The Italian Almanac


Travel Diary

The 200-year-old travel diary of an Italian adventurer who explored Egypt and later guided the founders of Egyptology to key sites has been uncovered in Pisa. The journal, accidentally unearthed during research into a groundbreaking historical expedition, was written by a Siena-born doctor, draughtsman and explorer named Alessandro Ricci, who set out for Egypt in 1817.

Ricci`s journal covered a five-year period until 1822, describing his adventures and experiences in detail. The document is particularly important as Ricci was a key figure in a later Franco-Tuscan expedition, led jointly by the French philologist who deciphered hieroglyphs, Jean-Francois Champollion, and a leading Italian Egyptologist Ippolito Rosellini.

``This is an exceptional find for the field of Egyptology,`` commented Marilina Betro, the professor heading the Pisa University team researching the Franco-Tuscan expedition. ``Ricci describes and draws those sites that had already been completely destroyed just a few years later, at the time of the Champollion-Rosellini expedition, which he was also part of. ``But as well as the monuments, he also describes the customs and habits of the people he met, the fighting strategies of armies, the condition of women and even the treatment of animals``.

Although the fact Ricci had written a diary was no secret, its whereabouts have been a mystery for decades. Ricci gave his journal to Champollion in 1827, prior to the Franco-Tuscan expedition, apparently believing the French expert would publish it. Champollion died in 1832, followed by Ricci two years later. Although Rosellini asked French authorities to return the journal in 1836, it remained in France.

The diary then vanished for several decades until resurfacing in 1928, when an Italian architect working for King Fuad I of Egypt discovered the manuscript by accident in an ancient Cairo bookshop. He immediately bought it and showed it to the Italian Egyptologist Angelo Sammarco, who recognized its value and was keen to organize its publication. Sammarco published a synopsis of the diary in 1930 but never took the project any further. After he died in 1948, all trace of the journal vanished until it was rediscovered in Pisa University by researcher Daniele Salvoldi.