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Cities of Stone
Famous for their magnificent tombs and temples carved out of the living rock, the ruins of Petra lie about 250 miles east of Cairo in present-day Jordan, at the intersection of the ancient overland trade routes between Egypt, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. Although a few Europeans had visited them since Burckhardt in 1812, the journey was still not without risks. Stephens, as "Abdel Hasis," set out from Cairo in March of 1836. He arrived at Petra without serious incident after an exhausting journey through the Sinai and spent two days exploring the site. Although his stay was brief, he was only the fourth outsider to enter the city, and his description remained an important English-language source of information on the ruins for many years.
From Petra, Stephens headed north through present-day Israel and the biblical land of Idumea. (Edgar Allen Poe would later use Stephens' account of this journey to support a literal reading of biblical scripture.) He spent several months in Jerusalem, guided by a map of that city drawn and published by an Englishman, "F. Catherwood." Falling ill at Beirut, he decided to return to Europe, and in the autumn of 1836 sailed from Alexandria for England.
Stephens arrived in London to find that Charles Fenno Hoffman, the editor of the American Monthly Magazine, had published some of Stephens' letters home as a series of articles in his magazine.. The letters appeared in successive issues of the Monthly and, in keeping with the then-popular vogue for literary anonymity, their author was merely identified as "An American Traveller." The articles were widely read and reprinted, and it became an open secret in literary circles that Stephens was their author.
It was probably in the company of Francis Lister Hawks that Stephens, no doubt encouraged by the warm reception given his letters, began to consider writing a book. Hawks, then rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York, was in London researching a work to be published by Harper & Bros. (His output for the Harpers, under the pen-name "Uncle Philip," was to amount to nine titles in their Boy's and Girl's Library. He was to become the first president of Louisiana State University, and some sixteen years later would write Stephens' obituary for Putnam's Monthly Magazine.) It was also here, in London, that John Lloyd Stephens met Frederick Catherwood, and set into motion the course of events that was to give birth to the science of American archaeology.
To the diminishment of his other accomplishments, Frederick Catherwood is today best known for his illustrations to Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan and Incidents of Travel In Yucatan, and for his magnificent folio Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas; and Yucatan. But he was also many other things: architect, watercolorist, engineer, painter of panoramas, builder of railroads, and surveyor of the ruins of Egypt.
He was born in London in 1799, and after completing his apprenticeship to the English architect Michael Meredith he attended classes at the Royal Academy. In September 1821 Catherwood sailed to Rome to visit his friend Joseph Severn, and there began the studies of the art and architecture of classical antiquity that were to serve him so well in later life. Traveling south through Italy and on to Sicily, he sailed to Greece in the autumn of 1822, where he spent two years drawing and studying the ancient architecture and sculpture that so intrigued him. In 1824, with Greece in a state of civil war and Athens besieged by the Turks, Catherwood somehow managed to make his way to Egypt.