Egypt Through The Stereoscope

A Journey Through The Land Of The Pharaohs

by James Henry Breasted | 1908 | 103,705 words

Examines how stereographs were used as a means of virtual travel. Focuses on James Henry Breasted's "Egypt through the Stereoscope" (1905, 1908). Provides context for resources in the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA). Part 3 of a 4 part course called "History through the Stereoscope."...

Position 65 - The Ramesseum, Mortuary Temple Of Ramses Ii—northwest Toward Tombs In The Cliffs, Thebes

EgyV7_0075r Here we are again, on the top of the first pylon at the Ramesseum (Map 9). Yonder behind those cliffs is the valley which we have just visited, the cemetery of the Theban Pharaohs, and this temple, as we have now several times noted, is but a chapel belonging to one of the tombs in that cemetery. When the priest-kings of the 21st Dynasty could no longer protect the royal mummies they found a secret shaft in the face of the cliffs before us, just beside the temple of Der el-Bahri. That temple is now hidden by that promontory of cliff on the right. If you will look at the base of the cliffs on the right, just in a line with that native in the white garment standing on the giant colossus, you will see some low brick buildings, and behind them a bay in the cliffs.

High up in that bay on the right, at the upper edge of the sands, drifted in at the base, the priest-kings made or found their secret shaft. It was only about 40 feet deep, but at its lower end there was a passage extending some distance into the mountain horizontally, and at its termination a large chamber. In this chamber, doubtless on some dark night, the mummies of Egypt's greatest kings were assembled, and before any one had discovered the shaft, it was filled up with stones and sand, and the top was covered with sand like the rest of the slope which you see there.

For over 3,000 years the Pharaohs slept undisturbed in their hiding-place. Then in the early seventies of the last century, the mortuary furniture of several royal tombs was found in the hands of various dealers in antiquities, and it was known that the Theban natives must have discovered the material in this cemetery. For years these things mysteriously appeared and were offered for sale in various places. Finally, through fear, and hope of reward, one of the brothers who had been plundering the ancient hiding-place of the royal mummies betrayed its location to the Mudir of Keneh.

Emil Brugsch Bey was the first European to see the bodies, and he thus describes his experience on first entering the long-hidden chamber up there in the mountain: “Every inch of the subterranean passage was covered with coffins and antiquities of all kinds. My astonishment was so overpowering that I scarcely knew whether I was awake or whether it was only a mocking dream. Resting on a coffin, in order to recover from my intense excitement, I mechanically cast my eyes over the coffin-lid, and distinctly saw the name of King Sethos I, the father of Ramses II, both belonging to the 19th Dynasty.

A few steps further on, in a simple wooden coffin, with his hands crossed on his breast, lay Ramses II. … The farther I advanced, the greater was the wealth displayed, here Amenophis I, there Amosis, the three Thutmosis's, Queen Ahmesnofertari, Queen Aahhotep, all the mummies well preserved; in all thirty-six coffins, belonging to king's and their wives or to princes and princesses. …”

This was on the 5th of July, 1881. Six days later they had been loaded on board the government steamer, placed at the disposal of the museum authorities, and the great Pharaohs who had been wont to sail the Nile in the gorgeous state barge, now journeyed down the river in a modern steamboat. For forty miles below Thebes, on both sides of the river, the women gathered on the banks with loosened hair, following it with cries and shrieks of lamentation, as at a native funeral, just as their peasant ancestors must have done when these great kings were borne to their last rest, across this plain where we now stand, 3,500 years ago. For five years they lay at the palace in Bulak (a suburb of Cairo) used at that time as a museum building, and on June 1st, 1886, at the desire of the Khedive, they were unrolled.

Then were brought to light those venerable forms which had once sat upon the throne of Egypt, and the conquerors of Asia and of Nubia stood before us in the flesh, as you have seen one of them in the new Cairo Museum. Thus Egypt preserves for us not merely the magnificent buildings of the conquerors, the sculptured stories of their great deeds, their household furniture and their portraits in stone, but even the actual faces and forms, which once the great spirit of the Pharaoh had animated.

Out here on the right, much further east, another such hiding-place was discovered in February, 1891, which contained no less than 163 mummies of priests and officials of high' rank under the 19th, 20th and 21st Dynasties, whose tombs, which we see up yonder in the cliff, had been rifled. To save the bodies and their mortuary furniture from destruction, their descendants had thus gathered them together and concealed them like those of the kings. If you will look on Map 9, just south of the Der el-Bahri temple, you may find the spot where the secret shaft for the kings' bodies was sunk. It is marked “Kings' Shaft” but that of the priests and nobles is not indicated.

We go now to the mortuary temple of Sethos I. Our position is given in the lower right-hand corner of Map 9 by the lines numbered 76.

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