THE EGYPTIAN OBELISKS

At Luxor, a single obelisk, the property of the English, still maintains its ancient position. It is very beautiful, formed of red granite, and covered with elegantly carved inscriptions, running up each of the four faces. The hieroglyphics are cut to an unusual depth, and are remarkably clear and well-formed, indicating that the monument was raised in honour of Rameses the Great, the most illustrious of all the Egyptian monarchs, and the most magnificent and prolific architect the world has ever seen. The top of the obelisk was originally left in a rough unfinished state, the roughness having been concealed by a capping of bronze; but this having been removed long ago, the surface has become very much eroded by exposure, which somewhat detracts from the elegance of the shaft. It has also the peculiarity that its two inner faces are sensibly curved—a peculiarity which it is supposed was designed to make the sunlight fall with softer effect, so as to make the shadows less crude, and the angles less sharp. The shaft, which is eighty-two feet high by eight feet in diameter at the base, is elevated upon a pedestal, which is adorned by statues in high relief of dog-headed monkeys standing in an attitude of adoration at the corners worshipping the sun, and also by standing figures of the god of the Nile presenting offerings, incised in the stone like the hieroglyphics of the shaft. The surroundings of this obelisk are far grander than those of any other obelisk in the world. At present the extent and dimensions of the ruins of Thebes produce an overwhelming effect upon the visitor. But it is almost impossible for us to imagine its magnificence when its temples and obelisks were in their full perfection, and the great Rameses was carried on the shoulders of his officers through the ranks of adoring slaves to behold the completion of the works which had been designed to perpetuate his glory. The ancient city, divided in the middle by the Nile, as London is by the Thames or Glasgow by the Clyde, covered the vast plain, with great houses in the outskirts standing in richly cultivated gardens, each temple surrounded by its own little sacred lake, over which the bodies of the dead were carried by the priests before burial, and the beautiful Mokattam Hills bounding the view, wearing the soft lilac hue of distance. Only two or three places on earth can rival the overwhelming interest which the city possesses. But the colossal associated temples of Karnac and Luxor are absolutely unique. There is nothing on earth to equal them. They are man's greatest achievements in religious architecture. Long rows of stupendous pillars, covered from base to top with coloured pictures and hieroglyphics, containing a whole library of actually written and pictured history and religion, look "like a Brobdingnagian forest turned into stone," in the midst of which the visitor feels himself an insignificant insect. A sense of superhuman awfulness, of personal nothingness and irresistible power, is what these stupendous structures inspire in even the most callous spectator. A confused mass of broken columns and heaps of huge sculptured stones present an appearance as if the old giants had been at war on the spot, hurling rocks at each other. Between Luxor and Karnac extended an avenue of sphinxes, two miles long, numbering more than four thousand pieces of sculpture, now represented by mutilated formless blocks of stone. We see in these vast temples, which were raised by a people inspired with the sentiment that they were the greatest of all nations, to be the chief shrines of the religion of the country, the fruits of the plunder and the tribute of Asia and Africa. The funds necessary to build them had been procured by robbing other nations; and most of the work was done by captives taken in war. Many a fair province had been desolated of its inhabitants, many a splendid city spoiled of its riches, in order to construct these awful halls. Unfortunately, the annual overflow of the inundation of the Nile covers the ground to the depth of a foot or two, staining and eating away the bases of the columns, and overthrowing their enormous drums and architraves. The destruction cannot be prevented, for the water infiltrates through the soil; and some day, ere long, the remaining columns will be hurled down, and the pride of Karnac will lie prone in the dust.

Passing westward to Rome, the largest obelisk not only in the Eternal City but in the whole world is that which now adorns the square of St. John Lateran. It is, as usual, of red granite much darkened and corroded by time, and stands with its pedestal and cross one hundred and forty-one feet high; the shaft alone being one hundred and eight feet seven inches in height, with faces about nine feet and a half wide at the base; the whole mass weighing upwards of four hundred and sixty tons. It was found among the ruins of the Circus Maximus broken into three pieces, and was dug up by order of Pope Sixtus V., conveyed to its present site, and re-erected by the celebrated architect Fontana in 1588. The lower end had been so much injured by its fall, that in order to enable it to stand, it was found necessary to cut off about two feet and a half to obtain a level base. On the top of it Fontana added by way of ornament four bronze lions, surmounted by three mountain peaks, out of which sprung the cross, as the armorial bearings of the Popes. Thus crowned with the cross, and consecrated to the honour of Christianity, this noble relic of antiquity acquires an additional interest from its nearness to the great Basilica of the Lateran, which is the representative cathedral of the Papacy and the mother church of Christendom, and to the Lateran Palace, for a thousand years the residence of the Popes of Rome.