Richard Lepsius.

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

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the damp sea air, so that the rough sculpture alone remains. In the
Work on the Monuments of the Prussian Expedition (Div. II., sheet
19 — 22), the colours have been given faithfully, as they were preserved
in their original freshness when covered by the sand.


mid. Is not this aloue sufficient to justify tlie attempt to
transfer the beautifully-constructed sepulchral chamber of
this princely architect to Berlin, which otherwise will, sooner
or later, be destroyed by the Arabs, and be used to build
their ovens, or be burnt in their lime-kilns ? There, it
would at least be preserved, and be accessible to the ad-
miration or the study of those who are eager after know-
ledge, so long as European art and science teach us to value
such monuments. To reconstruct it, a space must be left
perfectly free of 6 m. 30, (19 feet 8 inches) in breadth, 4 m.
60, (15 feet) in height, and 3 m. 80, (12 feet 5J inches) in
depth, and this might siu'ely be reserved for it in the Kew

I observe, that such chambers form only a small portion
of the entire structure of the tomb, and were not intended
for the reception of the mummy. The tomb of Prince
Merhet is above 70 feet long, 45 broad, and 15 high. It is
solidly constructed of great square stones, with slanting
outer surfaces. The chamber is alone left vacant, and one,
or, as in this instance, two square shafts, leads from the flat
roof through the building down to the living rock ; at the
bottom of which, about 60 feet deep, rock-chambers open at
the side, in wliich the sarcophagi were deposited. I have
carefully preserved the venerable remains of the skull of the
ancient prince of the house of Cheops, which I found in his
mummy chamber. We found, alas ! little more, as this tomb
also, like most of the others, had been long ago broken open.
The entrance originally was closed by a slab of stone. The
chamber above ground alone remained accessible at all times,
and was therefore ornamented with representations and in-
scriptions. Here the sacrifices ofiered to the dead were
brought to the occupant of the tomb. It was generally dedi-
cated to the worship of the deceased, and so far corresponded
to the temple that was erected before every pyramid belong-

* After our return from the south, two entire sepulchral chambers,
besides the one here mentioned, -were taken to pieces and brought to
Europe. All three are now reconstructed, with the other monuments,
in the New Museum at Berlin. See Letter XXXV.


ing to a king, for his worship. Like those temples, these
chambers have also their entrance always from the east. The
shafts, like thiS Pyramids, lie behind, to the west, because
the deceased was believed to be in the west, whither he had
gone with the setting sun, to the Osiris of Amente.

The seventh sheet finally, contains two pillars, and their
architrave, from the tomb of a royal relative, who was at the
same time the prophet of four kings, and whose name was
Ptah-nefru-be-u. The tomb was constructed later than that
of Prince Merhet, in the fifth Manethonic D}'nasty. It
belongs to an entire group of tombs, whose architectonic
plan and connection with one another is very remarkable,
and which I have, therefore, completely divested of sand, and
brought to the light of day, while previously neither the en-
trance, nor anything but the extreme summit of the outer-
most encircling walls, were visible.

I also send you the whole plan of this tomb, besides one
of those contiguous to it, but I think I shall only bring
away with me the architrave, and the beautifully painted
pillars of the most southern chamber, which can be easily
removed. On the architrave appears the name and titles
of the deceased, who is also represented at full length on
the four lateral faces of the pillars. Ami, the father of the
deceased, appears on the front sides of the northern pillars ;
AsESKEF-AifCH, his grandfather, on that of the southern.
The pillars are twelve feet high, slender, and as usual,
without capitals, but with the abacus.

I have entirely isolated the whole chamber at the tomb
of Prince Merhet ; but for the present I have relinquished
the idea of taking it to pieces, as this is not the most
favourable season for its removal. I have therefore caused
this tomb, as well as the other, to be refilled with sand ; and
when I arrive at Cairo to-morrow, I shall obtain an order,
to prevent any of the tombs that have been opened by us,
from being robbed of their stones. It is really revolting to
see how long lines of camels from the neighbouring villages
come here daily, and march off again, loaded with building


stones. Fortunately — for is not everything for tlie best — the
accommodating Pellahs are more attracted by the Psam-
metic tombs, than by those belonging to the most ancient
Dynasties, in which the great blocks are not sufficiently
manageable. I begin, however, to have more serious fears
for the tombs of the 5th and 7th Dynasties, which have
been built with stones of a more moderate size. Yes-
terday a beautiful standing pillar, covered with inscriptions,
which was just going to be sketched, was overturned by the
robbers behind our backs. They do not seem to have suc-
ceeded in breaking it to pieces. The people here are so
degenerate that their strength is quite insufficient, with all
their assiduity, to destroy what their great predecessors have

A few days ago, we found a small obelisk erect, in its
original position, in a tomb from the commencement of the
7th Dynasty. It is only a few feet high, but in good pre-
servation, and with the name of the occupant of the tomb
inscribed upon it. This form of monument, which is first
conspicuous in the K'ew Monarchy, is thus removed several
Dynasties farther back in the Old Monarchy, even than the
Obelisk of Heliopolis.


Saqara, the ISth March, 1843.
A SHOET time ago, I made an excursion with Abeken and
Bonomi to the more distant Pyramids of Lischt and
Meidum. The last especially interested me extremely, as it
has solved in a general manner some enigmas in the struc-
ture of the Pyramids, which had long occupied my mind.*
As an exception to the general rule, it lies almost in the
lower plain, in the immediate neighbourhood of Bahr Jussuf,

* A separate essay, Ueber den Bau der Pyramiden, was sent by
me to the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1843, and it was printed in
consequence of a resolution of the 3rd of August of that year. See the
Monthly Report (Monat's Bericht) of the Academy-, 1843, p. 177—203,
with three Plates.


and is only just removed out of reacli of the inundation ;
but it rises up so high and stately from the flat surface of
the surrounding country, that it attracts notice even from a
great distance. Its square, sharp-angled tower-like centre,
which diminishes slightly at the summit, namely, at an
angle of 74°, rises from an envelopment of rubbish, which
surrounds it almost half-way up, to the height of 120 feet.
Another hundred feet higher, there succeeds a platform,
from which rises a more slender tower of moderate height,
in the same angle, which again, in the centre of its flat
upper surface, bears the remains of a third elevation. The
walls of the principal tower are for the most part smoothl}'-
polished, but have stripes at intervals that have been left
rough, the cause of which afc first appeared almost inex-
plicable ; but on more minute examination, I also found in
the interior of the half-destroyed building which surrounds
the base, some rising walls that were smooth, and having the
same angle as the tower ; in front of these, again lay other
walls, which followed one upon another like scales. At
length it occurred to me that the whole building had pro-
ceeded from a small Pyramid, which had been erected in
stages of about forty feet high, and then first increased and
heightened simultaneously on all sides, by superimposed
coverings of stone, from fifteen to twenty feet in breadth, till
at length the great steps were filled up so as to form one com-
mon flat side, giving the usual pyramidal form to the whole.
This gradual growth explains the enormous magnitude of
particular Pyramids, beside so many other smaller ones.
Each king began the building of his Pyramid as soon as he
ascended the throne ; he only designed a small one, to ensure
himself a complete tomb, even were he destined to be but a
few years upon the throne. Put with the advancing years
of his reign, he increased it by successive layers, till he
thought that he was near the termination of his life. If he
died during the erection, then the external covering was
alone completed, and the monument of death finally re-
mained proportionate to the duration of the life of the king.


It', in tlie course of centuries, all the other conditions which
determine our calculations had equally remained, then, as
bv the rings of a tree, we might even now have been able to
calculate the years in the reigns of particular kings, by the
coatings of the Pyramids.

On the other hand, the great enigma of the bearded giant
Sphinx still remains unsolved ! When, and by whom, was
the colossal statue erected, and what was its significa-
tion ? "We must leave the reply to more fortunate succes-
sors. It is almost half-covered up with sand, and the granite
stele, above eleven feet high, which stands between the paws,
and which in itself forms the back wall of a small temple,
which is here inserted, was totally invisible. Even the im-
mense excavations made by Caviglia, in the year 1818, had
long disappeared, so as not to leave a trace behind. By means
of between sixty to eighty persons labouring for whole days
together, we almost reached the base of the stele, a drawing of
which I caused immediately to be made, as well as an impres-
sion on paper, and also a plaster cast, in order to set it up one
day in Berlin. Tliis stele, on which the Sphinx is itself repre-
sented, was erected by Tuthmosis IY ., and dates from the first
year of his reign. Thus, he must have found the Colossus
already there. We are accustomed to regard the Sphinx, in
Egypt, as a portrait of the king, and generally indeed, for that
of a particular king, whose features it is said to represent ;
therefore, with the single exception, as far as I am aware, of
one female sphinx, which represents the wife of King Horus,
they are always andro-sphinxes. In the hieroglyphic written
character, the Sphinx is called Neb (the Lord), and forms
e. g. the middle syllable in the name of the King JSTecta-


But what king does our Colossus represent ? He stands
in front of the second PjTamid, that of Schafra (Chephren),
not exactly in the axis, yet parallel with the sides of the tem-
ple, which stands before it, and in such a manner, as if the rock
beside the Sphinx on the northern side was intended as its
counterpart. Sphinxes, rams, statues, and obelisks, used be-


sides always to stand in former times in pairs before the en-
trances of the temples. But what a powerful impression
would have been made on the approaching worshipper by
two such giant watchmen, between which the ancient path-
way led up to the Temple of Chephren. They would have
been worthy of that period of vast colossal monuments, and
in due proportion with the Pyramid which rises up behind.
I cannot deny that this connexion would be most satisfactory
to me. What other motive would have induced the Theban
kings of the ISth Dynasty, who are alone to be thought
of in the New Monarchy, to adorn the Memphitic Field of
Death with such a wonder of the world, if entirely uncon-
nected with what surrounds it. In addition to this, upon
the steles of Tuthmosis, the name of King Chepheen is
inscribed in a line, which farther on is almost entirely broken
away ; a portion of his Name-Shield, unfortunately quite
isolated, has been still preserved, therefore undoubtedly it
had some sort of reference to the builder of the Pyramid
which is situated behind it.

On the other hand, indeed, the question arises : If King
Chephren was represented here, why does not the image bear
his name ? It is rather designated as Haeem-chti (Horus
in the Horizon), that is, as the image of the Sun-god, the
emblem of all kings, and also Haemachis in one of the
Greek inscriptions which have been found in front of the
Sphinx. It does not appear to me altogether improbable
that Pliny's fable is founded on this, who makes a King
Amasis (Armasis) be buried in the Sphinx ;* for we surely
cannot suppose it was a real sepulchre. Another considera-
tion to be borne in mind is that I have not in general met
with the image of the Sphinx in that oldest period of the
builders of the Pyramids ; yet too much stress need not be
laid on this ; the form of the Sphinx is not often found, even
in inscriptions or representations, in the New Monarchy. In
short, the true CEdipus is still wanting for this king of all

* I liave spoken more at length on this in my Chronology of the
Egyptians, vol. i., p. 294.



spbinxes. He who can clear away the inexhaustible sand-
flood which is again burying that very field of tombs, and who
can expose to view the base of the Sphinx, the ancient path-
way to the temple, and the surrounding hills, might soon
venture to decide this question.

The enigmas of history are in this land associated with
many enigmas and wonders in nature, which I must not
leave wholly unnoticed. I must at least describe to you the
most recent.

I had descended into a mummy-pit with Abeken, that
we might open some sarcophagi we had discovered, and I was
not a little astonished, on stepping out, to fijid myself in an
actual snow-storm of locusts, which almost darkening the
sky, moved above our heads in hundreds of thousands from
the desert in the south-west towards the valley. I fancied
it was a single flight, and in haste called the others out of
the tombs, that they might witness the Egyptian wonder
before it had passed away. But the flight continued, in-
deed the workmen said, it had even begun an hour previously.
We now observed for the first time, that the whole country,
far and wide, was covered with locusts. I sent a servant
into the desert to find out the breadth of the flight. He
ran for about a quarter of an hour, then returned, and said
that still as far as he had been able to see, he could discover
no termination. I rode home, still in the midst of the
storm of locusts. They fell down in heaps on the border of
the fruitful plain ; and so it lasted the whole day through,
till evening, and so on the next, from morning till night,
to the third, indeed to the sixth day, and even longer, but
in less numerous flights. The day before yesterday, a storm
of rain seems for the first time to have beaten down the
rear-guard, and destroyed them in the desert. The Arabs
make great smoking fires in their fields, they rattle and
scream all day long to protect their crops from the unex-
pected invasion. But it will avail them little. These mil-
lions of graminivorous winged insects cover even the ad-
jacent sandy plain like a new living vegetation, to such a


degree, that scarcely anything is to be seen of tlie ground ;
and when they swarm up from any point, they fall down
again on whatever is in the immediate neighbourhood ; ex-
hausted by their long journey, in their eagerness they fill
their hollow stomachs, and, as if conscious of their enormous
numbers, they appear to have lost even all fear of their
natural enemies, man, animals, smoke, and noise. But what
is most wonderful to me, is their origin from the naked
desert, and the instinct which has led them from some oasis
across the inhospitable sandy sea, to the rich pastures of the
Nile valley. The last time that this land-plague of Egypt
exhibited itself to a similar extent was above fourteen years
ago. The people say that it is sent by the comet which we
have observed in the south-west for the last twelve days, and
which now, in the hours of evening, since it is no longer
outshone by the moon, again stretches its magnificent tail
of fire across the heavens. The zodiacal light, which is so
rarely seen in the north, has also been visible of late almost
every evening.

I have only now been enabled completely to conclude my
account with Gizeh, and to combine the historical results.
I have every reason to rejoice over it; the 4th and 5th
Dynasties are completed, with the exception of one king. I
have just received the somewhat illegible drawing of a stone
which has been bmlt into a wall in the village of Abusir,
representing a series of kings of the 4th and 5th Dynas-
ties upon their thrones, and, as it appears, in chronological
order. I intend to ride there myself to see the original.


Saqdra, the \Sth April, 1843.

I HASTEN to communicate to you an event which I should
not like you to hear for the first time from other quarters,
perhaps with alterations and exaggerations. Our camp, a few
days ago, was attacked and plundered during tlie night by


an armed "band ; yet none of our party were seriously in-
jured, and nothing that is irreparable was lost. The affair
therefore, is over, and the consequences may only prove a
useful lesson to us. But I must first go back several days
in my journal.

On the 3rd of April, his R.H. Prince Albert (of Prussia)
returned to Cairo from Upper Egypt. The following day I
visited the city, and laid before the prince a portion of our
labours, in which he especially took a lively interest as he had
abeady seen more of this land of wonders than we ourselves,
and the field of Pyramids alone he had still left unvisited.
On his first arrival in Cairo, I was absent on an excursion of
several days to the Taium, with Abeken and Bonomi. The
prince returned at the very time of the celebration of some
of the chief festivals of the Mahometans, which, had he
not been there, I should probably have neglected to attend.
On the 6th, the entrance of the returning caravan of pilgrims
from Mecca was welcomed by a solemn festival, and, some
days later, the birthday of the Prophet, "Mulid e' ]N"ebbi,"
was celebrated, one of the most original feasts of the entire
East. The principal actors in it are dervishes, who spend
the day in processions, and perform their horribly extatic
dances, called sikrs, in the evening, in tents illuminated
by coloured lamps, which are erected in the avenues of the
Ezbekieh. Between thirty and forty of this religious sect
place themselves in a circle, and, keeping time, begin first
slowly, then gradually more vehemently, to throw the upper
part of their bodies, which are naked, backwards and forwards
into the most violent distortions, like people who are pos-
sessed. At the same time, they ejaculate in a rhythm, with
a loud screaming voice, their Prophet's sajnug. La ilaha
ill' Allah ("There is no Ood but Allah"), which, gra-
dually stammered out lower and more feebly, is finally almost
rattled in the throat, till at length, their strength being en-
tirely exhausted, some fall down, others withdraw reeling, and
the broken circle is, after a short pause, replaced by another.
What a fearful, barbarous worship, which the astonished


multitude, great and small, people of condition and those
of inferior rank, contemplate with seriousness or in stupid
veneration, and in which they themselves not unfrequently
take an active part. The god who is appealed to is evi-
dently much leas the object of adoration than the appeal-
ing, raptured saints themselves ; for the crazy and the
simple, or men and women who are physically disordered in
other ways, are very generally held sacred by the Mahome-
tans, and are treated with great reverence. It i^ the de-
moniacal force in nature, acting without being comprehended,
and therefore regarded with fear, which is worsliipped by the
natural man wherever he perceives it, because he feels that
it is connected with, yet not under the control of his mental
faculties ; first, in the mighty elements, then in the wonder-
ful instincts of animals — to us dark, yet subject to a law ;
finally, in the still more exciting, extatic, or generally ab-
normal psychological conditions of his own race. We must
indeed, regai'd the Egyptian worship of animals — in as far as
it was not merely a symbolic embodiment of deeper and
more refined ideas — as resting on the same basis of a uni-
versal worship of nature ; and the adoration paid to men with
disordered intellects, which appears occasionally in other
nations also, may be considered as a remarkable ofiset from
that tendency. Whether such conditions really exist at the
present time, or whether, as among the dervishes, it is pro-
duced artificially, and is intentionally cherished, will not be
detected by the multitude ; and besides, for the individual
case, it is indiflerent. An uncomfortable feeling of fear
creeps over us in such a neighbourhood, and we feel it
necessary to avoid uttering any expressions, or even to give
a sign of disgust, or to betray that we see through it, lest
we should direct the brutal outbursts on ourselves.

The festival, which lasts nine days, closes with a pecuHar
ceremony called Doseh, the Trampling, but which I could
not bear to look at. The sheikh of the Saadieh dervishes
rides to the chief sheikh of all the dervishes in Egypt,
El Bekri. On the way thither, a great number of these


holy people, and others who do not consider themselves in-
ferior to them in piety, throw themselves flat on the ground,
face downwards, and in such a manner that the feet of one
always lies close to the head of another. The sheikh
then rides over this living carpet of human bodies, and his
horse is obliged to be led on each side by a servant, to com-
pel it to make this march, unnatural even to the animal.
Each body receives two treads from the horse ; the greater
number spring up again unhurt, but whoever comes away
seriously, or, as sometimes occurs, mortally injured, has, be-
sides, this disgrace, that it is believed that on the previous
day he had either misunderstood or neglected to say the
proper prayers and charm-formularies, which were alone able
to protect him.

On the 7th April, Erbkam and I accompanied the prince
to the Pyramids, first of all to those of Gizeh. The Pyramid
of Cheops was ascended, and the interior was visited. In
order to exhibit the beautiful tomb of Prince Merhet, I
caused it to be re-opened. We next proceeded to our camp
at Saqara.

Here we heard that during tlie previous night a daring
robbery had been committed in Abeken's tent. He was
sleeping in it, on his return from Cairo, beside a burning
light, when his full portmanteau, pistols, and other objects
lying near, were purloined. It was only whde the thief was
making his retreat that a noise was heard by the slumbering
guards, composing the night-watch, immediately behind the
tent ; the darkness, however, hindered all pursuit.

After the prince had also seen the most beautiful tomb of
Saqara, we rode across the plain to Mitrahinneh, to \'isit the
pounds of ruins at Memphis, and the half-buried colossal gra-
nite statue of Eamses INIiamun (Sesostris)*, the face of which
is still preserved almost without a blemish. It was late
in the evening before we again reached Cairo, after a

♦ We have been told on good authority that this statue is not com-
posed of granite, but of limestone from the neishbouring hills. — Tb.


day 'a journey ol' sixteen hours, hardly interrupted even by
short pauses for repose ; but the unusual exertion seemed
rather to heiijhten than to depress the priuee's cheerful
cnjoyim-nt in irivilliug.

i ' . ly we visited the mosques of the city, which

are : . , irtly by their splendour, and in part, also,

are peculiarly interesting for the history of architecture in
the middle ages, as the earliest general application of the
pointed an'h is here visible. The questions which relate to
this most characteristic department of architecture, the so-
called gothic style, interested me so deeply a few years
ago, that even liere I could not forbear following my old
pursuit. Tlic pointed arch is found in the oldest mosques,
even as far back as the ninth century. Upon the conquest
of Sicily by the Arabs, the new form of arch was transported
to that island, where, in the eleventh century, it was found