Page images
PDF
EPUB

out, though there are pylons about 100 feet, 300 feet, and 350 feet in front of the main entrance. There is also a low doorway about 10 feet behind the west end of the building, which is of beautiful pink sandstone, believed to be quarried in Nubia because, though sandstone beds occur in great thickness in the northern part of the oasis, no quarry could be detected in the very careful survey of it. The second and loftiest pylon, of which only one half remains, has a brick fortification on the top, showing that later inhabitants used it for a place of refuge, or a lookout station. The third pylon is intact, and is covered with coloured hieroglyphics. I need not describe it in detail. The best reliefs are very beautiful, though they have lost their colouring, and some of the other reliefs are particularly charming in their colouring, which abounds in light blue. The subjects of the pictures do not strike the uninitiated as differing much from those of ordinary Egyptian temples. The great charm of this temple is that it is ruined to about the right degree; its roofs are off; its columns are of a very effective height and group charmingly. This is one of the best of all the temples in Egypt for photographing. It not only makes elegant pictures, but you know at a glance what temple they belong to. Yet no photograph can convey the full charm, for you lose the gay colour of the reliefs and the brightness of the sand. The way you come upon it suddenly from a winding path through the palm groves is delightful.

Kharga should certainly have a hotel, for the dry oasis air would be a specific for lung complaints if the medicinal spring had no special value ; while there is so much for visitors to see and sketch and photograph even if they never went out of sight of the hotel. The temple is really delightful and delightfully situated, and there is nothing like the Necropolis in all Egypt for kodaking. I could have stayed there all the afternoon, but we had much to do before dark; so we were hurried away to the camels and asses which, in the instructions given to the head Arab, were to be the best in the oasis. I don't think that this man's judgment could have been sound. We had a fair experience, during

our six months' sojourn, of the beasts which divide the burdens of Egypt, and we never struck worse specimens-not even when, intending to go to Memphis, we got out at the wrong station instead of at the well-broken-in Bed. rashên. There, it was true, the donkeys had no saddles or bridles, and they were bad donkeys; but they had not the active vices of the Kharga animals, where one of the camels was almost as dangerous as a tiger. Half the party walked three miles in the sun and deep sand after a brief experience of those animals. The Pasha used language to that Arab.

We were not surprised—we were never surprised at anything of that kind in the land of surprises. We were only retarded in our movements, and soon forgot our troubles when we reached Kharga village-one of the most extraordinary places I ever was in. What would be the gate in any other place looks like the entrance to a catacomb. The original Kharga village was, to all intents, a catacomb, except that it was above ground. You enter a passage something like the main tunnel of a catacomb. Inky black streets go off it right and left, and passages admitting into houses, in which light and air seem to be of the scantiest consequence.

These streets and passages were formerly staked with sharp spears; their ramifications are said to be endless; the smells and feas would have deterred us from exploring them even if we could have spared the time.

Kharga was built upon this extraordinary principle to insure it from the attacks of the Bedâwin of the desert. The oasis people were degenerate Copts, though Christianity had disappeared. They were no match for the desert men, and, whenever the latter made a raid, took refuge in their buried city. If the Bedâwin rushed in after them, they impaled themselves were stabbed by ambuscading enemies. They learned to dread this death-trap.

The Kharga underground village does not seem to have lost any of its popularity as a residential property, though with the greater security confered by English rule the town has now an open-air quarter, in which the Omdeh's house and garden are conspicuous, and the village pump. This we

or

found surrounded by children looking like funny little Japs covered with Alies, carrying an extraordinary medley of water-pots. We saw no women about, and the men wore grey cloaks instead of black. The streets in the buried city have been shored up, like the levels in a coal-mine, with joists and cross-pieces. This is probably represented as unwarrantable English interference with local tradition. Our hearts fell when we were taken to see the Omdeh; it is one thing to go without your afternoon tea when you are sight-seeing hard, and another when, to use a colloquial expression, you are being “bored stiff.” We had been taken to see many Omdehs, and had their preposterous compliments translated for us, and had racked our ingenuity to coin sufficiently preposterous compliments for them. This generally takes about an hour, and the very sweet Turkish coffee arrives just when you have made up your mind to go without it. This does not conflict with the fact that the Omdehs are, as a rule, charming old gentlemen with delightful manners; it is only that the interview takes so long, and that the conversation hardly ever takes a turn of practical interest.

This Omdeh, however, was an exception. The friendship of an Englishman like the Pasha had been an education to him ; he had taken an important part in the development of the oasis, and gave information as well as compliments; and, though he lived in native fashion, and received us in a selamlik with mastabas all round it to sit on, and was a typical sheikh to look at, he was a most civilised old gentleman. Directly we went in he presented us with handsome fly-switches of local manufacture, with which we were to combat the plague of Alies while we were there, and which we were to take away as mementoes. And in a few minutes he had afternoon tea ready for us served with Huntley & Palmer's Garibaldi biscuits, the kind that schoolboys call “squashed Aies," and painfully appropriate in that room, where there were enough flies for Beelzebub, who was, I understand, the God of Flies.

When we had had a tremendous tea-as many cups as ever we liked after a day's tropical sight-seeing--and had

exchanged the proper courtesies, he took us out into his garden and presented us all with oranges, and the ladies with orange blossom, without perhaps any intention of raising false hopes. The Kharga oranges are famous. When the railway was first opened the Savoy Hotel sent a man up to buy the whole crop, but the natives had grown only enough for themselves, and would not sell them. They knew what an oasis khamsin was, and had no wish to face it without the usual oranges. The dragoman, Mohammed, who had accompanied us, helped himself to as many as all of us, together, took. He had a hole in the lining of his frock-coat which gave him very useful pockets. I should not be surprised if he took a chicken or two as well as the oranges, unless he was unusually honest. His frock-coat looked like a Dutchman's trousers when he left. I have no doubt the Omdeh detected him, but was too polite to interfere with our temporary servant.

The Omdeh then took us to see the great sight of the place -a beautiful lake more than half a mile long, surrounded by palm-trees, which sprang into existence (literally) in a single night, and had a most engaging lot of saints' tombs with elegant white domes round it, and very possibly under it. It came to pass in this wise. The Pasha had a machine for cleaning out wells; the village had a well of Roman antiquity and high repute, which was yielding hardly any water. The Pasha asked to be allowed to clean it out to show the merits of his machine. The villagers acquiesced incredulously, and he set about his task. When they woke the next morning they found a lake half a mile long, and thought the end of the world had come. But the water having used up its accumulated force behaved more reasonably, and now yields just the right amount to keep the lake going.

We walked round the lake in semi-state, headed by the Omdeh, past the saints' tombs, to a causeway with a leet running down the centre, which connects the well with the mainland. The well is in the middle of the lake just above its level. This does not surprise people in Egypt, where you have wells protruding from the inundation the whole way up the Nile Valley. This is not an Artesian well, but

more like the springs of the fountain of Cyane near Syracuse, or the public gardens at Nimes, or the river at Petrarch's Vaucluse. It has beautiful clear water. Our animals were awaiting us on the bank-not even the authority of the Omdeh could make them behave properly; but the best riders took the worst beasts, and we contrived to get somehow to the Temple of Nadura, passing one of the curious ancient "water manholes” on the way.' Nadura would be a striking enough place if it had no history ; but tradition maintains that the Bishop Nestorius, after his condemnation by the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 435, and his banishment to the Great Oasis, was accommodated or confined in Nadura.

Nadura is a tall mud-brick shell, which has a little sandstone temple inside it, and stands in the middle of the oasis, with a pink amphitheatre of mountains on one side, and the broad pale green expanse of cultivation and a background of tentshaped mountains on the other. It commands a fine view of the Temple of Hibis, and that wonderful Roman necropolis.

" When the Pasha said to me “That's one of the manholes," I paid no particular attention, not realising that these manholes communicated with a marvellous system of underground aqueducts large enough for a man to walk along, and in some places between a hundred and fifty and two hundred feet below the surface of the earth. There are at least ten miles of them. Mr. H. J. Llewellyn Beadnell, in his “An Egyptian Oasis," lately published by Mr. John Murray, the only •authoritative recent book on the subject, gives an account of his descent into one of these aqueducts. It was a shaft a hundred and thirty-two feet deep, and he descended it the first time with a stretchy native rope made of fibre, tied to a log laid across the shaft. The shaft measured about a yard and a half by three quarters of a yard, and tapered gradually downwards. Rough footholds on opposite sides of the shaft facilitated the descent, and he was very glad of their assistance, for the rope began to stretch and contract like a piece of elastic, in what Mr. Beadnell calls “a most unpleasant manner.” When he reached the bottom, he found himself standing in a gently flowing stream, which he knew ran for at least two kilometres to the south. The tunnels were apparently cut under valleys, and the stone removed from them must have been hoisted up through the manholes ; they were fed with water by little crevasses and shafts running right and left into the sand and pebble detritus. One of these tunnels has been cleared out, and supports a little agricultural settlement at its mouth. I wish I had space to quote the interesting facts about well-boring and well-casing in ancient times which Mr. Beadnell gives us. The exploitation of the Artesian basin of the oasis has been in progress for hundreds and thousands of years. The book is full of excellent illustrations and maps.

« PreviousContinue »