Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

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means of transport, we have been unable to take anything
away with us from Naga in the desert, except a Eoman in-
scription, mentioned above, and a great Clavis Nilotiea,
peculiarly carved. Some very strange representations are to
be seen there ; among others, a figure sitting frontways, a
crown of rays over the floating hair, the left arm raised at a
right angle, and the fore-finger and middle-finger of the hand


stretching upwards, as is represented in the old Byzantine
figures of Christ. The right hand holds a long staff resting
on the ground, as John the Baptist usually holds it. This
figure is totally different from the Egyptian representations,
and no doubt is borrowed elsewhere, as well as another god
who frequently appears, also represented frontwise, with a
richly curling beard ; he might at first sight be compared to
a Jupiter, or Serapis, in bearing and appearance. The mixture
of the religions had made great progress at that period, evi-
dently of very late date, and it would not surprise me if it
should be proved by later researches that the Ethiopian kings
had adopted Christ and Jupiter also, among their various
kinds of gods. The god with the three or four lions' heads
is probably not a native invention, but obtained from some
other quarter.

On the 25th we crossed the Nile in boats, in order to set
out on the left bank, on our road across the desert to Gebel
Barkal. There seemed to be difficulties again about pro-
curing camels, but my threat, that if they would not come
to a private agreement I should, on the ground of my Firman,
settle the matter, not with the Sheikh but with the Govern-
ment, had such a rapid effect, that, even the following morn-
ing, we were enabled to set out with eighty camels from Gos
Burri in the immediate neighbourhood, across the desert.

Here, in Keli, I had again an opportunity of witnessing a
funeral ceremony — this time, for a deceased Pellah — for
which purpose about two hundred people had collected, the
men separate from the women. The men were seated, two
and two opposite, embracing each other; they laid their
heads on their shoulders, raised them up again, beat them-
selves, clapped their hands, and wept as much as they were
able. The women moaned, sang songs of lamentation,
strewed themselves with ashes, walked about in procession,
and threw themselves on the ground ; everything very
similar to what we saw in Wed Medineh, except that their
dance more resembled, in its violent movements, that of the
Dervishes. The remainder of the inhabitants of Keli sat


212 TOMES.

round in groups under tlie shade of the trees, sighing and
lamenting, with their heads hent down.

As we were obliged to wait for the camels, I once more
crossed over to Beg'erauieh, to search for certain ruins, which
were said to be situated somewhat more to the north. Starting
from El Gues, I arrived in three-quarters of an hour, upon
my ass, at the two villages of Maruga, not far removed from
each other. To the eastward of the first, on the low
eminences running along in that direction, there are a num-
ber of mounds of tombs, which from a little distance looked
like a group of Pyramids standing out from the sky. The
elevation turns backwards, in the form of a crescent, towards
the south, and is covered with these circular-thrown-up
mounds, composed of black desert stone ; standing on a large
mound in the centre I counted fifty-six of them.

rive minutes farther on in the desert there is a second
group of similar mounds, twenty-one in number ; but many
others lie near it, scattered on single small pieces of ground.
Situated in a still lower position, and even within the limit of
the thicket, I discovered a third group, to the south of the
two former ones, containing about forty tombs, in some of
which we could still clearly recognise their original square
form. The tomb in best preservation was between 15 and
18 feet wide on every side ; like many others, it had been
excavated in the centre, and had been filled up with mud
deposited by the raio, in which a tree was growing ; a great
square wall of 24 paces enclosing it on every side, was still
remaining of another tomb, the lowest layers were built up
solidly of small black stones, and a mound seemed to have
been erected within, but not in the centre. Another still
stronger circumvallation, in good preservation, was not much
smaller in circumference, but appeared to have been com-
pletely filled up with a Pyramid. JSTothing was to be seen of
an actual casing. The mounds continued still more to the
south amidst the thicket, and altogether there might be
about two hundred which could be distinguished. Perhaps,
also, they continue still farther on the border of the desert,

deseut of gilif. 2L3

in the direction of Meroe, whither I would have ridden back
liad I not sent the boat too far down the river, in quest of
which I now was obliged to hasten. It appears, therefore,
that this was the actual cemetery of Merbe, and that pyra-
midal, or, in default of smooth sides, conical mounds of stones,
were the usual forms of tlie tombs, even of private indi-
viduals, at that period.


Barkal, the 9tk May, 1844.

The desert of Gilif, which we traversed on our road
hither, to cut off tlie great eastern bend of the Nile, derives
its name from the principal mountain range which lies in the
centre of it. On the maps it is confounded with the desert
Bauiuda, which bounds it to the south-east, and across
which runs the road from Chartum to Ambukol and Barkal.
Our direction was first due east as far as a well, afterwards to
the north-west, and in the midst of the Gilif range to the
great AVadi Abu Dom, wliich then led us across in the same
direction to the western bend of the Xile.

Tlie general character of the country here, is not so much
that of a desert as between Ivorusko and Abu Hammed, but
more that of a sandy steppe. It is almost everywhere
covered with Gesch (tufts of reed-grass), and not unfre-
quently with low trees, chiefly Sont-trees. The rains which
fall here at certain seasons of the year, have deposited con-
siderable masses of earth on the low grounds, which might be
profitably cultivated, and this is sometimes traversed, to the
depth of three or four feet, by torrents occasioned by the
rain. The soil is yellow, and composed of a clayey sand. The
rock forming the subsoil, and the whole of the mountains,
with the exception of the lofty Gilif range, is a sandstone.
The ground is covered to a considerable extent with hard,
black blocks of sandstone, the road is generally uneven, and


undulating. Numerous gazelles, and large white antelopes
with only a browu stripe down their backs, are to be found
on these plains, which are also frequented in the rainy season
by herds of camels and of goats, on account of the plentiful
supply of pasture.

On the 29th April we left the river, but, as is very custo-
mary in caravans of any considerable size, this was only a
first start — a trial of our travelling powers, such as birds of
passage make before their long migration. We had only
been two hours on the road when the guide allowed the
restless swarm to encamp again, just beyond Gros Burei, at
a little distance from the river ; the camel-drivers were with-
out their provisions ; some single beasts were still procured,
others were exchanged. It was not before the following day
at twelve o'clock that we got into perfect order and in full
march. We spent the niglit in the Wadi Abu Hammed, at
which point Gebel Omarda was on our right liand.

The third day we started very early ; passed GtEBEL Qee-
MANA, and arrived at the well of Abu Tleh, which took us far
to the east, and detained us several hours after mid-day.
From this point we were seven hours traversing a wide plain,
and encamped about ten at night near Gebel Sergen. The
2nd May, after proceeding four hours, we reached a district
well supplied with trees, to the right of Gebel JSTusf, the
" Mountain of the Half," which is situated half-way between
the well of Abu Tleh and Gaqedul, as on all these journeys
the wells are the real indicators of the hour in the desert-

The Arabs from the district of Gos Burri, who are our
guides, belong to the tribe of the 'Auadieh ; they are not
nearly as res})ectable as the Ababde Arabs, have a rapid and
indistinct mode of speech, and altogether seem to have very
little capacity. They may have already intermingled much
with the Fellahiu of the country, who here call themselves
Qaleab, Homerab, Gaalin. There are also some Schaiqieh
Arabs here, probably only from the time of the conquest of
the country by the Egyptians ; they carry shields and spears

EL GOS. 215

like the Ababde Arabs. The wealthy Sheikh, Emin, of Gos
Burri, had given us his brother, the Fakii- Fadl Allah, as our
guide, and his own son, Fadl Allah, as overseer to his camels ;
but even the best among these people make but a miserable
and starved appearance in comparison with our desert com-
panions of Korusko. The order of the day here was as fol-
lows : that in general we should start about six in the morning,
and keep monng till ten o'clock ; after that, the caravan
rested during the mid- day heat till about three o'clock, and
we then proceeded again till about ten or eleven at night.

We rode across the large plain of El Gos the whole after-
noon, so called, probably, from the great sand dunes, which
are characteristic of this part of the country, and which, more
especially towards the south, assume a peculiar form. They
are almost all in the shape of a crescent, which opens towards
the south-west, so that from the road on our right hand we
look into a number of tunnels, or semi-theatres, whose pre-
cipitous walls of sand rise nearly ten feet from the ground,
while the north wind, passing over the field within, clears it
completely fi-om the sand, wliich would gradually fill up the
cavity. But the rapidity with which this moveable sand-
architecture alters its position is manifested by the single
tracks on the caravan-road, which are frequently lost under
the very centre of the highest sand-hills. About eight o'clock
in the evening we left Gebel Baeqtjgees on our left hand,
and halted for the night, about ten o'clock, at a short dis-
tance from tlie Gilif range.

The 3rd May we marched through the AYadi Guah el
'alem, which is covered with a great many trees, into the heart
of the mountains, which are chiefly composed of porphyritic
rock, and like all primitive mountains, on account of their
longer retention of the precipitated humidity and the small
amount of rain, are more covered with vegetation than the
sandy plains. In three hours we reached the "Wadi
Gaqedul, thickly covered with Gesch and thorny trees of
every description, Sent, Somra, and Serha. We met some
herds of camels and goats grazing here, especially near the


water, whicli had also attracted numerous birds, among others
ravens and pigeons. The water is said to be retained for the
space of three years, without any fresh accession in this broad,
low- situated grotto, about 300 feet in diameter, surrounded,
and for the most part covered in, by lofty walls of granite. It
was, however, so dirty, and had such an abominable smell,
that it was even despised by my thirsty ass. The drinkable
water is situated higher up in the mountains, and is difficult
of access.

We here quitted the northerly direction into which we had
been led by the well, since leaving Gebel jS'usf, and continued
for several hours very much to the west along the Gilif range,
into the Wadi el Mehet, then traversing the perfectly dry
bed of the valley (Chor) of El Ammee, from which the road
to Ambukol diverges, we halted past ten o'clock at night in
tlie "Wadi el Uee, which was named by others the Wadi
Abu Haeod. From this point, the Gilif range retreated for
some distance farther towards the east, and only left a succes-
sion of sandstone hills in the foreground, along which we rode
the following morning. In the W.N.W. we saw other moun-
tain ranges, which are no longer called Gilif ; one single two-
pointed mountain among them, which stood out from the
rest, was called Miglik. The great inlet of the Gilif chain,
filled with sandstone rock, is two hours broad ;* the road then
continues to lead in a more northerly direction, into the midst
of the range itself, which is here called Gebel el Mageqa,
after the well of Mageqa.

Before entering this mountain range, we came to a place
covered with heaps of stones, which might be supposed to be
barrows, though no one lies bui'ied beneath them. When-
ever the date merchants come this road, many of whom we
met the following morning, with their large round plaited
straw baskets, their camel-drivers at this spot demand a trifle
from them. He who will give nothing, has a cenotaph such
as this erected to him, out of the surrounding stones, as a bad
omen for his hard-heartedness. We met with a similar assem-
* About six English miles. — Te.


blage of tombs in tbe desert of Korusko. "We reached this
Well soon after nine o'clock, but without halting ascended a
wild valley to a considerable height, where we encamped
about mid-day.

The whole road was amply supplied with trees, and thereby
offered an agreeable variety. The Sont, or gum-trees, were
rare here ; the Somra appeared most frequently, which begins
to spread out directly from the ground in several strong
branches, and terminates with a flat covering of thinly-scat-
tered boughs and small green leaves, so that it often forms a
completely regular inverted cone, which at this spot some-
times attains to about the height of fifteen feet. JSTear it
grows the Heglik, with irregular boughs round the stem,
and single tufts of leaves and twigs, like the pear-tree. The
thornless Serha, on the other hand, has all tlie branches sur-
rounded with quite small green leaves, like moss, and the
ToNDUB has no leaves at all, but in their place only small
green little twigs, growing zig-zag, and almost as close as
foliage, while the Salame shrub . consists of long flexible
twigs covered with green leaves and long green thorns.

About four o'clock we set out, and descended very gradu-
ally from the heights. There are also a number of wells in
the Wadi Kalas, with very good rain water, about twenty
feet in depth; we pitched our encampment for the night
at this spot, although we arrived there soon after sunset.
The animals were watered, and the skins filled. The whole
of the plateau is well supplied with trees and shrubs, and in-
habited by men and animals.

Our road on the following day preserved the same cha-
racter, as long as we were wandering between the beautiful
and rugged escarpments of porphyry. After proceeding a
couple of hours farther, we came to two other Wells, also
called Kalas, with little, but good water= Prom this spot,
a road diverged in a uortli-easterly direction to the well of
Mekoe, in the Wadi Abu Dom, probably so called also from
a white rock.

Three hours farther, having passed Gebel Abeak, we


entered the great Wadi Abu Dom, whicli we now pursued
in a west north-west direction. This remarkable valley passes
uninterruptedlj by the side of a long mountain chain from
the Nile at El Mecheref to the village of xlbu Dom, which is
situated obliquely opposite Mount Barkal. When we con-
sider that the upper north-eastern opening of this valley,
which traverses the whole Peninsula and its mountain ranges,
lies nearly opposite the mouth of the Atbara, which flows
into the Nile in the same direction above Mecheref, we can-
not help suspecting that once, though perhaps not in histo-
rical times, there must have been a connection by water,
which cut off the largest portion of the great eastern bend
of the Nile, now formed by the rocky elevated plateau at
Abu Hammed, driving back the stream above a degree and a
half towards the south, contrary to its common direction.
The name of the valley is derived from the single Dom Palms,
which are here and there found in it. The mountain chain,
which passes along the north of the valley, is completely
separated from the range, through which we had hitherto
come. At the entrance of this valley we left the solid ground
of which the mountain is composed, and the loose sands again
prevailed, without however overpowering the stiU far from
scanty vegetation.

In the afternoon, after leaving on our left hand a side
valley. Oil Schebak, which contains well-water, we encamped
for the night as early as nine o'clock. The following morn-
ing we came to the deep well of Hanik, and halted about
mid-day at a second well, which was called Oil Saiale, after
the tree of that name.

At this spot, I left the caravan with Jussuf, to reach
Barkal by a circuitous road by Nuei, situated on this side
of the river somewhat higher up. In an hour and a half we
arrived at some considerable ruins of a large Christian con-
vent in the AVadi G-azal, so called from the gazelles, which
dig in great numbers for water here in the Chor (bed of
the valley). The church was built as high as the windows
of white, well-hewn sandstone, and above that of unbumt

cb:ristia.x COy\ElST.


bricks. The walls are covered with a strong coating of
plaster, and are painted in the interior. The vaulted apse
of the three-naved Basilica is situated, as usual, towards the
east, the entrances behind the western transept are towards
the north and south ; all the arches of the doors, the win-
dows, and between the pillars, are round : above the doors,
Coptic crosses are frequently exhibited, more or less orna-
mented, whose most simple form |||l maj' be compared

with the ancient Egvptian symbol of Life. The whole
church is a genuine type of all the Coptic churches which I
have seen in ruins, and I therefore add the small ground
plan just as Erbkam took it down.

The building is above eighty feet long, and exactly half as
broad. The outer wall to the north has fallen in. The
cliurch is surrounded by a great court, whose walls of enclo-
sure, as well as the numerous convent cells, some of which
have vaulted roofs, are built of rough blocks, and are in good
preservation ; the largest of them, a dwelling forty-six feet
long, is situated in front of the western side of the church,
and is only separated from it by a small narrow court ; no
doubt it belonged to the prior, and a special side-entrance
led from it into the church. Two churchyards are situated
on the southern side of the convent ; that to the Avest, about
forty paces removed from the church, contained a number of
tombs, which consisted simply of a collection of black stones
heaped up together. The eastern churchyard was situated
nearer to the buildings, and was remarkable from possessing


a considerable amount of tombstones with inscriptions, partly
in Greek, partly in Coptic, which will induce me to pay a
second visit to this remarkable convent before we leave
Barkal. I counted more than twenty stones with inscrip-
tions, some of which had sustained much injury, and about
as many tablets in burnt earth, with iuscriptions scratched
into them, though most of them were broken to pieces.
They contain the most southern Grreek inscriptions which
have been hitherto known in the Nile region, with the
exception of those of Adulis and Axum in Abyssinia.
There is no doubt that the Greek language following in the
wake of Christianity, and the traces of which we might have
ourselves pursued in structural remains even beyond Soba,
was at one time employed and understood, at least for reli-
gious objects, by the natives in the flourishing districts, even
as far as the interior of Abyssinia ; nevertheless these monu-
mental inscriptions (none of them, as far as I could see in a
hasty survey, in the Ethiopian language) allow us to infer
that the inhabitants of the convent were Greek Coptics who
had immigrated.

About five o'clock I left my companions, who went direct
to Abu Dom, and I immediately set out for Nuei. "We soon
saw Mount Baekal shining blue in tlie distance ; it rises
singl}^ and precipitously from the surrounding plain, and
has a broad platform, and, by its peculiar form and position,
at once attracts attention ; about six o'clock the Nile vallev,
which is here of considerable breadth, lay spread out before us,
a sight always longed for after the desert journey, and which,
like the approaching misty coast after a sea voyage, keeps
the attention of the traveller in a state of joyful expectation.

Our road, however, now turned towards the right, and led
among the mountains, which stretch out into the plain, and
are still composed of masses of porphyry. "When we stood
directly in front of Barkal, I observed on our left hand a
great number of black barrows, either round, or pyramidal in
form, similar to those I previously saw at Meroe. It was
probably the general cemetery of Napata, which even in
the time of Herodotus was the royal residence of the Ethio-


pian kings, and was situated on the farther bank; a con-
siderable town must therefore at one time have been placed
on the left bank of the Nile, which would also explain
the position of the Pyramids of jS'uki on the same side of
the river. Nevertheless, I have not been able to discover
any mound of ruins in accordance with this surmise. I
only saw some similar to these, though not of considerable
extent, behind the village of Duem and at Abu Dom, whicli
were called Sanab. It was not before half-past seven
that we arrived in the neighbourhood of this considerable
group of Pyramids, and we quartered ourselves for the night
in the house of the Sheikh of the village.

Before sunrise I was already at the Pyramids, of which I
counted twenty-five. They are some of them grander than
those at Meroe, but are built of soft sandstone, and, therefore,
have sufiiered much from exposure to the weather ; only very
few of them had a portion of the smooth casing preserved.
The largest shows, again, the same structure in the interior
which I have referred to in the Pyramids of Lower Egypt ; a
smaller internal Pyramid was enlarged in all its dimensions
by a superimposed stone casing. In one place, on the west
side, the smoothed upper surface of the internal structure
was most clearly disclosed beneath the well-joined external
covering, which is eight feet thick. Little is to be seen here
of ante-chambers such as there are in Meroe and at the
Pyramids of Barkal ; I think I have only found the remains
of two ; the rest, if they ever existed, must have been com-
pletely demolished, or buried beneath the rubbish. Some of
the Pyramids, however, stand so immediately against each
other, that, on that account alone, an ante-chamber, at least
on the last side where it might have been expected, could
not have existed. Besides this, the Pyramids are generally
built quite massively of square blocks ; I could only perceive,
on the one situated most to the east, that it was filled
up with black unhe\vn stones. There is also a truncated
Pyramid like that of Dahschur ; but here the lower, and not,
as in that instance, the upper angle of inclination, must have


been the one originally intended, as tlie former is scarcely
sufficient for a series of steps. Although, unfortunately,
I had been unable to discover any inscriptions, with the
exception of one single small fragment of granite, yet much
seems to favour the idea that this group of Pyramids is of an
older date, while those of Barkal are more recent.

Soon after ten o'clock I reached Abu Dom, where I
found my companions already arrived. The w^hole of the
next day was occupied in crossing the Nile, and we did not
reach Barkal before sunset. Greorgi, to my delight, had
arrived here some days previously from Dongola. We now
more than ever require his assistance, because drawings
must be made of whatever we meet with here. The Ethio-
pian royal residence of King Taheaka, who reigned at the
same time in Egypt, and left buildings behind him, the same
who in the time of Hezekiah marched to Palestine against
Sennacherib, is too important for us not to exhaust it, if pos-
sible, of its treasures.


Mount Barkal, the 28th May, 1844.
DuEiNG the next few days I expect the arrival of the
transport boats which I begged of Hassan Pascha, and which
set off eleven days ago ; they are to receive our Ethiopian
treasures, and to convey us to Dongola. The results of

Online LibraryRichard LepsiusLetters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai → online text (page 19 of 54)