Giovanni Battista Belzoni (also known as the Great Belzoni) was born November 15, 1778 in Padua, a city and commune in northern Italy. Giovanni was one of the fourteen children of a family originating from Rome.
At the age of 16 Giovanni went to Rome telling everyone he studied hydraulics. He wanted to take monastic vows but because of the occupation of Rome by the French he was driven out of Italy and seeked refuge in The Netherlands. He stayed in The Netherlands for only three years (1800-03) after which he fled to England, avoiding prison time.
In England he met his wife, Sarah Bane (or Banne) with whom he joined a traveling circus performing as “The Great Belzoni”. In the year 1812 they left on a tour through Spain, Portugal and Sicily. While staying on Malta (1815) Belzoni met Ismael Gibraltar, an emissary of Muhammad Ali Pasha (the founder of modern Egypt) who was involved in a program of irrigation works and the reclamation of land. Belzoni wanted to show Mohammad Ali an invention of his, a hydraulic machine that would be capable to pump up the waters of the Nile. To do so, Belzoni and his wife had to travel to Egypt. But he was out of luck. Although his hydraulic machine performed flawlessly the pasha did not approve of it for the project.
Out of work again and in a far away (hostile) country he met the English consul Henry Salt who send him to the Ramesseum at Thebes to recover the colossal bust of Rameses II (The Young Memnon) so it could be put on display in the British museum in London. Belzoni lifted the 7 ton bust on rollers and after a few setbacks and with the help of 130 workmen Belzoni succeeded in bringing it to the banks of the river Nile in 17 days. Finally after many years of being unsuccessful he found his passion and success in Egyptian archaeology.
Next thing Giovanni wanted to do was opening up and exploring the great temple at Abu Simbel. This was not an easy job because its entrance was completely closed up by desert sand. With the help of a lot of workers he cleared the entrance and was able to enter the temple.
Giovanni explored many other sites. He was the first person in modern times to enter the second pyramid of Gizah (Pyramid of Khafre, also known as the pyramid of Chefren). He also was the first European to visit the oasis of Siwah. In the Valley of the Kings he discovered the tomb of Seti I (KV17). He identified the ruins of the city of Bernice on the shores of the Red Sea. Giovanni also explored Elephantine (Jazīrat Aswān) and the temple of Edfu (Idfu). During all his explorations (funded by Salt) he had many problems with the French who were also excavating all over Egypt and did not like the fact that Giovanni discovered so many beautiful and important artifacts.
Giovanni Battista Belzoni made many significant discoveries in Egypt but it is very important to keep in mind that although he often is looked upon as the first Egyptologist, he wasn’t a professional archaeologist.
His methods of excavating were often controversial and destructive. If he thought that an artifact was not important or beautiful enough, he regarded it as worthless.
In 1823 while on a trip to Timbuktu he died of dysentery and was buried under an Arasma tree in Gwato
In 1825 his late wife Sarah exhibited his drawings and models of the royal tombs at Thebes in London and Paris.