Other pages on this general subject are here: Pages 1, 2, 3, 4 & 6. But a reminder as always. This page & the site to which the above links take you, are designed for a 1024 x 768 screen setting.

Such information as I have by each author is available directly here: Giovanni Belzoni, Amelia Edwards.


Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778-1823) was an extraordinary man indeed. He was born in Italy, but fled his native country when Napoleon invaded in 1798. He studied hydraulic engineering & worked as a merchant trader. He was a giant! 6 feet 7 inches tall, & for a while was a circus strongman in England, with the circus name of the "Patagonian Samson." The highlight of his act, I read, was "to lift a special constructed iron frame with 12 people sitting on it, and then, still holding it, walk across the stage". In 1812, he left England with his wife Sara & journeyed to Malta, & then to Egypt where the Pasha, a former Macedonian mercenary named Muhammed Ali, needed a hydraulic engineer. He met John Lewis Burckhardt, became fascinated with the archeology of Egypt & its monetary possibilities. Amongst his many accomplishments, he found the tombs of Ramesses I & Seti I in the Valley of the Kings &, of course, excavated Abu Simbel. He travelled & excavated extensively in Egypt. He died young, in Nigeria in 1823 at the age of 45, while he was en route to fabled Timbuktu. His methods today would be frowned upon. But, as I say, a most interesting fellow indeed!

He was the first Westerner to have actually entered the Ramesses II temple at Abu Simbel when he did so on Aug. 1, 1817 after having had a mini mountain of encroaching sand cleared away. He visited the Temple twice - for six days in 1816 & twenty days in 1817. The extracts below are from his "Narratives of the operations and recent discoveries within the pyramids, temples, tombs, and excavations in Egypt and Nubia" published in London in 1821, & that is just about a half of the full title! I trust that I have faithfully reproduced the text including the punctuation which contains, to my mind, an excessive use of commas in today's usage. No Plates were in the 1821 volume I read, so I presume they were separately published.

The first three paragraphs relate to his first visit, & all the paragraphs are in sequence as in the book. Considerable difficulties were experienced in getting the necessary local labour to remove the sand. I reproduce one paragraph about the purchase of a sheep which gives a good idea of the difficulties & protracted negotiations with the Cacheffs, who were the local tribal leaders - Osseyn Cacheff the father & Daoud Cacheff, the son, both of whom were in total control of their people & with absolute power even that of life and death over them. "Dhourra" is a sorghum grain. Belzoni used palisades to hold back the sand & cleared it to three feet below the top of the door. Only then was he able to enter the temple.

"Next morning we reached Faras, which we left on the east, and went to see the temples of Ybsambul on the west. As we crossed the Nile exactly opposite these temples, we had an opportunity of examining and having full views of them at a distance (see Plate 42). In the front of the minor temple are six colossal figures, which make a better appearance at a distance than when near them. They are thirty feet high, and are hewn out of the rock; as is also the large temple, which has one figure of an enormous size, with the head and shoulders only projecting out of the sand; and notwithstanding the great distance, I could perceive, that it was beautifully executed. On the upper part or frieze of the temple was a line of hieroglyphics, which covered the whole front; and above this a range of figures in a sitting posture, as large again as life. The sand from the north side, accumulated by the wind on the rock above the temple, and which had gradually descended towards its front, choked the entrance, and buried two-thirds of it. On my approaching this temple, the hope I had formed of opening its entrance vanished at once; for the amazing accumulation of sand was such, that it appeared an impossibility ever to reach the door. We ascended a hill of sand at the upper part of the temple, and there found the head of a hawk projecting out of the sand only to its neck. From the situation of this figure, I concluded it to be over the door. From the size of the head, the figure must have been more than twenty feet high; below the figure there is generally a vacant space; so that with the cornice over the door and the freize, I calculated, that the doorway could not be less than thirty-five feet below the surface of the sand; and this distance would have accorded in proportion with the front of the temple, which is one hundred and seventeen feet wide. The sand ran down in a slope from one side to the other, and to attempt to make an aperture straight through it to the door would have been like making a hole in the water. It was necessary, therefore, to remove the sand in such a direction, that it might fall off from the front of the door: but in doing this the sand from above would continue to fall on the place whence that below was removed, and render it an endless task Besides, the natives were wild people, totally unaccustomed to such labour, and knew nothing of working for money: indeed they were ignorant of money altogether. All these difficulties seemed such insurmountable obstacles, that they almost deterred me from the thought of proceeding: yet perseverance, stimulated by hope, suggested to me such means, that at last, after much exertion and two voyages thither, I had the satisfaction of entering the great Temple of Ybsambul."

"Next day (20th), in the morning the people came slowly to work, but upon the whole we went on very well, though I had much ado to make them proceed in the right way. The Cacheff, with his attendants, came to see how we were proceeding, and gave me to understand, that he intended dining with me. I told him I was very glad of his company, but had nothing except boiled rice, unless he would order his people to kill a sheep for us, which I would gladly pay for. They consulted about who could afford to part with a sheep, and receive piastres in payment, and at last the order was given to an old man, who had five, which was a greater number than any body else. When the sheep was brought to us, the difficulty was to fix the price of it. Being the first ever sold for money in that place, to put a high price on it would have increased the value of sheep in general, and consequently would have been against the interest of the Cacheff: for when he receives his revenues in these animals, he sets them at a very low price, that he may have the more given him. To estimate it at a low price would be worse, for it would be against them all in the exchange of sheep for dhourra with the other villages, Finding it a dangerous point to decide, it was at length resolved, that no price at all should be put upon the sheep, but that the man should give me a present of it, and I should give any thing I pleased in return. To prevent any standard being established from what I gave the man, I paid him in soap, tobacco and salt." 

"I naturally expected, That no one would come to work the next morning (22nd): but in this I was mistaken. So much of the sand had been taken away, that the first palisade became useless. I made another, therefore, directly before the place where I supposed the entrance to be, to prevent the sand from falling against it. I now began to see clearly, that this work would employ more time than I could spare in that country, and the period I had meant to dedicate to it was already elapsed. .... I had by this time removed so much sand, as to uncover twenty feet in the front of the temple. The colossal statues above the door were completely exposed: and one of the great colossi sitting before the temple, on the north side, which was buried in the sand, appeared with his face and shoulders like his companion on the south. .... and after taking a drawing of the exterior of the temple, quitted it, with a firm resolution of returning to accomplish its opening."

"Early in the morning of the 1st of August we went to the temple in high spirits, at the idea of entering a newly discovered place. We endeavoured as much as we could to enlarge the entrance; but our crew did not accompany us as usual. On the contrary, it appeared that they intended to hinder us as much as lay in their power; for when they saw, that we really had found the door, they wished to deter us from availing ourselves of it: the attempt however failed. They then pretended, that they could not stop any longer with the boat in that place, and if we did not go on board immediately, they would set off with her and leave us. On our refusal they knelt on the ground, and threw sand over their faces, saying, that they would not stop an instant. The fact was, they had promised to the Cacheffs to play some trick to interrupt our proceedings, in case we should come to the door. But even all this would not do. We soon made the passage wider, and entered the finest and most extensive excavation in Nubia; one that can stand a competition with any in Egypt, except the tomb newly discovered in Beban el Mahook."

"From what we could perceive at the first view, it was evidently a very large place; but our astonishment increased, when we found it to be one of the most magnificent of temples, enriched with beautiful intaglios, paintings, colossal figures, &c. We entered at first into a large pronaos, fifty-seven feet long and fifty-two wide, supported by two rows of square pillars in a line from the front door to the door of the sekos (See Plate 43). Each pillar has a figure, not unlike those at Medinet Aboo, finely executed, and very little injured by time. The tops of their turbans reach the ceiling, which is about thirty feet high: the pillars are five feet and a half square. Both these and the walls are covered with beautiful hieroglyphics, the style of which is somewhat superior, or, at least bolder than that of any others in Egypt, not only in the workmanship, but also in the subjects. They exhibit battles, storming of castles, triumphs over the Ethiopians, sacrifices, &c. In some places is to be seen the same hero as at Medinet Aboo, but in a different posture. Some of the colours are much injured by the close and heated atmosphere, the temperature of which was so hot, that the thermometer must have risen to above a hundred and thirty degrees. ... "

"This temple was nearly two-thirds buried under the sand, of which we removed thirty-one feet before we came to the upper part of the door. It must have had a very fine landing-place, which is now totally buried under the sand. It is the last and largest temple excavated in the solid rock in Nubia, between the first and second cataracts, or Egypt, except the new tomb. It took twenty-two days to open it, beside six days last year. We sometimes had eighty men at work, and sometimes only our own personal exertions, the party consisting of Mr. Beechey, Captains Irby and Mangles, myself, two servants, and the crew, eleven in all, and three boys. It is situated under a rock about a hundred feet above the Nile, facing south-east, and about one day and a half's journey from the second cataract in Nubia, or Wady Halfa."

"The heat was so great in the interior of the temple, that it scarcely permitted us to take any drawings, as the perspiration from our hands soon rendered the paper quite wet. Accordingly, we left this operation to succeeding travellers, who may set about it with more convenience that we could, as the place will become cooler. ... The Cacheffs had given orders to the people not to sell us any kind of food whatever, hoping we might be driven away by hunger. But there was an Abady, who lived in the village, and he was of a different tribe, he was not so much afraid of disobeying the Cacheffs. He sometimes came at night, and brought us milk; but he was at last detected, and prevented from bringing any more.

"We left Ybsambul on the 4th of August ..."


On my
first Abu Simbel data page, I provided some of the wonderful prose of Amelia B. (Blandford) Edwards, (1831-1892), an extraordinary English lady who journeyed up the Nile in 1873-4, & wrote a tale of her adventures, ('A Thousand Miles up the Nile') which is still a classic today. She spent no less than 14 days camped close beneath the giant statues of Ramesses II. Here are six more paragraphs of her words. In the first, Amelia talks of those giant statues, with a reference to cartouches which I find most interesting. Was there, in fact, any evidence of cartouche tattoos on the mummy of Ramesses II? I do not know. But if I see any reference to the subject I will add it in. Or if someone knows, they might advise me. A cabochon is, I learn, a gemstone that has a rounded or domed surface with no facets. The second paragraph initially refers to the sand dunes which covered the statues when Burkhardt first saw them in 1813. The third, fourth & fifth paragraphs refer to the Kadesh battle scene which covers a vast wall area in the interior of the main temple.

"The figures are naked to the waist, and clothed in the usual striped tunic. On their heads they wear the double-crown, and on their necks rich collars of cabochon drops cut in very low relief. The feet are bare of sandals, and the arms of bracelets; but in the front of the body, just where the customary belt and buckle would come, are deep holes, such as might have been made to receive rivets, supposing the belts to have been made of bronze or gold. On the breast, just below the necklace, and on the upper part of each arm, are cut in magnificent ovals, between four and five feet in length, the ordinary cartouches of the king. These were probably tattooed upon his person in the flesh."

"The top of the doorway was then thirty feet below the surface. Whether the sand will ever reach that height again, must depend on the energy with which it is combated. It can only be cleared as it accumulates. To avert it is impossible. Backed by the illimitable wastes of the Libyan desert, the supply from above is inexhaustible. Come it must; and come it will, to the end of time".

"But the wonder of Abou Simbel is the huge subject on the north side of the Great Hall. This a monster battle-piece which covers an area of 57 feet and 7 inches in length, by 25 feet 4 inches in height, and contains over 1100 figures. Even the heraldic cornice of the cartouches and asps which runs round the rest of the ceiling is omitted on this side, so that the wall is literally filled with the picture from top to bottom."

"Fully to describe this huge design would take many pages. It is a picture-gallery in itself. It represents not a single action, but a whole campaign. It sets before us, with Homeric simplicity, the pomp and circumstance of war, the incidents of camp life, and the accidents of the open field. We see the enemy's city with its battlemented towers and triple moat; the besiegers' camp and the pavilion of the king; the march of the infantry; the shock of chariots; the hand-to-hand melée; the flight of the vanquished; the triumph of the Pharaoh; the bringing in of the prisoners; the counting of the hands of the slain. A great river winds through the picture from end to end, and almost surrounds the invested city. The king in his chariot pursues a crowd of fugitives along the bank. Some are crushed under his wheels; some plunge into the water and are drowned. Behind him, a moving wall of shields and spears, advances with rhythmic step the serried phalanx; while yonder, where the fight is thickest, we see chariots overturned, men dead and dying, and riderless horses making for the open. Meanwhile the besieged send out mounted scouts, and the country folk drive their cattle to the hills."

"A grand frieze of chariots charging at full gallop divides the subject lengthwise, and separates the Egyptian camp from the field of battle. The camp is square, and enclosed, apparently, in a palisade of shields. It occupies less than one sixth part of the picture, and contains about a 100 figures. Within this narrow space the artist has brought together an astonishing variety of incidents. The horses feed in rows from a common manger, or wait their turn and impatiently paw the ground. Some are lying down. One, just unharnessed, scampers round the enclosure. Another, making off with the empty chariot at his heels, is intercepted by a couple of grooms. Other grooms bring buckets of water slung from the shoulders on wooden yokes. A wounded officer sits apart, his head resting on his hand; and an orderly comes in haste to bring him news of the battle. Another, hurt apparently in the foot, is having the wound dressed by a surgeon. Two detachments of infantry, marching out to reinforce their comrades in action, are met at the entrance to the camp by the royal chariot returning from the field. Rameses drives before him some fugitives, who are trampled down, seized, and despatched upon the spot. In one corner stands a row of objects that look like joints of meat; and near them are a small altar and a tripod brazier. Elsewhere, a couple of soldiers, with a big bowl between them, sit on their heels and dip their fingers in the mess, precisely as every Fellah does to this day. Meanwhile it is clear that Egyptian discipline was strict, and that the soldier who transgressed was as abjectly subject to the rule of stick as his modern descendent. In no less than three places do we see this time-honoured institution in full operation, the superior officer energetically flourishing his staff; the private taking his punishment with characteristic disrelish. In the middle of the camp, lies Rameses' tame lion; while close against the royal pavilion a hostile spy is surprised and stabbed by the officer on guard. The pavilion itself is very curious. It is evidently not a tent but a building, and was probably an extemporaneous construction of crude brick. It has four arched doorways, and contains in one corner an object like a cabinet, with two scared hawks for supporters."

"The scene of the campaign is laid in Syria. The river of blue and white zigzags is the Orontes; the city of the besieged is Kadesh or Kades; the enemy are the Kheta."

On e-Bay in May 2003, I have found a J. P. Sebah albumen image described as being of Abou Simbel. It was available for purchase in May 2003 for U.S. $24.99 but did not, it would seem, sell. It is very fine indeed. BUT, I had hoped, when I found it, to be able to reread Amelia Edwards' text as provided above, & link the image in at the appropriate place. I cannot do that, however, because I cannot see that her extensive words describe the specific image which now follows. But it is a fine image indeed & fine images of the interior of Abu Simbel are not often available. So I provide the image. But a commentary as to exactly what it represents & how it ties in with Amelia's words must await another day. I trust I may be forgiven for using this fine image in this way.

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