Page images
PDF
EPUB

group at the very door may really have saved the burialplace from the desecration which befell the other kings' tombs, every one of which has been robbed in ancient times.” Special pains were taken by the builders to mislead robbers, for the entrance and the first hall were left unfinished. Eight or nine other royal mummies were put here for safety, and discovered when the tomb was opened. It is difficult to imagine anything more impressive than this mummy of a Pharaoh who lived more than 1500 years B.C., lying in its sarcophagus of rose-coloured stone in an attitude of perfect dignity and repose. You stand above it, and have the electric light turned on the dead face of him, who was the greatest man in the world while he was alive, from any side you please, by an Arab ghafir, who by his face and robes would do sor an attendant of the Pharaoh. The face, with its high, imperious nose, looks as if it had been cast in bronze. The Government of Egypt have confered an enormous benefit on the scientist and the traveller by lighting these tombs with electricity. The engine is hidden in an inferior tomb, so it does not intrude; and the modern visitor sees the interiors as their architects never saw them. Interesting and impressive as is the mummy of King Amen-hetep II, it yields in impressiveness to the monument of Mer-en-ptah II. Mer-en-ptah was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, the chief figure in one of the most famous episodes in the Bible; and there is not a more perfect monument in any cathedral in Europe, though it is older by two or three thousand years than any of them; it is of the highest beauty, and is in the highest state of preservation. The figure is one of exquisite dignity and repose, and the material is the matchless white limestone of Egypt, as beautiful in its grain as marble. Here, too, the electric light can be turned on from any side to make the white figure stand out in relief against the darkness of the sepulchral chamber. It is difficult to imagine anything more lovely and peaceful than the tomb of the Pharaoh of the Exodus, as he lies in his glory where they laid him in the days of Moses. It is like an Etruscan tomb, columned and vaulted. The vast outer sarcophagus of granite which protected this masterpiece through thirty centuries lies in dishonoured neglect in one of the earlier chambers. Hardly a year passes without the discovery of another royal tomb in this valley. I saw one which had just been opened; I had to be let down into it like the workmen. But it was not of high interest, though they were rescuing some wonderful jewels from the caked earth of the floor by the light of an electric lamp attached to a cord, like one uses for the writing table at one's club. But I went into the dismantled tomb, from which a year or two before one of the most extraordinary treasures of the ancient world ever discovered was taken—the funerary furniture of the father-in-law and motherin-law of Amen-hetep III. This treasure included a splendid gold-plated chariot, gilded chairs, enormous gold-plated coffins, the beds with gold-plated heads, on which they had lain in life, and numerous smaller objects upon which a profusion of gold had been used, with the two most perfect mummies in the Cairo Museum. These mummies were the father and mother of the great Queen Thiy, whose son was the heretic Pharaoh, Akhnaton. Hard by is the tomb in which the sarcophagi of Thiy and Akhnaton were subsequently discovered. But the marvels of the Tombs of the Kings are endless, Besides this valley, in which the chief tombs are crowded, there is another and wilder gorge called the Western Valley, where even the surefooted ass can hardly pick his way among the boulders which have fallen from the heights, and where the movements of the adventurous visitor are guarded by a ghafir with a gun. Here there are large tombs of rather an interesting order; but they are difficult to explore, because they have not been fitted up with stairs and bridges and handrails, and have no electric light. The scenery is, if anything, finer here than in the main gorge; still there is not a blade of vegetation; still the flamecoloured rocks, which counterfeit the most stupendous buildings of man, are burning with sun-heat; still you see no life but serpents and insects and birds of prey. A visit to the Tombs of the Kings is not complete unless you ride over the last spur of the Sahara to Der-el-Bahari by a path which has been in use since the days of the Pharaohs. This path takes you along the edge of the precipices which hem in the end of the valley. The gorge scenery is even more stupendous from above than it is from below—it sinks down so sheer from the Sahara plateau. And when you reach the highest point you have a view not easily to be matched anywhere, for Memnon and his brother Colossus, and the temples of Thebes lie at your feet; the Nile runs past you north and south as far as you can see; and on its farther bank are Luxor's temple, the most Greek in its outline of all the great temples of Egypt, and many-pyloned Karmak towering above its league-long groves of palms.

CHAPTER XXXI

Hundred-pyloned Thebes'

WONDER if there are others like myself, who carry Thebes printed on their brain without remembering in detail a single courtyard of its archipelago of temples? I rode many times to Thebes; I listened attentively to guides and famous Egyptologists; I took notes and photographs innumerable; yet I carried away only impressions, the blossoms of knowledge instead of the fruit. I never loved Thebes as I loved Karnak; it is not so mysterious; there are no avenues of sphinxes leading to it through dark groves; it does not come upon you suddenly in forests of palms; it has no little shrines lurking in thickets; it has not the mountainous grandeur. But Thebes has a charm of its own: it has, though after a high Nile it is richly cultivated, the desolation of the desert and the grave. It has a lordly spaciousness; its groups of temples are a long canter from each other on the wide plain, which stretches from the Nile to the Sahara. Every day at Sunset every eye in Luxor is turned on the

" It is easy for any one to picture Thebes, for the chief monuments have been so felicitously depicted by Mr. Walter Tyndall in his “Below the Cataracts.” (Heinemann.) To mention only a few, the Ramesseum is depicted to the life in the picture called after it ; “Der-el-Bahari” shows the long colonnades of Queen Hatasu's Temple, as emphatic as the colonnades of St. Peter's, standing out against the pink cliff which is the eastern edge of the Sahara; the “Colossi at Thebes” gives a picture, which will always live in my memory, of the musical image of Memnon and his twin giant as they rise from the plain of Thebes, like the Daibutsu of Japan, and the “Temple of Seti I. at Gurna,” between the tall lebbek trees and the pink rocks which guard the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, is perhaps the most faithful picture in a volume, which has caught the spirit of Egypt in its illustrations more than any book I know.

flushed horizon which towers into the air behind Thebes. Those rose-tinted precipices are not mountains. When you have toiled up the rock path behind Der-el-Bahari, and stand on their tops, you are only on another plain—the plateau of the Sahara, looking, like Moses, on the Promised Land. Thebes was effort; Karnak was repose. From where we lived at Luxor we could saunter into the very heart of Karnak in a short half hour. But Thebes meant crossing the Nile at an hour when one would be sitting down to breakfast in England, and a long day's riding in the sun, broken, for an hour or two at a time, at each fresh group of temples. It had an exhilarating effect on me. We had the same swift asses, the same keen, enthusiastic donkey-boys for all our expeditions. We contracted with an eighteen-year-old, one Joseph, the brother of two noted dragomans, qualifying to follow in their footsteps. The boat of his friend the fisherman was waiting, where the watersellers filled their skins, and the tall gyassas discharged their cargoes of clay bottles, to sail us across the Nile. Lovely-Sweet, Gingerbread, and Minehaha were waiting for us at the water's edge when we reached the other side. In a minute we were mounted, and galloping over the thousand acres of sand, where no wheat would wave in that year of a sullen Nile. We galloped until we came to the shallow pool, which was the broken promise of the inundation. The donkeys slowed down to splash through it, and broke into a canter to breast the little hill between it and the irrigation canal. Here stood the country-house which fired my imagination, for it had an orchard which the birds loved ; the bronzewinged, emerald-bodied bee-eaters were never tired of it; the green kingfishers down in the canal below fled to it if the donkey-boys stoned them. And more than that, it had the most magnificent pair of pigeon-towers I ever saw, with a kind of barn behind them. The great temple of Edfu might have been imitated from it, or it might have imitated Edfu. Who could doubt the identity of pigeon-towers and pylons after seeing this 2 Here we crossed the canal, and the donkeys cantered up

« PreviousContinue »