Ismailia is a town of three thousand inhabitants, one half of whom are Arabs, and the other half French who work for the canal company. About noon the train left for Cairo, one hundred and forty miles distant. A fresh-water canal connects the Nile and the Suez canal at this point, and after a few miles of desert we struck the fertile region along its banks. It is utilized for light traf-fic, but principally for purposes of irrigation. In Egypt there appears to be but two qualities of land, one of which is barren desert sand and the other is the most fertile and productive soil to be found. The line of demarkation between these is so sharp that one may step almost at a single stride from one to the other. Wherever the influence of the beneficent waters of the Nile reaches, there is life in an abundant measure, elsewhere there is nothing but desolation.
As we enter this fertile strip, the words of inspiration spoken in the days of Abraham come forcibly to mind. In describing the beautiful valley in which wealthy Sodom was situated, it is said that it was ” even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.” The land is densely populated, and every individual is employed in extracting from the ground its liberal fruitage. The various processes of agriculture are being carried forward at the same time side by side. We could see the people plowing, planting, cultivating, reaping, and threshing as we rode along in a comfortable railway carriage.
To the people of India, their sacred river is always “Mother Ganges,” and the great blessings which that noble flood confers upon the thirsty land justify the endearing title. But if this be true in the case of the Ganges and India, how much more appropriately might the term ” Father Nile ” be applied to this noble stream by the people of that country which is not only moistened by its waters, but is nourished and renewed by its contributions. This idea is beautifully represented in a piece of sculpture now in the Vatican Gallery, and shown in the engraving. ” Father Nile ” holds in one hand a sheaf of grain, in the other, a cornucopia, while his children literally “live on him.” Every acre of cultivable land is apparently deposited from the Nile, at least it is an alluvial deposit, whether the result of the flood or of inundations preceding or succeeding that convulsion, it is not necessary to consider at this time.
Egypt is divided into the upper and lower sections. The western confines the undefined and undisputed South of the country lies the Soudan. Twelve or fifteen ago the southern border was located provisionally at Halfa, eight hundred miles from the Mediterranean. The Upper Country depends solely upon the annual inundations of the river for irrigation, and as there is but little or no rain, only one crop is raised during the year. In the Lower Country, however, and especially in the Delta region, there is a perfect network of artificial canals, by which the water may be distributed to nearly every rod of land. To get the water out of the canals, the ” shadoof,” or bucket and sweep, is used, as are also pumping-wheels turned by oxen, and many other rude contrivances. Here three or four crops are harvested in the year. By the first of November, the ground is dry after the overflow, and then cereals are sown to be harvested in March. Sugar-cane, rice, and cotton grow from March to September, and millet, sorghum, etc., from June to September, when the overflow comes on.
The river begins to rise at Cairo in the latter part of June, and is at its height at the autumnal equinox. A twenty-four foot rise at this point is a favorable overflow. Four feet less is very scant, and three feet more is a disastrous flood, to be followed by fevers and murrain. At each overflow, there is deposited all over the country about an inch of sediment, which renews the soil year by year, so that it still responds liberally to the husbandman’s labor, though it has borne the burden of a dense population from the remotest ages. Such facts probably prompted the inspired poet to write, ” There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.”
Since the Lord told Ezekiel to write the doom of Egypt, it has been indeed ” the basest of kingdoms,” full of poverty, ignorance, and darkness. From an exalted position among nations, it became the fag-end of humanity, a victim of every adverse fortune in the Eastern world. Every wind that blew was ill for Egypt, and her calamities reached a climax when at last she fell into the hands of the Turks. This wretched government, one of the most unprincipled and unscrupulous that ever existed, blights everything it touches. Other nations have stood up for some of her rights, and so Egypt is emerging, to some degree, from the darkness into which she fell, long ago.
The road from Ismailia to Cairo is an exceedingly interesting one, though rendered somewhat disagreeable by the um ballasted condition of the railway, there being no gravel to keep down the dust which rises in dense clouds. But the country is an ever-changing panorama of country life with a crowded population busy delving in the soil.
Cairo was reached at dark, too late for inspection that evening, but upon looking abroad in the early morning, the view caused feelings of surprise. Instead of a crazy Arab town, moldering with antiquity and tumbling into ruin, there were beautiful gardens, fine buildings, magnificent streets full of busy life in such variety as greets the eyes in very few other places upon earth. Cairo is a city of four hundred thousand inhabitants, and in the winter season its delightful climate attracts from Europe and America throngs of wealthy visitors who fill its sumptuous hotels, and crowd its streets with their gay equipages. Mingled with these are representatives of every oriental nation near and remote, wearing the gaudy costumes peculiar to their countries. There are also native elements of all classes. And stirred into the mixture is a multitude of camels and donkeys.
A few street-cars are slowly hauled about without rails, and there are carriages for the wealthy, but ordinarily the traveler mounts a donkey. If he does not, it will not be the fault of numerous donkey-boys who beset him to “try General Grant,” or “ride Wellington,” or “try Disraeli,” or ” Gladstone,” and will follow for blocks in the hope of inducing the determined pedestrian to ride. Having decided to ride, he easily bestrides his little porter and seizes the stearing gear, while the motive is supplied by the owner who runs behind armed with a stout stick with which he whacks the beast vigorously and induces quite commendable speed. The journey finished, and the fare paid, the boy looks for another customer.
No attempt at description or imitation will give any just idea of what a Cairo bazaar is like. Such a motley crowd of pushing and shouting natives and foreigners, such a strange mixture of kinds and colors, both in wares and people, it would be difficult to picture even in imagination. The bazaars, old Cairo, situated two or three miles up the river, the Mosque of Hassan, and the Citadel, are the most notable objects of interest immediately at hand, though others of greater attraction and importance are to be found not far away.
The Gizeh Pyramids are on the western border of the Nile valley, seven miles southwest of Cairo. The road by which they are reached is built up across the alluvial valley lands, and is bounded on each side by a beautiful row of cassia trees. The appearance of the pyramids as one approaches them is not very impressive. Their age gives them from a distance the appearance of great heaps of crumbling adobe, but upon closer inspection, their real proportions appear, and their material proves to be durable rock. Some blocks have fallen away and have been removed, causing the ragged appearance from a distance.
The great pyramid is first reached. It is four hundred and eighty feet high and seven hundred and sixty-four feet square at the base. The area covered is about twelve acres. Most visitors are anxious to accomplish the ascent. As the monument rises, each successive course of stones recedes, thus forming convenient steps excepting that the rise of three feet or more is too great for the measure of ordinary legs. But there is a crowd of Arab guides, curiosity sellers, and beggars at hand, each one anxious to sell his assistance for a small sum, which generally goes up as the ascent is made.
For ages the significance of the great pyramids was a mystery concerning which they themselves were as silent as the lips of the Sphynx which keeps them company. But modern inquisit iveness has pried into their secret. A pathway was found to the innermost recesses of the great Cheops, and at the extremity of each passage were found the remains of ancient royalty. Their sarcophagi contained not only the well-preserved mummies of the family of that great king whose name has been attached to his wonderful monument, but such other evidence as enables the discoverers to identify the builder and thus locate the time of its construction.
My ambition led me to explore the interior, rather than to ascend to the apex. This required the assistance of three men. The entrance, about thirty feet from the base, is a passage three by four feet in dimensions. At first it descends at an angle of about thirty degrees for sixty-two feet, then becomes level, but so low as to be but little more than barely passable. We then ascended ninety feet to the mouth of the well at the bottom of which is located the burial place of a daughter of the king. From this point a level gallery leads to the chamber of the queen. The ” grand passage,” six and a half feet wide and twenty-six feet high, leads one hundred and fifty feet higher to the sarcophagus of the king. Two flues here provide the ventilation of which by this time we felt the utmost need. The massive granite blocks which line the spacious chambers are so closely joined as to admit of no mortar, nor can the thinnest blade be thrust between them. It was a novel trip, rather trying to nerve and muscle, but exceedingly interesting.
Ten minutes walk from the pyramids is the equally celebrated Sphynx, consisting of an immense image having the head of a woman and the body of a lion. It was anciently an object of worship, and its temple, now in ruins, stood near by. This temple was the burial-place of its votaries, and the numerous mummies found there now adorn various museums.
To the ethnologist and the antiquarian, the celebrated Gizeh Museum, situated in a luxuriant garden on the road to the pyramids, is one of the most inviting spots on earth. The large building consists of forty galleries stored with sculptures, tablets, and implements of the most ancient times in endless array. These tell a mute but vivid story of the arts and customs of those times. One room is called the royal gallery, in which are arranged the mummies of the Pharaohs who reigned over Egypt for more than two thousand years. As they lie in their glass cases, they tell the visitor an eloquent story without words, of earthly glory, which vanishes like the flowers of the field that blossom for a moment, and are then gone forever. The most interesting one to me was that of Rameses II, the oppressor of Israel. His lips, teeth, and entire countenance are still preserved, and one can almost hear his words of defiance and cruelty. With what strange sensations does one gaze into the features of a man who acted a prominent part in sacred history previous to the exode!
The beginning of Egyptian history extends back into the misty regions of tradition, but at the point where its lines become legible, it reveals a nation standing at the forefront of its contemporaries in power, vigor, art, science, or any other element of greatness. In this position Egypt incurred the divine displeasure for two reasons : She vaunted herself and her gods in the sight of Jehovah, and often became an asylum and protector of the Jews, who when under punishment for their sins, instead of humbling themselves with repentance, would flee for help to their haughty neighbor. For these things God said of Egypt, as recorded in Eze. 29 : 15, “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms, neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations.”
Since then that country has had its share of adversity. Each of the four great kingdoms of prophecy served itself of Egypt, nor has she fared better at the hands of the Arabs and Turks. Her natural resources have been better preserved than those of any other portion of the ancient world, so that. the calamities which have befallen the unfortunate land are to be attributed to political rather than natural causes.
It is not a little strange that the procession of knowledge, enlightenment, and empire from east to west should leave behind it such an array of blackened, unsightly ruins of departed greatness. As in the natural world the advancement of the day in the west brings night upon the Orient, so the sun of liberty and progress shining high in our western heavens has left the earlier world sitting in darkness.
Mohammedanism has swept away from Egypt her ancient mythology. In the early centuries of our era, Christianity thrived there. The Alexandrian Church furnished some of the most distinguished of the ” Fathers.” The remains of that movement now exist in the Copts. But what Christianity they may have had, disappeared beneath a thick sod of superstition and human traditions. Mission work is prosecuted among them to some extent, and with some success. The city of Alexandria, in the delta, of the Nile, preserves the name and memory of one of the most famous of ancient warriors, Alexander the Great, who was its founder in the year 332 B. c. Thirty years before our era it fell into the hands of the Romans at the time of its greatest splendor. From that time it began to decline, for its treasures were taken to Rome, and many of its inhabitants were victims of the imperial cruelty. By the fourth century it is said that hardly an ancient building of note remained except the temple of Serapis. In 389 A.D., this last stronghold of heathenism in the city was destroyed, and a Catholic church was built among the ruins. Alexandria thus became one of the chief seats of Catholicism until it was taken by the Arabs in 638. Since then it has had a checkered career of prosperity and desolation, but at present it contains over two hundred thousand people, and is one of the most important commercial centers on the Mediterranean.
Tourists spend little time here, but hasten on to other regions. As in Cairo, so here to a more marked degree, the prevailing foreign element in social and commercial circles is French. In fact, throughout almost the entire coast of the Mediterranean Sea, he who understands and speaks the French language will find plenty of opportunities to use it. Upon a rise of ground in the edge of the city stands the misnamed Pompey’s Pillar. The shaft of this monument is one stone of red granite, seventy-three feet long and over ten feet in diameter. It stands upon a pedestal twenty-three feet high, and wears a capital that weighs several tons. flow it came there is a question that puzzles modern engineers. Alexandria also contained, until a few years ago, ” Cleopatra’s Needles,” twin obelisks, erected by Thothmes III, before the time of Moses, in front of the temple of the sun at Heliopolis, and removed to Alexandria by the Roman emperor, Augustus. One of them now stands upon the Thames embankment in London, the other is in Central Park, New York.