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REMARKABLE SALINE INCRUSTATION.
within it. From this chamber the same perpendicular aperture is continued to a second room of a similar kind, occupying the same relation to it that the other does to the king's. A few of us contrived to clamber into a third and fourth in succession; and indeed it was a work of much toil and difficulty ; for the passage, which greatly resembles a narrow chimney, admitting but one at a time, can only be ascended sweep-wise, by pressing the back against one side, and the feet and knees against the other—a slow and very uncomfortable operation, owing to the heat and dust that it creates.
The stones forming the floor of each of these apartments roof the one below it ; their upper surface is slightly convex; and the whole of them are coated with a remarkable incrustation of a shining white, curly, and crystaline substance, not unlike the moss called ursnea barbata, which I before described as covering some of the trees at Madeira. It is found in little bunches on the roof, more abundantly in the upper than the lower chambers, and as it has not, that I am aware of, been yet accurately described, and is generally supposed to be nitrate of potash, or saltpetre, I submitted it to the chemical analysis of my friend, Professor Kane, and he found it to be common salt (chloride of sodium), and states that “its occurrence in this form is of considerable interest, as it illustrates the manner in which some species of the alum family assume the curious fibrous and contorted figure of these specimens.” A question of exceeding interest here presents itself—how did it get into and crystalize on the sides of those chambers? Three modes of solving this problem have occurred to me -either that the granite itself was filled with this substance in its original bed, and that it oozed out and crystalized in this curious form afterwards; or that the atmosphere from the desert, where salt is found, (as it is in the neighbourhood, becoming impregnated with fine and impalpable saline particles, and getting into the interior of the pyramids, thus encrusted it, although we know that for centuries there was no apparent inlet for it; or thirdly, that it was used in some of the mystic rites that were of old practised in the lower chambers, and being carried up in the form of vapour, cooled and crystalized in the upper apartments. But at the same time I must acknowledge, that none of these modes completely satisfy me as to the way
in which the salt is formed. I have never heard of its being
hitherto discovered in this very remarkable form, and it is one well worthy the attention of the learned.
The three uppermost chambers, recently discovered by Caviglia and Colonel Vyse, have the names of Wellington, Nelson, and Campbell painted on them. As yet we must bow to the opinion of Colonel Vyse, that these chambers appear to have been constructed for the purpose of lessening the superincumbent weight on the king's chamber, the principal cavity, to which all the others seem subservient. At the same time, as I before stated, they may have served some secondary purpose in the rites observed in this structure, which, taking it for granted that it was a tomb, (the most general opinion at present,) does not at all lessen the character and importance of these chambers. Certain it is, that they could not have any thing to do with the astronomical purposes assigned to the pyramids.
Our time not permitting us to descend into the well, we passed out, and proceeded to explore the second pyramid, now rendered much more easy of access since Colonel Vyse has raised up
the stone portcullis to the whole height of the passage, which Belzoni had left just high enough for persons to creep under. This passage was sufficiently wide and high for walking in without much inconvenience. We spent some time in examining this chamber, and saw the name of its celebrated but ill-treated discoverer, with the date on which it was opened, printed in Italian on the wall opposite the entrance ; and numberless names, in many
different characters and languages, have been since scratched upon every square inch of its walls. The roof is different from that of Cheops, as the blocks of which it is formed do not go across, but meet at an angle in the centre. No doubt other chambers remain yet to be discovered in the upper part of this monument also.
A hasty glance at the third pyramid, lately opened by the enterprising and spirited English antiquary, Colonel Vyse, and a peep into some of the tombs in the vicinity, brought us, at the close of a day of most exciting interest, to the chamber from which we had set out some hours before, where a few flasks of champagne were quaffed, as we parted from our pleasant companions, among whom were my friends, Mr. E. B. Cullen and Mr. Bell, to whose kindness we were much indebted during our stay at Cairo, and who by their knowledge of the manners of the people saved us from much annoyance and imposition.
CATACOMBS OF ALEXANDRIA.
After filling my case with specimens of the nummulite limestone of the rocks from which the under part of the pyramids were cut, we remounted our donkeys, and set forward to the Nile, where a boat waited to take us aboard a large kanghia lying at Boolack, in which our luggage was already stowed, and every thing made ready for our instant departure for Alexandria.
Ever and anon did we stop, glad of the slightest excuse to linger on the road, and gaze upon the scene we had just quitted, for the sun was setting behind the great pyramid, and the radii of his extending rays seemed to spring upwards from around the summit of the glory of Egypt, the dark outline of which was deeply defined on the roseate tint that smiled away the god of day. But were I longer to dwell upon the splendours of that evening, I fear the mind of my reader would be as much wearied as was my own body with the fatigues of this day, which must for ever form an epoch in my life.
Those who visit Egypt, as we did, seeking health as well as amusement, will not be much benefitted by proceeding at this season further into this land of wonders; and the daily increasing cold, and the privations that would necessarily be experienced in journeying to Thebes, &c., for the present prohibits my visiting scenes I hope to live to see, and to describe.
We arrrived at Alexandria on the 4th. All here, both natives and foreign residents, were complaining of cold and damp, and said they never recollected such severe weather. Influenza had just appeared, and as this was its first visit to any part of Egypt, it caused a great sensation among the Mooslims, but although very general in its attacks, few deaths occurred.
I suffered from a slight attack, but on the 6th was well enough to visit the last remaining object within my reach—the catacombs, which are situated on the shore along the S. W. side of the harbour, about two miles from the town. They consist of a vast number of connected chambers, of greater magnitude than
any I had yet seen, and all excavated out of the soft grey sand-stone rock on which the peninsula stands. Paulo made me bring a coil of line to act as a clue, fearing that - we should lose our way in this extensive labyrinth, but the guides are now too well acquainted with all its windings to require any such assistance. The examination of this necropolis has little in it to gratify or astonish the ordinary traveller, except its ex
CATACOMBS OF ALEXANDRIA.
tent, and the labour that must have been expended on its construction. To those, however, who are interested in studying the forms of tombs, and the modes of burial of different nations, these have many remarkable peculiarities, and exhibit the type of buildings on a large scale, which will be found in all the rockcarved sepulchres, both throughout Egypt and in all the countries which derived their customs, arts, and architecture from her.
In a large outer hall, now used as a donkey-stable, and filled with dust and rubbish, we lighted our tapers, and were conducted through chamber after chamber, in most of which the sand and dirt had accumulated to within two or three feet of the roof. Some of these apartments are square, others round; but in all there was a soros or crypt opposite the door, and one on either side, for depositing the bodies; and several of them had a chimneylike aperture at the top, communicating with the open air above. In the farthest recesses of these chambers, I found holes cut in the sides through the solid stone, and leading upwards, but to what place I had no means of determining. In shape and situation they exactly resemble the air-holes that I before noticed in the chambers of the pyramids. It is surprising that a knowledge of this circumstance did not sooner lead by analogy to some reasonable explanation for the apertures in the pyramids. There was one room of great size, which struck me as remarkable ; it was circular, the doorway adorned with Doric pilasters; the roof slightly domed; and in its sides were three minor spaces, shaped like crosses, with three niches in each space
for bodies, as exhibited in the plans of Dr. Clarke. In one of the distant rooms we were pointed out a narrow hole, which barely admitted the body; this we were told led into another series of tombs, but Paulo endeavouring to creep through it, stuck fast, and as he could neither proceed nor retreat, we had to pull him out by the feet, which fortunately were within our reach.
The absence of hieroglyphics, the comparatively modern appearance of the work, the traces of Grecian architecture upon it, and there being no remains of bodies, sarcophagi, or mummycloths, to be found in or about them, leave little doubt that these catacombs are of a more recent date than has been usually assigned to them. They have been most accurately detailed by the enterprising traveller whom I have already mentioned; but from the fatigue, bruises, and the coating of dirt and mud with which I had become covered, in endeavouring to find out something
new or remarkable; which I did not, (with the exception of the air-holes, and the similarity of the ground-plan to other tombs to be mentioned hereafter,) I was, I must confess, on the whole, disappointed. But with regard to this, as well as all the other subjects of antiquity which I had an opportunity of examining in this country, I must say, that I am of opinion that, although so much has been done already, fully as much more remains for future explorers.
As the lake Mareotis lay but a short way from this place, I spent the remainder of my ride in examining it. The shores of this lake are quite flat, presenting the same appearance all round; and seeing a raised spot from which to view it, I rode onward for a great distance, momentarily expecting I should come to it, but it still seemed to recede, and appeared as far off as ever; thus affording a singular optical deception, similar to that sometimes seen upon
the desert. The ground here affords a good specimen of fossil formation ; thousands of bivalve shells (the cardiacea) are to be seen imbedded in the sand, and coated over with an incrustation of chloride of sodium. Some of these shells are loose in the sand; others quite hardened, and with difficulty detached, as the sand is yearly consolidating, the greater part of the sea-water having been evaporated or drained off, and, with few exceptions, the hinges of these shells were turned towards the lake, or the last retiring wave. Should this fact be found to hold good elsewhere, it might enable us to give some probable opinion as to the direction in which water receded in other formations. Large quantities of sand, impregnated with common salt, are dug up here, and carried to Alexandria to be refined ; and from it the principal supply of salt for this part of the country is obtained. This substance is also collected in smaller pieces in the form of thin plates, not unlike ice, over the holes where the water has evaporated, since the embankment was broken down at the time of the French occupation of Egypt in the first years of this century.
The climate was then so cold, that not deeming it prudent to go farther
the country, we determined to try the coast of Asia Minor ; but before I leave this place, or conclude this part of my narrative, I am anxious to condense my scattered notes into a more regular form, upon that most important topic :- An Inquiry into the present state of Egypt under Mohammad Alee—which will be considered in the next chapter.