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eastwards to Suez, I shall pause to describe some things which I visited and felt interested in on the occasion of my previous visit to Cairo.
THE NILE-PYRAMIDS. Egypt, as is well known, consists of the fertile valley of the Nile, and a stripe of desert on each side. The Nile, formed by streams coming out of Abyssinia on the south, is about 1500 miles in length; at certain places it forms rapids, or sloping cataracts, and at other points encloses islands, interesting for their beauty or the ruins which remain upon them. The remarkable phenomenon connected with the Nile, is its annual overflow of the banks which border it-an event looked for with as much certainty as the daily rising of the sun. These inundations of the Nile are owing to the periodical rains which fall between the tropics. They begin in March, but have no effect upon the river until three months later. Towards the end of June it begins to rise, and continues rising at the rate of about four inches a-day, until the end of September, when it falls for about the same period of time. The towns are generally built in such a situation and manner as not to be overflowed by the inundation, and in some parts of the country there are long raised causeways, upon which the people may travel during the floods. It is only in cases of an extraordinary rise that any villages are destroyed. The inundations, instead of being viewed as a calamity, are considered a blessing, for they are the cause of inexhaustible fertility. After the waters have subsided, the earth is found covered with mud, which has been left there by the river. This mud, which is principally composed of argillaceous earth and carbonate of lime, serves to fertilise the overflowed land, and is used for manure for such places as are not sufficiently saturated by the river; it is also formed into bricks, and various vessels for domestic use. The whole valley of the Nile may be considered as an alluvial plain, formed of the washed-down mud and sand of Central Africa, and it is therefore to these inundations that Egypt owes its existence.
Notwithstanding the overflow of the Nile, the atmosphere of Egypt is extremely dry and healthful. During our winter, the climate of Egypt is delightful. The inhabitants speak with intense affection of the Nile, for to it they owe the verdure of their fields, their food, their drink, and the cotton for their clothing. In its taste the water is delicious and salubrious.
The Pyramids are situated about ten miles from Cairo, in a Western direction, and consequently on the farther side of the mile. The traveller may now have the benefit of a carriage for the journey : formerly, the only conveyance was by donkeys. The road leads by Old Cairo, a decayed suburb of Cairo, at two miles' distance, on the banks of the river. The Nile is forded or crossed in boats at the upper end of the island of Rhoda. When
within a couple of miles of the end of the journey, a number of frightful-looking Bedouins commonly make a rush from a large village a little way off, as if intent on mischief. They are men anxious to be employed as guides; and they had better be employed at once, to save further annoyance. · The Pyramids scarcely appear to increase in size until you are close up to their base; then their bulk seems enormous, and the distance betwixt one and the other looks like a forenoon's journey. They are four in number in one view—three large, and one small_and are usually known as the Pyramids of Gizeh. They stand on a plateau some forty feet above the plain, and are fairly within the Desert. I do not believe any one who has not visited them has a correct idea of their vast dimensions. The present base of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, as it is called, is 746 feet each way; the mass is estimated at eighty-five millions of cubic feet, and covers an area of eleven acres. Measured by the slope, its height is 611 feet, and its perpendicular height is 461 feet, being 117 feet higher than St Paul's, London. The age of the Pyramids is unknown, but it cannot be less than three thousand years. And what a waste of human labour in their construction! A hundred thousand men, changed every three months, for twenty years, are said by the Greek writers to have been occupied in their erection!
At a distance, the Pyramids appear to be tolerably smooth and pyramidal; but on coming close to them, they are found to have a ragged and half-ruined aspect, in consequence of the outer coating of stones and plaster having been removed. Their sides in this rough state present the appearance of a series of steps, composed of huge blocks of yellowish-white limestone. The ascent is toilsome, but I made a point of reaching the top of the Great Pyramid. The ledges of stone are uncomfortably
high for a stair; and ladies meaning to ascend, should provide themselves with a footstool, which the guides could lift and hand up to them at each step. There are altogether 206 tiers of stone, from one to four feet high. At length we reached the top, which is an irregular platform, thirty-two
feet square; the stones constituting the apex having been thrown down. On
gaining this lofty eminence, on which there was room to move about, I felt an extraordinary exhilaration of spirits, not only from the effect of historical associations, but from the remarkable fineness of the atmosphere. The view on all sides was magnificent. One of its most striking features is the distinctness of the line which divides the fertile region from the Desert. There is no middle ground-no debateable land, over which fertility and desolation, the sand of Sahara and the silt of the Nile, 'alternately hold sway. So far as the influence of the Nile extends, all is verdure; the moment the sand begins, utter waste ensues.
Having satisfied our curiosity, the party descended; but all found that coming down was a vast deal more fatiguing and dangerous than going up. However, we got to the bottom in safety; and being pretty well appetised, we adjourned to luncheon in a sort of cave close by, where victuals we had brought with us were enjoyed. It is necessary to make this provision for refreshment, because there is no house, tent, or village in the neighbourhood. The Great Pyramid is not entirely solid. An entrance has been made, by which a series of labyrinthian passages and chambers have been discovered. The entrance is on the north side; but we did not feel inclined to enter; for the journey in some places requires to be performed on hands and knees. At the centre are two chambers of red granite, in one of which is a sarcophagus; and here is supposed to have slept one of the great rulers of the earth, the king of what was the greatest kingdom of the earth, the proud mortal for whom this mighty structure was raised.
The ascent of the second Pyramid is seldom attempted by visitors: it is much more difficult than that of the first, especially over that portion of the smooth granite crust which still remains about thirty feet down. It is of somewhat less magnitude than the other, but looks as large, from standing on higher ground. The third of the group is considerably smaller. The fourth I did not visit. In the neighbourhood of these grand objects of antiquity lie scattered about many interesting remains. The most attractive of these is the Sphinx-a gigantic figure, half-woman's half-lion, nearly all hewn from the solid rock, the fore-leys and
part of the back only being built. There is an altar between the two paws, on which sacrifices appear to have been offered. From the lower part of the body to the top of the head, the Sphinx measures 66 feet, the recumbent portion 102, the paws 50, and the circumference of the head 100 feet. Such has been the drifting of the sands, that the whole figure is now covered except the head and a portion of the dilapidated neck, as seen in the annexed cut.
A few miles above the Pyramids of Gizeh once stood Memphis, a city as large and flourishing as Alexandria, but now utterly destroyed, and the very ruins hardly distinguishable. Continuing the journey up the valley of the Nile, and within the distance of two hundred miles, the traveller passes the ruins of many decayed cities, now reduced to miserable villages of halfstarving Arabs, but once the glory of Egypt. Among these are Arsinöe, Dendera, Thebes, Karnac, Edfou, Elephantina, and Philöe. Edfou is thus described by Mr Stephens :-“At one corner of this miserable place stands one of the magnificent temples of the Nile. The propylon (or gateway), its lofty proportions enlarged by the light of the moon, was the most grand and imposing portal I saw in Egypt. From a base of nearly 100 feet in length, and 30 in breadth, it rises on each side of the
gate in the form of a truncated pyramid, to the height of 100 feet, gradually narrowing, till at the top it measures 75 feet in length and 18 in breadth. Judge, then, what was the temple to which this formed merely the entrance; and this was far from being one of the large temples of Egypt. It measured, however, 440 feet in length and 220 in breadth, about equal to the whole
space occupied by St Paul's Churchyard. Its dromos, pronaos, columns, and capitals, all correspond; and enclosing it is a high wall, still in a state of perfect preservation. I walked round it twice, and, by means of the wall erected to exclude the unhallowed gaze of the stranger, I looked down upon the interior of the temple. Built by the Egyptians for the highest uses to which a building could be dedicated—for the worship of their gods—it is now used by the pasha as a granary and storehouse."
Few travellers proceed farther up the Nile than Philöe, as the journey through Nubia is less safe or agreeable than that within the Egyptian territory. Yet without a visit to the Nubian valley of the Nile, which extends to near the head branches of the river in Abyssinia, much of the ancient grandeur of this part of the world will remain unexplored. Nubia, which is at present a Turkish province, subject to the pasha of Egypt, is frequently called by the name Ethiopia—from the black complexion of whose inhabitants the term Ethiopian came in early times to signify one who is black, or a negro. This country of Nubia, or Ethiopia, is understood' by some historians to have enjoyed a degree of civilisation and refinement in art at a date even earlier than Egypt; and till the present day, it possesses pyramids and other monuments of architectural skill as wonderful, in the eyes of the traveller, as those in the lower divisions of the Nile.
So much for a glance at the archæological treasures of Egypt; let us now return to Cairo, in order to undertake an excursion which has been seldom performed.
THE PETRIFIED FOREST. This extraordinary curiosity is situated eight or ten miles south from Cairo, and is reached by a journey on the back of a donkey through a rugged piece of country. The ground over which you travel is a dry gravelly soil, without a particle of vegetation. Having proceeded for some miles through a rocky valley, a sudden turn to the right takes you through a low range of sand-hills, and in less than a quarter of an hour you arrive at the forest. And such a forest ! Trees lying prone on the ground, and transferred into stone. The world contains nothing so wonderful as a work of nature. On every side the prostrate forest extends as far as the eye can reach. Plains and rolling hillocks of sand sweep on and on to the horizon, all strewed thickly over with fragments of fallen trees. They lie at some places so close to each other, that a sure-footed Cairo donkey can scarcely thread his way through them : at other places they are few and far between, scarcely within stone-throw of each other, as if those had been the thickets, these the openings, in the forest. The trees are nowhere round in the surface, but sharp and angular, as if split by heat into many fragments. Pew pieces are more than from four to six feet in length; but a series of these may often be seen lying end to end for a