
and a roaring of distant daraboukahs, he did not

dare enter it, but seeing the stake to which the
rope was tied, and by the side of the stake the
mallet used to knock it into the ground, he seized
them and ran home as fast as his legs could carry
him. Once there he declared that the two objects
were of fine gold; he sold them, and that was the
origin of his fortune. The story is well known
and was evidently inspired by the remembrance of
the ancient Theban fêtes. The nocturnal tour is
the solemn procession of Amon. The king led the
god in triumph from his temple of Karnak to his
temple of Louxor, and then brought him back.
The golden dahabieh is the ark of Amon, the
picture of which appears on the walls a hundred
times, with its cabin, furniture, pilot, and crew of
divinities. On certain days and nights it was sent
on to the lake to perform mysteries. It turned
about for some hours before the eyes of the faithful,
then was lifted on to the shoulders of the
priests, and returned to the depths of the
sanctuary.
The stories of the “Arabian Nights” have
made us familiar with djinns, and they swarm
at Karnak and in its environs. From time to
time a light appears on the summit of the pylon
of the Ptolemies, and then, after becoming
so brilliant that the eye cannot endure it, it
is suddenly extinguished: it is the djinns manifesting

themselves. It is unwise to speak of
them even in the daytime, for you never know
if they are not invisible near the talkers and
may be offended by the conversation. They fall
in love with pretty girls, and pursue them into
corners, while the djinniahs, the female djinns, fall
in love with handsome, vigorous young men.
When a young man who is both well off and in
good health does not marry, he is accused of having
a djinniah for wife, and all sorts of evil rumours
about him are spread abroad. I was told of
one of the most notable inhabitants of Louxor
who long lived with a djinniah. She gave him
recipes for fattening and taking care of the cattle,
she indicated the hiding-places of antiquities or
treasure, she gave him such good counsel in his
business affairs that he quickly grew very wealthy.
When he was just touching his fortieth year he
tired of this illegitimate union and sought to
marry, but all the girls whom he courted fell ill
and died one after the other. At length he
managed to get engaged to a girl of a Cairo family,
and the djinniah, prevented by distance, did not
succeed in hindering the marriage. She revenged
herself, nevertheless; for no sooner did the young
wife arrive at Louxor than she was attacked by
diseases that robbed her of her good looks, and her
three children were born weak and sickly. The

male djinns are less ferocious and more easily
pardon infidelities. They are sometimes confused
with spirits of an inferior sort, the afrîtes, who
delight in playing all sorts of tricks like our
goblins, but who are generally not at all terrible.
They unceremoniously enter European dwellings,
and a house belonging to the Service des Antiquités
is one of their favourite resorts. It is true
that it was built on the site of a disused burial-ground,
and that some of the afrîtes who assemble
there are merely ghosts of the departed. In the
daytime nothing unusual happens. Once only
M. Chauvin's native cook—M. Chauvin is the
employee of the Service who lives there—heard a
noise like the rattling of old iron in his kitchen,
and ran away in a great fright, exclaiming that a
devil had got among his saucepans. At night it is
unwise to walk about the house without a light;
there is risk of knocking up against a phantom
taking a stroll and of receiving a hard blow. Last
January M. Chauvin, wishing to rise early in order
to start at dawn on a hunting expedition, told his
servant Kamal not to go back to Karnak, but to
sleep in a room next his office. Kamal, fearing to
be alone, invited a friend to keep him company,
and the precaution was not unnecessary. Scarcely
were they in bed when a little dog entered the
room, they could not tell how, and after smelling

at them, frisked about them for nearly an hour,
barking as if he wished to bite them. Soon after
they had with difficulty chased him away, a dozen
children or little men appeared to them, who
danced for a long time, clapping their hands and
putting out their tongues. They could not get
free of them till the morning, when M. Chauvin,
getting up, summoned them to set out for the
place where they had to lie in wait for the game.
A good way to frighten the afrîtes, at Karnak as
everywhere, is to put a little bread with a pinch of
salt in the place they habitually frequent. But
the best way is not to be afraid of them. One of
our workmen at Gournah, going down into the
crypt of a tomb lately opened, felt his arm grasped
by some one he did not see; without being disconcerted,
he stretched out his hand at hazard and
gripped so hard that his aggressor melted between
his fingers without doing him any harm. There
are very few of our men who have not met afrîtes
and who have not some adventure to recount
similar to the one I have just related.
Every individual who is assassinated or
accidentally killed is changed into an afrîte and
haunts the place where he died until the last
traces of his blood are effaced. In 1884, while
we were working in the Temple of Louxor,
four of the workmen who were cleaning the

roof of one of the lateral halls of the sanctuary
fell from a height of 30 feet to 36 feet.
Three of them were killed on the spot; the
fourth jumped up again, unhurt, and ran off
as fast as his legs could carry him to his
village of Bayadîyeh, at the south of Louxor.
The next day one of the Copts who lived in an
adjoining house told me that his wife had been
awakened in the middle of the night by cries
that had no human sound. She opened her
window a little, and by the light of the moon
saw the three men who had been killed the day
before walking in the ruins, shouting and
waving their arms. I had the curiosity to
inquire about them this year, and learned that
they were still occasionally seen or heard. I
was even shown yellowish stains in the hall
where they were killed, said to be the marks of
their blood, but I could not discover if they
were dangerous, or if any misdeeds were laid to
them other than disturbing the rest of the riverside
dwellers on moonlight nights. Afrîtes of
that sort abound everywhere, and some of them
have a European origin. About half-way between
Louxor and Karnak, you skirt on the
left three enclosures, scantily planted with trees.
They are three cemeteries—Protestant, Catholic,
and Coptic—placed by the roadside in order to

remind tourists that men die even in Egypt,
and that a journey of pleasure may suddenly
end in a grave in a foreign land.
One of the first guests of the Protestant
cemetery was, it is said, an English soldier,
who, coming down from Ouady-Halfah, where
he was in garrison, bathed in the river at
Louxor and was drowned. It is his custom
to wander among the tombs in the enclosure,
but he confines himself to darting fiery glances
at the living persons who traverse the road.
Sometimes, however, he comes out and walks
behind them, and accompanies them to the
first houses of Karnak or to the little bridge
near Karnak. Another English soldier, who
perished in climbing the Great Pyramid about
1882, haunts the plain of Gizeh at sunset, and
I myself heard a French mechanic spoken of
at Rodah in 1884 who, caught in some
machinery ten or twelve years before, returned
at intervals to see if all was going well at the
factory. Foreign spectres have not yet invaded
Karnak, but the supernatural beings known to
our workmen there are of very ancient native
origin. The Thebans of the XXth Dynasty
must have been frightened by tales resembling
those that their descendants have told me, and thus
the beliefs of Pharaonic Egypt are for the most part
perpetuated in the superstitions of modern Egypt.

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168

XVI
FISHING FOR STATUES IN THE TEMPLE
OF KARNAK

FOR a year and eight months we have been
fishing for statues in the Temple of Karnak.
We began about the end of November, 1903,
and have continued uninterruptedly until now,1
except for the usual holiday seasons and the
pauses needed by the workmen. Seven hundred
stone monuments have already come out of
the water, and we are not yet at the end.
Twice luck seemed to desert us, and twice,
after days of distress, it smiled on us again.
Statues whole and in fragments, busts, mutilated
trunks, headless bodies, bodiless heads, vases on
which there were only broken feet, Pharaohs
enthroned, queens standing upright, priests of
Amon and individuals holding naos, or images
of gods, in front of them, crouching, kneeling,
sitting, found in all the attitudes of their
1 February, 1905.

KARNAK. AVENUE OF SPHINXES LEADING TO THE MAIN ENTRANCE.
To face p. 168.


profession or rank, in limestone, in black or pink
granite, in yellow or red sandstone, in green
breccia, in schist, in alabaster—indeed, a whole
population returns to the upper air and demands
shelter in the galleries of the Museum.
During the four years that the Service des
Antiquités has devoted to work at Karnak, I
made it a law to myself never to abandon any
part until it had been thoroughly explored—
walls, flooring, sub-structures—and until all the
remains of earlier monuments that could be
found there were brought out. It is due to this
strictness of mine that M. Legrain discovered
several masterpieces, the statue of the god
Khonsou, the group of Thoutmôsis IV. and of
his mother, Tiâ, the colossus of a Sanouosrît
IV. who flourished under the XIIIth Dynasty,
the triumphal bas-reliefs of Amenôthes II. on
his return from Syria, after the raids of his
first expedition. We are now carrying on
our campaign in the avenue that extends to
the south of the Hypostyle Hall on the
two sides of the seventh pylon, where borings
formerly taken revealed to me the presence
of a number of stelae and statues. It produced
during the last months of 1902 about
fifteen colossi, which formerly stood right and
left along the southern facade of the pylon,

and then lay dismembered under the rubbish.
Now they have been pieced together again,
and stand almost in their ancient places. Later
on, during the winter of 1902-3, we discovered
a large number of limestone blocks, ornamented
with marvellous bas-reliefs, some coming from
a chapel of Sanouosrît I., but the greater
number from an edifice built by Amenôthes I.
about the beginning of the XVIIIth Dynasty.
Thoutmôsis III. had used them as waste material
to bank up the pavement of the court while
erecting on so vast a scale the propylaea
of the temple of Amon. The débris of
Sanouosrît I. are still very scanty and we shall
probably have to treat them as fragments for
the Museum, and send them to Cairo. Those
of Amenôthes I. are so many that I decided
to reconstruct the building to which they
belonged. M. Legrain discovered the plan and
brought together the scattered elements under
the happy inspiration of a German architect,
M. Wefels, who had come to Egypt for his
health, but we have not yet chosen the site.
When we have selected it, it will be an affair
of only a few months, and visitors to Karnak
will be able to admire in the light of
day a monument buried by Thoutmôsis III.
immediately after his first victories, and which

no human eye had seen for more than 3,500
years.1
It was while getting one of the most beautiful
of the blocks out of the ground, about the end
of November, 1903, that M. Legrain extricated
the pieces of an alabaster colossus. The rise of
the river had been greater than usual, and the level
of the infiltrations was high enough to impede
his operations. When the first fragments were
brought away he distinguished vague outlines
of statues in the mud at the bottom of the
cavity, which the water, oozing in on every
side, had soon filled. He ordered them to be
got out without feeling much emotion in regard
to the find, for the success of the preceding
years had made the joys of discovery pall on
him. But while they were being torn from
their bed of mud one of the workmen exclaimed
that there were more of them beneath their feet.
There were others under those, then others
again, and still others. They seemed to sprout
among the men as fast as they picked them
out. Most of them were only of second-rate
style and interest, merely good studio pieces,
1 The site has since been chosen, but the rebuilding
has yet to be begun: in order to commence operations
I must find time one winter to stay at
Thebes longer
than usual.

but some stood out as of no ordinary make:
a group of a prince and his wife seated
side by side with their daughter standing against
their legs; two large heads in pink granite of
Sanouosrît I., of haughty mien and vigorous
style; a sovereign pontiff of Amon in speckled
black and white granite, crouching lumpishly,
his arms crossed, his thighs up to his ears; a
statuette in a white stone tinted with pale green,
that the natives immediately called emerald root.
About the end of December there were forty
intact statues in the house of the Service, the
fragments of about twenty were awaiting in the
workshop a stroke of fortune that might restore
the portions they lacked, and the extraction
of them went on without any notable pause.
Stone predominated, but oxidised bronze began
to abound, uraei incrusted with variegated
enamels, heads or points of sceptres, the mounts
of gigantic eyes fallen from some colossus, blades
of tools, little figures of Osiris-mummy, several
of them of admirable finish. The farther we
went the more evident it became that it was
not chance alone that had brought so many
dissimilar objects to this place. They must
have been accumulated there on purpose, and
served perhaps to conceal a more valuable
deposit, sacred plates and cups or gold and

silver statues buried by the Theban priests in
troublous times. It was natural that M. Legrain
should have the idea that there was treasure,
the treasure of Amon, buried there under the
stone and in the mud, and although I could
not agree with him, his opinion sustained him
through the heavy fatigues of his long campaign,
and still possesses his mind.
Meanwhile the rumour spread that we were
doing wonders at Karnak, and, assisted by the
Oriental imagination, the monuments were not
emerging by tens or even by hundreds, but by
thousands, and they were of a colossal size; the
villagers had even weighed them and reckoned the
value in current coin of the masses of gold of
which M. Legrain predicted the imminent arrival.
Tourists, who are numerous at Louxor in the
winter months, came in crowds every day to the
environs of the pylon, and if they were quiet and
orderly were willingly admitted to the spectacle.
Fishing for statues actually went on under their
eyes. The trench dug in the north-west corner of
the courtyard against the wall of the Hypostyle
Hall was dry in parts, and in others scattered over
with pools. The workshop was set up in the
largest of them, which was the last on the south
side. Every morning twenty men, using old
petroleum cans for pails, drew off the 3 or 4

feet of muddy water which filled it and stored it in
a reservoir situated a little above, and separated
from the large pool by a thin partition of earth.
When only mud of a certain consistency was left,
they attacked it with the pickaxe, stopping now
and then to feel gently with their feet till resistance
under their heel seemed to point to the existence
of a block. Then they dropped the pickaxe and
used their hands, for fear that an awkward blow of
the instrument might cause irreparable damage.
When the contour and dimensions of the object
were in some degree defined, they raised it as well
as they could by means of wooden levers, and tried
to drag it to the edge by a series of slow jolts. If
this had no effect, or the weight was too great,
they wound a rope several times round it, and
harnessing themselves to its end, three or four of
them pulled with caution. That was the particular
moment of the operation that tourists, warned by
their dragomans, impatiently awaited. The mud
was tenacious, the rope tended to slip and escape,
the bottom of the pool offered insufficient support.
But most often after a long inertia the piece
suddenly and most unexpectedly detached itself
from the mud, and the workmen, losing their
balance, fell one over the other, splashing the
people standing round. The tourists burst into
laughter, and most of them ran away. A few,

however, remained in order to witness the
recognition of the statue. The body and face
were washed, sponged, wiped, brushed, and such
vigorous treatment was generally quickly successful.
In less than five minutes the features of the face
appeared, the inscriptions became legible, details
of costume or style completed the information
furnished by the inscriptions, and we knew if
the fresh arrival was the high priest Ramses-nakhouîtou
of the XXth Dynasty or the lord
Anakhoui of the XIIIth. In the evening, before
leaving the place, the partition was opened, and the
water drawn out of the pool in the morning was
sent back. The liquid spread in the twinkling of
an eye, and protected the spot against night
attacks more effectually and at less expense than a
picket of sentries.
Thieves could do nothing under those conditions,
and they regretfully recognised it from the very
first. That the Service alone should benefit from
such continuous good fortune was a cause of
indignation and inconsolable grief to them and the
merchants whom they provided with goods. They
had come not only from Louxor but from the
whole of Egypt, from Keneh, Siout, Mellaoui,
Cairo, and they prowled round our workshops
vainly invoking all the saints in the Coptic calendar
or the Musulman tradition for any sort of means

by which they might derive some small advantage
from this miraculous draught. Even if
they had corrupted our workmen or overseers, a
circumstance neither impracticable nor difficult, it
would have availed them nothing: the valuable
pieces were too few and too heavy for any one to
risk taking them off by day while work was in progress,
and the deep water made it impossible to
work by stealth at night. Most of them renounced
their plans on account of these obstacles, but some
would not confess themselves defeated, and
changed their tactics, concentrating their efforts on
the stores in which the statues were kept before
their despatch to Cairo. They were closed in by
thick walls, touching the house occupied by M.
Legrain and his family, and watched day and night
by two of our men. For greater safety M.
Legrain shut up the smaller pieces in his office,
and requisitioned two vigorous men from the
omdeh of Karnak, whom he associated with our
guards. It was this very precaution that did the
mischief. One of the notables of the district
arranged to pass off on us two professional thieves;
he did not hope to steal everything from us, but
one object had excited his covetousness—the
statuette said to be of emerald root, and that
popular credulity valued at 10,000 Egyptian
pounds—that is, about £10,400 sterling. The chief

personages of Louxor liked to look at it often, and
one day, about the middle of January, one of them
said to M. Legrain in a slightly forced humorous
manner, “Hide it well, or I shall have it stolen.”
M. Legrain laughed heartily, but as soon as he
was alone, locked it up in another place, and
replaced it by two statuettes of little value. It
was well that he did so. That very night persons
well informed of the lay of the land scaled the
outer wall, pierced the wall of the store itself, and
without making any noise carried off the two
understudies. Inquiry proved that the raid had
been carried out by the two extra guards; they
were caught, but firmly denied their guilt. We
began to despair of ever discovering anything when
an anonymous denunciation revealed the names
of the receivers and of the village they inhabited.
The instigator of the theft remained unpunished,
his accomplices refusing to name him, but we
recovered possession of the monuments so craftily
taken away, and the thieves were punished.
Things will now be quiet for a time.
The excavations went forward without, it
seemed, exhausting or impoverishing the site. So
deep into the earth did the men penetrate that
they reached the level of the constant infiltrations
of the river. To fight the water we had to set up
two hand-pumps and chadoufs at the side of the

cavity, and those means soon proving insufficient,
we set up a steam-pump. The pit became wider
and longer the more it was dug out, and surveillance
became more difficult. But it did not absorb
M. Legrain so much that he could not draw up
a catalogue of our wealth. The historical value
equals, if it does not surpass, the artistic value.
The greater part transports us to one of the most
obscure epochs of Egyptian history, that which,
extending from the XIXth Dynasty to the
Persian Conquest, saw the military empire of
Thebes transformed into a theocratic principality.
The high priests of Amon of the epoch of the
Ramses began it, then those who were contemporaries
of the Bubastes, such as Horsiêsis,
whose name even we do not know, but who was
pontiff and king about the middle of the eighth
century. When the male line failed and women
alone survived to rule Southern Egypt, new
documents furnish details of their lives. We read
how the Pharaohs, reconciling respect for tradition
with the necessities of their sovereign authority,
sent their daughters one after the other to reign
over the domain of Amon. What a series of
initiations they had to undergo before legally
entering into the pontifical family! They were
introduced to the god with great ceremony, and
if they conciliated his favour, were immediately

adopted by the reigning princess; they only
actually became queens on the death of their
adopted mother. Thenceforward they were the
legitimate wives of Amonrâ, free to choose whom
they pleased to represent him, but, like the queens
of Madagascar, they only possessed the externals
of power. They had an hereditary guardian, a sort
of chief officer of state, descended from a race
devoted to the Saîtes and who administered
military and civil affairs. The other periods of
history are less abundantly represented up to that
time. But they have given us a few monuments
of extraordinary beauty, the torso in pink granite
of one of the Pharaohs of the XVIIIth Dynasty
and the two statuettes in black granite of
Amenemhaît III. The most interesting of all
perhaps is a little figure which might be a portrait
of Amenôthes IV. or of Aî, the heretic king. It
is not carved in real stone but in petrified wood,
probably a piece of one of the gigantic nicolias,
remarkable specimens of which are seen on the
tablelands of Mokattam to the east of Cairo. In
spite of the incredible hardness of the material, it is
modelled with rare certainty and suppleness. If
the sculptor had used soft limestone he would not
have succeeded in endowing it with greater charm
and delicacy.
Now, how is the accumulation of so many

valuable things in one place to be accounted for?
M. Legrain persists in believing in the treasure,
and would not be in the least astonished if
statues in precious metal followed statues in
stone. Others have no such rich hope, but
imagine that at some time of danger the
priests of Amon desired to protect the best of
the monuments consecrated by their ancestors
from the enemy, and for that reason made the
hiding-place we are emptying. These hypotheses
present no great improbability. The Theban
priesthood was often obliged to bury its treasure
during the wars or revolutions that devastated the
city, but I doubt if a spot as easy of access as our
courtyard would have seemed to them sufficiently
secret in such a case. Besides, gold and silver so
hidden does not ordinarily remain long under
ground. When they escape the enemy and danger
is over, the priests hasten to take them out again
and to restore them to their accustomed places.
If ever the pit at Karnak held gold and silver
statues, they stayed there but a very short time,
and we have no chance of finding any there unless
some got lost in the mud. The stone statues, no
matter the value we give them, had very little
interest for the Egyptians of the Ptolemaic age.
The question of art did not exist for them, and
in the works so valuable to us they saw only

ex-voto offered long ago by persons famous in
their generation, but whose names were for the
most part forgotten. They used some to repair
the flooring of the temple, why then should they
have been anxious to preserve the others? No one
would have been greatly grieved if the enemy had
broken them or carried them off as trophies. The
Egyptian would only have cared if it had been a
question of divine images; it grieved him exceedingly
if the foreigner carried off those, and he
rejoiced exceedingly when a victorious Pharaoh,
even though he was a Greek, repatriated them.
For myself, I see a simpler solution of the
problem with which we are confronted. The
burying of these pieces took place during the first
half of the Macedonian rule; the style of some
of the statues is a proof, as is the presence
of large copper coins with the Lagidian eagle.
Ptolemy I. and his successors worked much at
Thebes; they rebuilt the sanctuary, restored the
columns of the Hypostyle Hall, repaired the temple
of Phtah and some of the buildings which surround
the Sacred Lake. All that had suffered, and in
addition the ex-voto accumulated during centuries
filled up the corridors and courtyards. The
restorations finished, they would not have thrown
away objects which were the personal property
of the god as refuse, nor have sold or destroyed

them. They treated them in the way customary
on such occasions with the barbarians as with the
Greeks. They dug a pit for them in the Court of
the Seventh Pylon, a favissa into which they were
thrown with due ceremonies. It is certainly not
the only one. As for the royal mummies, the
quantity was so great that a single hiding-place
would never have sufficed to contain them. I
have every hope that our future excavations will
reveal the pits in which ex-voto of more ancient
times were buried.

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183

XVII
THE PHARAOHS BY ELECTRIC LIGHT

THE Pharaohs would not have understood it in the
least. When I say the Pharaohs, it is only a
loose way of speaking: only one Pharaoh lived at
Thebes, the others sleep in peace in some hidden
place which we shall one day discover, or are
exhibited in glass cases in the Cairo Museum.
As a matter of fact it is Amenôthes II., and he
alone, who would not have understood it.
The electric light has just been installed in his
tomb, and every day this winter,1 from nine o'clock
in the morning to two o'clock in the afternoon, he
has seen the light switched on and off at the will of
the tourists, with a rapidity and intensity of which
he had not any idea during his reign. An old
Egyptian romance describes the adventures of a
family of ghosts who had returned and were living
comfortably with their mummies in a tomb, lighted
by a wonderful talisman, an incantation written on
papyrus by the hand of Thot himself. When his
first fear was over, Amenôthes would certainly
1 This was written in 1903.

imagine that a well-intentioned sorcerer had made
him a present of a similar conjuring book, and he
would return fervent thanks to the gods. The
whole Academy of Sciences would waste their
time in trying to persuade him that it was not so.
Ever since my return to Egypt I had been
struck with the lamentable condition into which
the tombs of the Theban kings had fallen during
my absence; everywhere the colours had faded,
the bas-reliefs had been soiled, and it seemed as if
a blackish gauze veil had been placed between
them and the spectator. The fault was solely due
to the means of lighting employed by the visitors,
and which the Service des Antiquités was obliged
to allow. In former times when travellers were
rare, and when there were only two or three
hundred at most each winter, it did no great
harm to allow them to use candles or even
torches: there was not enough smoke each
time for it to be destructive. But to-day visitors
throng in crowds of two or three hundred, and
their total number during the season exceeds
four thousand. So it was no longer a few candles,
but hundreds of candles, that were taken through
the galleries and chambers, leaving trails of soot
in their track, and in addition there was the
dragoman who lighted up the most celebrated
pictures with magnesium wire. That was forbidden,

and the guardians of the Service received
orders to stop it, but two or three piastres of
bakhshîsch cleverly distributed closed the
guardians' eyes. For several hours the tombs
would remain infected by smoke which made
the atmosphere unbearable, and which, settling
down on the ceilings and walls, soiled them more
and more every day. A few years hence, and the
tomb of Setouî I., of Ramses III., V., and IX., the
most frequented of all, would look like a succession
of blackened cavities where you would no longer be
able to distinguish even the faded outline of former
paintings. The only way to prevent this evil from
causing total destruction was to install the electric
light as soon as possible. On one hand it harms
the objects very little, and on the other the light
which it gives is strong enough to prevent tourists
regretting their pieces of magnesium wire.
Numberless difficulties, however, opposed its use.
The Valley of the Kings is some miles from the
nearest wells: where could the necessary water be
procured? Would it be possible to construct the
works in so concealed a spot that the building should
not spoil the admirable site chosen by the Egyptians
for the tombs of their kings? Could the smell
of petrol, the noise of the piston, and the rumbling
of the flywheel be suppressed or merely moderated?
Last, though not least, where could we obtain the

six or eight hundred pounds which the undertaking
required? How the Service des Antiquités
managed to provide the sum required is a
complicated and tiresome story which would have
no interest for the public. The money found, the
Department of Public Works gave us full permission
to do what we liked, and the rest went of
itself. A little to the east of the hypogeum of
Setouî I. there was a tomb almost entirely fallen
to ruin, that of Ramses XI., the entrance of which
was used as a dining-room. The dragomans set
up tables there, and the tourists lunched under the
protection of the king. It was selected for
the place in which to install the dynamos, and was
delivered over to the electricians. They soon
fixed up their engines under the direction of
M. Zimmermann, an engineer whose services the
proprietors of the Louxor Hotel agreed to lend
us. An inhabitant of the village of Gournah
undertook for a fee to send us daily on donkey-back
the necessary amount of water. The
installation, begun at the end of December, 1901,
was finished in March, 1902, and the trials were
immediately declared to be satisfactory. The
system has since been worked during the whole
of the winter 1902-1903, to the advantage of the
monuments and the delight of their visitors.
At first it seems as if nothing is changed in the

Valley. You have to look very closely to find two
or three wooden poles which try to conceal themselves
in a corner, and an almost invisible wire
which passes from one to the other. Wherever
possible, the wire was carried under the sand or
close to the rock, and it is only at the last
extremity, to cross the dip of the ravine, that it is
actually visible in the air. The engine-house is
so well hidden in its burrow where no one ever
goes, that you are literally close upon it before
either you see it or hear the noise. From time to
time a louder blow of the piston resounds or a gust
of wind blowing down the ravine brings a slight
odour of petrol. But it is so slight that most
tourists enter and stay in the tomb of Setouî I.
without suspecting the existence of an engine only
about fifteen yards off. All the royal tombs are
preceded by a sort of vestibule open to the air,
which is only the prolongation of the gallery of
access. The greater part of the vestibule has been
roofed in with wood and glass; the two ends have
been closed by means of partitions provided with
doors, and so the works have been constituted.
Two or three mutilated cartouches remind us of
the name of the first master, and his silhouette is
vaguely sketched on one of the faces of the rock to
the right. The engine roars away in the centre, a
Crossley engine of seventeen horse-power nominal,

solid, squat, rugged, as is necessary in a part of
the world so distant from engineering workshops
where repairs can be made. The reservoirs and
the table of distribution are relegated to the sides,
and at the end through a half-open door may be
seen the little room in which the electrician lives
for six months in the year. Nothing is more
significant than this association between the
ancient building and modern machinery, the
Solar disk, the outlines of which may be seen
above the Pharaonic bay, and the engines of steel
and copper which move and work almost noiselessly
with that air of easy and conscientious application
which characterises our most complicated inventions.
Too often the modern world destroys the
ancient in order to take its place: in this case the
modern world respects the ancient and helps it to
carry on what life it still possesses. The works
actually distribute the light to six tombs, but we
only use it for three at a time, and most often we
arrange to have visitors only in two of them
at once. Thanks to the care and skill of M.
Zimmermann, there has been no accident so far.
We have provided for the case of sudden failure
or interruption of the current, and have stored
lanterns and candles in each tomb, but have not
had occasion to use them.
The six tombs selected for the first trial were

those of Amenôthes II., Ramses I., Setouî I.,
Ramses III., Ramses V., and Ramses IX., tombs
which have always attracted the attention of
travellers. Having descended the worn and
slippery staircase which leads to Setouî I., a
line of lamps is seen on the ceiling of the sloping
gallery which seems to penetrate far into the earth,
and as daylight is left behind we are struck by
the clearness with which the smallest details of the
paintings on the wall stand out. In the places
where the sculptor, stopped in his work by the
death of the sovereign, has left whole panels of
inscriptions and figures, some merely sketched in
red chalk, others half raised from the stone, all the
technique of the design and of the execution was
clearly perceived: the sketches of the workman,
the corrections of the designer-in-chief, the attack
of the graving tool on the surface, the restraint and
modelling of the figures and the hieroglyphics, all
the details of interest to the artist or to the historian
of art stand out clearly in the new light.
And as it is more and more used, gods and
monsters who were almost invisible in the dim
light of candles or the smoky coruscations of
magnesium wire, present a firmness of outline
and intensity of life that quite transforms them.
Every moment there stand out faces of kings,
profiles of animals, masks of wild genii, silhouettes

of goddesses of which until now no one has been
able to admire the delicate and graceful charm. It
is especially in the Hall of the Sarcophagus, the one
called by the Egyptians the Hall of Gold, that the
advantages of the electric light appear. With its
large dimensions, the height of the vaulted roof,
the thickness of the pillars, who could boast of ever
having seen the whole of it? The most favoured
saw a few portions, half-blinded by the light of the
magnesium wire, and by the kind of twilight that
followed when the light was exhausted. They had
to be content with imagining what it would be like
if it was shown them with sufficient light, but even
so, they could scarcely form any adequate idea of it.
Now the lamps are so distributed and their light
so graduated that there is an even brilliance everywhere,
from the ground to the vaulted roof. It is
no more necessary to make a lengthy examination
of each picture, nor to make a great effort to keep
the hues and tonality in one's eye, and then by a
still greater effort of memory, of which few are
capable, to co-ordinate isolated impressions, and to
deduce from them an impression of the whole.
The impression of the whole is now there from
the very first, and it is a great delight to seize
at once the richness, the colours, and the perfect
equilibrium of the composition. No sooner is
the light switched on than the decoration starts

to life before the spectator, and is as clear as
possible.
And yet, I sometimes ask myself if these tombs,
now so brilliantly illuminated, may not lose some
small part of their attractiveness. The Egyptians
certainly did not conceive them thus, and never at
any period of their history did they see them more
distinctly than European travellers saw them half
a century ago, before the use of magnesium wire.
The threshold crossed and the door closed, the
visitors seemed to have bade an eternal farewell to
daylight. Darkness engulfed them, all the more
visible for the feeble reddish halo made by their
torches. Under that inconstant and short-lived
light the walls and their paintings were almost
invisible: the figures of gods and the inscriptions
emerged imperfectly from the darkness, and
plunged into it again as soon as the procession
had passed. We advanced as in a dream, haunted
by mysterious forms, and in fact the hypogeum
was no longer a part of our world. It had been
dug out in resemblance of the deep valleys that
the sun passed over each evening, and where the
souls not vowed to Osiris sojourned in melancholy.
On the walls was painted or carved the course of
the Star through the crowds of grieving spirits or
savage genii, his escort of magician gods, the
portrait of the enemies he fought and of the friends

who helped him to defeat those enemies, the
incantations he must recite in order to come
triumphant out of his trial. For the moderns as
for the ancients, a descent into the ill-lighted tomb
of Setouî was a dim image of a journey in the
regions of the dead. Does not the introduction of
light then destroy the effect calculated by the
Egyptians? The tourists who are acquainted with
the destiny of the Pharaohs will perhaps miss the
sensation of religious awe they expected, but how
few of those come each year! The crowd whose
chief desire is to see the things of which they have
heard, and not merely to guess at them, has no such
scruples. The visit is made easier by the use of
electricity, and they are delighted. Besides, things
are so arranged that each, if he so wishes, can
instantly be brought back into the ancient conditions.
In the tomb of Amenôthes II., for
instance, where the mummy is still in its place in
the sarcophagus, one of the funeral ceremonies is
rehearsed. At a given signal the lights are
switched off except one above the head of the
sovereign. It is what the priests called the
Illumination of the Face: they threw the flame of
their lamps on to the face of the mummy to assure
him of the enjoyment of eternal light. After a
few minutes the guide switches on the other lights
all at once, or one after the other, as may be

preferred. Thus the effect may be varied, and the
tomb shown under its former aspect before seeing
it under the new conditions. The six tombs are
all similarly arranged, and our system has at least
the advantage of contenting everybody. Those
who desire to know the decoration in detail and to
see it clearly, can command floods of light without
risk or damage to the monument. Subtler minds
can command semi-obscurity, and enjoy the
illusion of a visit to the gods of the Egyptian
Hades.

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194

XVIII
AN ARAB TALE

WHEN Ramses had fought for sixteen years
against the Hittites and had concluded a treaty
of peace and friendship with them, which at last
left him lord of Canaan, he felt so proud and
happy that he engraved the text in large hieroglyphics
on the monuments, wherever he found a
blank wall. The first specimen of this is at Karnak
in the large sanctuary on the right bank, and
a second on one of the pylons of the Ramesseum
on the left bank. While freeing the pedestal of
the gigantic colossus which encumbered the
adjoining court with its débris, I had the good fortune
a few days ago to discover a third one. It is,
indeed, a very mutilated inscription, of which only
four or five lines at most are legible; but in
archaeology nothing should be neglected, and I
settled down to copy it. Three fat lizards and a
small adder, which were basking in the sun, gave
place to me, hissing incessantly and furious at
being disturbed; with the remains of the wall

8 inches in front of me and enormous blocks of
granite 12 inches behind me, I was in a kind of
deep funnel, in which I was entirely hidden, and a
regiment of tourists could have passed by without
suspecting that there was any one amongst the
ruins. I was fully occupied in wondering whether
a bird, the tail of which only was distinguishable,
had been an eagle or a screech-owl in better days,
when voices rose from the other side of the wall
where two of the temple guards, my donkey-boy
and three friends who had joined him on the way
there, were lying in the shade and talking freely,
unconscious of my close proximity. As they were
discussing local affairs of no interest to me, I
only listened abstractedly; but soon, after some
whisperings that became more and more indistinct,
one of them coughed loudly, and I understood
from the tone that he was going to relate a story.
It began, as usual, with the mention of a nameless
Sultan, very powerful and very rich, who had
reigned of old, long ages before, and who used to live
in the Temple of Louxor. Not far from his castle
there lived a poor man, a linen and cotton merchant,
who scarcely earned sufficient on which to live.
His house consisted of only one room and a small
yard, in the corner of which grew a fig-tree.
When the tree bore figs he ate two each day with
his bread, and when the figs were over he ate his

bread dry and praised God, for he was very pious
and possessed all the virtues. One winter afternoon,
on returning home when his work was done to
offer up a prayer, he noticed that his fig-tree had
suddenly put forth ten of the most beautiful figs
in the world; one of them was round, large, red,
and on the verge of falling if it was not gathered,
and the others were of various degrees of ripeness.
His first act was to thank God who had performed
this miracle for him; but instead of gathering and
feasting on the ripe fig, he went at once to consult
his neighbour the rammâl, who read the future in
sand. The rammâl took his box of sand, traced
some lines therein, jotted down some calculations,
muttered a rune, and read the oracle: “Every
day for ten days you must take one of your figs
to the Sultan. On the tenth day your destiny will
be fulfilled, and the good and the wicked will each
find their proper place.”
The Sultan of Louxor, like all self-respecting
Sultans, used to give audience every morning,
starting at sunrise. He sat outside the first court,
between two obelisks, and patiently listened to the
grievances or petitions of his subjects. The interview
sometimes ended with a gift, sometimes with
a benevolent thrashing administered by the officers
of the army with elegance and speed. At a quarter
to twelve the good prince broke up the sitting and

returned to the palace, convinced that he had not
wasted his morning. The merchant had waited
since dawn in the court, with his beautiful fig
lying on a china plate between two embroidered
napkins. When his turn came he prostrated
himself at the foot of the throne, and presented the
plate to the sovereign, saying that God had
favoured him by sending him out of season ten
magnificent figs, of such wonderful size and
perfume that they were evidently not intended for
an ordinary subject; he had ventured to bring the
first, and if the Sultan consented he would come
every morning to offer him one or other as they
ripened. The Sultan highly approved of the
sentiment of propriety revealed by this proceeding.
He even deigned to eat the fig, and, having found
it to his taste, commanded his vizier, who stood
behind, to give the man a cloak of honour and
a hundred English guineas. The poor man went
home in the highest of spirits; he immediately
bought himself a rifle, a watch, and a white
donkey, and invited his neighbours to a splendid
feast, where twenty dishes of stew, forty plates of
sweets, and numberless iced drinks were served up.
“And wine, too?” asked the donkey-boy.
“Yes; wine like that on Cook's ships—white
wine which froths and makes a noise when the
bottle is uncorked.”

198

“Allah! Allah!” responded the three guards in
chorus. “How fortunate is he who can have such
drinks!”
The next day the second fig arrived, and the
third fig on the day following, until only three
were left on the tree. Each time the gift was
more valuable—slaves, camels, lands, gold and
silver coins—so that the vizier grew jealous. “Great
God!” he said to himself; “if I don't take care the
Sultan may cast me off and install this plotter in
my place.” So he went secretly by night and paid
the poor man a visit. After the customary
compliments he said, “The Sultan talks of you
unceasingly, and he even thinks of giving you his
daughter in marriage, but one thing disturbs him
and holds him back. You evidently eat a quantity
of garlic, and he greatly dislikes the smell. You
would do well, therefore, to appear at the
audience with a piece of white linen over your
mouth; he will be pleased with the attention, and
you will be rewarded for it as you deserve.” So
the poor man presented himself all muffled in
muslin. When he was going away the Sultan
asked the vizier what this masquerade meant. “I
do not know,” replied the latter; “but if it please
your Majesty I will find out.” He hastened away,
and returning with a very long face, could not be
induced to speak for quite a long time. However,

as the Sultan grew impatient, and as his beard
began to bristle, the vizier prostrated himself and
murmured in his softest voice, “Your Majesty
must deign to remember that you have to do with
a poor unfortunate man, a fellah, a clown in whom
good manners are not to be expected. He seems
very grateful for the kindness with which your
Majesty has loaded him, but he tells me quite
frankly that your Majesty's breath is the worst
that can be imagined, and that he feels ready to
faint each time you deign to interview him.
Thanks to the linen which he had wrapped
round his nose and mouth, he has been able to
endure to-day's conversation without too much
discomfort.” “Is that so?” said the king, “and
does this strange man dislike our odour?” And
he was fast becoming enraged, when suddenly he
burst out laughing. “It does not matter,” he
said; “I don't want to be in his debt, and if
he comes again to honour me with his figs I
will make him a gift by the side of which all
that he has received before will count as nothing.”
The vizier went home much disturbed, and not
too sure that he had not increased the man's
favour while hoping to lessen it. Next day the
merchant reappeared as on the day before, half
swathed in muslin. The Sultan looked at him for
a minute, and then asked for pen, ink, and paper.

He wrote a note, sealed it, and gave it with his
own seal to the man, telling him to go to the
Treasury very early next morning. He was to
deliver the note and seal to the chief treasurer,
and would certainly not regret his trouble. When
the audience closed, the vizier joined the man and
congratulated him, but, he added, “His Majesty
is so pleased with you that he wishes to spare
you the slightest trouble. This note is a command
to give a thousand pounds to the bearer
of the seal. Here are the thousand pounds
correctly counted out; give me the seal and
the letter, which are useless to you.” As soon
as he had them in his hand the vizier never
doubted that his fortune was made. He scarcely
slept that night, so great was his impatience, and
dawn found him at the door of the Treasury.
The treasurer read the note, kissed the seal
reverently, and raised one finger; two soldiers
of the guard seized the vizier and cut off his
head before he had time to realise what had
happened to him.
However, the audience began, and the man
with the figs was standing in his usual place, the
plate in his hand and the cloth round his mouth.
The Sultan, who could not believe his eyes, rubbed
them vigorously, but the man was still there.
He turned round to point him out to the vizier,

but the vizier was not there. The same minute
the treasurer entered with a leather bag in his
hand. On seeing him the Sultan said, “Why
did you not behead the man I sent to you?”
“Pardon me, your Majesty, I put him to death
as you commanded. Besides, here is the head.”
And he placed the vizier's head in front of the
throne. “What,” cried the Sultan, “have you
killed my minister?” “Sire,” replied the treasurer,
“did not your Majesty command me to behead
on the spot the person who brought me the note
and the royal seal?” “Doubtless, but it was
not the vizier who was to bring them.” “All
the same, it was he who brought them.”
As this in no way enlightened the Sultan,
he decided to send for the poor man, and
commanded him on pain of death to relate all
that had happened. Then the latter explained
how the vizier had advised him to tie up his
mouth and for what reason, and how he had
pocketed the thousand guineas in exchange for
the note and the seal. In his astonishment at
the adventure, the Sultan praised God. “This
vizier,” said he, “was a wicked man, but all's
well that ends well. He stole your place and paid
for it with his own head; take his place in your
turn and be my vizier.” The merchant bowed
his head to the dust, and prostrating himself

repeated, “The rammâl was right, blesséd be the
rammâl!” “And what had the rammâl to do
with this affair?” “Sire, when I consulted him,
did he not announce to me that on the tenth
day the good and the wicked would each find
his proper place? And now to-day is the tenth
day: the vizier is dead, and I am in the vizier's
place!”
One story follows another, and the narrator
had already made a fresh start when some one
called me. I had to answer and betray my
hiding-place. My fellahs, in consternation at
learning I was so close, fled noiselessly, and I
went on with the study of the tail of my bird.
The Egyptians dislike showing themselves to
Europeans as they really are, and we might live
among them for years without realising that
with a little dexterity we might succeed in
drawing from them matter for a whole new
volume of the “Arabian Nights.” A little
donkey driver from Gournah, to whom I told
a well-arranged version of the “Peau d'Ane”
between the temple of Setouî and the Bab-el-Molouk,
gratified me in return with a half a
dozen stories, partly satirical, partly sentimental,
which left a charming impression on me. Would
they please others as well as myself? I threaded
my way through the flowering beans at the gentle

pace of which the donkeys are very fond when
they have not been spoiled by tourists' eccentricities;
and as my day's work was finished,
I abandoned myself to the pleasure of idly
listening to my companion. He chanted his
stories in a guttural voice as he ambled at my
side, and his breathless sentences, the laugh
interrupting them at the humorous points, his
perpetual repetitions of formulas and words, gave
a singular savour to what he said. This is
assuredly the way in which the talkative donkey-boys
of the times of Ramses told the “Tale of
the Two Brothers” or that of “The Predestined
Prince” to travellers. Evidently the story owed
half its interest to its surroundings, and I fear
that in taking it out of its setting it may have
lost the best of its flavour and colour.

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204

XIX
THE OPENING OF A NEW ROYAL TOMB
AT THEBES

MR. THEODORE DAVIS, an American who spends
his winters in Egypt, provided the money; the
Service des Antiquités helped to conduct the
excavations, and thus aiding each other, discovered
one of the rare royal hypogeums which
remain to be found at Bibân el-Molouk in the
valley where the Theban Pharaohs formerly
reposed. The quest was neither long nor
fatiguing. On the 18th of January last year,1
after carefully examining the ground with Mr.
Carter, the inspector-in-chief of the Saîd, it had
seemed to me that the steep ravine in which
M. Loret found in 1899 the intact hypogeum
of a prince Maiharpiriou, ought to contain some
other tomb. A workshop was set up there, and
attacking it from the bottom we went slowly up
the slope, exploring everything on the way. Mr.
1 This was written in February, 1903.

Carter first found objects that had belonged
to Maiharpiriou, fragments of variegated glass,
clippings of cut cornelian, pieces of a chest with
the name Amenôthes III., and last, in a wooden
box, two corselets in cut leather in astonishing
preservation. A little higher up the name of
Thoutmôsis IV. began to come out of the earth,
and a piece of limestone was picked up on which
the portrait of the Pharaoh was sketched in black
ink, as well as pieces of an alabaster vase in
which his cartouches could be discerned. We
could no longer doubt that he was buried near
there in some cavity of the ground. But the mass
of rubbish was so enormous that when Mr. Davis,
leaving Louxor in March, asked that operations
might be suspended, we had not reached the
entrance. It was only on the 17th of January
last that the reis Mohammed, having come to the
beginning of the ravine, saw the door in the rock
at the foot of the cliff. Mr. Carter immediately
came and climbed into the chamber of the sarcophagus
amid the rubbish. The mummy had
been in the Museum for three years, but the
equipment with which it was provided on the
day of the funeral was scattered over the ground
in the same places where the thieves had thrown
it after despoiling the mummy. Mr. Carter
rapidly surveyed the condition of the place, then

barricaded the door afresh, and we telegraphed to
Mr. Davis to come back from Assouân, which
he was visiting at the moment.
On February 3rd, in the morning, all those who
had a right to be present at the opening were
assembled at Bibân el-Molouk, Mr. Davis and
his family, Mr. Carter, M. Legrain, and M. Baraize,
of the Service des Antiquités, a few Egyptologists
visiting Thebes, Mr. Newberry, Mr. Tytus, M. de
Bissing, and M. de Lacau. Thoutmôsis IV. had
set up his House of Eternity in one of the wildest
recesses of the valley. It was a projection of the
rock, forming a cornice half-way up the side, and
hardly accessible through a slope of rubbish. He
had smoothed it by the use of the pickaxe, and had
formed an irregular platform on which fifty persons
could easily move about. Free on the north and
west, at the east and south it is fixed to the
resisting rock, which rises almost perpendicularly
to a height of 60 feet. A trench dug out in the
ground towards the south descends in a rapid
incline, and penetrates under a doorway barred
with rubbish. Beyond, the corridor is lost in the
darkness, and the figures of the workmen are confused.
They have been labouring since dawn to
clear the approaches to the first chamber. The
baskets of sand pass swiftly from hand to hand and
are emptied outside, while the electricians of the

Service, after fixing a provisory wire to our workshop,
await, lamps in hand, the signal for departure.
It is not yet a question of entirely excavating
the hypogeum, and the road we follow is
only a narrow passage wide enough to admit a
renewal of air and the explorer. The roof is low,
the incline steep and slippery, and the débris of
which it is formed glide away beneath the feet.
A thick rope has been stretched along the corridors,
held up at intervals by strong workmen, which can
be grasped by the hands of those unaccustomed to
these descents into Hades. After a few yards daylight
vanishes, the electric lamps are lighted, the
corridor plunges obliquely into the rock, rough,
bare, blackened here and there by the smoke of the
old torches. At a depth of about thirty yards it
kept level for a little and then was suddenly interrupted.
A square chasm about four yards broad
and ten deep yawned darkly at our feet. It served
two ends: first it barred the way to thieves, and
then in times of storm, if by chance the water
forced its way through the barrier of sand that
stopped up the entrance, it would be kept there
and would thus be prevented from penetrating into
the chamber where the mummy slept. The chasm
proved itself more effectual against water than
against men, for thieves in ancient times had
crossed it by beams thrown over it, and we

followed their example. A footbridge constructed
a few days before took us safely to the other side.
Yellow stars on dark-blue ground were scattered
over the ceiling; near the top of the walls were
scenes of adoration which deserved careful study,
but we scarcely looked at them, so eager were we
to reach the centre of the place, and it was almost
in a run that we entered the first chamber.
It fits into the right corner of the prolongation
of the corridor, and runs from east to west. It is
as if crushed down under a low ceiling supported
by two squat pillars retained in the mass on the
great axis, and the walls have remained rough.
The tomb is in this palace of the dead king, the
equivalent of the Hall of Columns in the Palace of
Thebes where the living king gave audience to his
subjects. In the north-east corner a badly quarried
staircase is cut in the rock, and comes out at the
end of about twenty yards in a room longer than
it is broad, which serves as a sort of ante-chamber
to the funeral vault. It is covered with very fine
paintings as far as can be judged from the interstices
left by the heaps of sand or pebbles that lean
up against the walls and partly hide them. A hasty
glance shows the usual scenes: the dead man worshipping
before the gods of the West and presenting
his offerings with his prayers, or clasped in the
arms of goddesses, drinking at their breasts the

milk that was to infuse life into his veins. A
glance at the hieroglyphics and we are certain it
has to do with Thoutmôsis IV. The cartouches
traced by the side of him would bear witness to
that fact if confirmation were needed. But is there
not to be found among the commonplaces of
mortuary imagery some inscription that will give
us information regarding his history? And, indeed,
there on the right wall are two fine hieratic inscriptions:
two sgraffiti written in black ink in the
empty space between two figures. It was a
custom of the Pharaohs to instruct certain high
functionaries to inspect the royal tombs at intervals
to verify the state of the place and the condition of
the mummies, to see if the linen wrappings were
damaged or if the funerary equipment had suffered
from men or from time. It often happened that
these officers had to report sad discoveries. The
brigands did not respect these dead royalties.
Sometimes, with the complicity of their official
guards, they had pulled them from their coffins, torn
their wrappings, stolen their jewels, their royal
insignia, their amulets, their valuable arms. It
was then necessary reverently to pick up the dishonoured
corpses, to robe them afresh, put them
back in their sarcophagus, and replace the portions
of their equipment that had been destroyed.
The work accomplished, the functionaries withdrew,

but not before recording somewhere on a coffin
lid a circumstantial account of the proceedings.
All such inscriptions that we have belong to the
period of the later Ramses or the high priests of
Amon, and here the new inscriptions are conceived
in the most correct hieratic of the XVIIIth
Dynasty. Would the robbery of the hypogeum
have begun almost directly after the burial? The
principal sgraffite tells us in its eight lines that
in the year VIII. of this Armais, who was the last
Pharaoh of the XVIIIth Dynasty or the first of
the XIXth, “the fourth month of Shaît, his divine
Majesty ordered that Maîya, son of Waî and his
lady Ouêrît, the fan-bearer on the right of the
king, a royal scribe, superintendent of the
treasure, head of the works of the necropolis,
leader of the festival of Theban Amon-râ, be commissioned
to repair the mummy of the king
Thoutmôsis IV. in his august dwelling which is on
the West of Thebes.” The shortest sgraffite has
preserved the name of “his secretary, the governor
of the town and lord Thoutmôsis, son of Hâtaî
and of his lady Souhak,” he who with his own
hand traced on the wall the brief account of the
visit. It is therefore certain that a little less than
a century after the burial it was necessary to
restore the mummy of Thoutmôsis IV.
Had it already been violated and despoiled of

its treasures? The reign of Armais closes a period
of religious revolutions and civil wars. We know
now from one of his inscriptions that at his accession
he found Egypt completely disorganised.
The provinces were in arms one against the other,
and the soldiers roved about the land in search of
adventure, sacking villages and plundering travellers.
It was to be feared that one of those bands
would have rifled the royal necropolis, and to
relieve the doubt Armais despatched Maîya and
his agents to Bibân el-Molouk. But the terms of
the document show that no one had touched the
tomb of Thoutmôsis IV. It was merely needful
to robe the mummy again, since its wrappings
had decayed from age, and to replace the dried-up
offerings by fresh offerings, and in so doing to
borrow from the neighbouring tomb of Queen
Hatshopsouîtou a few alabaster utensils in the
name of the Pharaoh. The robbery took place
later under the XXth Dynasty, and the damage
was irreparable. The sarcophagus chamber
into which we penetrated on leaving the ante-chamber
seemed to us from the threshold
entirely upset. It resembles that of Amenôthes
II., oblong, low, narrow, divided by two rows
of three pillars each into three naves of equal
size. Towards the northern end the ground
has been dug out for about 4 or 5 feet to form

a sort of rectangular alcove, reached by a staircase
of five or six steps between the two last
pillars. It is flanked by four cabinets, two on
the right and two on the left. They represent the
private apartments of the dead personage, the
retreat in which he hid his mortal remains, and that
his divine soul inhabited or left according to his
desire during the ample leisure of life beyond
the grave. The alcove being reserved for the
sarcophagus and the mummy, the rest of the
central apartment contained the most important
portion of the funerary equipment and larder.
The side rooms served as a store-house for
the remaining furniture and provisions or for
vaults for the princes of the family who died
young. It is probable that the little mummy
placed in one of them is that of a prince,
Amenemhaît, son of Thoutmôsis IV., to whom,
had he lived, the crown would have reverted
by right. The objects consecrated to the use
of the dead during the funeral were neatly
arranged on tables, or piled up on the bare
ground against the walls or the pillars, as they had
been formerly in the store-houses of the palace.
The richness and elegance of most of them presented
from the first a striking contrast to the
rough and desolate aspect of the place that gave
them shelter. Thoutmôsis IV. having in fact been

gathered to his fathers before his tomb was
finished, the works had been immediately suspended.
There was no inscription, no painting,
no sketch, even no whitewash, in the mortuary
chamber or its dependencies, and the last workman
in departing had not swept up the filth which
soiled the ground. The valuable stuffs, the furniture,
arms, and provisions were mingled with
fragments of stone broken off the ceiling and with
pieces of broken tools. The thieves took away
those things that had a value for them, gold,
silver, jewels, fine plate. They turned everything
else upside down, and reduced almost to powder
what they did not care to carry off.
All this confused and disorderly débris formed so
thick a litter that it was not possible to venture
into it without running the risk of crushing the
things by the dozen. Mr. Carter therefore made
a path of planks on trestles about 8 inches
above it, and which reached to the sarcophagus.
That at least was intact. Like the sarcophagi of
Amenôthes II. and of Thoutmôsis III., it is of white
limestone but painted dark red to simulate the
statuary sandstone. The exterior is adorned with
the usual scenes, the two mystic eyes, the king
worshipping before the funerary divinities, and
the children of Horus. The lid has not been
shattered by blows of the hammer nor roughly

thrown to the ground. It was carefully removed
at the time of the theft, placed upside down in
front of the basin, and the two ends propped up
with two heifers' heads in painted wood to prevent
the polished face from touching the rough ground.
A heap of undistinguishable objects lie at the side,
among which we vaguely perceive splintered
statues of double, and figures of gods or animals
in cedar-wood smeared with tar. In a corner on
an unburnt brick stood a statuette, and the
inscription on it informed us that it was entrusted
with the protection of the mummy against the
demons which haunt the tombs. “If you attack
it, I shall attack you, and you will have to deal
with me” was the substance of its remarks. It
was placed there in accordance with the rules of
the funeral ritual, and we wanted to search
immediately for three similar ones which were
hidden under the rubbish. Fragments of vases in
coloured glass or painted pottery were scattered
about in hundreds, and wherever the light fell
there started out of the darkness an amulet, a
Respondent in enamelled porcelain, an armful of
dried leaves, a rag of fine linen, alabaster dishes
and phials, necklaces of threaded pearls. In the
midst of the disorder the eye was attracted by a
blackish mass of unusual aspect, it was the body of
a chariot that by some unknown happy chance

had remained whole and safe. The frame
was of a light unpliable wood, skilfully twisted,
covered with a double trimming of leather, ornamented
with reliefs on both sides; in the front the
sovereign inscribes the peoples of the north and
those of the south; on the inside those tribes are
represented and catalogued. It is in thin relief,
touched up with a penknife with an extraordinary
sureness of hand. In their genre the design and
execution are as perfect as those of the greatly
admired paintings of the trophy of Amenôthes III.
in the Cairo Museum.1 At first view it seems
that the other pieces are there—the pole, the wheels,
the harness for the horses, the quivers for the
arrows, and the cases for the javelins—and that
without undue trouble the whole could be
restored.2 If we had succeeded we should
possess a specimen, unique in its kind, of the ceremonial
chariot of a conqueror of the XVIIIth
Dynasty, that on which he returned to Thebes
after his victories, and which figured in his funeral
procession when his mummy was carried to the
House of Eternity. As he had used it in this
1 The Stela trophy described in the “Guide to the Cairo
Museum,” 3rd edit., pp. 124–5.
2 The hope has not been realised. The important parts
were broken into so many pieces, and the pieces were
so rotten, that we were unable to make the restoration.

world when, amid the acclamations of the populace,
he repaired to the Temple of Amon, so he
desired to enter the other world and to appear
there as a conqueror in the midst of his fathers, the
gods of the West.
The presence of so much wealth stirs our
emotions, and, the instincts of our vocation awaking,
we are anxious to remove these débris without
delay, to hold them in our hands and to examine
them one by one to decipher the inscriptions, and
solve the problems they offer. But we must resist
the temptation. As soon as we depart, Mr. Carter
will enter on the work, and will not rest until he
has emptied the tomb. He will then draw the
objects and send them to the Museum, where we
shall try to match the pieces, and then to restore
the objects. When that work is finished Mr.
Davis, who provided the money for the excavation,
will also provide the money for publication,
and before long all will be able to study what the
tomb contained at their ease. For the moment
we have only to enjoy the wonderful sight before
our eyes. The electric light does not penetrate
the dusty, heavy air very well, and from the corner
where I stood my companions looked like vague
silhouettes. The dread of the tomb, so lately shut
up, and whence the visits of tourists has not
banished the impression of death, has invaded them

without their knowledge. They speak in whispers,
moderate their gestures, walk or rather glide along
as noiselessly as possible. Occasionally they stoop
to pick up an object, or group themselves round a
pillar, remaining motionless for a moment, then
they resume their silent rounds, cross each other,
join each other, and then separate again. Very
rarely does some abrupt movement of one of them
break the rhythm of their evolutions, or do they let
fall some brief remark that sounds like a trumpet
above their discreet whispers. The persons employed
in the funeral and the priests must have so
moved and spoken the evening of the ceremony
when, the mummy sealed up in its sarcophagus,
they hastened to perform the last rites by
which the Pharaoh was shut into his mysterious
chamber.

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218

XX
WITH SCHWEINFURTH ON A VISIT TO THOT

IN the outskirts of Thebes there are ruins of which
tourists know nothing. And yet they would find
those ruins attractive if they were not in a district
so rich in more celebrated and better preserved
monuments. Those which Schweinfurth discovered
on the north of the Valley of the Kings
may be reckoned among the most unknown. On
the top of the cliff which dominates the village of
Gamoleh is a group of small buildings in earth and
unhewn stone. Was it a chapel or a popular
oracle? or a rendezvous for sportsmen? or a police
watch-house or station? The fragments of
inscriptions found there are too mutilated to
inform us. The style seems to be that of the Saîd
epoch and to place them between the seventh and
the sixth centuries B.C. However, there are other
fragments which will perhaps afford information if
we take the trouble to piece them together. We
must have courage, and as Schweinfurth consents
to act as guide, attempt the adventure. So

THE HILLS OF THEBES WITH THE TEMPLE OF DEÎR EL-BAHARI AT THEIR FOOT.
(The Temple of Thot is situated on a higher hill behind these cliffs.)
To face p. 218.


we set out on January 30th1 through the sandbanks
which separate the broad arm of the Nile
from the western embankment, through the hamlet
of Eyoub-Bey, where the smoke still rises from the
morning fires, galloping along the dike of the Fadilieh
canal side by side with a train of sugar-canes,
among flocks of sheep making much dust on their
way to market, through the fresh, smiling plain
where the larks sing loudly, intoxicated with the
perfume of the beans, by the Temple of Gournah,
by the low sandhill against which it leans, by the
shallows of the ouadiên, as if we were riding
towards the Valley of the Kings. But instead of
taking the usual road we bear to the right and
reach the north by a path of gravel and sharp
stones. To the left are quarries with the name
Apries among the rocks, outlines of ancient hovels
showing dirty grey against the yellow of the
desert, trenches dug in the sand, and banks of
pebbles left there by the waters of a past age,
ridges of disintegrated rocks, rounded blocks,
holes, indeed, all the effects of the work of
torrents. A first declivity brings us out of this
confusion, then a gently sloping terrace leads us to
the foot of the cliff. We regretfully dismount
and stable our donkeys in the shade of a rock
where we shall find them on our descent.
1 1905.

220

The path was made, God knows in what distant
epoch, by the footsteps of the few faithful who
visited the god at long intervals. It follows a
narrow ridge between two steep slopes, but is
neither dangerous nor difficult. Two or three
times only it suddenly becomes very steep for
about twenty yards, and invites us to a sort of
escalade. But if there is nothing about it to merit
the attention of an Alpine Club, it is full of
interest for geologists. The surface of the hill,
through the erosive action of the sun, is exfoliated,
laying bare in places quantities of fossils, among
others enormous lucinæ in admirable preservation
and cardium of the species to which Schweinfurth
has given his name. Lumps of flint are together
with the fossils, and among them flint implements
of the most primitive type, many of which are as
intact as when they came from the factory, while
others have been used and repaired at different times.
Long before our Egypt was born, beings lived
there that Schweinfurth scarcely dares to call men.
Stone provided them with exactly what redeemed
them from the inferiority to which Nature condemned
them in their relation to the big animals.
The flint ring assisted somewhat the weakness of
their arms in a hand-to-hand fight with the enemy.
They tore off or split the skins of animals with
their knives and scrapers, that their nails and teeth

would never have been strong enough to tear.
Their dwelling-places are unknown to us, and their
cemeteries, if they had them, are still undiscovered.
Their flint implements are found everywhere, and
after ages of oblivion are our surest guarantee of
their existence. Schweinfurth told me this history
as we ascended, and I did not cease questioning
and listening, but those who have no experience in
climbing will not find it easy to imagine that it is
necessary to be young to talk science and to climb
both at the same time. After fifty a man has only
breath enough for one of those pleasures at a time,
and the first steep bit closes the most interesting
conversation. After ten minutes of panting
silence we are at the end of our journey opposite
the ruins I propose to examine.
Two piers of burnt bricks, the corners broken
off, the tops cut off, excoriated, corroded by the
wind of the desert, stood on a foundation of
unhewn stones piled up without mortar or any
sort of link; between them, where the door would
formerly have been, and a little to the back, a
glimpse was caught of low, slender walls on a heap
of rubbish. The outer enclosure described a
rectangle of about 20 yards by 18 yards, placed
perpendicularly at the extremity of the plateau.
It has fallen down in places, less through the
action of men than through that of time, and

what remains of it is scarcely more than 9 feet
in height. The central building, also of brick, is
entirely isolated. It is divided into four compartments,
a sort of vestibule that occupies the whole
width and three chambers, or rather three
contiguous niches, which open only into the
vestibule. The plan does away with all doubt as to
the signification of the whole. It is the same as
that to be seen at Deîr el-Medineh, for instance, one
common to most of the secondary temples of the
Memphian age. The god inhabited the central
niche, and left the others to the two divinities
associated with him. To tell the truth, he was a
poor god without any pretensions to the luxuries
nor even to the ordinary comforts of life. The
walls of his house were whitewashed like those
of a fellah's dwelling, and neither paintings nor
inscriptions were to be seen. It was then to be
feared that we should never discover who he was.
However, the bricks of one of the doors had been
framed with limestone posts, and the pieces seen
to be scattered among the bricks would perhaps
compensate us for the silence of the walls. I set
the four men I had brought with me to work
among the rubbish, and leaving them under the
surveillance of the inspector of Gournah, I set out
to examine the plateau. About forty yards
towards the north-west foundations of burnt

bricks mark the place of a building now destroyed.
The arrangement of the levellings shows that it
could not have been a chapel, but a dwelling-house
or a mere warehouse. Two or three Europeans
would have felt terribly crowded in the space, but
it might easily have sheltered ten natives. The
guardians of the god would have dwelt there with
their family, and an oblong pit hollowed out near
by was perhaps the tank where they stored the
water they brought up from the plain for household
needs and for those of the religious ceremonies.
From the tank the plateau slopes to the west
and north, at first gently and then more steeply.
It is strewn with rough flints, among which may be
distinguished cut flints of a kind similar to those
on the other slope, but very few in number. It
has not been inhabited since the beginnings of
history. The officiating priests of the temple may
have installed themselves there while the worship
lasted; now scarcely a few sportsmen or smugglers
visit it at rare intervals. The slope, after hesitating
for an instant what direction to take,
suddenly turns obliquely to the east, and soon
runs against the flank of the neighbouring cliff.
At the angle where they met there unexpectedly
appeared a corner of the valley, a patch of verdure,
a piece of river glittering in the sun, a village, a
portion of the Arabian desert, a spur of hill

outlined in pink against the liquid gold of the
horizon. It looked as if we need only go comfortably
on to reach the plain, but as I went forward
Schweinfurth caught hold of my arm. I was
without suspecting it on the edge of a precipice;
the ground slipped away almost under my feet,
and from here to the bottom it would be a fall of
at least 100 yards. Two or three times a year a
violent storm precipitates the cataracts of heaven
upon the plateau. The water, rolling down in
raging sheets, leaps into the empty space. For an
hour or two a foaming, turbid cataract bounds
over the lower projections of the hill, gushes
out with a great noise, and is lost in the moraine
before reaching the borders of the cultivated
regions. As soon as the downpour ceases the
stream diminishes and is reduced to a mere
thread of water, which soon dries up. For two or
three days a little dampness remains on the surface
and tufts of verdure spring forth at hazard, but
they soon wither and with them the last traces
of the storm are effaced. In the season at which I
visited it only the vegetation usual in the desert
was to be seen there, patches thinly sown with
reddish plants with fibrous stalks and brittle
bearded roots. Agile beetles rush off as we
approach. Here and there a big tawny lizard,
disturbed by the sound of our footsteps, lifts its

pointed head and flees as fast as its four feet can
carry it, tearing up the gravel as it goes. About
the middle of the hillside two butterflies, that for
no reason we can conceive had come up from the
plain, fly round us for a moment, and a marauding
crow with a short, sharp cry escaped from the
hollow in which it had been concealed. The
silence is so intense that we hear the sound of its
wings dying away in the distance long after the
bird has disappeared over the side of the hill.
The excavation did not produce what we
expected, but it was not altogether unfruitful, and
the inspector spread out before us with a smile
of satisfaction about sixty pieces of limestone
bearing characters or pictures. The greater part
seemed to belong to one of the doors and taught
us nothing of value, but others presented some
significant facts. There must have been at least
two tabernacles there, two naos of different
dimensions, the doorposts of which were thus
decorated on the outer surface. On one of the
fragments may be recognised a piece of a king
who stretches forth his hands in prayer towards an
absent divinity, and on another the damaged
outline of the winged disk which formed the
ornament of the cornice. Farther on I copied a
few words of an unimportant hymn and what
remained of a royal protocol. The two cartouches

are mutilated, but the final sign of the second is
still legible; it is that which ends the name of
Nechao, the son of Psammetichus I., the most
powerful of the Saîd sovereigns. The conclusions
that I had drawn from the few fragments
collected by Schweinfurth seemed to be confirmed,
and to be accurate. The temple was built or restored
in the last years of the seventh or in the first
years of the sixth century B.C.,1 but who was the
god? There he is himself, or rather there are the
pieces of two of his statues—feet, hands, a thigh,
portions of limbs still more decisive: he was Thot,
the master of magic and letters, the god who was
the scribe and the magician of the gods in the guise
of a baboon crouching sanctimoniously, head up,
hands on knees. To judge by the hands, the
largest of the statues cannot have been more than
2 feet in height, and the other would have been
a fourth less. According to custom they stood on
a rectangular pedestal, bevelled in front and
provided with a staircase which reached the feet of
1 M. Sethe places the building of the temple in the
XIIth Dynasty, and thinks that the king was
Amenemhaît IV. Mr. Petrie, on the contrary, attributes
it to the king Sankharâ Montouhotpou of the XIth Dynasty.
The resemblance in style between the monuments of the
first Theban epoch and those of the Saîd is so great that it
is easy to be mistaken.

the idol. Wreckage from the sacred equipment
stood out among the relics, the lid of an alabaster
vase, jars of red and grey pottery, fragments of
dishes and vessels in blackish earth, even the body
of one of those hawks in painted wood which
surmount caskets for oils and perfumes. The name
of a certain Kamôsis is scratched in big running
hand on a fragment of limestone; it is the souvenir
of some pilgrim who came to consult the oracle.
An inscription in an undecipherable writing fills a
corner of a yellowish block that lies in front of
the door. I order it to be detached and sent to
Cairo; perhaps some scholar passing through
will succeed in reading it and will inform us of
the contents.
Possibly by scraping and turning over the bricks
we might discover more documents; they would
doubtless add little to those we have gathered. The
temple was too far from the beaten track to attract
many worshippers. It would only have been
frequented by the inhabitants of the neighbouring
villages, and I am inclined to think it had no resident
clergy. The priests went up on the eve of festivals to
celebrate the sacrifice, and for the rest of the time
it was left to the care of two or three sacristans.
The day was drawing in, the descent was fatiguing
for a man who soon gets out of breath, the way is
long, so I order the excavations to stop, and before

departing pause for a moment at the entrance of
the enclosure to enjoy the view spread out before
our eyes. To the south extends the Theban cliff
with its terraces upheld by walls of rock, the
bottom of which rests in heaps of rubbish. It is cut
into capricious valleys, and the last, that which is
dominated by a pyramidal summit, is the Valley of
the Kings. Two or three patches which stand out
in black on the warm paleness of the whole mark
the entrance to the tombs. The line of dark points
moving above, almost on the crest, is a caravan of
tourists going to Deîr el-Bahari. Before us, as far
as we could see, spread the pale green fields of
Egypt, its winding Nile, its villages with the smoke
of the evening fires, and the three Theban peaks, lilac
and pink in colour, retire in gradation towards the
south. Other summits farther off shine between
them in line, one behind the other. It is the usual
landscape with its charm of wealth and melancholy
sweetness; but what gives it to-day a strange
character is the Dutch sky which hovers over it.
Immense white clouds, edged with black and
scarlet, drag heavily along and make strong
shadows on the ground. A stiff north breeze
sweeps the slope and brings us a vague odour of
vegetation and warm earth from below.

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229

XXI
A NEW PHARAOH

THE Pharaohs are inexhaustible: it is vain to
register them by the dozen, new ones are always
presenting themselves. When it concerns the
early dynasties there is nothing surprising in this, and
years will pass before we shall possess the complete
list of those who ruled Egypt in its beginnings.
But we are naturally astonished when the newcomer
belongs to less remote epochs; for instance,
to those the history of which is to be read in the
Greek and Roman writers—epochs which we imagine
to be sufficiently known to us. However, here is
a prince with a classical name, a Psammetichus,
son of Nêith, who is resuscitated in the Saîd
amidst the ruins of Asfoun, and who unexpectedly
claims a place in the world.
Asfoun is invisible from the Nile, so well is it
hidden by the sugar refinery of Matâanah and by
the avenues of lebakhs that adorn the embankment.
The houses of native or European employees
the post-office, the outhouses, the buildings and

chimneys of the factory, form a neat frontage along
the river, behind which a little Arab village is
easily concealed. Just at first it is merely the
usual scene of Egyptian life—a dozen brick buildings,
the courtyard walls of mud, heaps of filth
and rubbish, an undefined yard where hens peck
and children play; but beyond that there suddenly
appeared in a space of verdure a piece of an
almost French landscape, a little grass, a bit of
meadow, newly mown fields covered with stubble,
tufts of sonts and lebakhs joined by screens of
thorny shrubs, and flowing beneath their branches
a full stream, as on the borders of some
French wood. It flows swiftly on the left with
the pleasant sound of running water, so rare in
Egypt and which European ears so greatly miss.
It plunges into the thickets, reappears, then
plunges again into the shade, and is always heard
chattering and babbling, raising its voice if it
meets an obstacle, or lowering it till it is no
more than a slight murmur. It must not be too
curiously observed, nor should we ask whence it
comes, for we should then discover that its bed
was of cement and that it took its rise in the
cylinders of the steam-pump that pants below.
It is an irrigating canal that poses as a
capricious nymph in order to console itself for
prosaically watering the cultivated lands, but

which is filled and emptied at fixed hours
according to the pleasure of the engineer. The
impression of Europe lasts for scarcely a hundred
yards. When we have crossed the stream the
thickets open out, and the country resumes its
African aspect. The road, or rather the railway
line that does duty for a road, runs first between
sugar-cane or cotton plantations that have just
been cut, then between patches of corn where the
stalks spring up thick and strong. A line of
acacias and tamarisks, frequently broken, edges the
embankment of a canal, and above their tops a
ridge of hills is visible, black and yellow against
the horizon.
Asfoun is perhaps the dirtiest village that I
have seen in Upper Egypt. It lies on the other
side of the canal, perched on a hill of rubbish that
the sebakh hunters have devastated in every sense.
An untidy cemetery renders the approach dismal;
the tombs are roughly indicated by a heap of
stones or by piles of broken bricks, and are
crowded round two or three half-demolished
koubbehs, and almost touch the first houses of the
living. We find dark winding alleys, mud walls,
much rubbed by the passers-by, one-storied buildings
with frowning doors and no outside windows,
infected dung-heaps in every corner, streams of
liquid manure and filth in which our donkeys walk

knee-deep. Poverty should be at its height here,
judging solely by the dirt, but the population does
not seem to be of the poorest. Turkeys, chickens,
and pigeons abound, goats wander about in quest
of stray straw, a few buffaloes ruminate comfortably
across the roadway, and a flock of geese,
disturbed in their promenade by our approach,
scatter before us, uttering shrill cries. At the
noise children appear from every corner, but they
have not been spoiled by contact with tourists, and
merely give us an astonished glance without
asking for bakhshîsch.
The spot where the new king awaits us is almost
in the centre of the village, in a small, irregular,
slanting square on the southern slope of the hill.
The principal mosque occupies the south-east
corner. The walls have been lately repaired
and preserve nothing of their primitive decoration,
if indeed they ever were decorated, but the
minaret is of good style, despite the restorations it
has undergone. A cylinder topped by a polygon-shaped
lantern and its cupola stands upon a rectangular
tower finished off by a cornice in the
old Egyptian style. The whole building is of
poor bricks, with transverse wooden beams at
intervals to bind together and regulate the
masonry. I asked an old man if there was any
commemorative inscription, and he remembered

seeing in his youth a marble tablet above the door
covered with worn Cufic characters. Perhaps it
contained the name of the founder and the date of
its construction, but it fell down during the last
restorations, and the man did not know where it
had been put: he had something better to do than
to worry himself about what became of inscribed
stones. Opposite the minaret, at the bottom of
the square, the ruins of a temple are scattered over
the ground, two courses of masonry, about 3 feet
in height, in dull sandstone. They run from east
to west for about 12 feet; the two ends are
destroyed, but the faces of the existing portions
are well preserved. There is to be seen there the
bottom of two pictures placed symmetrically back
to back, which contain a king worshipping before
a seated god, a goddess standing behind him.
Their heads are wanting, as well as the inscriptions
which surrounded them, but a line of hieroglyphics
engraved horizontally close to the bottom tells us
that the king, Psammetichus Manakhprê, son
of Nêith, built the temple in good white, solid
stone for all eternity.
When we began our examination, the square
was almost deserted, but the news of our arrival
spread through the village, and we had scarcely
been at work ten minutes when half the
population came quietly running up to watch

our operations. There were about two hundred
men and women of all ages, either crouching or
standing round us in three or four rows, silent, and
attentively observing our slightest movements.
Ideas about treasure pass through their heads, and
they firmly believe that the place we are
excavating is enchanted ground, ard marsoud.
If I cared to pronounce the magic words, the
blocks would change into ingots of gold, or the
slabs of the flooring would split open and reveal
heaps of diamonds and rubies. They would laugh
in our faces if we explained to them that we were
taking all this trouble to clear up an historical fact.
The stones, however, belonged to the back wall of
a chapel similar to those that the priestesses of
Amon built at Thebes. If the side walls still
exist, we ought to look for them in a southerly
direction in the centre of the square. The mosque
was probably built on the ruins of the principal
temple. If we made excavations we should
doubtless find something that would give us
information about the founder of the chapel.
None of the three Psammetichus of the XXVIth
Dynasty added Manakhprê, the royal praenomen
of Thoutmôsis III., to their family name. We
should then have here a fourth Psammetichus,
perhaps the one who flourished in 400 B.C. and
took advantage of the revolt of the younger Cyrus

to make himself independent of the Persians.
But many details in the technique of the
sculptures and the inscription prevent us from
accepting that interpretation. First, the style is
not that of the Saîd schools. The cutting of the
hieroglyphics is awkward, the contour of the
figures is stiff, the relief lacks delicacy. A study
of the detail shows us all the characteristics of the
Ptolemaic age and of the last rather than of
the first Ptolemies. We shall then have disinterred
here one of the ephemeral Pharaohs who
arise in the Thebaïd in troublous times, and who
attempt to oppose the rule of the foreigner with a
native Dynasty.
We are, of course, free to imagine this; but the
composition of the royal protocol suggests a very
different hypothesis to me. Our personage is not
named Psammetichou-si-Nêith—Psammetichus, son
of Nêith—as I have hitherto stated. By the place
he occupies, as well as by the title that precedes
him, Psammatikou-si-Nêith is a praenomen and
Manakhprê the real name. Now if Manakhpré,
the praenomen of Thoutmôsis III., could become
the name of a high priest of the XXIst Dynasty
without shocking Egyptian customs, there is
nothing in the name Psammatikou, a word of
Libyan origin borne by several members of the
XXVIth Dynasty, that fits it for regularly

serving as a praenomen. A Pharaoh with the praenomen
Psammetichus is a monster, and its presence
alone in inscriptions is enough to cast suspicion on
them. To speak the truth, he never existed, but
was the invention of an ignorant scribe. When
the Ptolemies restored the ancient monuments
they often attempted to set them up again as they
were originally. They repainted the primitive
pictures in the name of the kings of the past, and
those parts of the Theban temples on which the
names of Thoutmôsis or of Amenôthes III. are
to be read really date from the second or third
century B.C.1 The priests who rebuilt the chapel
at Asfoun found some mention of a Psammetichus
and a Manakhprê, most probably the Manakhpré
of the XXIst Dynasty, among the scenes which
ornamented the old walls, and in such a state that
both cartouches seemed to belong to the same
sovereign. They united them without misgiving,
and of the two personages separated by time
formed one single personage to whom they
attributed the foundation of the building. Had
they been clever enough to classify the names
according to the usual rules, and to manufacture a
Manakhpré Psammetichus instead of a Psammetichus
Manakhpré, we should have had no
1 This applies, among others, to the Temple of Theban
Phtah described in Chapter IV.

means of discovering their error, and should have
introduced an imaginary Pharaoh among the
authentic ones. Their lack of skill opened our
eyes, and we are indebted to them that we have
been able to place the king of Asfoun with the
shades of sovereigns whom the imagination of
Egyptian scribes has brought out of the void,
kings whom the credulity of the Greek writers
long maintained in history.

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238

XXII
ESNEH

ESNEH is pre-eminently the town of wind, and
the wind, no matter from what quarter it
comes, is always a stormy wind. The north
wind which came down on us this morning
across Asfoun freshened so considerably towards
nine o'clock, that navigation became almost
impossible. The Nile changed in a few moments,
and was covered with big waves which tossed our
vessel in the most disagreeable fashion. The
dahabieh lay on its side with such persistence
that we sometimes wondered if she would ever
right herself again. We were enveloped in a
cloud of dust, and pursued our way without
knowing where we were going, in perpetual
fear of a collision. A sailing vessel laden
with hay ran against us obliquely on the left,
and scarcely had we got out of its way
when a big Cook's steamer came up on the
right. Ten yards nearer and it would have
pierced the middle of our boat and sunk us.

239

It would be prudent to put in, but the embankment
is steep and full of pointed stones and
rocks, almost invisible in this disturbed state
of the elements. The captain feared to be driven
by the current during the manoeuvre and to be
dashed in pieces. About eleven o'clock, however,
the sky cleared and the silhouette of a
town rose vaguely in front of us. An outpost
of gardens, an irregular line of houses, a slender
minaret that seemed to bend under the blast,
a mast above a consul's office on which an
Italian flag twisted and flapped in desperation, and
there was Esneh turning a surly-looking front and
one difficult of access to the river. The captain,
however, discovered a sort of creek near an old
wall that seemed to be safe, and resolutely took
us into it. As we reached it a last gust seized
us and shook us, and the whole framework
creaked and seemed to be torn asunder.
Modern Esneh crowns a hill, in some places
from 25 to 30 yards high, formed of the débris
of towns that have succeeded one another on
the site from the beginning of history. For a
long time the Nile flowed round it without
touching it, but about 1820 it succeeded in making
a breach, probably after an imprudent seizure of
sebakh, and split it lengthways from south-east to
north-east. A number of Mamelouk hotels and

gardens fell into the water, and the rest of
the town would soon have been carried away
if the Bey who was ruling at the time for
Mehemet Ali had not intervened with unusual
alacrity. Much stone is needed to shore up
an embankment which is giving way, and it
would have cost a very great deal had not
God, who provides for the needs of His faithful,
inspired the pagans with the idea of building
immense temples in sandstone or granite. Every
Pharaonic site possesses some which form quarries
instituted by Providence for the benefit of administrators. Esneh was not less well provided
than her rivals: she had three of reasonable
size: one in the midst of her houses and almost
under them, then two at a short distance off,
the first on the north-west in the open country,
the other on the east, beyond the river, near the
village of Helleh. The temple in the town would
have been preferable; for could it have been
used expenses of transport would have been
avoided, but the Minister of the Interior had
taken possession of the chambers and arranged
them as chounehs, stores for the taxes paid in
kind for the whole of the province. The Pacha
would have been very angry if a ruin he was
using had been demolished, and so they had to
be content with the temple ruins in the outskirts.

The work must have been thoroughly
executed, for to-day the blocks are no longer to
be seen in the places where they stood. Two
breakwaters and a supporting wall, which successfully
resisted the inrush of the water for
more than eighty years, were built with the pieces.
A capricious road winds along its top: consular
agencies, post and telegraph offices, a mosque,
a court of justice, a mamourieh, all the official
buildings, new or newly restored, line the river
front, and hide the ordinary town from foreigners.
It has been very little influenced by European
customs. Passing beyond the frontage described
above, only houses in the ancient style are to
be seen in grey brick or slightly coloured with
white, placed unsymmetrically at the sides of
malodorous alleys, at once picturesque and sordid,
with domestic dirt and rags scattered everywhere.
The dye-houses are close to the Nile round an
oblong open space, and the sickening odour of
damp indigo proclaims them from afar. Pools
of blue water lie about, and large pieces of stuff
hung over lines fastened across the roadway drip
in the wind and dust.
After the dyers come the butchers, and then
a large number of grocers, drapers, braziers, and
goldsmiths. The merchants chat idly together
from their shops without thinking of customers,

while at Siout, Keneh, and Louxor, in towns
where trade is brisk, the European is stopped and
disputed for at every turn. But here his questions
are scarcely heeded or the objects he wishes to
buy shown to him. We arrived on market-day;
the large square swarmed with buyers and
sellers, for, according to custom, all the fellahs
of the province had come in. It is a unique
occasion for us to make acquaintance with the
products of the land. It is a very poor show, a
few miserable vegetables, cabbages run to seed,
overgrown salads, beans, stunted radishes, here
and there some sugar-canes, a little wool, a little
rope, half a dozen buffaloes, some camels, some
hairless donkeys. Two or three women have
spread out some variegated baskets and trays in
a corner, things that the agents offer Cook's
tourists, who pay very dear for them. The shapes
are old, and the colours and design of the
decoration go back to the Pharaonic age, but
the methods of manufacture have sadly degenerated
with the course of time. There is no
resemblance to the workmanship and lightness
of the baskets found in the tombs, or to the
bright, warm tonality of the Soudanese basketwork.
Traffic is going on briskly as we pass, and
bargaining is proceeding all over the square. Very
often it is only a matter of one or two centimes,

AN UPPER EGYPTIAN MARKET.
To face p. 242.


but time is not valuable, and the people shout
themselves hoarse for a quarter of an hour at a
time before coming to terms. The one swears
that he cannot take a fraction less, the other persists
in offering the lower sum. The “wallahi-el-âzîm1
are tossed from one to the other, and as
half of the population of Esneh are Christians,
disagreeable remarks on the religion of the contending
parties fly fast and furious. In a less
tolerant country blows would promptly follow the
theological amenities, and blood would flow, but
here both Musulmans and Copts are patient and
do not go beyond words.
Beyond the market-place is the bazaar, framed
by two rows of shaky houses. It is dilapidated,
dirty, and as we penetrate farther into it unveiled
women, draped in some barbarous tinsel stuff,
mingle with the crowd. When, half a century
ago, Abbas Pacha banished the almehs from
Cairo, he sent some to Keneh, others to Esneh:
they set up colonies there and their daughters
carry on their mothers' profession. The oldest
1Wallahi-el-âzîm” (by God the great) is the oath most
frequently used by the common people in their bargainings
and disputes. This taking God as a witness
pledges to nothing, and is most often the prelude to
some false or exaggerated declaration that it is hoped
the other may accept as true.

still preserve a certain refinement of manner and
language which savour of the metropolis; but
the others, through contact with their provincial
clientèle, have lost the tradition of elegance, and are
nothing better than low-class ghawazis, impudent,
unhealthy, with none of the mysterious charm which
compensated somewhat for their grandmothers'
shame. Turning to the right to avoid their
solicitations, we plunge into a labyrinth of dark,
narrow streets, of blind alleys, of open squares,
and then suddenly come up against a stone wall
adorned with hieroglyphics and crowned by a
high cylindrical moulding. The temple in which
the ancient inhabitants of Esneh worshipped a
Hathor in the shape of a fish is entirely buried,
and the pronaos alone is accessible to tourists.
You descend by a brick staircase of recent construction. The plan is the same as that of Edfou
and Denderah and all the large buildings of the
Ptolemaic age. Four rows of enormous columns
support the roof; on the east a sandstone screen,
extending between the columns of the first row,
separates the portico from the courtyard, and
on the west is the facade of the sanctuary
pierced by its three doors. The lines are strong
and harmonious: you feel that the architects of
the Roman epoch understood their business as
well as those of the Pharaonic age. But the

Roman sculptors were much inferior. The
modelling of the bas-reliefs is uncertain, the
arrangement of the ritual scenes is that of an
unskilled practitioner rather than of an artist,
the hieroglyphics have an awkward outline and
are crowded together in disorderly fashion. It
is the style of the Antonines and Severus in all
its ugliness, and yet, in spite of these imperfections
of detail, the whole has a masterly stamp,
and the religious impression is as strong as in
the Theban temples. Tourists invade it two or
three times a week. Their conversation or their
laughter awakes the echoes for a few minutes, just
as the hymns of the priests did formerly; the
echoes rise to the vaulted roof, and then sleep again
till the next visit. They scarcely respond to the
sound of our footsteps, but a family of sparrows,
disconcerted by our visit out of the due season,
fly from the back wall to the architrave, chirping
and crying uneasily. A pigeon perched on one
of the capitals stretches its neck and examines
us curiously. A little of the peace of the old
gods seems to have remained in the hall and to
surround us.
The rubbish and earth which press on the
walls are slowly but surely destroying them, and
would overturn them if not soon removed. We
have taken possession of some of the neighbouring

masonry, but the chief of them, a half-ruined
okelle, still resists us. It is a wakf, and wakfs
require interminable negotiation. We shall,
however, conquer in the end, and in two or three
years the pronaos will be cleared. But how
will it be with the rest of the temple? And
what now remains of it? If, turning your back
on the visible portions, you walk westward,
through the town, you notice that the ground,
after preserving the same level for a hundred or
a hundred and twenty yards, suddenly slopes
down, and descends almost to the level of the
neighbouring plain. These deviations of the
ground really show a plan of the temple under
the network of streets. It is quite probable
that if we suppressed the houses and dug down
beneath them, we should soon come upon
hypostyle halls, and then on the sanctuary,
which, if not intact, would at least be partly
preserved as at Kom-Ombo. It is a matter of
money, and operations could be carried to
success without a very large amount of trouble
if it was done briskly with sufficient resources
to indemnify all the landlords at once.
When finished the aspect of the monument
would be very strange. Imagine a sort of vast
amphitheatre, the circumference of which was
adorned by houses, and in the middle a temple

with its colonnades, its chambers, its Holy of
Holies, its girdle walls. Perhaps it was thus
under the Cæsars at the time when the
building was restored or received its present
shape. Herodotus relates somewhere that at
Bubastis the sanctuary of the Cat goddess was
below the city. The houses surrounding it overhung
its terraces, and their windows looked into
its courtyards.1 Similar necessities doubtless produced
similar effects at Esneh. While the residence
of the god remained fixed on the same
level as its founders had placed it, the dwellings
of men, continually rebuilt on their ruins,
insensibly rose up round it and ended by burying
it up to the height of its cornices.2
1 Herodotus II. cxxxviii.
2 Since this was written (January, 1907) the Service des
Antiquités has succeeded in gaining possession of the last of
the houses that hid the façade. Since January, 1910, the
pronaos has been completely cleared, and one of our best
officials, M. Baraize, is working hard to render it accessible to
the public. Possession of the houses built over the halls
and the sanctuary will follow as soon as we are able to
afford the necessary sum of money.

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248

XXIII
EL-KAB

THE unburnt Egyptian brick is less perishable
than stone. The walls of El-Kab, which are
built of it, are in fairly good condition. Its
temples of sandstone and granite have fallen to
the ground and in places the foundations themselves
no longer exist, nor the artificial bases by
which they were supported. When the inhabitants
of the neighbouring village want some hewn
or unhewn stone to repair their houses, they
come and help themselves as from a quarry, and,
thanks to the distraction and complacency of
our guards, they slyly break off with their
hammers as many blocks as they need for the
time being. They prefer to attack the inscriptions
and bas-reliefs; for why should the Pharaohs
have taken the trouble to draw those mysterious
pictures if not to indicate to those who could
understand them the spots where treasure was
hidden under the protection of talismans? They
always think that their blows will break the

EL-KAB. SMALL TEMPLE BUILT BY THE VICEROY OF ETHIOPIA FOR RAMSES II.
To face p. 248.


spell, and that the fragments will be suddenly
changed into glittering rain of gold or silver.
As a matter of fact nothing of the sort has
ever happened to any one of their acquaintance,
and they themselves have never found anything
in the ruins except broken pottery or rubbish.
But their faith survives every disappointment.
The temples go on crumbling away, and in
thirty years from now, despite all our care, very
little will be left of them. The principal one
looked southwards, and the Pharaohs rebuilt it
several times in the course of the centuries,
Thoutmôsis III. with the remains of the
buildings of the XIIth Dynasty, Ramses II.
with the pieces of the sanctuary of Thoutmôsis
III., the Saîd sovereigns with pieces of the
chapels of Ramses II. There, as at Thebes and
Memphis, and indeed, everywhere, the last-comers
fashioned new things out of the old
material, material which had formed monuments
before reaching their present position. But the
earlier Egyptians, if they utilised them again, did
not damage them. Modern Egyptians derive
nothing from them except their limestone.
Nekhabit, the goddess of the place, was a
vulture: her habitation was the right bank of
the Nile, while Baoukou, the hawk, was
worshipped at Kom-el-Ahmar on the opposite

shore. Her sacred lake, on which sailed the
sacred boat containing her statue, had been formed
at the east of the temple. It is now an oval-shaped
pond, set deeply between the embankments,
and the water remains in it from the
beginning of August to the end of January. A
few flocks of sheep, the property of the families
living in the neighbourhood, come down to drink
and to bathe as soon as the water rises; when
the river subsides, the water quickly evaporates and
becomes so brackish that the animals refuse to
drink it. The town extends to the west and
north-west, and until these last years some parts
of it, especially those close to the girdle wall,
had suffered little. There might be found the
houses of the poor with their little courtyards
and their two or three tiny rooms. Arched
alleys wound among them, or rather irregular
zigzag passages like those of Arab villages which
twist among the mud huts in capricious windings,
and which three times out of four end abruptly
in a cul-de-sac. They are paved with fragments
of pottery of no very remote date, and little
research is needed to see that they come from
the Christian town which did not survive the Arab
invasion.
The Roman town, the Greek town, the Saîd
town, all the towns that had followed one

another on the site from the beginning of
history, lay one above the other in superimposed
beds of unequal thickness. Directly
the pickaxe is used, pieces of varnished faïence
come forth, variegated glass, bronze or copper
vases, blue or green enamel beads, and hundreds
of those round stones which our workmen
without the least misgiving declared to be
the bullets of Pharaoh's artillery. In 1883 two
hours of digging very little below the surface
gave me the top of a stela of Pioupi II., the
base of a nameless royal statue, a fine scarab
of Thoutmôsis III., and a handful of brass
coins with the name of the Emperor Aurelian.
The harvest would be less rich at the present
time if I cared to try my luck again. The
peasants, encouraged to industry by the order
prevailing in their country, have more than
doubled the extent of the cultivated land,
and have upset the site in order to obtain
sebakh, the nitrous earth that serves them in
place of manure. The dealers in antiquities
have followed, and for several years have found
the wherewithal to fill the shops of Louxor.
The archæologists, as usual the last to arrive
on the scene, methodically consummated the
destruction. Neither houses, nor streets, nor
open squares are any longer to be distinguished,

but only fragments of shaky walls, heaps of
bricks or rubbish left on the edge of an
excavated hole, a confusion in which the bric-à-brac
of all ages is mingled. Tons of the
rubbish must be gone over and sifted before
discovering even one of the delightful objects
earlier so easily found. Only the ramparts are
intact.
Formerly they made a parallelogram, the long
sides of which measured about 1,200 yards, but the
Nile, with its capricious changes of direction, has
eaten away the western corner and threatens
before long to continue its ravages. A smaller
breach has been made by the hand of man towards
the north-west corner, probably during the last
attack. The fellahs try to bring their irrigating
trenches through it, and thus to gain the vague
lands of the interior for cultivation. Except at
those two points the wall preserves a uniform
height of from 10 to 12 yards, and is only broken
by the empty space where the ancient gateways
used to be, one on the north front, the other on
the east front. It is built of enormous bricks,
arranged in undulating layers from one end to the
other of the west and north faces. On the east
and south it presents an alternation of panels, the
beds of which run horizontally, with other panels
which are concave and form an open reversed arch,

the extrados of which rests on the ground. The
reason of this arrangement is not clear. According
to some it prevented the slipping of the whole
structure on the sand of the foundations and of
the courses of masonry one on the other. Others
declare that in case of a siege it localised and
circumscribed the action of the battering-ram.
The concussion produced by repeated shocks
would not be felt beyond the panel attacked.
Nothing of this is proved, but whatever the reason
that ruled the Egyptian architects, their work
lasted, and will continue to last, for a long while
still if it is not systematically demolished. The
wall is cracked from top to bottom through the
influence of the weather or of earthquakes. It has
been undermined at the bottom by the fellahs, who
have torn away the nitrous bricks to crush them
to manure their fields. It has lost its crenelles and
its banquettes, but the round-way is on the average
eleven yards wide and is reached by staircases
or flights of steps concealed in the thickness of
the walls.
El-Kab and its opposite neighbour, Kom-el-Ahmar,
were frontier towns at the beginnings of
history, for Nubia began a few miles from them
towards the south. But while El-Ahmar, far
away from the Nile, remained a barrage fortress
good only to retard the march of an armed body

and immobilise it for a few weeks, El-Kab was the
bulwark of the entire district. As soon as the
look-out men posted on the rocks of El-Kalâa1
signalled the approach of a barbarian fleet, or the
sentinels, set at intervals on the crest of the chain
of the Arabian hills, observed any movement
among the tribes of the desert, the inhabitants of
the villages sought refuge in the town with their
flocks and what property they could easily transport
there. They encamped within the walls until
the crisis was over. What could men who knew
no other engines of war than the scaling-ladder or
the battering-ram do against so impenetrable a
cuirass? After two or three ineffectual attempts
at scaling the walls, they usually departed. Time
and famine could alone reduce the place.
A thin line of vegetation runs beside the windings
of the river. It does not equal the breadth of
the town, and its eastern half is in the open desert.
Archaic burying-grounds fill the north-east corner,
cemeteries of the poor whose tombs contain only
1 El-Kalâa, the fortress, is the name given by the inhabitants
to the ruins of a fort of the Byzantine epoch, situated
about a dozen miles to the south of
Edfou on a projection of
Gebel Serâg. Some excavating in that place about 1884 led
me to believe that the Byzantine fort had followed a fort of
the Pharaonic age which marked the frontier of the barony
of El-Kab on the south.

rough pottery and the poorest decoration, necklaces
of variegated pebbles or of enamelled faïence.
The early aristocrats of El-Kab were poor wretches
who were buried as they lived, among the common
people and without more ceremony. They were
not distinguished from the vulgar herd. About
the middle of the XIIIth or XIVth Dynasty some
of them determined to emigrate to a sort of low
rock that stretches from east to west, a few
hundred yards to the north-east. It is a mass of
worn sandstone through which veins of greenish
clay, impregnated with nitrates, filter in every
direction. From olden times it was known to be
so little solid that the venture of digging the deep
tombs that were the fashion in Southern Egypt
could not be made. The oldest of those that we
know there is situated half-way up in a sort of
spur that commands the plain, and it has only one
small chamber, at the end of which the prince engraved
a stela in his own honour. His age was
not merciful to him; famine devastated the province,
but his wise administration prevented the
villages that depended on him being reduced to
extremities. Other members of his family were
placed under him or beside him in a poorer
fashion still. Their chapel was a mere hole
scooped out in the rock without paintings or
sculptures, without any of the pictures that ensured

an honourable after-life to the soul of the
master. A stela, awkwardly cut on a little stone
plaque, commemorated the name and the affiliation,
but, badly fixed to the wall, it soon became unfastened
and we do not now know who rested
there. The successors of these unknown men
played a glorious part in the wars of the early
Pharaohs of the XVIIIth Dynasty, Kamôsis and
Ahmôsis, against the Shepherd Kings. They acquired
notable booty, and immediately acting like
all of their period who became rich, they commissioned
tombs worthy of their new fortune from
skilful artists. Those tombs are reached from the
town in a quarter of an hour across a plain formed
partly of sandy quartz and partly of dry vegetable
mould, to which a little moisture would easily
restore its fertility. Sometimes after the storms
that arise in the hills in spring or autumn,
torrents rush down and inundate the place for five
or six hours. Wherever the water has touched
vegetation bursts forth. It blooms for several days
with singular vigour, and then directly the water
has evaporated dies as suddenly as it was born.
The Assouân railway cuts the track which joins
the town to the tombs almost in its centre. It
follows the natural undulations of the ground so
closely that we should not know where it was if
the line of telegraph poles did not indicate the

direction. Nowhere as in this corner of Egypt
does modern civilisation conceal itself with so
much modesty.
A slope of rubbish leads to the platform of the
tombs. There are gathered together the unpretending
vaults in which the servants of each of the
princes were buried under their master, so to speak,
in order to give him even in death a last proof of
their fidelity, as well as to profit by the advantages
of the position, and so to share in the good offices
of the funeral worship. Two or three of the aristocratic
hypogeums are celebrated among Egyptologists
for the documents they contain on the
history of the time, and among tourists for the
beauty of their sculptures and the brightness of
their colouring. That of Pahiri has only one cell,
but it is so well lighted by a large doorway that all
the details of the decoration can easily be seen.
The walls are covered, as if with a tapestry, with
tiny figures which are industriously celebrating the
most minute rites of the funeral. By what miracle
have the colours been preserved almost in their
first state? It is not due to tourists, pre-eminently
the destructive race, having refrained from
spoiling them. They began in the Græco-Roman
epoch by cutting their names, and in some places
their inscriptions are so numerous that they almost
conceal the ancient drawing. But still the tones

persist, softened and blended like those of an old
tapestry, and their relief is of an almost unique
quality for that period. Traces of a provincial
awkwardness are to be observed in them which
puts them below what is to be seen in the fine
Theban tombs; but if the artist's chiselling was
somewhat stiff and betrayed inexperience, he possessed
the gift of life, and his personages are to be
admired for a naturalness and vivacity of expression
often lacking in work of a more skilful
technique.
On the right-hand wall Pahiri assists at his
own funeral, and contemplates the animation of
the guests while they eat with a kindly expression.
At that time funeral feasts had the privilege
of throwing those who attended them into a
peculiar state of mind. At the beginning a sort
of jovial sadness prevailed, which the firm resolve
to celebrate the dead man worthily soon changed
into excessive excitement lacking all decorum. The
women themselves came with so good a will that
we wonder where the legitimate expression of their
grief ended. One of them says to the slave who
is handing the wine, “Give me eighteen jars, for
I want to get very drunk,” and she adds philosophically,
with a presentiment of possible consequences,
“The place where we are is well provided
with straw,” in which to sleep themselves sober

again. On the opposite wall, the left-hand one,
they are not so merry: it shows the transportation
of the mummy, the arrival of the human victim,
the sacrifice of whom was simulated at the door
of the tomb, the dances of the buffoons in front
of the procession, the lamentations of the weeping
women. Pahiri watches the operations which are
to assure him wealth in the other world, and
leaving the city in a chariot, sets out for the
fields. The chariot is yoked with two horses, and
those two horses are the first of their kind that
we see pictured. The horse was introduced into
Egypt by the Shepherd Kings, and was perhaps a
rarity at El-Kab when Pahiri ruled. The two
brave beasts, tightly reined, gnaw their bits and
neigh while awaiting their master's return. He,
meanwhile, does not hurry himself, and standing
on the borders of his fields, sees with one glance
all the labour of the year. In one place they are
ploughing or sowing; farther off, they are harvesting,
grinding the grain, threshing it, carrying
it to the granaries. It will eventually be his
bread. Elsewhere the grapes are being gathered,
pressed, left to ferment, and the wine poured
into jars. Hunting, fishing, fish curing, potting
of geese, are being actively carried on, as well as
the care of flocks, and boating. There is such a
quantity of everything, and it is all so good in

kind, that Pahiri ought not to want for anything
even to this day.
The Egyptians possessed a feeling for nature
which caused them to place their Houses of Eternity
in spots where a wide view opened over the valley.
Pahiri, when, as the Osirian dogma would exhort
him to do, he came out of his tomb during
the day, would see at one glance the shining land
over which he had ruled. There was displayed
before him El-Kab with its crenellated silhouette
whence the fires lighted at sunset sent up their slow
smoke into the evening sky. The thinly wooded
hills of Kom-el-Ahmar bounded his horizon on
the extreme west, the Nile flowed between
with its convoys of boats, and at his feet the
fellahs carried on indefatigably according to the
season the labours pictured on the walls. Few
places have remained more Pharaonic in character
than this. The peasants at work wear the linen
drawers and soft, close-fitting cap of their ancestors.
Their hoes might be placed in the museums
alongside of the ancient ones, and their swing-ploughs
are a legacy of the antique world. In
looking at them we feel as if Pahiri's farmers
have become alive in their pictures and, shouldering
their implements, urging their beasts, have
descended on to the land to resume the task interrupted
by thirty-five centuries of sleep. And

yet, far away in the south, near the hills that
separate El-Kab from Radesieh, a sound is heard,
but so slight that it is scarcely to be distinguished
from the silence into which it sinks again at
moments. But becoming more precise, more continuous,
louder, it bursts into a noise of hard
panting and heavy rattling of metal. It is the
Assouân express arriving at full speed. It cruelly
wakes us from our ancient dreams and recalls us
to the realities of present-day life. The train passes
on its way, its last carriage is hidden by the turn
of the hill, and its noise is deadened and then
killed in the north, while its smoke hangs over
the ramparts and darkens the crests. In its turn
the smoke melts into the sunny air, and with its
disappearance the shadow of the modern world
that had traversed and obscured the site vanishes.
The fellahs, who had stood up for a
moment to watch the train pass, bend again to
the earth with the same slow, angular gesture
that the sculptor has so accurately noted in the
chapel of Pahiri.

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262

XXIV
THE ENGLISH EXCAVATIONS AT
KOM-EL-AHMAR

KOM-EL-AHMAR—the Red Eminence—is situated
on the left bank of the Nile, exactly opposite
El-Kab, and to reach the ruins means a donkey-ride
of three-quarters of an hour from the embankment
to the desert. A well-marked path, a rare
thing in Egypt, runs from the bank to the
neighbouring village of El-Mouissat, crosses an
irrigating canal and plunges among the houses.
The land it traverses looks prosperous, small one-arched
bridges cross the canal at intervals, and
El-Mouissat, if not wholly clean, makes an effort
towards cleanliness which is not without merit in
this retired province of the Saîd. The houses are
arranged in groups of three or four along the
water, each with its little garden in which plants
of the most varied species flourish at hazard, castor-oil
plants and cotton plants, napecas, sonts, doums,
beds of onions and leeks, square patches of garlic
and bamiah. An ill-made deep road circulates

EXCAVATIONS AT KOM-EL-AHMAR.
To face p. 262.


among the mud walls or the hedges and leads to
an irregular square where the market is held every
Tuesday, between a stagnant pond and a mosque
of which it is difficult to know whether it is in
ruins or in process of construction. Twenty-four
years ago, when I visited the district for the first
time, it was almost a desert, and cultivation
scarcely extended beyond the village. It has more
than tripled itself since then, and its aspect is
scarcely less pleasing than that of the plains of
Europe. But this year1 the inundation came late,
and the spreading of the manure began about
three weeks after the usual time. The wheat and
barley are only just beginning to spring, the beans,
which ought to be ripe, have only just decided to
flower, and their perfume, brought out by the
heat of the sun, subtly penetrates everywhere,
blended with the odour of freshly wetted earth.
The whole population is out of doors, the men for
watering or for transporting the manure, the women
and girls driving their buffaloes or goats. Meanwhile
a few quails returned from the Soudan call
to one another in the fresh verdure, crested larks
reply to them from the mounds of earth, pigeons
walk for a long time in front of our donkeys,
and only fly up at the last extremity with an air
of reproach, almost of comic indignation. We
1 This was written in January, 1905.

really ought not to disturb them when we could
so easily get out of their way! The birds here
are not wild: as man does not hunt them, they
have not learnt to be afraid of him, and live amicably
in neighbourly fashion with him.
The canal is not entirely dry, and pools are to be
seen here and there, but vegetation has invaded it,
a little corn, a little lucerne, lupins, vetch. Two
boats stranded at the bottom await the rising of
the water in the midst of a field of lentils. Cultivated
land begins again beyond, but becomes more
and more meagre and languishing, and suddenly
ceases at the exact point where infiltration and
irrigation no longer reach it. The Pharaonic town
stood on the borders of the desert about 300 yards
from the canal. The hamlet of Kom-el-Ahmar
covers a small corner of it, and the greater part of
the ancient buildings were formerly buried under
a shroud of sand brought by the wind. Mr. Quibell
cleared out the ruins of the temple in which the
Horus of the locality was worshipped. He extracted
wonderful things—the gold falcon's head
and the two copper statues of the Pharaoh
Pioupi I. which are in the Cairo Museum—but he
was obliged to abandon the site before he had
exhausted it. This winter two other Englishmen,
Mr. Garstang and Mr. Jones, undertook to finish the
task. In the six weeks during which they have been

at work the accumulated rubbish forms a sort of wall
round the excavations and hides them from view,
so that we could approach them without being
seen. The workmen did not suspect our presence
until we were in the midst of them. We found
them alone for the moment under the surveillance
of a native overseer, and the work suffers from
the absence of the European chief. The men rest
between each stroke of the pickaxe, and the
children squabble round their baskets. But directly
they saw us the scene changed and all was activity.
A boy of eight or nine years old intones a topical
verse, his comrades forming a chorus—“Ennahar-de,
fi safîyeh
” (To-day there is good cheer)—and the
pickaxes hurry on, the baskets are filled and
emptied, the pit grows bigger, the overseer runs to
the head of his troop ready to seize the first object
that shall come forth, and all to the quick rhythm of
the song. It is almost waste of trouble, on this
side at least, and Mr. Jones has not much to hope
for. Mr. Quibell has only left him rubbish, pieces
of stelæ and of bas-reliefs, fragments of statues,
common amulets, lost among millions of potsherds,
all the broken pottery amassed by a hundred successive
generations of careless housekeepers. But
he goes on conscientiously, making his way from
house to house, in no way discouraged by the
poverty of his booty. At rare intervals a curious

object rewards his perseverance. The day before
yesterday he found a tiny man's head in lapis-lazuli
under a heap of rubbish in the angle of two
walls. The modelling is delicate and the expression
of great charm, but what gives it extraordinary
value is that it fits a statuette of the same material
that Mr. Quibell found not far from there seven
years ago, and which is in the Oxford Museum.
The town was never very important. It
possessed a temple of medium size and without
architectural pretensions, two or three State warehouses
in heavy masonry, a few thousand inhabitants
crowded into clay huts like those with which
the Egyptians are still contented, but little trade,
no industries, and for food the narrow tongue of
land that the people of El-Mouissat are struggling
to reclaim. And yet, situated as it was on the
oldest frontier of the country, its position gave it
importance in primitive times, and its princes
played a great part under the Thinite Pharaohs
or their predecessors. Allied with the rulers of
El-Kab and Edfou, they defended the borders of
the South against the tribes of the Soudan, and
more than one Nubian or Berber invasion came
to nothing under the walls of their fortress. The
fortress has not perished and stands almost intact
about a hundred yards from the town. It was not,
as at El-Kab opposite, an immense intrenchment

in which the whole population of the district with
its cattle and provisions could take refuge at the
least sign of a rising. It was a fortress of restricted
proportions, a rectangular enclosure of unburnt
bricks, formed by two walls. The outer wall
made a sort of crenellated revetment which
was originally four or five yards high. The
rampart properly so called measured from six to
seven yards at the base, but mounted, gradually
diminishing in width to the height of eleven or
twelve yards, measuring at the top only five yards.
It is smooth, without embrasures or loopholes but
crenellated with rounded battlements, and decorated
on the outside with long prismatic stripes.
The bricks were covered with whitewash edged
with red marks. The gate was placed in the
south-east corner, in the centre of a compact mass
of masonry which projected sharply in the front of
the fortification. A narrow opening, barred with
a two-winged door of solid wood, closed it on the
outer side; a little courtyard placed in the thickness
came beyond, and at the end on the left a second
door, as narrow as the first, gave access to the
interior. It was occupied by dwelling-houses,
barracks, stores for food and ammunition, and in
time of peace the prince held his court there. At
the first sign of war, if he had not men enough to
go out against the enemy, he shut himself up in it

with his troops and made a long resistance. A
breach in the south front seems to prove that the
fortress was carried by assault in the last siege it
underwent, but it was seldom that so well-fortified
a place succumbed to a direct attack. As at
El-Kab, the enemy usually waited in patience until
hunger or thirst overcame resistance.1
The ground is broken up round about, and heaps
of bricks and pulverulent human bones mark the
places which Mr. Quibell excavated. The oldest
cemeteries were placed at intervals on the sandy
plain, at the north and west, but tombs of
recent epochs are mingled with the primitive
sepulchres, and modern hands have so effectually
upset everything, that it is often difficult to distinguish
one from the other. The equipment is
very poor, coarse pottery, mats, rotten stuffs, necklaces
and bracelets of pebbles or variegated glass,
here and there jewels in precious metals, or amulets.
The people were as poor in death as in life. The
princes and their families must have been more
richly buried somewhere in the hill, but most of
their tombs are unknown to us. About a mile or two
from the fortress, however, half-way down the hillside,
entrances to hypogeums are to be seen, those
which M. Bouriant and I studied nearly thirty years
ago. They are miserable tombs, hastily hewn out,
1 Cf. Chapter XXIII.

and almost without decoration. Rare inscriptions
tell us that they sheltered the mummies of princes
and high priests contemporary with the first
Thoutmôsis, but one of them, in better condition
than the others, was appropriated and repainted
under Ramses XII. Mr. Jones set up his camp there.
He stored his provisions in one, slept in another,
made a kitchen on the platform opposite the third,
which served as a dining-room, and stored the
objects that he obtained in the course of his
excavations in a fourth. A large ouady opened
out at his feet and offered him wide views over
the desert to the south. Before him the whole
valley was displayed, shining as if with gold, and
bordered with yellowish sand. He saw the old
fortress grey in the midday sun, the eminence of
Kom-el-Ahmar whence rose the dust of the
excavations, the green of the trees and the grain, the
reflections in the Nile, and bounding the horizon
the hills of El-Kab, with their barren tops, their
slopes down which the light seems to flow as in a
slow stream, and the bluish shadows in the hollows.

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270

XXV
EDFOU

IF I was asked which among the towns of modern
Egypt had best preserved the physiognomy and
internal arrangements of an ancient city, I should
reply without hesitation, Edfou. It is heralded
in the distance by its temple, and the traveller
proceeding up the Nile in his dahabieh sees the
two towers long before reaching it, as did the
pilgrim of old when devoutly wending his way there
to worship the falcon of Horus. An hour after
leaving El-Kab the towers may be faintly descried
above the trees, then almost immediately they are
again hidden by the trees, to reappear after a few
minutes a little higher. At each turn, when we
catch a fresh glimpse of them, they seem to join to
them a little more of their surroundings, the minaret
of one of the mosques, square pigeon-houses, two or
three panels of whitewashed walls, an irregular group
of yellow and grey houses, an embankment cut
almost straight in the black alluvium, two or three
boats, a sakieh which sends its grating music out

EDFOU. ENTRANCE TO THE MAIN TEMPLE.
To face p. 270.


into the breeze night and day, a belt of green corn
and vegetation, a noisy suburb sprung up out of
the ground twenty years ago, a canal, a bridge of
bricks and wood, and at last the village properly so
called with its low huts and almost deserted alleys.
Dogs, too lazy to bark at strangers, sleep languidly
in the shade. We meet two or three women
shapeless in their long veils. A door is noisily
opened behind us, and the muffled sound of conversation
is heard behind the walls. Two towers to
the right, one tower to the left, a kouttab humming
with the sound of reading aloud, a sudden bend,
and there before us, above us, all around us,
stands the huge temple. It was formerly buried
at the bottom of a pit, where Mariette, having
cleared it out, suddenly left it. The Service des
Antiquités has just spent eight years in disengaging
it more completely.
In order to do that, about forty houses had
to be bought and pulled down, and in some
places twenty or thirty yards of débris had to
be cleared away, and the task is not yet finished.
But the court is freed and the site of the sacred
lake, and a little in front of the pylon, on the left,
a scarcely perceptible chapel, that to which
the goddess of Edfou retreated in the spring in
order to give birth to the Divine Son of the local
triad. The monumental doorway by which the

pilgrims entered the temenos was freed from
rubbish three years ago;1 and although the excavations
have not been pushed far enough on
that side, they enable tourists to stand sufficiently
far back to view the façade in all its extent. The
striking and barbarous ornamentation with which
the architects formerly adorned it can now be seen,
the four gigantic masts from which variegated
banners floated in the breeze, the veneering of raw
colours which set off the triumphal bas-reliefs of
the Ptolemaic kings, the shining gilded wings
of its colossal door. The masts have been
burnt, the cornices have fallen down, the rain
has washed out the colours, and the noonday
sun, striking the grey surface, seems to devour
the sculptures; the outline of the figures can
scarcely be distinguished by the thin line of
shade that runs along their contours. The impression
of assured strength, which formerly
gained much of its vivacity from the violent
colouring and rich decoration, results now solely
from the immensity of the proportions, and is not,
perhaps, less powerful for that. Nowhere in
Egypt, not even at Karnak, is what the Pharaohs
meant, when they boasted of having founded
everlasting stone monuments in honour of the gods,
better to be understood. We cannot imagine that
1 This was written in January, 1906.

buildings set up in so masterly a fashion could
succumb to anything but a sustained effort of
human perversity. And yet, if we examine them
closely, we shall soon recognise that in many places
they are at the end of their resistance, and several
parts of them threaten to succumb from the weakness
of old age. Air and sun have injured some
of the blocks to a point that we can hollow them
out with the finger; elsewhere the pressure of the
earth or of rubbish has bent the walls in the centre,
and the movement thus caused in the masonry did
not cease until the rubbish was cleared away. Six
years ago the western wall of the enclosure was in
so bad a condition that I feared a speedy fall. It
had to be cut down for a length of about ninety yards,
the foundations had to be strengthened, the blocks
put up again and adjusted with minute exactitude,
so as to restore accurately the mythological and
religious scenes which sanctified the two sides.
M. Barsanti, to whom the work was entrusted,
accomplished it with his accustomed skill and
audacity. But when he had finished he saw that
the western portico was in as great danger as the
wall had been. I sent him back in 1905, with
the order to put everything right by the same
methods that had formerly been so successful.
He was again equally successful and rapid.
The walls, columns, ceilings of the portico were

put in a condition of perfect stability. In a
few weeks the scaffoldings will be removed and
the building will have resumed its ordinary aspect.
The works are carried on with a discreet activity,
without useless display of strength, without insults
from the overseers or hostile grumbling from the
workmen, and the few tourists who watch the
operations would never suspect how dangerous
they often are. The entire portico had deviated
from west to east, and eleven of its columns were
only held in position by the architraves which
joined them, and by the ceiling, the slabs of which
weighed on them. No attempt could be made to
set them straight before shoring up the whole mass,
and the least awkwardness committed during the
preliminary operation risked the fall of the whole
on the workmen. M. Barsanti propped up the
ceiling, timbered the wall, equipped and buttressed
the columns with immense pitch-pine beams.
Directly the safety of the whole was assured, he
took down the blocks that formed the cornices,
then applying screwjacks to the ceiling he lifted
the slabs a foot above the top of the walls and
fixed them in the air for ten months on frames of
timber-work.
Next he attacked the architraves, but instead of
taking them down, a proceeding that would have
required double the time and expense, he placed

them on cradles of beams prepared on their east
side. He was on the point of ordering the
columns to be pulled down, when an incident
happened which nearly prevented success. The
master mason and his assistants were terrified by
so many stones suspended above their heads, and
declared that unless they were brought down
to the ground they would leave the spot.
M. Barsanti installed himself beside them under
the mass to prove the needlessness of their fears.
Seeing him so resolute, their confidence was
somewhat restored, but the first few hours were
very uncomfortable. If a piece of wood creaked,
or a rope vibrated as it was tightened, the men
fled in every direction, and it was not an easy
matter to gather them together again. Nevertheless
the corner column was taken to pieces and
stored away without accident in a day of ten
hours. The second column only took eight hours,
and the workmen becoming hardened, the
business was finished sooner than we could have
hoped. In less than two months the eleven
leaning columns were taken down and set up
again in the perpendicular, the architraves returned
to the places they had left, the ceiling
descended on to the architraves, and the portico
was more robust than it had been for thirty years
before its misadventure. In the course of the

manipulations nothing suffered, neither inscriptions
nor pictures, and when the apparatus was
removed no trace of the work that had been
accomplished would have remained if we had not
been obliged to fill up the points of the courses
of masonry with cement, the dull colour of which
will contrast for a few months with the warmer
tonality of the antique stone. The Pharaohs
would have been immensely proud of so well
executed an enterprise; they would have
recorded it in big hieroglyphics on a stela with
much emphasis and prolixity, extravagant in
praise of themselves and prayers to the gods.
Such panegyrics on stone are out of fashion.
M. Alexandre Barsanti will think himself fortunate
if the four years of hard work and anxiety which
Edfou cost him obtain a couple of lines in the
next edition of some tourists' Guide to Egypt.
At off times he had worked at the slight retouchings
in the interior rendered necessary by its
condition. The good folk of the village had not
inhabited the halls for fourteen centuries with
their poultry and their cattle without doing some
damage. In one place they had hammered the
portraits of the pagan divinities which decorated
the walls, in order to kill the demons that
animated them. Elsewhere their wives had
scraped or scooped out the stone in order to obtain

a sandstone powder which, mixed with their food,
would cure their diseases or procure for them a
blessed fertility. The ceilings of several chambers
no longer exist, and one January morning only
five years ago pieces of the ceiling of the
hypostyle hall fell down.1 Two hours earlier or
later, they would have fallen on a band of tourists,
and many of them would have been crushed.
The breach is now closed up, the cracks have been
stopped with mortar, the pictures are clear, and
the hieroglyphics stand out with such sharply
defined contours that colour alone is wanting
to make the restoration perfect. It would
involve too great a risk to attempt to restore
the colour notwithstanding the many traces of
it that still persist, but I often ask myself if we
ought not to restore the door-frames and the
objects used in religious worship in one of the
chambers. It would be easy to make the doors in
Syrian or Caramanian wood with bronze hinges
and touches of gilding. The sockets still exist at
the foot of the jambs and lintels, and would give
us the correct dimensions of the pivots on which
the wings of the doors turned. The delicately
chiselled pictures on the walls of the sanctuary
show us the principal objects that it contained
and the way in which they were arranged. First
1 Cf. Chapter XIII.

there was the large granite naos, consecrated by
Nectanebo before the building of the actual
edifice, and in which was enclosed the image of the
god, a gigantic falcon in gilded wood. Then in
front of the naos on a block of stone came the
sacred boat that was carried in procession through
the streets and fields on festival days. It is
represented in its natural size, with its litter, its
figures on poop and prow, its tabernacle half veiled
with some white stuff, its oar-rudders, and on each
side, to the right and left, the altars, the ledges
laden with bread and cakes, the libation vases, the
mats, the dishes of offerings. A skilful joiner
could soon have faithfully copied the furniture,
and with the assistance of the half-light that
prevails in such places, visitors suddenly confronted
with the mystic apparatus would have a
momentary vision of the past.
They could even, if they so desired, procure it
now by standing on one of the towers of the pylon
at sunset. The staircase winds through the mass so
gently, that the 240 steps are climbed almost without
fatigue. Narrow air-holes cut in the south wall
let in a scanty amount of light, and a side door
open on each of the landings leads to the priests'
chambers. Two or three of them served as guard-rooms
for the little French garrison which held the
country during Napoleon's expedition. At the

EDFOU. GENERAL VIEW.
To face p. 278.


beginning there were about 150 men, infantry and
cavalry, but sickness and perpetual skirmishing
with native marauders gradually reduced the
number. At each fresh funeral the survivors
engraved the name of their dead comrade in a
corner, adding the date and a cross, and then
resumed their daily avocations. The hours passed
slowly in this far-away village, and if the older
soldiers had some pleasure in proclaiming that the
French are conquerors everywhere, others thought
regretfully, one of his far-off Rosalie, another of
the windmill in his native village, which he drew
with the point of his knife on a block of stone,
with its pointed roof and all its sails unfurled.
The platform which crowns the eastern tower no
longer exists, but the masonry on which the slabs
rested projects in the interior along the parapet like
a roundway, and thence there is a view over the
country. It is the usual Egyptian landscape, but
more meagre than in the environs of Esneh and Kom-el-Ahmar.
We see two chains of low, jagged, black
hills striped with yellow where the sand flows
down, a muddy and almost deserted Nile, rows of
trees twisted by the wind, patches of vegetation
standing out in strong contrast with the grey
colour of the plain. The sun sets quietly,
throwing the ever lengthening shadow of the
temple over the town. The fires for cooking the

evening meal are lighted, and, as in the melancholy
lines of Virgil, the roofs of the houses smoke.
The falcons hover round us, describing large
circles before regaining their eyries, and mingled
with their cries uncertain sounds of voices float
up now and again to the tower top. The women
call to one another from the terraces, the men,
seated or standing on the threshold of their doors,
engage in serious conversation across the street,
and pointing to us, seem uneasy about what we
are doing up there at so late an hour. Is it really
Edfou of to-day that is sinking to rest before our
eyes? The few signs of modern life, the minaret
of the mosque, the telegraph poles, the iron pipes
of the steam-pump, are effaced in the soft light
of the dying day. Modernity is concealed in the
uncertain pallor of twilight, and the call of the
muezzin sounds in our ears like a feeble echo of
the chants with which the priests of Horus
greeted the daily death of their god.

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281

XXVI
ASSOUÂN

THE north wind strikes sharply in our faces, grey
clouds chase each other across the sky, the sun
shines yet without warmth, one of those dry, clear
suns that are frequent in France in the month of
March, days when spring, not yet sure of itself,
makes an attempt to come forth, and yet, in spite
of the wind and the cold, we are on the very frontiers
of Upper Egypt. To right and left are the
worn sandstone hills and golden sands which
herald Nubia. Here are groups of date-palms and
doum-palms, of acacias and tamarisks, which form
a thin screen behind the blackish banks; here are
dusty patches of castor-oil plants and clover, huts
of twigs and mud, chadoufs, sakiehs: and then in
the background the stained cupola of the tomb of
the saint who presides over Assouân. The town is
suddenly revealed at the turn of a last wooded promontory
between the shore of El-Qôz and the
southern point of Elephantine; there are the villas
half-hidden in trees, barracks, church, gardens,

then a straight front of white houses, above which
the heap of old buildings of the colour of the
ground rises pyramidally. A large sandbank has
lately risen across the channel and does not permit
access to all. Light boats can go up without
much trouble, at least in winter-time, and pushing
straight between islets of brown granite round
which the water foams, make land at last beyond
the broken piles of a Roman jetty. The others
pass to the west, and double Elephantine to reach
the port of the southern side, as if they were
coming from the Cataract.
Where is the Assouân of twenty years ago,1
the half-Nubian village, its originality as yet unspoilt
by a European admixture? No railway
disgorged every evening carriage-loads of dusty
tourists; four or five dahabiehs at most rode at
anchor far apart in the height of the season. The
post-boat brought up a few dozen tourists
in the week, and twice a month Cook's parties
arrived in a big steamer. Then for two or three
days there was going and coming of small boats
between Elephantine and the mainland, donkeys
galloping along the road to Philae, warlike reviews
of Barabras at ten francs a dance, ballets of almehs,
endless bargainings for Nubian swords and
weapons, ostrich feathers, raw ivory, Soudanese
1 This was written in 1902.

stuffs, or jewellery. One fine morning the whistle
announced departure, and amid a sound of paddle wheels
civilised man set out for the north as
noisily as he had come. The town, delighted with
its gains, but tired of the confusion, uttered a
sigh of relief and lazily sank to sleep again to the
lullabies of the sakiehs.
But now from the middle of December to the
middle of March Assouân never sleeps. It has
become a winter resort, like Nice or Sorrento, and
has had to transform itself to satisfy the demands
of its passing visitors. The embankment, formerly
so picturesque, though rough and dirty, has been
replaced by a regular quay, with decorations in
brick, adorned with palms already high and with
lebakhs which will grow if Heaven pleases. The
whole front is almost European in appearance,
with its banks, post-office, hospital, fountain,
chapel, cafés, hotels, taverns, shops with glass
windows and covered with advertisements. A
Dalmatian photographer invites you in composite
French not to buy your films anywhere except at
his shop. His neighbour, a Greek tobacconist,
offers you the best to be had in cigarettes and silks,
all English, but if you need eau de Cologne you
must go on farther to the Italian bookseller, who
will supply you. As you pass obliging Parsees cry
their cloths, printed in loud colours, and their

coarse Indian silver-work. At the southern end
two or three cabs of the most correct pattern
await custom with resignation, at the head of a
rank of numbered donkeys, and then the railway
station with its level entrance marks the end of
the esplanade.
Here, then, the quay ends, and the shore reappears,
capricious, scattered over with all kinds
of breakneck objects, bristling with heaps of
broken stones, piles of wood, of barrels or of
sacks, but also with booths and tents that betray a
fair in which toys and popular cakes are offered for
sale, where there is cooking in the open air, and
even an itinerant circus under the French flag,
whence a freshly shorn ass's foal and a superb white
camel come forth to the tune of a polka to drink
at the river. It is time to turn aside if we wish to
escape these suburban attractions, and we strike
into a silent street which, turning its back to the
town, seems to plunge south into a desert of
granite and sand. The site has the wretched
aspect of the outskirts of cities, houses in ruins,
unproductive gardens, vague plots of ground disfigured
by filth, through which the road winds and
climbs. A portion of a mosque totters on the
right, a trench is hollowed where the road sinks
down, and suddenly, as in Perrault's fairy tale,
the ground half opens and a courtyard appears

at the bottom framed on two sides by long, new
buildings. A troop of young people on donkeys
come out of the gateway and strike into the
country. Groups of people walking about stop
their chatting to watch them, and then begin to
talk again faster than ever. Two dragomans dispute
in a corner and mutually curse their father.
A cook, dressed in white, his cap on one side and
his knife in his waistband, chases a boy who has
stolen a pigeon from his kitchen. It is the Cataract
Hotel, which is the beginning beyond
Assouân of a second Assouân, more European
than the first. Exactly opposite, the English
Church rears its cupola, finished last year, and a
little to the south the reservoir, finished this year,
stands on the height.
If the town has done its best to receive its
visitors according to their taste, the visitors for
their part have not been ungrateful. Doubtless
passing tourists form the great majority of them,
but from year to year the number of invalids or of
sun-lovers increases, who come to bask in the sun,
and to leave with regret at the beginning of spring.
During the winter the temperature is equable, the
sky clear, the population, except the beggars,
amiable and easy to get on with, and the hotels
offer those who are not afraid of the expense more
intelligent luxury than is to be found in the best

hotels in Italy. Many people do not now stay at
Louxor, as was the custom only three or four years
ago, but travel straight through from Cairo to
Assouân. In the first days of their sojourn most
of them are consumed with an intense archaeological
ardour, and rush incontinently to the antiquities.
They traverse the spot where the Temple of
Elephantine was, the quay built of blocks torn
from the old buildings of the island, the Nilometer
restored by Mahmoud Pacha, and buy Christian
lamps or fragments of papyrus from the Berbers.
They attack the hundred steps of the staircase
which leads to the tomb of the old princes, and
marvel at the barbarism of the hieroglyphics or
figures with which they are decorated. They
hasten to Deîr Amba Simâan to study the vestiges
of Coptic painting, and are nothing daunted by
the five miles that separate them from Philae. Is
not the railway of Chellâl there to help them to
cover the distance in forty minutes? With some
zeal increases in proportion as the stay is prolonged,
and is exercised in the interests of science.
It led the Princess Royal of Sweden fifteen years
ago to undertake most successful excavations.
More often it cools at the first signs of fatigue,
and less exacting distractions take its place. Elective
affinities soon show themselves between these
persons of such differing nationalities, and groups

are formed which attract and repel with varying
force. The hazard of travelling in the same
carriage or of a meeting in the corridors has
brought persons into relations; they talk to each
other a little, walk together a little, then sit at the
same table, and after the meals find a corner in
the drawing-room or on the verandah for playing
bridge or discussing their neighbours' affairs. Card-playing
is the great resource, I will not say against
ennui, for there is no ennui in the life, but
against the monotony of the days. But even so,
it is not possible to fill up all the hours of the
day with cards, and as many opportunities as
possible are made to go out. On Sundays the
Church services fill up the time, but in the week
visits are industriously exchanged between the
hotels, and as everybody has more or less contempt
for the hotel he does not happen to inhabit, it is
with some slight satisfaction or real annoyance,
according to circumstances, that the advantages
or otherwise are discussed. The dinner is better
at the Cataract, but at the Savoy the dining-room
is reached by a monumental staircase, the fine
proportions of which afford some compensation
for the defects of the cook. There is a good deal
of music and as much dancing as circumstances
permit, picnics are organised on the granite islets,
a party is made up to sketch in the desert or in

the camp of the Barabras, and if nothing more
interesting offers, there is the bazaar, where a
couple of hours of the afternoon can easily be
killed.
The bazaar is not very large, but it is one of
those that have best preserved an aspect of Eastern
tradition. The hilly street which runs through it
and the streets branching off from it are roofed
with planks as in olden times, and the shade thus
spread over the stalls does no harm to the greater
part of the objects to be seen there. Occasionally
unexpected discoveries are made. Nearly twenty
years ago I acquired as an antiquity a white clay
pipe, the head of which was a portrait of
Robespierre, as the words traced in enamelled
letters round the hatband testified. It had been the
property of one of the French soldiers left behind
after the retreat of the army; but how had so
fragile a thing remained unbroken among those
Berber hands? This year I found no revolutionary
pipe, but metal buttons seemed to me to abound—
buttons of the Republican army, buttons of the first
Regulars of Colonel Selves, buttons of the time of
Ibrahim the Victorious or of Saîd Pacha, buttons
of contemporary English soldiers—a whole course
of history in military buttons. The rest of the
things consist of the ordinary objects in the bazaars
of Upper Egypt—Russian or Persian enamels,

Indian filigree work, inlaid work, and the red
earthenware of Siout, jewels of the Soudan or of the
Hedjaz, ostrich feathers eaten away by vermin, an
incoherent mass of African weapons, zagaies, boar-spears,
rhinoceros leather shields or such like,
lances, knives, swords with cross-shaped guards
on their flat sheaths—all handled in confusion by
young women in bright toilettes who bargained
without ever buying anything, or by hurried
tourists who buy without ever bargaining, by
dragomans interested in the sale, by insinuating
Parsee agents expert in fleecing their customers.
Farther on, the European crowd is less, but business
is more serious—in the bazaar of cotton stuffs,
of shoes, of ironmongery, of provisions—and it is a
pleasure to see a curly-headed, rosy-cheeked grocer
in the classical uniform of the trade serve a half
piastreworth of moist sugar to dark-skinned fellah
women or dishevelled Ababdehs. But the shops
grow fewer, the bazaar gradually and almost
imperceptibly melts into the ordinary street, and
before we know it old Assouän reappears, solitary
and dusty. We are in dark alleys, tunnels enclosed
between the two walls of shaky houses; we
see the door of a mosque through which comes the
undefined murmur of a monotonous voice; children
are playing in the dust without enthusiasm;
one or two veiled women pass close to the wall,

then at the outlet of a square a corner of the desert
becomes visible, the silhouette of two or three
unsteady Santons, pieces of bricks set edgewise,
tombs freshly whitewashed, the cemetery where
the town has buried its dead from generation to
generation, from the time of the Musulman
conquest.
There sleep in the peace of Allah the descendants
of the Mecca and Medina colony led by Amr
ben el-As in 640, the Ashab en-Nabi, friends of
the Prophet. An old devotee who is pursuing his
meditations crouching against a door lifts his head
on hearing their names, and offers to show us the
principal tombs. They no longer preserve the
form of a monument; the walls have burst open,
time has cut the cornices into irregular festoons,
cupolas are split open, and the sanctuaries are laid
bare to the gaze of the Gentile as to that of the
true believer. The funerary stelae, many of which
were in beautiful writing, were all taken away
several years ago and transported to Cairo, where
they fill up the Arab Museum, but our guide
knows who were the owners of each ruin, and
drones out their history. They were all very
great saints, and innumerable miracles are related
of them, miracles which even still continue to
work. The Cheîkh Ali Abi-Yousef Abou-Thaleb
cures rheumatism and gout. The sick person

enters his oratory, and after praying lays himself
flat on the ground along the wall. An invisible
hand grasps him, rolls him across the chamber, and
he gets up quite well at the other end. The
Chêikh Mohammed ibn-Abou-Thaleb is inimitable
in restoring objects lost by or stolen from his
faithful worshippers. You go and pray over him,
and on your return home find the things in their
accustomed place, or you meet the thief, who brings
them back in spite of himself. Once a peasant
who had stolen a bag of dates tried to resist the suggestion
that oppressed him and to flee to the desert,
but after walking all night he found himself at
dawn at the door of the man he had robbed without
in the least knowing how he came there. And
these stories of miracles told in the oncoming
darkness, in the midst of the desolate cemetery,
assume an extraordinary importance. Our guide
believes them with all his soul, and despite the
difference of religion between us, he does not
suspect that we do not believe them too. He
respectfully passes his hand over the tops of the
tombs in order to remove a few atoms of dust,
then he rubs his face or breast and recites the
Musulman profession of faith in a concentrated
voice: he steeps himself in the essence of the saint,
and wishes to steep us in it too for our good.
He interrupts his devotions to shout to us that

people come from everywhere—from Roum, India,
China, the land of Ouakouak, the country of the
negroes—to the relics of these saints. Such a
pilgrim will sell his property and sail or ride for
months before reaching Assouân. He prays over
the glorious sepulchres, comforts himself with a
pinch of the sacred dust, and then straightway
departs, entirely happy to have purchased even
at the price of his whole fortune the privilege of
visiting the spot where repose the most venerated
of the friends of the Prophet. And we who
accompany him have come on a day blessed above
all others. By a strange coincidence it happens that
the 27th of Ramadan falls this year on a Friday;
and is not the night of the 27th of Ramadan the
celebrated night of dignity, Lelet el-kadr, during
which the Koran was delivered to Mahomet? The
day declines, soon the gates of the firmament will
open, and angels will descend to bring the benefits
of Heaven to the creatures of earth. Until dawn
all prayers will ascend without hindrance to the
ears of God, and none will be refused so long as it
contains no desire contrary to the law. I had
some scruple in only offering a couple of piastres
by way of a tip to a guide so learned in the things
of heaven and earth, but it must be believed that
in giving us his services his sole thought was not of
material gain, for he heaped blessings on us.

293

The setting sun had shed its last light, and the
stars were coming out one after the other, when
we decided to depart. The bazaar was not yet
closed, and sounds of merry voices together with a
smell of cooking announced the beginning of one
of those feastings which make up each evening for
the strict fasting of the days of the month of
Ramadan. Everywhere the streets were empty,
the doors closed, the houses silent, while the magic
darkness of night in the East spread over the
buildings of modern Assouân, modifying its vulgarity.
Suddenly the chant of the muezzin burst
over our heads. It was the melody that Félicien
David noted, and that his “Desert” made popular
in France, but here was the air intoned by a
young, fresh, clear, resonant voice, triumphant with
faith and trust in a merciful and victorious God.
The quay was deserted, the river silent, Elephantine
bounded the horizon with its uncertain outline.
Instead of the confusion and noise of the
daytime there reigned everywhere the reposeful
delight in living that no one can ever boast
he has completely felt if he has never been in
Egypt.

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294

XXVII
THE CONVENT OF ST. SIMEON NEAR ASSOUÂN

ASSOUÂN was ardently Christian before becoming
ardently Musulman, and for centuries possessed
at least as many churches as it counts mosques
to-day. But now its Christianity has vanished
without leaving any traces, except the ruins of
several considerable convents to be found in the
outskirts. There are some to the south, among
the rocks that dominate the Cataract Hotel,
among the tombs built for the friends of the
Prophet. There are some to the east, on the
borders of the Libyan Desert, but dismantled and
so covered up by sand that their traces are scarcely
visible. There are some again on the other side
of the Nile, against the cliff where the princes
of the VIth and XIIth Dynasties dug out their
tombs. Only one, that of St. Simeon,1 has
remained intact and deserves a visit.
1 I have kept this name here, which is that used in the
Tourists' Guides, I do not know on what authority. The
people of the district call it Deîr Amba Hedere, and it is in
fact placed under the protection of Saint Hatre, or, in the
vulgar pronunciation, Hedere, one of the most holy saints of
Egyptian Christianity.

295

It is best to set out about three o'clock, when
the heat of the day is beginning to lessen and
the river resumes its customary animation. The
Ababdehs and sellers of false scarabs, revived by
their siesta, persecute the strangers who arrived
in the morning, and are not yet acquainted with
them, with their offers. The boats, dressed with
flags, pass each other noisily, sailing, rowing, disembarking
tourists from the island at the town
and tourists from the town at the island. One of
the three or four of Cook's “Harnesses” gets up
steam for departing, and when ready summons its
passengers by strident whistles. A little farther to
the south an American dahabieh lowers its larger
lateen sail-yard, which, as it is returning to Cairo,
will not henceforth be needed. The musician of
the crew sends forth his most exquisite roulades
in order to enliven the work, and native melomaniacs,
crouching on the bank, utter sounds of
ecstasy towards the end of the cadences. The
current becomes swifter as the channel grows
narrower, the boatmen lean more to their oars, and
at the turn of the old quay Assouân suddenly
disappears; at the same moment all the sounds of
music or of human voices become silent as if carried

away by the breeze that blows from the Cataract.
Pagnon's Hotel is in sight for a few minutes, then
it vanishes in its turn, and we might think ourselves
far from modern Egypt if below on a height
an English redoubt did not ostentatiously display
its newly whitened walls.
Across on the right Elephantine slowly defiles,
its shore scattered over with blocks half buried in
the sand, its Tell dug out and undermined by the
sebakh diggers, with its dark-coloured embankment
that is being continually destroyed and restored by
the current, with its quincunxes of palm-trees of
unequal heights. The water murmurs and flows
swiftly round us, in front of us, behind us, divided
into a hundred foaming channels by the granite
blocks, chiefly of a dull red colour, the sides of a
shining black where the inundation has polished
them. Here and there several are joined together
by banks of gravel or strips of compact slime, so
as to form islets bristling with weeds and brambles
run wild. A few acacias have by some
chance sprung up on the largest and pretend to
give shade. A family of Berbers have installed
themselves in a low hut made of mud and twigs,
and in the winter manage to cultivate a few
poor vegetables. It is the very borderland of the
savage life: two or three hens scuttle away when
they see us, a tethered goat cries out in distress,

and the dog, awakened by the noise, barks at us
as long as we remain in sight.
The creek where we disembark must often have
been crowded and noisy in the days of the convent's
prosperity. Everything brought to the
monks from outside must perforce have landed
there: convoys of provisions and cattle, troops
of pilgrims, soldiers told off to police the desert,
merchants, farmers, tax-collectors, the servants,
vassals and serfs that the active monasteries of the
Saîd then attracted to themselves. Now it is only
frequented by tourists from Assouân during the
four months of the season, but the natives of
Elephantine have appropriated to themselves the
strip of alluvium that borders it by right of
seizure, and there cultivate a few castor-oil plants,
a little bersim, lupins, beans, and barley, and
thus there is along the waterside a velvety bordering
of young springlike verdure. It is only
fifteen yards at its widest, and in Europe the game
would not be worth the candle, but cultivable
land is so rare in Egypt that nothing is despised.
The labourers will obtain for a few weeks more
food than they could glean elsewhere, and will
thus be able to reach the end of the year without
having to endure famine. Beyond, stretches a belt
of withered, dishevelled alfas, and then behind the
alfas comes the bare, sterile desert. The ouady

goes its way in a gentle slope between two hills
the soil of which is becoming exhausted, and
opposite us at the culminating point the monastery
stands out against the sky, with the grim
profile of its walls. The rock shows in places,
black and grey, but a golden sand fills in the
hollows, a fluid sand that is made by the decomposition
of the sandstone in the sun. The sand of
the third ravine, to the left in leaving the river, is
the object of singular veneration to the riverside
population. They imagine that it will cure them
of fever and all serious maladies. They scale the
cliffs at one effort, and when the top is reached,
recite a short prayer—the Musulmans, the fâtikha,1
the Christians, Our Father; then they lie down
on their right side and roll down the slope. If
they get to the bottom at one attempt, without
stopping, the cure is immediate. If there is any
pause on the way they may try twice again, but
if the third time they are still unsuccessful, it is
well to think of making their will, for they are
condemned without hope of remedy. Like many
customs of the same sort, this one has its origin in
antiquity. The charm first worked by the power
of Khnoumou, lord of the Cataract, then Khnoumou
transmitted it to St. Hedere, and now a Musulman
1 The fâtikha is the first sourate of the Koran, that
which opens the Holy Book.


THE CONVENT OF ST. SIMEON, NEAR ASSOUÂN.
To face p. 299.

man Cheîkh, whose name no one would tell me,
has stepped into the inheritance of St. Hedere
and of Khnoumou. So it is throughout Egypt.
The people in changing their religion have not
changed their nature, and those whom they continue
to pray to under new names are the
physician-gods worshipped by their ancestors.
Perhaps they in their turn had borrowed the cult
from one of the forgotten tribes who dwelt on
the banks of the Nile in prehistoric times.
The convent occupies a very strong position.
It is partly built in stories on the slope of the
hill, partly on the edge of the rocky promontory
that commands the last turn of the ouady. It
is in the form of an irregular trapezium, the
broader axis of which is in the direction from
south to north. Like all the monasteries of
Egypt, it was besides an asylum of prayer a
fortress capable of resisting the most violent
attacks for weeks. The outer wall is in a straight
line, almost without towers or bastions, and still
measures in places seven or eight yards in height.
The lower courses are of big unhewn stones so as
better to resist undermining; the upper courses
are of brick, and all in such good condition that
with a few cursory repairs the building would be
able to withstand an attack. At one point only
is the damage considerable, at the south-west

corner, at the place of disembarkation when
coming from the river. A portion has fallen
down for a length of about four yards, and the
rubble spread along the base on the ground only
half fills up the breach.
A broken vault and masses of scattered masonry
can be seen in the interior, over which the wind
has laid a thin covering of sand, then a corridor
which leads to some dark chamber. It was the
way by which the enemy entered in that last
attack, and it has remained the same ever since.
The entrance proper was sixty yards beyond, in
an almost square projecting portion, standing out
in the middle of the east front, and it was defended
according to the rules of the art. In the
angle formed by the projection and the wall was
a low postern, which could not be approached
without exposing to the defenders the side that
the shield did not protect. When they had
beaten in the wings of the door, Heaven knows
at what cost, they found themselves in a dark
chamber, in the left wall of which was another
door, at least as solid as the first. Having passed
through that, a third door, situated at the end
of a corridor enclosed by two walls, had to be
forced. It was the last, but even after gaining
possession of that it must not be thought that
the place was taken. Each of the two levels on

which the monastery was distributed formed an
independent quarter separated from its neighbour
by a wall. The enemy who had gained possession
of the east door was master of the eastern
quarter, but that covered scarcely a third of the
total surface. A second siege had to be undertaken
if the western quarter was to be taken,
at least if the monks did not in despair deliver
up the place without further resistance.
The convent chapel was as if thrown across the
eastern quarter, and filled it almost entirely from
the bastion of the entrance to the inner wall. The
general plan is that of the classic basilica, slightly
modified to the needs of the Christian worship.
The atrium and the narthex are buried under the
rubbish, but the outline of the aula can clearly be
traced on the ground with the vast central nave, and
the aisles divided from the nave, the north aisle,
where the women assembled, by a screen pierced
with doors, the south aisle, reserved for men, by
three pillars, the bases of which remain. The roof
has fallen in with the exception of a few places
where the vaulting began to spring, but the aspect
of the débris heaped on the ground and the walls
still standing make it easy to reconstitute it. It
consisted of a series of domes, side by side in a long
line. The lateral naves had three each, that of the
centre being broader than the two others. The

same system prevailed above the central nave, but
the domes there were necessarily higher. It was
planned, as is still the case in the greater number of
the convents in Upper Egypt, to accentuate very
clearly outside the disposition of the cross, which
was not clearly enough shown in the interior. All
the surfaces were whitewashed, and at most they
might have painted the big knots, the outlines of
which are vaguely to be seen on the remains of the
whitewash, in three colours, black, yellow, and red.
There was only real decoration in the choir, or, to
give it its Arab name, in the hekal round the altar.
It comprised three niches surmounted by a vaulted
roof formed of a semi-dome open towards the congregation.
We can just manage to see the marks
of several layers of paintings superimposed one on
the other, pieces of drapery and figures superior in
style to that of the pictures that overlay them.
They can scarcely go back beyond the eleventh
century, and are probably the work of one of the
monks of St. Hedere. In the curve of the apse
the Christ is seated, a big, melancholy Christ,
motionless in the midst of an oval glory. He wears
a green tunic over which floats a purple cloak. He
holds the Gospel resting on His knees with the left
hand and lifts the right one in order to bless the
world. Two angels and two saints frame Him
symmetrically on the right and left, fairly well

preserved angels with their yellow wings, aureole,
purple cloak and white dress. It is the traditional
composition which repeats itself all over the world,
in Italy as in Egypt, but the workmanship here is
especially poor. Assouân was situated on the
borders of Christian civilisation, and the arts suffered
cruelly from the neighbourhood of barbarism.
Nothing proves it better than the miserable procession
the remains of which may be seen under
the Christ on the vertical walls of the apse. There
are twenty-four venerable personages, the old men
of the Apocalypse, to whom the Egyptians assigned
the names of the twenty-four letters of the alphabet.
They stand side by side and face the spectators.
They are tall, thin, unnatural, without consistency
in their priestly garments, with long beards, expressionless
features, enormous foreheads, big,
deep-set eyes, unintelligent. The Coptic painters
produced nothing more ugly.
It was all decaying when I first saw it twenty-two
years ago, and it has become much worse
since: a few more bad seasons and nothing will
be left of it. Sgraffiti drawn with a knife or
with red and black ink, in the two cells next the
hekal, show the feelings of piety that the contemplation
of these astounding works of art awoke in
the soul of the religious. The formula scarcely
ever varies. One, Archelaus, a native brother,

asks the Lord to pardon him his sins. One, Ammonios,
who confesses himself the worst of monks,
implores the divine mercy. Others implore the
saints to remember them or not to forget a relative
who entered into everlasting rest the 13th of
Choïak of the sixth indiction. The greater part
of the early ones are in Coptic. Some who no
longer knew Coptic employ Arabic, and as the
centuries advance Arabic more and more predominates.
It is almost solely used in the inscriptions
after the devastation of the convent, and appears
everywhere in the chambers behind the apse, in the
aisles, in the corridors, and in the chapels. The
rocky wall against which the church leans had been
worked as a quarry about the end of the Greek
epoch, and the stonecutters had dug out excavations
which sheltered hermits when Egypt was converted
to Christianity. One of the last doubtless acquired
a reputation for holiness in the neighbouring villages,
for his retreat was changed into an oratory
at the foundation of the convent and decorated
with pictures. Here, as in the church, the painting
was several times renewed in the course of centuries:
the present one is nearly as extraordinary as
the paintings in the apse. Two shining rows of
sad hierarchical personages fill three of the sides, and
among those whose names are legible may be
distinguished some of the most illustrious saints of

the Coptic Calendar, the Apa Pnoup, the Apa
Poimeên, the Apa Mercoure, the Apa Phibammon.
On the ceiling the haloed heads of saints grimace
among the twistings of variegated winding lines.
The other portions accessible from the quarry seem
to have been utilised as dwelling-houses or store-houses
for the servants. These would include the
workmen necessary for keeping up the buildings,
or for providing for the comfort of the monks,
joiners, carpenters, bricklayers, smiths, bakers, shepherds,
fishermen. These semi-laymen dwelt with
their wives and children on the north and south
sides of the church, and by its position their quarter
was the place of transition between the world and
the cloister. It seems to me that some of the
buildings to be found there served as stables or
poultry yards, at least on occasions of absolute
necessity. When the Bedouins or the Nubian
tribes prowled about the neighbourhood, intercepting
communication with Assouân, the monks had
to live, and how could they have managed if they
had not possessed reserve of cattle within their
walls?
The monks lived on the north-west side, as far as
possible from the profane life, and only communicated
with the lower convent by a steep path
supported against one of the aisles of the church.
Their quarters seemed less like a house of religion

than a dungeon, the crenellated surfaces of which
overhung the rock from east to north, and on
west and south overlooked a large empty courtyard.
The monks were completely isolated, and
when the rest of the building had succumbed could
hold out there for days or even weeks longer. The
entrance was guarded by a tower, the guard-room
of which was destroyed during the last attack which
the place underwent. It is now approached over a
heap of disaggregated bricks, and you find yourself
in a sort of two-storied barrack, divided from south
to north in five longitudinal divisions. The one
into which we penetrated traversed the whole
length of the building. It is vaulted from end
to end, and is closed at the northern end by a
clerestory of six superimposed openings, three, then
two, then one, the three lowest cut in rectangular
loopholes, the three above finished lancet fashion.
Here and there portions of the walls or pieces of
the roof have fallen down, and the ground is
covered with the débris. The whitewash has peeled
off, leaving the beaten earth exposed with which the
beds of brick were plastered. Where it has lasted,
it is covered with pious formulas and proper names,
some in Coptic, but the greater number in Arabic.
There are some of the twelfth century, but many
are no more than ten or twelve years old: the
dragomans of the dahabiehs have not omitted to

record in big letters in the most conspicuous places
the day and month of their visit. Red crosses are
spread among these writings, and in the centre of
the gallery there are two pictures facing each other
on the two walls. That on the east is entirely
effaced, but enough of the other remains to allow
us to perceive the subject. Christ is seated
under a portico, in the position of a Byzantine
Emperor. Two winged archangels mount guard
symmetrically on His right and left, and then come
six apostles standing in single file. The artist to
whom we owe this piece was industrious, but his
brush has betrayed him in a miserable fashion.
Yet if he had succeeded, his brothers would not
have attached more value to his work. When they
prostrated themselves before it in their prayers it
was not the picture they saw but the Christ Himself,
His angels, His disciples, and the imperfections
of the painting did not in the least disturb the
beauty of their visions. They dwelt to the right
and left in dark cells that could hold two, three,
four, even six inmates. Benches of unburnt bricks
marked the spot where they placed their coarse
straw mats for their nightly repose, and niches in
the wall held the lamp or the jar of fresh water
from which they quenched their thirst. There
they spent their hours of sleep, interrupted by
interminable prayers, and scarcely left their cells

except to go down into the church or to the refectory.
They took their meals in a gallery parallel
to the first, to the west of their cells, and neighbouring
halls represent perhaps the places of the
chapter-house or the library.
The whitewash of the doors and walls is smooth
and worn, soiled by contact with thousands of
damp hands and monks' cloaks that rubbed against
it in passing. A blackened lamp lies forgotten
in one of the niches, water-jars almost intact lean
here and there against a bench; at moments we
have the impression that the ruins are of yesterday,
and the monks are in hiding near at hand, only
waiting for the retreat of the Gentiles to reinhabit
their cells.
Their life pursued the even tenour of its way,
empty, miserable. The storm of religious passion
and the stress of theological ardour that swept
over Egypt in the centuries preceding the Arab
conquest had long abated when these monks took
the vows that bound them. Some among them
still nourished the faith of which martyrs are
made, and courageously faced torture when a
Sultan let persecution loose among them. They
lacked the knowledge which had made their
spiritual ancestors of Scete or Atripe famous, and
which had put the heads of the Church of Alexandria
in the first rank of the defenders of

orthodoxy. They still had a library in which they
could have consulted the Coptic translations of the
Fathers of the Greek Church, St. Basil, St. Chrysostom,
St. Athanasius, St. Cyril, the original
works of their most eloquent orators, Pisendi or
Chenoude. But it would have been too strong
meat for their minds, and most of them no longer
understood the discussions on doctrine with which
the sermons of these old preachers abound. It
was a very long time since any of them had
disputed concerning the nature of the Christ or the
part of the Virgin Mother. They repeated the
Credo of their spiritual heads without in the least
attempting to understand it, and only cared for one
dogma, that which, proclaiming the priority of the
seat of St. Mark, made the Church of Alexandria
at least the equal if not the superior of the
Churches of Rome or Constantinople. Thus they
let the theological manuscripts rot in their cases,
and did not replace them as time destroyed them.
Their scribes only re-copied the Lives of the Saints,
the Psalms, the Epistles, the Apocalypse, the
glosses that helped to the understanding of the two
Testaments. It is probable that after the eighth
century the greater part of the monks could not
write, and could only read with difficulty. They
employed their time in a routine of services and
mortifications that prevented them getting very far

with their learning. The supreme authority of the
abbot maintained an appearance of harmony among
them, but they were secretly torn by hatreds that
invariably develop among persons forced continually
to meet each other in a too restricted
space. Intrigues arose around each dignitary, and
mutinies sometimes occurred in support of these
intrigues. And then the Musulmans overwhelmed
them with insults and annoyances. The armies of
the King of Nubia, Christians as they were, came
at intervals to pillage their farms and encamp at
their gates, and they had either to repel their
co-religionists by force or buy them off with
money. The more distant Nubians, the troops of
the Sultan, Arabs, negroes, Dilemites, Lowâtas, rose
in their turn and claimed ransom; then the monks
had to make fresh sacrifices and disburse for the
Musulmans at least as much as they had paid the
Christians. The monks held firm for three or four
hundred years, but at length, poor, hungry,
diminished in numbers, in no condition to recruit
their ranks or repair their walls, they threw up the
game and took refuge in the Coptic communities
of Edfou and of Esneh. About the middle of the
thirteenth century the monastery of St. Hedere
was deserted.
The staircase of the tower is no longer in a
condition of solidity. Steps are wanting, and

those still there hold together only by a miracle,
for they are worn, dented, unsteady, full of holes
and cracks into which the feet go as in a trap.
Half-way up, on a dangerous landing, a door
gives access to the first floor of the convent. The
arrangement is similar to that on the ground-floor,
long vaulted galleries with sgraffiti and pictures
of saints in bad condition, cells, assembly halls,
stores. The terminal platform is not very safe,
but, looking down, there is a view from it of a
panorama of unexpected extent and beauty. First
comes the monastery itself, crowded on its rocky
saddle, the whole of its buildings, its open basilica
exposed to all the winds, its courtyards filled with
sand, its fallen walls. On three sides lies the
desert, solitary and gloomy in the light of the
setting sun. On the east the Nile glitters among
its rocks, Elephantine displays its masses of foliage,
Assouân stands out like a flat silhouette against
a background of granite and sandstone, and
beyond, in the far distance, a country inset with
vaporous summits begins to be tinted with the
pinks and violets of the evening light.

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312

XXVIII
PHILÆ

WE must take half an hour's journey by train,
first through one of the native suburbs of Assouân,
then in sight of a horde of Bicharis encamped on
the outskirts of the suburb so as to give the
tourists an impression of life in the desert, and
lastly along a monotonous slope of rocks and
reddish sand. The train is a real Paris suburban
train, with its carriages too old for the service of
the long-distance lines, with an old-fashioned
locomotive, a great boiler stuck on wheels, which
will resolutely do its fifteen miles an hour if the
driver will let it. It goes painfully panting over
the slope until at last straight in front of it, above
the line of sandstone that just now bounded the
horizon, there slowly come into view mounds of
blackish granite and a blue-grey plain flooded with
light in which the currents thread their way and
cross each other. Groups of dying palms or
withered acacias are set in the water in front of the
embankment itself, marking the outline of the

ancient banks, and a mass of submerged buildings
of different heights seems as if fallen into the
middle of the basin—pylons, colonnades, kiosks,
tops of temples—exactly what is to be seen of
Philae between December 15th of one year and
May 15th of the following year. We get out of
the train and embark, and coast successively the sanctuary
of Isis, the propylaea of Hadrian, the Quay
Wall on the east, and doubling at the spot where the
obelisk of Nectanebo formerly marked the landing-stage
of the ancient place of disembarkation, we
arrive between the two porticoes of Augustus and
Tiberius. We go through the monumental door,
almost at the level of the inscription engraved by
the French soldiers of Desaix, and passing through
the courtyard reach the top step of the grand
staircase. The water flows noisily from the house
of the priests of Isis to the chapel of Hathor, then
it runs to the right of the pronaos through the
postern that opened on to the propylasa of Trajan
and Hadrian. We seem to be transported unawares
into one of the fantastic havens bordered with
watch-towers and palaces that the Romans of the
Imperial epoch were fond of painting on the walls
of their villas.
Tourists may still go dryshod over the place of
disembarkation, the hypostyle, the Holy of Holies,
the courtyard and Chamber of the New Year, the

portions of buildings grouped in front or on the
sides of the naos, and the corridors that form communications
between them. At least the Nile only
wets them exceptionally when the north wind,
stirring the water, raises waves which flow through
the halls. But if the water only seldom flows over
the pavements, its presence is felt everywhere in
the veinings and under the outer layer of the stone.
Without possibility of preventing its progress, it
has silently filtered through from bottom to top,
by rills as fine as hairs, and between two inundations
has impregnated the entire fabric. The walls
look damp to the eye and are damp to the fingers
if they are touched. The sandstone has shed the
grey granulated covering the dryness of which
had clothed it for centuries, and it slowly resumes
the yellowish colour it had in the quarry. The
faded and dirty colours which here and there
clothe the figures of the gods or the architectural
ornaments are strengthened and revived by the
damp. Even the celebrated capitals of the pronaos
have less dry and inharmonious tones than formerly.
The reds, blues, yellows, and greens have
insensibly run into each other at the edges under
the persistent influence of the dampness acting
behind them in the stone; and while this interior
work softens and shades them, the reflections of
the ever-moving water which light them from

below through the bay of the pylon make the
colours vibrate delightfully.
Their beauty should be enjoyed while it remains
entire, for work is still going on at the barrage
on that side. The granite causeway is being
enlarged, since it no longer offers a sufficiently
firm base for new courses of masonry, and the
rocks of the Cataract, blasted every day, provide
the material which will allow the engineers to
raise the present plan of the reservoir six or
seven yards. And in five or six years nearly all
that was spared in 1902 will be delivered up to the
flood.1 It will flow over the threshold of the
doors, it will invade without hindrance the parts
provisionally guarded from it, it will deliberately
attack the walls, and will not desist until it has
reached the prescribed level. The figures of
divinities and kings who meet or pursue one
another from the plinth to the frieze, presenting
and accepting the offering, prostrated, bowed,
ranged in ceremonious rows, will be gradually
drowned—the feet one day, then the knees, the
loins, the bust, the head—so that nothing of them
more will be seen, and the mystery of the worship
of Isis will be for ever hidden. A sort of rectangular
balustrade will mark the site of the kiosk
of Trajan. The roof of the sanctuary and the
1 This was written in 1908.

terraces of the pronaos will float above like rafts
of stone anchored one behind the other, and only
the four towers of the pylons waist high will
dominate the waters.
It needs a veritable effort of memory to recall
at all accurately what the platform looked like
scarcely eight years ago. Philse, still intact, ingenuously
exhibited the relics of her past, temples
surrounded by parasitic buildings, porticoes, pagan
chapels, churches built out of the débris of the
temples, Greek, Arab, Coptic houses crowded
together along the alleys and the borders of the
open squares. The first shapeless layer of rubbish
having been removed and thrown into the river,
the skeleton of the ruins was laid bare; the tourist
looked into the interior of the houses just as
happened to the adventurous Zambullo when the
Devil on two sticks removed the roofs of Madrid
for his benefit. And if our tourist could no
longer see pictures of actual life, there was nothing
to prevent him from reconstructing the general
aspect of the city by the aid of his imagination.
Our Philae is a creation of man, or at least in
the beginning there was nothing in the place it
occupies except a little granite archipelago, such
as there are many from one end of the Cataract
to the other. The chances of the inundation leave
sandy shores or banks of blackish mud between

the rocks, and they serve to join them together,
but usually what one year brings the next year
entirely sweeps away. But sometimes the alluvium
resists and, increasing continuously, creates
a permanent island which is soon covered with
verdure, and attracts a few inhabitants. Shall
we ever know if Philæ existed before the Saîd
Dynasties? In any case no Isis of this extraction
could have become sovereign goddess under
the victorious Pharaohs when the Theban Dynasties
ruled as far as the confluence of the two
Niles. Elephantine was then the important town,
and its god, Khnoumou, monopolised the people's
piety and offerings. Philæ only succeeded in
coming forward several centuries later when the
empire was divided, and when the First Cataract
served as the boundary between Egypt proper and
the kingdom of Meroe. Then only did Isis,
placed at the meeting-point of two great States,
and envied without cessation by each, realise the
conditions necessary for playing an important part.
The district that fortune assigned her for residence
enjoyed a peculiar reputation for holiness. It was
formerly imagined that it marked the point where
the waters of the firmament, rushing down on the
land, gave birth to the Nile, the foster-father. But
in the end people became convinced that it was
nothing of the kind, and sought the natural source

farther to the south. The legend did not, however,
die at once, it only adopted a new version.
The Nile did not fall from the sky, it came up out
of the ground, and two bottomless gulfs were
shown in front of Sehel whence it violently gushed
forth to flow in two opposite directions, towards
Egypt in the north, towards Ethiopia in the south.
The two nations implicitly believed in the existence
of these contrary currents,1 and Isis and
Osiris, the gods of the land where the miracle
occurred, seemed to them worthy of all veneration,
but foreign saints invariably exercise a stronger
attraction than native ones.
The Ethiopians were doubtless the first to
honour the island and its goddess with a special
devotion, and very soon were imitated by the
Egyptians. After a very few years the fame of
1 Herodotus II. xxviii. Like many legends, this rests on
a natural fact, ill understood. Before the Assouân
barrage
existed the impact of the Cataract on the mass of the water
in the centre of the river caused a somewhat strong back
current at Begeh and Hesseh, which, flowing along the left
bank, made its effect felt as far as Bab-Kalabcheh. The
reis of the Berber boats know it well, and utilise it for
an easy ascent of the river in the summer months when the
sluice-gates of the dam are open. It is certainly the existence
of this back current that suggested to the river-side
population the idea of two Niles flowing in opposite directions,
one to the north to Egypt, the other to the south
to Ethiopia.

the goddess passed beyond the frontiers, and
pilgrims crowded from Europe and Asia as
well as from the Soudan.
In order to prevent the destruction of the
ground by the action of the same forces that had
created it, some Pharaoh whom we cannot specify
had protected the south front by strong quays.
It is the side facing Nubia that receives the
full force of the current. But the most ancient
sanctuary was neither large nor splendid enough
to suffice for the multitude of the faithful. The
Ptolemies built our temple, and the Roman
Emperors, continuing their work, grouped around
it subsidiary buildings which allowed the clergy to
arrange the rites and ceremonies on a large scale.
The nature of the buildings and the reasons for
them are clearly seen when viewed from the top
of the pylon. On festival days the pilgrims approached
from the south; a staircase contrived in
the thickness of the masonry, between the kiosk
of Nectanebo and the chapel of Arihosnofir, led to
the entrance of the temple. There they formed in
procession with their offerings and the sacrificial
victims, and, headed by the priests, made their way
to the first pylon between the porticoes. Before
the construction of the barrage the building was
almost intact, and the descriptions of classical
writers, added to the subjects of the bas-reliefs,

easily furnish sufficient material for reconstructing
it.
The people, garbed in white and carrying palm-branches,
waited under the porticoes, and as soon as
the first visitors set foot on the ground, shouts
burst forth. Nothing could have been more
varied than this multitude. It was made up
of elements that came from every part of the
world, not only of Egyptians or Greeks, but of
people from great Rome, of Spaniards and Gauls,
even of the barbarians of Scythia or Persia, each in
his national costume and with his national characteristics.
The religion of Isis was joyous and
gentle, as was proper with a goddess who taught
human beings the use of wheat and cereals, sanctified
marriage, organised the family, and promulgated
social laws. Choristers, accompanied by the
various kinds of harps and flutes sculptured on the
columns of the small temple of Hathor, hastened
or retarded the march. The music was heard long
after the end of the procession had disappeared
within the great door. As no one would have
dared to present himself empty-handed, the treasure
and mortmain of Isis compared favourably with
the fortune of the most richly endowed gods in the
world. Kings and Emperors gave farms, vineyards,
cattle and slaves, whole territories indeed.
Private individuals left her gold, jewels, precious

stuffs, statues. There was no worshipper so poor
that he did not offer his cake, his flowers, or his
bird at some altar, and the priest was not alone in
profiting by the gift. The residents lodged all
these people, and provided the trifling objects
that each took away as sacred souvenirs of
his visit. It would be an error to think that the
ancient divinities were incapable of inspiring in
their worshippers the fervour and ecstasies that
characterise Christian pilgrims. Faith was as
strong and religious feeling as deep at Philæ as
they are at Lourdes or Jerusalem. If the coarse
figures of the human Isis or the serpent Isis
which we pick up in the ruins could speak, they
would tell us the same tales of grief consoled or
peace restored to unhappy souls as the humble tin
Virgins or the penny crucifixes in Palestine.
The prosperity lasted for five centuries, and
then the pagan persecutor endured at the hands
of triumphant Christianity the same persecution
that he himself had inflicted. Philæ and its Isis
owe it to their position that they defied its
effects, and so survived the most celebrated sanctuaries
and divinities. The attraction they exercised
from the first on the Ethiopians was felt
in turn by all the peoples who followed in
the valley of the Upper Nile after the fall of
the kingdom of Meroe. When the Blemmyes

took possession of Nubia in the middle of
the third century A.D., they did not escape it,
and later, when the Emperor Theodosius ordered
the temples to be closed, the reverence they excited
gave effective protection. The Christians of
Philæ, encouraged by the bishops of Syene, would
have liked nothing better than to carry out the
prescriptions of the Imperial edict, but had they
touched the goddess or her priests they would
have provoked an attack of the Blemmyes.
They took care not to do so; and while everywhere
else the idols succumbed to the attacks
of the monks, Isis remained firm in the very
face of Christ triumphant. Even in 451, under
Marcian, a regular treaty changed the equivocal
toleration by which she had benefited into a
national obligation for the Romans. For a hundred
years from the day on which it was signed,
the Blemmyes would have the right to come
and prostrate themselves before her altars. And
such was the weakness of the Empire and the
fear of the barbarians, that, in spite of the impatience
of the devout, the regulation was respected
to the end. It was only towards the end of the
reign of Justinian that, the Nubians having
destroyed the Blemmyes, Theodore, bishop of
Syene, pulled down the altars and turned the
temple into a church.
We can imagine what would have been the

condition of the unfortunate priests during that
last century. The greater number of their fellow-citizens
were converts to the dominant religion,
and only those who belonged to some old sacerdotal
family remained faithful to the old religion.
We can imagine them shut up in the sacred
enclosure, and leading there a precarious existence
under the perpetual menace of popular fanaticism.
They had still their hours of joy, however, when
an embassy sent by the king of the Blemmyes
disembarked with ceremony, bringing the official
offerings. They put on their ceremonial robes,
took the statue from her tabernacle, opened both
wings of the doors, and awaited their guests near
the kiosk of Nectanebo. They advanced in procession
as of old, and the expression of their faith
was so strong that the worshippers might easily have
believed themselves to be carried back several generations
to the time when Isis was really mistress of
the world. The illusion lasted for the few weeks
they stayed in the town, then, the ceremonies
performed and the time of their sojourn expired,
they had to regain their native land.
About two miles to the south of Philae the
Nile suddenly turns and is lost in a bend, and
the eye, seeing the granite cliff that hides Nubia,
perceives nothing beyond. How often must these
poor followers of Isis whose names, Smêt or
Smêtkhêm or Pakhoumios, are preserved in the

inscriptions, have gathered on one of the towers
of the great south pylon to assist at the departure!
Might it not be the last visit of these
departing friends? The fury of the Christians
was continually growing, and the cries against
the goddess rose more persistently to the heavens.
If it pleased the bishops to stir up the inhabitants
of the neighbouring convents and let them loose
in the island, where could the followers of Isis
hope for safety, and what could the Blemmyes
do except avenge their murder in the blood
of their murderers? However, the boats, wafted
by the north wind, went on their way to the
sound of hymns. One after another they saluted,
doubled the point, disappeared, and the last had
long vanished while the priests still sought to see it.
What did it not cost them to tear themselves
away from the contemplation of the Nile, once
again become solitary, and to descend again into
the heavy atmosphere of religious hatred that the
joy of their ephemeral security had momentarily
lightened? Every year since my return to Egypt
I make a pilgrimage to the platform which
witnessed their grief, and standing before the
panorama which has changed so little since their
day, I see, just as they did, the flotilla of Nubian
boats vanish in the south, and thinking of their
wretched existence, I feel in my own heart the
rebound of their anguish.

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325

INDEX

A

B

C

D

E

F


327

G

H

I

J

K

L

M


328

N

O

P


329

Q

R

S

T


330

V

W

Z



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Date: (unknown) (Electronic edition revised August 2006) . Author: Maspero, Gaston (Electronic edition revised LMS).
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