samedi 27 mars 2010

Les pyramides d'Égypte : "les édifices les plus indestructibles que l'ingéniosité humaine ait jamais érigés" (Robert Richardson - XIXe s.)

Le physicien anglais Robert Richardson (1779-1847), membre du Royal College of Physicians de Londres, a visité les pyramides en 1817, en compagnie du Comte et de la Comtesse de Belmore, et de Henry Salt, consul général de Grande-Bretagne. Il a relaté ses découvertes dans l'ouvrage Travels along the Mediterranean, and parts adjacent, in company with the earl of Belmore, during the years 1816-17-18, extending as far as the second cataract of the Nile, Jerusalem, Damascus, Balbec, etc., vol. 1, 1822, d'où sont extraits les textes ci-dessous.
Pour la commodité de la lecture, je les ai scindés en onze sections.

Photo Marc Chartier
1. Il n'est pas improbable que des "passages", partant de la Chambre du Roi (Grande Pyramide), conduisent à d'autres chambres.
2. Étant pourvue d'une porte d'entrée, la chambre de Davidson avait probablement une autre fonction que d'être une chambre de décharge.
3. La partie souterraine de la Grande Pyramide : le couloir descendant, la chambre, le passage partant de cette chambre en direction du Sud (un passage secret pour entrer dans la pyramide et pour en sortir ?).
4. Il n'est pas possible de déterminer la fonction exacte de la chambre souterraine. Toutefois, les dimensions de la pièce ainsi que la qualité des matériaux utilisés et de leur mise en œuvre dans le couloir descendant portent à penser que ladite chambre était "importante". Quant à savoir si elle était réellement, comme l'a écrit Hérodote, en communication avec les eaux du Nil, c'est une question qui demeure encore sans réponse.
5. L'escalade de la Grande Pyramide, avec la mention d'un emplacement perpendiculaire sur l'arête Nord-Est, qui semble avoir été construit comme une "porte".
6. La description d'Hérodote - encore lui ! - relative au revêtement de la Grande Pyramide ne peut s'appliquer à cette pyramide dans son état actuel. Robert Richardson suggère alors un étrange et hypothétique rapprochement de la relation d'Hérodote avec les pyramides d'Abousir.
7. Contrairement à ce qui est généralement admis, l'ouverture de la Grande Pyramide n'eut pas pour auteur Al-Ma'mûn, mais le calife "Mohdi, dont le nom fut Mahommed" (lire sans doute : Muhammad Al-Mahdî).
8. Ce que l'on appelle le phénomène d'apothème (appellation non mentionnée par l'auteur) serait dû à l'usure de la partie centrale de chaque face de la pyramide, suite à la chute des blocs enlevés par les démolisseurs.
9. La grande et profonde tranchée qui court au pied de la Grande Pyramide, côté Est, est à mettre en relation avec la finalité de l'édifice : être la tombe de Khéops. Cette tranchée devait acheminer l'eau du Nil vers l'intérieur de l'édifice.
10. La perfection du savoir-faire des bâtisseurs égyptiens dans l'art d'agencer les blocs de pierre : les pyramides n'ont pas souffert des érosions du temps ; elles sont aussi robustes qu'une montagne. Pas une pierre n'a bougé de sa place depuis la construction (sous-entendu : hormis celles qui ont été arrachées par les démolisseurs).
11. Nature et origine des pierres utilisées dans la construction de la Grande Pyramide.

1. As this chamber [King's chamber] does not reach beyond the centre of the pyramid, it is not. improbable that there are passages leading to other chambers off it ; the entrance to which would probably be found by removing some of the large stones above mentioned : as the forming an uniform surface over the whole of the adjoining space was one of the devices by which the architect concealed from the eye of common observers the entrance of the passage leading to the secret chambers, reserving to himself, and his employer, the knowledge of that stone that covered the door of access, and the secret of removing it. (…)
2. On returning from the king's chamber to the top of the inclined plane, we looked up to the entrance, into what has been called Davison's chamber, from the discoverer, to which however we did not ascend ; there is no way of reaching it but by a scaling ladder, with which we were not provided. This chamber is directly over the king's chamber, and, from the account of the discoverer, who was the British Consul-general at Cairo, at the time, it contained nothing but dust, and is supposed to have been formed to take off the pressure from the ceiling of the king's chamber ; but, as it is provided with a door of entrance, it was probably intended to answer some other purpose besides. (…)

Cliché John et Morton Edgar (Wikimedia commons)  
3. Having descended about 200 feet, we came to the bottom of the well, which terminates on a level with the bottom of the passage, and seems merely a niche in its side : having descended for about 23 feet further, we came to the end of the inclined passage ; from this point we could see distinctly up into the open air : it looks directly to the north, and at night the polar star is distinctly seen. The passage, proceeding onward from this, is cut out in the rock, and is quite horizontal for 28 feet, where it ends, in a large chamber 66 feet long and 27 feet wide, and between 12 and 14 feet high, and which is supposed to be exactly under the centre of the pyramid. It is entirely cut out of the rock, and is considerably lower than the base of the pyramid. The chamber does not appear to have been completely finished ; there is a bench of the solid rock still remaining at the west end of it, high on each side, and low in the middle, and which is of such a rough unfinished appearance, as entirely to preclude the supposition that it was left so intentionally, unless it should have been for placing a sarcophagus, or some object of worship upon it. There is a subterraneous passage that goes off from the chamber in a southerly direction, and which has been traced to its termination, by the same indefatigable gentlemen, a distance of 55 feet in the solid rock, and another in the east end, which enters under a species of arch, and which has also been traced to its termination, a distance of 40 feet, into the body of the pyramid. I did not enter these passages ; and what I state is from the report of others, who, I believe, were never there either : but without the most positive and undoubted authority, I would not allow that these passages proceed so far, and end in a cul de sac. I should rather feel inclined to believe that they continued on, and ultimately communicated with the open air, and that they were secret passages by which to enter or escape from the pyramids. This chamber, though but recently laid open to public inspection, appears to have been frequently visited in former times ; it is much covered with smoke, and seems as if fires had been burnt in it, and visitors have employed the smoke of the candle to inscribe their names upon the ceiling, as they are but too fond of doing in the present day. 

4. It is impossible to state the actual or intended use of this chamber. Antiquity has not even recorded its existence, and the voice of conjecture has almost been silent as to the purpose for which it was excavated. Nothing was found in it when lately entered by Captain Caviglia, and if any thing valuable were consigned to it, in any period of its history, we are not correctly informed. Herodotus makes mention of various subterraneous chambers, but the description of none of them applies to this. The one on which he particularly condescends, had a channel by which the waters of the Nile were admitted, and flowed round the chamber, inclosing an island on which the body of Cheops, the builder of the pyramid, rested in the tomb. There is not the smallest vestige of any such a thing having ever been in this chamber, and the access for the waters of the Nile into any part of the pyramid, still remains to be discovered : but the importance attached to this chamber, or to some other adjoining chamber, is evident, from its vast dimensions, and from the great care and labor that have been employed to construct the passage by which it is entered. The size alone is especially indicative of the importance of this individual chamber. This passage, as has been already mentioned, is lined on all the four sides by finely polished slabs of large-grained red granite of Assouan, commonly called sienite ; this must have been done at a great expense, the distance being between five and six hundred miles. The stones are remarkably well cut and well fitted to each other, and probably cover the orifices of other passages into other chambers in the pyramid. Those at present known, are all on the west of this general passage, that is in the north-west quarter of the pyramid, with the exception of the one lately discovered in the centre of its base ; and till examination proves the contrary, we may be allowed to conclude that the remaining three compartments have their chambers also. It would be presumption to mention any place in which such a passage is likely to be found ; he that has time, ability and inclination must choose his own place of research. But it is not less surprising that no attempts have been made to probe this passage into the centre of the pyramid, than that no attempts have been made to discover a passage entering from the south, east, or west sides, on the same or on a different level with that on the north. Even the termination of the small tunnel passing off from the king's chamber is not known ; it may communicate with another chamber, or it may lead out to the open air, where the orifice of it is probably blocked up with a loose stone, on the south side of the pyramid, which a little careful examination would soon discover. (…)

Photo Marc Chartier
5. We began to ascend immediately from the door of the passage, and gradually passed round towards the north-east angle, because the steps are so much broken towards the middle as to afford an unsecure and difficult surface to climb; whereas, at the angles, they are pretty entire. One part, in the eastern aspect, we found quite perpendicular, and seemed as if it had been formed for a door : it was not above four feet wide, and six feet high. Any part in the whole of the ascent formed a convenient resting-place, whenever the traveller was inclined to repose ; but the slope is so gradual, and proceeding leisurely, we had little occasion for stopping to rest our limbs, or recover our breath. (…)
6. Here I beg leave to remark, that neither in ascending or descending the pyramid did we discover any remains of the coating with which it is said to have been covered. Yet Herodotus states that it was cased and finished in the highest style ; that the stones of the casing were skilfully cemented, and that none of them were less than 30 feet ; that the summit of the pyramid was first completed, and descending thence, the workmen finished the whole. This is a description which cannot in any respect apply to this pyramid in its present state ; for the summit of it is demolished ; it has no casing ; and there is not a stone in the whole building whose dimensions are the half of 30 feet. The largest stone that I saw was near the entrance of the passage, and its dimensions were under 11 feet. The largest of all the stones are those granite slabs that line the king's chamber, and they are not above 20 feet. It is impossible to apply the account of Herodotus to any other pyramid, if we are to understand him as speaking of the pyramids of Gheeza ; because he expressly states, that the pyramid of Cheops was the largest, which this one certainly is. He further says that he measured them both, and that the pyramid of Chephren was not so high by 40 feet. The third pyramid here, which is generally assigned to Mycerinus, answers nearly in size, and the material of its construction, but not so well in position, to the description of Herodotus ; and for my own part, I should be extremely happy to see his account of the pyramids applied, by a careful examinator, to the three large pyramids at Abousir, which I had not an opportunity of doing. They are all coated ; and one of them may certainly be called the middlemost ; which, if the description be referred to the position of the pyramids of Gheeza, if any of them can be said to be in the middle, it must be that of Chephren, which does not correspond with the account of Herodotus. But more of this afterwards. The statement of Herodotus, of Pliny, of Abdallatif, Masoudi, Makrisi, etc. I should think quite sufficient to prove that this pyramid was originally coated ; and, although in ascending the side of it, or in walking round the base, I did not perceive any vestiges of it remaining, I do not consider myself warranted to say that there is none ; and my own conviction is, that the pyramid was coated, as stated by these authorities, and must accordingly have been finished. (…)
7. The opening of the passage into this pyramid [the Great Pyramid] is by many oriental writers ascribed to the Kalif Abd Allah Mamoun, the son of Haroun Al Raschid, and they state that he employed for that purpose fire, vinegar, etc. ; others ascribe it to the Kalif Mohdi, whose name was Mahommed. This latter, I think, is probably the person whose name we find in the inscription copied by Mr. Belzoni, from the interior of the second pyramid, under the title of king Ali Mohammed; and it being stated in the plural number, that he attended the opening of them, I think it very probable that he was the person who first penetrated into the interior of both these pyramids, and probably had also a large share in uncovering them both.
8. The removal of the coating, will account for the great damage sustained by the steps all round, while the rolling down of the immense stones from the top, will account for those towards the middle being more injured than those at the angles of the pyramid. (…)

9. There is a broad deep trench cut in the rock at the middle of the east front of the large pyramid, and running parallel with it. It is rather broader than a carriage road ; it descends towards the middle from each end, and resembles a carriage entrance to and from a pond. It is half full of sand, and is entered on the east side by a channel like a canal, for the conveyance of water. It is rather surprising that among all the excavations made about the pyramids, this trench should never have been examined ; for it appears to me to be connected with the most important object in the pyramid ; namely, that for which it was erected, the tomb of Cheops. It is stated that many subterraneous chambers were made in the rock under the pyramid, and that the water of the Nile was introduced and encompassed them, forming an island on which the body of Cheops was deposited. The water of the Nile must have been raised to this level by artificial means, such as are now employed to raise it to irrigate the land after the inundation has subsided, and even in many places when it is at its height. These chambers, or subterraneous vaults, are, at present unknown, and I am disposed to consider this as the channel by which the water of the Nile entered the pyramid : and if excavation should prove it to be so, the whole of them would then be discovered, and the explorer would be well rewarded for his trouble, and probably for his expense. There is no such trench connected with the second pyramid, and we are informed by Herodotus, that the water of the Nile was not admitted into it ; that it had no subterraneous structures, and no island within it. (…)
10. There is another circumstance that merits attention, namely the superior style in which the materials of the pyramids are put together. Nothing could be better calculated than their form to resist the erosions of time ; and they were defended by such a smooth and polished covering, that not a drop of water could lie on their surface. The body of the pyramid throughout, as far as we are allowed to see it, is also of the most substantial description. Large blocks of stone, four, five, six, and eight feet square, roughly cut, and connected by a thin layer of cement, with the break-joint regularly preserved, and each successive layer receding from a foot and a half to two feet from the exterior, and advancing as far upon the interior layer beneath it. Not a stone has slipped from its place ; it stands, with the security of a mountain, the most indestructible pile that human ingenuity ever reared. The joinings and polish of the granite casings in the interior equally manifest the eminent skill of the artist, and the great perfection that the art had attained at the early age in which they were erected. No art ever sprung to perfection at once ; but of both poetry and architecture it may be said that they reached a degree of perfection in the outset, which, in many respects, has not since been surpassed. If many a poem must have been composed before the tuneful art attained the perfection that it exhibits in the Iliad of Homer, many a structure must have been erected before an architect was capable of constructing the pyramids of Egypt. The manner in which the materials is put together is as different from the temples, or any other ancient building in Egypt, as a Roman wall is from a Greek, or a French wall from an English. The sarcophagi connected with them are also different in size, form, cutting, and workmanship.
11. The stone is a compact lime-stone, containing many shells and small hard substances like acini, of a more compact texture than the stone itself. These small concretions are particularly numerous in the rock around the base of the pyramid ; and Herodotus says that he was informed that they were the petrified stones of the dates that the workmen ate when they were building the pyramids. The remark needs no criticism ; if the Egyptian priests had told the venerable historian that they were the teeth of the laborers, both he and they would have been equally near the truth, and equally believed by posterity. The circumstance, however, proves that at least part of the stones of which the structure is built, were taken from the rock around its base ; for I did not observe any of these small concretions in any of the quarries on the opposite side of the river. Towards the upper part of the pyramid, I did not observe any of these concretions in the stones, which are of a whiter and more chalky appearance, and resemble more the rock on the opposite side of the river, from which they were probably taken.

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