In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Egypt I have divided the long entry into separate documents, expanded abbreviations for easier reading, and added paragraphing and links to material in the Victorian Web. Unless otherwise noted, charts and illustrations come from the original Gazetteer. — George P. Landow
he climate of Egypt is remarkable for its dryness and general uniformity. In no other country is one day so like another; winter on the banks of the Nile has no rigour, and the heat of summer is rarely oppressive. As the exten sion of the country, however, is chiefly from North to South, there is a considerable difference between the mean temperatures of Upper and Lower Egypt; but peculiar circumstances, such as the vicinity of the sea, and the freshness of the North wind, modify at the North and South extremities of the country, respect ively, the cold of winter, and the burning heat of summer. In the Delta, the mean temperature of winter is about 54˚ Fahrenheit; that of summer, 82˚; at Assouan, the thermometer often rises, in the latter season, to 96˚. It is, however, characteristic of Egypt and the neighbouring deserts, that a great fall of temperature, from 14˚ to 20˚, takes place at night, owing, as it is usually explained, to the setting in of the North wind at sunset, or rather perhaps attributable to the general dryness and perfect transparency of the atmosphere, which favour rapid evaporation, and the radiation of heat. This nocturnal cooling sometimes, though very rarely, sinks just before sun rise to congelation; and ice has been found on the Nile even at Syene.
The hot South wind or Khamsin (that is, 50 days wind), sets in at the vernal equinox, and lasts, as the name implies, nearly two months; the thermometer sometinu -s rising during its continuance to 100; East winds prevail after the autumnal equinox; during the remainder, or about eight months of the year, the wind blows from the North and neigh bouring points. In the maritime parts of the Delta, smart falls of rain occur 25 or 30 times between October and March; only half of this quantity falls at Cairo, and above the 26th parallel rain is hardly known; hail is very rare, and still more so snow, which fell, nevertheless, in 1833, in the Delta, to the great surprise of the people.
There seems to be little reason for supposing that the climate of Egypt is insalubrious; although the habit of sleeping on the terraced roofs in the open air, regardless of the violent and sudden changes of nocturnal temperature, breeds much feverish disease; while the extraordinary, but unheeded, effulgence of the Egyptian sky, acting on eyes irritated by the tine sand which, as the native adage says, can make its way through an egg shell, gives rise to ophthalmia. As to the plague, it is doubtful whether it be generated in Egypt; but its rapid diffusion, as well as the prevalence of elephantiasis, and other apparently endemic diseases, may be naturally ascribed to the filthy habits and wretched condition of the people.
n Egypt, where there is in fact no winter, the distinction of seasons depends immediately on the Nile, and with the state of the river, the aspect of the country under goes the greatest changes. The seasons are there reduced to three the inundation, spring, and harvest. At the begin ning of June, the hot winds being over, and most of the crops cut, the country begins to resemble the adjacent desert, and the parched ground cracks and opens in all directions, when, in the third week of the month, the river is observed to rise. The increase of the water becomes in a short time regular, till it reaches its maximum, about the second week of September. Its progress is watched with much anxiety, for, should the flood fall short of the expected measure, famine must ensue; but should it, on the other hand, exceed the ordinary limits, it may break down the embankments, sweep away villages, and carry desolation in its course.
The Nile may rise at the present day 28 feet without occasioning any damage. As the canals become filled, the water is allowed to run over the fields and gardens, the low dams which protect them being successively trodden down. This mode of proceeding is alluded to in that passage of Scripture (Deut. xi. 10), which describes Egypt as the country Where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst with thy foot. During this season, Egypt resembles a great sea, in which the towns, villages, and groves of trees, figure as so many islands.
By the middle of November, the river has returned to its old bed, and, as the waters retire, the fields emerge from the inundation in a most unsightly guise, covered with blackish mud; but this state of things does not last long, the seed is quickly sown; the refreshed earth teems with life; and, in an incredibly short time, the face of the country, lately so deformed, is clothed with the richest verdure. This spring time lasts till the Khamsin or hot winds, after which comes the harvest, and occupies the period that intervenes till the return of the inundation, or from April till June.
Sakyah for Raising Water. From Description de l’Egypte. Click on images to enlarge them.
And here it may be observed that even when the Nile is low, the work of irrigation may be carried on to some extent by means of the sakyah, which is a rudely constructed wheel, placed vertically, and turned by oxen, buckets being fixed to its circumference, the lower part of which passes through the water; or whose circumference is divided by partitions into separate water compartments, with outlets at the side, as seen in the accompanying figure. It is said that there are 50,000 sakyahs in Egypt, notwithstanding the tax injudiciously levied on them. [2.909]
Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive. Inline version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 31 July 2020.
Last modified 1 August 2020