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Littell's Living Age/Volume 153/Issue 1972/Destruction of Egyptian Monuments

< Littell's Living Age‎ | Volume 153

About four miles to the westward of Rhoda is the site of the once important the Hermopolitan Nome; and the agricultural railway which intersects the Daira Sanieh sugar-estates in all directions runs close past it. The moufettishes have a very convenient method of superintending the work in the more distant part of the lands by means of small, single-horse train carriages. In a vehicle of this description we took a drive to the mounds that mark the position of the ancient city. Here we were met by the local superintendent with donkeys, and scrambled over the débris and tumuli, which reminded me very much of those of Arsinoë in the Fayoum. Like those of Antinoë, they had been searched in all directions for blocks of stone with which to construct the sugar-factories. In one place I saw twelve porphyry columns erect that had escaped the sacrilege, but the massive stonework of an old Egyptian temple had not been so fortunate. Of this edifice, which must have been on a grand scale, only two plinths remained, the diameter of which was twelve feet and the height three feet. They were covered with hieroglyphics and the ovals of Philip Aridæus, the titular successor of Alexander the Great, so that it dated from the commencement of the Ptolemaic period; but the rest of this temple, we were told, formed part of the foundations of the sugar-factory. It was one mass of granite, covered with hieroglyphics, in the streets of Rhoda, evidently waiting till it was wanted for building purposes. The historian of future ages grubbing among the iron boilers, shafts, and wheels which are characteristic of the period in which we live, will be puzzled to account for the presence of these immense blocks traced with the records of a civilization four thousand years older, and will either come to the conclusion that the ancient Egyptians used steam-engines, or that hieroglyphics were the ornaments with which we covered our sugar-factories. It is heart-breaking to think how much injury has been done to the antiquities of Egypt within the last ten years by the reckless destruction of its monuments in order to make sugar more cheaply. A gentleman who had been resident at Minieh ten years ago informed me that he had seen a beautiful naked figure of Antinous, carved in white marble, brought over from the ruins of the city and condemned to be pounded into fragments in order to form part of the foundations. It was such an exquisite piece of sculpture that he almost city of Hermopolis Magna, the capital of went on his knees to the moufettish of that date to spare it, promising that if he would only give him time he would purchase it for a large sum of money. The Egyptian official, however, desirous of proving his zeal in the cause of Western civilization and his incorruptibility, was inexorable, and the statue was dashed to pieces then and there, and pounded into the foundations of the sugar-factory, as an evidence of his comprehension of the utilitarian spirit of the age and his sympathies with the advanced ideas of the late khedive. At the same time, a stone inscribed with three languages, which might have proved of immense historical value, was broken up by this enlightened official, who also found sarcophagi very useful for building purposes—the workmen engaged in making the excavations ruthlessly blasting the tombs covered with hieroglyphics, and flinging the mummies into the Nile after appropriating whatever they found of value in the coffins. Nor has this work altogether stopped; at Surarieh they are blasting within a few feet of the tablets on which the figures of Rameses and the god Savak are delineated, and the little temple I had visited is evidently doomed.