R. Talbot Kelly.

Peeps at Many Lands: Egypt online

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R.I., R.B.A., F.R.G.S.





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BY STILL WATERS _on the cover_

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[Illustration: SKETCH-MAP OF EGYPT.]

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Every boy or girl who has read the history of Joseph must often have
wondered what kind of a country Egypt might be, and tried to picture
to themselves the scenes so vividly suggested in the Bible story.

It must have been a startling experience for the little shepherd boy,
who, stolen from his home among the quiet hills of Canaan, so suddenly
found himself an inmate of a palace, and, in his small way, a
participator in the busy whirl of life of a royal city.

No contrast could possibly have been greater than between his simple
pastoral life spent in tending the flocks upon the hillsides and the
magnificence of the city of Pharaoh, and how strange a romance it is
to think of the little slave boy eventually becoming the virtual ruler
of the most wealthy and most highly cultured country in the world!

And then in course of time the very brothers who had so cruelly sold
him into bondage were forced by famine to come to Joseph as suppliants
for food, and, in their descendants, presently to become the meanest
slaves in the land, persecuted and oppressed until their final
deliverance by Moses.

How long ago it all seems when we read these old Bible stories! Yet,
when 4,000 years ago necessity compelled Abraham, with Sarah his wife,
to stay awhile in Egypt, they were lodged at Tanis, a royal city
founded by one of a succession of kings which for 3,000 years before
Abraham's day had governed the land, and modern discoveries have
proved that even before _that_ time there were other kings and an
earlier civilization.

How interesting it is to know that to-day we may still find records of
these early Bible times in the sculptured monuments which are
scattered all over the land, and to know that in the hieroglyphic
writings which adorn the walls of tombs or temples many of the events
we there read about are narrated.

Many of the temples were built by the labour of the oppressed
Israelites, others were standing long before Moses confounded their
priests or besought Pharaoh to liberate his people. We may ourselves
stand in courts where, perhaps, Joseph took part in some temple rite,
while the huge canal called the "Bahr Yusef" (or river of Joseph),
which he built 6,300 years ago, still supplies the province Fayoum
with water.

Ancient Tanis also, from whose tower Abraham saw "wonders in the field
of Zoan," still exists in a heap of ruins, extensive enough to show
how great a city it had been, and from its mounds the writer has often
witnessed the strange mirage which excited the wonder of the

Everywhere throughout the land are traces of the children of Israel,
many of whose descendants still remain in the land of Goshen, and in
every instance where fresh discovery has thrown light upon the subject
the independent record of history found in hieroglyph or papyrus
confirms the Bible narrative, so that we may be quite sure when we
read these old stories that they are not merely legends, open to
doubt, but are the true histories of people who actually lived.

As you will see from what I have told you, Egypt is perhaps the oldest
country in the world - the oldest, that is, in civilization. No one
quite knows how old it is, and no record has been discovered to tell

All through the many thousands of years of its history Egypt has had a
great influence upon other nations, and although the ancient Persians,
Greeks, and Romans successively dominated it, these conquering races
have each in turn disappeared, while Egypt goes on as ever, and its
people remain.

Egypt has been described as the centre of the world, and if we look at
the map we will see how true this is. Situated midway between Europe,
Africa, and Asia in the old days of land caravans, most of the trade
between these continents passed through her hands, while her ports on
the Mediterranean controlled the sea trade of the Levant.

All this helped to make Egypt wealthy, and gave it great political
importance, so that very early in the world's history it enjoyed a
greater prosperity and a higher civilization than any of its
neighbours. Learned men from all countries were drawn to it in search
of fresh knowledge, for nowhere else were there such seats of
learning as in the Nile cities, and it is acknowledged that the highly
trained priesthood of the Pharaohs practised arts and sciences of
which we in these days are ignorant, and have failed to discover.

In 30 B.C. the last of the Pharaohs disappeared, and for 400
years the Romans ruled in Egypt, many of their emperors restoring the
ancient temples as well as building new ones; but all the Roman
remains in Egypt are poor in comparison with the real Egyptian art,
and, excepting for a few small temples, little now remains of their
buildings but the heaps of rubbish which surround the magnificent
monuments of Egypt's great period.

During the Roman occupation Christianity became the recognized
religion of the country, and to-day the Copts (who are the real
descendants of the ancient Egyptians) still preserve the primitive
faith of those early times, and, with the Abyssinians, are perhaps the
oldest Christian church now existing.

The greatest change in the history of Egypt, however, and the one that
has left the most permanent effect upon it, was the Mohammedan
invasion in A.D. 640, and I must tell you something about
this, because to the great majority of people who visit Egypt the two
great points of interest are its historical remains and the beautiful
art of the Mohammedans. The times of the Pharaohs are in the past, and
have the added interest of association with the Bible; this period of
antiquity is a special study for the historian and the few who are
able to decipher hieroglyphic writing, but the Mohammedan era, though
commencing nearly 200 years before Egbert was crowned first King of
England, continues to the present day, and the beautiful mosques, as
their churches are called (many of which were built long before there
were any churches in our own country), are still used by the Moslems.

Nothing in history is so remarkable as the sudden rise to power of the
followers of Mohammed. An ill-taught, half-savage people, coming from
an unknown part of Arabia, in a very few years they had become masters
of Syria, Asia Minor, Persia, and Egypt, and presently extended their
religion all through North Africa, and even conquered the southern
half of Spain, and to-day the Faith of Islam, as their religion is
called, is the third largest in the world.

Equally surprising as their accession to power is the very beautiful
art they created, first in Egypt and then throughout Tunis, Algeria,
Morocco, and Spain. The Moslem churches in Cairo are extremely
beautiful, and of a style quite unlike anything that the world had
known before. Some of my readers, perhaps, may have seen pictures of
them and of the Alhambra in Spain, probably the most elegant and
ornate palace ever built.

No country in the world gives one so great a sense of age as Egypt,
and although it has many beauties, and the life of the people to-day is
most picturesque, as we will presently see, it is its extreme
antiquity which most excites the imagination, for, while the whole
Bible history from Abraham to the Apostles covers a period of only
2,000 years, the known history of Egypt commenced as far back as
6,000 years ago! From the sphinx at Ghizeh, which is so ancient that
no one knows its origin, to the great dam at Assuan, monument of its
present day, each period of its history has left _some_ record, some
tomb or temple, which we may study, and it is this more than anything
else which makes Egypt so attractive to thoughtful people.



It would naturally be supposed that a country which for so long a time
exercised such influence upon the world at large would be extensive
and densely populated.

Neither is the case, however, for though upon the map Egypt appears to
be a large country, the greater part consists of rock and burning
sand, and is practically uninhabited.

The _real_ land of Egypt is the narrow strip of alluvial soil which
forms the Nile banks, and the fertile delta which spreads fan-like
from Cairo to the sea. These two divisions of the land practically
constitute Upper and Lower Egypt. In area each is less than Wales,
while the total population of the country is not twice that of London.

It is its extreme fertility which has made Egypt prosperous, and
throughout the world's history it has been a granary for the nations,
for while drought and famine might affect other lands, Egypt has
always been able to supply food to its neighbours.

How does this come about? Let me try and explain.

Thousands of years ago, when the world was very young, the whole land
was covered by the sea, which is plainly shown by the fossils
embedded in the rocks, and which lie scattered over its highest

As the sea receded, the Nile, then a mighty river, began to cut its
channel through the rock, and poured into the sea somewhere about
where Cairo now stands.

As the ages passed the river cut deeper and deeper into its rocky bed,
leaving on either side the mountains which hem in its narrow valley,
and at the same time depositing along its banks and in the delta
forming at its mouth the rich alluvial mud which it had carried with
it from the heart of Africa.

In this way the Egypt of history has been formed, but, surrounded as
it is by sandy wastes, and often swept by hot desert winds, no rain
falls to bring life to the fields, or enable the rich soil to produce
the crops which are its source of wealth.

Nature provides a remedy, however, and the river which first formed
the land is also its life-giver, for every year the Nile overflows its
banks, re-fertilizing the soil, and filling the canals and reservoirs
with water sufficient for the year's needs, without which Egypt would
remain a barren, sun-baked land, instead of the fertile country it is.

The first view of Egypt as it is approached from the sea is
disappointing, for the low-lying delta is hardly raised at all above
sea-level, and its monotony is only broken by an occasional hillock or
the lofty minarets of the coast towns.

[Illustration: AN IRRIGATED FIELD.]

Formerly the Nile had several mouths, and from many seaports Egypt
carried on its trade with the outside world. To-day only Rosetta and
Damietta remain to give their names to the two branches by which
alone the Nile now seeks the sea. These interesting seaports, mediæval
and richly picturesque, are no longer the prosperous cities they once
were, for railways have diverted traffic from the Nile, and nearly all
the seaborne trade of Egypt is now carried from Alexandria or Port
Said, the northern entrance to the Suez Canal, and it is by either of
these two ports that modern visitors make their entry into Egypt.

Alexandria is interesting as the city founded by Alexander the Great,
but with the exception of Pompey's pillar and its ancient catacombs
has little attraction for visitors. The town is almost entirely
Italian in character, and is peopled by so many different races that
it hardly seems Egypt at all; boys, however, would enjoy a visit to
the Ras-el-Tīn Fort, which figured so largely in the bombardment of
Alexandria, and away to the east, near Rosetta, is Aboukīr Bay, the
scene of a more stirring fight, for it was here that, in A.D.
1798, Nelson destroyed the French fleet,[1] and secured for Britain
the command of the Mediterranean.

[Footnote 1: In the "Battle of the Nile."]

After the monotony of a sea voyage, landing at Port Said is amusing.
The steamer anchors in mid-stream, and is quickly surrounded by gaily
painted shore boats, whose swarthy occupants - half native, half
Levantine - clamber on board, and clamour and wrangle for the
possession of your baggage. They are noisy fellows, but once your
boatman is selected, landing at the little stages which lie in the
harbour is quickly effected, and you and your belongings are safely
deposited at the station, and your journey to Cairo begun.

Port Said is a rambling town, whose half brick, half timber buildings
have a general air of dilapidation and unfinish which is depressing.
The somewhat picturesque principal bazaar street is soon exhausted,
and excepting for the imposing offices of the Suez Canal Company, and
the fine statue to De Lesseps, recently erected on the breakwater,
Port Said has little else to excite the curiosity of the visitors;
built upon a mud-bank formed of Suez Canal dredgings, its existence is
its most interesting feature, and the white breakers of the
Mediterranean, above which it is so little raised, seem ever ready to
engulf it as they toss and tumble upon its narrow beach.

Leaving Port Said behind, the train travels slowly along the canal
bank, and we begin to enter Egypt.

On the right the quiet waters of Lake Menzala, fringed with tall reeds
and eucalyptus trees, stretches to the far horizon, where quaintly
shaped fishing-boats disappear with their cargoes towards distant
Damietta. Thousands of wild birds, duck of all kinds, ibis and
pelican, fish in the shallows, or with the sea-gulls wheel in dense
masses in the air, for this is a reservation as a breeding-green for
wild-fowl, where they are seldom, if ever, disturbed.

On the left is the Suez Canal, the world's highway to the Far East,
and ships of all nations pass within a stone's throw of your train.
Between, and in strange contrast with the blueness of the canal, runs
a little watercourse, reed fringed, and turbid in its rapid flow.
This is the "sweet-water" canal, and gives its name to one of our
engagements with Arabi's army, and which, from the far-distant Nile,
brings fresh water to supply Port Said and the many stations on its

To the south and east stretches the mournful desert in which the
Israelites began their forty years of wandering, and which thousands
of Moslems annually traverse on their weary pilgrimage to Mecca; while
in all directions is mirage, so perfect in its deception as to mislead
the most experienced of travellers at times.

Roaming over the desert which hems in the delta, solitary shepherds,
strangely clad and wild-looking, herd their flocks of sheep and goats
which browse upon the scrub. These are the descendants of those same
Ishmaelites who sold Joseph into Egypt, and the occasional encampment
of some Bedouin tribe shows us something of the life which the
patriarchs might have led.

In contrast with the desert, the delta appears very green and fertile,
for we are quickly in the land of Goshen, most beautiful, perhaps, of
all the delta provinces.

The country is very flat and highly cultivated. In all directions, as
far as the eye can see, broad stretches of corn wave in the gentle
breeze, while brilliant patches of clover or the quieter-coloured
onion crops vary the green of the landscape. The scent of flowering
bean-fields fills the air, and the hum of wild bees is heard above the
other sounds of the fields. Palm groves lift their feathery plumes
towards the sky, and mulberry-trees and dark-toned tamarisks shade the
water-wheels, which, with incessant groanings, are continually turned
by blindfolded bullocks. Villages and little farmsteads are frequent,
and everywhere are the people, men, women, and children, working on
the land which so richly rewards their labour.

The soil is very rich, and, given an ample water-supply, produces two
or three crops a year, while the whole surface is so completely under
cultivation that there is no room left for grass or wild flowers to
grow. Many crops are raised besides those I have already mentioned,
such as maize, barley, rice, and flax, and in the neighbourhood of
towns and villages radishes, cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes are
plentifully grown. Formerly wheat was Egypt's principal crop, but
since its introduction by Mohammed Ali in A.D. 1820, _cotton_
has taken first place amongst its products, and is of so fine a
quality that it is the dearest in the world, and is used almost
entirely for mixing with silk or the manufacture of sateen. Cotton,
however, is very exhausting to the soil, and where it is grown the
land must have its intervals of rest.

No sooner is one crop gathered than yokes of oxen, drawing strangely
shaped wooden ploughs, prepare the land for another; and the newly
turned soil looks black against the vivid clover fields, in which
tethered cattle graze; while large flocks of sheep of many colours, in
which brown predominates, follow the ploughs and feed upon the
stubble, for the native is as economical as he is industrious.

Peopled by a race of born farmers, and in soil and climate provided by
Nature with all that could be desired for crop-raising, only rain is
lacking to bring the fields to fruition, and from the earliest times a
great system of irrigation has existed in Egypt. It is curious to see
in many directions the white lateen sails of boats which appear to be
sailing over the fields. In reality they are sailing on the canals
which intersect the country in all directions, and by means of
thousands of water-wheels and pumps supply the land with water. Though
the Nile overflows its banks, its inundation does not cover the whole
land; so great arterial canals which are filled at high Nile have been
constructed throughout the country. From these, smaller canals branch
right and left, carrying the water to the furthest corners of the
land, while such boundary marks as exist to separate different estates
or farms usually take the form of a watercourse.

These canal banks form the highways of the country, and are thronged
by travellers and laden camels, while large flocks of sheep and goats
are herded along their sloping sides. Every here and there are little
enclosures, spread with clean straw or mats, and surrounded by a fence
of cornstalks or low walls of mud. These are the holy places where in
the intervals of work the devout Moslem may say his prayers; and,
often bowered by shady trees, a whitewashed dome marks the
burial-place of some saint or village notable.

The scenery of the delta, though flat, is luxuriant; for Mohammed Ali
not only introduced cotton into Egypt, but compelled the people to
plant trees, so that the landscape is varied by large groves of
date-palms, and the sycamores and other trees which surround the
villages and give shade to the paths and canal banks. It is a pastoral
land, luxuriantly green; and how beautiful it is as the night falls,
and the last of the sunset lingers in the dew-laden air, wreathed with
the smoke of many fires; and, as the stars one by one appear in the
darkening sky, and the labour of the field ceases, the lowing cattle
wend their slow ways toward the villages and the bull-frogs in their
thousands raise their evensong. No scenery in the world has, to my
mind, such mellow and serene beauty as these farm-lands of Lower
Egypt, and in a later chapter I will tell you more about them, and of
the simple people whose life is spent in the fields.



Usually its capital may be taken as typical of its country; but in
Egypt this is not so. Cairo is essentially different from anything
else in Egypt, not only in its buildings and architecture, but in the
type and mode of life of its inhabitants.

How shall I give you any real idea of a city which is often considered
to be the most beautiful Oriental capital in the world, as it is
certainly one of the most interesting? From a distance, looking across
the fields of Shoubra,[2] it is very beautiful, especially at sunset,
when beyond the dark green foliage of the sycamore and cypress trees
which rise above the orange groves, the domes and minarets of the
native quarter gleam golden in the sunlight. Behind is the citadel,
crowned by Mohammed Ali's tomb-mosque of white marble, whose tall twin
minarets seem to tower above the rosy-tinted heights of the Mokattam
Hills. Even here the noise of the city reaches you in a subdued hum,
for Cairo is not only a large city, but it is densely populated, and
contains nearly a twelfth part of the whole population of Egypt. Away
towards the sunset the pyramids stand out clearly against the glowing
sky, and the tall masts and sails of the Nile boats reach high above
the palm groves and buildings which screen the river from view.

[Footnote 2: A distant suburb of Cairo.]

Cairo consists of two distinct and widely different parts, the
Esbikiyeh and Ismailieh quarters of the west end, built for and almost
entirely occupied by Europeans, and the purely native town, whose
streets and bazaars, mosques and palaces, have remained practically
unchanged for centuries.

At one time the European quarters were in many ways charming, though
too much like some fashionable continental town to be altogether
picturesque; but of late years the shady avenues and gardens of the
west end have entirely disappeared to make way for streets of
commercial buildings, while the new districts of Kasr-el-Dubara and
Ghezireh have arisen to house the well-to-do. Our interest in Cairo,
therefore, is centred in the native quarters, where miles of streets
and alleys, rich in Arabesque buildings, are untouched except by the
mellowing hand of Time.

It is difficult at first to form any true idea of native Cairo; its
life is so varied and its interests so diverse that the new-comer is

Types of many races, clad in strange Eastern costumes, crowd the
narrow streets, which are overlooked by many beautiful buildings whose
dark shadows lend additional glory to the sunlight. Richly carved
doorways give glimpses of cool courts and gardens within the houses,
while awnings of many colours shade the bazaars and shopping streets.

[Illustration: AN ARAB CAFÉ, CAIRO.]

Heavily laden camels and quaint native carts with difficulty thread
their way through the crowd, amongst which little children, clad in
the gayest of dresses, play their games. Goats and sheep pick up a
living in the streets, clearing it of garbage, and often feeding more
generously, though surreptitiously, from a fruit or vegetable shop.
Hawks and pigeons wheel and circle in the air, which is filled with
the scent of incense and the sound of the street cries. Everywhere is
movement and bustle, and the glowing colour of the buildings and
costumes of every tint and texture.

Let us study a little more closely the individual types and
occupations that make up the life of the streets, and a pleasant way
in which to do so is to seat oneself on the high bench of some native
café, where, undisturbed by the traffic, we may watch the passers-by.

The cafés themselves play an important part in the life of the people,
being a rendezvous not only for the refreshment provided, but for
gossip and the interchange of news. They are very numerous all over
the city, and are generally fronted by three or more wooden archways
painted in some bright colour and open to the street. Outside are the
"dekkas," or high benches, on which, sitting cross-legged, the
customer enjoys his coffee or his pipe. Indoors are a few chairs, and
the square tiled platform on which are placed the cooking-pots and

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Online LibraryR. Talbot KellyPeeps at Many Lands: Egypt → online text (page 1 of 6)