Sunday, March 2, 2014

Giovanni Battista Belzoni and the Egyptian Adventure

Giovanni Battista Belzoni
On March 2, 1818, Prolific Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni - also known as 'The Great Belzoni' - discovered the burial chamber of Pharaoh Khafra in the 2nd of the large pyramid's of Giza. But, like in all the other burial chambers in the great pyramids, the sarcophagus was empty.

Belzoni was born in Padua as the son of a barber. At the age of 16, he moved to Rome in order to work there, but after the French troops occupied the city n 1798, he moved to the Netherlands where he became a barber himself as well. However, only three years later, the Italian had to continue his journey to England in order to avoid being send to jail. He met a young woman called Sarah Bane and together, they joined a traveling circus. They performed exhibitions at fairs as well as on the streets of London and even joined several shows at  Astley's amphitheatre.

Along with his circus, Belzoni left England in 1812. They toured across Europe, performing in Spain, Portugal, and Sicily. In the following period, he went to Malta, where he met Ismael Gibraltar, an emissary of Muhammad Ali. Belzoni, who increased his interest in hydraulics during his time in Rome, wanted to show Ali a hydraulic machine that he invented by himself for raising the waters of the Nile River. His demonstration went by smooth, but still the project was not approved.

Belzoni was now without a job, but willing to continue his travels. He was supported by the famous orientalist Johann Ludwig Burckhardt to travel to Egypt. He got the permission by Henry Salt, Egypt's British consul to travel to the Ramesseum at Thebes, from where he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Ramesses II, commonly called "the Young Memnon". The piece weighs more than 7 tons and it took 130 men to tow it to the river in over two weeks. The Young Memnon is on this day still a very prominent display at the British Museum.

During his travels, Belzoni also managed to expand his investigations to the great temple of Edfu. It is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt and is dedicated to the falcon god Horus. The inscription on the walls gave a great impression on the languages, myths and religion during the Greco-Roman period. Furtherly, Belzony managed to visit Elephantine, an island in the Nile River with several important archeological sites and Philae, an island in Lake Nasser. In 1818, Belzoni was the first known to penetrate into the second pyramid of Giza, where he discovered the famous burial chamber of Khafra.

One year later, the Great Belzoni returned to England in order to publish writings about his many travels and adventures titled "Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia, &c". However, in 1823, Belzoni set out for West Africa willing to visit Timbuktu, but due to problems at the border of Morocco, he chose the Guinea route. After reaching the Kingdom of Benin, Giovanni Battista Belzoni passed away due to on this day unknown reasons. Richard Francis Burton later claimed, that the Italian explorer was murdered. 

 At yovisto, you may be interested in a video on 'The Great Belzoni'.

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