jeudi 28 avril 2011

“Si vous êtes pressé par le temps, n’allez pas en Égypte !” (Harry Westbrook Dunning - XIXe-XXe s.)

L’Américain Harry Westbrook Dunning (1871-?) fut professeur en langues sémitiques à la Yale University. Il voyagea en Égypte en 1899.
Avec son épouse Mary Parker, il effectua également de très nombreux autres voyages à travers le monde.
Dans son ouvrage To-day on the Nile (extraits ci-dessous), publié en 1905, il relata le strict minimum sur les pyramides de Guizeh. Selon lui, d’ailleurs, la visite de l’intérieur de la Grande Pyramide était “sans intérêt”, comparativement à l’extérieur du monument. Il reflétait sans doute en cela une pratique très courante à une certaine époque, à savoir celle d’escalader le monument pour découvrir de là-haut le paysage environnant, outre l’aspect sportif de l’aventure qui pouvait apparaître comme le nec plus ultra d’un séjour en terre égyptienne. Quant à l’intérieur de la pyramide, il était souvent synonyme d’inconfort, de fatigue, d’appréhension, voire de peurs... donc de déception : tant d’efforts pour voir une chambre vide !
Ceci n’empêche pas notre auteur de prodiguer des conseils aux touristes tentés par la vallée du Nil : le grand pays qu’est l’Égypte ne se découvre pas à la va-vite ; si l’on ne dispose pas d’assez de temps, mieux vaut choisir une autre destination. Des conseils de bon sens assurément, et sans doute toujours d’actualité...

“The pyramids are the oldest and most interesting things in Egypt and therefore I recommend an early visit. They introduce us to the country. (...)
According to Herodotus one hundred thousand men were employed for the three months of the inundation. At this time they would not be needed at their ordinary work. This continued for twenty years. Professor Petrie has calculated that it would be entirely possible to build the pyramid with this force. It shows a wonderful organization to be able to employ such a number of men at one time on one building. Each gang and even each individual had his own work and did it.
There is a story that one of the medieval rulers of Egypt thought that an evil spirit dwelt in the third pyramid and forthwith proceeded to tear it down. He put a large force of men to work. It is always easier to destroy than to build up, but at the end of three months he wearied of the task and gave it up. To-day the ruin he wrought is unnoticeable and the pyramid seems merely to have suffered from the ordinary wear of time. This tale has always particularly impressed me. (...)
The visit to the interior comes next. I consider it comparatively uninteresting and think it does not repay one for the toil, the dust and the dirt. That is my opinion now that I have been inside. Before I went in I of course would not listen to such advice and insisted on getting the experience for myself. (...)
We ascend a few courses on the north side and then plunge into a small hole. The passage is a trifle less than four feet high and descends at an angle of 26°. It is over a hundred yards long and goes to the subterranean chamber. We follow it for twenty yards and then come to the ascending gallery. At first this is blocked by huge stones, placed there to seal the entrance. There is some difficulty here, but the Arabs know how to surmount it. Thence the way is rather steep and slippery to the Great Hall. This is 28 feet high and 155 feet long. We see evidences of the passage of the sarcophagus. It must have been an awful task, requiring both labor and skill, to get it to its resting-place in the King's Chamber. The masonry work in the Great Hall is deserving of attention. Abd-el-Latif, the great authority on medieval Egypt, says truly that neither a needle nor a hair can be inserted into the joints of the stones.
At last we come to the King's Chamber, the goal of our trip. It is a plain bare room with the walls ornamented by the names of more or less illustrious visitors. The odor of bats, alive and dead, is prominent. The empty sarcophagus is not very interesting. Our guides hold candles to the air-shafts to show that air comes in from the outside.
They obligingly light very small pieces of magnesium wire of almost infinitesimal value. For this an extra bakshish of two piasters is unwillingly accepted. The unwillingness is not because they do not wish any reward, but because they would prefer a larger one.
Another chamber, called the Queen's Chamber, may be reached from the Great Hall. It is smaller and has a curious pointed roof. There are several other rooms and passages which have been thoroughly explored by scholars, but which are not usually visited by travelers and which have little or no interest beyond the fact of their existence.
The second and third pyramids contain tomb-chambers and are easier of access than the Great Pyramid. The second pyramid was opened by Belzoni in 1818. He found a plain tomb-chamber and a sarcophagus without inscription or contents.
The interior of the third pyramid is the easiest of access and most interesting. It is, however, seldom visited. In the tomb-chamber was found the sarcophagus of Menkaura, the builder of the pyramid. It was destined for the British Museum, but the vessel on which it was placed was unfortunately lost off the coast of Spain. The inner wooden coffin and the mummy of the king arrived safely in England and can be seen in the Egyptian Section of the British Museum. (...)

D'un auteur inconnu
Conseils aux voyageurs
I have purposely given considerable attention to the pyramids ; for I consider them the most interesting objects near Cairo, if not in all Egypt. On some accounts, such as antiquity and magnitude, they deserve the latter place. Moreover, I sincerely believe that the true principle is to see the best and most important things carefully and leisurely, leaving minor things to the last or, if necessary, leaving them out entirely. This principle applies to countries, museums, picture-galleries, in short, to all travel for pleasure and profit. Baedeker (1) says : “Travelers who are not pressed for time … are recommended to make the circuit of the pyramid plateau.” My advice is that if you are pressed for time, do not come to Egypt, but make a shorter trip to countries nearer home. I know that cruises are organized which allot seven days to Egypt and solemnly proclaim that this is ample time. Any one who can seriously consider such a trip does not deserve anything better. The only excuse that a sane man has for taking such a trip is when his pleasure (we cannot call it rest) is obtained only by constant jumping from one land to another, by the mere delight of motion.
Grant Allen thought a year would not be too long to see Florence. Unfortunately the limitations of human existence do not allow us to plan our tours on this scale. But Egypt is far distant for most of us. Surely it is not wise to spend time, strength, and money to go so far and then to hurry back after a week in this great country.”
(1) Sur cet auteur, voir la note de Pyramidales ICI