THE DAWN OF A CENTURY OF DISCOVERY
The Revue Germanique says:—"We owe a great deal of information to these excursions, respecting a country of which we had only crude notions, gained from Seetzen's incomplete communications. Burckhardt's power of close observation detected a number of interesting facts, even in well-known districts, which had escaped the notice of other travellers. These materials were published by Colonel Martin William Leake, himself a geographer, a man of learning, and a distinguished traveller."
Burckhardt had seen Palmyra and Baalbek, the slopes of Lebanon and the valley of the Orontes, Lake Huleh, and the sources of the Jordan; he had discovered many ancient sites; and his observations had led especially to the discovery of the site of the far-famed Apamoea, although both he and his publisher were mistaken in their application of the data obtained. His excursions in the Auranitis were equally rich, even though coming after Seetzen's, in those geographical and archæological details which represent the actual condition of a country, and throw a light upon the comparative geography of every age.
Leaving Damascus in 1813, Burckhardt visited the Dead Sea, the valley of Akâba, and the ancient port of Azcongater, districts which in our own day are traversed by parties of English, with their Murray, Cook, or Bædeker in their hands; but which then were only to be visited at the risk of life. In a lateral valley, the traveller came upon the ruins of Petra, the ancient capital of Arabia Petræa.
At the end of the year Burckhardt was at Cairo. Judging it best not to join the caravan which was just starting for Fezzan, he felt a great inclination to visit Nubia, a country rich in attractions for the historian, geographer, and archæologist. Nubia, the cradle of Egyptian civilization, had only been visited, since the days of the Portuguese Alvares, by Poncet and Lenoir Duroule, both Frenchmen, at the close of the seventeenth century, at the opening of the eighteenth by Bruce, whose narrative had so often been doubted, and by Norden, who had not penetrated beyond Derr.
In 1813 Burckhardt explored Nubia proper, including Mahass and Kemijour. This expedition cost him only forty-two francs, a very paltry sum in comparison with the price involved in the smallest attempt at an African journey in our own day; but we must not forget that Burckhardt was content to live upon millet-seed, and that his entire cortége consisted of two dromedaries.
Two Englishmen, Mr. Legh and Mr. Smelt, were travelling in the country at the same time, scattering gold and presents as they passed, and thus rendering the visits of their successors costly.
Burckhardt crossed the cataracts of the Nile. "A little farther on," says the narrative, "near a place called Djebel-Lamoule, the Arab guides practise a curious extortion." This is their plan of proceeding. They halt, descend from their camels, and arrange a little heap of sand and pebbles, in imitation of a Nubian tomb. This they, call "preparing the grave for the traveller" and follow up the demonstration by an imperious demand for money. Burckhardt having watched his guide commence this operation, began quietly to imitate him, and then said, "Here is thy grave; as we are brothers, it is but fair that we should be buried together." The Arab could not help laughing, both graves were simultaneously destroyed, and remounting the camels, the cavalcade proceeded, better friends than before. The Arab quoted a saying from the Koran: "No human being knows in what spot of the earth he will find his grave."
|"Here is thy grave."|
Burckhardt had hoped to get as far as Dingola, but was obliged to rest satisfied with collecting information about the country and the Mamelukes, who had taken refuge there after the massacre of their army by order of the viceroy of Egypt.
The attention of the traveller was frequently directed to the ruins of temples and ancient cities, than which none are more curious than those of Isambul.
"The temple on the banks of the Nile is approached by an avenue flanked by six colossal figures, which measure six feet and a half from the ground to the knees. They are representations of Isis and Osiris, in various attitudes. The sides and capitals of the pillars are covered with paintings or hieroglyphic carvings, in which Burckhardt thought a very ancient style was to be traced. All these are hewn out of the rock, and the faces appear to have been painted yellow, with black hair. Two hundred yards from this temple are the ruins of a still larger monument, consisting of four enormous figures, so deeply buried in the sand that it is impossible to say whether they are in a standing or sitting posture."
These descriptions of antiquities, which in our own day are accurately known by drawings and photographs, have, however, little value for us; and are merely interesting as indicating the state of the ruins when Burckhardt visited them, and enabling us to judge how far the depredations of the Arabs have since changed them.