GIOVANNI BATTISTA BELZONI (1778-1823), Italian explorer of Egyptian antiquities, was born at Padua in 1778. His family was from Rome, and in that city he spent his youth. He intended taking monastic orders, but in 1798 the occupation of the city by the French troops drove him from Rome and changed his proposed career. He went back to Padua, where he studied hydraulics, removed in 1800 to Holland, and in 1803 went to England, where he married an Englishwoman. He was 6 ft. 7 in. in height, broad in proportion, and his wife was of equally generous build. They were for some time compelled to find subsistence by exhibitions of feats of strength and agility at fairs and on the streets of London. Through the kindness of Henry Salt, the traveller and antiquarian, who was ever afterwards his patron, he was engaged at Astley's amphitheatre, and his circumstances soon began to improve. In 1812 he left England, and after travelling in Spain and Portugal reached Egypt in 1815, where Salt was then British consul-general. Belzoni was desirous of laying before Mehemet Ali a hydraulic machine of his own invention for raising the waters of the Nile. Though the experiment with this engine was successful, the design was abandoned by the pasha, and Belzoni resolved to continue his travels. On the recommendation of the orientalist, J. L. Burckhardt, he was sent at Salt's charges to Thebes, whence he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Rameses II., commonly called Young Memnon, which he shipped for England, where it is in the British Museum. He also pushed his investigations into the great temple of Edfu, visited Elephantine and Philae, cleared the great temple at Abu Simbel of sand (1817), made excavations at Karnak, and opened up the sepulchre of Seti I. ("Belzoni's Tomb"). He was the first to penetrate into the second pyramid of Giza, and the first European in modern times to visit the oasis of Baharia, which he supposed to be that of Siwa. He also identified the ruins of Berenice on the Red Sea. In 1819 he returned to England, and published in the following year an account of his travels and discoveries entitled Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia, &c. He also exhibited during 1820-1821 facsimiles of the tomb of Seti I. The exhibition was held at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London. In 1822 Belzoni showed his model in Paris. In 1823 he set out for West Africa, intending to penetrate to Timbuktu. Having been refused permission to pass through Morocco, he chose the Guinea Coast route. He reached Benin, but was seized with dysentery at a village called Gwato, and died there on the 3rd of December 1823. In 1829 his widow published his drawings of the royal tombs at Thebes.
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