May 31, 2012

Night in the Western Desert | Egyptian Deserts

Night in the Western Desert, 1923
Ahmad Hassanein

Egyptian Western Desert
Then, the day’s work is at an end. Camp is pitched. No tents are erected, for the men are too exhausted, too careless to mind what happens to their bodies. And night falls. It may be a starlit night, or there may be a moon. Gradually, a serenity gets hold of you. Gradually, after a day of silence, conversation starts. Feeble jokes are cracked. One of the men, probably the youngest of the caravan, ventures a joke with more cheerfulness than the rest and his voice is pitched to a higher key. Unconsciously the Beduins attune their voices to that higher, louder pitch and the volume of sound increases. The desert is working her charm.

The gentle night breeze revives the spirits of the caravan. In a few minutes the empty jantasses are used as drums and there is song and dance. At the first sound of music men may have been tending the camels, repairing the luggage, or the camels’ saddles, but that first note brings all the caravan round the embers of the dying fire. Every one looks at his comrades to make sure that all are alive and happy, and every one tries to be a little more cheerful than his neighbour, to give him more confidence. . . .

Song and dance take out of the men of the caravan the little vitality that is left after the ravages of the day. Their spirit is exhausted and they fall asleep. They sleep beneath the beautiful dome of the stars. Few people in civilization know the pleasure of just sitting down and looking at the stars. No wonder Arabs were masters of the science of astronomy! So when the day’s work is done the solitary Beduin has nothing left but to sit down and watch the movements of the stars and absorb the uplifting sense of comfort that they give to the spirit.

These stars become like friends that one meets every day. And when they go, it is not abruptly as when men say farewell at a parting, but it is like watching a friend fade gradually from view, with the hope of seeing him again the following night.

“To prayers, O ye believers prayers are better than sleep!” The cry comes from the first man of the caravan to awaken. A few stars are still scattered in the sky.

May 27, 2012

How to Travel - Egyptian Camels | Egyptian Deserts

The Camel, 1834
Hon. W.E. Fitzmaurice

Egyptian Camels
There is something in the aspect of a camel that instantly puts all European ideas to flight: their patient mild endurance of fatigue and privation; the docility which they show in the most trivial matters, even if girted in the smallest degree too tight for their load, their hollow gurgling moan instantly makes the Arab guides aware of the cause of their distress; they kneel down to be laden, and rise with immense burthens on their backs; their gait is unlike that of any other animal: they have neither the sprightliness of the horse, nor the obstinacy of the mule, but seem to express, by their slow and lengthened step that they are aware of the tediousness of their journeys, which are only to be surmounted by constant and arduous perseverance; nature has happily endowed them with extraordinary powers of retaining their food for a length of time, in fact, it is impossible to picture any animal so completely formed to sustain the exhaustion and fatigue that they must undergo, from the scantiness of subsistence and water in these trackless sands.

How to Travel, 1183
Ibn Jubayr
Across this desert no one will journey save on a camel, by reason of thirst. The best and most comfortable camel litters used on them are the shaqadif, and the best of these are those made in the Yemen for, like the travelling ashakin [seats] they are covered with leather and are roomy. Two of them are bound together by stout ropes and put across the camel. They have supports at each corner and on these rests a canopy. The traveller and his companion in counterpoise will thus be veiled from the blaze of the midday heat and may sit reclining at ease beneath its covering. With his companion he may partake of what he needs of food and the like, or read, when he wishes, the Koran or a book; and whoso deems it lawful to play chess may, if he wish, play his companion, for diversion and to' relieve the spirit. To be short it eases the hardship of travel. Most travellers ride their camels on top of their baggage and so painfully endure the rigours of the burning heat.

Mrs. Elwood, en route through Egypt to India crossed the desert from the Nile to the Red Sea.
The Adventure of the Takhtrouan, 1826 Anne Katherine Elwood
The body of it is about six feet long, and three broad, composed of a curiously heavy-painted open wood-work, something like the Mameluke windows; and in this I lay as in a palanquin, which it little resembled. This was placed upon shafts, and carried by camels, one going in front, the other behind, as in a sedan- chair; the latter having its head tied down, in order that it might see where it stepped; and when they were in harness, it was raised nearly six feet from the ground.

Strange-looking creatures are camels to an English eye, and a fearful noise they do make to an English ear; they stretch out their long necks one way, and they poke them out another, and there is no knowing where one is safe from them; and I was to mount a litter conveyed by these singular productions of Nature, probably the first and only Englishwoman that ever ventured in a native Egyptian Takhtrouan! My heart failed me terribly at this instant, I cannot but confess, and I was nervously alarmed at the sight of my unwieldy vehicle. However, “Come it slow or come it fast, It is but death that comes at last.” thought I, as I sallied forth to ascend my Takhtrouan. There were no steps, and we had neglected to take the precaution of bringing a ladder. What was to be done? Whilst I was hesitating, an Arab crouched down at my feet, and offered his back for my footstool. Was it not the Emperor Valerian by whom the cruel Sapor was wont to ascend his horse in a similar manner? I thought of him, as in this conquering style I entered my Takhtrouan.

The motion was very unpleasant at first, and what with my fear and fatigue, I had a sensation of sickness, almost to fainting, come over me; however, I supported it as well as I could, and you cannot conceive how very strange my sensations when I found myself enclosed in a wooden cage, surrounded by wild Arabs, about to enter the Desert! Charles rode by my side upon a camel: at first he thought its movements were rough, but he ultimately preferred them to those of a horse. . .

At his own particular request, my Arab friend, who had hitherto so gallantly devoted himself to my service, was installed as my special attendant, the Knight of the Takhtrouan; and he undertook to guard me across the Desert.

Englishmen and Arabs in the Desert | Egyptian Deserts

Englishmen and Arabs in the Desert, 1835
Alexander Kinglake

Egyptian Desert
I can understand the sort of amazement of the orientals at the scantiness of the retinue with which an Englishman passes the Desert, for I was somewhat struck myself when I saw one of my countrymen making his way across the wilderness in this simple style. At first there was a mere moving speck on the horizon; my party of course became all alive with excitement, and there were many surmises. Soon it appeared that three laden camels were approaching, and that two of them carried riders. In a while I saw that one of the riders wore the European dress, and at last the travellers were pronounced to be an English gentleman and his servant; by their side were a couple of Arabs on foot; and this, if I rightly remember, was the whole party. . . . This Englishman, as I afterwards found, was a military man returning to his country from India, and crossing the Desert at this part in order to go through Palestine. As for me, I had come pretty well straight from England, and so here we met in the wilderness about half way from our respective starting- points. As we approached each other, it became with both a question whether we should speak. I thought it likely that the stranger would accost me, and in the event of his doing so, I was quite ready to be as sociable, and as chatty as I could be, according to my nature; but I still could not think of any thing particular that I had to say to him. Of course, among civilised people, the not having anything to say is no excuse at all for not speaking; but I was shy, and indolent, and I felt no great wish to stop, and talk like a morning visitor in the midst of those broad solitudes. The traveller, perhaps, felt as I did, for, except that we lifted our hands to our caps, and waved our arms in courtesy, we passed each other quite as distantly, as if we had passed in Bond Street.

Our attendants, however, were not to be cheated of the delight that they felt in speaking to new listeners, and hearing fresh voices once more. The masters, therefore, had no sooner passed each other, than their respective servants quietly stopped and entered into conversation. As soon as my camel found that her companions were not following her, she caught the social feeling and refused to go on. I felt the absurdity of the situation, and determined to accost the stranger, if only to avoid the awkwardness of remaining stuck fast in the Desert, whilst our servants were amusing themselves. When with this intent I turned round my camel, I found that the gallant officer, who had passed me about thirty or forty yards, was in exactly the same predicament as myself. I put my now willing camel in motion, and rode up towards the stranger, who seeing this, followed my example, and came forward to meet me.

He was the first to speak; he was much too courteous to address me as if he admitted the possibility of my wishing to accost him from any feeling of mere sociability, or civilian-like love of vain talk; on the contrary, he at once attributed my advances to a laudable wish of acquiring statistical information; and, accordingly, when we got within speaking distance, he said, “I dare say, you wish to know how the Plague is going on in Cairo?” and then went on to say, he regretted that his information did not enable him to give me in numbers a perfectly accurate statement of the daily deaths. He afterwards talked pleasantly enough upon other, and less ghastly, subjects.

People of the Desert | Egyptian Deserts

People of the Desert, 1818
Frederic Cailliaud

People of the Desert
The Ababdeh maintain an entire independence; from time immemorial they have held possessions in the deserts, which they consider as their property. When we compelled them to come with us to the Nile, taking away their camels, their wood, their provisions, were we not liable to reprisals? Was it to be expected that the Ababdeh, who well knew our connection with the Pacha [Muhammad ‘Ali], would submit to our demands without resistance? The main defence and safeguard of these people is their poverty, their innocence and the sterility of the soil which they inhabit; these are the guarantees of that savage liberty which they enjoy. Can anyone envy their lot? A few shrubs here and there ... a few thorny herbs or plants, a little senna and coloquintda constitute the sole riches of the soil; still, however, the Ababdeh are not without apprehensions of being deprived of this their impoverished domain. They made earnest suit to me, repeatedly, to conceal from the Viceroy of Egypt the wretched productions of their deserts.

I was desirous to learn from them the reasons of their not living near the Nile, where they might lead a life more comfortable than in the wilds of these deserts. One of their Sheiks . . . one day made me this answer: “To any other European we would tell at length the attractions that allure us to a wandering life and to these deserts; but you are fully acquainted with them, and know how to value them as we do. We see you content amidst the toils of battering rocks from mom till night; but come and live with us under our tents, amidst these mountains that are works of heaven; of these flocks, wherein our wealth consists; of these sands that secure our independence. Why will you not tarry with us? By this time you may have forgotten your country, and may prefer ours. Dwell here with your friends the Abbadeh, and send back the Turkish soldiers to their master. You are accustomed to the same fatigues as we are; you sleep on the sand; your labours in the mountains are more toilsome than ours; we will select for you a young maiden that knows only the desert wherein she was born; the gazelle cannot match her for innocence and mildness. The Desert of Zabarah belongs to us; it may contain treasures (emeralds) that we are strangers to. As you are come here in quest of them, they are yours; you shall give us directions, and we will all labour with a will for you; my sheep and my camels shall be yours.”

I was sensibly touched by the kindness which accompanied the effusions of this venerable Sheik; his generous offers were accompanied with the most friendly expressions that his heart could dictate. I shared in his emotions, and, strange to tell, for a moment was half persuaded.

More Advice to Women Travelers | Egyptian Deserts

More Advice to Women Travelers, 1848
Harriet Martineau

. . . And how many miles did I walk in the Desert, during those five weeks! I found, as some others did, the motion of my camel more and more fatiguing and disagreeable, all the way; and, being at home a great walker, I had recourse, more and more, to my own feet, little heeding even the heat and thirst in comparison with the annoyances of camel-riding. I have often walked from ten to fifteen miles in the noon hours, continuously, and of course at the pace of the caravan, sometimes over an easy pebbly track, sometimes over mountain passes, sometimes cutting my boots to pieces on the sharp rocks; but always giving up when we came to deep sand. Walking in deep sand in the Arabian Desert, at noonday, is a true purgatory; but there is little deep sand. We did not believe that more than one-fifth of our Desert route was sandy.

As for the camel-riding, I could not have conceived of any exercise so utterly exhausting. The swaying motion, causing an unintermitting pull upon one part of the spine, which can by no means be exchanged for another, becomes at last perfectly intolerable, though easy and agreeable enough at the outset. I would never say a word to encourage any woman to travel in the Desert, if she must do it on the back of a camel. If she can walk as I do, well and good; and I am told it is easy and agreeable to go on a donkey from Cairo to Jerusalem by the El Arish route. ... A woman who can walk far and easily, and bear the thirst which is the chief drawback on walking in the Desert, may set out for Mount Sinai without fear.

A Day in the Desert, 1871 | Egyptian Deserts

A Day in the Desert, 1871 
E.H. Palmer

Egyptian Deserts Map
There is but little variety in camp-life in the desert, and a description of one day’s journey may answer for all the rest.

At sunrise every one is astir; a simple toilette, a still more simple meal, and you pack up your things in preparation for the start. Then comes a repetition of the noise and clamour incident on loading, you mount your dromedary, and, when once fairly under weigh, the whole caravan trails noiselessly along the sand. Following the path marked out by the skeleton of camels which lie bleaching in the sun, you ride on until the noonday heat and glare compel you to seek a little rest beneath some friendly shade, if there is any to be had, though very frequently you must put up with such shelter as a white umbrella, or the unsavoury vicinity of a kneeling camel can afford. In England one knows nothing of the luxury of shade, and cannot appreciate what it really means. How often, when reclining, five of us, beneath a dried-up furze-bush no bigger than a good-sized geranium, have consumed our bunch of dates and biscuits, washed down with just one drink of lukewarm water beautifully flavoured with goat-skin, and envied the happy terrier that laps the cool puddle of his native land!

After lunch the march is resumed until sunset, and then commences the really enjoyable part of the day. The tents are pitched, and dinner is prepared. The Arabs settle themselves cosily round the camp-fires to prepare their evening meal, and for an hour or so before retiring for the night comfort and repose reign around.

The first night in desert was an era in my life; it seemed as if all the vague images of my early dreams were about to assume a life-long reality which they had never worn for me till then. A fresh breeze blew into the tent, causing no apprehensions of nightly chills, but infusing new vigour into body and mind. The flickering camp-fires shed a lurid glow over the little knots of swarthy Bedouin as they reposed after the fatigues of the day, and produced a wondrously picturesque and Rembrandt-like effect. The hushed tones of those who had not yet fallen asleep, the whirring of a hand-mill here and there, the half-plaintive, half-surly groaning of the camels these were the only sounds which disturbed the stillness of the night.

I contemplated the scene around me with mingled feelings of delight and awe. I was reclining perchance upon the very spot where the Children of Israel had encamped when fleeing from their Egyptian persecutors, and I could not help comparing my situation to some extent with theirs. I had just left the noisy bustling crowd of Cairo’s streets, and had escaped into the freedom of the great lone wilderness, and I too felt that sense of Divine protection which must have been present to them, for never so much as in the desert does one feel that God is nigh. He it is that enables man to pass in safety through the dreary waste, and whether it be by direct miraculous intervention, ... or by the scarcely less wonderful agency of reason and foresight, still it is His hand alone that guides him on.

The Deserts of Egypt | Walking Through Egypt

The Deserts of Egypt
A map of the world’s vegetation zones does not tell the whole story of Egypt’s geography. Sand-colored ‘desert’ covers the whole of North Africa and Egypt. Yet Egypt is verdant and fertile enough to feed its large population. How is this? The Nile Valley is not marked on such a map, but as one walks above the old flood plain of the Nile, the fertile land melts into near-desert and then the desert of the map. It is only continuous labor that keeps the land so verdant. Before the internal combustion engine and the paved road, the camel gave people access to the desert, though often with great discomfort and with danger. But though the desert was “dreary and solemn,” it fed the mind and spirit of the traveler in a way that the city seldom could.

Egyptian Desert
The Caravan to Mecca Starts, 1836
John Lloyd Stephens
It was worth my ride to see the departure of the caravan. It consisted of more than thirty thousand pilgrims, who had come from the shores of the Caspian, the extremities of Persia, and the confines of Africa; and having assembled, according to usage for hundreds of years, at Cairo as a central point, the whole mass was getting in motion for the pilgrimage of fifty days, through dreary sands, to the tomb of the Prophet.

Accustomed as I was to associate the idea of order and decorum with observance of all rites and duties of religion, I could not but feel surprised at the noise, tumult and confusion, the strifes and battles of these pilgrim travellers. If I had met them in the desert after their line of march was formed, it would have been an imposing spectacle, and comparatively easy to describe; but here, as far as the eye could reach, they were scattered over the sandy plain, thirty thousand people, with probably twenty thousand camels and dromedaries, men, women and children, beasts and baggage, all commingled in a confused mass that seemed hopelessly inextricable. Some had not yet struck their tents, some were making coffee, some smoking, some cooking, some eating, many shouting and cursing, others on their knees praying, and others, again, hurrying on to join the long moving stream that already extended several miles into the desert.

On Pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain, 383 | Walking Through Egypt

On Pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain, 383 

Jerusalem for Palestinians Only
From Jerusalem to the holy Mount Sinai is twenty-two staging-posts. . . . Before you reach the holy Mount Sinai you come to the fort of Clysma (probably a village near Suez) on the Red Sea, the place where the children of Israel crossed the sea dry-shod. (Exodus 14.29) And the tracks of Pharaoh’s chariot are permanently marked across the sand; its wheels were a good deal further apart than the chariots that we now have in the Roman Empire, . . . .Pharaoh’s chariot tracks reach right down to the sea-shore at the point where he entered the sea in his efforts to catch the children of Israel.

This sea has the name Red’ not because the water is red or muddy. Indeed, it is quite as sparkling clear and cold as the Ocean. Its fish are excellent and unusually sweet, and fish of all types from this sea taste as good as the fish of the Italian Sea (Mediterranean). . . . Also there is a great deal of coral on this shore. Shur, the desert where they (the Israelites) went for three days without water is of an enormous size. No one has ever seen a bigger desert, and no one could guess the quantities of sand. Between the Desert of Shur and Marah there is one staging post next to the sea, and at Marah itself there are some palm-trees (very few), and two springs which holy Moses made sweet.

Egeria followed the route on a three-day journey to the next oasis and then went on to Abu Zenima by sea, the halfway point of the journey.

Next, two mountains come into sight on the left, and, before you reach them, there is the place where the Lord rained manna on the children of Israel. They are lofty mountains, and very steep. On one side of the mountains the valley is perfectly flat and like a colonnade two hundred yards wide, with the steep high mountains on either side. But where the mountains open out the valley is six miles wide and a good deal longer.

All around the mountains caves have been carved out, and, if you just took the trouble to put up some curtains, they would make marvellous bedrooms. Each bedroom is inscribed with Hebrew letters. At the far end of the valley there is good water in plenty . . . it is protected by mountains both sides, but it has no fields or vineyards, and there is nothing there but the water and some palm-trees (Feiran).

Egeria traveled on and, after a sixty-kilometer journey, reached the holy Mount Sinai.
When we arrived there our guides, the holy men who were with us, said, It is usual for the people who come here to say a prayer when first they catch sight of the Mount of God”, and we did as they suggested. . . .

So, coming from Feiran we said the prayer. Then, going on, we made our way across the head of the valley and approached the Mount of God. It looks like a single mountain when you are going round it, but when you actually go into it there are really several peaks, all of them known as the Mount of God , and the principal one, the summit on which the Bible tells us that “God’s glory came down” (Exodus 18.20), is in the middle of them. I never thought I had seen mountains as high as those which stood around it, but the one in the middle where God’s glory came down was the highest of all, so much so that, when we were on top, all the other peaks we had seen and thought so high looked like litde hillocks below us.

Late on Saturday, then, we arrived at the mountain and came to some cells. The monks who lived in them received us most hospitably, showing us every kindness. There is a church there with a presbyter; that is where we spent the night, and, pretty early on Sunday, we set off with the presbyter and monks who lived there to climb each mountain.
Fourteen centuries after Egeria stood on Mount Sinai, another

renowned woman traveler climbed to the same spot.

May 25, 2012

At the Opening of the Suez Canal, 1869

At the Opening of the Suez Canal, 1869
Jabez Bums and Thomas Cook

Suez Canal
On the fifth day out, we got sight of Egypt, and in the evening of that day, cast anchor within sight of the lights of Port Said, leaving behind us the lights of the

British Mediterranean fleet of seven men-of-war. Early the following morning we sailed into the harbour of Port Said and took our position amongst about seventy steamers, men-of-war, and other ships of various nations, to which afterwards twenty were added, or thereabouts. The ‘America’ had scarcely dropped her anchor ere it was announced that the Emperor of Austria was following us, a fact soon verified by hundreds of guns both in and out of the harbour. On that day the firing was continued at intervals, as Princes, Ambassadors, and other celebrities followed in rapid succession. But the quickest and most general firing was reserved for the arrival of the Empress of the French, on the morning of Tuesday, the 16t^1 of November, when enthusiasm reached its highest pitch, as the ‘Aigle’ steamed slowly into harbour, her Imperial Majesty most pleasantly acknowledging the universal demonstration.

The serious business of the inauguration of the Canal commenced on that day, in the three kiosques erected for the occasion. It was my good fortune to get a position in the centre of the triangle of the kiosques, where I could easily observe every motion of the royal, noble and dignified assembly that occupied the central erection; whilst on my right was the Mahomedan stand, and on my left that of the Catholic Church, to both of which inaugural duties were assigned. The Mahomedan official read a paper, which no one could hear; but the Latins were gorgeously and powerfully represented by an array of richly attired priests, and one of the most clever of their orators, whose speech and benediction constituted the greatest event of the day. That oration has doubtless been published long ere this in the English papers, and it must be read as it was listened to with intense interest. Some thought it a little too flowery and flattering, and I noticed a slight shake of the head, and what appeared to be a little dissent on the lips of the French Empress at one of the personal allusions made to her Majesty. The only cheer was evoked by the mention of the name of Monsieur Lesseps, who bore his honours with marvellous modesty and gentleness. The clever Catholic priest must have been heard with strange feelings of interest by the Greek, Armenian, Coptic, and other patriarchs, bishops, and priests, that were crowded together on the two sides of the Imperial and Royal kiosque. At night an immense assemblage responded to an invitation of the Viceroy to a soiree and ball in his Royal Highness’s yacht, the story of which I leave to the pens of the newspaper correspondents and the pencils of the artists of the illustrated papers. Port Said was a-blaze with gas, oil, and candles at night; and many of the ships, to their mast heads, were covered with fantastically arranged lights and coloured fires.

On Wednesday morning, the 17th Nov., the great test of the Canal was to be commenced, and at 8-30 a.m., the ‘Aigle’ steamed out of the harbour, other ships following at intervals of ten to fifteen minutes, until forty vessels were afloat. Our America’ being a very wide paddle steamer, was placed lower down in the list, being No. 36, and it was 2 p.m. ere we passed the columns at the entrance to the Canal. It was impossible for all to get into Lake Timsah, the great bay of Ismailia, that night, and we were moored to the banks of the Canal, a few miles from the lake. Early the following morning the last half-dozen miles of the first half of the voyage were accomplished, and we were stationed opposite to the new town of Ismailia a town which owes its entire existence to the construction of the Canal. Ten years ago there was not a human habitation where this beautifully laid-out town now stands, and the great lake where hundreds of ships may now find anchorage was then a swamp, subject to the annual overflow of the Nile. Little more than a year ago, I think it was, that the Prince of Wales opened the sluice which let in the waters of the Mediterranean, and converted this fresh-water marsh into an inland sea of salt water, and to this point traffic by small steamers has since been regularly conducted. From here, too, a fresh-water canal, fed by the Nile, has been temporarily used for the navigation of small craft to the Red Sea. Ismailia is much more eligible for a great town than Port Said, and its arrangement in squares and broad streets, at right-angles, indicates the importance attached to the site by its founders. Here the Khedive has built a large palace, M. Lesseps has erected a capacious and beautiful residence, good hotels have been opened, and there is collected a considerable resident population. The town is also situated at an angle of the railways to Alexandria, Cairo and Suez. Trees and graceful foliage and flowers grow profusely, and the Desert bears a smiling appearance. The festive arrangements here were conducted on a scale of the utmost prodigality. Large temporary saloons were erected, where thousands dined and took other refreshments at the expense of the Viceroy; champagne and other costly wines flowed like water; thousands met at the palace of the Khedive to dance, talk and sup together; a wild military exhibition of Arabs and Bedouins was arranged for the gratification of the visitors; fireworks and illuminations closed the night, and thousands slept in tents specially provided for the occasion. Where the tents, the bedsteads and bedding came from, it is difficult to conceive. It took several days, and various special trains, to clear away the fittings and furniture temporarily provided.

On Friday, the 19th, the Empress’s boat, the ‘Aigle’, again headed the steamboat procession; but amongst the early departures were one or two very large steamers, and the ‘Peluce’ of the Messageries Imperiales ran aground at the entrance of the Canal. This caused a detention of several hours, and at least half the fleet spent another night in the Lake Timsah. It was half-past one on Saturday ere we could make a fair start, and then after a splendid run over the Lake Amers, sometimes at the rate of nine to ten knots an hour, we were again blockaded by steamers in advance; and after running aground ourselves we were again compelled to halt for the night, within sight of the lights of Suez, and it was nearly mid-day on Sunday when the line was cleared for us to enter the Red Sea. Two or three ships followed us, and by Sunday afternoon over forty ships accomplished the entire voyage from sea to sea, and the passage of the Canal was an accomplished fact a fact of immense importance, notwithstanding all the accidents incidental to the voyage.

Before the ‘America’ had reached her anchorage, many of the ships had been deserted by their passengers, who had hurried off by railway to Cairo, to see the last but one of the series of popular demonstrations. For myself it was pleasant to repose in the quiet roadstead of the historical waters of the Red Sea, at a point evidently not very far from that spot where the persecuted Israelites rested from the pursuit of their oppressors. Whatever may be the inability of scepticism to grasp the simple statements of Bible truth touching that great event, here was just the physical formation of mountain and plain suggested by the perusal of the sacred narrative, and I felt a pleasant satisfaction in gazing upon a spot so famous in Bible history.

Of the Suez Canal there seems now to be but one opinion. Its practicability none can now dispute. The two seas are already united; Africa is converted into an island by a combination of Mediterranean and Red Sea waters.

Through the Suez Canal | Walking Through Egypt

Through the Suez Canal, 1875
Isabel Burton

Suez Canal
The next morning we began to steam slowly up the long ditch called the Canal, and at last to the far east we caught a gladdening glimpse of the desert the wild, waterless Wilderness of Sur, with its waves and pyramids of sand catching the morning rays, with its shadows of mauve, rose pink, and lightest blue with its plains and rain-sinks, bearing brown dots which were tamarisks. The sky was heavenly blue, the water a deep band of the clearest green, the air balmy and fresh. The golden sands stretched far away; an occasional troop of Bedawin with their camels and goats passed, and reminded me of those dear, dead days at Damascus. It all came back to me with a rush. Once more I was in the East. I had not enjoyed myself so much with Nature for four years and a half. With the smell of the desert air in our nostrils, with Eastern pictures before our eyes, we were even grateful for the slowness of the pace at which we travelled. They were the pleasantest two days imaginable, like a river picnic. We reached Suez, with its faded glory, at length; and there we shipped a pious pilot, who said his prayers regularly, and carefully avoided touching my dog.

Looking toward the Other Side, 1926 
Constance Sitwel
.... what I was imagining: miles of colourless sand lying pale under the moon, and sand-coloured lions moving; and fields of blue vetch by the Nile; and the black tombs of the bulls of Apis, dark and stifling under their load of sand thick heat in there, and thick darkness, and the empty sombre passages going between the great black granite tombs, sunk deep in underground halls. And fields of beans, and fields of lupins and loose-growing sugar-cane and dense com; and behind, the rosy wall of the Libyan mountains in the jocund morning light, honeycombed with tombs full of mummies in hard painted cases; and painted halls and creamy passages, and roofs coloured with the young blue of Egypt the most adorable colour in the world.

The Convent of St. Catherine, 1871| Walking Through Egypt

The Convent of St. Catherine, 1871
Samuel Manning

The convent was founded by Justinian (A.D. 527), and was higher up the side of the mountain, perhaps even on the summit. It now lies at the base ofjebel Mousa, in a narrow part of the valley surrounded by gardens, which are cultivated by the monks and their Arab servants.

Until recently it resembled a beleaguered fortress rather than a convent. The only admission to it was gained by means of an aperture high up in the wall. Visitors were hoisted up by means of a crane, the windlass being worked by the monks inside. The most dignified person had thus to submit to be treated like bales of goods. Recently, the Bedouins having become friendly with the monks, and the number of visitors having increased, a gateway has been opened, though the strong iron-clamped door is still jealously guarded.

Entering the Convent, 1871 
E.H. Palmer
Proceeding up the valley, you pass, on your left, the hill on which Aaron is supposed to have set up the golden calf, and which is still called after him; next by some old monastic ruins, and the now deserted barracks of Abbas Pasha’s soldiery, and, then following the path which they constructed, in a few minutes reach the convent walls. As you approach, your Arabs set up a shout of Yd Musa (for the porter’s name is Moses), a little wicket in the wall opens, and a turbaned head appears and asks your business at the convent. A rope is let down, to which you attach your letter of introduction from the branch convent at Cairo, and, as it is drawn up, other faces white, handsome, and vacant appear and salute you, either with pantomimic gestures, or in a language of their own composing, fondly imagined by the community to represent Arabic.

Presently there issues forth from the gate at the side an old gentleman, reverend though fuddled in mien, dignified though unsteady in gait, with a patriarchal beard, and the most mediaeval of serge costumes, who, if such attention be not dexterously avoided, will fall upon your neck and greet you with a paternal kiss.

This is Brother Jacobus, the ceconomos, or bursar, of the convent, once a flourishing Smyrna merchant, but now, either because he is tired of the world, or, more probably, because the world is tired of him, brought here to end his days in the Convent of Mount Sinai. “I was an unbeliever,” said he to me one day, “until I came and saw what a holy place this is. For, when the earthquake shakes the mountains round, it never moves a thing within the convent walls; and that convinced me.” As an earthquake has not taken place here within the memory of man, this test of the sanctity of the establishment can hardly be called a crucial one.

It was by this worthy that the members of the Sinai Expedition were ushered into the Convent of St Catherine.
Relations between the Monastery of St. Catherine and the peoples of Sinai were not always easy, but when the whole peninsula faced a problem, the communities came together for the common good.

A Problem Shared, 1897
Agnes Lewis Smith
The inhabitants of the Sinai peninsula were at that time almost at their wits’ end as to how they could obtain water for their camels and their flocks. Nothing less than a famine was threatened, for not a drop of rain had fallen since March or April of the previous year in fact, since the flood of which our young Oxford friends, Messrs. Cowley and Stenning, were witnesses. This had been only too evident during our journey from Suez. The torf-trees at Ghurundel and the palms at Feiran had all looked miserable; there was hardly a plant alive in the Convent valley; the olives and almond-trees in the garden were drooping; and the fine old cypresses had dropped their leaves, so as to resemble scaffolding poles. The monks lamented the lowness of the water in their wells, and one morning we were surprised by the arrival of three sheikhs, who had come a long four days’ journey as a deputation from the tribes of the Tih, for the purpose of requesting the monks to pray for rain. This was sufficiently remarkable as between Moslem and Christian,' but still more curious was it when they preferred a like request to our dragoman. “But it will be of no use,” they said, “unless you put on a white dress and go to the top ofjebel Musa about midnight, and pray there.” Joseph excused himself by saying that the great thing was for people to pray for themselves. “If you don’t do that,” he said, “my prayers won’t help you much.” When we spoke to the monks of the drought they always said, “It is for our sins.”

It will readily be understood that in these circumstances the face of the sky was to us a never-failing source of eager interest; especially in the afternoons. Every cloud we saw sailing above the summit of the Ras Sufsafah, or gathering over our own valley towards sunset, we earnestly hoped might grow and give us the coveted blessing.

May 23, 2012

From the Holy Mountain, 1879 | Walking Through Egypt

From the Holy Mountain, 1879
Isabella Bird

Sinai Desert
I was three-quarters of an hour in climbing this peak. For how many years from early childhood upwards, have I thought and dreamed about this mountain top, and have imagined its aspect! It is like and unlike like in absolute desolation, but unlike in its grandeur and majesty. The summit is very small and shivered into boulders, and leaves little space for aught but two rude buildings, and a mosque built out of the ruins of an earlier convent. Beneath the mosque is a cave in which Mahometan tradition says that Moses passed the forty days and forty nights. Quite near is a cleft in the rock to which my Bedaween pointed and said something in Arabic, which I have since learned is the name signifying ‘cleft in the rock’ in which Moses was hid when the glory of God passed by. An empty champagne bottle profaned the summit, and I threw it with indignation over the southern precipice more than a thousand feet in depth. ... I stayed two hours on the top of Jebel Musa, and was loath to leave it, never more while the earth lasts to visit its awful solitudes again. It is worth all the desert heat and dreariness, the raging thirst, the relentless hot wind, the burning glare the many torments of the journey here, and all the prospective misery of the journey back. Apart from all association, it is the grandest mountain view I have ever seen and of mountains of which colours run wild: red, crimson, black, green, orange, brown-grey, blue-grey, all invested with a beauty not to be described by the blue atmosphere which bathed them all, and which carried the enchanted vision over the whole sea of peaks to the south of the peninsula, over deep wadis and reddened levels, to a far distance where the blue horizon was an ocean bluer than the land. Distance meant only a tenderer blue, not outlines less definite; nearness meant depths of violet shadow °f infinite coolness. Everywhere granite, syenite, gneiss, micro-schist, and their varieties of basalt and porphyry, disported themselves in audacious freaks of colour which I dare not attempt to describe, flaming and flaring it would have been but for the softening effect of atmosphere. The huge mountain masses, crowned by the massive single pile ofjebel Serbal and the imposing peaks of jebel Katarina and Jebel Zebur, both over 8500 feet in height, naked, harsh and arid, were all glorified by this exquisite medium, and their rude rocks represented not granite of every kind, but sapphire, ruby, turquoise, aqua-marine, and a whole catalogue of precious stones.

It was completely silent, unutterably lonely, awfully solemn. Every mountain of that wilderness of peaks has the same characteristic of being shivered. In reading their brief recorded history, it did not seem a great stretch of imagination to suppose that their summits were riven when they “trembled at the presence of God”.

The Suez Canal was opened on Tuesday, November 6, 1869 by Ismail, Khedive of Egypt and Eugenie, Empress of France. Thomas Cook took a tour group to witness the great occasion. Isabel, Lady Burton, sailed toward India through the Suez Canal with her husband, Richard. Constance Sitwell too was sailing to India and stood in the bow of the ship in the evening as they went through the Canal after coaling at Port Said.

Passing through Egypt, 1783 
James Capper
The voyage from Tor to Suez may easily be performed in one day with a fair wind, but at any rate in five. Immediately as a ship appears in sight of Suez, a boat is sent on board to enquire the purpose of her coming; and the officer generally brings a present from the Governor consisting of a sheep or two, some small flat cakes of bread, ajar of water, and a small quantity of fruit, particularly oranges, which are juicy and of a very delicate flavour. As the messenger is a man of some rank, it is usual to salute him with coffee, tobacco, sweetmeats, etc. When he returns on shore he will carry a letter for you to any person at Cairo, and it will be forwarded by express the same evening together with an account of your arrival to the principal Bey of Cairo. It would not be prudent to write any secrets in the letter, but you may send instructions concerning your journey, and directions to have a vessel prepared for you at Alexandria.

Walking through the Valley of the Cataract, 1836

Walking through the Valley of the Cataract, 1836
Lord Lindsay

In this black chain of mountains is an extraordinary ravine, called Wady Shellal, or the Valley of the Cataract. Hussein took us through it, while the caravan went °n by the usual route; the valley is not a stone’s jerk wide, but the scenery is awfblly grand; not a sound was heard except the sigh of the wind among the rocks, and the solitary chirp of a bird. Hussein and I walked on quicker than William,

who was looking out for partridges and quails; as we ascended the Wady, enormous rocks, fallen from the heights, of every shape, and in several instances inscribed with the same unknown characters that I shall have to mention presently, lay on either side of the way, becoming gradually more numerous, till, at last, they formed a little valley of themselves within the large one, which, gradually diminishing into a narrow winding passage, brought us to a perpendicular rock, beyond which there seemed to be no passage. It is impossible to describe the extraordinary appearance of this cul-de-sac.

Hussein and I now sat down in the shadow, and talked after our fashion, till William and his attendant Arab overtook us; Hussein then started up, and, climbing up the rocks, led the way to an upper valley, of which I had not suspected the existence, broader than the lower, but quite as extraordinary; the ground in some places was as smooth as a gravel walk. In the rainy season the torrents pour down it, and over the rocks into the lower valley, to form the magnificent cascade from which the Wady takes its name.

We walked on some distance to a well, which we found full of sand; Hussein scooped it out with his hands, and the water rose; all of us drank I never tasted anything so delicious, always excepted the waters of the Nile, to which no other beverage is comparable; but then I was very thirsty, for the day was by far the hottest we had yet travelled on. Returning a few steps, we climbed over the hills, and across two or three small ravines, till we reached Wady Boodra, where we saw tracks of the camels. It was well we had drunk at the spring, for the ascent and descent of the hills was dreadfully hot work; my tongue felt in my mouth like a parrot’s, the sides of my throat clove together, and I could scarcely articulate when we over took the caravan. One of the most delightful walks, however, I ever took! What a blessing water is! None can appreciate it, who has not thirsted in the desert. It is a bad policy to drink during the march, if one can possibly avoid it.

May 19, 2012

Prospects of Sinai, 1843 | Walking Through Egypt

Prospects of Sinai, 1843
Dr. Richard Lepsius

Prospects of Sinai

The following day [28 March, 1843] we proceeded farther, and passing through Wadi e’Scheikh, we reached the Wadi Firan this most precious jewel of the Peninsula, with its palms and groves of Tarfa on the banks of a lovely rushing stream, which, winding among shrubs and flowers, conducted us to the old convent mountain of the town of Pharan, the Firan of the present day. Everything that we had hitherto seen, and what we afterwards saw, was naked, stony, desert compared to this fertile oasis, abounding in wood and water. For the first time since we had left the Nile valley, we once more walked on soft black earth, obliged to defend ourselves with our arms from the overhanging leafy branches, and we heard singing birds warbling in the thick foliage. At the point where the broad Wadi Aleyat, descending from Serbal, enters Wadi Firan, and where the valley spreads out into a spacious level tract, there arises into the centre of it a rocky hill called Hererat, on the summit of which are the ruins of an ancient convent building. At its foot stood once a magnificent church, constructed of well-hewn rocks of sandstone, the ruins of which are built into the houses of the town situated on the slope of the opposite mountain.

The same evening 1 went up Wadi Aleyat, passing innumerable rock inscriptions, to a well, surrounded by palm and Nebek trees, where I enjoyed the entire prospect of the majestic mountain chain. Apart from all the other mountains, and united into one single mass, Serbal rises, at first in a slope of moderate inclination, afterwards in steep precipices, with chasms, to the height of 6000 feet (above the sea). Nothing could equal the scene when the valleys and low mountains around were already veiled in the shadows of night, and the summits of the mountains still glowed above the colourless grey, like a fiery cloud in the sinking sun.

In the same district is the Wady Mokkateb, or the Written Valley, so called for the number of rude inscriptions and sculptures with which the rocks are covered. They are not peculiar to this valley, but are found in many parts of the Sinaitic range. They always occur in the lines of route along which caravans or traders or bands of pilgrims are likely to have passed, and are inscribed in the soft sandstone rock which forms the fringe of the harder granite in the centre of the peninsula. The sculptures are grotesque representations of birds, camels, asses, hones, ibexes, and other animals. The inscriptions are sometimes in Greek, Latin, or Hebrew, but more commonly in a character unlike that of any known language.

Water, Flora and Fragments, 1871 | Walking Through Egypt

Water, Flora and Fragments, 1871 
Samuel Manning

Prospects of Sinai
The route southward from Ayun Mousa [the well of Moses near the Red Sea] leads along the shore over gravely plains many miles broad, which slope upward from the sea to the mountains of the Tih. After heavy rains the tenacious marl is pitted with numerous pools of water, and is sprinkled with the aromatic shrubs which constitute the flora of the desert, but the scorching sun soon dries up the pools, and the short-lived plants wither into dust. Several wells of bitter water are passed, each of which has been fixed upon as Marah, according to the view taken of the place of passage [of the Israelites across the Red Sea]. About fifty miles south of Ayun Mousa the Wady Gjarandel is reached. The entrance into the valley, or wady, is not much over eighty feet wide, and on either side grey-looking cliffs of gritstone rise with ragged faces to a considerable height. But that which adds so great a charm to the scene is an actual stream of water, rippling along, silvery and bright, garnished on each bank with luxuriant plants that thrive and flourish in the wet sand. Forget-me-nots peep out from amidst the sedgy grass reeds and mint that tower above the water; while some kind of brook plant, like a tangled mat, spreads itself over the sandy edges of the rivulet, and sends its long arms, tufted with rootlets at every joint, out into the running water.

Here the vegetation takes quite a different character. The spiny acacia, the ‘sumt’ of the Arabs, probably the tree of the ‘burning bush’ and the shittim wood of the tabernacle, grows plentifully; but, spiny though it be, it has to bear its burden of climbing plants, being generally quite hidden beneath their twisting, ropelike branches. Conspicuous amongst the larger plants is the rete, or wild broom, handsome alike in growth and foliage. It is probably the shrub beneath which Elijah slept in his wanderings.

Date-palms of strangely stunted stature are scattered along the sandy banks; one might readily mistake them for giant yuccas at a hasty glance, so much do they resemble those plants in their mode of growth. These may truly be called ‘wild palms’: dwarfed and unaltered by man’s hand. Was this memorable place where “there were twelve wells of water and threescore and ten palm trees” the veritable Elim of the Exodus? Many travellers believe this wady to be the place.

Striking eastward up the Wady we soon reach the traces of mines worked by the ancient Egyptians. Hieroglyphic tablets are found in considerable numbers, one of which contains the name of Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, and some are said to be even earlier. At Sarabet el Chadam, which seems to have been the capital of the mining district, are some remarkable ruins, consisting of a temple, the remains of houses, and perhaps a necropolis. Fragments of columns, blocks of stone, pieces of rude sculpture, and mounds of broken pottery lie scattered about in perplexing confusion.

Many travelers tried to identify the landmarks of the Bible and to visit those places where Moses had stood. On this journey, the Monastery of St. Catherine is often an important destination.

Music and Sail from Luxor to the Red Sea, 1843

Music and Sail from Luxor to the Red Sea, 1843
Dr. Richard Lepsius

Red Sea
On the Red Sea, between Gebel Zeit and Tor, Good Friday, 21st March 1843.
On 20^ of February we changed our abode in Thebes from the western to the eastern bank, from Qurna to Karnak. We setded ourselves here in some chambers of the great royal temple; but as 1 was desirous of setting out on my journey to the Peninsula of Sinai as soon as possible, I limited myself for the time, to merely taking such a survey of the monuments as was absolutely necessary, in order to enable me to appoint the work that was to be done during my absence.

On 3rd March I set out on my journey. . . . We first went down the Nile as far a Qeneh. After it became dark and the stars had risen, the conversation, which had hitherto been animated, ceased and, lying on the deck, I watched the star of Isis, the sparkling Sothis (Sirius), this Polar star of Egyptian chronology, as it gradually ascended over our heads. Our two oarsmen were only too musically inclined, and went through their whole stock of songs, quivering them with innumerable repetitions, sometimes interrupted by the short cry of Scherk, Gharb (East, West), which was softly answered by the feeble and obedient boy’s voice of our little steersman. Half waking, half dreaming, we then glided down the river till about midnight, when the Arab quivering also ceased; the strokes of the oar became fainter, and at length the boat was left entirely to the waves. The rising of the moon in her last quarter, and dawning day, first aroused them to renewed activity. . . .

After spending a couple of days at Qeneh, we quitted it, on 6th March, with fifteen camels. The first day we only rode three hours, as far as the copious spring of Bir Amrar, charmingly situated between palms and nebek-trees and provided by Ibrahim Pascha with a dome-shaped building for the caravans. We also reached early on the following day the second night-encampment, at the station of Leqeta.

. . . Five wells furnish here a supply of tolerably good water; two buildings, with domes half fallen down, are destined for the reception of travellers.
Richard Lepsius and his party traveled across the mountain chain to Gebel Zeit from where a boat took them to Tor. They faced various problems: guides with insufficient knowledge, shortage of water, missing the track, but eventually they reached their destination.

Yesterday evening it was perfect calm. It was only during the night that a light wind rose from the north, which we immediately availed ourselves of, for setting sail. With the wind in our favour we might have accomplished the passage across in one night; but now the day is again drawing to a close, and we have not yet reached the port. The ship of burden scarcely stirs, though the long oars have been at length set in motion.

The sailors of this sea are very different from those on the Nile. Their deportment is more reserved, less sly and subservient. Their songs, which commence at the first stroke of the oar, consist of fragmentary short lines, which are sung first bv one, and are taken up by another, while the remainder utter short and deep grunting sounds, as an accompaniment, at equal intervals.

Travelers to Sinai always wanted to decide where the Children of Israel had crossed the Red Sea followed by the army of Pharaoh. Each one had a theory or supported the theory of another.

Across the Red Sea, 1908 | Walking Through Egypt

Across the Red Sea, 1908
Elbert Farman

Red Sea
We were taken across the shallow waters and the Suez Canal in a small native boat, and thence by donkeys. After crossing the Canal, we were in Asia and on the border of a vast desert. East and south, there was an extended view of plains, hills and mountains of sand, gravel, earth and rock, without vegetation, and of a dull monotonous yellow tint. It was the last of November. The long, dry, hot summer parched and burned up all vegetation, and a brisk north wind enveloped us in a continuous cloud of dust.

On our right was the Red Sea, or more correctly speaking that arm of it which is known as the Gulf of Suez. It is only a few miles in width at this point, but deep, and as blue as the sky it reflects. Beyond it, rising from near the water line, are the mountains of Ataka, nearly three thousand feet in height, and wholly destitute of vegetation. On our left was only the desert, bordered by the mountains in the distance. . . .

There were several mud huts occupied by Arabs who irrigated and cultivated a small plot of ground. Most of the mounds with their basins of water were but little above the desert. One of them was remarkable for its size and altitude, rising, according to our estimate, to a height of thirty feet. It was very regular in form and had on its top a basin of shallow water, five or six feet in diameter, whence a very little water ran over the rim and down the sides. Standing on the top, I looked about the country to discover a high point that might be the source of the water that fed the spring, ten to twenty miles to the east. The desert gradually descended westward to the sea, distant one or two miles.

Where Was the Crossing? 1846 
Lord Castlereagh
Our tents were pitched about an hour’s distance from Adjerout, where we found the fires lighted, and the baggage piled up. The fort of Adjerout was a faint object in the distance, and before us rose the range of Gebel Ataka. These were the mountains which the children of Israel looked upon in the hour of their fear and the day of their deliverance. Those brown summits, frowning upon the sandy plains below, saw Judah saved, and the mighty host of Pharaoh, with his chariots and horses, his men of war, and his captains, overwhelmed by the breath of the Lord. At this spot, was continued that series of miracles by which the Almighty proved his own might and power, as well as his affection to his chosen people, and though they had rebelled, and through their long trials never ceased to rebel against him, He led them to the land He had promised, and established them as a mighty people. Writers and travellers are divided in their opinions as to the exact place where the sea was dried up for the passage of the children of Israel, and their various theories are obstinately discussed and maintained. My own opinion coincides with that of Dr. Robinson, that the flying multitudes arrived from Goshen, or what we should now designate as the banks of the Nile, opposite the delta. As the Scriptures declare their flight to have lasted three days, the nearest point they could have attained within that period, was the plain below Gebel Ataka, and this stopped their further progress south, with its precipitous rocks, rising like a barrier near the sea, while on the ground below it they were hemmed in, between the mountains and the waters, by the pursuing Egyptians. The question as to whether they crossed at Ras Ataka, the promontory, or actually at Suez, over the shoals, laid bare by the action of a sudden wind, cannot alter the engrossing interest of this region, for all the land must have borne the traces of their footsteps, when the mighty multitude filled the plain.

May 16 We left our tents at sunrise to find a good point for sketching Gebel Ataka; and when the caravan had moved off, followed slowly on our dromedaries, having the blue sea stretched out before us, washing the base of Gebel Ataka, and the opposite shores of Sinai. Early in the day we passed the fort of Adjerout, which is merely a pile of low ruined walls. Our track shows that death has not confined his visits to the poor animals of the caravan. The tired Hadji, who sinks on this way from Mecca, is covered with a few stones to distinguish him from the carcase of the abandoned camel that lies by him. The hyena, probably, feeds on both.

To Suez and Sinai | Walking Through Egypt

To Suez and Sinai
Going east from Egypt to the Red Sea and thence to Sinai or to Mecca was one route through these lands. The journey northward up the Red Sea to enter Egypt from the east was made by travelers from India, until the Suez Canal opened in 1869. Many traveled on pilgrimage to Sinai with the Old Testament in their heads, making the country seem strangely familiar as it was to Egeria in 383 A.D.

Through the City of Qolzom (Suez), c. 1050 
Naser-e Khosraw
Going east from Egypt, you reach the Red Sea. The city of Qolzom is located on the shore of this sea, and is thirty parasangs from Cairo. This sea is a gulf of the ocean that splits off at Aden to the north and ends at Qolzom. The width of this gulf is said to be two hundred parasangs. Between Cairo and the Gulf is mountain and desert where there is neither water nor growth. Whoever wants to go to Mecca from Egypt must go east. From Qolzom there are two ways, one by land and one by sea. The land route can be transversed in fifteen days, but it is 3U desert and three hundred parasangs long. Most of the caravans from Egypt take that way.

Hub of the Universe, 1913 | Walking Through Egypt

Hub of the Universe, 1913
Rudyard Kipling

At Haifa one feels the first breath of a frontier. Here the Egyptian Government retire into the background, and even the Cook steamer does not draw up in the exact centre of the postcard. At the telegraph-office, too, there are traces, diluted but quite recognisable, of military administration. Nor does the town, in any place whatever, smell which is proof that it is not looked after on popular lines. There is nothing to see in it any more than there is in Hulk C. 60, late of her Majesty’s troopship Himalaya, now a coal-hulk in the Hamoaze at Plymouth. A river front, a narrow terraced river-walk of semi-oriental houses, barracks, a mosque, and half-a-dozen streets at right angles, the Desert racing up to the end of each, make all the town. A mile or so up stream under palm trees are bungalows of what must have been cantonments, some machinery repair shops, and odds and ends of railway track. It is all as paltry a collection of whitewashed houses, pitiful gardens, dead walls, and trodden waste spaces as one would wish to find anywhere; and every bit of it quivers with the remembered life of armies and river-fleets, as the finger-bowl rings when the rubbing finger is lifted. The most unlikely men have done time there; stores by the thousand ton have been rolled and pushed and hauled up the banks by tens of thousand of scattered hands; hospitals have pitched themselves there, expanded enormously, shrivelled up and drifted away with the drifting regiments; railway sidings by the mile have been laid down and ripped up again, as need changed, and utterly wiped out by the sands.

Haifa has been the rail-head, Army Headquarters, and hub of the universe the one place where a man could make sure of buying tobacco and sardines, or could hope for letters for himself and medical attendance for his friend. Now she is a little shrunken shell of a town without a proper hotel, where tourists hurry up from the river to buy complete sets of Soudan stamps at the Post Office.

At the Second Cataract, 1927 | Walking Through Egypt

At the Second Cataract, 1927
Constance Sitwell

The naked black boys run panting across the sand and up the slope toward us. They have been swimming and shooting the rapids of the second cataract, and now, having each been given a coin, they fling themselves down for a rest.

I, too, lie outstretched in a patch of shade on the top of a great rock that stands high above the surrounding country. Jim and Philip, their eyes shut, are resting in the shadow of another ledge. We made our start many hours ago, at break of dawn, to avoid the heat of the day. For part of the way our boatman rowed, and sometimes they had to tow the boat along, but there were spells when they could sit and sing while the boat beat its way up the river under sail. At last we reached these curious rocks sticking up out of the broad flood that swirls around them black rocks, rounded and glistening like gigantic lumps of coal.

From my place here I can see our boat tied up to the bank far below; it is gaily bedecked with flags, and at the top of the mast one long pennon with the star and crescent hangs limp in the lifeless air. On deck lies a dog, asleep, with lolling tongue. As far as I can see the Nubian crew, squatting on the shore, are still as busy as ever talking. Their voices do not reach me, but I can see their gesticulations. So dead black is their skin that they look as if they had been rubbed over with blacklead and then polished like a grate; their hair is glistening with castor oil. They talk and talk, but here there is silence except for the far-off sound of the water rushing, leaping and dashing amongst the rocks.

I have to shut my eyes at last because of the glare, and when I open them again it is to watch a beetle crawling over the glittering flakes of stone. It is a shiny and fantastic creature with glassy wings and a silver body spotted with bronze. It moves slowly among a host of ants that are hurrying in and out between the hot boulders. Idly I look at them and their setdement full of stirs; ant jostles ant in the narrow ways, and they are all black as black as those Nubian boatmen down below. Here is a city of Ethiopians a miniature city that with one brush of my hand I could sweep way. Ethiopia! How rich and hot the name sounds; but it tells of a glory which is fled. . . .

Ethiopia lies there before me; on one side of the Nile its sand is ashen grey, on the other a tawny gold. And this terrible waterless desert stretches away eastward to the coast; beyond there heaves the Red Sea. Southward and eastward it shimmers in the heat-haze, and somewhere beyond the horizon there roam dapple giraffes fairy-tale creatures with velvety skins and liquid eyes. I wonder, are they frightened of the lions? The Kings of Ethiopia used to hunt with lions. . . . Kings with lions at their side! Ethiopia, once great, your glory has indeed been swept away! Where are the emeralds and the gold, where are the gums, and resins, and fragrant woods that once you poured forth? How long ago is it since travelling companies of tall merchantmen brought their riches to Egypt over these blazing sands their white ivory, white wool and white ostrich plumes, their ebony and slaves like ebony. Bunched feathers of bright colours, and small bewildered Negro boys were offered to the great ladies of Thebes and Heliopolis.

Abu Sir Map and the Great Rock

The Great Rock at Abu Sir, 1836
Lord Lindsay

. . . our sailors, full of fun and merriment, punted and rowed us up the river, as far as the boat could ascend, and then, landing on the western bank, we proceeded on foot, alternately over sand and rock, to Abu Sir, a lofty cliff that overhangs the rapids, conspicuous from afar, and covered, we found, with the names of former travellers.

Abu Sir Map

Climbing the rock, the Nile lay before us like the map of an Archipelago so it seemed to me at first, till the eye presently discovered the main stream of the river winding between myriads of little black islets, tufted with Egyptian and Abu Sir acacia, and glistening in the sunbeams like those at Philas themselves washed by hundreds of collateral streamlets that glitter, foam and roar in emulation of their parent. Ten miles in length, and two in breadth, are these rapids. It is the lower cataract (that above Assuan) on an infinitely larger scale, but the impressions excited are widely different; there you feel an interest in every rock as you pass it, you admire their savage grandeur individually, and the rapids the while are dashing away under your feet there you thread a labyrinth here you look down on one, quite bewildered.... Abu Sir

Mortuary Temple and Abu Sir
The prospect, miles to the eastward, is bounded by the prolongation of Gobel Mokkatam to the south, by the mountains of Dongola it was something to have seen them! It was a sad thought that I had reached the limits of my southern excursion; sad, though now every step I took would bring me nearer to my happy family homes in England and Scotland! From one of the western crags I had a partial view over the Libyan desert a dreary sight. While William carved our names in the rock, where many a future traveller to Abu Sir will read them in association with those of Belzoni, Burckhardt, Irby and Mangles, etc. I enjoyed half an hour s delightful rumination, on a most commodious natural seat that overhangs the Nile beyond the rock Abousir, and on which before departure, I cut my cipher by way of claiming it as my own. . . . Nowhere else have we attempted to immortalize ourselves in this way.

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Days at Abu Simbel, 1873

Days at Abu Simbel, 1873
Amelia Edwards

Abu Simbel
We came to Abou Simbel on the night of the 31st January, and we left at sunset on the 18th February. Of these eighteen clear days, we spent fourteen at the foot of the rock of the Great Temple, called in the old Egyptian tongue the Rock of Abshek. The remaining four (taken at the end of the first week and the beginning of the second) we passed in the excursion to Wady-Halfeh and back. By thus dividing the time, our long sojourn was made less monotonous for those who had no especial work to do.

Meanwhile, it was wonderful to wake every morning close under the steep bank, and, without lifting one’s head from the pillow, to see that row of giant faces so close against the sky. They showed unearthly enough by moonlight; but not half so unearthly as in the grey of dawn. At that hour, the most solemn of the twenty-four, they wore a fixed and fatal look that was little less than appalling. As the sky warmed, this awful look was succeeded by a flush that mounted and deepened like the rising flush of life. For a moment they seemed to glow to smile to be transfigured. Then came a flash, as of thought itself. It was the first instantaneous flash of the risen sun. It lasted less than a second. It was gone almost before one could say that it was there. The next moment, mountain, river, and sky, were distinct in the steady light of day; and the colossi mere colossi now sat serene and stony in the open sunshine.

Every morning I waked in time to witness that daily miracle. Every morning I saw those awful brethren pass from death to life, from life to sculptured stone. I brought myself almost to believe at last that there must sooner or later come some one sunrise when the ancient charm would snap asunder, and the giants must arise and speak.

Stupendous as they are, nothing is more difficult than to see the colossi properly. Standing between the rock and the river, one is too near; stationed on the island opposite, one is too far off; while from the sand-slope only a side-view is obtainable. Hence, for want of a fitting standpoint, many travellers have seen nothing but deformity in the most perfect face handed down to us by Egyptian art.

Viewed from below, this beautiful portrait is foreshortened out of all proportion. It looks unduly wide from ear to ear, while the lips and the lower part of the nose show relatively larger than the rest of the features. The same may be said of the great cast in the British Museum. Cooped up at the end of a narrow corridor and lifted not more than fifteen feet above the ground, it is carefully placed so as to be wrong from every point of view and shown to the greatest possible disadvantage.

The artists who wrought the original statues were, however, embarrassed by no difficulties of focus, daunted by no difficulties of scale. Giants themselves, they summoned these giants from out the solid rock, and endowed them with superhuman strength and beauty. They sought no quarried blocks of syenite or granite for their work. They fashioned no models of clay. They took a mountain, and fell upon it like Titans, and hollowed and carved it as though it were a cherry-stone, and left it for the feebler men of after-ages to marvel at for ever. One great hall and fifteen spacious chambers they hewed out from the heart of it; then smoothed the rugged precipice towards the river, and cut four huge statues with their faces to the sunrise, two to the right and two to the left of the doorway, there to keep watch to the end of time.

These tremendous warders sit sixty-six feet high, without the platform under their feet. They measure across the chest twenty-five feet and four inches; from the shoulder to the elbow, fifteen feet and six inches; from the inner side of the elbow joint to the tip of the middle finger, fifteen feet; and so on in relative proportion. If they stood up, they would tower to a height of at least eighty-three feet, from the soles of their feet to the tops of their enormous double-crowns.

There is but one hour in the twenty-four at which it is possible to form any idea of the general effect of this vast subject; and that is at sunrise. Then only does the pure day stream in through the doorway, and temper the gloom of the side- aisles with light reflected from the sunlit floor. The broad divisions of the picture and the distribution of the masses may then be dimly seen. The details, however, require candle-light, and can only be studied a few inches at a time. Even so, it is difficult to make out the upper groups without the help of a ladder. Salame, mounted on a chair and provided with two long sticks lashed together, could barely hold his little torch high enough to enable the Writer to copy the inscription on the middle tower of the fortress of Kadesh.

It is fine to see the sunrise on the front of the Great Temple; but something still finer takes place on certain mornings of the year, in the very heart of the mountain. As the sun comes up above the eastern hill-tops, one long level beam strikes through the doorway, pierces the inner darkness like an arrow, penetrates to the sanctuary, and falls like fire from heaven upon the altar at the feet of the Gods.

No one who has watched for the coming of that shaft of sunlight can doubt that it was a calculated effect, and that the excavation was directed at one especial angle in order to produce it. In this way Ra, to whom the temple was dedicated, may be said to have entered in daily, and by a direct manifestation of his presence to have approved the sacrifices of his worshippers.

To come out from these black holes into the twilight of the Great Hall and see the landscape set, as it were, in the ebon frame of the doorway, was alone worth the journey to Abou Simbel. The sun being at such times in the west, the river, the yellow sand-island, the palms and tamarisks opposite, and the mountains of the eastern desert, were all flooded with a glory of light and colour to which no pen or pencil could possibly do justice. At this juncture, seeing that the men s time hung heavy on their hands, our Painter conceived the idea of setting them to clean the face of the northernmost Colossus, still disfigured by the plaster left on it when the great cast was taken by Mr. Hay more than half a century before. This happy thought was promptly carried into effect. A scaffolding of spars and oars was at once improvised, and the men, delighted as children at play, were soon swarming all over the huge head, just as the carvers may have swarmed over it in the days when Rameses was king.

Words from the United Nations, 196
At Abu Simbel, now lifted high above the Nile, today’s travelers will read these words:
These monuments do not belong solely to the countries who hold them in trust. The whole world has the right to see them endure.
Dr. Vittorini Veronese, former Director-General of UNESCO, I960
Through this restoration of the past, we have indeed helped to build the future of mankind.

Rent Maheu, former Director-General of UNESCO, 1963

Climbing the Colossi, 1848 | Walking Through Egypt

Creatures Come down to Drink, 1817
Captains Charles Irby and James Mangles

Wednesday, July 23. It was curious to observe in the morning, on the smooth sur­face of the sand, drifted by the night breeze, the tracks of the snakes, lizards, ani­mals, etc, etc which had come down to the water’s side during the night to drink; and we could plainly discern the traces of their return to their solitary haunts in the desert. Sometimes their track indicated the presence of reptiles of considerable size; and with these proofs of their nocturnal movements, we easily accounted for the dread our guides expressed of walking near the water’s side the night we returned from the second cataract.

Climbing the Colossi, 1848 
Harriet Martineau
I was impatient to get to the Colossi of the large temple, which looked magnificent from our deck. So, after breakfast, I set forth alone, to see what height I could attain in the examination of the statues.

The southernmost is the only complete one. The next to it is terribly shattered: and the other two have lost the top of the helmet. They are much sanded up, though, thanks to Mr. Hay, much less than they were. The sand slopes up from the half-cleared entrance to the chin of the northernmost colossus: and this slope of sand it was my purpose to climb. It was so steep, loose, and hot to the feet, that it was no easy matter to make my way up. The beetles, which tread lightly and seem to like having warm feet, got on very well; and they covered the sand with a net work of tracks: but heavier climbers, shod in leather, are worsted in the race with them. But one cannot reach the chin of a colossus every day: and it was worth an effort. And when I had reached the chin, I made a little discovery about it which may be worth recording, and which surprised me a good deal at the time. I found that a part of the lower jaw, reaching half way up the lower lip, was composed of the mud and straw of which crude bricks are made. There had been evidently a fault in the stone, which was supplied by this material. It was most beautifully moulded. The beauty of the curves of these great faces is surprising in the stone: the fidelity of the rounding of the muscles, and the grace of the flowing lines of the cheek and jaw: but it was yet more wonderful in such a material as mud and straw. I cannot doubt that this chin and lip were moulded when the material was in a soft state: a difficult task in the case of a statue seventy feet high, standing up against the face of a rock.

I called the gentlemen up, to bear witness to the fact: and it set us looking for more instances. Mr. E. soon found one. Part of the dress of the Second Osiride on the right hand, entering the temple, is composed of this same material, as smoothly curved and nicely wrought as the chin overhead. On examining closely, we found that this layer of mud and straw covered some chiselling within. The artist had been carving the folds of the dress, when he came upon a fault in the stone which stopped his work till he supplied a surface of material which he could mould.

The small figures which stand beside the colossi and between their ankles, and which look like dolls, are not, as is sometimes said, of human size. The hat of a man of five feet ten inches does not reach their chins by two inches. The small figures are, to my eye, the one blemish of this temple. They do not make the great Ramses look greater, but only look dollish themselves.

On the legs of the shattered colossus are the Greek letters, scrawled as by a Greek clown, composing the inscription of the soldiers sent by Psammitichus in pursuit of the Egyptian deserters whom I mentioned as going up the country from Elephantine, when weary of the neglect in which they were left there. We are much obliged to ‘Damearchon, the son of Ambichus, and Pelephus, the son of Udamus,’ for leaving, in any kind of scrawl, a record of an event so curious. One of the strangest sensations to the traveller in Egypt, is finding such traces as these of persons who were in their day modem travellers seeing the antiquities of the country, but who take their place now among the ancients, and have become subjects of Egyptian history. These rude soldiers, carving their names and errand on the legs of an ancient statue as they went by, passed the spot a century and a half before Cambyses entered the country. One wonders what they thought of Thebes, which they had just seen in all its glory.

May 15, 2012

Digging at Abu Simbel, 1836 | Walking Through Egypt

Digging at Abu Simbel, 1836
David Roberts, RA
Mr. Hay (the archaeologist) had the sand so far removed as to disclose entirely the two columns on the south side of the door, together with the doorway to its base, and now nine or ten Nubians can remove the sand in a few hours which may fall in, and can give ready access to the temple.

Abu Simbel

Night in the Temple, 1862
Reverend John William Burgon
At about ten o’clock in the evening of this most interesting day, a strong wish came over me to go back, and pay one more visit to Rameses the Great. Two of our party expressed their willingness to bear me company. We furnished ourselves with a slender pole, to the extremity of which we secured a candle: left our shoes behind us (the sand was so warm and soft to the feet, and walking with shoes was so very inconvenient) and after the most noiseless fashion imaginable, took our starlight way towards the Temple.

Having entered, we made a complete survey over again of every part; leisurely exploring the walls in every direction with our solitary candle, so as to obtain a notion of what was anywhere incised upon them. The silence was intense: the whirring of the wings of a nervous little bat, who made the circuit of the Temple with us, the only thing audible. We found our way into the remotest chamber of all the shrine, where four gloomy gods face you, in a sitting posture. Quite awful was it to find them still sitting there in the dark, as twelve hours before we had left them motionless, in grim majesty. “And there they will sit,” we said to ourselves, “unconscious of change, until the ages shall have run out, and the end shall be!”

The last thing I did on entering the great gall of the Temple was the first thing I had done on entering it, namely, to obtain a careful survey of the features of t e colossus on the right, by lifting up the candle above the head of the figure. 1 cannot express how striking was the result. In that vast, mysterious cavem-like chamber the only object in bright relief was the countenance of the monarch w 3,200 years ago, had caused this mighty fabric to be wrought out of the solid rock. The serene majesty of those features was ever affecting. It was the deep repose, the profound calm, of death. Making the boatman who waited on us hold the light for me, I drew for a few minutes minutes which seemed like hours; so many solemn thoughts crowded themselves in, unbidden. None of us spoke. The silence was so intense that one might have heard the ticking of one’s watch. What is strange, at last, on looking up from my papers, I thought I saw the beginning of a smile on the lips of Rameses. Intently I gazed and of course recognised the sufficiently obvious fact that the supposed smile was merely the effect of my own imagination. But it is just as certain that I gazed on until, I am half ashamed to write it, but it is true until the features seemed to me to smile again. Then they grew graver than ever: but at last I felt sure that they relaxed just a little bit again. One’s nerves were getting over-strung. I invented a sentiment for the lips to utter, and felt sure that I was interpreting their most expressive outline rightly.

I daresay, if I had been alone, and had stopped long enough, I should have heard Rameses speak. It would have been somewhat to this effect:

“You seem astonished, Sir, at what you are beholding in this remote comer of my dominions. No wonder; for with all your boasted civilisation and progress, you could not match this edifice in the far-away land to which (as I gather from your uncouth dress and manners) you and your friends belong. I have been reposing here in effigy for upwards of 3000 years. I have seen generation after generation of ancient Greeks, and generation after generation of ancient Romans, enter this hall; peep and pry, as you have done this evening; and then vanish at yonder portal, as you will yourself do a few minutes hence. If I smiled for an instant just now (it is not my wont to smile) it was only because you really looked alarmed as well as awed at my presence. But I shall not smile again. So now, go home, Sir, go and write a book, like the rest, about the litde you have seen in Egypt; but let it humble you to remember that Rameses will be standing here, unchangeable, long after you, and your book, and all that belongs to you is utterly forgotten. You may go, Sir. It is getting late for you. You had better go, Sir. Good night!”

We lingered: retiring a few steps, and then turning again to look; profoundly conscious that we were looking our last; that we should never fasten our eyes on those glorious forms again. I fancy that we were, all three, impressed with an uneasy suspicion that it was not mere lifeless stone that we had been visiting, and were now leaving the profoundest silence and utter gloom. ... It was a relief to emerge into the fresh evening air; to survey the starry heavens overhead, Orion, and the rest; and to recognise our two boats, bright with lights, beneath us, moored to the banks of the bright shining river.
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