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fifth part of that which would have been necessary, had they been built of marble.
While the walls, the platform-roofs, the pillars, and all other essential parts of the great buildings that yet remain in the Thebaid, were of the material we have described above, their courts, their entrances, and their approaches, were embellished with obelisks, and statues of a more costly and enduring substance. This is, to apply a generic name, the Granite of Syene, the Cataract, and Elephantine.
The most important of the rocks of this species, is the rosegranite. The beauty of its colours, the large size of its crystals, its hardness and its durability, would render it remarkable, had not the use made of it by the Egyptians, and by the Greeks and Romans in imitation of them, assured it an eternal celebrity. From two-thirds to five-sixths of the whole mass of this rock is composed of a felspar, of a colour varying from rose to brickred; the next substance in abundance is mica, sometimes of a green, at other times of a golden hue; the third essential part is a transparent quartz: and there is besides, occasionally present, portions of hornblende, whose black colour is sometimes assumed by plates of the mica.
The preponderance of a red felspar in this rock, gives it a constant and determinate character, although its varieties and the accidental circumstances which attend it are without number. Its shade of red varies, sometimes deepening, sometimes fading into orange or even yellow, and crystals of felspar of other colours are sometimes disseminated through it, but still its peculiar aspect will prevent its being confounded with any granite that has yet been discovered in other countries.
In ascending the Nile, this rock is not met with until Syene has been passed, and it extends itself far to the south of the island of Philæ. It seems to form a sort of bank, with innumerable pointed summits, in the midst of a formation of other primitive rocks; and extending across the river, confines its channel, and interrupts the passage, forming the first cataract. On the western side of the river it dips beneath strata of gneiss, and on the east is lost in the desert.
The environs of Syene offer in less quantity, granitic rocks of several other characters. One of these is composed of such small crystals of the essential minerals, as to present at a small distance an uniform grey aspect; another has large white crystals of felspar, upon a black ground composed of mica mixed with hornblende; while a third, in which the felspar is disseminated in crystals so small as hardly to affect its general tint, is nearly black. But the most remarkable of these rocks is one which the ancients called by the name of Egyptian basalt. This rock is found mixed and enveloped in the rose granite, and is therefore not of
volcanic origin. It presents to the naked eye a surface of a uniform black colour, but when examined by a powerful magnifier, crystals of felspar, mica, and quartz, are still to be distinguished along with the amphibole, that gives it the most decided of its characters.
The masses of granite used by the Egyptians, by the Greeks and Romans, were not extracted from regular quarries, if we except the excavations at two places situated south of Syene. We must, however, for want of a better term, call all the places whence this stone was obtained, by that epithet. They are to be found wherever there were granitic rocks isolated and easy to separate, not only on the main land and islands, but even in the bed of the river. The Egyptians, who did not wantonly increase the difficulties which their gigantic enterprises presented, chose among the projecting rocks, such as had shapes suited to that of the monument they meant to execute, and the labour consisted in separating it from its base. In many instances, too, they must have found separate masses lying upon the general bed, such as are still to be seen in the adjacent deserts, or such, as placed in vast distinct pieces upon each other, form the singular mountains between Syene and Philæ. It thus happens that the appearance of labour at the quarries bears but a small ratio to the numerous and vast monoliths, as well as smaller fragments distributed throughout Egypt, and which are still visible. And to these must be added the quantity of monuments carried off by the Greeks, the Romans, and the Turks, as well as by the nations of modern Europe. But all these taken together are probably less in quantity than those which are buried and lost for ever, in the rubbish that is heaped upon the sites of the ancient cities, or in the alluvial deposite of the Nile.
Of all the monuments now to be seen, there is not one, each block of which, even in the present advanced state of the mechanic arts, would not require years of labour, to detach it from the quarry and to smooth its surfaces. Much more would be still required when it is employed in the art of sculpture. One circumstance in respect to them is remarkable; the number of monuments in the granite of Syene is far the greatest in the places most distant from its quarries. M. Roziére attributes this in part to the successive changes in the seat of government, from Thebes to Memphis, from Memphis to Alexandria, and the removal of remarkable and interesting monuments by the ruling powers to their new residence; but more especially to the nature of the country in Lower Egypt, which furnishes no other material for building but brick. Every permanent structure must therefore have been built of the stone of the Thebaid, and when the transportation would form the chief expense, the difference in cost between the sand-stone of Silsèlèh and the granite
of Syene, would have borne no proportion to the difference in their beauty. In the Delta too, and particularly near Alexandria, the alluvial deposite is of much less depth than in the Thebaid, and fewer monuments are in consequence buried beneath it.
We have stated that one of the valuable qualities of the Syenitic rock is its great durability. A part of the monuments which are made of it have been preserved almost uninjured for many centuries, and still exhibit the admirable polish the Egyptians understood so well to give to this refractory substance. In single blocks of near an hundred feet in length, such as form obelisks, no flaw or fissure is to be seen to cause their rupture, and when they are found broken, it is always the effect of violence. But granite is not usually a durable substance; in spite of its hardness, it is much more liable to exfoliation than many softer rocks, and is in all cases more subject to disintegration from natural causes, than marble. The granite of Syene however appears less liable to their action than that of most other localities, for although in situations less favourable than the Thebaid, it has been sensibly affected, it is so in a far less degree than could have been anticipated. Chemical discoveries, made since the publication of the * Description de l’Egypte," have shown that there are two mineral species which have until recently been confounded by mineralogists under the term of felspar; one of these contains potassa, the other soda; now, as the former alkali is an ingredient in all soils, as is manifested by its being a constituent of the vegetables they nourish, while the latter is not, it is more than probable that the felspar containing it, is more liable to decomposition than the other. At all events, it is an interesting question, which we have not the means of solving, for want of specimens to determine to which of the two varieties the felspar of Syenitic granite belongs. We should then have the experience of forty centuries to direct us in the choice of those varieties of granite which are fit to be used as a building material. One of them is undoubtedly very liable to mechanical disintegration, the other not.
III. The mode of building among the Egyptians was very peculiar. The Greeks dressed the stones they employed to the proper size, before they set them in their place, and each applying itself accurately to the next, their walls were stable, independent of cement. From this, the most perfect species of masonry, there is a regular decline through that of the Romans, and of the middle ages, to our own days, when in most cases no more than the mere outer surface is dressed. This mechanical part was as perfect in Egyptian architecture as in that of the Greeks, but the perfection was attained in a different manner. They placed, in their columns, rude stones upon each other, after merely smoothing the two surfaces of contact, and the figure of
the column, with all its decorations, was finished after it was set up. In their walls, the outer and inner surfaces of the stones were also left unfashioned, to be reduced to shape by one general process, after the whole mass had been erected.
In all the buildings examined by the French, the courses lie perfectly horizontal and level, but the upright faces of the stones are often inclined to the vertical line; and it happens frequently that two stones lie upon each other, to make up the same horizontal course, which in the adjacent parts consists but of one; and sometimes again the same stone forms a part of two adjacent courses. The joints are in all cases admirably dressed, and so close as to be hardly perceptible; the cement which is employed, is therefore in very small quantity. But the Egyptians neither trusted to the cement, nor even to the great mass of the stones they usually employed, for the durability of their walls; they, in addition, took care to unite the stones of each course firmly together. This was effected by cavities, adapted to each other, on the upper surface of each contiguous stone of the course, and fitted for the reception of clamps. As these clamps were never found among the ruins, it was at first inferred that they had been metallic, and had been removed on account of their value. But on demolishing a portion of wall for the purpose of inquiring into this, the clamps were found to be of wood, which, inclosed in the wall, in a dry climate, had not decayed. They are about nine inches in length, and of the form of a double dove-tail, two and a half inches broad at the ends, and one and a half in the middle. The foundations, wherever they were reached, were found to be walls a little thicker than those they sustained, and in these instances, they rested on the solid rock.
These parts of the mechanical construction add to the solidity, but have little influence on the beauty of buildings; yet in those which are external, the execution of the Egyptian buildings is not less perfect. It is impossible to find in any buildings surfaces better dressed, columns better rounded, angles more sharp, or more tasteful and graceful curves. But this perfection of the chisel is still more marked in the sculptures. * The foliage of the capitals, and all the ornaments, are cut with the greatest skill and purity. The figures are not less remarkable, their forms being graceful and easy, even when the outline is defective in truth. These figures being brought into relief by cutting the stone away around them, while their most projecting parts are in the plane of the wall, are but little raised; the details of the figure are also, and as a necessary consequence, but faintly expressed; they appear as if they were enveloped in a veil, that conceals, and yet discloses their form.
• Description de l'Egypte, Vol. I. p. 104.
So far as the art of sculpture was applied to the decoration of buildings, there is a sameness and monotony in the forms and attitudes of the figures. This was no doubt owing to the greater part of them being actually alphabetic characters, or at least anaglyphs: Lancret, the member of the commission, whom we have followed in this account of the decorations, was at loss to account for the discrepancy between the skill of execution, and this monotony of form. He attempts to explain it, by supposing that the priests had chosen to prevent the progress of the art; but since the discoveries of Champollion and Young, the true reason is obvious, in the necessity of restricting homophonous characters to one prescribed and certain form. It is the same with animals; they are all represented in profile; but they too are skilfully designed, and the sculptors have seized perfectly the predominating characteristic of the species.
These invariable rules introduced in the sculptures that cover the walls of the principal buildings of Egypt, and the frequent repetition which their very nature demanded, gave room for the application of the division of labour in their execution. A single hand might have been constantly engaged upon objects of the same sort, and hence great numbers may have been employed at the same time, increasing both the rapidity of execution, and the excellence of each particular sculpture. A directing artist must have been required, but all the rest of the work may have been purely mechanical.
“It may be conceived that the forms of all the signs, and of all the figures, being determined for ages, they might have given each sculptor a single kind of object to execute, and thus employ a great number of men at a time. But fure ther, when we consider that in the same building, all the heads of the gods, and all those of the goddesses, have an unique character; that the animals of the same species resemble each other perfectly ; that, in fine, every class of objects has, in the same manner, its proper character constantly preserved, we are led to think, even one whole figure was not intrusted to a single workman to begin and finish, but that several artists worked upon it successively : for instance, a figure was first marked out by him whose business this was ; then came another who carried in on a little farther, and thus successively until the last, whose duty. it was to finish it. The painters then arrived in their turn, and each applied the appropriate colour according to established rules.”—LANCRET. Description de P Egypte. pp. 107 & 108.
It is at Thebes, the earliest known capital of Egypt, that we meet with the most extensive remains of its architecture, and many of these are in a state of tolerable preservation. They consist of excavations, palaces, and temples, and a few vestiges of the dwellings of private individuals. * Before the dawn of authentic profane history, the importance of Thebes had declined, and the sacred history, of the interviews of Joseph with his brethren, and of the Exodus, prove that the chief seat of the Egyptian monarchs, even at that earlier date, was already on the confines of Lower Egypt, and probably, therefore, at Memphis.