Full refund within 30 days if you're not completely satisfied.
Philae was ‘discovered’ by European adventurers and travellers to the dark interior of the African continent. One of the first visitors was the wealthy Englishman, William John Bankes who had a burning desire to travel and investigate the archaeology of the area. With his classical education, knowledge of architecture and artistic skills, he was well placed to investigate the temples of Egypt. On his journey he met John Burkhart who had recently returned from a trip up the Nile to Nubia. The stories of his adventures, especially the discovery of the temples of Abu Simbel, were an inspiration to Bankes. On the 15thSeptember 1815, Bankes, in the company of four others he had hired to accompany him as guides and interpreters, began his first voyage up the Nile to Nubia, staying at Luxor for ten days whilst he recovered from a severe eye infection. Their rented boat was too big to be dragged up through the First Cataract, so they changed to a smaller vessel, which was waiting for them at Philae Island. Before heading south they explored the temple and Bankes noticed (and sketched the hieroglyphs of) a small obelisk that had fallen off its base and was lying halfburied in the ground. They sailed on southwards to Abu Simbel, then still almost completely buried in sand. Their journey ended at Wadi Halfa where they headed north and stopped again at Philae. Working by candle-light one night, Bankes managed to find the base of the small obelisk which was inscribed in Greek, which he could read. The inscription mentioned two Cleopatras, both wives of Ptolemy VIII. He thought that the hieroglyphic text on the obelisk would be the same as the Greek. Hieroglyphs had still not been deciphered and he decided that the obelisk and base would be well worth excavating and taking home for further study. In July 1799, Pierre Francois-Xavier Bouchard, a French officer stationed at Fort St. Julien near Rosetta in the Delta, had found an inscribed block of black basalt. Taken from the French by the British, the stone is now in the British Museum. The ‘Rosetta Stone’ bears an inscription carved in three different scripts; the bottom one in Greek indicated that the other two, in Hieroglyphs and Demotic, were the same message, which was a tax revision decree of Ptolemy V. The race to translate the hieroglyphs began and the English had all the advantages: they had the stone and could also travel freely to Egypt. The French, however, did have a copy that had been made before the stone was handed over to the British. In London, the work of translating was begun by Thomas Young who can only be described as a genius of his time. To help with his work he needed more bilingual inscriptions and in particular the missing top of the Rosetta Stone. Letters were sent to Egypt requesting explorers to collect any artefacts that would help in his work. Bankes realised that the Philae obelisk would help immensely with this. Well-known Egypt explorer, and larger-than-life character, Giovanni Battista Belzoni now enters the story. In 1816 he had been asked by Henry Salt, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, to obtain the gigantic head of
Rameses II from the Ramesseum in Thebes. This he did and then travelled south to Philae, where he found the obelisk, discovered a year earlier by Bankes. He had plans (and permission) to remove the obelisk but the conditions on the river were not right; he planned to move it the following year, but this work was delayed. The obelisk’s final journey began in 1818, when Bankes and Salt organised another trip up-river. Bankes had decided to take the obelisk to his country estate at Kingston Lacy, and employed Belzoni to recover it and transport it to Alexandria for him. They left Thebes on 16th November and were soon at Kom Ombo, where it was discovered that Drovetti (another avid ‘collector’ and rival of Belzoni) had plans to take the obelisk, and also had permission to do so, but that he too was thwarted by low water in the river. When Belzoni arrived, the Agha admitted Belzoni’s prior claim, although the gift of a valuable gold watch belonging to Bankes was needed to secure the deal. A boat was found, but the captain objected to transporting such a heavy load down the Cataract in the, by then, very low water conditions; however, when money changed hands, he agreed to do it. With very little equipment except a few rollers and levers, the obelisk was manoeuvred to the water’s edge, where a stone pier was under construction to help load it onto the waiting boat. The big day came for the transfer to the boat, and it must have been a very special moment for Bankes to see the obelisk he had found, three years before, begin its long journey to England. Even Drovetti and his colleagues had come to watch. Suddenly there was movement, but not as expected – the pier began to collapse, slewing the obelisk around and slowly toppling it into the water. The English party were decidedly not amused, whilst Drovetti and his group jeered and shouted as the obelisk sank below the surface. If they could not have it, they didn’t want Belzoni and company to have it either! The Bankes and Salt party said very little and soon left to continue their trip up the Nile to explore beyond the Second Cataract. Belzoni stayed behind to see what he could do. Whilst he had little equipment, he did have plenty of labour. A combination of ropes and long levers allowed his team to roll the obelisk slowly back up the bank. As it moved, stones were stacked underneath to prevent it rolling back and gradually it rose from the water. It took two days to recover it, but there was still the problem of getting it on the boat. This was done by making a bridge of palm logs and sliding it across. The boat was too heavily-laden to take the Greek-inscribed pedestal as well, so this was taken to the mainland and left on a mud bank for collection later. The following day, the captain of the hired boat must have wished that the obelisk was still at the bottom of the river, as he had to face the dangers of the Cataract. With the low water level, he was concerned for his boat. Ropes were attached to the gunwales and held at the Cataract’s edge by strong Nubians , whose job it would be to guide the vessel into calmer waters. Belzoni gave the word and the boat was steered into the fast current
ANCIENTEGYPTDecember 2007/January 2008