BEIRUT: Alessandro Ricci’s travels to Egypt and Sudan took place a few years before the birth of Egyptology in 1822, the year Jean-Francois Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphs. His work, a detailed account of his journeys enriched with beautiful drawings of ancient monuments, was never published in his lifetime. Ricci is little known today yet his contemporaries, including Champollion, unanimously acknowledged the artistic qualities of his work, essentially epigraphic copies of reliefs, temple decorations and inscriptions.
In 2009, the author unexpectedly found a typescript of Ricci’s lost travel account in the Dar Al-Watha’iq al Qawmiya (National Archives of Egypt in Cairo). This was a great find: “The importance of Ricci’s Travels did not allow waiting for the discovery of the original manuscript for its publication,” Daniele Salvoldi wrote. AUC Press has once again published an exquisite book, a must-read for anyone interested in Egyptology.
In the captivating introduction to “From Siena to Nubia: Alessandro Ricci in Egypt and Sudan, 1817-1822,” released earlier this year, author Daniele Salvoldi sheds light on how easy it was in the time of Ricci to remove antiquities from Egypt and ship them abroad with the simple approval of local authorities in exchange for money. This explains Champollion’s decision to travel to Italy in 1825 to buy hieroglyphic inscriptions. The decipherer chose Tuscany for obvious reasons. “Egyptian antiquities for sale filled the dockside warehouse of Livorno; in the Gardens of Boboli, Florence, he could admire the obelisk of Ramesses II; while in the grand ducal galleries there were many Egyptian antiquities,” Salvoldi wrote. It was only in 1835 that Muhammad Ali issued a law forbidding the destruction of ancient buildings and the export of antiquities. He also established the first antiquities museum in Egypt.
“From Siena to Nubia” abounds with botanical and geographical remarks as well as historical and ethnographic observations. This travelogue also reveals the stark reality awaiting the traveler in the 19th century.