Friday, August 8, 2008

The Search for the Egyptian Labyrinth

I'm not sure how many people are aware of the Labyrinth of ancient Egypt, but it was one of the most impressive structures ever built. Its grandeur, according to ancient witnesses, surpassed even the pyramids. Here is the great contemporary historian Herodotus describing his visit to this Egyptian wonder:

“Yet the temple at Ephesus and that in Samos are surely remarkable. The pyramids, too, were greater than words can tell, and each of them is the equivalent of many of the great works of the Greeks; but the labyrinth surpasses the pyramids also.

It has twelve covered courts – six in a row facing north, six south – the gates of the one range exactly fronting the gates of the other. Inside, the building is of two storeys and contains three thousand rooms, of which half are underground, and the other half directly above them. I was taken through the rooms in the upper storey, so what I shall say of them is from my own observation, but the underground ones I can speak of only from report, because the Egyptians in charge refused to let me see them, as they contain the tombs of the kings who built the labyrinth, and also the tombs of the sacred crocodiles. The upper rooms, on the contrary, I did actually see, and it is hard to believe that they are the work of men; the baffling and intricate passages from room to room and from court to court were an endless wonder to me, as we passed from a courtyard into rooms, from rooms into galleries, from galleries into more rooms and thence into yet more courtyards. The roof of every chamber, courtyard, and gallery is, like the walls, of stone. The walls are covered with carved figures, and each court is exquisitely built of white marble and surrounded by a colonnade.”

Next Herodotus describes Lake Moeris, where the Labyrinth was located:

The length of the lake is north and south, and its depth at the deepest is 50 fathoms [300 feet]. That it is handmade and dug, it itself is the best evidence. For in about the middle of the lake stand two pyramids that top the water, each one by 50 fathoms [300 feet], and each built as much again underwater; and on top of each there is a huge stone figure of a man sitting on a throne.

This stuff sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings.

Here is Strabo describing his visit to the Labyrinth in the first century B.C. for his "Geography":

“In front of the entrances are crypts, as it were, which are long and numerous and have winding passages communicating with one another, so that no stranger can find his way either into any court or out of it without a guide. But the marvellous thing is that the roof of each of the chambers consists of a single stone, and that the breadths of the crypts are likewise roofed with single slabs of surpassing size, with no intermixture anywhere of timber or of any other material.”

Though some have claimed to have found the site over the years, for all practical purposes the location of the Labyrinth remains a mystery - probably buried in the sands of Lybia.

Does the Xoom team want to break out the passports and go digging for some history? Cause I would love to get a look at this place...

Hat tip: The Anomalist.

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