Wolverhampton BTW

Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Belzoni, Giovanni Battista, 1778—1823

by Benjamin Colbert

Giovanni Belzoni was born in Padua, the son of Giacomo Belzoni, a barber, and Teresa Belzoni. At 16, he relocated to Rome intent on entering religious orders. After the French invasion in 1798, he travelled as an exile in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and, by 1802, England, where he married Sarah Belzoni, née Banne (1783-1870; ODNB) the following year. He used his great strength and size (6' 6'') to find employment in the theatre, appearing at Sadler's Wells as the 'Patagonian Sampson', where he also acted and designed hydraulic scene equipment. In these capacities, he toured the British Isles, Ireland, Spain and Portugal over the next twelve years.

In 1815, he travelled from Malta to Egypt to aid in building a water wheel, a project that ended when his patron, Mehmet Ali, rejected his further services. In 1816, Belzoni used his engineering skills to help move the granite head of Ramses II to the Nile for transport to the British Museum, and in the three years following, engineered several excavations, including what he thought to be his discovery of the Temple of Jupiter Ammon. Having acquired fame for these exploits, he returned to England via Italy in 1819, publishing his Narrative in 1820, and following this with a hugely popular exhibition (1820-21) at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, of the tomb of Seti I, one of his principal finds. In 1823, he travelled to Morocco with Sarah and from there set out alone to discover the source of the Niger. He died of dysentery somewhere near the port of Benin.


Rée, Peta. ‘Belzoni, Giovanni Battista (1778–1823), performing artist and Egyptologist’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2004. Web. 15 Sept. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/2072


Title Published
Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries [...] in Egypt and Nubia 1820

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