The Pyramids of Abʼoo Seer, Sackʼckaʼrah, and Dahʼshooʼr, and the site, remains, &c., of the City of Memphis.
The Pyramids of Abʼoo Seer, Sackʼckaʼrah, and Dahʼshooʼr, and the site, remains, &c., of the City of Memphis.
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter describes the author's journey from the pyramids of El-Gee'zeh to a tomb between Ab'oo Seer and Sack'cka'rah. It gives an overview of the pyramids of Ab'oo Seer and Sack'cka'rah. It describes the principal pyramids of Saek'eka'rah, other smaller pyramids and catacombs around them. Nearly halfway between the pyramids of Sack'cka'rah and those of Ab'oo Seer are the extensive Catacombs of Birds. In the side of the elevated rocky tract upon which the principal pyramid of Sack'cka'rah and others are situated, facing the plain of Memphis, are several large grottoes near the southern Pyramids of Sack'cka'rah. This chapter gives a brief account of these pyramids. Furthermore, it describes the Pyramids of Dah'shoo'r, which are four in number: two constructed of stone; and two of crude brick. The remains of the city of Memphis are so inconsiderable, that even the site of this famed metropolis of Egypt has been a subject of dispute.
Journey from the Pyramids of El-Geeʼzeh to a tomb between Abʼoo Seer and Sackʼckaʼrah—Pyramids of Abʼoo Seer—Those of Sackʼckaʼrah—Description of the principal Pyramid of Sackʼckaʼrah—Smaller pyramids—Catacombs around them—Catacombs of Birds, or Ibismummies—Ancient grotto with arched chambers—Southern Pyramids of Sackʼckaʼrah—Pyramids of Dahʼshooʼr—Great Northern Pyramid of Dahʼshooʼr—Great Southern Pyramid—Two Brick Pyramids—The site, remains, &c. of the City of Memphis.
My last visit to the Pyramids of El-Geeʼzeh was performed in company with another traveller, Mr. Hay, in May 1827. After having stayed in my old quarters six days, we mounted our donkeys, and proceeded towards the Pyramids of Sackʼckaʼrah; in the neighbourhood of which we purposed spending about a week more. It was rather late in the afternoon when we started, and the night closed in upon us when we had accomplished but little more than half our journey. Two of our servants attended us: the others were with the donkeys which carried our drawing-apparatus and luggage, at a considerable distance behind: we therefore halted for some time, in the hope of their coming up; and shouted to them several times; but in vain. Supposing that they had followed a different track, we proceeded, as well as we could,—sometimes over rough ground, overgrown with high, coarse grass—at other times over deep sands—, until we perceived before us a modern cemetery with several square, cupola-topped tombs of Sheykhs, which generally have an open door. In one of these we proposed to spend the night; for we concluded that the servants who were following us had halted at some village, as they did not know the place of our destination, which was an ancient sepulchral grotto. We looked into one tomb, and dissatisfied with its gloomy appearance, passed on to several others; all of which, at night, looked equally like the habitations of ghooʼls. While we were thus employed, prying into the black interior of one of these tombs, we faintly heard the barking of several dogs, which told us that a village, or a Bedʼawee camp, was at no great distance. On one side we could discern the outline of the low Libyan hills; so, turning towards the opposite direction, we proceeded to the cultivated lands, and soon arrived at the village of Abʼoo Seer. We now seated ourselves under some (p.200) palm-trees, and sent a servant to inquire for the house of the Sheykh, or chief of the village, and to desire him to give us a night's lodging. Our man, liking much better to sleep in a Sheykh's house than in a Sheykh's tomb, performed this order with alacrity. He walked round the village, thumping at the doors of several of the huts; but all the inhabitants had long before retired to rest: some would not even return any answer; though they must have been roused by his calls and knocking; and those who did reply would not give the information required: some said that the Sheykh was absent from the village; others, that they could not give such a direction as would enable the stranger to find the house; and they were afraid to come out and conduct him thither. The village had been attacked, during the preceding night, by a party of Bedʼawees, who had driven away several cattle; and the inhabitants, perhaps, suspected that we, also, might be robbers. Finding it impossible to obtain a night's lodging, we determined at least to satisfy our hunger, which had become extremely keen. By means of reproaches and threats, we induced the inmates of one of the huts to get up and make for us half a dozen thin cakes of unleavened millet bread. A fire was quickly lighted, the meal kneaded, and the cakes—being baked in a few minutes upon an iron plate—were dropped down to us from over the wall of a little courtyard adjoining the hut. Having devoured our supper, with no small relish—though the cakes were not of a dainty kind (being very gritty, from an unusual quantity of sand having become mixed with the meal)—we resolved to proceed; lest our servants should have gone on in the hope of overtaking us. We advanced along the narrow, sandy tract between the cultivated land and the low Libyan range, and at length perceived a large mass of white stone, which my friend remembered to have noticed as lying before the ancient sepulchral grotto which we were seeking. The yawning mouth of this cavern we could just discern, half-way up the rocky acclivity on our right; and immediately ascended to it; but the spacious interior appeared so dismal that we preferred lying down to sleep in the sand before the entrance. Scarcely had we composed ourselves to rest when we heard the voices of persons passing by, evidently in no good humour: we hailed them, thinking that they might be the servants with our luggage; which proved to be the case. Our troubles thus ended: our mattresses were spread; and we passed the night very comfortably.1—On the following morning we commenced our examination of the Pyramids in the vicinity.—I shall first mention those of Abʼoo Seer.
The Three Pyramids of Abʼoo Seer are inferior in every respect to the Third Pyramid of El-Geeʼzeh. They are constructed of stone; but very much ruined; and not one of them is open. There are remains of wide causeways, composed of enormous stones (some of which are upwards of 20 feet long), leading up to each of these monuments, from the east. (p.201) They are but slightly elevated; the hill having a very gentle acclivity.—Between the Pyramids of Abʼoo Seer and those of El-Geeʼzeh are several heaps of stone, which are evidently remains of small pyramids.
The Pyramids of Sackʼckaʼrah1 are situated (like all the other pyramids in the neighbourhood of the site of ancient Memphis) upon an elevated rocky ground, the surface of which is, in some parts, very flat; in others, undulating; and everywhere covered with sand and pebbles. Its general height above the level of the cultivated land is from 100 to 150 feet.
The Principal Pyramid of Sackʼckaʼrah, with three others, is situated upon a part of the desert which appears to have been the chief burial-place of Memphis.2 On every side are innumerable catacombs. It is called el-Harʼam el-Moodurʼrag (or the Pyramid of Steps), from its peculiar form, which is shewn by the annexed view, (plate 203). The stages, or steps (if so they may be called), are six in number: the lowest is nearly buried by the rubbish which has fallen down from the upper parts; on which account, it is difficult to measure the base with much precision. On the western side I found it to be about 320 feet. The height is about 180 feet. This monument is therefore rather larger than the Third Pyramid of El-Geeʼzeh: but it appears considerably greater; as there is no other of equal dimensions in its vicinity. The manner of its construction is singular; for it appears that the work was commenced by raising a very slender pyramid; around which was then raised a circumstructure about 60 feet lower; around this, another structure still lower; and so on. No passage or chamber has been discovered in the body of the Pyramid; but there are several chambers and passages, composing a perfect labyrinth, excavated in the rock beneath it. Mr. Hay examined these with me; and we took the plan of them. (See plate 21†). The entrance (a) was discovered and opened in 1821, by Baron Von Minutoli. It is a perpendicular descent in the level rock, about 75 feet distant from the northern side (b,b) of the Pyramid. It is of an irregular form; its width, about 1 ο feet by 6 and a half; the depth, 18 feet. From the bottom, a horizontal passage (c,c), 6 feet high and 4 feet wide, runs towards the Pyramid, in the direction of South 21° West, by the compass, not allowing for the variation. The sides of the passage are very irregular, in consequence of the decay of the rock. At the distance of 13 feet and a half is a small built door-way (d), of a compact, white stone, without any ornament or inscription. The passage continues as before. At the distance of 103 feet, is an excavation on each side (e,e); like the commencement of a passage; but filled up with rubbish. Proceeding to the distance of 120 feet (from the entrance), we descend 15 steps (f). Above these steps, a wide passage (g) branches off to the left. Descending 15 feet from the top of the stairs, we enter another passage (h), running South 20° East, and (p.202) sloping gently downwards. It is 27 feet long (including the space occupied by two of the steps, which descend into it). Here we find a second descent of steps, 11 in number; near the bottom of which, 10 feet from the top step, are the entrances of two passages, one above the other. We first follow the lower (k,k); the direction of which is South 65° East for half its length, and then South 82° East to the end. The length of this passage (including, again, the space occupied by two steps which descend into it) is 48 feet. We now turn to the right, along a horizontal passage (l), of the same dimensions (6 feet high and 4 wide). At the distance of 13 feet from the angle is an aperture (m) in the top of the passage, appearing like a chimney. I shall have occasion to mention it again. It escaped my observation the first time I was in the passage above mentioned. This passage is 26 feet 10 inches long, including a descent of five steps at the end (n). We then enter a passage (o,o), running both to the right and left. We first turn to the left. To the distance of 9 feet 9 inches it is horizontal; and next is a descent of five steps (p), which occupy five feet. We then find an aperture on the right, and a descent of 8 feet and a half (q), formed by three steep steps. From this runs a horizontal passage (r) in the direction of South 11° West, 26 feet long. At the end of this is the great chamber (s), which is 23 feet square, and about 70 feet high. It may be described as a great pit; all but the roof being cut in the solid rock. It is exactly under the center of the Pyramid. The light of our candles scarcely enabled us to discern the roof. We found here a great quantity of rubbish, and blocks and small fragments of stone. Where the rubbish had been removed, near the southern side, were seen several long blocks of granite (t), well cut, and nicely placed together, side by side. The southernmost had been forced out of its place; but no aperture was seen beneath it. This block I found to be 10 feet 5 inches deep. The others are of similar proportions. Beneath them is a kind of vault, of which they form the roof. We descend to it through a small forced aperture. The interior is 9 feet 10 inches long, 5 feet 6 inches wide, and about the same in height. The sides and floor are also of granite. It is probable that this vault, or chamber, contained the body of the founder of the Pyramid. Whether it was built upon the floor of the great chamber, or sunk into it, I could not clearly perceive; for it was surrounded by rubbish and loose stones. The sides of the great chamber are black, and roughly cut; and have several apertures; some of which are mere niches; others open into intricate passages. In the north side of the chamber, at the height of 31 feet, is a large aperture (u), 11 feet wide, which appears to have been the grand entrance; for, from the floor of the chamber to this aperture, it is not solid rock, but masonry. By lighting a large fire of reeds, we were enabled plainly to see the roof. It was formed, originally, of wood. Two large beams extended from north to south; one of which remains. Over these were laid other timbers; but most of these have now fallen, and, with them, many of the stones which were thus supported. The roof, at present, has a concave form; and consists of small and irregular masses of stone, which hold together, although not purposely constructed to (p.203) support each other. The firing of a pistol might, perhaps, cause many of them to fall.—At the south-east corner of the chamber, is an aperture (v), half closed by rubbish; through which we enter a passage that appears to run round three sides of the chamber; but this, also, is much obstructed by rubbish. From it we pass into two small chambers (w,w), the walls of which are of masonry. The first is half filled with rubbish: its width is the same as that of the second—5 feet and 1 inch—: the length is probably the same—18 feet 10 inches. The sides of both these chambers have been lined with small, glazed, blue tiles, 3 inches high, and 1 inch wide, arranged side by side, in horizontal rows, with a space of about half an inch between each row. Their form was that of small segments of cylinders. They were cemented in the grooves made to receive them, and further secured by a string, or wire, which passed through the back of each tile, and also, at intervals, through a hole in the wall. I could not find any of these tiles entire; but there were a few fragments remaining in their places. None of them had any inscription or ornament. In no other Egyptian monument have I seen the walls thus cased. But the most curious thing here is a hieroglyphic inscription, beautifully cut, in very low relief, above and on each side of the door leading from the first to the second of these small chambers; with the mystic title of a king, whose name is not found upon any monument. The same is also traced in black lines around the other door in this chamber. A copy of it is here annexed.1 This is the more remarkable, as no other inscription, excepting the scrawls of visiters, has been found in the chambers, or passages, or on the exterior, of any other pyramid in Lower Egypt: but as these two chambers differ so entirely from every other part of the catacombs under the same pyramid, it is probable that they were constructed at a later period than the pyramid itself. Two passages branch off from the second of these chambers; but they are choked with rubbish.—Of the other passages around the great chamber, an idea may be formed by inspecting the plan. They are very much obstructed by blocks of stone; and it was with difficulty that we dragged ourselves along them. In some of them, we found many fragments of basins and pateræ of alabaster, black basalt, granite, &c. We also saw a few human bones, and mummy-rags; and Mr. Hay found, among the rubbish, a fragment of a painted mummy-case2; proving that these catacombs were burial-places; though for what purposes the passages were made thus narrow and intricate, it is difficult to conjecture. The top and sides of many of these passages were thickly incrusted with saline efflorescences of sparkling whiteness, curling into beautiful forms. In exploring the passage marked x, we came to a space somewhat wider, and irregular, and saw above us the bottoms of the long granite blocks which form the floor of the vault, or low chamber, before mentioned. They were supported merely by small square pillars, about 3 feet high, formed of three or four blocks of calcareous stone. It is not (p.204) probable that these were the original supports of so great a weight; but it may rather be supposed that persons excavating beneath the granite blocks, in search of treasure, placed these pillars as they gradually removed the solid substructure.—There are yet two passages to be noticed; of which the entrances have already been mentioned. That of the first is on the left of the first stairs in the main passage. This passage is about 7 feet wide: its sides are much decayed. From it, another passage (y) turns off to the right. About half-way along the latter, we observe an aperture (z), on the right. At the end, the passage widens on the left, and has a descent of a few feet. The whole of the passage, it seems, was originally of the same width as the end: it has been contracted both in width and height: probably it terminated with a flight of steps, descending to the floor of the great chamber. From the end of it we look down into the great chamber; the bottom of which is 31 feet below us. I mentioned this in describing that chamber.—The other passage which remains to be noticed commences above the second stairs in the main passage, and runs to the aperture marked z. At the end is a well, or square pit (m), communicating with the main passage below. It was the bottom of this well which I mentioned before, as appearing, from below, like a chimney. I had not observed it before, when I was in the lower passage. After having descended this well, which is 25 feet deep, with some difficulty, not having a rope, I was surprised and disappointed to find myself where I had been before.—The labyrinthian nature of the catacombs under this pyramid might lead a person to infer that they were destined for some other object besides the mere sepulture of mummies; but there are many sepulchral catacombs, in various parts of Egypt, in which the explorer might lose himself. The passages were, perhaps, made thus numerous and narrow and intricate to render it more difficult for any sacrilegious person to discover the chambers in which the dead were deposited; for, in several Egyptian catacombs, we find that great pains have been taken to conceal the passage communicating with the place of sepulture.
At a little distance to the south-west of the monument above described, is a small pyramid, very much dilapidated; and to the north-east of the former are two others, in a similar state of ruin.1 Of these two, that which is nearest to the principal pyramid is the least dilapidated; and this has lately been opened, (I believe by Caviglia). A large cavity has been formed in the northern side, in forcing the entrance. The passage is partly lined with granite, like that of the Second Pyramid of El-Geeʼzeh; to which it is also similar in its dimensions and in its inclination. This descends to two small and plain chambers, excavated in the rock, one leading out of the other; and both empty.
Around these pyramids, on every side, are numerous catacombs, which, as I said before, seem to shew that this tract was the principal burial-place of Memphis. The ground is strewed with rubbish taken out (p.205) of the pits, and with vast quantities of fragments of pottery. The pits descending to the catacombs are generally between 6 and 12 feet square, and from 20 to 50 or 60 feet deep. Many of these are filled, quite to the mouth, with sand and rubbish; but most of them have been thoroughly explored and ransacked. Numbers of peasants from the neighbouring villages have, for many years, past, been occupied in clearing out these catacombs, on their own account, in search of antiquities, to sell to the Europeans; and some have been thus employed by travellers and others. In this operation, two pieces of a split palm-trunk are generally laid across the mouth of the pit: some labourers are then let down by ropes; and two others, standing upon the palm-trunks, draw up the rubbish in a basket, and then toss it out by the side of the pit. Young boys or girls are employed to sift this rubbish carefully on the spot, as soon as it is thrown out of the basket; and thus are often found small scarabs and images of stone or blue glazed porcelain, rings, beads, and other objects of antiquity, which were originally placed with the mummies. The traveller seldom sees much to reward him for the trouble of descending these pits. Arrived at the bottom, he enters narrow passages, and chambers without any kind of ornament, encumbered with sand, and with broken mummies, bones and bandages. Some small figures and ornaments of gold and silver having been found in some of these catacombs, the Baʼsha, Mohhamʼmad ʼAlʼee, was excited to imitate the Frank antiquarians; and employed a number of peasants to ransack the tombs of Sackʼckaʼrah, in the expectation of finding great treasures. By his directions, a very large pit,1 of the same dimensions as the great chamber of the Pyramid of Steps (i.e. 23 feet square, and about 70 feet deep), was cleared out. But the Baʼsha soon found himself deceived. The Defturdaʼr Bey has lately followed his example; and has also taken away the sculptured and painted stones with which several of the tombs were lined to employ them in the construction of a new palace. At the period of my last visit to this spot, an Italian was engaged in clearing out a large and very deep pit; and had discovered, in a chamber on one side of it, a granite sarcophagus, covered with beautiful sculptures, representing subjects similar to those which are of most frequent occurrence in the Tombs of the Kings, at Thebes.
In the northern quarter of this great burial-place, nearly half-way between the Pyramids of Sackʼckaʼrah and those of Abʼoo Seer, to the south-west of the village of the latter name, are extensive Catacombs of Birds, or Ibis-mummies.2 We descend to these by a pit, which is about 4 feet square and about 20 feet deep; and then, with lighted candles, creep along low and narrow horizontal passages, half filled with sand and broken pots which originally contained each a single mummy of an Ibis. Considerable numbers of pots are still found entire. They are of a conical form, about a foot and a half in length, and half a foot in width. The (p.206) cover is cemented with plaster. These pots are arranged in small recesses, like the bottles of wine in our cellars; laid horizontally, one row above another, to the ceiling. The mummies are ill preserved: the plumage discoloured: and the bones black, and often broken. As Ibises are now only found in Nubia and more southern countries, it is probable that these birds were anciently brought to Egypt from Ethiopia, merely as objects of worship; emblems of the God Thoth, who is generally represented upon the monuments with the body of a man and the head of the Ibis.
In the side of the elevated rocky tract upon which the principal pyramid of Sackʼckaʼrah and others which I have mentioned are situated, facing the plain of Memphis, are several large grottoes, one of which is very remarkable.1 A view of the interior is here annexed. (See plate 22†). At the entrance it is much ruined, large masses of rock having fallen. Just within the entrance, on each side, are small chambers, with walls of masonry. Beyond these is the principal chamber, which had six square pillars, two of which have been broken down. These and the whole of the interior of the excavation were originally lined with masonry; as the rock was not of a sufficiently compact nature for sculpture to be well executed upon it. Much of the casing has lately been removed by the Defturdaʼr Bey, to be used in the construction of his new palace. The sculptures which remain are chiefly hieroglyphical. Among them we find the hieroglyphic name of Psammitichus the 2nd, very frequently repeated2; shewing that the grotto was excavated (or, at least, finished) during the reign of that king; not less than 600 years before the Christian era. What is particularly remarkable in the chamber of which I have given a view is that the ceiling between the two rows of pillars is arched, and lined with masonry, on the perfect principle of the masonic arch. Much of this casing has been torn down. Upon the part which remains, we find the name above mentioned, proving the very ancient construction of this arch.—It must no longer be said that the masonic arch was not invented before the Augustan era. There are tombs, at Thebes, with brick arches, stuccoed and adorned with paintings, the style of which shews them to be as ancient as the times of the 18th Dynasty (15 or 16 centuries B.C.); and among the paintings of these brick arches, Mr. Wilkinson has been so fortunate as to discover the hieroglyphic name of Amonoph the 1st, one of the kings of that Dynasty. In many of those tombs I searched in vain for a name. I have not seen, nor heard of, any stone arch, constructed on the perfect masonic principle, more ancient than that above described.—In the same grotto, beyond the principal chamber, is another apartment, of an oblate form, the ceiling of which is also arched in the manner before described, and quite perfect. The walls here are in like manner sculptured, chiefly with hieroglyphics: (p.207) the only subject of a different kind being the representation of a man seated on a chair, and persons bringing to him birds, meat, lotuses, &c. At the left end is a pit, descending to the sepulchral catacombs. Beyond this chamber is another, of smaller dimensions; having a little cell on each side. The walls of all these have been covered with hieroglyphics; and at the end, there has been a statue, which is now destroyed. All the hieroglyphics in this grotto are very beautifully executed, in intaglio.
The more southern Pyramids of Sackʼckaʼrah require but a brief notice.—Directly to the west of the village of Sackʼckaʼrah, is a small pyramid, so much ruined that it appears like a mound of rubbish; and there are remains of a wide and massive causeway, running up the sandy slope, from the mounds upon which the village is situated to the base of this pyramid.1 At about double the distance from the village, in the same direction, is another small pyramid, in a similar state of ruin. At the distance of rather more than half a mile to the south of the latter, is an unfinished pyramid,2 about 250 feet square, and between 40 and 50 feet high. The Arabs pretend that the ancient kings of Egypt occasionally held their court, seated upon this flat-topped structure, which they therefore call Μusʼtabʼ at Farʼooʼn, or the Seat of Pharaoh. It is composed of massive stones. At a short distance to the north-west of this is a small ruined pyramid,3 like those before mentioned. None of these is open.
The Pyramids of Dahʼshooʼr are four in number: two constructed of stone; and two, of crude brick. The two former4 are surpassed in magnitude by the First and Second Pyramids of El-Geeʼzeh; but are greatly superior to all besides.
The Great Northern Pyramid of Dahʼshooʼr is about two miles and a half distant from the village of Sackʼckaʼrah, and 1 mile and a quarter from the nearest part of the cultivated land. Its base is nearly 700 feet square; and its height, about 340 feet. The dimensions of its base are therefore somewhat greater than those of the base of the Second Pyramid of El-Geeʼzeh; but its height is nearly 100 feet less than that of the latter; and, consequently, its bulk is considerably less. I ascended to the summit in ten minutes with tolerable ease. Portions of the original smooth casing still remain upon this pyramid, near the base and near the summit, as well as upon the intermediate parts; plainly shewing that the whole was once cased. There is a considerable accumulation of rubbish on each side; but, of the casing-stones which have been thrown down, we find few remaining around the base; for the object of removing them was to employ them in modern buildings. The stones of which the Pyramid is mainly constructed are of a dark, sandy colour; and much decayed; being (p.208) of a less durable nature than the casing-stones. The latter are also calcareous; but of a lighter colour, and much more compact: doubtless from the quarries of Mons Troicus, on the opposite side of the Nile.—This Pyramid has been opened; probably, many centuries ago. The steep slope of rubbish on the northern side rises only half-way towards the entrance, which is at a greater elevation than that of any other pyramid that has been opened; being about one third of the height up the side. The ascent to it is not difficult. The passage is 4 feet 5 inches and a quarter in height, 3 feet 5 inches and a half in width, and 200 feet long1; descending with the same inclination as the first passages of the First and Second Pyramids of El-Geeʼzeh. From the end of this, a horizontal passage, 24 feet 4 inches and a half in length, leads to a chamber, which is 27 feet 4 inches long, 11 feet 11 inches wide, and 43 feet 4 inches high. From the height of eleven feet, each course of stone (for eleven together) projects 6 inches beyond that below, on each side of the chamber; in the same manner as the course which form the sides of the grand passage in the Great Pyramid of El-Geeʼzeh; so that the dimensions of the chamber gradually diminish towards the top; each course being three feet high. On the right, or west, of this chamber, is a passage 10 feet 4 inches long, leading to another chamber, of the same dimensions. At the end of the latter, 30 feet 10 inches from the ground, is another horizontal passage, 3 feet 5 inches square, and 24 feet long, leading to a third chamber, which differs only from the others in being 1 foot 8 inches wider. Explorers, in search of treasure, have taken up the pavement and several tiers of stone in this chamber, and in the passage leading to it. In the third chamber, probably, was the sarcophagus.
The Great Southern Pyramid of Dahʼshooʼr is a mile distant from the former. It is remarkable for the peculiarity of its form (which is shewn by plate 23†), and for its almost perfect state of preservation. The casing has only been broken down to the height of a few feet from the base, and more at the angles: otherwise, it has sustained scarcely any injury; and presents a beautiful, smooth surface. The stones are of a very compact, calcareous nature, and of a whitish colour, similar to those which composed the casings of the other pyramids already described. This Pyramid is 600 feet square, and about 330 feet high. Like the other great monument of which I have just given an account, its entrance has been laid open; probably at a very remote period. This is about 22 feet above the base. Mr. Hay and myself ascended to it; but not without difficulty and danger. The dimensions of the passage are about the same as those of the passages of the two principal Pyramids of El-Geeʼzeh; but the inclination less steep. A few feet within the entrance, we found two short inscriptions in hieroglyphics; each a single line; probably cut by visiters in ancient times; without any date or the name of a king. The passage is (p.209) clear to the depth of 150 feet, or more; but towards the end it is completely closed by rubbish. In the 17th century, a chamber, to which this passage leads, was accessible, and visited by travellers.
At the distance of about two thirds of a mile, nearly due east, from the monument above described, is a Pyramid of crude Brick, overlooking the cultivated plain.1 It is so much ruined as to appear, from a little distance, like a shapeless heap of black earth. The original form seems to have been similar to that of the principal pyramid of Sackʼckaʼrah, called “the Pyramid of Steps”; and its base, between two and three hundred feet. Its present height is about 140 feet. The bricks of which it is constructed are composed of mud and chopped straw; such as the Israelites were employed in making during their bondage in Egypt. They are about 14 inches long, 7 inches broad, and 5 inches thick. Most of them appear as fresh as if newly made: the straw not being at all rotten. Asychis, the successor of Mycerinus[,] (according to Herodotus) erected a pyramid of brick, with this inscription.—“Compare me not with the Pyramids of Stone; for I excel them as Jupiter excels the other gods. Men thrust poles into a lake, and, collecting the mud which adhered to them, formed bricks; and thus constructed me[.]”—The pyramid above described is probably that to which Herodotus thus alludes.
There is another Pyramid of crude Brick about a mile and a half to the north of the former2; of rather smaller dimensions, and in a more ruined state. I easily ran up to the top. Its perpendicular height is about a hundred feet.
The remains of the city of Memphis3 (or rather such remains as are apparent) are so inconsiderable, that even the site of this famed metropolis of Egypt has been a subject of dispute. Dr. Shaw and some other travellers have supposed that the modern town of El-Geeʼzeh marks the site of Memphis; but this opinion is founded, chiefly, upon three palpable errors.—1st. That the point of the ancient Delta was the same as that of the present: whereas it was nearly three leagues to the south-east of the present fork of the river; the Canal of Ckalyooʼb being a part of the bed of the ancient Pelusiac branch.—2ndly. That the distance between the town of El-Geeʼzeh and the principal Pyramids is about 12 miles: whereas it is only 5 and a quarter.—3rdly. That El-Geeʼzeh is situated in the narrowest part of the valley: whereas the tract between El-Menawaʼt and Meet Raheeʼneh is considerably narrower; and is, indeed, the most contracted part of the valley.—From remarks which are found in the works of ancient writers, it appears that Memphis, with its suburbs, extended as far northward as the village of El-Menawaʼt, or rather further; and somewhat beyond the village of Meet Raheeʼneh southward. 1st. Herodotus states that it was situated in the narrowest part of the valley.—2ndly. Pliny says that it was six miles (p.210) (or, as we read in some copies of his work, 7 and a half) from the Pyramids. This seems to shew that its northern suburb extended a little beyond El-Menawaʼt. Strabo makes the distance of the Pyramids from Memphis only 40 stadia, or rather more than two geographical miles; which appears to be considerably too little.1–3rdly. According to Ptolemy, the difference of latitude between Memphis and Egyptian Babylon was ten minutes: from which it would seem that his observation for the latitude of the former place was made near the spot now occupied by the village of Meet Raheeʼneh.
According to Herodotus, Memphis was founded by Menes, the first king of Egypt: according to Diodorus Siculus, by Uchoreus. The former historian states that the founder of this city, by means of an embankment, 100 stadia (or about 5 geographical miles and one third2) higher up the valley, diverted the course of the Nile, which originally ran along the side of the sandy hills of Libya, and made it to flow at an equal distance between the eastern and western mountains: that he then built the city of Memphis upon the spot which he had thus converted into dry ground; (or, more probably, between the old bed of the river and the new): after which he made a lake, on the north and west of the city, communicating with the Nile; and founded the magnificent temple of Vulcan. This building (if we may judge from the subsequent descriptions of it given by the same author) must have been very similar to the grand temple of Kurʼnak, at Thebes. Mœris added propylæa to it on the north: Sesostris adorned it with several colossi: Rhampsinitus added propylasa on the west; and two colossi, 25 cubits high; one of which, facing the north, was adorned under the name of Summer; while the other, which was called Winter, was quite neglected: Asychis built the propylæa on the eastern side, which were the grandest of all, and profusely adorned with sculptures3: Psammetichus added propylæa on the south4; and a temple in front of them, in which the God Apis was kept, whenever he made his appearance in Egypt5: this was ornamented with colossi 12 cubits high, instead of columns: lastly, Amasis placed, before this superb (p.211) temple, a colossus 75 feet long, in a reclining posture; similar to that at Sais.1 On the south of this temple, in a quarter inhabited by Tyrians, was an enclosure consecrated to an Egyptian king, whom the Greeks called Proteus, with a chapel dedicated to Venus the Stranger, supposed, by Herodotus, to be Helen, who, with Paris, being driven to the shores of Egypt, by contrary winds, was hospitably received by Proteus. Strabo mentions the temple of the Grecian Venus; but says that some regarded it as dedicated to the moon.—Such were the principal edifices within the city of Memphis.
Not a wall, nor a column, at the present period, rises above the soil throughout the whole extent of the site of this city; but in many parts, we see lofty and wide-spreading mounds of rubbish, chiefly composed of earth and broken pottery and fragments of stone. The public edifices, as Strabo informs us, were erected upon raised ground. These structures were in a state of ruin in the time of that writer,2 a few years before the Christian era; and since that period, the convenient elevations upon which they stood have been chosen for the sites of villages. Thus the relics of the public monuments of Memphis have become buried beneath the crumbled walls of modern huts3; while all the other remains of this city have been covered over by the deposits of the successive inundations: the bed of the river, as well as the whole superficies of the alluvial land through which it flows, having gradually risen. Forests of palm-trees occupy a great part of the site of Memphis; and among these, in the vicinity of the mounds, are several hollow spaces, which, at the period of the inundation, become lakes, and remain so during a considerable portion of the year. Winding dikes, or raised roads, chiefly formed of earth, traverse the plain in various directions, from village to village. Some of these, which are partly broken down, or washed away, and therefore unserviceable as roads during the inundation, might be mistaken for remains of the wall of Memphis. The village of Meet Raheeʼneh is situated upon mounds of rubbish which doubtless cover the remains of some of the principal buildings of Memphis. A little to the southward of the route from that village to El-Bedresheyʼn are other large mounds, which seem to conceal the remains of the temple of Phthah, or Vulcan. Here, Caviglia has been busy in excavating, and has uncovered a colossal statue of Rameses the 2nd, the Sesostris of the Greek historians; who, according to Herodotus, placed a colossus of himself, and one of his queen, each 30 cubits high, with four statues of their four children, 20 cubits high, before the temple of Vulcan. The colossus discovered by Caviglia seems to have been 45 feet, or 30 cubits, in height. The feet and part of the legs are broken off; but, in its present (p.212) state, its extreme dimensions are nearly 40 feet: it therefore appears to be the identical statue of Sesostris described by Herodotus. The stone of which it is formed is a hard, white chert. It lies prostrate; with the face downwards; but now more than half exposed; and the features are very beautiful; but the head is too large to bear a just proportion to the rest of the figure. It stood in an erect posture; the arms hanging down. The back and arms are much injured; but the front nearly perfect. Close by it, in the same hollow, lay a statue of granite, of less colossal size, almost entirely buried; and at a little distance, the side of a similar granite colossus just appeared above the rubbish. Near these remains is a lake, which, being surrounded by numerous palm-trees, has a very pretty effect. Caviglia had erected a hut in the neighbourhood; and was desirous of prosecuting his researches in this part, in the hope of laying open the ruins of the temple of Vulcan; but was in want of funds. It was from these same mounds, I believe, that the colossal granite fist which is now in the British Museum was removed by the French during their occupation of Egypt. This fragment belonged to a statue which must have been 55 or 60 feet in height.
In the same quarter were doubtless situated the ruins which several Arab writers have described as the remains of Menf , or Memphis. El-Muckreeʼzee and others state that Menf was on the west of the Nile, 12 miles above El-Foostaʼt. ʼAbd El-Lateeʼf, writing in the beginning of the 7th century after the flight (or the beginning of the 13th century of the Christian era), asserts, that—notwithstanding the numerous revolutions to which Memphis had been subject, the repeated attempts which had been made to destroy its monuments, the removal of the stones and other materials of which some of its edifices were constructed, and the mutilation of the statues with which it was adorned, in addition to the injuries which must naturally have ensued during the lapse of more than four thousand years—there were yet found, among its remains, works so wonderful, that they confounded the contemplative mind, and baffled the utmost powers of description.—He particularly mentions a monolithic chapel, or shrine, which was called El-Beyt el-Akhʼdar (or the Green Chamber), as one of the most surprising of the monuments of Memphis then existing. It was 9 cubits in height, and 8 by 7 in width; and its hollow, or niche, was 5 cubits high, and 4 wide. It was ornamented, both within and without, with sculptures of the sun and planets, and of men and beasts, and with inscriptions in ancient characters; and rested upon a pedestal formed of large masses of granite: but some ignorant persons had undermined it, in the hope of finding a treasure beneath it, which caused it to lean, slightly, and occasioned several small fissures. It was placed in a magnificent temple, which was admirably constructed with stones of enormous magnitude.—El-Muckreeʼzee, writing rather more than two centuries later, mentions this monolith, and states that it originally contained an idol of gold. He says that it was formed of a green, flinty stone, of so hard a nature that it could not be cut with a tool of iron. He also describes it as ornamented (p.213) with sculptured figures and inscriptions, and having the representations of serpents, with the breast expanded, upon the front of the door, or over the door. The Sabeans, he says, affirmed that this shrine was consecrated to the moon, and that it was one of seven similar shrines which were consecrated to the seven planets; all of which were at Memphis. He adds, that the Emeeʼr Seyf ed-Deen Sheyʼkhoo (commonly called Sheykhooʼn) broke it in pieces, after the year 750 (A.D. 1349–50); and that some fragments of it were in the convent and mosque which were built by that Emeeʼr in the quarter, or street, of Es-Saleeʼbeh, outside of El-Ckaʼhireh; i.e. in the suburbs.1—ʼAbd El-Lateeʼf speaks also of pedestals upon enormous bases; of walls constructed of huge masses of stone; of a lofty door-way, formed of three stones (one on each side, and one above); and of statues which were remarkable for their number, their colossal size, the beauty of their forms, and the correctness of their proportions. One was more than 30 cubits high, without the pedestal: it was formed of a single block of red granite, and covered with a coat of red varnish, or paint, to which time had only given fresh lustre. He also mentions two colossal lions, placed face to face; but broken; and states that he observed a considerable portion of the wall of the city, built with small stones and large, oblong bricks. He does not describe the situation of this wall.
It is evident that the principal monuments of Memphis (the temple of Vulcan, and other edifices) were in the neighbourhood of Meet Raheeʼneh. There are also extensive mounds of rubbish to the north-east of this village; occupying, apparently, nearly the central part of the site of the ancient city. The villages of Oommʼ Khanaʼn and El-Menawaʼt are situated upon other large mounds; among which are found fragments of granite, and other materials of ancient buildings. This quarter was probably the site of a northern suburb of Memphis. Where the village of Abʼoo Seer is situated, was doubtless another suburb, called, by the Egyptians, Busir (pronounced, by them, Booseeʼr, and by the Greeks written Busiris). The village of Sackʼckaʼrah and the high mounds upon which it stands, on the skirts of the desert, may be supposed to occupy part of the site of a third suburb, which, perhaps, derived its name from Phthah Socari, the principal God of Memphis.2 The great canal which flows along the western side of the site of Memphis, and which is a continuation of the Bahhr Yooʼsoof, resembles the natural course of a river; and this may be regarded as a confirmation—or as the foundation—of the assertion of Herodotus that the Nile flowed along the side of the Libyan hills before the building of Memphis. It is also probable that a part of this canal or river, widened by art, formed the ancient lake Acherusia, over which the (p.214) dead were conveyed, in a boat called Bans,1 under the guidance of a ferryman, who, in the common dialect of Egypt, was termed Charon. By this lake was a temple of Hecate; and here, also, were the gates of Cocytus and Lethe (Lamentation and Oblivion); so called, probably, because the dead were borne through them to the lake. Hence Orpheus derived the fables which he propagated respecting Charon, the Styx, Acheron, &c.2; though, in the Greek mythology, the names of Cocytus and Lethe are given—not to gates, but—to rivers of Hell. It may reasonably be inferred that the lake Acherusia extended along the whole of the western side of Memphis, near the base of the rocky elevation; so that it was absolutely necessary that the dead should be transported across it: and the ferry was, doubtless, directly opposite the principal burial-place (where the Pyramid of Steps is situated), that the bodies might be landed as near as possible to the catacombs in which they were to be interred.—Strabo mentions a temple of Serapis, which was certainly outside of Memphis, and most probably between the lake Acherusia and the elevated part of the desert. He describes it as situated in a desert tract, where the sand was so deep that some of the sphinxes before it were half buried, and others were buried up to the neck. This temple has experienced the same fate as all the other public edifices of that famous city which once rivalled Thebes in the magnificence, if not in the number, of its monuments.
In the Scriptures we find several prophecies of the fate of Memphis: as the following—“Thus saith the Lord God; I will also destroy the idols, and I will cause their images to cease out of Noph; and there shall be no more a prince of the land of Egypt: and I will put a fear in the land of Egypt. ”3—Again: “O thou daughter dwelling in Egypt, furnish thyself to go into captivity: for Noph shall be waste and desolate, without an inhabitant.”4
(1) Vulgarly pronounced Saggaʼrah, and Saʼaʼrah.
(1) I give the measures taken by Mr. Davison; as I only took a few rough measures of the exterior of this pyramid.
(1) This calculation is founded on the supposition that Strabo here means Egyptian stadia; as he does when he states the distance from Syene to Philæ to be 100 stadia.—See the following note on the Egyptian stadium.—But the greater stadia may here be meant; 40 of which were equal to 4 geographical miles.
(1) All the Egyptian colossi that I have seen are either in a standing or sitting posture.
(1) I visited the latter of these buildings; but saw not the fragments alluded to, unless they form part of the pavement, &c., which I imagine to be the case. As an Englishman (though in disguise) I did not venture to attract suspicion by inquiring respecting these relics in the mosque.
(1) Herodotus (in lib. II, cap. 96) describes the Egyptian boats to which the name of Baris was given; as I have already mentioned.
(2) Baron Von Minutoli found a gilded human scull in this pyramid.
(2) Herodotus, in lib. II, cap. 9, mentions several distances in Egyptian stadia; among which he states the distance from Thebes to Elephantis (which is about 96 geographical miles) to be 1800 stadia: hence 100 stadia are equal to about 5 geographical miles and one third.
(2) The city yet ranked next to Alexandria in extent and population.
(2) This was suggested to me by Mr. Salt.
(2) Diodorus Siculus, lib. I, cap 96.
(3) Called, in the Bible, Noph.
(3) Diodorus says that the northern propylæa, which were built by Moeris, were the most magnificent.
(3) These were constructed of unburnt bricks, and surmounted by pigeon-houses, chiefly formed of earthen pots.
(3) Ezechiel, XXX. 13.
(4) Diodorus asserts that Psammetichus built the eastern propylæa.
(4) Jeremiah, XLVI. 19.
(5) Strabo mentions this temple; its secos, or sancturary, in which the bull Apis, or Osiris, was kept, another secos for his mother; and a court, in which Apis was occasionally brought, to be seen more publicly.