The Land of the Pharaohs - Samuel Manning - ebook

The Land of the Pharaohs ebook

Samuel Manning



Dr. Manning has written freshly of scenes and places which are much 'done' by tourists; and now and then, when he is a little more beyond the ordinary track, he is really powerful. He has served a good apprenticeship to work of this kind, and it may be said of him that, while he never sacrifices dignity in retailing the trifling gossip of the journey, he does occasionally cast a very interesting glance into the social conditions of those amongst whom he moves; and sometimes he throws a gleam of humour around the strange, or squalid, or repellent things that he meets. The anecdote of the Arab, the opera-glass, and the two wives at the Great Pyramid, is very good indeed.

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The Land of the Pharaohs







The Land of the Pharaohs, S. Manning

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9



ISBN: 9783849650223

[email protected]


Availability: Publicly available via the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA) through the following Creative Commons attribution license: "You are free: to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work; to make derivative works; to make commercial use of the work. Under the following conditions: By Attribution. You must give the original author credit. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above." (Status: unknown)






Alexandria To Cairo.1

Cairo To Assouan.23

Assouan To Ipsamboul50

The Suez Canal.62

Egypt To Sinai.69


IN the dim grey dawn of a February morning, I was on the deck of the Austrian steamer Urano, peering eagerly through the mist to the southward. The clear crystalline blue of the Mediterranean had changed to a greenish grey, showing that we were in shallow water. As the sun rose, the haze vanished, and we could make out the coast-line, a long stretch of sand, here and there broken by a hillock, a clump of palm-trees, an Arab village, or the white walls and dome of a santon's tomb. Then a forest of masts came into view, and, rising above them, a venerable column and a lighthouse. The column we recognise as Pompey's Pillar; the lighthouse is the modern representative of the famous Pharos of Alexandria, one of the wonders of the ancient world. We were approaching that mysterious land which had attained a high civilisation, and a settled monarchy, when Abraham, “went forth from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan.” It was in its glory when the Hebrews were there held in bondage. It had passed its prime when David and Solomon sat upon the throne of Israel. It had sunk into decay when Rome rose to power, and at the dawn of modern history, it had ceased to exist as a nation. Hebrew patriarchs, Greek philosophers, Persian, Macedonian, and Roman conquerors, have all been drawn hither, and its annals are inextricably interwoven with theirs. It played an important part in the greatest event in our world's history, when Joseph “arose and took the young Child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called My Son.” In later ages, the land of the Pharaohs is ever coming into prominence. Amongst the early Christians, Cyril, and Athanasius, and Origen; amongst the early Mohammedans, Amrou and Omar; amongst the Crusaders, St. Louis of France, and Saladin the chivalrous enemy of Richard Coeur de Lion, all lead our thoughts to Egypt. What wonder, then, that it was with a feeling of almost reverential awe, that I first gazed upon the soil which, for four thousand years, had been the scene of so many memorable deeds?

The gravity of those of our party who were for the first time visiting Mohammedan countries, was somewhat disturbed by the appearance of the pilot who now came alongside. His dress was a curious combination of eastern and western attire, very characteristic of the mongrel population of Alexandria. It consisted of a Turkish fez, an Arab abba, baggy linen knickerbockers, and a pair of unmistakable English boots with elastic sides. Having seated himself cross-legged on the gangway of the steamer, pipes and coffee were served, and he steered us through the intricate channel into the harbour of Alexandria. The usual scene of confusion now ensued. Scores of boats came round us, manned by half-naked negroes and Arabs. I was seized by half-a-dozen fellows at once, each endeavouring to drag me into his boat. A similar conflict was going on over every article of my baggage, and it was only by a vigorous application of the dragoman's whip that I and my belongings were rescued from them and stowed away in one of the boats.

We only escaped from the hands of the boatmen to fall into those of the donkey-boys, who effectually dissipated whatever feelings of reverence yet remained. These Arab lads are surely the cleverest and most impudent little urchins on earth. Our city-Arabs cannot compare with them. In broken English they vaunt the praises of their animals: “Take my donkey; him berry good donkey; him name Billy Barlow.” If the traveller be presumably an American, the sobriquet is changed to “Yankee Doodle.” One ingenious youth, whose only garment was a ragged cotton shirt, through which his tawny skin showed conspicuously, having tried “Billy Barlow,” “Champagne Charley,” and half-a-dozen names beside, made a final appeal, by exclaiming, “Him name Rosher Tishburne; him speak English; him say, ‘How you do, sar?’” It was impossible either to lose one's temper or retain one's gravity amid this merry, clamorous crowd. At length we extricated ourselves from them and made our way to the hotel.

Anywhere, except in Egypt, Alexandria would be regarded as a very ancient city. Its history goes back more than two thousand years, to the time of its founder, Alexander the Great, B.C. 333. But here, this venerable antiquity seems quite modern. It is a mere parvenu, which sprang up when the kingdom of the Pharaohs had run its course and reached its close. It is now a busy thriving port in which the east and west meet in strange confusion. Nubians, Arabs, Berbers, Greeks, Italians, French, English, Circassian pilgrims, Lascar sailors, Chinese coolies, jostle one another in the crowded streets. A string of camels pass with their burdens into the railway station. A Bedouin sheikh takes a ticket for Cairo, or wrangles over the price of a piece of Manchester goods. Hadjis from Mecca are waiting to go on board the steamer bound for Constantinople or Beyrout. Sailors from the harbour, or soldiers en route for India, shoulder their way through the bazaars. Go into a bank or counting-house, and you might fancy yourself to be in the heart of London. Step out into the street, and you see a devout Mussulman spreading his prayer-carpet in the roadway, and performing his devotions, as little disturbed by the bustle around him as though he were alone in the desert.

The northern coast-line of Egypt is a sterile waste, consisting of little else than salt swamps, lakes of brackish water, and barren sand. The importance and prosperity of Alexandria are therefore due, not to the surrounding district, but to the fact that it is the port for the only African river which flows into the Mediterranean. Regions of boundless fertility stretch southward to the equator, through which the Nile flows and forms their sole means of communication with the sea. To the ancient world, Alexandria, which lay near the mouths of this mighty river, formed the meeting-place of eastern and western civilisation—the emporium of European, Asiatic, and African commerce. With the downfall of the Byzantine Empire, its glory departed. The Mohammedan conquest fell like a blight upon its prosperity, and the discovery of the route by the Cape of Good Hope gave the death-blow to its commerce. For many generations it was little more than an obscure village of the Turkish Empire. During the present century it has again been rising into importance. Its present population is estimated at a quarter of a million. In the year 1871, its exports reached upwards of ten millions sterling, its imports nearly six millions. The opening of the Suez Canal has diverted the through traffic to India into the new channel. But other causes have been at work, which have more than made up for the loss thus sustained, and the population and commercial prosperity of the city are rapidly increasing.

There are few remains of the ancient splendour of the city of Alexander the Great and the Ptolemies. Pompey's Pillar and Cleopatra's Needles have no right to the names they bear. The former was erected by Publius, prefect of Egypt, in honour of the Emperor Diocletian (A.D. 296). The latter formerly stood at Heliopolis, where they were raised by Thothmes III., a Pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty, supposed by some to have been the monarch whose son, by adoption, Moses refused to be, and by others to have been reigning at the time of the Exodus. They were removed to their present site by one of the Cæsars, and are doubtless the same which Pliny described as standing in front of the Cæsarium. They are monoliths of red syenite granite, and are covered with hieroglyphics. The one still standing is seventy feet high. The fallen one is much mutilated. It was presented to the British nation by Mohammed Ali, but has not been thought worth the cost of removing to England.

On the downfall of the Hebrew monarchy, Alexandria became a new home to the exiled Jews. They so greatly increased in wealth and numbers, that at one period they formed a third of the whole population of the city. Numerous synagogues were built in the cities of Lower Egypt, and a temple upon the plan of that at Jerusalem was erected in the nome of Heliopolis. It was for the use of these Hellenistic Jews that the Septuagint translation was made, which had so important an influence in preparing the way for the introduction of the Gospel, by making the Old Testament Scriptures known to the Gentile world. The history of this version is obscured by myth and legend. All that is known, with certainty, is that the translators were Alexandrian Jews, and that it was completed under the patronage of Ptolemy Philadelphus.

A remarkable case of deliverance from persecution, and of punishment coming upon the persecutors, is recorded of the Jewish colony at Alexandria. Ptolemy Philopator (B.C. 217), being incensed at the refusal of the high-priest to admit him into the temple at Jerusalem, returned to Egypt and cast into prison all the Jews upon whom he could lay his hands. Those of Alexandria were confined in the Hippodrome, a vast amphitheatre used for gladiatorial shows and public games. The king ordered that they should be trampled to death by elephants, made furious by wine and stimulating drugs. For two days the execution was delayed by the drunken carousals of the king. This interval was spent by the prisoners in ceaseless prayer to God for deliverance. On the third day the savage beasts, were driven into the arena and urged upon the prisoners. But, instead of attacking them, they turned upon the guards and spectators, many of whom were killed, the rest fleeing in terror. Ptolemy was so impressed by this manifestation of the Divine power that he ordered the prisoners to be released, restored their privileges, and, as in the days of Esther and Ahasuerus, gave them permission to kill their enemies.

The journey from Alexandria to Cairo is now almost always made by railway, a distance of one hundred and thirty-one miles. The road first skirts the shores of Lake Mareotis, with myriads of pelicans, wild ducks, and other water-fowl swimming or wading in its brackish waters, or soaring in dense clouds overhead. The narrow strip of desert which forms the northern coast-line of Egypt is soon crossed, and we enter the Delta of the Nile, which continues almost as far as Cairo. The soil, a deposit of Nile mud, is of extraordinary fertility. The Delta used to be regarded as the granary of Rome. Innumerable vessels were employed in conveying the wheat grown in this district to the imperial city. In one of these the Apostle Paul was wrecked, and in another he completed his voyage to Italy as a prisoner. The river formerly ran through it in seven channels. Five of these are now dried up, and two only remain, known as the Rosetta and the Damietta branches. The change was foretold by the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea, and with His mighty wind shall He shake His hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod.”

It seems certain that the eastern portion of the Delta was the land of Goshen, in which the patriarchs were settled on their coming down into Egypt. It lay between Canaan and the residence of Joseph at On, or Memphis, for, on receiving tidings of the arrival of his father, “Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him.” From the marvellous fertility of the soil it was well-suited for a pastoral people, it was “the best of the land.” Though belonging to the Egyptian monarchy, and used as a pasture-ground for Pharaoh's cattle, it did not form part of Egypt Proper. Hence, it was allotted to a shepherd race, where they lived without coming into offensive contact with the native population, “for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” It is probable that yet another reason for the settlement of his brethren in this frontier province suggested itself to the sagacious mind of Joseph. The nomad races of Palestine were, about this period, a serious peril to the Egyptian monarchy. The mysterious Hyksos, or shepherd kings, were a Canaanitish horde, who poured across the Isthmus, and, for a time, established themselves as conquerors in the Nile Valley. Whether this invasion had already taken place, or whether it was now an object of alarm, may be doubted. But, in either case, the location of a band of hardy and warlike herdsmen on the frontier, to bear the brunt of the first assault, was a piece of policy worthy of the wisdom of the illustrious Grand Vizier, who had already saved his adopted country from the horrors of famine.

As the train bears us slowly, and with frequent stoppages, over the district where the sons of Jacob pastured their flocks and herds, we have abundant opportunities for observing the habits of the people. A wide expanse of verdure stretches to the very verge of the horizon. Groups of fellaheen, or peasantry, are seen sitting under the shadow of a palm grove, or lounging by the wayside, utterly indifferent to the intense heat, which makes the atmosphere quiver like the mouth of a furnace. Veiled women,  clad only in a blue cotton skirt, come down to the river to fill their water-jars, and then, poising them on their heads, walk away with a firm, graceful step. A family pass along the road; the husband, a big, stalwart fellow, rides a donkey; the wife, bearing a load which would be heavy for an English porter, walks by his side; a group of brown naked children run alongside the train holding out their hands and crying for backsheesh, and in this cry their elders join them whenever they have an opportunity. Notwithstanding this universal begging, I saw little or no actual destitution in Egypt. The wants of the peasant are so few, and the soil is so productive, and so easily cultivated, that everybody, even the very poorest, seems to be well fed. Fuel costs nothing; and drink, the curse of European countries, is unknown. A draught of Nile water, a handful of lentiles, or a piece of bread, made like a pancake, and tough as wash-leather, are all that his necessities demand. Give him a little oil or vinegar, an onion or two, and a cup of coffee, and he feasts luxuriously. A careful observation of the condition of the fellaheen, convinced me of the accuracy of Miss Martineau's remarks: “I must say that I was agreeably surprised, both this morning and throughout my travels in Egypt, by the appearance of the people. About the dirt there can be no doubt; the dirt of both dwellings and persons, and the diseases which proceed from want of cleanliness; but the people appeared to us, there, and throughout the country, sleek, well-fed, and cheerful. I am not sure that I saw an ill-fed person in all Egypt. There is hardship enough of other kinds, abundance of misery to sadden the heart of the traveller; but not that, so far as we saw, of want of food. I am told, and no doubt truly, that this is owing to the law of the Korán, by which every man is bound to share what he has, even to the last mouthful, with his brother in need; but there must be enough, or nearly enough, food for all, whatever be the law of distribution. Of the progressive depopulation of Egypt for many years past, I am fully convinced; but I am confident that a deficiency of food is not the cause, nor, as yet, a consequence. While I believe that Egypt might again, as formerly, support four times its present population, I see no reason to suppose, amidst all the misgovernment and oppression that the people suffer, that they do not raise food enough to support life and health. I have seen more emaciated, and stunted, and depressed men, women, and children in a single walk in England, than I observed from end to end of the land of Egypt.”

Though the Delta is not so entirely rainless as many parts of the Nile Valley, yet the productiveness of the soil is mainly dependent on artificial irrigation. The water left by the annual inundation is stored up in canals and reservoirs, and distributed over the soil by various devices. Sometimes a large wheel is run out into the river and turned by the force of the current. The floats of the wheel are made hollow, so as to take up a quantity of water. As they rotate, and begin to descend, the contents of each are poured out into a trench, or tank, rudely constructed on the bank.

A more common method is the sakieh. In every part of Egypt we may see a rude roof of thatch under which a camel or buffalo plods round a worn path, turning a series of wheels cogged and creaky, drawing up an endless and dripping string of earthen vessels, which splash out their crystal gatherings into one leaky and common pool; and thence, along a moss-clad shaft, into a little babbling rill of pure water flowing off on a bounteous errand. The groaning and creaking of these sakiehs is one of the most familiar sounds on the Nile. It becomes associated, in memory, with hot, sultry afternoons, spent in delicious indolence on the deck of a dahabieh, gliding downward with the current; with cool evenings, when the stars come out in the deep blue of an Egyptian sky, to shine with a lustre unknown in our northern latitudes; less pleasantly associated with restless nights, when the boat has been moored near one of these machines, and the incessant noise combines with rats, mosquitoes, fleas, and innumerable other plagues of Egypt to banish sleep.

More common than either is the shadoof, a primitive contrivance consisting only of a long pole working on a pivot, a lump of clay or a stone fixed at one end, a bucket at the other. For hundreds of miles up the Nile the river is lined with these shadoofs; men, women, and children, either absolutely naked, or with only a strip of cloth round their loins, spending their whole lives in lifting water out of the bountiful river to irrigate their fields. No wonder that the ancient Egyptians worshipped the Nile, and that it needs all the force of Mohammedan iconoclasm to prevent the fellahs of to-day from worshipping it too. The very existence of Egypt, as we shall see hereafter, is absolutely due to the river. Were its beneficent current to fail, or its mysterious inundation to cease, Egypt would again become a part of the desert from which it has been reclaimed, and which hems it in on either hand.

The distribution of water over the soil is effected by means of trenches leading into small channels, these again into yet smaller gutters. Each plot of land is divided into squares by ridges of earth a few inches in height. The cultivator uses his feet to regulate the flow of water to each part. By a dexterous movement of his toes, he forms a tiny embankment in one of the trenches, or removes the obstruction, or makes an aperture in one of the ridges, or closes it up again, as the condition of the crop requires. He is thus able to irrigate each square yard of his land with the utmost nicety, giving to it just as much or as little water as he thinks fit. As this mode of cultivation is very ancient, it was probably referred to by Moses, when, contrasting the copious rainfall and numerous fountains of Palestine with the laborious irrigation of Egypt, he said, “For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs: but the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven.”

Though the trains on Egyptian railways are probably the slowest and most irregular in the world, yet some progress is made, and, in the course of a few hours, it becomes evident that our destination cannot be far distant. The broad expanse of verdure narrows as the Delta approaches its southern apex at Cairo. The tawny line of desert which bounds it on either side draws nearer. The Libyan and Mokattam ranges of hills, which inclose the Nile Valley, come into view. Then, those who know where to look for them, may make out, through the quivering haze, at a distance of ten or twelve miles, the most extraordinary group of buildings in the world. In approaching almost any other object of interest for the first time—St. Peter's

at Rome, for instance, or Mont Blanc—there is a brief interval of hesitation and doubt before its definite recognition. But at the very first glance, without a moment's pause, we exclaim, The Pyramids! They are at once the vastest and the oldest buildings on the earth. They were standing,  perhaps were even already ancient, when Abraham came down into Egypt. Their origin was lost in the recesses of a remote and legendary past, when the Father of History conversed with the priests of Saïs and Memphis. It may have been bombast, but it was scarcely exaggeration, when Napoleon, on the eve of the battle of the Pyramids, issued his famous ordre du jour, “Soldiers, forty centuries are looking down on you!” And now, by a strange anachronism, we are gazing quietly out of the window of a railway carriage, at edifices which seem to be nearly coeval with the existence of man upon the earth. It is not very long since a comic rhymester indulged in the ludicrous fancy of travelling by steam through Egypt and Palestine:—

“Stop her. Now then for Joppa! Ease her. Any one for Gizeh?”

This has come to be literally and strictly true. There is a Gizeh station on the railway running out from Cairo. And steamboats throughout the whole of the Levant are worked by words of command—“Hees'er; stoap'er; goo-on a'ed”—which we shortly discover to be very familiar phrases, spoken in guttural Arabic tones. But our reveries are broken in upon by our arrival at the railway station, where a struggle like that at Alexandria awaits us with the hammals and donkey-boys contending for the possession of our persons and baggage. Having extricated ourselves from their clutches with some difficulty, we make our way to the hotel.

The city lies at the entrance of the Nile Valley, near the point at which the river branches out into the channels which form the Delta. Its modern name is a European corruption of that given to it by its Arab conquerors—El Kaherah, the victorious. By the natives it is called Misr or Masr , and the same name is given by them to the whole of Egypt. This is evidently a modern form of the Scriptural Mizraim, and affords another instance of the survival of ancient names through a long course of centuries, and after repeated conquests by foreign nations. It is situated about a mile from the river. A long straggling street leads down to Boolac, which is the port; and Fostat, or Old Cairo, runs along the Nile bank. The population of the city is commonly stated at about a quarter of a million. But Mr. Stanley Poole, in his edition of Lane's Modern Egyptians, thinks this an under-estimate, and that it is at least 320,000.