The Big Belzoni and the Treasures of Kings*
Round about two hundred years ago, there was a giant of a man named Giovanni Battista Belzoni, who was born in Italy but lived in London. At least six and a half feet tall, handsome and friendly Giovanni Belzoni was so big that he worked on stage as a strongman and weightlifter. In fact, they called him the "Patagonian Samson", and for one of his shows, he put a 127-pound iron frame on his shoulders and had 12 people from the Sadler's Wells Theatre stand on top of it. Then, he walked around on the stage waving two flags with his hands, as though the whole thing weighed nothing!
Well, the Big Belzoni soon grew tired of being in shows and carrying people around, so he went to Egypt to see if he could make some money. He invented a waterwheel and tried to sell it to the country's leader, Mohammed 'Ali, saying that it would be a big help with the Egyptians' farming. But for some reason, the Big Belzoni couldn't make money out of the waterwheel, so he decided to try something else.
At that time in Egypt, all sorts of people were exploring and looting the old pyramids in the desert. They would go in through secret tunnels and rooms, searching for the treasure of ancient pharaohs, Egyptian kings. The pharaohs were long, long ago wrapped up to be buried as mummies in their gold-gilded coffins among their jewels and golden statues, all locked away in hidden rooms with deadly traps. So the pyramids were actually ancient tombs filled with treasures galore. If you wanted riches and adventure, you went hunting inside of them for artifacts like Indiana Jones.
So that's exactly what Giovanni Battista Belzoni did. The Big Belzoni went treasure hunting in the pyramids of Egypt. He befriended the tomb robbers who lived at the doors of the larger burial sites, and he even had dinner with them in the stuffiest and dingiest of places. He became such good friends with them that whenever he planned to stay overnight with them in the dark tombs, they would kill a couple of chickens for dinner and cook them in small ovens, using pieces of wooden mummy coffins for fuel. Sometimes they even used bones and mummy wrappings.
Then the Big Belzoni would go explore the tunnels and rooms with them. And even though he could hardly breathe from all the choking dust, even though he had to do a lot of crawling through passageways filled with sand and rubble, he liked going in and out of tombs in search of treasure.
One time, he found himself surrounded by mummies, with hardly any room to move. Even the tomb robbers that were with him, all covered in dust, looked a little bit like mummies.
At another time, he stopped to sit on a coffin to rest, and because he was so big and heavy, he fell right through and crushed the body inside. Then, because there was nothing to hold on to, he kept right on sinking into the broken mummies, and he crashed into all sorts of rags and bones so that dust came up from everywhere. He had to sit still for a quarter of an hour before it all settled down to the floor.
But the Big Belzoni had heard from a Swiss scholar about a giant granite head of a king called the Young Memnon*
. It was nine feet high and almost seven feet wide at the shoulders, and it weighed at least seven tons. Giovanni Battista Belzoni found it near its body and chair, with its face upward and smiling as if glad to be found. The Big Belzoni used a cart and some workers, and they hauled the head to the river Nile and sent it off to England.
After that, the Big Belzoni made other important finds, including the tomb of the Young Memnon's father*
. And he wrote a book about his many adventures in the pyramids, describing the dark and the dust, and the silent mummies. Treasure hunting in the tombs might have been the eeriest thing anyone could ever do, but Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a giant of a man, loved what he did with a passion. The Big Belzoni finally found his career.
...now about the author