Indiana Jones is one of the most famous and celebrated – albeit fictional – adventurers around.
But did you know he’s actually based on the story of a real man, an Italian circus performer turned Egyptian tomb raider – and that if it wasn’t for Malta, the world might never have even been introduced to him.
Giovanni Battista Belzoni, born in Padua, was many things – brash travelling strongman, hydraulic expert, and intrepid Italian explorer.
In 1815, after spending time in England making a name for himself as a tall and strong showman capable of entertaining crowds, he went on a tour of the Mediterranean with his new British wife.
He ended up in Malta during a time when the British navy was on high alert, inspecting suspicious vessels as the French Napoleon Bonaparte had just fled his imprisonment on Elba.
While in Malta, he ended up meeting a man names Ismael Gibraltar, also known as Mr Baghos, who was an emissary of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Viceroy of Egypt, by absolute chance… and that’s when fate set the ball rolling for Belzoni’s destiny.
Ali told Belzoni that he needed to do some important agricultural reforms in Egypt – including some serious irrigation.
Belzoni, a hydraulics expert and passionate about the subject, quickly whipped up a hydraulic machine that he said could raise the waters of the River Nile. While he had success as a strongman, he would have preferred to utilise his skills in hydraulics.
His machine was rejected – however, Belzoni was drawn to the idea of using his passion for hydraulics in Egypt, and in spring of 1815, he headed to Cairo with his wife and an assistant.
Soon enough, he was tasked with the near-impossible job of somehow removing the giant bust of Ramesses II and bringing it back to England.
Many had failed to do this – but Belzoni successfully did, and next thing he knew, he was entering ancient pyramids, discovering incredible discoveries that hadn’t been seen for thousands of years.
Word began to spread about the tall, loud Italian man able to get into ancient tombs that even the wiliest tomb raider could not.
Belzoni was famed for using his trusty whip, even using it to fight off assassins, and he even had a French arch-nemesis, just like that another famous – and filmed – adventurer.