May 3, 2012

First Sight of the Pyramids, 1848

First Sight of the Pyramids, 1848
Harriet Martineau

Ancient Egyptian Pyramids of Giza
Till 3 p.m. there was little variety in the scenery. I was most struck with the singular colouring the diversity of browns. There was the turbid river, of vast width, rolling between earthy banks; and on these banks were mud villages, with their conical pigeon-houses. The minarets and Sheiks’ tombs were fawn-coloured and white; and the only variety from these shades of the same colour was in the scanty herbage, which was so coarse as to be almost of no colour. But the distinctness of outline, the glow of the brown, and the vividness of light and shade, were truly a feast to the eye.

At 3 o’clock when approaching Werdan, we saw large spreading acacias growing out of the dusty soil; and palms were clustered thickly about the town; and at last we had something beyond the banks to look at; a sandy ridge which extends from Tunis to the Nile. When we had passed Werdan, about 4 p.m., Mr. E. came to me with a mysterious countenance, and asked me if I should like to be the first to see the Pyramids. We stole past the groups of careless talkers, and went to the bows of the boat, where I was mounted on boxes and coops, and shown where to look. In a minute I saw them, emerging from behind a sandhill. They were very small; for we were still twenty-five miles from Cairo; but there could be no doubt about them for a moment; so sharp and clear were the light and shadow on the two sides we saw.

I had been assured that I would be disappointed in the first sight of the Pyramids; and I had maintained that I could not be disappointed, as of all the wonders of the world, this is the most literal, and, to a dweller among mountains, like myself, the least imposing. I now found both my informant and myself mistaken. So far from being disappointed, I was filled with surprise and awe; and so far was I from having anticipated what I saw, that I felt as if I had never before looked upon any thing so new as those clear and vivid masses, with their sharp blue shadows, standing firm and lone in their expanse of sand. In a few minutes they appeared to grow wonderfully larger; and they looked lustrous and most imposing in the evening light. This impression of the Pyramids was never fully renewed. I admired them every evening from my window at Cairo; and I took the surest means of convincing myself of their vastness by going to the top of the largest; but this view of them was the most moving: and I cannot think of it now without emotion.

Once the railway from Cairo to Alexandria was opened, many travelers took a train for the journey rather than traveling by river boat.


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