June 6, 2012

Mines and Ancient Greeks in the Eastern Desert | Egyptian Deserts

Mines and Ancient Greeks in the Eastern Desert, 1818
Frederic Cailliaud


. we mounted our dromedaries, the master-miner, my interpreter, and myself, to make some researches in the vicinity. We proceeded in a direction to the south, to about seven leagues from Mount Zabarah. In this track we came to some mountains with emerald quarries and mines far more considerable than those already mentioned. They contain, perhaps, a thousand excavations; there appears to have been long stone causeways constructed under ground, to facilitate communications. They were so contrived that the camels could convey provisions to the workmen, ascending to the very summit of the mountains where the apertures commence. In fact, everywhere we discerned vestiges of very extensive labours, evidently the works of the Ancients. With so few men, we found it impossible to enter those galleries, which were almost innumerable.

About half a league to the south of these new mines, I discovered the ruins of a little Greek town, now called by the Ababdeh, Sekket Bendar El Kebyr. About 500 houses of rough hewn stone yet remain; three temples have partly been cut out of the rock, and partly constructed of stone. Great was my astonishment to find, in the desert, at so remote a distance, a town in such good repair. It was highly amusing for me to stroll from house to house, from chamber to chamber. In these deserted dwellings, various instruments, utensils etc. were to be seen, with lamps of burnt earth, and fragments of vases of a beautiful form, both of earth and glass; also stones, hollowed and fluted, that served for mills to grind their grain. With unbounded satisfaction I greeted and hailed a town, hither to unknown to all our voyagers, which had not been inhabited, perhaps, for 2000 years, and almost entirely standing. The town of Sekket has been erected on the slope of two opposite mountains; a wide road, which at times becomes the channel of a torrent, separates it in the middle. The ruins cover a space of a quarter of a league in length; the houses are well built, though of rough stone and talc, of the same nature as the mountain. . . .The town was, doubtless, designed for the workmen of the, emerald mines.

A little north of this town are two temples, cut out in a mass of talc, of which the mountain chiefly consists. The largest has four exterior columns, and two others on the frontispiece that decorates the entrance. To arrive at the interior, we first ascended a staircase, and further on are three steps to penetrate into the sanctuary; at the side are two little saloons, one of which contains an isolated altar in the middle. In the sanctuary is another large altar. At the entrance are two columns; the cornice over it is ornamented with a globe and two serpents. The subject is Egyptian, but the sculpture evidently Grecian. In this temple I found a Greek inscription traced in red characters on the wall. . . .

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