Egypt

While I was living in Kuwait, I was able to travel to Egypt with Intrepid. During my trip I read Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists, and Archaeologists in Egypt by one of my favorite living archaeologists, Brian Fagan. The information below come from that work. I should note that Egypt is absolutely jam packed with tourists (more so than anywhere else I have personally been), despite the magic of taking pictures at a particular moment and from a particular angle.

“The Egyptians called their homeland Kmt, ‘the black land,’ after the fertile dark soil that nurtured their civilization. The wealth and stability of ancient Egypt was proverbial in the Mediterranean world of 4,000 years ago… the greatness ended in about 1000 BCE, when Egypt ceased to be a major imperial power. Conquerors came and went. But the essential fabric of Egyptian civilization and its theology survived into Roman times. Today, the orderly world of ancient Egypt is long gone. The temples are silent. All-powerful gods like the sun deity have disappeared on the tides of history. Mud-brick walls crumble; temple pylons collapsed inexorably into the river alluvium. The chants and invocations… have long ceased. All that remains are crumbling columns and silent inscriptions massaged by the mocking rays of the sun.” During the Middle Ages, “scholars marveled at the temples and pyramids… but with no appreciation of the history, ignorant of hieroglyphs or older religious ways. Scholars ascribed the works of ancient Egypt to giants or magicians, some thought of the pyramids as Joseph’s granaries.”

“Egypt’s marvels attracted the learned and curious. Herodotus visited in about 460 BCE… and wrote one of the first lengthy accounts of the antiquities of the Nile. A nun named Lady Etheria from France visited as part of a lengthy procession through the holy places during the 5th century after Christ. She glimpsed ancient Egypt just as it was entering a long oblivion that lasted for more than ten centuries. In the Middle Ages, the governors of Egypt did little to encourage foreigners to visit.” When the Ottoman Empire took control, “a trickle of pilgrims, diplomats, and merchants made their way to Egypt… by the 16th century, a flourishing trade in mummified human flesh came into being” as well as “the serious business of collecting antiquities.” In the 1800s, “adventurers and opportunists, rough-and-tumble tomb robbers descended on Muhammad Ali’s Egypt… in search of fame and fortune.”

“Tomb robbing was a well-organized pastime in ancient times. Cunning and well-armed grave robbers ransacked the tombs of the pharaohs for their treasures. The thieves often worked in close collaboration with corrupt protests… opening most of the royal tombs by 1070 BCE. Most of the royal treasures vanished to ever long before antiquarians and archaeologists came and completed the work of destruction.” When Giovanni Belzoni entered the tomb of Seti I in 1817, “no one could read the thousands of hieroglyphics on the walls, but they could admire the scenes. By 1820, years of indiscriminate collecting had ravaged Egypt’s temples and tombs. The lust to collect and to own is a little understood human quality. Fortunately, the mystique and mystery of ancient Egypt has survived looters and gunpowder. Amun still journeys across the heavens in an endless journey that symbolizes continuity. Ancient Egypt lies there, preserved in the balsam of the sun.”

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