Overland Journey to India
Vestiges of the ancient splendor of Alexandria are everywhere to be found. Fragments of richly-sculptured columns, of architraves, cornices, and other portions of architectural ornament, are to be seen strewed about in every quarter of the city - broken up for lime or for paving-stones, and built into the meanest houses. Huge shafts of granite are continually disclosed, half buried amongst the rubbish or the sand; and the mounds of ruins are in many cases one mass of porphyries, granites, verde-anticoes, and marbles, brought from Upper Egypt or the south of Europe. In the course of a few hours I picked up some hundred specimens of thirty different varieties of the stones I have named, which required only a little polishing to restore to them their lustre. Mosaics, and pieces of ancient glass, are also abundant; the latter marked by that iridescent semi-metallic hue which indicates decay through extreme lapse of time. The sights of Alexandria are Pompey's Pillar, Cleopatra's Needle, the Catacombs, the pasha's palace, and the battle-field where Abercromby fell; the Lake Mareotis, of which a distant view usually satisfies the traveler; and the canal. Pompey's Pillar stands on an eminence about six hundred yards from the present walls of the town, close beside the road which leads from the Rosetta Gate to the Mahmoudye Canal. The total height of the column is ninety-eight feet. The shaft, which is a single block of red granite or syenite, is nine feet eight inches in diameter, and seventy-three in length. It is now shown to have been erected by Publius, the prefect of Egypt, in honor of the Emperor Dioclesian. It probably was only put in its place when it is said to have been erected, forming most likely a portion of some of the more ancient and noble relics of Egypt. Cleopatra's Needles are at the opposite extremity of the town: they consist of two obelisks, one prostrate and one erect, of the same material as the column. One is seventy, the other sixty-five feet high, and about seven feet in diameter at the base. They stood originally at Heliopolis, and were brought to Alexandria by one of the Caesars. Both are covered with hieroglyphics.
The Lake of Mareotis is one of the curiosities of the neighborhood of Alexandria, and is situated a short way beyond the Rosetta Gate. This lake, which is about a hundred and fifty miles in circumference, was originally fresh-water; and being about five or six feet deep, it answered the purpose of navigation. In consequence of its connexion with the Nile being cut off, its waters were wholly dried up, or nearly so; and in this condition it was eighty or ninety years since. An entire change followed. It is divided from the sea by mounds of sand, blown up from the shore, and its bottom is several feet lower than the level of the Mediterranean. Thus exposed to the danger of submersion, it was resolved, during the siege of Alexandria in 1788, to let in upon it the waters of the ocean. It was certain to produce a wide-spread calamity; but when did the demon War stop to consider results? Four cuts were made, each of six yards in width, and ten distant from each other. The water rushed in with a fall of six feet. Two more cuts were finished next day, and the sea finally broke down the divisions. What a scene of devastation! The sea flowed in for a week. The calamity was fearful. The sites of three hundred villages were flooded, and rendered barren for ever. The bank was afterwards closed up again, and the communication with the sea cut off; but the basin of the lake being lower than the surface of the sea, and the Mediterranean here being without tide, there was no means of drawing off the salt water. It was by degrees in a great measure evaporated by the sun, leaving a vast expanse of once fertile surface covered with a dazzling snow-white sheet of salt. In this condition I examined it in June 1845. The Nile is admitted annually to it at flood, and the lake then reappears; but the returning dry season only restores the condition previously existing. Nor does there appear to be any remedy for this, until the successive depositions of silt from the river accumulate sufficiently to raise the bottom of the lake to a level with the sea - an operation only to be effected through some vast and very indefinite lapse of time. Till then, the salt must always mingle with the fresh-water silt deposited every year. Could rice or any grain be grown on it, as in India, which flourishes even on saline grounds, the process of recovery would of course be greatly accelerated. The lake formerly communicated by a canal with a port of Old Alexandria.