Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Intrepid Women: Sarah Belzoni

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Loretta reports:

Here’s a glimpse of what Sarah Belzoni dealt with in Egypt, traveling with her explorer husband (and sometimes on her own) in the early 1800s.  The excerpt is from Mrs. Belzoni’s Account of the Women of Egypt, Nubia, and Syria, which  was appended to Belzoni’s Narrative of the operations and recent discoveries within the pyramids, temples, tombs, and excavations, in Egypt and Nubia (originally published in England in 1820). 
After waiting two months in Cairo, and understanding it might be some time before Mr. B. could return, I determined on a third voyage to Thebes, taking the Mameluke before mentioned. I went to Boolak, and engaged a canja with two small cabins; one held my luggage, and the other my mattress, for which I paid 125 piastres. I left Cairo on November 27th, and arrived at Ackmeim on the 11th December, at night. A heavy rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning, commenced an hour after sunset, and continued the whole of the night: it pourred in torrents. My mattress and coverings were wet through, and were so for some days; and though the rain had ceased, yet it came pouring from the mountains through the lands into the Nile on each side for several days after. 
I arrived at Luxor on the 16th, and was informed Mr. B. was gone to the Isle of Philœ:  I crossed the Nile, and took up my residence at Beban el Malook. The men left to guard the tomb in Mr. B.'s absence informed me of the heavy rain they had experienced on the night I mentioned, and, in spite of all their efforts, they could not prevent the water entering the tomb; it had carried in a great deal of mud, and, on account of the great heat, and the steam arising from the damp, made some of the walls crack, and some pieces had fallen. On hearing this I went into the tomb, and the only thing we could do was to order a number of boys to take the damp earth away, for while any damp remained the walls would still go on cracking. Mr. B. arrived two days before Christmas, and on St.  Stephen's day he crossed to Carnak to review the various spots of earth he had to excavate, when an attempt was made to assassinate him. I had then a violent bilious fever, which, added to this fright, flung me into the yellow jaundice. Having sent a man to procure me some medicine from a doctor at Ackmeim, he returned after five days with about half an ounce of cream of tartar, and two teaspoonsful of rhubarb. Fortunately for me, two English gentlemen happened to arrive, on their return from Nubia for Cairo, and gave me some calomel, which was of great service to me, and which I remember with much gratitude.
Above left: Vue general de Louqsor.
Below right: Karnak. Temple de Ramessés IV, deux Pylônes.
Both by Maison Bonfils (Beirut, Lebanon), photographer, and courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Hels said...

Thank you. I am always stunned and amazed by intrepid female adventurers in the 19th century. And it didn't matter to me whether they travelled with their husbands or went by themselves.

Not Sarah Belzoni, I didn't know her name. I am thinking of people like Berthe Hoola van Nooten (1817 - 1892). But Belzoni's own published writings are a good place to start.

Undine said...

What I love is the sheer breezy nonchalance. Floods, assassination attempts, "bilious fever," "yellow jaundice"...but hey, a little rhubarb and calomel and all is right.

I swear, people were simply built differently in those days.

Monica Burns said...

Great post! I have Gertrude Bell's story on my shelf at home. I love the camel journey she took through the Sahara. AWESOME woman.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Loretta, I'd love to see a meeting between Sarah Belzoni and Sarah Bowdich (the naturalist/artist who was a recent Intrepid Woman)! I wonder if they did know one another - considering that they must have travelled in the same circles, I suppose it's likely...

Pieter van Gelder said...

Thank you very much for this post. I find it sad that hardly anyone knows who Giovanni and Sarah Belzoni were and what they accomplished under very difficult circumstances. Their contribution to the field of archeology remains underestimated.

Kathy said...

This article was so fascinating I ordered the book from Amazon! Thanks!

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