Page images

the graves of Apollonius and Apollonia, which are the commonest names here, are not cut in the rock in the Greek way, but mere baths a yard deep scooped out of the mud.

In another, when they opened the mummy pit they found two saucers, one of charcoal and one of fine white ash, in front of the body. They brought them up, and placed them inside the tomb. A lady who was with us, but not of our party, deliberately raked with the tip of her parasol the contents of one of these saucers, which had remained undisturbed for fifteen hundred years as an offering beside the dead. She di so clumsily that she knocked the saucer over. She thought absolutely nothing of the contretemps. But one of the other ladies had the grace to gather the contents together as well as she could and restore them to the saucera pious fraud.

The explorers had a tame gazelle, which used to relieve its monotony by eating the mummy bandages scattered about. The first time they discovered a papyrus it attacked it with joy, as being so much nearer to its ordinary food. It was paralysed with astonishment when it was kicked off its unnatural feast.

There were other tombs near the Necropolis cut out of the rock, which Mr. Beadnell regards as the burial-places of the poorer members of the Christian community, but which may be pagan tombs of a much earlier date. The Americans have turned one of them into a kitchen and another into a museum. They can have all the buildings they require of this kind by fixing iron doors to them. They themselves were living in white military tents, which made quite a picturesque feature in the landscape.

I shall not readily forget that Roman necropolis of the Great Oasis, with its streets of temples of the antique world, as they appeared, divided by broad ways of golden sand, and silhouetted against the sky on their hillsides. That is the aspect which I prefer to remember, though the legitimate antiquary, following after, may fill a whole book with the early Coptic pictures which are gradually being disclosed. I could not take seriously the picture of a comic Pharaoh chasing Israelites in Suffragette colours, or the wood, like the trees made of curled splinters in a child's toy farm, through which the Israelites were Aying from Pharaoh's cavalry. It would be impossible to know what most of the pictures meant if they had not the names written over them. The most distinct was a saint called Thekla on a funeral pyre. I had never heard of her: I always thought of Theklas in connection with Russian novels. The picture of a shadof proved to be a representation of Rebecca at the well. Some of the pictures are very realistic, especially that of Isaiah being sawn across between two planks, and Susannah eating grapes in her bath-sour grapes for the elders. The favourite symbols were ankhs and grape-vines. The paintings are, at any rate, numerous, and belong to a period not much represented, which is more than the guide-books lead one to hope.

From the Necropolis we made our way across to the Kasrain Mustafa Kashef, a monastic ruin of large size, not quite a mile away.

It is built in a most curious position over the face of a precipitous hill. You enter it from the top of the hill, and inside it goes down almost to the bottom. I suppose it was scooped as much as built. It is about sixty feet square, and its walls are still nearly forty feet high. It is filled with a débris of small arched chambers, and a German explorer is sure that he has found the church by the existence of certain niches, and further declares that this is the only ruin in the whole oasis which has this proof of its being a monastery. There are tiers upon tiers of cells only about six by five by seven feet. But Egyptian monks in the age of hermits had not an exalted scale of comfort. The height of the rooms would not signify, as they doubtless sat on the floor; anything that kept the sun out would do.

The view from the top of this monastery is so fine that the site may fall a victim to the hotel builder. Let us hope that he will have the decency to spare the ruins and build the hotel alongside of them. The chief danger is that the hangers-on would use the ruins.

From these wind-swept heights one could see for miles

over the oasis. But our eyes rested chiefly on the gaunt Roman fort called the Temple of Nadura, where Nestorius spent the days of his exile, and the airy arches of the Necropolis, and, above all, on the great temple of the two Dariuses rising over the palm groves, which make the oasis worthy of its name.

“ Wind-swept heights" is no façon de parler. (Egypt is the windiest place I ever was in, and the oasis seems to make a speciality of it. That desert ship of the manager would have taken us from the monastery back to the Necropolis in about a minute. The petticoated members of the party had a most unfair advantage in returning down hill, but they had to stop and unwind every few minutes while they were going up it in the face of the wind.

Before we reached the temple we had lunch in another rest-house, a charmingly pretty little place, with yellow African thatch beetling over its broad verandahs. Mohammed rather excelled himself, except that he had not the nous to serve the butter as melted, which, in point of fact, it was. I was surprised at his not having an appropriate lie readyit was rather a shock, but I did not trouble much about lunch. I was occupied with the complete Roman house lying about a hundred yards away, which I hoped to get over, because, though it was inhabited by a fellah, the natives said that no women were there. He apparently used the bedrooms for barns, but he could not be found.

Soon we were pursuing our way to the Temple of Hibis, which was the Egyptian name of the principal town in the oasis.

Compared to the temples of Karnak and Thebes, it is small, but in interest it yields to none but the most perfect temples, for it is the only surviving building erected by the Persian conquerors, though we have some tombs in the bowels of the earth at Sakkara. It was begun by Darius I., the Darius of the Battle of Marathon, and completed by Darius II., who came to the throne about a hundred years later. The main building is over 130 feet long, and nearly 60 feet broad. The forecourt is about 30 feet wide, but its length cannot be made 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 Bedrashên. 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 fileas 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


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »