Sketches, by Benjamin Disraeli

The Court of Egypt

Two or three miles from Cairo, approached by an avenue of sycamores, is Shoubra, a favourite residence of the Pasha of Egypt. The palace, on the banks of the Nile, is not remarkable for its size or splendour, but the gardens are extensive and beautiful, and adorned by a kiosk, which is one of the most elegant and fanciful creations I can remember.

Emerging from fragant bowers of orange trees, you suddenly perceive before you tall and glittering gates rising from a noble range of marble steps. These you ascend, and entering, find yourself in a large quadrangular colonnade of white marble. It surrounds a small lake, studded by three or four gaudy barques, fastened to the land by silken cords. The colonnade terminates towards the water by a very noble marble balustrade, the top of which is covered with groups of various kinds of fish in high relief. At each angle of the colonnade the balustrade gives way to a flight of steps which are guarded by crocodiles of immense size, admirably sculptured in white marble. On the farther side the colonnade opens into a great number of very brilliant banqueting-rooms, which you enter by withdrawing curtains of scarlet cloth, a colour vividly contrasting with the white shining marble of which the whole kiosk is formed. It is a frequent diversion of the Pasha himself to row some favourite Circassians in one of the barques and to overset his precious freight in the midst of the lake. As his Highness piques himself upon wearing a caftan of calico, and a juba or exterior robe of coarse cloth, a ducking has not for him the same terrors it would offer to a less eccentric Osmanli. The fair Circassians shrieking, with their streaming hair and dripping finery, the Nubian eunuchs rushing to their aid, plunging into the water from the balustrade, or dashing down the t marble steps — all this forms an agreeable relaxation after the labours of the Divan.

All the splendour of the Arabian Nights is realised in the Court of Egypt. The guard of Nubian eunuchs with their black, glossy countenances, clothed in scarlet and gold, waving their glittering Damascus sabres, and gently bounding on their snow-white steeds, is, perhaps, the most picturesque corps in the world. The numerous harem, the crowds of civil functionaries and military and naval officers in their embroidered Nizam uniforms, the vast number of pages and pipe-bearers, and other inferior but richly attired attendants, the splendid military music, for which Mehemet Ali has an absolute passion, the beautiful Arabian horses and high-bred dromedaries, altogether form a blending of splendour and luxury which easily recall the golden days of Bagdad and its romantic Caliph.

Yet this Court is never seen to greater advantage than in the delicious summer palace in the gardens of Shoubra. During the festival of the Bairam the Pasha usually holds his state in this enchanted spot, nor is it easy to forget that strange and brilliant scene. The banqueting-rooms were all open and illuminated, the colonnade was full of guests in gorgeous groups, some standing and conversing, some seated on small Persian carpets smoking pipes beyond all price, and some young grandees lounging, in their crimson shawls and scarlet vests, over the white balustrade, and flinging their glowing shadows over the moonlit water: from every quarter came bursts of melody, and each moment the river breeze brought gusts of perfume on its odorous wings.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19