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Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Giovanni Battista Belzoni[1]
Born 15 November 1778
Padua
Died 3 December 1824
Gwato
Nationality Republic of Venice
Known for Egyptian antiquities

Giovanni Battista Belzoni (15 November 1778 – 3 December 1824), sometimes known as The Great Belzoni, was a prolific Venetian explorer of Egyptian antiquities.

Contents

Biography

Belzoni was born in Padua. His father was a barber who sired fourteen children. His family was from Rome and when Belzoni was 16 he went to work there, claiming that he 'studied hydraulics'. He intended taking monastic vows, but in 1798 the occupation of the city by French troops drove him from Rome and changed his proposed career. In 1800 he moved to the Netherlands.

In 1803 he fled to England to avoid being sent to jail[2]. There he married an Englishwoman, Sarah Bane or Banne. Belzoni was a tall man at 6 ft 7 in (2m1) tall (one source says that his wife was of equally generous build, but all other accounts of her describe her as being of normal build) and they both joined a travelling circus[3]. They were for some time compelled to find subsistence by performing exhibitions of feats of strength and agility as a strongman at fairs and on the streets of London. In 1804 he appears engaged at the circus at Astley's amphitheatre at a variety of performances[4].
Giovanni Battista Belzoni

In 1812 he left England and after a tour of performances in Spain, Portugal and Sicily, he went to Malta in 1815 where he met Ismael Gibraltar, an emissary of Muhammad Ali, who at the time was undertaking a programme of agrarian land reclamation and important irrigation works[5]. Belzoni wanted to show Muhammad Ali a hydraulic machine of his own invention for raising the waters of the Nile. Though the experiment with this engine was successful, the project was not approved by the pasha. Belzoni, now without a job, was resolved to continue his travels. On the recommendation of the orientalist, J. L. Burckhardt, he was sent by Henry Salt, the British consul to Egypt, to the Ramesseum at Thebes, from where he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Ramesses II, commonly called "the Young Memnon". Shipped by Belzoni to England, this piece is still on prominent display at the British Museum. This weighed over 7 tons. It took him 17 days and 130 men to tow it to the river. He used levers to lift it onto rollers. Then he had his men distributed equally with 4 ropes drag it on the rollers. On the first day (27 July) he only covered a few yards, the second he covered 50 yards deliberately breaking the bases of 2 columns to clear the way for his burden. After 150 yards it sunk in the sand and a detour of 300 yards on firmer ground was necessary. From there it got a little easier and on 12 August he finally made it to the river where he was able to load it on a boat for shipment to the British Museum in London. [6]

The 'Young Memnon', Rameses II, at the British Museum.

He also expanded his investigations to the great temple of Edfu, visited Elephantine and Philae, cleared the great temple at Abu Simbel of sand (1817), made excavations at Karnak, and opened up the sepulchre of Seti I (still sometimes known as "Belzoni's Tomb"). He was the first to penetrate into the second pyramid of Giza, and the first European in modern times to visit the oasis of Bahariya. He also identified the ruins of Berenice on the Red Sea.

In 1819 he returned to England and published an account of his travels and discoveries entitled Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia, &c[7] the following year. During 1820 and 1821 he also exhibited facsimiles of the tomb of Seti I. The exhibition was held at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London[8]. In 1822 Belzoni showed his model in Paris.

In 1823 he set out for West Africa, intending to travel to Timbuktu. Having been refused permission to pass through Morocco, he chose the Guinea Coast route. He reached the Kingdom of Benin, but was seized with dysentery at a village called Gwato, and died there. According to the celebrated traveller Richard Francis Burton he was murdered and robbed. In 1829 his widow published his drawings of the royal tombs at Thebes.

In popular culture

Belzoni was portrayed by Matthew Kelly in the 2005 BBC docudrama Egypt.

See also

References

  1. ^ from his publication Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries Within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia, London, 1820.
  2. ^ a biography of Belzoni on the Minnesota State University site
  3. ^ Belzoni's biography on the Belzoni, Mississippi site
  4. ^ Stanley Mayes: The Great Belzoni, The Circus Strongman who Discovered Egypt's Trasures, ISBN 1845113330
  5. ^ www.ancient-egypt.co.uk
  6. ^ Time Life Lost Civilizations series: Ramses II: Magnificence on the Nile (1993) p. 47-48
  7. ^ Published by Remy, 1835
  8. ^ The Magic Lantern; Or, Sketches of Scenes in the Metropolis, Blessington 1823

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GIOVANNI BATTISTA BELZONI (1778-1823), Italian explorer of Egyptian antiquities, was born at Padua in 1778. His family was from Rome, and in that city he spent his youth. He intended taking monastic orders, but in 1798 the occupation of the city by the French troops drove him from Rome and changed his proposed career. He went back to Padua, where he studied hydraulics, removed in 1800 to Holland, and in 1803 went to England, where he married an Englishwoman. He was 6 ft. 7 in. in height, broad in proportion, and his wife was of equally generous build. They were for some time compelled to find subsistence by exhibitions of feats of strength and agility at fairs and on the streets of London. Through the kindness of Henry Salt, the traveller and antiquarian, who was ever afterwards his patron, he was engaged at Astley's amphitheatre, and his circumstances soon began to improve. In 1812 he left England, and after travelling in Spain and Portugal reached Egypt in 1815, where Salt was then British consul-general. Belzoni was desirous of laying before Mehemet Ali a hydraulic machine of his own invention for raising the waters of the Nile. Though the experiment with this engine was successful, the design was abandoned by the pasha, and Belzoni resolved to continue his travels. On the recommendation of the orientalist, J. L. Burckhardt, he was sent at Salt's charges to Thebes, whence he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Rameses II., commonly called Young Memnon, which he shipped for England, where it is in the British Museum. He also pushed his investigations into the great temple of Edfu, visited Elephantine and Philae, cleared the great temple at Abu Simbel of sand (1817), made excavations at Karnak, and opened up the sepulchre of Seti I. ("Belzoni's Tomb"). He was the first to penetrate into the second pyramid of Giza, and the first European in modern times to visit the oasis of Baharia, which he supposed to be that of Siwa. He also identified the ruins of Berenice on the Red Sea. In 1819 he returned to England, and published in the following year an account of his travels and discoveries entitled Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia, &c. He also exhibited during 1820-1821 facsimiles of the tomb of Seti I. The exhibition was held at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London. In 1822 Belzoni showed his model in Paris. In 1823 he set out for West Africa, intending to penetrate to Timbuktu. Having been refused permission to pass through Morocco, he chose the Guinea Coast route. He reached Benin, but was seized with dysentery at a village called Gwato, and died there on the 3rd of December 1823. In 1829 his widow published his drawings of the royal tombs at Thebes.


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