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Pisa fetes pioneering Egypt expedition

1828 voyage led by Europe's first Egyptology professor

11 June, 14:55
Pisa fetes pioneering Egypt expedition

(ANSA) - Pisa - A pioneering but fateful 19th-century expedition along the River Nile by two of the founding fathers of modern Egyptology is the focus of a new exhibition in Pisa.

Funded by Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold II and Charles X of France, the 1828-29 voyage was led by Europe's first Egyptology professor, Ippolito Rosellini, and the French philologist who had recently deciphered the Rosetta Stone, Jean-Francois Champollion.

The men brought back a haul of ancient antiquities but also carried out a systematic survey of the monuments of Egypt and their hieroglyphic inscriptions, which - thanks to Champollion - they were able to read for the first time.

The Pisa show concentrates on the experiences of Rosellini and six fellow Tuscans who took part in the expedition - not all of whom made it back alive.

Around 200 priceless statues, bas-reliefs and other antiquities that the men brought back are on display at the city's Palazzo Blu, but the real focus of the exhibition is on the diaries, letters and paintings made by expedition members that give a first-hand account of their voyage.

"The protagonist of the show is the voyage along the ancient Nile," explained curator Marilina Betro. "The drawings, artefacts and journals of Rosellini and his companions in the adventure reveal an Egypt seen through the eyes of explorers and scientists at the start of the 19th century".

Visitors to the exhibit follow a symbolic route taken by Rosellini and Champollion along the river from Alexandria as far as Nubia in modern-day Sudan during their 16-month trip.

Among the highlights of the show is a section dedicated to the team's stay at Thebes, or modern-day Luxor, exploring the necropolis and making painstaking drawings of the inscriptions they found. Extracts from their journals document the emotional discovery of an intact tomb belonging to a royal wet-nurse, which are flanked in the show by the objects they found buried inside.

Also on show are stunning watercolours of the bas-reliefs of Abu Simbel that the expedition's artists painted in torchlight, accompanied by letters and diaries describing their working conditions.

Daily to-do lists, inventories of personal possessions - from books to weapons - and even samples of the plants collected by expedition naturalist Giuseppe Raddi are also on display.

But while the expedition resulted in Rosellini's mammoth multi-volume work, Monuments of Egypt and Nubia, it also had tragic consequences.

Raddi contracted dysentery and took an early boat home, but died on the return journey during a stop-off on the Greek island of Rhodes. His assistant suffered a similar fate, also never making it back to Italy.

The expedition's doctor, Alessandro Ricci, was meanwhile stung by a scorpion at Thebes in an incident believed to have contributed to his death a few years later.

Ricci made headlines last year when his diary from an earlier trip to Egypt reappeared in Pisa's University library after 60 years.

The 200-year-old diary, which includes descriptions and drawings of Egyptian monuments that were destroyed in the 1800s, originally went missing in France some decades after the doctor's death.

It turned up in a Cairo bookshop in 1928 but disappeared again in 1948 until a researcher unearthed it in the Pisa library.

Along the Nile runs at Palazzo Blu in Pisa until July 25.

Photo: Nubian with a giraffe by Alessandro Ricci.

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