Excursion to the Pyramids of Gizeh, August 25, 1842

Source:  Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

The intrepid  global traveller Ida Pfeifer visited the Holy Lands and Egypt  in 1842.  While in Egypt she traveled to Giza and climbed the great pyramid.  Below is a description of her adventure, take from a longer blog on her trip.  As well, a  brief view of her work as a naturalist, collecting unknown creatures from distant lands.

– – – – 

At four in the afternoon I quitted Cairo, crossed two arms of the Nile, and a couple of hours afterwards arrived safely at Gizeh.  As the Nile had overflowed several parts of the country, we were compelled frequently to turn out of our way, and sometimes to cross canals and ride through water; now and then, where it was too deep for our asses, we were obliged to be carried across.  As there is no inn at Gizeh I betook myself to Herr Klinger, to whom I brought a letter of recommendation from Cairo…

After chatting away the evening very pleasantly I sought my couch, tired with my ride and with the heat, and rejoicing at the sight of the soft divan, which seemed to smile upon me, and promise rest and strength for the following day.  But as I was about to take possession of my couch, I noticed on the wall a great number of black spots.  I took the candle to examine what it could be, and nearly dropped the light with horror on discovering that the wall was covered with bugs.  I had never seen such a disgusting sight.  All hopes of rest on the divan were now effectually put to flight.  I sat down on a chair, and waited until every thing was perfectly still; then I slipped into the entrance-hall, and lay down on the stones, wrapped in my cloak…

Before daybreak I took leave of my kind host, and rode with my servant towards the gigantic structures.  To-day we were again obliged frequently to go out of our route on account of the rising of the Nile; owing to this delay, two hours elapsed before we reached the broad arm of the Nile, dividing us from the Libyan desert, on which the Pyramids stand, and over which two Arabs carried me.  This was one of the most disagreeable things that can be imagined.  Two large powerful men stood side by side; I mounted on their shoulders, and held fast by their heads, while they supported my feet in a horizontal position above the waters, which at some places reached almost to their armpits, so that I feared every moment that I should sit in the water.  Besides this, my supporters continually swayed to and fro, because they could only withstand the force of the current by a great exertion of strength, and I was apprehensive of falling off.  This disagreeable passage lasted above a quarter of an hour.  After wading for another fifteen minutes through deep sand, we arrived at the goal of our little journey…

To the pyramids.  Source: Manning - Excursion aux pyramides

To the pyramids. Source: Manning – Excursion aux pyramides

As it was still early in the day and not very hot, I preferred ascending the pyramid before venturing into its interior.  My servant took off my rings and concealed them carefully, telling me that this was a very necessary precaution, as the fellows who take the travellers by the hands to assist them in mounting the pyramids have such a dexterous knack of drawing the rings from their fingers, that they seldom perceive their loss until too late.

I took two Arabs with me, who gave me their hands, and pulled me up the very large stones.


Source: Ebers-Picturesque Egypt

Any one who is at all subject to dizziness would do very wrong in attempting this feat, for he might be lost without remedy.  Let the reader picture to himself a height of 500 feet, without a railing or a regular staircase by which to make the ascent.  At one angle only the immense blocks of stone have been hewn in such a manner that they form a flight of steps, but a very inconvenient one, as many of these stone blocks are above four feet in height, and offer no projection on which you can place your foot in mounting.  The two Arabs ascended first, and then stretched out their hands to pull me from one block to another.  I preferred climbing over the smaller blocks without assistance.  In three quarters of an hour’s time I had gained the summit of the pyramid.

For a long time I stood lost in thought, and could hardly realise the fact that I was really one of the favoured few who are happy enough to be able to contemplate the most stupendous and imperishable monument ever erected by human hands…

Vitaly Raskalov's Great Pyramid Climb

Vitaly Raskalov’s Great Pyramid Climb

But now the time came not only to look down, but to descend.  Most people find this even more difficult than the ascent; but with me the contrary was the case.  I never grow giddy, and so I advanced in the following manner, without the aid of the Arabs.  On the smaller blocks I sprang from one to the other; when a stone of three or four feet in height was to be encountered, I let myself glide gently down; and I accomplished my descent with so much grace and agility, that I reached the base of the pyramid long before my servant.  Even the Arabs expressed their pleasure at my fearlessness on this dangerous passage…

After walking about and inspecting every thing, I commenced my journey back.  On the way I once more visited Herr Klinger, strengthened myself with a hearty meal, and arrived safely at Cairo late in the evening…

…  I saw many streets where there can hardly have been room for a horseman to pass.  The road to the Armenian church leads through such narrow lanes and gates, that we were compelled to leave our asses behind; there was hardly room for two people to pass each other.

On the other hand, I had nowhere seen a more spacious square than the Esbekie-place in Cairo…

Coptic Houses in Esbekyeh Square, Cairo, by W. Hammerschmidt, c. 1860-1863.  Source:  copticliterature.wordpress.com

Coptic Houses in Esbekyeh Square, Cairo, where Madame Pfeiffer lodged.  Picture by W. Hammerschmidt, c. 1860-1863. Source: copticliterature.wordpress.com

Ida Pfeiffer returned to Cairo, thence to Europe with no mishaps – and prepared to set off on other, equally interesting voyages around the world.

During her travels Ida Pfeiffer collected plants, insects, molluscs, marine life and mineral specimens. The carefully documented specimens were sold to the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna and Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin…

“She was a member of geographical societies of both Berlin and Paris, but not of Royal Geographical Society in London due to her sex.”   – Wikipedia

Based on her specimens, she co-authored at least one scientific article:

Pfeiffer, Wallace, Allen and Smith: “The discovery of the Hymenoptera of the Malay Archipelago,” Archives of Natural History 23:153-200 ISSN 0260-9541.

With an insect net.  Lithograph by Dauthag.  Source: Wikipedia

With an insect net. Lithograph by Dauthag. Source: Wikipedia

This excerpt is taken from the following blog: https://dianabuja.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/a-visit-to-the-holy-land-by-ida-pfeiffer-in-1842/

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Colonial, Colonialism, Egypt, Egypt-Recent, Ida Pfeiffer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Excursion to the Pyramids of Gizeh, August 25, 1842

  1. dianabuja says:

    Merci, Rashid.!


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