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CHAPTER XXII

Rosetta

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OSETTA, undiscovered by the tourist, is one of the

most beautiful places in Egypt. As the traveller approaches it his hopes rise high, for the train takes him past lagoons, more gracious than those of Venice, in a setting of golden sand-hills and breezy palms. He is prepared in a way for the magnificence of the Rosetta reach. For sailing Rosetta has greater natural advantages than Assuan itself; the river is straighter and wider, the wind of the Mediterranean visits it nearly every day; it is also incomparably lovely, with its banks of palm-groves, enshrining mosques, and the white-domed tombs of saints.

I shall never forget sailing at Rosetta ; we had served a strenuous apprenticeship for it; all the morning long we had tramped up and down the city, hunting out mediæval mansions, and the month was May, and the day was gloriously bright.

Rosetta is worthy of its graceful name-it is a rose among cities; there is nothing in Egypt like it except the cluster of old houses which survives from the village of Alexandria--a village of 5,000 souls a hundred years ago, turned by Mehemet Ali, with the magician's wand of a far-seeing autocrat, into a city of a thousand inhabitants for every day in the year.

To match it one would have to go to the Flanders of the Van Dycks: it is made up of old burnt-brick houses, recalling the Vieille Boucherie of Antwerp. The bricks being

· The name has no real connection with roses : it is derived from the Arabic Rashid.

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OLD MOSQUE AT ROSETTA. At Rosetta the mosques are ancient, beautiful, and unrestored. There is no city in Egypt which has so many unrestored mediæval buildings in good condition as Rosetta.

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ALEXANDRIA.
Old houses of the Rosetta type-some of the few domestic buildings left of the ancient village of 5,000 inhabitants

out of which Mehemet Ali developed his great seaport.
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burnt confers much distinction on it, for Egypt is a mud-brick country. Cities have survived since the days of Rameses the Great, built of no more durable material than mud cut into ingots; but that was at Thebes and other desert capitals, where rain is as rare as rubies. Rosetta, like Alexandria, is climatically not of Egypt at all; it is a city of the Mediterranean littoral ; in this favoured strip you have the scenery, and not a few of the flowers, of Sicily.

What of those palaces of Rosetta ? They rise from colonnades that are purely ornamental ; their heavy columns, pirated from Ptolemaic temples, are engaged, and yield but shallow and narrow recesses-mere statue niches, without their marble tenants. Above their colonnades are three storeys, each beetling over the storey below it with mediæval perverseness. One supposes that this was a device to console the ladies of the harem for the absence of the oriels of meshrebiya lattice-work, from which the odalisques in Cairo saw the gay festivals and busy working days of the Gamaliya. There is hardly one such oriel in Rosetta, where all the numerous windows are filled with shutters of meshrebiya work like the panels in a mosque screen.

The basement colonnade must not be dismissed too lightly; it is often of great beauty and architectural ambition. It may have a portal, for instance, like the portals of Taormina, a bold rectangle which does not reach high, with ornamental brick work not seldom laid out in diamonds round the doorway, and a band of oak carried across the head of the doorway, engraved in antique letters with a text from the Koran. Occasionally the text is incised on a panel of stone, and the wide portal is of fine old masonry. The door itself fills only a small round-headed arch, but it will be decorated with the bold geometrical patterns in hard-wood overlays, which for four centuries have been the favoured pulpit decorations of Cairo mosques. Straight up from the door, in every house, a dark strip of narrow, vaulted stairway leads to the interior, which begins one storey up.

Many of these houses are of great size, solid cubes of building, like the vast mansions, which the freebooters of St.

Malo put up with their ill-gotten gains in the piping eighteenth century. It is difficult to convey to a reader their dignity and decorativeness, the former depending on their massive proportions, the latter on their singularly naïve ornamentation. The ceilings of the colonnades, for example, are of dark wood, with the same fine arabesque overlays as the doors. The architect who built these walls understood the value of breaking up flat surfaces. Here he sunk a panel with some kind of ornament, there inserted a beam boldly carved with a text from the Koran; every yard of the elevation he broke with a fine course of woodwork. In the structural bricks, which have so successfully defied the centuries, and the winds and moisture of the Delta, are sunk other bricks, vari-coloured, in every arabesque and moresque pattern, the most beautiful being the ogee arch immortalised in Venetian windows; but the three prime characteristics in these houses are the overhanging storeys, the shutters of fine meshrebiya work, which fills every window, and the colonnades of temple pillars below.

Where did these pillars come from? Rosetta was foundation of the Saracen conquerors.

There was classical city, on the spot, for them to take over. But there was a mysterious Bolbitine which, some say, stood where the mosque of Abû Mandûr makes the culminating note in the most beautiful picture on the Nile; and some prefer to locate at Fort St. Julien, which betrayed to the world the erst-unfathomable secrets of old Egypt, by the discovery in its precincts of the Rosetta Stone; of which anon. But if Bolbitine lay north at Fort St. Julien, what about Mandur? what of the prostrate columns which break the roadways of Rosetta streets? what of the colonnades which line the quiet alleys, almost overarched above, which look as if

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had only to walk down them to find yourself in the Middle Ages at the end ? Orientals do not pass in and out of their houses much, so you can look down alley after alley without seeing a single figure to break your vision. Indeed, if you saw them they might well leave it unbroken, for the costume of the Arab is little changed to-day from the long yesterday of

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