Richard Lepsius.

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

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country. Still higher mountains rise on the farther side of
Katherin, but in steps, as for example, TJm Eiolin, Abu
ScHEGERE, Qettae, &c., as far as Um Schomae, which
towers up over all the others, and stands in the centre
of the eastern and western slope of the whole elevation,
forming the principal and most northern vertebre of the long
backbone of the range, which passes down to the south, and
determines the direction of the whole Peninsula. All the
way up Gebel Musa, along with the various spots which are
connected with holy legends, was a walk amidst the wildest
and grandest natural features ; it reminded me of being led
through a castle of historical renown, where the places of
rest and study, &c., of some great king are exhibited.

On our return from Gebel Miisa, we ascended the actual

* " Medicine for the soul." — Tb.


brow of the so-called Horeb, which Eobinsou regards as the
TRUE Sinai instead of Gebel Musa, which has hitherto been
viewed as such. "We passed several hermit's huts and
chapels, till we at length reached one, situated in a rocky
basin, behind which the principal mass of Horeb rises up
abruptly and grandly. There is no accessible road to it.
We clambered up, first through a precipitous cleft in the
rock, then over the brows of the rock towards the south.
About half-past five we reached the summit, just above tlie
great plain of Eaha, on the immense round-formed mountain
top, which has such a grand appearance from the plain.
Eobinson seems to have attempted this road at first, but to
have given it up afterwards, and mounted to the top of
Sessaf, which certainly is loftier, but situated a little to the
westward, and does not project into the plain as the actual
central point, like the knob which we ascended.* Our com-
panions, with the exception of one active Arab boy, had
remained behind, as it was, in fact, a dangerous ascent.
Even this site did not allow me to entertain the view that
Moses ever stood upon a rock that was visible from this
valley, if the narrative is to be understood in so literal a
manner. AVe did not ascend Gebel Katherin, as it has fewer
historical claims even than Gebel Musa.


On tlie Fed Sea, the eth April, 1845.
I SHALL employ our tranquil sea voyage, which will last
for several days longer, in arranging the various materials I

♦ These are the exact words of ray journal, and as they were under-
stood by Hitter, p. 578. In the printed report, p. S, it might appear as if
Robinson had relinquished the ascent of the whole of this part of the
mountain; in the memoir of the Bibliotheca Sacra, this is mentioned
as a mistake. But I was only speaking of the actual brow of the
mountain which projects into the plain, contrasted with ^the loftier
point, though situated on one side, which was ascended by llobmson.

29i WADI e' scheikh.

have coDected on the Peninsula, and combining the principal
events of this episode in our journey. I shall send a more
detailed account of it from Thebes.* These lines, however,
shall be handed over to Seid Hussen in Qeneh, and shall be
forwarded to the north by the first opportunity.

AVe left the convent on the 25th March, towards evening,
and passed downwards through the broad ^"adi e' Scheikh.
I selected this roundabout way, as formerly, before the wild
defile of Xakb el Haul was rendered passable, this valley was
the only way by which the Israelites, if they were desirous
of marching to the plains of Eaha, could have reached that
spot.f We spent the night in the upper part of the valley,
near the tomb of the holy Sheikh Salih, from whom it re-
ceives the name of Wadi e' Scheikh. In the lower portion
of the valley we first meet with the manna-yielding shrubs of
Tarfa.j and the Sinaitic inscriptions on the sides of the
valley become more frequent. But before reaching the
outlet of the valley, we quitted it and climbed over to our

* This account, -which I addressed to H.M. the King of Prussia,
vas printed while I was still absent in 1S46, under the title of ^ lieise
cles Pro/. Lepsius von Thtben nach der Halbinsel de^ SinaL, vom 4 Mdrz
bis zuvi 14 April, 1845," Btrlin, with two maps — a general map of the
Peninsula, and a special map of Serbul and Wadi Firan, which Avas
drawn by G. Erbkam, from mv notes, or statements. This printed
pamphlet has not been published, but only distributed to a few persons.
Its contents, however, have become better known, by a translation into
English by Ch. H. Cottrell ("A Tour from Thebes to the Peninsula
of Sinai," kc. London, 1S46), and into French by F. Pergameni
(" Voyage dans la Presq'ile du Sinai, etc., lu a la SociCte' de Geogra-
phie, seances du 21 Avril et du 21 MaL Extrait du Bulletin de la
Soc. Geogr., Juin, 1847." Paris).

t The Xakb el Haui. '-the Saddle of Wind," is an extremely wild
and narrow mountain ravine, the depths of which are impassable, on
account of its steep precipices. The road must have been (.'onstructed
with great skill along the western mountain precipice, and is in many
places hewn out of the rock; in others, the crumbling ground has been
paved with great flat stones. There can be no doubt that this daring
path was only made after the erection of the convent, to maintain
closer connection with the town of Pharan, which, till that time, could
only be reached by the long circuitous route through the Wadi e'

i The Taviarlx Gallica manvifera of Ehrenberg. See Wilkinson,
Alod. Eg. and Thebes, ii., 401.— Tk.


left into the Wjldi Selaf, wliich lower down joins the Wadi
e' Scheikh, in order to reach the foot of Sekbal, hj the
shortest road from this. "We had abeadj frequently seen at
every opening on the road the huge rocky summit rising
above the surrounding mountainous district, and the accounts
^ven us by the Arabs, of the fertile and irrigated "Wadi
I^'lrax at its base, had long made me desirous of becoming
better acquainted with it. I had resolved to ascend the
mountain, and therefore made them lead us into the "Wadi
ItiM, that runs down from the mountain into the Wadi Selaf,
which passes along Serbal. After riding upwards of an hour
in this vaUey, we came to an old stone hut, which might
have once sheltered a hermit ; soon afterwards we found
fiome Arab tents, and at a short distance beyond these,
several Sittere-trees, which we selected for our place of

On the 27th March we rose early to ascend the mountain
Derb e' Serbal. The true road to Serbal leads from "Wadi
l^'iEAN through "Wadi Aleyat to the mountain. "We were
forced to go round its south-eastern extremity, and ascend
behind from the south, as it would have been far beyond our
powers to clamber up the heights through the Eim ravine,
which descends precipitously, and in a direct line between
the two eastern summits. One quarter of an hour above
our encampment we came to a sprmg, shaded by ISTebek,
ilamada, and Palm-trees, whose fresh, pure water, was
walled rouiid to tlie depth of several feet. "We then climbed
over a small rib of the mountain, on which there again
stood several ancient stone houses, down into another branch
of the Kim valley (Rim el mehasni), and in an hour and a
half reached the south-eastern angle of the mountain. Prom
this point we pursued a paved road of rock, which was even
sometimes supported by masonry work. This led us to an
artificial terrace and a wall the remains, as it appeared, of a
house that had been destroyed, and to a cool spring, shaded
by taU reeds, a palm-tree, and several Jassur bushes* (from

• The Mori„ya uptera. See Wilkinson's Mod. Eg. and Thebes, ii.,
404.— Tk.


■which the Moses rods are cut) ; the whole mountain is here
overgrown with Habak, and other sweet-smelling herbs. Some
minutes farther on we came to several caves in the rock,
which once served as hermit's cells ; and after wandering for
almost four hours we reached a small plateau spreading out
between the summits, where we again found a house with
two rooms. A road led over this level ground to the edge of
the western side of the mountain, which sinks at first steep
and rugged, then in more gentlj-inclined wide ribs, to the
sandy plain of El G'e'ah, and here disclosed to me across
the sea a glorious prospect of the opposite coast, and the
Egyptian chaiu of mountains bounding it. From this point
the rock-path suddenly descended along the ragged mountain
declivity into a wild, deep basin, round which the five sum-
mits of Serb^l meet in a semicircle, forming one mighty
crown. In the middle of this basin, called Wadi Si'qelji,
are the ruins of an old convent, to which the mountain path
leads, which unfortunately we had not time to visit.*

I therefore returned across the level space, and then began
to ascend the most southern of the summits of Serbal. When
I had almost got to the top of the precipitous height, I thought
I observed that the second summit was somewhat higher, and
therefore hastened down again, and sought out a way to
reach this. We passed a small piece of water, and were
obliged to go almost round the whole basin, till we at length
succeeded in clambering up it, from the north-east side.
Here, to my astonishment, between the two points into which
the summit is divided, I found a small level valley, plenti-
fully supplied with shrubs and herbs, and from this I first
ascended the one, then the other point, and by the assistance
of my guide, who was conversant with the spot, I took the

* It seems that this convent has not been visited by any very recent
travellers. Even Burckhardt, who calls it Sigillye, did not descend to
it, but heard that it was well built, spacious, and also provided with a
well, plentifully supplied with water. (Trav. in Syria, p. 610.) It is
much to be desired that more exact accounts could be obtained of this
convent, situated in the middle of the basin of Serbal, as it probably
is one of the oldest, at any rate one of the most important in the Penin-
sula, as is proved by the rock-road to it from Pharan, constructed with
much skiU and difficulty.

WADi riEAX. 297

points of the compass with reference to all the places of
note which might liere be surveyed in the wide horizon.
For instance, I could clearly perceive how the mountain
summits beyond Gebel Musa continue to rise higher, and
that the distant Um Schomae rose above all the others. "We
did not set out on our return tiU four o'clock, so that we
were obliged to avoid the circuitous road by which we had
ascended, unless we were desirous of being overtaken by dark-
ness. ^,Ve therefore determined to leap down, from block to
block like chamois, and foUow the precipitous rocky ravine,
which led almost in a straight line to our camp in Wadi
3iim, and in two hours and a half, with trembling knees, we
reached our tent by this impracticable path, the most diffi-
cult and the most fatiguing that I ever trod in the whole
course of my life.

The following day we proceeded farther, and passing
through Wadi Selaf, and the lowest part of Wadi e' Scheikh,
we reached the Wadi Fieajk — this most precious jewel of
the Peninsula, with its Palms and groves of Tarfa, on the
banks of a lovely rushing stream, which, winding among
shrubs and flowers, conducted us to the old convent moun-
tain of the town of Puaran, the Piean of the present day.
Everything that we had hitherto seen, and what we after-
wards saw, was naked, stony desert compared to this fertile
oasis, abounding in wood and water. For the first time
since we had left the Nile vaUey, we once more walked
un soft black earth, obliged to defend ourselves with our
arms from the overhanging leafy branches, and we heard
singing birds warbling in the thick foliage. At the point
where the broad AV'adi Aleyat, descending from Serbal, enters
W^adi Piran, and where the valley spreads out into a spacious
level tract, there rises in the centre of it a rocky hill called
Hereeat, on the summit of Vv'hich are the ruins of an
ancient convent building. At its foot stood once a magnifi-
cent church, constructed of well-hewn blocks of sandstone, the
ruins of which are built into the houses of the town situated
on the slope of the opposite mountain.


The same evening I Trent up Wadi Aleyat, passing innu-
merable rock-inscriptions, to a well, surrounded by Palm and
jS'ebek trees, where I enjoyed the entire prospect of the
majestic mountain chain. Apart from all the other moun-
tains, and united into one single mass, Serbal rises, at first
'in a slope of moderate inclination, afterwards in steep preci-
pices, with chasms, to the height of 6000 feet (above the sea) .
Nothing could equal the scene when the valleys and low
mountains around were already veiled in the shadows of
night, and the summits of the mountain still glowed above
•the colourless grey, like a fiery cloud in tlie sinking sun.

The following morning I repeated my visit to Wadi
Aleyat, and completed my observations of the whole of this
remarkable district, the principal features of which I had
already noted down from the summit of Serbal.

The most fertile district of Wadi Firan is enclosed be-
tween two hills which rise from tlie centre of the valley ;
the upper one of these two is called El Bleb, the lower,
situated at the outlet of Wadi Aleyat, ^lEiiAiiiiLT or Heke-
EAT. In very ancient times the valley appears to have been
closed in here, and the waters rushing down from all sides,
even from Gebel Musa, into this basin, appear to have united
into a lake. It is only in this manner that we can explain the
very remarlvable deposit of earth, wliicli extends along the
sides of the valley to between eiglity and a hundred feet
high, and no doubt it is this remarkable position of Firan,
as the lowest point of a large mountainous district, which
occasions the imusual supply of water that issues forth at
this point.

Pirectly behind the convent hill we found the narrow bed
of the valley as stony and barren as the more elevated
valleys, although the brook was still visible by our side for
half an hour. The violent irruption of those primitive waters
permitted no more deposits of earth in this spot. It was
only at the next still more decided bend of the valley, called
Eij Hessue, that a few more groups of palm-trees appeared.
Here the brook disappeared in a cleft of the rock, as sud-


denly as it had bur>t forth beliind Bueb, and we did not see
It ai^ain.

Alter being five hours on the road, we quitted "Wadi Firan,
that here turned otito the left hand towards the sea, and we
emerged from the primitive mountains into a more level
rt^gion of sandstone. The loftier range retreated towards the
north-west, and encircled in a great bow the hilly, sandy
district that we traversed. We next came to the Wadi
MoK'ATTKU, the "valley with inscriptions," which derives
its name from the immense numbers of inscriptions which
lire to be found here in several places. It is easy to per-
ceive, that it is those places sheltered from the mid-day
sun, which invited passing travellers on the road to Firan
to engrave their names and short mottoes in the soft rock.
A\'e took impressions on paper of as many of them as we
could obtain, or copied with the pen those which were less
adapted for an impression. We found these inscriptions
>cattered singly, in the most various, andj frequently very
remote places of the Peninsula, and taking them altogether,
1 have no doubt whatever that they were engraved by the
inhabitants of the country during the first centuries before and
after Christ. I sometimes found them cut oA^er more ancient
(J reek names, and not unfrequently Christian crosses are
connected with them. These inscriptions are habitually
called SiXAiTic, which would not be inappropriate, if thereby
the wliolc Peninsula of ISinai was intended to be designated
as the ppot where they are found. But we must observe, that
on Gebel Miisa itself, which is regarded as Sinai, very few
single and short inscriptions of this kind have been found,
such as those which, after careful observation, are to be met
with in almost all spots adapted to them, but that, on the
contrary, their actual centre was rather Phaka?.', at the foot


On the 31st of IMarch we again reached the lotty chain
which turns back from the east, and marched through
■\\'adi Qeneh into the small Wadi Maghaka,. which branches


off from it, and in whicli the sandstone and primitive rock
border on one another. Here we found, high up in the
northern sandstone precipices, the remarkable Egyptian rock
stele belonging to the earliest monuments generally known
to us among Egyptian antiquities.* As early as the 4th
Manethonic Dynasty, the same which built the great Pyra-
mids of Gizeh, in Egypt, more than 3000 years before our
era, copper mines were discovered in this wilderness, which
were worked by a colony of labourers. Even then the Penin-
sula was inhabited by Asiatic, probably Semetic races, for
which reason we frequently see the Pharaoh represented in
those rock-images as conqueror over the enemies of Egypt.
Almost all the inscriptions belong to the Old Monarchy ; we
only found one from the period when King Tnthmosis III.
and his sister reigned together.

Erom this point I was anxious to take the shortest road
to the second place in the Peninsula, where there are ancient
Egyptian monuments, Saebut el Chadem. But there was
no direct road over this lofty range to its slope on the other
and north-easterly side, so we were obliged to return to
"Wadi Mokatteb, and get across the mountains by a very
circuitous route through "Wadi Sitteee and AVadi Sich.
As we again emerged, we had the immeasurable plateau in
front of us, which includes the whole of the north of the
Peninsula, and consists of one single vast bed of sandstone.
This, however, descends towards the south by two steps, so
that the prospect seems as if it were bounded by two lofty
mountain precipices retreating at about equal distances into
the far distance. The descent nearest to the south, called
e' Tih, sinks to a flat, broad sandy valley, Debbet e' Eam-
LEH, while the masses of sandstone rock, on this side, seem
to be as high as the general plateau.

On a terrace protruding far into the broad valley, which we
climbed with great difficulty, are the wonderful monuments of
Saebut EL Chadejj:, which appear no less so, even to those
* Denkmal., Abth. 11., Bl. 2, 116, 137, 140, 152 ; III., 28.


who are prepared to behold them. The oldest representations
led us also here into the Old Monarchy, but only as far back
as its last dynasty, the twelfth of the Manethonic list. In
this period, under Amenemiia III., a small rock-grotto was
excavated, and furnished witli an ante-chamber ; lofty steles
were erected outside, at different distances, and without any
determined arrangement, the one lying most remote being
a short quarter of an hour distant on the highest point of
the plateau. During the Xew Monarchy, Tuthmosis III.
enlarged the building towards the west, and added a small
pylon witli an outer court. The later kings had built
an additional long series of chambers, one in front of the
other, in the same direction, solely, as it appears, for the
purpose of protecting the memorial stele erected upon them
from the weather, especially from the sharp wind, often
loaded with sand, which has now almost totally destroyed
the ancient steles, which were even at that time unpro-
tected. The latest stele exhibits the Shields of the last kin

Online LibraryRichard LepsiusLetters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai → online text (page 26 of 54)