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A Thousand Miles up the Nile

A Thousand Miles up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards
By: (1831-1892)

Known as the Godmother of Egyptology, Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards traveled through Egypt at a time when archeology was in its infancy in that country and literally anyone with a spade or trowel could go exploring through the magnificent, untouched ruins. She was one of a group of amazing Victorian women who ignored the repressive 19th century attitudes toward female scientists and defied society to follow their passion for history.

A Thousand Miles up the Nile was first published in 1877. The title refers to the approximate distance from Alexandria to the Second Cataract of the Nile river, a journey that the author undertook over the course of a year in Egypt. The narrative opens at the Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo, where a motley group of tourists are gathered, either on their way to or from India, English and American tourists, travelers from Belgium, France or Germany and a host of others. The tourists generally stick to the safe itinerary offered by Cook's, but a few like the author prefer to explore on their own.

The book is characterized by long, detailed and elaborate descriptions of places, people, customs and the wonderful market places, historical ruins and artifacts that Edwards and her friends encounter. Momentous journeys to the Pyramids in Cairo and a trip to the shrine in Mecca precede the Nile voyage. They are to travel by “dahabeeyah” a sort of native Egyptian barge, which though much more expensive than the steamers and conventional boats, is much more picturesque, leisurely and offers more time to view the scenery along the majestic river. It is luxuriously furnished, with enough space for a piano and several bookcases. Edwards' tone is often ironic as she pokes gentle fun at the regular English tourists who flock to Egypt.

Bedreshayn, Sakkarah, Memphis, Mineh, Thebes, Karnak, Assuan, Elephantine, Abou Simmel and the tombs of Ramses, the Second Cataract and the return journey are all documented in great detail. They stop at Luxor on the way back and visit the Coptic Church and it is here that they take part in some of the archeological work that is happening in Luxor. They meet scientists and tourists, forgers and sinister crooks. Edwards' tone of compassion for the insensitive way in which ancient mummies are unwrapped and flung aside, how the bounty hunters strip each tomb of its valuables whenever they can and the booming trade in antiquities is both educative and interesting.

A Thousand Miles up the Nile is a wonderful, if slightly dated, travelogue and a great addition to your collection.

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