Emilia Edwards: British Novelist Visits Egypt
by the Egyptian Government
Emilia Edwards visit to Egypt in 1873 and 1874 was a decisive turning-point in her life. Lured by the study of Egyptology, the British novelist engaged into several excavations and in 1882 launched huge fund-raising efforts to finance such excavations. She lectured on Egyptology in the United States and published lectures on Pharaohs, fellaheen (peasants) and explorers in 1791. She donated her private library to London University college and bequeathed a portion of her estate to establish a chair for Egyptology at that university.
The One Thousand Mile Journey
The most significant work left behind by the novelist-Egyptologist was a book entitled One Thousand Miles up the Nile, one of the best writings by the 19th Century travelers on the description of Egypt. The book contains a description of Cairo, including souqs (popular market places), hotels, mosques, gate houses, the procession of Mahmal (a caravan carrying provisions to the Holy Land of Hegaz during pilgrimage) as well as the pyramids.
She then gives a detailed account of her Nile voyage to archeological sites starting from al-Badrasheen, Saqqara, Memphis, through al- Minia, Assuit, Dendara, and Thebes dawn to Luxor, Aswan, Philae, Nubia and Abu-Simbel.
She was as equally interested in the traditions of the people as the monuments. Her accounts were made with a measure of accuracy and objectivity, free of pre-determined conceptions.
Initially, Edwards cited Jean-Jaque Amperes first impression of contemporary Egypt that newcomers journeys were confined to donkey rides, boat picnics or outings in the relics.
Edwards further makes an indicative note that publications already issued on the history of Egypt were inconsistent, albeit abundant in quantity, attributing this to the fact that dedicated Egyptologists were usually less- traveled. At the same time, she adds, travelers, who usually made accurate remarks, lacked awareness of the reality and history of sites. This may explain why she wrote her book on the Nile, i.e.; to satisfy both conditions listed above.
Forefathers and Grandsons
Edwards gives the impression that Egypts grandsons were no different from their forefathers. For example, she maintains that Egyptian peasants life and physique had remained unchanged since ancient times. The contemporary Egyptian peasant looks the same as that depicted on mural inscriptions, with the same broad shoulders, slim but strong limbs, full lips and swarthy complexion.
He is still dressed in the ancient clothes, uses the same shadof (water-raising device) and the same plough. He even cooks his food in the same older way and eats it from the same type of plate as his forefather did 6000 years ago.
She notes that social traditions of the provincial gentry have also remained unchanged. Water is poured from the same pot, for washing hand before dinner, into the same container (Tist) depicted in drawings of banquet scenes in Thebes.
Moreover, the practice of offering onto the head of the slaughtered sheep as alms to the poor before sitting to the table still persists. Still further, musicians take their seats at the near corner of the dining hall and singers clap their hands as they performed. The same earthen water containers made locally at the time of Cheops and Chephren are still in use, with tree leaves or flowers inserted in their necks in same way as before.
Dining and Clothing Customs
Edwards gives a detailed account of dining, clothing and day-to-day life customs that are almost identical to those shown in ancient Egyptian inscriptions and monuments.
Children in Nubia still adorn their foreheads with a side lock of hair in the same style of the image of infant god Horus. Teen-age girls still surround their waists with the same belt earlier used by princesses of the era of Thutmose II. Old men still walk with the help of canes in the same pattern of Sheikh al-Balad statue. Nubian girls still twist their hair in several dangling braids.
Nile boats dedicated to the governors or directors picnics or boat-houses leased by European travelers have the same shape of sailing boats with oars, depicted on the walls of the Valley of Kings tombs.
Edwards advises the tourist, who wishes to enjoy a magical and unforgettable impression of out-door oriental life, to start his tour in a domestic souq
Without attempting to buy, draw or collect information, he should only contemplate scenes of lights, shades, colors, costumes or architectural elements. Every shop front, every corner on the road, every group of turbaned people form a harmonious artistic scene.
The writer described the city road as heavily congested with a wide variety of people moving noisily and ceaselessly in endless ebb and tide. They included easterners and Europeans mounted on horse-back or carts. Egyptian lower-class women were shrouded in black veils, only disclosing their eyes.
The author noted with interest that there existed specialist market places, each assigned to a specific commodity. Each market place had an old gateway or could be accessed through a narrow corridor leading to an area congested with saddle-makers. There followed a market place for markers of horse head ornaments of all sorts. Across another corridor, one can proceed to the interminable carpet market. Here the writer is impressed by striped carpets from Tunisia, gray, blue or red-colored rugs from Algeria, red, green or blue- colored carpets from Turkey, rough- bristled rugs from Izmir The goldsmith market lanes are barely wide enough for two persons to pass side by side at the same time.
The market displays Cairo-made jewelry including bracelets, earrings, necklaces, ankle wear with dangling coins, crescent- shaped ornaments or pressed or hammered amulets. Merchants are notably tactful, patient and forbearing.
The writer then renders scenes from pastry, haberdashery, tobacco, weapons, copper and Moroccan markets as well as those containing English and French commodities specifically made for the Orient.
Edwards was particularly impressed by mosques, Islamic old gatehouses as well as old Coptic churches, mausoleums of Caliphs, the Pyramids and Heliopalis monuments.
Grandeur of the Pyramids
The writer expresses her first impression of the Pyramid as she first saw it from the window of the train coming from Alexandria. As soon as she crossed the outlying desert around Cairo up the slope leading to the stone plateau where the Pyramids rested, she was gripped with sudden awe and astonishment as the great Pyramid loomed, with its huge magnitude and dignified presence. She describes the monument not as a relic of ancient past but rather as lofty edifice where workers had reclined a while for some rest and would report to duty the next morning.
The color of the pyramid was another big surprise. Only few Europeans are aware how Egyptian limestone is turned into a dark yellow color as a result of long exposure to the scorching heat of the sun. However, these pyramids look, under certain lights, as huge heaps of gold bullion.
Edwards describes the Sultan Hassans Mosque as the finest in Cairo and even in the Islamic world at large. The grandeur of the mosque is not attributed to its size or type of marble used therein. In terms of size, this mosque is not as big as the Omayad Mosque in Damascus. On the other hand, the type of marble used there is not as fine as that used in Aya Sofia in Istanbul. However, the Sultan Hassans Mosque, with its unique design and elegant measurements, towers above all other buildings and mosques.
Ismail and Mariette
The author then talks with great enthusiasm about Boulacs museum of antiquities, noting that it was created thanks to Khedive Ismails for-sight and Mariettes loyalty. With the exception of Mahommad Ali, who had authorized the discovery of Dendara temple; no other ruler had even more tended to Egyptian archeology. Earlier, any one who wished to possess any relics encountered in Egypts soil or hidden under the desert sands could pick any at his discretion, nothing was easier than obtaining an excavation permit to acquire antiquities.
That was why, as Emilia Edwards argues, the museums of the West were packed with Egyptian antiquities, and several private collections were spread far and wide around Europe, until Khedive Ismail put an end to international plunder of Egypts wealth of antiquities. However, Egypt started to make up its own collections only after Khedive Ismail appointed Mariette, the assistant curator of oriental antiquities at the Louvre Museum as the director in charge of Egyptian antiquities.
The writer refers to rumors circulated by some travelers accusing Copts of fanaticism against foreign Christians and denies having seen any such signs. She admits that her colleagues and she had much enjoyed cordial feelings on the part of Copts they met. She advises any visitor to Egypt not to miss a mass at a Coptic church, because it is really wonderful to listen to the last words of the language of ancient Egyptians echoed back by their offspring.
France House at
The writer describes France House at Luxor, earlier granted by Mohammad Ali to French scholars. It was built of fired bricks with a ceiling of palm tree trunks. One side was built against the western wall of the Luxor temple and the facade overlooking that of the temple itself. This house became a historical landmark in 1829 when Champillion the discoverer of Rosetta Stone and Rossilini stayed and worked together there during their stay in Thebes. There also stayed navy officers sent by the French government to relocate the obelisk now rising at the place de Concorde in Paris.
Emilia Edwards shows remarkable admiration for Nubian customs. An interesting Nubian custom was that they relished the taste and smell of castor oil. They used it to cook their food, comb girls, hair and apply it hard to their childrens bodies.
Beauty of Philae
At the close of her trip, the writer spent eight magical days at Philae temple. On the afternoon of the eighth day, she found herself solitary at the temple. Highly excited by the seclusion of the place, she strolled around almost whispering fare well to the columns adorned with painting and inscriptions, terraces, compartments and palm trees.
Emilia bid a romantic farewell to Philae temple.