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The Valley Of Thebes
by [?]

UPPER EGYPT is a river flowing through a desert; the banks on each side affording a narrow margin of extreme fertility. Rocks of granite and hills of sand form, at slight intervals, through a course of sev-earl hundred miles, a chain of valleys, reaching from the rapids of the Nile to the vicinity of Cairo. In one of these valleys, the broadest and the most picturesque, about half-way between the cataracts and the modern capital, we find the most ancient, the most considerable, and the most celebrated of architectural remains. For indeed no Greek, or Sicilian, or Latin city–Athens, or Agrigentum, or Rome; nor the platforms of Persepolis, nor the columns of Palmyra, can vie for a moment in extent, variety, and sublime dimensions, with the ruins of ancient Thebes.

These remains may be classed, generally, in four considerable divisions: two of these great quarters of ruins being situated on each side of the river Nile–Karnak and Luxor towards the Red Sea; the Memnonion and Medcenet Habu towards the great Libyan Desert. On this side, also, are the cemeteries of the great city–the mummy-caves of Gornou, two miles in extent; above them, excavated in the mountains, are the tombs of the queens; and in the adjacent valley of Beban-el-Maluk, the famous tombs of the kings.

The population of the city of a hundred gates now consists of a few Arab families, who form four villages of mud huts, clustered round those gigantic columns and those mighty obelisks, a single one of which is sought for by the greatest sovereigns of Europe for their palaces and museums. Often, indeed, have I seen a whole Arab village rising from the roof of a single Egyptian temple. Dendera is an instance. The population of Gornou, numbering between three and four hundred, resides solely in the tombs.

I think that Luxor, from its situation, usually first attracts the notice of the traveller. It is close on the river, and is built on a lofty platform. Its enormous columns are the first specimens of that colossal genius of the Pharaohs, which the Ptolemies never attempted to rival. The entrance to this temple is through a magnificent propylon;-that is, a portal flanked by massy pyramidal moles. It is two hundred feet in breadth, and rises nearly sixty feet above the soil. This gate is entirely covered with sculpture, commemorating the triumph of a conquering monarch.

On each side of the portal are two colossal statues of red granite, buried in the sand up to their shoulders, but measuring thence, to the top of their crowns, upwards of twenty feet. On each side of them, a little in advance, at the time of my visit, were the two most perfect obelisks remaining. One of them is now at Paris;–that famous obelisk of Luxor, of which we have heard so much. From the propylon, you pass into a peristyle court,–about two hundred and thirty feet long, by one hundred and seventy–the roof of which was once supported by double rows of columns, many of which now remain: and so on through other pyramidal gates, and courts, and porticoes, and chambers, which are, in all probability, of a more ancient date than those first described.

From Luxor you proceed to Karnak, the other great division on this side of the river, through an avenue of sphinxes, considerably above a mile in extent, though much broken. All the marvels of the world sink before the first entrance into Karnak. It is the Alps-the Andes–of architecture. The obelisks of Luxor may be unrivalled; the sculptures of Medoenet Habu more exquisite; the colossus of the Memnonion more gigantic; the paintings of the royal tombs more curious and instructive: but criticism ceases before the multifarious wonders of the halls and courts of Karnak, and the mind is open only to one general impression of colossal variety.

I well remember the morning when I stood before the propylon, or chief entrance of Karnak. The silver stars were still shining in the cold blue heaven, that afforded a beautiful relief to the mighty structure, built of a light yellow stone, and quite unstained by the winds of three thousand years. The front of this colossal entrance is very much broader than the front of our cathedral of St. Paul, and its height exceeds that of the Trajan column. It is entirely without sculpture–a rare omission, and doubtless intended that the unity of effect should not be broken. The great door in the centre is sixty-four feet in height.