Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Giovanni Battista Belzoni (* November 15, 1778 in Padua, † December 3, 1823 in Gwato in Benin, Africa ) was an Italian adventurer, engineer, weightlifters and acrobat. He became known as a pioneer of Egyptology.


Giovanni Battista Belzoni was born on 15 November 1778 in the Italian city of Padua, the son of a barber. During his youth in Rome, he has focused particularly on the hydraulics. Actually, the nearly 2 m high giant was supposed to become a clergyman, but as the French had taken under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797 Rome, he fled from the threat of military service abroad and studied probably first in Holland hydraulics. 1803 he went to England, where he worked through his tall stature as a powerhouse Samson from Patagonia in the circus " Sadler 's Well Theatre ". In the following years he moved with his wife Sarah, whom he had married in England, and his servant James Curtain by Britain, Portugal and Spain where he performed not only as the strong man The Great Belzoni on, but also an actor and necromancer, he presented optical illusions and occasionally played on the glass harmonica.

In Malta Belzoni in 1814 was recruited by an envoy of the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1815 and traveled to Cairo, the Egyptian government to offer his invention, a hydraulic irrigation machine. The Pasha sat him out a salary and Belzoni built a model of his machine, with an ox should do the work of four oxen. In December 1816 a demonstration was scheduled, in which there was an accident caused by sabotage, in which James Curtain was injured. Then the match went out the government's interest to the machine. During his stay, he became acquainted with Jean Louis Burckhardt with the British consul general Henry Salt. This Belzoni commissioned to carry out an expedition to Thebes to transport from the local Ramesseum large, about 6-7 ton head of the statue of Ramses II at the British Museum in London. It was this colossal head and find situation that inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley 's famous poem Ozymandias. At that time there was in Egypt a fierce looters - competition; especially between Henry Salt and his greatest rival, the French consul Bernardino Drovetti, the Turkish- Egyptian authorities and the fellahin. It went to a valuable antiques, which wanted to have for the British Museum, the French for the Louvre and the British, and other bribes for government officials and high profits for the fellahin. In addition, numerous smaller dealers and collectors searched for grave treasures, whereby native predator groups worked together with them. Despite numerous intrigues of pages Drovettis succeeded Belzoni in 1816 to successfully perform the job.

Of great historical and cultural interest is the " inconsequential report ," the woman Belzoni wrote about their contacts with other women during this trip, and was published in the Annex of Belzoni's Narrative (1820 ). She was probably the first modern European who so far arrived in the south of Egypt.

Later expeditions led by Henry Salt, Belzoni to the temples of Edfu, Philae and Elephantine. He uncovered the temple of Abu Simbel and the facilities of Karnak. 1817 Belzoni returned back to Thebes and discovered in the Valley of the Kings tombs KV17 ( Seti I ), KV16 ( Ramses I ), WV23 ( Ay ), KV19 ( Montuherchepschef, son of Ramesses IX. ), KV21, WV25, KV30 and KV31. 1818 Belzoni discovered the entrance to the Pyramid of Chephren in Giza, and penetrated to the grave chamber before. Belzoni was also the first European to visit the oasis of Siwa, and he found the ruins of Berenice on the Red Sea.

In the summer of 1818 Belzoni wrote with Alessandro Ricci a documentary about KV17 ( Belzoni - grave ). On January 27, 1819, he left Thebes and arrived in March 1820 returned to England. His discoveries in Egypt, he presented in the exhibition at the Egyptian Hall on May 1, 1821 Piccadilly in London. The exhibition remained open for almost a year due to the great interest.

In March 1822 he returned to Africa. His wife Sarah accompanied him to Morocco. On a trip to Equatorial Africa, he came up after Gwato in Benin ( Nigeria), where he contracted the dysentery and died on December 3, 1823 with 45 years. 1862 Richard Francis Burton was looking after his grave. Only one tree grew on the spot where Giovanni Battista Belzoni was buried.


  • Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia. London 1820 ( online at Internet Archive ) German edition: Belzoni's travels in Egypt and Nubia together with a trip to the shore of the Red Sea and to the oasis of Jupiter Ammon. Bran, Jena 1821
  • Re: expeditions in Egypt 1815-1819 in the pyramids, temples and tombs along the Nile. 3rd edition DuMont, Cologne 1990, ISBN 3-7701-1326-8