Sunday, July 1, 2018

Philae Island .. The Great Temple of Isis ( Outer Court ) .. Part ( 6 )

About The Great Temple of Isis
We now reach the great temple of Isis, which was begun by Ptolemy II, Philadelphus ( 283 – 245 B.C. ), and completed in essentials by Ptolemy III, Euergetes I ( 247 – 221 B.C. ) .
This temple is considered the principal sanctuary on the island and is dedicated to Isis and her son Horus, the god Harpocrates of the Greeks ( Child Horus, the god of silence ) .

The Roman lions and obelisks
In front of the Great Pylon lie two fallen Roman lions of Roman or Byzantine date, carved out of pink granite, and here also stood two small granite obelisks erected by Ptolemy VIII, Euergetes II, and his second wife Cleopatra III . On the base of the eastern obelisk was an inscription complaining to the royal couple that the priests of Isis at Philae were being forced to refund the expenses of civil and military authorities incurred during their stay on the island . This, they said, did not leave them enough resources to continue sacrifices and libations for the welfare of the royal family . The response was immediate ; Euergetes II released the priests of Philae from further payments .

Neither of these obelisks are now in Philae but repose in the garden of Mr. Ralph Bankes at Kingston Lacy in Dorset, London . The story of their long journey throws light on the methods used to provide an insatiable world with the monuments of Ancient Egypt . William John Bankes, scholar, Member of Parliament, and ancestor of Ralph Bankes, first saw the obelisks on his first visit to the island of Philae in 1815 . The eastern obelisk lay on its side half-buried, and its western fellow was badly damaged and only about a third of it remained . Bankes endeavoured to recover them from the mud and debris, but was unable to do so for lack of proper equipment . He reluctantly left them where they lay but with the firm intention of one day bringing them back to Kingston Lacy .

In the nineteenth century no respectable traveller would venture to return from Egypt without a souvenir of his visit . The ruler at this time was the capable Mohammed Ali ( 1803 – 1849 ), who dispensed firmans, or licences, to consuls and important foreigners allowing them to remove valuable pieces of Ancient Egypt in return for favours to modern Egypt . It is probable that Mohammed Ali wondered why foreigners should bother either about these useless old stones, which his people used for making lime, or about the dried cadavers in their crumbling coffins, which the European people converted it into powder for making medicines . Two of the most avid collectors were the British Consul, Henry Salt, and the Consul-General of France, Bernardino Drovetti . Mohammed Ali was so generous in the firmans he gave to these two men that they eventually had to curb their mutual antagonism and agree to divide the archaeological treasures of Ancient Egypt between them . They gave money and presents to the local chiefs who saw to it that other collectors were warned off or not supplied with labour . Henry Salt was fortunate to have as his agent the 6 feet 8 inch giant Italian, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, and it was Belzoni that Salt asked to bring the Philae obelisk to Cairo, a monument that he had already agreed to give to Bankes . On hearing of the matter Drovetti claimed that the obelisk belonged to him, but grandly ceded the ownership to Bankes . Belzoni considered that Drovetti had found it impossible to find ways of transporting the obelisk through the cataract and had relinquished his claim for this reason . Belzoni may have been right in his judgment, for the obelisk was twenty-two feet long and weighed six tons .

In 1819 work began and the obelisk was levered and pushed on rollers to a stout wooden pier for shipment . The Belzoni's account of his adventures in the removal of the shaft is both interesting and diverting, particularly at the point where the obelisk collapses into the Nile owing to the subsidence of the pier which he had confidingly trusted the natives to build . " But, alas ! ", Belzoni writes, " when the obelisk came gradually from the sloping bank and all its weight rested on it, the pier, with the obelisk and some of the men, took a slow movement, and majestically descended into the river " . Eventually Belzoni and his men hauled it out of the mud and loaded it on to the boat for its journey to Cairo . But all was not yet over . Drovetti's men intercepted Belzoni on his way to Aswan and it was only after a long altercation which ended in gun-fire and the arrival of Drovetti himself that the monument was allowed to proceed on its way to Alexandria . It was shipped to England on the Despatch in May 1821 . In 1822 Bankes returned to Egypt to collect the remains of the companion obelisk which still lay in the forecourt of the temple . This broken piece was extracted and eventually arrived in England in 1829 . The base for the first obelisk was placed in position in Bankes's garden on 17 August 1827, the site being chosen by Arthur Wellesley " the Duke of Wellington ", who was an old friend of the family . The obelisk itself had to wait a further twelve years before it was placed on the base . This was because it had been damaged in transit and Bankes wished to find suitable stone for the repairs . The needed granite eventually came from Leptis Magna in Libya by the grace of King George IV of England, who had obtained more than he required for the erection of a small temple to grace the royal gardens and gave this stone to Bankes, whom he knew through the Duke of Wellington . Nearby lie the remains of the western obelisk so far unhonoured . The French Consul Drovetti died in a mental asylum at Turin in 1852 . It is ironical that a large part of the antiquities collected by Salt was bought by the French government, while the collection made by the French Consul was acquired by Italy and Germany .

It is of great interest from the fact that the existence on its pedestal of Greek inscriptions of the same reign as the original hieroglyphic inscription on its faces enabled Mr. Bankes in 1816, before its removal, to identify the cartouche of Cleopatra, the wife of Ptolemy VIII, Euergetes II, and so to contribute to the decipherment of the hieroglyphics .

To be continued ....
Part ( 7 ) .. Coming SoOoOon .....
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