Ida Pfeiffer.

A Visit to the Holy Land, Egypt, and Italy online

. (page 19 of 26)
Online LibraryIda PfeifferA Visit to the Holy Land, Egypt, and Italy → online text (page 19 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


remarkable for the rarity of the plants it contains, nor for the
beauty of their arrangement. The views from some of the apartments,
as well as that from the garden, are very lovely.

Opposite the palace a great mosque is being built as a mausoleum for
Mehemet Ali. The despot probably reckons on having some years yet
to live, for much remains to be done before the beautiful structure
is completed. The pillars and the walls of the mosque are covered
with the most splendid marble, of a yellowish-white colour.

The before-mentioned buildings, namely, Joseph's well, the palace
and gardens, and the mosque, are all situate on a high rock, to
which a single broad road leads from Cairo. Here we behold a
threefold sea, namely, of houses, of the Nile, and a sea of sand, on
which the lofty Pyramids rise in the distance like isolated rocks.
The mountains of Mokattam close the background, and a number of
lovely gardens and plantations of date-palms surround the town.
With one glance we can behold the most striking contrasts. A wreath
of the most luxurious vegetation runs round the town, and beyond
lies the dreary monotony of the desert. The colour of the Nile is
so exactly similar to that of the sand forming its shores, that at a
distance the line of demarcation cannot be traced.

On my way homewards I met several fellahs carrying large baskets
full of dates, and stopped one of them, in order to purchase some of
this celebrated fruit. Unfortunately for me, the dates were still
unripe, hard, of a brick-red colour, and so unpalatable that I could
not eat one of them. A week or ten days afterwards I was able to
procure some ripe ones; they were of a brown colour like the dried
fruit, the tender skin could easily be peeled off, and I liked them
better than dried dates, because they were more pulpy and not so
sweet. A much more precious fruit, the finest production of Egypt
and Syria, almost superior to the pine-apple in taste, is the
banana, which is so delicate that it almost melts in the mouth.
This fruit cannot be dried, and is therefore never exported. Sugar
melons and peaches are to be had in abundance, but their flavour is
not very good. I also preferred the Alexandrian grape to that of
Cairo.

The bazaars, through which we rode in all directions, displayed
nothing very remarkable in manufactures or in productions of nature
and art.

From first to last I spent a week at Cairo, and occupied the whole
of my time from morning till night in viewing the curiosities of the
town.

I only saw two mosques, that of Sultan Hassan and of Sultan Amru.
Before I was permitted to enter the first of these edifices, they
compelled me to take off my shoes, and walk in my stockings over a
courtyard paved with great stones. The stones had become so heated
by the solar rays, that I was obliged to run fast, to avoid
scorching the soles of my feet. I cannot give an opinion touching
the architectural beauty of this building, which is built in such a
simple style that none but a connoisseur would discover its merits.
I was better pleased with the mosque of Sultan Amru, which contains
several halls, and is supported on numerous columns. The mosques in
Cairo struck me as having a more ancient and venerable appearance
than those of Constantinople, while the latter, on the other hand,
were larger and more elegant.

I also visited the island of Rodda, which is worthy the name of a
beautiful garden. It lies opposite to old Cairo, on the Nile, and
is said to be a favourite walk of the townspeople, though I was
there twice without meeting any one. The garden is spacious, and
contains all kinds of tropical productions: here I saw the sugar-
cane, which greatly resembles the stem of the Indian maize; the
cotton-tree, growing to a height of five or six feet; the banana-
tree, the short-stemmed date-palm, the coffee-tree, and many others.
Flowers were also there in quantities which must be cultivated with
great care in the hot-houses of my native country. The whole of
this collection of plants is very tastefully arranged, and shines
forth in the height of luxuriant beauty. It is customary to lay the
entire island under water every evening by means of artificial
canals. This system is universally carried out throughout the
Egyptian plantations, and is, in fact, the only method by which
vegetation can be preserved in its freshest green in spite of the
burning heat. The care of this fairy grove is entrusted to a German
ornamental gardener; unfortunately I was informed of this fact too
late, otherwise I should have visited my countryman and requested an
explanation of many things which appeared strange to me.

In the midst of the garden is a beautiful grotto, ornamented within
and without by a great variety of shells from the Red Sea, which
give it a most striking appearance. At this spot, towards which
many paths lead, all strewed with minute shells instead of gravel,
Moses is said to have been found in his cradle of bulrushes(?).
Immediately adjoining the garden we find a summer residence
belonging to Mehemet Ali.

The well shewn as that into which Joseph was thrust by his brethren
lies about two miles distant from the town, in a village on the road
to Suez. Half a mile off a very large and venerable sycamore-tree
was pointed out to me as the one in the shade of which the holy
family rested on their way to Egypt; and a walk of another quarter
of a mile brings us to the garden of Boghos Bey, in the midst of
which stands one of the finest and largest obelisks of Upper Egypt:
it is still in good condition, and completely covered with
hieroglyphics. The garden, however, offers nothing remarkable. The
ancient city of Heliopolis is said to have been built not far off;
but at the present day not a vestige of it remains.

The road to this garden already lies partly in the desert. At first
the way winds through avenues of trees and past gardens; but soon
the vast desert extends to the right, while beautiful orange and
citron groves still skirt the left side of the path. Here we
continually meet herds of camels, but a dromedary is a rare sight.

EXCURSION TO THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZEH.

August 25th, 1842.

At four in the afternoon I quitted Cairo, crossed two arms of the
Nile, and a couple of hours afterwards arrived safely at Gizeh. As
the Nile had overflowed several parts of the country, we were
compelled frequently to turn out of our way, and sometimes to cross
canals and ride through water; now and then, where it was too deep
for our asses, we were obliged to be carried across. As there is no
inn at Gizeh I betook myself to Herr Klinger, to whom I brought a
letter of recommendation from Cairo. Herr K. is a Bohemian by
birth, and stands in the service of the viceroy of Egypt, as musical
instructor to the young military band. I was made very welcome
here, and Herr Klinger seemed quite rejoiced at seeing a visitor
with whom he could talk in German. Our conversation was of
Beethoven and Mozart, of Strauss and Lanne. The fame of the bravura
composers of the present day, Liszt and Thalberg, had not yet
penetrated to these regions. I requested my kind host to shew me
the establishment for hatching eggs that exists at Gizeh. He
immediately sent for the superintendent, who happened however to be
absent, and to have locked up the keys. In this place about 8000
eggs are hatched by artificial warmth during the months of March and
April. The eggs are laid on large flat plates, which are
continually kept at an equal temperature by heat applied below the
surface: they are turned several times during the day. As the
thousands of little chickens burst their shells, they are sold, not
by number or weight, but by the measure. This egg-hatching house
has the effect of rendering poultry plentiful and cheap.

After chatting away the evening very pleasantly I sought my couch,
tired with my ride and with the heat, and rejoicing at the sight of
the soft divan, which seemed to smile upon me, and promise rest and
strength for the following day. But as I was about to take
possession of my couch, I noticed on the wall a great number of
black spots. I took the candle to examine what it could be, and
nearly dropped the light with horror on discovering that the wall
was covered with bugs. I had never seen such a disgusting sight.
All hopes of rest on the divan were now effectually put to flight.
I sat down on a chair, and waited until every thing was perfectly
still; then I slipped into the entrance-hall, and lay down on the
stones, wrapped in my cloak.

Though I had escaped from one description of vermin, I became a prey
to innumerable gnats. I had passed many uncomfortable nights during
my journey, but this was worse than any thing I had yet endured.

However, this was only an additional inducement for rising early,
and long before sunrise I was ready to continue my journey. Before
daybreak I took leave of my kind host, and rode with my servant
towards the gigantic structures. To-day we were again obliged
frequently to go out of our route on account of the rising of the
Nile; owing to this delay, two hours elapsed before we reached the
broad arm of the Nile, dividing us from the Libyan desert, on which
the Pyramids stand, and over which two Arabs carried me. This was
one of the most disagreeable things that can be imagined. Two large
powerful men stood side by side; I mounted on their shoulders, and
held fast by their heads, while they supported my feet in a
horizontal position above the waters, which at some places reached
almost to their armpits, so that I feared every moment that I should
sit in the water. Besides this, my supporters continually swayed to
and fro, because they could only withstand the force of the current
by a great exertion of strength, and I was apprehensive of falling
off. This disagreeable passage lasted above a quarter of an hour.
After wading for another fifteen minutes through deep sand, we
arrived at the goal of our little journey.

The two colossal pyramids are of course visible directly we quit the
town, and we keep them almost continually in sight. But here the
expectations I had cherished were again disappointed, for the aspect
of these giant structures did not astonish me greatly. Their height
appears less remarkable than it otherwise would, from the
circumstance that their base is buried in sand, and thus hidden from
view. There is also neither a tree nor a hut, nor any other object
which could serve to display their huge proportions by the force of
contrast.

As it was still early in the day and not very hot, I preferred
ascending the pyramid before venturing into its interior. My
servant took off my rings and concealed them carefully, telling me
that this was a very necessary precaution, as the fellows who take
the travellers by the hands to assist them in mounting the pyramids
have such a dexterous knack of drawing the rings from their fingers,
that they seldom perceive their loss until too late.

I took two Arabs with me, who gave me their hands, and pulled me up
the very large stones. Any one who is at all subject to dizziness
would do very wrong in attempting this feat, for he might be lost
without remedy. Let the reader picture to himself a height of 500
feet, without a railing or a regular staircase by which to make the
ascent. At one angle only the immense blocks of stone have been
hewn in such a manner that they form a flight of steps, but a very
inconvenient one, as many of these stone blocks are above four feet
in height, and offer no projection on which you can place your foot
in mounting. The two Arabs ascended first, and then stretched out
their hands to pull me from one block to another. I preferred
climbing over the smaller blocks without assistance. In three
quarters of an hour's time I had gained the summit of the pyramid.

For a long time I stood lost in thought, and could hardly realise
the fact that I was really one of the favoured few who are happy
enough to be able to contemplate the most stupendous and
imperishable monument ever erected by human hands. At the first
moment I was scarcely able to gaze down from the dizzy height into
the deep distance; I could only examine the pyramid itself, and seek
to familiarise myself with the idea that I was not dreaming.
Gradually, however, I came to myself, and contemplated the landscape
which lay extended beneath me. From my elevated position I could
form a better estimate of the gigantic structure, for here the fact
that the base was buried in sand did not prejudice the general
effect. I saw the Nile flowing far beneath me, and a few Bedouins,
whom curiosity had attracted to the spot, looked like very pigmies.
In ascending I had seen the immense blocks of stone singly, and
ceased to marvel that these monuments are reckoned among the seven
wonders of the world.

On the castle the view had been fine, but here, where the prospect
was bounded only by the horizon and by the Mokattam mountains, it is
grander by far. I could follow the windings of the river, with its
innumerable arms and canals, until it melted into the far horizon,
which closed the picture on this side. Many blooming gardens, and
the large extensive town with its environs; the immense desert, with
its plains and hills of sand, and the lengthened mountain-range of
Mokattam, - all lay spread before me; and for a long time I sat
gazing around me, and wishing that the dear ones at home had been
with me, to share in my wonder and delight.

But now the time came not only to look down, but to descend. Most
people find this even more difficult than the ascent; but with me
the contrary was the case. I never grow giddy, and so I advanced in
the following manner, without the aid of the Arabs. On the smaller
blocks I sprang from one to the other; when a stone of three or four
feet in height was to be encountered, I let myself glide gently
down; and I accomplished my descent with so much grace and agility,
that I reached the base of the pyramid long before my servant. Even
the Arabs expressed their pleasure at my fearlessness on this
dangerous passage.

After eating my breakfast and resting for a short time, I proceeded
to explore the interior. At first I was obliged to cross a heap of
sand and rubbish; for we have to go downwards towards the entrance,
which is so low and narrow that we cannot always stand upright. I
could not have passed along the passage leading into the interior if
the Arabs had not helped me, for it is so steep and so smoothly
paved that, in spite of my conductor's assistance, I slid rather
than walked. The apartment of the king is more spacious, and
resembles a small hall. On one side stands a little empty
sarcophagus without a lid. The walls of the chambers and of the
passages are covered with large and beautifully polished slabs of
granite and marble. The remaining passages, or rather dens, which
are shown here, I did not see. It may be very interesting for
learned men and antiquarians thus to search every corner; but for a
woman like myself, brought hither only by an insatiable desire to
travel, and capable of judging of the beauties of nature and art
only by her own simple feelings, it was enough to have ascended the
pyramid of Cheops, and to have seen something of its interior. This
pyramid is said to be the loftiest of all. It stands on a rock 150
feet in height, which is invisible, being altogether buried in sand.
The height of the vast structure is above 500 feet. It was erected
by Cheops more than 3000 years ago, and 100,000 men are said to have
been employed in its construction for twenty-six years. It is a
most interesting structure, built of immense masses of rock, fixed
together with a great deal of art, and seemingly calculated to last
an eternity. They look so strong and so well preserved, that many
travellers will no doubt repair hither in coming generations, and
continue the researches commenced long ago.

The Sphynx, a statue of most colossal dimensions, situate at no
great distance from the great pyramid, is so covered with sand that
only the head and a small portion of the bust remain visible. The
head alone is twenty-two feet in height.

After walking about and inspecting every thing, I commenced my
journey back. On the way I once more visited Herr Klinger,
strengthened myself with a hearty meal, and arrived safely at Cairo
late in the evening. Here I wished to take my little purse out of
my pocket, and found that it was gone. Luckily I had only taken one
collonato (Spanish dollar) with me. No one can imagine what
dexterity the Bedouins and Arabs possess in the art of stealing. I
always kept a sharp eye upon my effects, and notwithstanding my
vigilance several articles were pilfered from me, and my purse must
also have been stolen during this excursion. The loss was very
disagreeable to me because it involved that of my box-key. I was,
however, fortunate in finding an expert Arabian locksmith, who
opened my chest and made me a new key, on which occasion I had
another opportunity of seeing how careful it is necessary to be in
all our dealings with these people to avoid being cheated. The key
locked and unlocked my box well, and I paid for it; but immediately
afterwards observed that it was very slightly joined in the middle,
and would presently break. The Arab's tools still lay on the
ground; I immediately seized one of them, and told the man I would
not give it up until he had made me a new key. It was in vain that
he assured me he could not work without his tools; he would not give
my money back, and I kept the implement: by this means I obtained
from him a new and a good key.





CHAPTER XVI.


Christian churches at Cairo - The Esbekie-square - Theatre - Howling
dervishes - Mashdalansher, the birthday of Mahomet - Procession and
religious ceremony - Shubra - Excursion through the desert to Suez -
Hardships of the journey - Scenes in the desert - The camel - Caravans -
Mirage - The Red Sea - Suez - Bedouin camp - Quarrel with the camel-
driver - Departure for Alexandria.

I visited many Christian churches, the finest among which was the
Greek one. On my way thither I saw many streets where there can
hardly have been room for a horseman to pass. The road to the
Armenian church leads through such narrow lanes and gates, that we
were compelled to leave our asses behind; there was hardly room for
two people to pass each other.

On the other hand, I had nowhere seen a more spacious square than
the Esbekie-place in Cairo. The square in Padua is perhaps the only
one that can compare with it in point of size; but this place looks
like a complete chaos. Miserable houses and ruined huts surround
it; and here and there we sometimes come upon a part of an alley or
an unfinished canal. The centre is very uneven, and is filled with
building materials, such as stones, wood, bricks, and beams. The
largest and handsomest house in this square is remarkable as having
been inhabited by Napoleon during his residence at Cairo: it is now
converted into a splendid hotel.

Herr Chamgion, the consul, was kind enough to send me a card of
invitation for the theatre. The building looks like a private
house, and contains a gallery capable of accommodating three or four
hundred people; this gallery is devoted to the use of the ladies.
The performers were all amateurs; they acted an Italian comedy in a
very creditable manner. The orchestra comprised only four
musicians. At the conclusion of the second act the consul's son, a
boy of twelve years, played some variations on the violin very
prettily.

The women, all natives of the Levant, were very elegantly dressed;
they wore the European garb, white muslin dresses with their hair
beautifully braided and ornamented with flowers. Nearly all the
women and girls were handsome, with complexions of a dazzling
whiteness, which we rarely see equalled in Europe. The reason of
this is, perhaps, that they always stay in their houses, and avoid
exposing themselves to the sun and wind.

The following day I visited the abode of the howling dervishes, in
whom I took a lively interest since I had seen their brethren at
Constantinople. The hall, or rather the mosque, in which they
perform their devotions is very splendid. I was not allowed here to
stand among the men as I had done at Constantinople, but was
conducted to a raised gallery, from which I could look down through
a grated window.

The style of devotion and excitement of these dervishes is like that
I had witnessed at Constantinople, without being quite so wild in
its character. Not one of them sank exhausted, and the screeching
and howling were not so loud. Towards the end of their performance
many of the dervishes seized a small tambourine, on which they beat
and produced a most diabolical music.

In the slave-market there was but a meagre selection; all the wares
had been bought, and a new cargo of these unfortunates was daily
expected. I pretended that I wished to purchase a boy and a girl,
in order to gain admittance into the private department. Here I saw
a couple of negro girls of most uncommon beauty. I had not deemed
it possible to find any thing so perfect. Their skin was of a
velvety black, and shone with a peculiar lustre. Their teeth were
beautifully formed and of dazzling whiteness, their eyes large and
lustrous, and their lips thinner than we usually find them among
these people. They wore their hair neatly parted, and arranged in
pretty curls round the head. Poor creatures, who knows into what
hands they might fall! They bowed their heads in anguish, without
uttering a syllable. The sight of the slave-market here inspired me
with a feeling of deep melancholy. The poor creatures did not seem
so careless and merry as those whom I had seen on the market-place
at Constantinople. In Cairo the slaves seemed badly kept; they lay
in little tents, and were driven out, when a purchaser appeared,
very much in the manner of cattle. They were only partially clothed
in some old rags, and looked exhausted and unhappy.

During my short stay at Cairo one of the chief feasts of the
Mahommedans - namely, the Mashdalansher, or birthday of the Prophet -
occurred. This feast is celebrated on a great open space outside
the town. A number of large tents are erected; they are open in
front, and beneath their shelter all kinds of things are carried on.
In one tent, Mahommedans are praying; in another, a party of
dervishes throw themselves with their faces to the ground and call
upon Allah; while in a third, a juggler or storyteller may be
driving his trade. In the midst of all stood a large tent, the
entrance to which was concealed by curtains. Here the "bayaderes"
were dancing; any one can obtain admission by paying a trifling sum.
Of course I went in to see these celebrated dancers. There were,
however, only two pairs; two boys were elegantly clothed in a female
garb, richly decorated with gold coins. They looked very pretty and
delicate, so that I really thought they were girls. The dance
itself is very monotonous, slow, and wearisome; it consists only of
some steps to and fro, accompanied by some rather indecorous
movements of the upper part of the body. These gestures are said to
be very difficult, as the dancer must stand perfectly still, and
only move the upper part of his person. The music consisted of a
tambourine, a flageolet, and a bagpipe. Much has been written
concerning the indecency of these dances; but I am of opinion that
many of our ballets afford much greater cause of complaint. It may,
however, be that other dances are performed of which the general
public are not allowed to be spectators; but I only speak of what is
done openly. I would also by far prefer a popular festival in the
East to a fair in our highly-civilised states. The Oriental feasts
were to me a source of much enjoyment, for the people always behaved
most decorously. They certainly shouted, and pushed, and elbowed
each other like an European mob; but no drunken men were to be seen,
and it was very seldom that a serious quarrel occurred. The
commonest man, too, would never think of offering an insult to one
of the opposite sex. I should feel no compunction in sending a
young girl to this festival, though I should never think of letting
her go to the fair held at Vienna on St. Bridget's day.

The people were assembled in vast numbers, and the crowd was very
great, yet we could pass every where on our donkeys.

At about three o'clock my servant sought out an elevated place for


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryIda PfeifferA Visit to the Holy Land, Egypt, and Italy → online text (page 19 of 26)