Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Italian, 1778 - 1823

Giovanni Battista Belzoni was an engineer and an explorer of Egyptian antiquities. He was born in Padua, Italy on November 15, 1778. Giovanni was a son of a barber who had thirteen siblings.
At the age of 16, Belzoni entered a monastic order in Rome.
While there, he became entangled in political matters and eventually fled to England in 1803 to avoid being sent to jail.

In England, he joined a travelling circus and was billed as "Patagonian Samson." This career lasted twelve years.
After leaving the circus, Belzoni, his wife Sarah, and their Irish servant James Curtin travelled to Malta (Giovanni Belzoni).

Here Belzoni met an official agent of Mohammed Ali Pasha, who convinced the explorer to go to Egypt. The tales of treasure interested Belzoni and he agreed. While in Cairo he offered his invention of a hydraulic machine to Mohammed Ali Pasha.

Although his invention increased the availability of water, Mohammed Ali Pasha threw him from the palace.
Luckily, Belzoni met up with a British Consul General named Henry Salt. Salt convinced Belzoni to gather treasures and discover finds to send back to the British museum. Belzoni quickly left for Thebes "to remove the colossal stone head of Ramses II to be delivered to the British museum". After this he went to the temple Edfu, Philae, and Elephantine. Here he "cleared" the great temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, excavated at Karnak."
For the next few years, Belzoni would do things that few or no one had done. He was charged with the difficult task of moving the two seated statues of Ramses II from Luxor to the British Museum.

The statues were buried up to their heads in sand and it was believed that beneath the statues was a large temple. The task at hand required much manpower because the heads alone weighed over 7 tons.
In 1817, he travelled to the Valley of Kings and discovered the tombs of Amenhotep III, Ramses I, Merneptah and Ay.

While investigating these tombs he spotted indications of another royal tomb near the tomb of Ramses I. Eighteen feet below the surface of the ground, Belzoni found the entrance to the Sepulcher of Seti I, Ramses I's son.
In the following year of 1818, Belzoni was the first person in "modern time" to enter the pyramid of Khafre at Giza. He used "his engineering genius to locate the entrance to the inner chambers..." Belzoni was also the first European to visit the oasis of Siwah and to identify the ruined city of Berenice on the Red Sea.

In 1819, Belzoni returned to England. A year later in 1820, he published a book that made him quite famous. It was entitled Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries Within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs, and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia. This work is credited as being the first English research in Egyptology. Three editions of the book were published and it was received with great interest.

On May 1, 1921, Belzoni got an opportunity to share his finds.
A great exhibition called Egyptian Hall was set up in Piccadilly near Piccadilly Circus. This room reflected Belzoni's expeditions and contained plaster casts from the tomb of Seti I.

While on an excavation to Timbuktu in north-western Africa , Belzoni caught dysentery and died on December 3, 1823 at Gato in Benin. He was buried under an Arasma tree in Gwata, a nearby village. Despite his fame, his widow lived the rest of her days in poverty until 1870.
Belzoni was not an intellectual scholar. He was an amateur archaeologist. As an explorer he was motivated by finding hidden treasure so that he could sell the artefacts to collectors.
His methods were often destructive and quite unorthodox but his discoveries laid the foundation for the scientific study of Egyptology. From this point of view, Howard Carter summed up Belzoni as "one of the most remarkable men in the entire history of Archaeology."