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The Mentor: Egypt, The Land of Mystery, Serial No. 42

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The Mentor: Egypt, The Land of Mystery, Serial No. 42
Dwight Elmendorf

Dwight L. Elmendorf

The Mentor: Egypt, The Land of Mystery, Serial No. 42





It is no wonder that the Egyptians through all their history have worshiped the Nile; for that marvelous river is the spine, the marrow, and the life of Egypt. Indeed, it is Egypt; for living Egypt is only a narrow strip twelve or fifteen miles wide, – simply the banks of the Nile. Herodotus called Egypt "the gift of the Nile." The river nourishes and controls the land. All along that waterway are to be found wonders and mysteries of the past. The mind balks in contemplation of the monuments of Egypt. They whisper messages from so far distant a time that we stagger in trying to grasp their meaning.

A visit through Egypt usually begins with Cairo. And it is just as well that it is so; for in Cairo there is much that is modern and much that is familiar to the English traveler. It is, therefore, a good way for the visitor to break into ancient Egypt. In Cairo modern people mingle with the sons of ancient Egyptians. The English soldier is to be seen almost everywhere, and in front of Shepheard's Hotel you may at times almost forget that you are in Egypt.

That is because you are bound down in Cairo, mingling with your own fellow visitors and too close to hotel life. Get up early in the morning, and go to the top of the hill known as the Citadel, and there you will get an impression of an Egyptian city. Look at one of the greatest buildings, the Mosque of Mehemet Ali. It is called the Alabaster Mosque. There is a great deal in modern Egypt that is imitation. That is the reason that this building of pure alabaster is to be valued. Its interior is rich and beautiful in design.


Stand on the parapet of the Citadel, and look over Cairo, and see the sun rise. Far in the distance is a sandstorm. Many people in the United States think that the weather in Egypt is as clear as crystal always. That is a great mistake. The days there are rarely as clear as American clear days. In January, February, and March you are likely to have sandstorms, or the sirocco, or wind from the desert, which almost obliterate the sun.

Down by the edge of the desert is the Dead City. The tombs there and their interiors are wonderful. The beautiful buildings have been allowed to decay. It is an oriental peculiarity not to repair anything.

On the other side of the Citadel are the tombs of the Mamelukes. I advise anyone going to Cairo to visit these tombs; for they contain very curious sarcophagi, and the tomb mosques are interesting, each of them being surmounted by a picturesque dome.

Our modern expositions and fair grounds would not be complete without "the streets of Cairo." As we know, a bit of street life is shown, more or less accurately – chiefly less. A fairly correct impression of Egyptian street life is, however, created by such artificial reproductions. One of our pictures will no doubt recall these exposition impressions. The genuine old streets of Cairo are fascinating. Some are so narrow that the traveler must go on foot, or on a donkey. The shops are almost within arm's reach on both sides, and many of them are temptingly attractive. There on one side they make famous leather goods; on another they sell glassware. Be careful not to buy unless you know how to bargain.


You must go to these little streets to find the bazaars if you want to buy anything; for the great street of the Arab quarter, the famous Muski, is not any longer a thorough Cairo street. Big shops and department stores have crept into it.

Stand for a moment on the corner of this great street and see a little bit of the Arab life of old Cairo. It is a busy city. There goes a carryall (a camel), an entire family on its back, except the husband, who walks by the side. This man coming down with a strange sack on his back is a walking fountain. The sack is filled with something sweet and sticky which he calls "sweet water." It is not pleasant. The genuine water carrier of the old school goes to the river, fills his jar, and then goes through the streets shaking his cup in his hand with a chink. It is plain water that he peddles. I should not advise one to drink either of these beverages. Then there are the bread venders of Cairo, who walk the streets carrying bread on their heads and crying out their wares.

Cairo is full of interesting mosques. The oldest and most celebrated is the Mosque of Omri. It is one of the earliest of Mohammedan temples in Egypt. They have a service there but once a year, when the khedive himself comes. The interior seems a veritable forest of pillars. One of these is a most remarkable pillar. I will tell the story of it as my boy Mohammed Mousa told it to me: "This pillar very important one – very holy. This pillar sent by Mahomet here; for when Omri come to build this mosque Mahomet so pleased he sent pillar from Mecca. The pillar come here. He find no other pillar from Mecca here; so he get lonely and fly back. Mahomet very angry, and send pillar back. Second time he fly back. Mahomet then get very angry, draw his sword, and strike pillar, and tell Omri to put pillar in prison. So he put it in prison, and it stand there." That is the story that they all believe.


The road leading down to the old Nile gate is a very beautiful one. Crossing the bridge there, we see the picturesque Nile boats, like the lateen boats of the Mediterranean. The avenue leads out to the pyramids, and there in the far distance you can see them, – those golden cones about which is wrapped so much of Egypt's history and mystery. The first sight of the pyramids naturally means much to any intelligent traveler. It makes no difference how much you have read, how much you have heard of them, you cannot be disappointed. It is said that the pyramids will last as long as the world, and they certainly look it. They represent to us the life of the world stretching back into the dim past; and, in their imposing solidity, they seem to give assurance of lasting to eternity. There are four of the pyramids in this group; though the mind naturally dwells on the largest, – the Pyramid of Khufu or Cheops. And to think that these are the works of man, and that they are tombs of the kings who lived and reigned somewhere about fifty centuries ago! The Great Pyramid of Cheops is 480 feet high and covers an area of thirteen acres, each side being 755 feet. The dimensions of this astounding work are almost mathematically exact. It is built of over two million blocks of limestone, and they are fitted together with the nicety of mosaics. How could these wonderful structures have been erected? – that has been the question of modern engineers. It has been suggested that an inclined plane of earth was constructed, and that the blocks were dragged by men to the top, the inclined plane being added to and raised for each layer. Then, when the pyramid was complete, the inclined plane of earth might have been taken away. This, however, is only a theory. Nothing is known of the methods employed. Originally the sides of the pyramid were smooth, and a little of this outer facing is still in place. These prism-shaped blocks were taken away from time to time for building purposes in Cairo.

People climb the pyramid, and also go inside. In the very heart of the Great Pyramid is a tomb chamber, where we see the empty coffin of Cheops or Khufu. The tomb was rifled long ago, and no one knows where the king's ashes are.

Ascent to the summit of the Great Pyramid means arduous climbing; but it is worth while simply for the view it affords of the desert. Most of us imagine the desert as a level of white sand. I thought so until I saw it from the summit of this pyramid. The desert stretches off in long waves, and does not seem like a plain, but rather like the rolling ocean.


Not far from Cheops we see above the waves of sand a rough-hewn head that stirs us mightily. No one can forget the first impression of the Sphinx. It stands for something unique in history and in knowledge. No one with a spark of reverence in his nature can stand before that great stone face without a feeling of awe. There will be little that he can say – the most reverent ones say nothing. There before you is that half-buried, crouching figure of stone about which you have read and heard so much. The paws are covered by sand. It is only by industrious shoveling and digging that the desert is prevented from rising on the wings of the wind and completely burying the great figure.

The Sphinx is the symbol of inscrutable wisdom, and its lips are supposed to be closed in mysterious silence, – knowing profoundly, but telling nothing. These are, however, mere impressions. Facts are the important things. No one knows how old the Sphinx is. It is supposed to have been made during the middle empire; but later investigations seem to prove that the Sphinx existed in the time of Cheops, which would mean that it is even older than the Great Pyramid. The Sphinx was made out of living rock, and the dimensions are as follows: Body, 150 feet long; paws, 50 feet long; head, 30 feet long; face, 14 feet wide; and the distance from top of head to base, 70 feet.

It must have been an imposing monument when constructed; for then it stood in position to guard the valley of the Nile, and about it was Memphis, the great city of Egypt – Memphis now past and gone. Memphis was once the capital city of the Pharaohs, and is said to have been founded by Menes. In its day of glory it was a prosperous and well fortified city. About 1600 B. C. it was supplanted as capital by Thebes, and the glory of Pharaoh's court was transferred to the southern city.


The most flourishing period in the history of Thebes was between 1600 and 1100 B. C. Thebes in turn fell into decay, and is now only a small place visited in the course of a trip to Luxor and Karnak. The situation of Thebes is interesting. It lies in the widest section of the Nile Valley, with a broad plain on the west stretching off to the Libyan Mountains. On this plain are the famous statues known as the Colossi of Memnon. Across the Nile, on the east bank, stand the ruins of Luxor and Karnak, and beyond them to the east are the Arabian hills.

Notable monuments on the west side are the temples of Seti I, Rameses II and III, which bear the names of El Kurna, the Ramesseum, and Medinet-Abu. Lying by the side of the Ramesseum is the fallen Colossus of Rameses II, the largest statue in Egypt. It is made of pink granite, and is about sixty feet in height – or length, we should now say, since the statue is prostrate.


Not far from Thebes is the village of Luxor: not much in itself, but just a place to stay while visiting the temples. It is pleasing to note that they have done a good work there in raising the embankment in the hope of keeping the Nile water out of the temples. The bank is steep; for the Nile rises high every year. In olden times these temples were evidently protected from the water by some means; but now it rises half up over them. The Temple of Luxor is one of the most beautiful and interesting in Egypt; though not so imposing as the Temples of Karnak. As you approach you can only see a part of it; for there is a fence up there, and if you want to go through you have to show a ticket. A so-called "monument ticket" can be obtained from the government for about six dollars a year, and this will enable a visitor to see every monument in Egypt. The fund thus raised is used to save the monuments, and every penny of it goes to that work.

The beauty of the Temple of Luxor is in its splendid colonnade. It must have been superb when in good condition, with colors fresh and bright.


The Temple of Karnak, too, is a distinguished mass of columns, the most imposing structure of its kind in existence. It was erected by Seti I and his son, Rameses II. Amenophis also had a hand in the building of it. They were great builders in those days, and all their plans were conceived on a vast scale. The ruins of Karnak are magnificent. Some idea of the impressive character of their columns may be gathered from the following statement: There are 134 great columns forming the central aisle, 12 of these 62 feet high and 12 feet thick, the rest of them 42 feet high and 9 feet thick. You will notice traces of color, and can gather from that what the temple must have been in its full glory. On a recent trip I found some German artists at Karnak, and suggested that if they would get some water and throw it over the columns they would obtain the effect of the true coloring. A good color chart of these columns has now been secured, showing them as they were three thousand years ago. On its outside walls sculptures tell the history of the splendid conquests of the kings that erected the structure.

Egypt is a country of impressive temples and monuments, the interest of which has not been exhausted by a library of books on the subject. A trip through Egypt is not complete without a visit to the Ramesseum and that unique monument, the Temple of Denderah. The latter is a building set apart in architectural and in historic interest. It is not imposing; but it has an appeal that the other temples have not. It was a place of mystery. Its inner chamber, the sanctuary of Denderah, was sacred to Pharaoh himself.


As one goes up the river visiting these strange monuments, he finds at the first cataract of the Nile an imposing object of modern interest. This is the dam at Assouan, one of the greatest feats of engineering in the world. The dam, which was completed in 1902, is a mile and a quarter long. It holds back the waters of the Nile, and supplies the reservoir, from which the waters are led into irrigation canals. The benefits of this great dam are felt from its location at the first cataract all through the farms and fields that skirt the Nile clear to the delta, six hundred miles below. It has made acres fertile that had been barren. It also, of course, has relieved the burden of the poor workmen at the shadoofs who dipped water for irrigation. Moreover, the dam has improved the conditions of transportation on the Nile; for it has disposed of the first cataract, where boats formerly had to be pulled through the rapids by men. Now the vessels go into a canal, and are conveniently and promptly lifted up through four locks to the level of the upper Nile.

The visitor should not leave Egypt till he has seen Philæ, with its beautiful temples, ruined walls, and colonnades. It is a sight for artists to draw and for us to dream of, – Philæ apparently afloat; for now the Nile water has penetrated the halls of its temples and surrounded its beautiful columns.

On returning from the upper Nile a visitor should go to the new National Museum at Cairo. He may have visited this interesting place before he took the Nile trip; but he will know more on his return. The valuable collection of Egyptian antiquities there in the museum will mean more to him. Months could be spent with profit in this building. It contains one of the richest and most interesting collections of historic remains in the world – the result of years of exploration, excavation, and the intelligent study of eminent scholars. There before you are the relics of ancient Egypt. There are the statues, mummies, and other antiquities that the government has collected. In them you may read the history of ancient Egypt and learn to appreciate the life, literature, and art of Pharaoh's time.

SUPPLEMENTARY READING. – "Modern Egypt and Thebes," Sir Gardiner Wilkinson; "A Thousand Miles Up the Nile," A. B. Edwards; "Egypt," S. Lane-Poole; "A History of Egypt from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest," J. H. Breasted; "A Short History of Ancient Egypt," P. E. Newberry and J. Garstang; "The Empire of the Ptolemies," J. P. Mahaffy; "Egypt in the Nineteenth Century," D. A. Cameron; "Modern Egypt," Lord Cromer.



The Mentor Association, Inc

381 Fourth Ave., New York, N. Y

Volume I

Number 42


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