CHAPTER VII. EGYPT, THE LAND OF TOMBS AND TEMPLES.
The Maria Teresa landed me in Port Said, Egypt, Lord's day, October twenty-third, and at seven o'clock that evening I took the train for Cairo, arriving there about four hours later. I had no difficulty in finding a hotel, where I took some rest, but was out very early the next morning to see something of the largest city in Africa. The population is a great mixture of French, Greeks, English, Austrians, Germans, Egyptians, Arabians, Copts, Berbers, Turks, Jews, Negroes, Syrians, Persians, and others. In Smyrna, Damascus, and Jerusalem, cities of the Turkish empire, the streets are narrow, crooked, and dirty, but here are many fine buildings, electric lights, electric cars, and good, wide streets, over which vehicles with rubber tires roll noiselessly.
I first went out to the Mokattam Heights, lying back of the city, at an elevation of six hundred and fifty feet. From the summit an extensive view can be obtained, embracing not only the city of Cairo, with its many mosques and minarets, but the river beyond, and still farther beyond the Gizeh (Gezer) group of the pyramids. The side of the Heights toward the city is a vast quarry, from which large quantities of rock have been taken. An old fort and a mosque stand in solitude on the top. I went out by the citadel and passed the mosque tombs of the Mamelukes, who were originally brought into the country from the Caucasus as slaves, but they became sufficiently powerful to make one of their number Sultan in 1254. The tombs of the Caliphs, successors of Mohammed in temporal and spiritual power, are not far from the Heights.
As I was returning to the city, a laborer followed me a little distance, and indicated that he wanted my name written on a piece of paper he was carrying. I accommodated him, but do not know for what purpose he wanted it. I stopped at the Alabaster Mosque, built after the fashion of one of the mosques of Constantinople, and decorated with alabaster. The outside is full of little depressions, and has no special beauty, but the inside is more attractive. The entrance is through a large court, paved with squares of white marble. The floor of the mosque was nicely covered with carpet, and the walls are coated for a few feet with alabaster, and above that they are painted in imitation of the same material. The numerous lamps do much towards making the place attractive. The attendant said the central chandelier, fitted for three hundred and sixty-six candles, was a present from Louis Philippe, of France. A clock is also shown that came from the same source. The pulpit is a platform at the head of a stairway, and the place for reading the Koran is a small platform three or four feet high, also ascended by steps. Within an inclosure in one corner of the building is the tomb of Mohammed Ali, which, I was told, was visited by the Khedive the day before I was there.
The most interesting part of the day was the afternoon trip to the nine pyramids of the Gizeh group. They may be reached by a drive over the excellent carriage road that leads out to them, or by taking one of the electric cars that run along by this road. Three of the pyramids are large and the others are small, but one, the pyramid of Cheops, is built on such magnificent proportions that it is called "the great pyramid." According to Baedeker, "the length of each side is now seven hundred and fifty feet, but was formerly about seven hundred and sixty-eight feet; the present perpendicular height is four hundred and fifty-one feet, while originally, including the nucleus of the rock at the bottom and the apex, which has now disappeared, it is said to have been four hundred and eighty-two feet. * * * In round numbers, the stupendous structure covers an area of nearly thirteen acres."
It is estimated that two million three hundred thousand blocks of stone, each containing forty cubic feet, were required for building this ancient and wonderful monument, upon which a hundred thousand men are said to have been employed for twenty years. Nearly all of the material was brought across from the east side of the Nile, but the granite that entered into its construction was brought down from Syene, near Assouan, five hundred miles distant. Two chambers are shown to visitors, one of them containing an empty stone coffin. The passageway leading to these chambers is not easily traversed, as it runs at an angle like a stairway with no steps, for the old footholds have become so nearly worn out that the tourist might slip and slide to the bottom were it not for his Arab helpers. A fee of one dollar secures the right to walk about the grounds, ascend the pyramid, and go down inside of it. Three Arabs go with the ticket, and two of them are really needed. Those who went with me performed their work in a satisfactory manner, and while not permitted to ask for "backshish," they let me know that they would accept anything I might have for them. The ascent was rather difficult, as some of the stones are more than a yard high. It is estimated that this mighty monument, which Abraham may have looked upon, contains enough stone to build a wall around the frontier of France. Of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramid of Cheops alone remains. The other attractions here are the Granite Temple, and some tombs, from one of which a jackal ran away as we were approaching. I got back to Cairo after dark, and took the eight o'clock train for Assouan.