Visiting the Pyramids

Dec. 1st

Our party joined another of Cook's parties and in open carriages we drove to the Pyramids. A good road all the way, except abt. 1 mile off where it is soft sand, and vehicles often stuck fast. The bridge over the Nile is substantial and level about 400 yards long and 15 broad, and the road from it to pyramids is lined with ... trees. Where they are well grown they made a complete and dense shade, the sky being scarcely visible in places through them. The pyramids do not appear to increase in size as you approach them until quite near. They are on a rocky platform, some 100 ft above the plain, hence their visibility from a long distance. The platform is of course covered with sand and appearance of sand-hills. A low range of hills rises up a few miles off on W. side - other side to river N. and S. is quite flat for many miles. A line from river to pyramids to river is abt. 4 to 5 miles. Coming with so many accounts of them, and having them view so long before you get under them, they do not strike you as so enormous: and it is hard to realise the area that the big one fills. There the base lines are broken by mounds of rubbish against sides: and, as your eye rises to the top, and sees a narrow point in the distance, its height is not appreciated as much as if one stood by a tower or steeple of similar height.

The corners are clear of sand and rubbish, and N.E. corner has been part cut away to get at foundation on natural rock; [thus] The blocks of stone forming surface are large but not remarkably so: and they are not of even height nor perfectly faced or jointed. A good thickness of mortar has been visible.

To ascend, each has 3 men told off: one for each hand and one at your back; but I declined any assistance, and did not find it very hard work to go right up, winding for a moment abt. twice.

The top is not flat; but a number of stones, which are probably part of the Apex, are left, and a flag staff and three poles fixed triangularly are there also (for measurement, I understand). The view is, of course, very extensive, and, as the day was fine, we saw it to advantage. Prominent objects are W. desert and low hills; N, left had desert and right river and canals divide land into sectors of green spots and varied with palm trees; W, cultivated land, Nile, and Citadel of Cairo and hills beyond; and S, part desert and part cultivated land, with pyramids of Zeccheria.

I found the descent easy, and much more rapid than ascent: but stopped at entrance, and, with two men and candles, went in. I found it close, and smell of Arabs disagreeable; but not suffocating or approaching that feeling. Neither down passage nor up is very difficult, and, provided with shoes without nails, no assistance necessary. One of party had magnesium wire, and, with it, we saw sarcophagus chamber and king gallery to advantage. These places, and some others, of granite; rest limestone. All passages except entrance of limestone. Stones in lower room very large tho' of lime. Were not taken to lowest chamber but this: [sketch missing]... The joints of granite blocks are very fine; but the polish is not high. Noticed the metallic sound emitted when the sarcophagus is struck. Saw all with great interest; but did not feel so overpowered internally or externally. The Arabs' constant chattering, and the hallooing or singing of some excited Briton, dispels the awe which such a work might otherwise inspire. Then the hard work of getting about, and the fatigue, one may feel, tends in same direction.

The Arabs are certainly clamorous and persistent in trying to render you service, or no service, to get backsheesh; but I had nothing to complain of, either in or outside the pyramids, except the fact of having them imposed upon you whether you want them or not. For backsheesh, they are willing to wait until we had got thro', except saying "Arab satisfy you; show you everything. You good gentleman satisfy Arab good backsheesh".

After the pyramid, lunch very agreeable. Then to interview the Sphinx - cut of solid limestone - body and head above ground, feet under. I suppose body of animal in crouching position. Body appears weather worn; but face looks worse thro' bad treatment than old age.

Head appears to he of harder stone than body; but we were not able to scratch its head and try - being as high as a 3 story house, though in sitting posture. The face looks somewhat African in type; but has not even a flat nose, having lost all of it. Lips, eyes, and ears and ornament about head, also cheeks and head good. Big thought: that this immense face of stone greeted me with the same cold stare as it did Abraham and his sons 4000 years ago. Face looks towards Cairo and not on the desert. Temple of Sphinx close by is a number of small square rooms, formed out of large blocks of polished granite, leading out of main room in which is number of massive squ. columns, with blocks on top to correspond.

Near to 2nd pyramid is an excavated tomb. It is abt. 20 yds sq, about 80 ft deep, cut out of rock in centre is a boss abt. 2 yds from sides. All round is a massive wall rising to surface, thus forming a sq. shaft with a cutting around, or it is an enormous sq. box dropped into a large sq. hole leaving 2 yds space around it at bottom of inner sq. And in centre is a sarcophagus with figure of mummy for lid.

In evening went to Opera. Music fair, no dancing, not many ladies present, and scarcely one good-looking woman dressed in Eastern style, unless they were in 4 boxes that were closely curtained and reserved for Khedive's Harem.

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