Billie Silvey
An  Archeologist
Takes a Bow
Auguste Mariette wasn't a composer.  He
wasn't even a playwright.  He was a historian
and archeologist, the director of Egyptian
antiquities.  But he had written a story set in
ancient Egypt.   

It was the tale of
Aida, a beautiful Ethiopian
slave girl, the Egyptian princess Amneris, and
Radames, the Egyptian captain they both
loved.  It became the basis for Verdi's grand
opera
Aida.  

Mariette first came to Egypt in 1827 at the age
of 6.  By 12, he was able to read
hieroglyphics
and decipher
Coptic writings.  

In 1851, he discovered the
Avenue of the
Sphinxes and the subterranean tomb
complex with the statues of the
Apis bulls.  

In 1858, he became conservator of Egyptian
monuments.

In 1869, the Khedive asked him for a story on
which to base an opera, and he sent the story
of Aida.   

He also designed the
costumes and sets for
the opera, going to great effort to make them
Mariette's own watercolor
drawings of his costume
designs.
authentic.  Mariette designed them to be
made and shipped to Cairo by Paris Opera
artists.    

The Giza pyramids (above) formed the
backdrop for one act, the Temple of Karnak,
for another.

Mariette made watercolor sketches of the  
costumes (left), based on bas-reliefs from
Upper Egypt.
Auguste Mariette (inset) and early visitors to the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.  
September 2014
Avenue of Sphinxes (above),
Apis bull (right).