Illustration extraite de l'ouvrage de Lord LindsayLord Alexander Crawford Lindsay, comte de Crawford (1812-1880), était un grand voyageur. En compagnie de son ami et proche M. Ramsay, il entreprit, en 1836-1837, un périple qui mena les deux voyageurs en Terre sainte, via l’Égypte où ils purent visiter le site de Guizeh. Sur place, un guide particulièrement bien informé les attendait : Caviglia en personne.
Le texte qui suit est extrait de Letters on Egypt, Edom, and the Holy Land, 2 vol., 1838. En réalité, le récit qui y est consacré à la Grande Pyramide ne nous apprend rien que nous ne sachions déjà. Lord Lindsay y fait simplement état de quelques-uns des travaux d’exploration entrepris par Caviglia, qu’ils soient déjà réalisés ou en cours.
Un détail mérite, me semble-t-il, une attention particulière : comme de nombreux autres voyageurs ayant visité l’intérieur de la pyramide de Khéops, Lord Lindsay note que le couloir ascendant et la Grande Galerie sont des parcours particulièrement difficiles, et même “périlleux”, car les pierres y sont polies et glissantes comme du verre (“polished and slippery as glass”). Par contre, lesquels de ces voyageurs se sont demandé la raison d'un tel état de la pierre ? Ma lecture a sûrement été incomplète, mais pour l’heure, je ne vois aucun nom à proposer. Et pourtant, les pierres ne sont pas devenues glissantes par hasard. L’usure qu’elles ont subie a dû avoir une cause liée à une phase du chantier de construction de la pyramide.
On sait les réponses qui ont été apportées depuis à ce constat. Mais sans doute, du temps de Lord Lindsay, était-il trop tôt pour se poser pareille question.
Grande Galerie (photo Edgar Brothers, extraite du site de Jon Bodsworth)“The entrance is on the northern face of the [Great] Pyramid, on the sixteenth step, though you can ride up to it, such immense mounds of fallen stones have accumulated at the base. A long low passage, most beautifully cut and polished, runs downwards, above 260 feet, at an angle of 27 degrees, to a large hall, sixty feet long, directly under the centre of the Pyramid, cut out of the rock, and never, it would appear, finished. This was discovered by Caviglia ; the passage, before his time, was supposed to end half way down (1), being blocked up with stones at the point where another passage meets it, running upwards at the same angle of 27, and by which you might mount in a direct line to the grand gallery, and from that to the king's chamber, where stands the sarcophagus, nearly in the centre of the pile, were it not for three or four blocks of granite that have been slid down from above, in order to stop it up.
By climbing through a passage, forced, it is supposed, by the Caliph Mamoun, you wind round these blocks of granite into the passage, so that, with the exception of ten or twelve feet, you do in fact follow the original line of ascent ; we descended by it. Close to the opening of this passage on the grand gallery is the mouth of a well, or shaft, about 200 feet deep, by which we ascended from the neighbourhood of the great lower hall. Two or three persons had descended it before Caviglia's time, but he cleared it out to the full depth that his predecessors had reached, and believing it went still deeper, hearing a hollow sound as he stamped on the bottom, he attempted to excavate there, but was obliged to desist on account of the excessive heat, which neither he nor the Arabs could stand.
Think, then, what his delight must have been, when, in the course of clearing the passage, which, as I mentioned to you, leads directly from the entrance to the great lower hall, smelling a strong scent of sulphur, and remembering he had burnt some in the well to purify the air, he dug in that direction, and found a passage leading right into the bottom of the well, where the ropes, pickaxes, &c. &c., were lying that he had left there in despair, on abandoning the idea of further excavation in that direction as hopeless !
Up this well, as I said, we climbed, holding a rope, and fixing our feet in holes cut in the stone ; the upper part of the ascent was very difficult, and bats in numbers came tumbling down on us ; but at last we landed safely in the grand gallery, a noble nondescript of an apartment, very lofty, narrowing towards the roof, and most beautifully chiselled ; it ends towards the south, in a staircase, if I may so term an inclined plane, with notches cut in the surface for the feet to hold by ; the ascent is perilous, the stone being as polished and slippery as glass ; before ascending, however, we proceeded by another beautifully worked passage, cut directly under the staircase, to a handsome room, called the queen's chamber. Returning to the gallery, we mounted the inclined plane to the king's chamber, directly over the queen's. The passage leading to it was defended by a portcullis, now destroyed, but you see the grooves it fell into. His majesty's chamber is a noble apartment, cased with enormous slabs of granite, twenty feet high ; nine similar ones (seven large and two half-sized) form the ceiling.
At the west end stands the sarcophagus, which rings, when struck, like a bell. From the north and south sides, respectively, of this room, branch two small oblong square passages, like air-holes, cut through the granite slabs, and slanting upwards, the first for eighty feet in a zigzag direction, the other for one hundred and twenty.
Conduit nord de la chambre du Roi (cliché Jon Bodsworth)It is Caviglia's present object to discover whither these lead. Being unable to pierce the granite, he has begun cutting sideways into the limestone, at the point where the granite casing of the chamber ends ; he has reached the northern passage at the point where it is continued through the limestone, and is cutting a large one below it, so that the former runs like a groove in the roof of the latter, and he has only to follow it as a guide, and cut away till he reaches the dénouement. " Now," said Caviglia, " I will show you how I hope to find out where the northern passage leads to."
Returning to the landing-place at the top of the grand staircase, we mounted a rickety ladder to the narrow passage that leads to Davison's chamber, so named after the English consul at Algiers, who discovered it seventy years ago ; it is directly above the king's chamber, the ceiling of the one forming, it would appear, the floor of the other. The ceiling of Davison's chamber consists of eight stones, beautifully worked, and this ceiling, which is so low that you can only sit cross-legged under it, Caviglia believes to be the floor of another large room above it, which he is now trying to discover. To this room he concludes the little passage leads, that branches from the south side of the king's chamber. He has accordingly dug down into the calcareous stone at the further end of Davison's chamber, in hopes of meeting it : once found, it will probably lead him to the place he is in quest of.
And now, I am sure, if I have been happy enough to inspire you with a tithe of the interest with which I followed every winding of the Pyramid and of our cicerone's mind - itself a most extraordinary labyrinth - you will be glad to hear that there seems every probability of his soon reaching the little passage. Leaving a servant in the excavation, descending to the king's chamber, and shouting at the hole, the man answered by striking on the stone -distinct strokes - as satisfactory a reply as could be wished for.”
(1) Yet it would appear to have been open in Abd'allatif’s time :" Cette ouverture mène à des passages étroits, à des conduits qui s'étendent jusqu'à une grande profondeur, à des puits et à des précipices, comme l’assurent les personnes qui ont le courage de s'y enfoncer ; car il y a un grand nombre de gens qu'une folle cupidité et des espérances chimériques conduisent dans l'intérieur de cette édifice. lis s'enfoncent dans ses cavités les plus profondes, et arrivent enfin à un endroit où il ne leur est plus possible de pousser plus avant. Quant au passage le plus fréquenté, et que l'on suit d'ordinaire, c'est un glacis qui conduit vers la partie supérieure de la pyramide, où l'on trouve une chambre carrée, et dans cette chambre un sarcophage de pierre." On a second visit, he plucked up courage to enter the pyramid in company with a large party, but he shall tell his own story : " Dans une autre visite que je rendis aux pyramides, j'entrai dans ce conduit intérieur avec plusieurs personnes, et je pénétrai jusqu'aux deux tiers environ ; mais ayant perdu connaissance par un effet de la frayeur que m'inspirait cette montée, je redescendis à demi mort." (Relation, &c., p. 175) (...)