vendredi 1 juillet 2011

“De toutes les oeuvres architecturales des Égyptiens, aucune n’a plus suscité l’émerveillement et la curiosité que les pyramides” (William Hosking - XIXe s.)

L’écrivain architecte britannique William Hosking (1800-1861) fut le premier professeur d’architecture et de génie civil au King’s College de Londres.
Dans sa présentation des caractéristiques de l’architecture égyptienne ancienne, publiée en 1867 par Arthur Ashpitel dans Treatise on architecture, il n’est pas avare d’éloges sur le savoir-faire des bâtisseurs de pyramides et leurs compétences en matière d’ “arts mécaniques”. Par contre, au moins dans cet écrit précis, il donne l’impression de s’arrêter à mi-parcours de sa recherche dès lors qu’est abordée la question des “principes” constructifs.

Cliché de Lehnert et Landrock
“The pyramids (...) mausoleums of a nation - and the temples, monuments of human folly - speak more strongly than any historian can, and compel our belief of what they have been by what they are ; whereas the others do not exist but in name. Nineveh and Babylon were - but Thebes and Memphis still remain. It is strange, indeed, that a people who displayed such energies in the construction of tombs, pyramids, and temples, should have left no work of any description that could be applied to any really useful purpose. (...)
Indeed the ancient historians and topographers speak for the most part so widely of dates and dimensions, that they are, at the best, most unsatisfactory, if not fallacious, guides ; and in the present case, that of Egypt, the style of architecture is so uniform, or so imperfectly understood, that no argument can with safety be drawn from it, as there may in other cases. (...)
Of all the architectural works of the Egyptians, (...) none have excited so much the wonder and curiosity of men as the pyramids themselves ; not in consequence of any particular beauty in their composition, or ingenuity in their construction, but simply because of their immense magnitude, and unknown use, and antiquity. (...)

Différences entre la pyramide de Khéops et les autres pyramides
From its immense size, the dimensions of the great pyramid of Gizeh, at Memphis, are variously given by the various persons who have measured it. (...) It is built in regular courses or layers of stone, which vary in thickness from two to three feet, each receding from the one below it to the number of 202; though even this is variously stated from that number to 260, as indeed the height is given by various modern travellers at from 444 to 625 feet. And the ancient writers differ as widely, both among themselves and from the moderns. On the top course the area is about 10 English feet square, though it is believed to have been originally two courses higher, which would bring it to the smallest that in regular gradation it could be. It is a solid mass of stone, with the exception of a narrow corridor leading to a small chamber in its centre ; and a larger ascending corridor or gallery, from about half the distance of the first to another larger chamber at a considerable distance, vertically above the former, in which there is a single granite sarcophagus, not more than large enough for one body, putting the intention of the structure clearly beyond doubt.
The other pyramids differ from that of Cheops (as the largest is called) in size, and slightly in form and mode of construction, some having the angles of the steps or courses of stone worked away to an inclined plane, and some not diminishing in a right line. One of the middle-sized pyramids is unlike all the rest, in being neither smooth nor in small steps, but in six large benches or stages, apparently of equal height, and diminishing gradually. But the circumstance which most distinguishes it is, that it is constructed of rude unshapen blocks of stone, cemented together with a very large proportion of mortar. Another is of unburnt brick, and has consequently become ruinous and mis-shapen. (...)

Les oeuvres gigantesques de l’architecture égyptienne et les compétences techniques qui ont contribué à leur réalisation
This is in all probability the oldest architecture in the world, and now that those mysterious stumbling-blocks to the former antiquary, the hieroglyphics, have been deciphered and clearly understood, a flood of light has been thrown on what a few years ago was all vague conjecture. We are indebted to the labours of the late eminent architect and antiquary, Luigi Canina (*), and to those of Sir Gardner Wilkinson (**), for an immense mass of information on the subject. In fact, these learned men seem to have been the first to have digested the matter into tangible shape, and their friendship and mutual association can never be overvalued. The drawings for the chief works of the latter were made out in the studio of the former.(...)
The next of which we have notice is the most gigantic work in the world ; one which never has, and perhaps which never will be, surpassed. It is the great pyramid. At this time the Egyptians must have advanced in the mechanical arts beyond anything of which we have an idea. They seem to have been able to quarry rocks of the hardest stone, even granite ; to transport them to any distance they pleased ; to raise huge blocks, vast monolith obelisks that would puzzle our engineers with their best tackle ; and what is the most wonderful of all, not only to polish granite as well as we can, but they did more - they seem to have had the power of carving on that most stubborn and difficult of all materials with the utmost facility, large surfaces and even huge statues being covered with hieroglyphics of the most minute kind, and of the highest finish. The most extraordinary thing is to know how this was done, for though Herodotus (Euterpe, 124, 125) tells us they had iron tools, yet it was long before the conversion of that metal into steel had been found out ; and with all our best tools that the best steel can afford us, it is very difficult and very costly even to carve plain letters in granite. (...)

Quels “principes” ont été appliqués par les Égyptiens dans la construction des pyramides ?
It has been imagined, but not determined, that most of them [the pyramids] have natural hills, either of earth or stone, for cores, or rather that hills have been cut to the shape, and built over with large courses of stone to give them the appearance of being solid masonry. If this be the case, the chambers and the passages to them, which have been discovered in some of the pyramids, have been carefully built around to have the appearance of being left in the construction, which is not very probable.
A great deal of trouble has been given to discover the principles on which the Egyptians set out these erections ; the most reasonable theory is that each side was meant for an equilateral triangle, four of which laid sloping, and brought to a point, would compose the pyramid ; but neither the dimensions nor the angles agree. It is true that the sides of the three great pyramids have an angle with the horizon of from 51 ½° to 52 ½°, or thereabouts ; but those at Abusir and at Saccara, as given by Canina, measure 55°, at Assou 68°, while at Barkal, near Meroe, the angle is no less than 72°. At Dashoor the pyramid has a slope about half-way up of 53°, which afterwards is flattened to 44°. At Meydoum is a pyramid in three great steps.
The great reverence paid by the Egyptians to the bodies of their ancestors, and their careful preservation of them by embalmment, necessitated a great number and vast extent of tombs. Some of these are built up like small houses, others are caves cut in the sides of rocks, others are long passages tunnelled under ground to very great extent. The pyramids, however, seem particularly to have been the places of sepulture of distinguished men, at least in Egypt. In Thebes there are no pyramids, and all the tombs are excavated in the solid rock.”

(*) Sur cet auteur, lire la note qui lui a été consacrée par Pyramidales : ICI
(**) Voir les deux notes sur cet auteur : ICI