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THE PROSTRATE OBELISK.
from the round of the mortice to the bevel of the top, the extreme end of which is broken off; the whole measurement from out to out seventy feet, by six and a half feet in breadth at base. The hieroglyphics with which it is covered are sharper and in better preservation than those of the one still standing, on the eastern face of which they are much defaced, probably by the action of the prevailing wind, which, blowing from the desert for centuries, loaded with particles of fine siliceous sand, has had this powerful effect. Both of them undoubtedly stood on pedestals, and are composed of the most beautiful rose-coloured granite, somewhat brighter in colour than that of Pompey's pillar. The sand and accumulating rubbish have covered up the pedestal of the standing one, and a considerable portion of its base.
The prostration of the obelisk has been erroneously attributed to the French, during their occupation of Egypt, and a modern writer first refers its downfall to an earthquake, but in a subseqent note says,
“ I afterwards learned it had been thrown down by Chiandi, an Italian engineer, in the service of the Basha, the pedestal having been blown up, and the fragments used in constructing a fort close at hand. In the same manner the obelisk itself was to have been disposed of, but this fine monument of antiquity was saved for the time by the interference of the English consul, it being the property of Great Britain.”
ANTIQUITY OF ITS PRESENT POSITION.
ago, for the
The French generally assign its downfall to the English, and in this they are joined by one of the last writers upon Egypt—an American travellerwho states, when speaking of the standing one, or that generally denominated Cleopatra's needle, “ By its side, half buried in the sand, lies a fallen brother of the same size, and about the same age, said to have been taken down by the English many years
of being carried to England, but the Basha prevented it.”
Now, that this obelisk must have been in its prostrate condition for some centuries we learn from the work of the accurate and erudite Sandys, who, speaking of Alexandria, in 1610, says, “ of antiquities there are few remainders, only one hieroglyphical obelisk of Theban marble, as hard, well nigh, as porphyry, but of a deeper red, and speckled alike, called Pharaoh's needle, standing where once stood the palace of Alexandria, and another lying by, and like it half buried in the rubbish." And again, from the following passage in the rare and curious old work of Frere Nicole Lestuen, published in 1517, we may conclude it was prostrate in his day, as he mentions but one standing :
" De la on est mene au grant lieu ou estoit la sale marence et encore est une grat coulonne toute dune pierre de merueilleuse haulteur en memoire du faict aíat ung capital agu : et semble a une tour qui la uoit de loing. Ceste coulonne est de couleur rouge et maintes lettres sont faictes a lentour: plus haulte a merueille que nest icel le qui est a romme aupres de sianet pierre; laqlle estoit a upres de ceste icy en Alerandrie ; et est apportee a romme."
Indeed we might have conjectured its remaining for a long time in a condition similar to the present, from the fact of the greater sharpness of the hieroglyphics on all sides*—although when standing it must have been exposed to the same injurious influences as its neighbour.f
The moment we arrived at the obelisks, our attendant dragoman and the donkey boys commenced a most destructive attack upon each of its corners and angles with great stones, hammering away to procure us specimens to take with us, and did not at all understand our desiring them to desist, and saying we did not wish it to be broken, at which they laughed most heartily. I should imagine the height of Cleopatra's needles to be, if cleared, about eighty feet, the height of that at Rome. A traveller of 1819 very gravely informs us that there are no eyes in Cleopatra's needles !!!
In its immediate vicinity the Jews have enclosed a large piece of ground with a high wall for a burial
* There are excavations or tunnels made under it in two places to obtain building materials, that enabled me to decide upon this point.
† The removal of one or other of these obelisks to England has been long contemplated, and the delay has never been satisfactorily accounted for; they are ours by right of conquest and presentation. In an article lately published in the Dublin University Magazine, I proposed to have this prostrate obelisk conveyed to England, and with some sphinxes and other memorials of Egyptian conquest, erected as the Nelson testimonial. For the particulars of that paper, and the letters I have received on the subject, see Appendix I.
place, and are now erecting a handsome synagogue within. If nothing else, toleration, at least, is commencing in Egypt, as heretofore none of that stricken race were allowed a place of public worship.
We next visited the pillar, and on our way passed by some groves of tall palms—the first collection of those truly eastern and magnificent trees we had yet seen.
I know few objects of more striking beauty than a palm grove; their slender, leafless, mail-clad stems shoot up without a single branch for sixty or eighty feet, when their waving plumes form most graceful arches over head, in the twining tracery of their dark foliage. The great father of botany has well denominated this noble race “ The princes and patricians of the vegetable kingdom.” Beyond this is one of the outer gates, with a deep fosse and drawbridge, where the Arabs and a few Bedawees hold a kind of market for their flocks—from this we had a good view of the pillar, standing upon a rising ground in the midst of an extensive plain, a continuation of the ruins of the ancient city, on which scarcely a single lichen finds sustenance. It seems now the undisputed abode of the lizard, the kestril, and the grass-hopper. Without another object to catch the eye, or break the unvaried outline of the landscape, its appearance, when seen at a distance, thus accurately defined against the clear blue sky, has in it something impressively grand and noble ; itself the monument of
a city, and a people of “ by-gone days,” it raises its tall form majestically from among the modern sepulchres and gilded tombs of yesterday.
I can perfectly agree with Denon, that in the shaft of Pompey's pillar consists its beauty ; one solid piece of red granite still retaining its beautiful smooth polish, and sixty-five feet in height. The capital, which surmounts it, is a very rude attempt at the Corinthian order, the foliage very plain and meagre, and altogether it looks too short for its shaft. This alone ought, I think, to mark its construction at a date much earlier than writers are willing to assign. I cannot help likening it to a draft, or rough model of the rich foliage and high-wrought ornament of those Corinthian capitals I have seen in Greece, especially those of the temple of Jupiter Olympus, which must be acknowledged as the finest specimens in existence; but compared with them, this seems almost a different order of architecture.
The base appears much too high, and out of proportion, even for a single column; it is fourteen feet in breadth, and stands upon a corresponding platform of mason-work, which was so much undermined, as to threaten its downfall some years ago, but is now repaired. The exact height of the pillar from the ground, is now ascertained to be ninety feet. *
* For further information on the subject of Pompey's pillar, see Appendix K.