” THERE is one Arab Power to which the eyes of all friends of Africa naturally turn with hopefulness. Egypt has ever been the great centre of African civilisation in the hands of the present dynasty, which may fairly be said to represent much that is excellent in European civilisation. Of the enormous increase of the aggregate wealth of the country there can be no doubt. Steam and railways have done at least as much for Egypt as for almost any European country.” In the progress thus attested by so competent a witness as Sir Bartle Frere, * lies the raison d’étre of the present volume. On Egypt of the past and the charms of modern travelif the lotus-life of Nile voyaging can be so calledfrom the Mediterranean to the Cataracts a whole literature has been written ; but the shelves of the British Museum may be searched in vain for any comprehensive account of the economical state of the country as it is. Yet this New Egypt, which has risen not on the ruins of, but side by side with the imperishable old-railways and telegraphs, sugar factories and cotton – gins mingling not incongruously with pyramids, rock-tombs, temples, and hieroglyphs dating from before Abrahamis rich beyond any other part of Africa in practical interest to the capitalist and the politician. There, in the northern extremity of this great continent, as nowhere else but in our own colonies of the south, the new civilization has taken root, and, slow as necessarily is its growth in a soil impoverished by so long a barbarism, it already gives promise of a strength and expansiveness which have no parallel in the East.
In any attempt to sketch the outcome, thus far, of this great national revival, the country itself first claims notice, not alone as the scene of the changes in progress, but as having also largely shared in the development. A glance, therefore, at the area over which this salutary revolution is at work may conveniently precede some detailed statement of its results. The limits of the territory now subject to the Khedive can, however, be only approximately fixed. Egypt proper is bounded definitely enough on the north by the Mediterranean, from Cape Hazaif to El-Arish on the frontier of Palestine; westward, by the Libyan desert; east, by a line drawn from El-Arish to Akabah at the head of the gulf of that name, and thence enclosing the peninsula of Sinai, down the western shore of the Red Sea to Cape Benas; and on the south by the First Cataract, between Assouan and Philae. But the regular parallelogram thus described forms less than one-fifth of the whole geographical area over which the Cairo Government now claims dominion. In 1821-2, an expedition under Ismail Pasha, the third son of Mehemet Ali, over-ran and annexed Nubia; and since then have been added the whole of the western coast of the Red Sea, and that of the Indian Ocean as far as Berbera, opposite Aden, and inland the Nile basin, anywhere between Khartoum and the Equator.* But beyond. Khartoum, the authority of the Khedive is as yet only in course of consolidation, and no definite line can be drawn as its exact southern boundary. Practically, however, its limit may for the present be fixed at Gondokoro (lat. 4° 55′ N.), beyond which Gordon Pasha is now operating to complete the work be-gun by Sir Samuel Baker, by effectively annexing the country between that point and the shores of the Albert and Victoria Lakes. A rough extension of the western boundary line from the parallel of Philae, up through the Desert, so as to include Darfour, the Darfertit country, Gondokoro, and the territory south of Sennaar, round con-terminal] sly with Abyssinia to the Red Sea at Massowah, would therefore more or less accurately describe the present limits of Egyptian sovereignty towards the Equator. A glance at the map will show that the vast tract of Eastern Africa thus enclosed measures more than 1,600 miles from north to south, and has an average breadth of about 350 miles from the Red. Sea into the Libyan desert.
But interesting as may be the future of the great group of countries within this area south of Egypt proper, two-thirds of it are as yet little more than a geographical expression. Now, as fifty years ago, the “Egypt ” both of politics and trade is still confined to the Delta and the rich river valley between its apex and Assouan, and to a description of the present condition of these the following pages will be mainly limited.
The old territory, then, of the Pharaohs, of the Ptolemies, the Caesars, the Arabian Caliphs, the Turks, and now of the Khedive, lies within lat. 31° 37′ and 24° 3′ N., between the Mediterranean and the First Cataract, above which the Nile, issuing from the rocky glen of Nubia, sweeps in a smooth but rapid stream round the little island of Phil Fe, and then, a couple of miles below, hurries down the rapids* of AssouanJuvenal’s Syene into the Mizraim of the Hebrews, the Misr of its present possessors, and the Egypt of western geography. The country whose southern boundary is thus definitely fixed, properly divides itself into Upper and Lower Egypt, the latitude of Cairo (30° 6′ N.) being the most obvious line of demarcation ; but modern geographers and the actual Government have recognised the ancient distribution into three provinces, now respectively called Lower, Middle, and Upper EgyptEl-Bahari, El- Vostani, and El-Saidthe further administrative subdivisions of which will in due course be described. In point of area, fertility, and commercial activity, the first of these three main divisions to which, because of its triangular shape, the Greeks gave its name of the Delta, is the most important section of the country. The base of the irregular triangle enclosed within the two branches of the river, and to which this name strictly applies, is only eighty-one miles long, and its entire area about 2,000 square miles. The complete shore-line of this larger district¬ extends for about a hundred and sixty miles along the old historic sea from the well-known landmark named the “Arab’s Tower” to the ruins of Pelusium ; but the actual territory of Egypt stretches considerably farther east and west. This coast-line includes the three ports of Alexandria, Rosetta, and Damietta, to which has now to be added that of Port Said at the entrance of the Suez Canal. Inland, this fine district tapers to a point near the village of Om-el-Dinar, close to whichabout eighty miles from the sea and twelve below Cairothe Nile divides into the two great branches which, flowing respectively north-west and north-east, enter the Mediterranean at Rosetta and Damietta.* The five other ancient mouths of the river have long ago silted up, and their courses can now be hardly traced over the great alluvial plain and through the network of canals and lakes which interpose between the sea and this point. Strictly, Alexandria lies outside the Delta, but in common phrase the latter includes the whole of the cultivable lands as well east and west of, as within, the two branches of the river. Some description will be given further on of the magnificent harbour works now in progress, which, when completed, will render this fine port the safest and most commodious in the Mediterranean. Enough here to say that the predictions of its decadence after the opening of the Suez Canal have been wholly falsified, and that with a population of more than 212, 000, railway communication with all parts of the interior, and a steadily increasing trade, this historic city is recovering much of its former prosperity, and is rapidly becoming, in fact as in name, the Liverpool of the East. The position of Rosetta and Damietta is of course much inferior, the bars at their respective mouths of the Nile confining their trade within narrow limits, but the official statistics show both to be making steady growth in industrial and commercial activity. The chief inland towns of the section are Tanta, Zagazig, Damanhour, and Mansourah, to which subsequent allusion will be made.
The fertile land of the Delta is separated from the Mediterranean by a chain of brackish lagoons which are them. selves fenced in from the sea by narrow belts of rock and sand-bank, on which a few wild and stunted date-palms form the only vegetation. The chief of these lakes are Mareotis, Etko, Bourlos, and. Menzaleh. The first is the most western, and though now little more than a salt marshexcept during the inundation, when its contents are swelled by filtration it was up to about 200 years age navigable, and contributed considerably to the commercial importance of Alexandria, immediately behind which it lies. A project for the drainage of this lake -has been mooted, but although a vast tract of valuable land would thus be reclaimed to cultivation, the cost of the work will probably postpone for some years any attempt to carry it out. Lake Etko, a few miles farther east, is only separated from the sea by a still narrower strip of shore, and when nearly full, during the inundation, spreads up to the town of Rosetta. Bourlos, also close along the sea, extends more than forty miles east of the latter town, with an average but irregular width of nearly ten miles, and, like the others, is shallow throughout. Lake Menaleh, the most eastern and largest of the series, extends from near Damietta to the mouth of the old Tanito branch, for about forty miles in length by eighteen in width. It is deeper than the other lakes, and supports a considerable fishing population in the villages and islands along its southern shore. Altogether a frontier of nearly 200 miles is covered by these lagoons.
Immediately above the village of Om-el-Dinar, the Delta narrows into the valley of Middle Egypt, which contains Cairo, the Pyramids, the fine province of the Fayoum, and the broad belt of cultivated and fertile land on both banks of the river, as high up as Manfalout. The average width of the whole cultivable valley above Cairo to Assouan is about six miles, but at some points it much exceeds this , while at others the hills which almost continuously flank the river on both sides, close in upon it so as to narrow the arable space to less than a mile. The eastern of these ranges rises, northwards, near the Isthmus of Suez, whence it approaches Cairo in the spur called the Jebel-Mokattem, which trends round towards the river a few miles above the city, and then, following the winding course of the stream, skirts it, with occasional breaks, far up into Nubia. The best known of the openings in this range are the so-called Valley of the Wanderings, leading from the neighbourhood of Cairo to the head of the Gulf of Suez ; and, higher up, the defile through which pass the caravan routes from Kentish and Coft to Cosseir. Westwards the Libyan range first approaches the river in nearly the same latitude from the direction of the Fezzan, south of Tripoli, and. similarly flanks it, though less closely, up to far beyond Philae. About eighty miles by river above Cairo, nearly due west of Beni-souef, a deep sinuosity in this chain forms the splendid valley of the Fayoum, which has been justly called the Garden of Egypt. The most fertile tracts of the Delta fall below this specially favoured district, which, abundantly watered by an artificial cut from the Nile, and a complete network of canals, blooms over its whole area of nearly 700 square miles, with the most varied luxuriant vegetation. The Fayoum, in fact, enjoys a pre-eminence as to soil and products over nearly every other part of Egypt. Besides yielding rice and grain in equal abundance with the other provinces, it abounds in dates, flax, cotton, the vine, and almost every variety of fruit. It is also famous for its plantations of roses, the rose-water from which forms one of its chief exports to Cairo and the Levant. In the north-western extremity of this fine province is the large lake called the Birket-el-Korn, thirty-five miles long by five or six broad, which some antiquarians have confounded with the sacred lake Moeris, now dried up, and the site of which was long doubtful till satisfactorily identified by Linant Bey. The water of the Birket-el-Korn is brackish, and contributes little or nothing to the fertility of the surrounding region. Besides its capital, Medinetanciently, first Crocodopolis and then Arsinoëthe Fayoum reckons seventy other towns and villages, the whole of which are densely pee-vied. From this great bend in the Libyan range a caravan route leads westwards to the Little Oasis, and higher up other breaks occur behind Girgheh and Esneh, through which tracks pass to the Oases of Dakhleh and Khargheh ; while openings of lesser note afford communication with other fertile spots that dot the depressed region west of the river, and to which allusion will presently be made.
Returning to the Nile, the valley from Beni-so-ad up to Manfalout forms a tract of great beauty and fertility, thickly studded with towns and villages on both sides of the river. West of Minieh, the thriving capital of an extensive district, a large swamp called the Bathen stretches upwards to Achmounein, which Sicard and D’ Anville have on very fanciful grounds sought to identify with Lake Moeris. Thence on, past the rock-tombs of Beni-hassan, the ruins of Antinoé and Hermopolis Magna, and the large village of Mellawee to Manfalout, where Middle Egypt ends, the same uniformity of fertile river bank, varying only in width, continues. A few miles higher up the voyager reaches the flourishing town of Assiout, the capital of Upper Egypt, and the chief entrepôt of the caravan trade between Cairo, Darfour, and Sennaar. Above this, the valley narrows into the proportions of a mountain glen, in which at several points the eastern range, especially, presses close upon the stream. In this section of the country occur, after the Pyramids, its most famous monumental remains-the temple ruins of Abydos, Denderah, Thebes, Esneh, Edfou, Koum-Ombos, and Elephantina the shattered but still splendid memorials of a dead faith and civilisation with which the world can nowhere else show anything to compare, but further notice of which forms na part of the purpose of this volume. Behind Kenneh, on the eastern bank opposite Denderah, the valley widens into a broad fertile. plain, and the Nile here makes its nearest approach to the Red Sea, at a distance of only eighty miles from the little port of Cosseir. Thence upwards, beyond Thebes to Assouan, the cultivable land on either side contracts almost to the river bank ; until, above the First Cataract, it vanishes for some distance altogether in the rocky defile through which the river rushes down from Nubia.
Philæthe Loretto of ancient Egyptwhich stands just above the boundary thus reached, has been compared to an emerald set in gold ; and this allusion to its luxuriant vegetation, as contrasting with the arid surface of the surrounding desert, is equally applicable to much of the Delta and to the whole of the valley between its apex and Assouan. The Nile is, indeed, everywhere an agreeable object, not so much owing to the majesty of the stream or the variety of its scenery, as to this strong contrast between the freshness and animation of its banks and the desolation that reigns beyond. Nor could any transition be more abrupt : for as sharply as the boundary lines on a survey-or’ s map, verdure and sand meet exactly where the area of irrigation ends, the highest fertility immediately joining the most desolate sterility in the world. Beyond the Libyan desert, stretches westward to the Fezzan and southwards into the unexplored wastes of central Africa, a vast arid plain of gravel or fine drifting sand, with rare tufts of camel-thorn and the dwarf tamarisk for its only vegetation, but peopled nevertheless by several no-mad tribes. Eastwards, in the great wilderness between the Nile and the Red Sea, which from the still larger number of its Bedoween population can hardly be called desert, the scene is less dreary, being broken by rugged mountains and numerous ravines, clothed for the most part with scanty verdure. This eastern desert has, besides, the advantage of several springs, and is crossed by caravan routes which in Upper Egypt are still traversed in exactly the same manner as when the ” company of merchants” found Joseph in the pit. Mines of various metals and quarries of porphyry and other valuable stones are scattered among the mountainous tracts and were in part worked so lately as the reign of Mehemet All, when the cost of fuel and difficulty of transport led to their abandonment.* The aridity of the lowlands is extreme during nearly half the year, and the heat insupportable even by the Bedoween. Near the sea, a little below lit. 29° N., are the secluded Coptic convents of St. Anthony and St. Paul, from among the monks of the former of which the Patriarch of that sect is now invariably chosen.
Besides the river valley, the Fayoum, and the Delta, thus briefly described, cultivable Egypt includes a number of fertile tracts in the western desert, known as the Oases. In all, five of these
“—–tufted isles That verdant rise amid the Libyan wilds
now acknowledge the sovereignty of the Khedive. But the desert that surrounds them offers such formidable difficulties that they have been but seldom visited by modern travellers. They present, however, many interesting features, and, fiscally, are worth 10,0001. a year to the Cairo exchequer. They extend almost in a line with the hollow region of the desert, parallel to the general direction of the Nile valley, and within an average distance of about ninety miles from the river. The fertility of the whole is due to the lowness of their soil, which enables them to retain moisture ; for they are in reality rather depressions below, than elevations above, the surrounding sand. The most southern is the Great Oasis, called from its chief town the Wah-el-Khârgeh, which lies nearly due west of Thebes (lat. 25° 43′ N.), and has a length of about 200 miles by nearly twenty broad. Fifty miles west of the extremity of this lies the Wah-el-Dakhleh, twenty-four miles long by ten broad, whose first European visitor was Sir A. Edmonstone, in 1819. Seventy miles farther north is the small oasis of Farâfeh, famous in Egypt for its olives ; and next beyond it, in the parallel of Minieh (lat. 28° 4′ N.), rise the date groves of the Wahel-Behnesa, or Little Oasis, a rock-bound valley twelve miles long by about six broad, of which the Wah-el-Hayz, a day’s journey south, is regarded as a continuation. West of this latter is the Wah-el-Zeroora, or Oasis of the Blacks, which is, however, rather one of a series extending westwards, than properly a member of the Egyptian group. And lastly, away beyond the Fayoum, nearly 150 miles from the Nile, lies the Wah-el-Siwah, or Oasis of Ammon, historically famous as the site of the great Jovian temple and oracle whose priests proclaimed Alexander’s sonship to the god, and foretold his mastery of the world. The ruins of the temple may still be traced, and the oasis, which is about nine miles long by three broad, is otherwise rich in archæological remains. Al-though tributary to Egypt, the inhabitants of this secluded spot are in language and manners wholly Libyan.
The region of the Oases terminates northwards in the Wady-Natroon, or desert of the Natron Lakes, so called from a series of eight rock-walled basins, whose banks and waters are covered with crystallisations consisting of muriate of soda or sea-salt, and of natron or sub-carbonate of soda, known in commerce under the name of trona. This desolate tract contains four Coptic monasteries, the re-mains of the once famous anchorite settlement of Nitria. Parallel to, and separated from it only by a line of slightly elevated ground, runs the Bahr-bela-ma,* or “waterless river,” a long depression at several points below the level of the Nile, and which, having been traced from the Mediterranean, through the desert west of the Fayoum up to near the Wah-el-D-akhleh, is by some thought to be the dry bed of a branch of the river that once passed in this direction and entered the sea westwards of Alexandria; These Oases are, however, rather insular dependencies than integral parts of Egypt proper, although they lie well within the imaginary line of its western frontier.
About the Red Sea coast a word or two will suffice. From a little south of Suez down to near Massowah, a broken mountain chain flanks the shore at a nearly uniform distance of from ten to twelve miles, the chief passes through which are those leading from Cosseir to Kenneh and Coft, and from Souakim to Taka and Berber. In lat. – 27° 24′ N., Abou-sar-el-kibls, a small walled town, almost wholly without trade, occupies the site of Myos Hormos in the time of Strabo the chief port of the Red Sea. Nearly a degree of latitude farther south stood old Cosseir, the Leucos Portus of Ptolemy, which has long since given place to the modern town of the same name, five miles lower down. At the top of a deep gulf behind Cape Benas, in the parallel of Philae, are the ruins of Berenice, which during the Roman occupation of Egypt eclipsed Myos Hormos and became the chief emporium of their eastern trade. Thence to Souakim, in lat. 19° 48′ N., no other practicable port occurs, nor below this again till Massowah is reached, in latitude 15° 44′. This, as yet, forms the most southern Egyptian station on. the Red. Sea, though sovereignty is claimed over the whole down to the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, outside which the ports of Zeyla and Berbera,* on the Indian Ocean, have been occupied, and foothold has thus been gained in the (calla and Soma-all countries, of which the fine district of Harm, in the former, has already acknowledged the sovereignty of the Khedive. The Red Sea coast is at various points skirted by groups of islands, but these, like the belt of mainland between the mountains and the sea, are barren and for the most part uninhabited.
While the country outside the river valley and the Delta is thus diversified, three distinct geological regions occur between Philae and the Mediterranean. The most southern of these is granite, which extends from the sacred island through the cataract to Assouan, and affords also syenite and some other crystalline primitive rocks, remarkable for their durability and capability of polish. From these rocks were quarried the colossal statues, pillars, and other monoliths which figure prominently among the monumental wonders of Egypt. Next to this comes the sandstone region, extending from Assouan to Esneh, and yielding a stone which, though soft and easily worked, is also very durable, as may be seen from the still magnificent sphinx-avenues and palace-temples of Thebes, which are built chiefly of this stone. From Esneh north-wards the formation is limestone, the chief material of the Pyramids, which below Cairo disappears in the deep alluvium of the Delta, to crop up again in a ridge on the coast, extending from Alexandria to near Aboukir. The soil both of the Delta and the entire Nile Valley is the direct creation of the river, whose mud deposit has in the course of unmeasured ages reclaimed the valley from the desert, and the Delta from the sea ; and as the operation still goes on, the result is the continuing elevation of both the river-bed and the land on either side as far as the annual overflow extends. This increase of soil is estimated to proceed in Upper Egypt at the rate of about five inches in a century ; but in the Delta, where the flooded area is greater, it takes’ place more slowly. The scientific staff which accompanied the French expedition of 1798, and collected the materials for the magnificent Description de l’Egypte since published by the French Government, made numerous experiments to ascertain the depth of the alluvial matter thus deposited. By sinking pits at various intervals, both on the banks of the river and on the outer edge of the stratum, they found (1) that the surface of the soil declines from the margin of the stream towards the foot of the hills ; (2) that the thickness of the deposit averages ten feet near the river, and decreases gradually as it recedes ; and (3) that beneath the mud there is a bed of sand analogous to the substance brought down by the river when in flood. An analysis of the soil thus formed gives nearly one-half of argillaceous earth, with about one-quarter of carbonate of lime, the remainder consisting of water, oxide of iron, and carbonate of magnesia. On the very river banks the slime is mixed with much sand, which it loses in proportion as it is carried further from the river, until at a certain distance it becomes nearly a pare marl, which, besides being employed largely in the manufacture of bricks, pottery ware, and pipes, serves as a sufficient manure for the adjoining land beyond the actual limit of the annual flood.*
Such are the main divisions and chief natural features of Egypt proper. With the boundary line of the First Cataract a distinct country, or rather series of countries, begins. Of this, the first long link from Philæ to Dongola still retains its old name of NUBIA, and, like the lower valley, consists of little more than the narrow margin of arable land watered by the river, which no-where exceeds four miles, and at several points disappears altogether. Eastwards this fertile strip is bounded by the desert to the Red Sea at Souakim, its only practicable port, and westwards by a continuation of the same Libyan wilderness that flanks Egypt proper lower down. A difference of language and tribal population divides it into two parts the Wady Kenoos and the Wady Nouba, the first of which extends from Assouan to Leboua, and the second thence to Dongola; but the physical aspect of the two districts is nearly identical. In both the river valley is lined for the greater part by sandstone and ‘ granite hills, which here, as below, at several points closely approach the stream, and nowhere up to Wady Haifa (lat. 22° N.) does cultivation range much beyond the river banks. At this point the Second Cataract be-gins and extends through the Dar-el-Hadjar in a series of swift rapids for nearly one hundred miles, to Sukkoot, where the valley widens and the prevailing sterility of the lower basin disappears. Fine fertile plains stretch out on both sides of the river, which here also encloses islands of considerable extent, and for the most part well cultivated. Owing to the height of its banks, the Nile in this region seldom or never overflows, and artificial irrigation is almost everywhere necessary. This now, as before Candace, is still effected by means of the old cumbrous sakkias, or Persian water-wheels, which throughout Nubia do the work of the pole-and-bucket shadoof more generally employed by the Egyptian fellaheen. Up through the district of Mahass to above the Third Cataract the range of cultivation continues wide, but it con-tracts again above the long and beautiful island of Argo, a few miles south of which, at Ordee, or New Dongola, in lat. 18° N., Nubia proper terminates and the Beled-es-an, or Country of the Blacks, begins.
In a separate chapter some description will be given of this latter group of countries, and of the administrative revolution which is now being carried out in them by Gordon Pasha. It need only, therefore, be here said that, as the official geography of Cairo now claims, they extend a thousand miles farther south, eastwards to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and westwards beyond Darfour. Excluding, for the present, Abyssinia and the Gala and Somauli countries, which are already overlapped by these successive annexations, the “Greater Egypt” thus formed comprises the vast slice of eastern Africa from the Mediterranean to the Victoria Nyanza, and thence along the Equator to the frontier of Zanzibara territory more than five times larger than that ruled by the Pharaohs, the Ptolemies, the Antonines, and the Caliphs. For the present, however, the southern limit of the Khedive’s dominion may, as before remarked, be struck for all administrative purposes, at Gonüokoro, in the parallel of Fazoglou , From this point to the Mediterranean stretch more than twenty-three degrees of latitude, which, with an average width of 350 miles, cover a surface more than twice that of France, or even of Austria. Three-fourths of this may be desert, but there still remains an aggregate of cultivable, Livable areas larger than united Italy. The French survey of 1798 computed the total surface of Egypt proper to be 20,000 square leagues, or 115,200 square miles, but of this only 9,582 square miles (including the Nile bed and the islands within it, together representing 294,217 acres) were then watered by the river. Since then, however, improved irrigation has extended the cultivable face of the country below Assouan to 11,351 square milesequal to 7,264,640 acresof which 4,625 000 are now actually under tillage. No similar survey has been made of Nubia and the Soudan, but their total cultivable surface may be roughly estimated at above 150.000 square miles ; or, in round numbers, from the Mediterranean to the latitude of Fazoglou more than 160,000 square miles of arable soil, abundantly peopled, and needing only good government and industrial development to be welded into a homogeneous and powerful State.