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curious, too, how a short distance produces a long difference. The collection of relics within the present walls of Pompeii, for example, has to the majority of people a keener interest than the fine collection at Naples-only nine miles off. Volumes have been written about the museum at Boulak, and volumes will still be written; but all who
write in the future will probably base their information on the indefatigable labours of Mariette Bey, whose volumes, “ The Monuments of Upper Egypt” (translated into English), “ Aperçu de l’Histoire d'Egypt,” “Itinéraire,” and “ Catalogue of the Collection in Boulak Museum,” are masterly works, the result of a life-long labour, and indispensable to the student of Egyptian history,
A short distance from Cairo, and almost a continuation of it, is Old Cairo. A quarter of
THE OBELISK AT HELIOPOLIS.
the town is built on the ruins of Fostât, burnt in 1168; beyond are heaps of rubbish, marking the site of cities older by far than the huts which Amer pitched on the spot in 638. This was Babylon—of course, not Babylon the Great—but a town built by Cambyses, and from whence it is supposed the First Epistle of St. John was written. “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus, my son” (1 Peter v. 13).
It is a pleasant drive from Cairo to Heliopolis, a distance of about eight miles. On the road we pass many new buildings, occupying the site of former rubbish-heaps, and trace a line of lebbek-trees, which in course of time will afford shade along the road. At Abbasieh some handsome modern barracks occupy the place where the palace of Abbas Pasha once stood—that wretched bigot who shut himself up under the care of a strong guard, and always had fleet dromedaries saddled and in readiness to bear him away to the desert on the first alarm. Then a royal palace, an observatory, gardens, and vineyards
, claim our attention, and we pass over the plain whereon, in 1517, Sultan Selim fought the Battle of Heliopolis, which made him and the Turks masters of Egypt; and where, on the 20th of March, 1800, the French, under Kleber, with 10,000 troops, succeeded in defeating the Turks, and, for a short time only, regaining possession of Cairo.
Near here is the village of Mataraëeh, where stands a magnificent old sycamore, known as “The Virgin's Tree," from the tradition that here the Virgin, with the Holy Child, reposed in their flight into Egypt. The actual tree under which the Virgin reposed —and in a hollow of whose trunk she is said to have concealed herself, while a spider wove a web which served as a thick screen across the opening-died in 1665, when the present tree was planted. It is fortunately railed round, so that Vandal tourists cannot carry it off bodily, or wound it to any serious extent. It is a sin and shame that even in those comparatively far-off places the abominable habit of picking and stealing and carving names is extensively in vogue.
Less than a mile from here, through a shady acanthus grove, an open space is reached, where, in the midst of tilled fields and mounds marking the site of Heliopolis, the “On” of Scripture, stands the oldest monument in the world—a granite obelisk, with sharply-cut hieroglyphics. For more than four thousand years this solitary pillar has stood where it now stands. It was old when Abraham came into Egypt; Joseph and Moses, who were both “ learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” often saw it and read the inscriptions, which are as sharp and clear as if the workman had only just finished the task of cutting them; the Israelitish bondsmen probably laboured within sight of it.
This monument and some vestiges of walls are all that remain of the City of the Sun, in the family of whose high priest Potipherah, Joseph found his bride Asenath ; where Moses, the deliverer of the Hebrews, dwelt, and learned the wisdom of the Egyptians; where Jeremiah penned his Lamentations ; where Thales, Solon, Pythagoras, and Eudoxus studied, and where Plato thought out his sublime doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Wise Greeks and Jews and Romans came here to learn the mysteries of knowledge taught by the priests of the great Temple of the Sun in the most celebrated university in the world for philosophy and science.
The obelisk, which is of red granite of Syene, is sixty-six feet in height, with a diameter of six feet at the base; but how it was quarried or how conveyed from Assouan, five hundred miles away, or how set in its position, modern engineers fail to tell. “What a halo of interest invests it!” says Mr. Barham Zincke.* “ Who can be unmoved as he looks upon it? Fifty centuries of history and all the wisdom of Egypt are buried in the dust under his feet. You shift your position, and then smile at yourself—a sort of feeling had come upon you that you were obstructing the view of Joseph or Herodotus—that you were standing in the way of Plato or of Moses."
Not many years since an excursion from Cairo to the Pyramids of Ghizeh was rather a formidable affair, involving the crossing of the Nile by ferry, and then a tortuous ride on donkey-back for eight miles over rough ground and through patches of swamp. Now the Nile is crossed by a handsome iron bridge, and a good macadamised road runs in a straight line across the plain to the foot of the sandy slope on which the Pyramids stand. It is a pleasant road, too, shaded by lebbek-trees, and revealing glimpses of villages uninteresting in themselves, but picturesque as seen from a distance, surrounded
a as they are by tamarisks, acacias, fig-trees, and date-palms.
As a rule, however, the attention of the visitor during the journey is for the most part concentrated on the Pyramids, which grow bigger and bigger every moment, until, when the carriage stops at the foot of the plateau on which they are built, he is overwhelmed with their stupendous magnitude, only to be realised when standing just under them.
There are theories innumerable concerning the Pyramids. By some it is maintained that the country being flat, the Egyptians determined to go beyond Nature, and rear mountains -would enter into rivalry with Nature and outdo Nature, and place on that desert plain veritable mountains, as by these interpreters the word "pyramid” is supposed to mean. Others affirm that the Pyramids were connected with an astronomical object, and embodied a high degree of acquaintance with the heavenly bodies, and were, in fact, intended originally as observatories. They find that the sides of these Pyramids were adjusted with surprising correctness to the meridian, in contrast with the Pyramids of Babylonia, in which the diagonals pointed to the pole. They find that the entrance passage of the Great Pyramid points sensibly in a polar direction, so that at a certain date it must have had the true pole in the line of its axis. Others maintain that it was a great national or world standard of weights and measures of every kind, founded on an exact knowledge of the axis of rotation of the globe; that in this big cairn are measures of length marked off, the unit of which is the British inch, or 500,000,000 of the earth’s axis of rotation; that the porphyry coffer in the centre of the Pyramid is a standard grain-measure, or chaldron, holding to a fraction four of our English quarters, or 70,982 English cubic inches; and that there are also sub-divisions of the year into months, weeks, and days "checked off” in the grand gallery leading to the coffer.+ Others affirm that there is no more reason for doubting that every Pyramid in Egypt was intended for a tomb and sepulchral monument than there is for doubting that the Coliseum was built for the spectacles of the amphitheatre, and London Bridge for enabling people to cross the Thames.
Egypt of the Pharaohs and of the Khedive." † This theory was originated by the late Mr. John Taylor, and elaborated by Professor C. Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer-Royal for Scotland, in “Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid,” and “Life and Work at the Great Pyramid."
That the Pyramids are the oldest and most wonderful monuments of human industry in the world, no one will question. That the three great Pyramids of Ghizeh were erected by Chufu, Schafra, and Menkeres—the Cheops, Chephron, and Mycerinus of IIerodotusis known with as much certainty as that the Pantheon was built by Agrippa, and the Coliseum by the Flavian Emperors. It is very difficult, however, to realise that they were built between five and six thousand years ago. “Great was the antiquity of Thebes before European history begins to dawn. It was declining before the foundations of Rome were laid. Its palmy days ante-dated that event by as long a period as separates us from the first Crusade ; but the building of the great Pyramids of Ghizeh preceded the earliest traditions of Thebes by a thousand years.”
The Great Pyramid is about 480 feet high, and its base covers about thirteen acres— a solid mass, built up of enormous blocks of stone, and having in the interior one or two small chambers, reached by passages, opening from one side, and widening to a roomy corridor before reaching the centre, where the celebrated stone coffer lies. What must bave been the state of prosperity of the country which at that remote period could maintain for thirty years 100,000 men in the unproductive labour of cutting and moving the stones employed in its construction, and 100,000 men for ten years previously in making the great causeway which crossed the western plain from the river to the site of the Pyramid, and over which all the materials for the Pyramid were brought? What country to-day could bear such an expense ? Then consider the skill employed. Think of the cutting and dressing of the stones, the manufacture of the tools for the purpose, the transit of the stones from the Arabian range, their safe passage of the Nile, the mechanical appliances to raise them to their places—and the mind is bewildered, and is tempted to question whether our boasted civilisation is not a myth, or, at all events, a poor advance upon the civilisation of Egypt six thousand years ago.
It must be remembered, too, that these three Pyramids of Ghizeh and the smaller cairns near them are but a part of many groups of pyramids, extending from Abouroash, five miles north-west of Ghizeh, to Illahoun, in the Fayoum, and that some of these are older than the Pyramids of Ghizeh.
The ascent of the Great Pyramid is easily accomplished in about half an hour, with the assistance of strong Arabs, who help the visitor to mount the huge blocks—four feet high or thereabouts-rising one above the other, at unequal distances, from base to summit. There is a space about thirty feet square at the top, where the giddiness experienced by many in ascending soon passes away, and the view can be enjoyed without fear or unpleasant sensation. This space, as well as the series of ledges by which the ascent is made, 'was caused by the sacrilegious removal of the outer courses of the Pyramid by the Caliphs to provide materials for the construction of the Mosque of Hassan and other buildings at Cairo, by which means the height has been reduced about twenty feet.
The view from the summit of the Pyramid is remarkable. All Lower Egypt lies at the foot of the spectator: Cairo and its Citadel, the tapering minarets of the mosques, and the long carriage-road; the Nile, with its innumerable arms and canals, winding and glistening until it melts in the far horizon ; gardens and fields, and stately palm-trees standing like sentirels over the villages of the fellaheen; and in startling contrast, the
desert, a howling sea of sand, with its innumerable downs—a boundless plain, yellow and brown, and flooded with marvellous light; while to the south, over the palms of Memphis, may be traced the line of Pyramids—those of Sakkarah, Aboushier, and Dashour stretching along the western bank of the river, “ weird vestiges of a past that was already remote before history began.”
The interior of the Great Pyramid is somewhat difficult of access, but most travellers penetrate into it assisted by the Arabs who swarm about this spot. It is entered from the north on the thirteenth tier of stones, and a narrow passage has to be followed partly on hands and knees. Halting-places are made in what is called the “Chamber of the Queens” and the “Great Hall,” where may be examined the jointing and polish of the
fine-grained Mckattam limestone
unsurpassable marvel of skilful
masonry --where neither a needle nor even hair
be inserted into the joints of the stones. This hall is 28 feet high and 155 feet long, and is the hand
of the chambers in the Pyramid, while
the “ King's Chamber" is the most interesting. It is lined and roofed with granite, and contains the empty and mutilated sarcophagus of granite, bearing no trace of an inscription, and with the lid missing.
Neither the second nor the third Pyramid can be ascended or entered. A small portion of the external casing at the top of the second Pyramid is still uninjured ; it looks as if it were of polished white marble, but is insufficient to give any idea of how the group of Pyramids must have looked when entirely encased.
In a sand-hollow, a short distance from the Great Pyramid, is the Sphinx, hewn out of the natural rock, and "gazing straight on with calm, eternal eyes” across the vista of
“ seven thousand years, for, according to Mariette Bey, it was “already old before the stupendous gnomon of Cheops was built.” Notwithstanding the fact that it has kept watch through millenniums, that the face was terribly mutilated by a fanatic sheikh, and was used as a target by the barbarous Mamelukes, there is still majesty and grandeur in this marvellous monument, and the well-worn words of Kinglake are true :
Laugh and mock if you will at the worship of stone idols, but mark ye this, ye