THE following pages are not intended for the perusal, or at least for the information of those who are already familiar with the laboured works which treat at large of all that the East holds; but it is presumed, that at a time when universal attention is directed thither, a familiar, circumstantial, and authentic account of the great things we delighted to look on, and of the little things that would sometimes happen to annoy, in our progress through Egypt, Syria, Arabia, – Petra, and Greece, cannot but be interesting to a numerous class.
The facilities afforded to travellers in these our days, have left them little chance of incurring the imminent dangers which beset the path of earlier pilgrims; let not the reader therefore prepare for a chronicle of "moving accidents." I have described everything as we found it; and if "stations" and "hotels" have taken something from the peril and romance of the way, I cannot admit they abstract from the inherent beauty and interest of the objects to which they lead; and invite all who hold the same opinion, to dip with us into a journal, which, if it convey to them but a small portion of the pleasure which the writer felt in looking on the scenes it attempts to describe, will not have been penned in vain.
Left London on the 2nd of December; whence, I will not ask the reader to go with me on the beaten track from Calais to Marseilles, or thence to Malta; but we will join company on this 31st of December, as we are merrily seeing the old year out and the new one in, in the bay of Syra. This town is miserable enough, the houses small, and their roofs flat; but like many other wretched assemblages of the like, it has quite a different aspect from the water, which is without a ripple, and reflects Syra with the truth of a mirror; but this was not to last, a tremendous storm arose, which all the day and night of the 1st, tossed us about in the bay, which is much exposed: on the 2nd we started, the sea still running very high.
In our progress we passed a great many islands; those of the Archipelago have a barren appearance. On the 4th, about 10 A.M., caught sight of the land of Egypt, and found it difficult to withdraw my gaze: within an hour after the first glimpse, Pompey's pillar could be distinguished, and at 12 we passed through the Pasha's fleet, and dropped our anchor before Alexandria.
We saw but little of the town on entering the harbour, and on landing were assailed by a drove of donkeys and their drivers, and were obliged to mount to save our toes; our baggage (which was not examined) was placed on camels, and we proceeded through a miserable part of the town to the great square and the hotel.
The heavy storm which ushered in the morning of the 5th having passed away, we all mounted donkeys (which are not here the wretched-looking creatures that go by that name in England, but handsome, high, and spirited), and visited the arsenal, where we met with a young Egyptian who had been educated in England, and spoke our language perfectly. We saw hundreds of fellahs working in gangs, many of them minus a finger or an eye, cut off, or put out, in order that they may escape the service; but the Pasha does not allow even this to exempt them. We went thence to view the obelisks, one of which was thrown down by the British troops; but though they are larger than any I have seen in Europe, they are by no means so perfect; for the hieroglyphics are entirely effaced on the side, which that one which retains its original position presents towards the East. Indescribably miserable was the part of the town through which we passed.
The next day we went over the Pasha's palace, which is furnished partly in the European style; the divan is circular, and splendidly fitted up: from its window the whole harbour is to be seen.
We were anxious to pay our tribute of admiration to the most beautiful object in Alexandria – Pompey's pillar.1 This magnificent column we regretted to observe disfigured by the names of travellers written in large characters, in some instances half way up the shaft. I could not help muttering to myself something about "throwing pearls before swine," and wondering that among civilized nations, beings could be found to come hither to desecrate in such a manner, a monument made so beautiful by art, and so deeply hallowed by time, and by every association that connects the present with the past.
In Egypt it seems, to be the peculiar privilege of women to mourn over the departed; and in the cemetery in which Pompey's pillar stands, we saw many singing or crying over the tombs, it would be difficult to say which: they bury their dead in graves not more than two feet and a half deep.
On the 8th, our baggage was conveyed on camels to the canal, which is about a mile and a half from the town; a 7 A.M. we left Alexandria, and in another hour were sailing on the fine canal, (the Mamhoudie,) which lies much above the low level of the country.
We had two boats, Colonel — and I took possession of one, and the remainder of our party of the other, which being the largest we used as a salle à manger. Saw great quantities of wild fowl, but could not get a shot. Sleep was out of the question, for the whole insect army of Egypt was down upon us; we were obliged to resort to fire to repel them, and accordingly lighted our lamp and pipes, and chatted away the night.
About 5 A.M. we arrived at the curious village of Afté, on the Nile, and I was glad to escape from my berth which had been anything but a comfortable one. We went to the French consul, for whom we had a letter; he appeared anxious to do all in his power for us, and soon found a reis who agreed to convey us to Cairo for three hundred piastres; and after signing the agreement, we returned to the inn kept by an Italian, and enjoyed a better breakfast than I had promised myself.
Afté is a singular village, built on mounds of earth thrown out of the canal; the habitations are miserable in the extreme, so low, that none but children can stand upright in them, and very few can boast of a door; there are pigeon-houses on the tops of most of them.
Mr. C. and his lady (who were to join us here, and to prosecute the remainder of our intended journey with us,) arrived about 10, but the latter was so very ill, that we gave up the idea of sailing to-day. Everything appeared so novel that we amused ourselves very well, even in this miserable place, which, like all the villages of Egypt, is full of dogs, which bear a great resemblance to the fox.
Dined on board, and attempted to sleep, but this was impossible, for the army was much stronger than the one on the canal; our cabin was quite alive; and if ever boat did, ours "will walk the waters like a thing of life." 1 A.M., found me writing, and wondering how my companions could possibly sleep amid this swarm of vermin: so passed my first night on the Nile.
The 10th found Mr. C.'s lady very ill; about 10 A.M. we bade them adieu, (leaving Baron B— with them, and left Afté, to proceed up the river.
The country appeared remarkably rich; the villages large and numerous; they all stand under clumps of palm-trees, and generally opposite each other, on either side of the river. On several occasions we were delighted to watch the parties of their women who came to the river for water. Blue is the only colour they are allowed to wear, and the arrangement of their dress is simple in the extreme; it consists of three pieces – a petticoat from the loins, a piece over the shoulders, the third, which is worn over the head, also serves for covering the face; in height they are rather above the European standard, and graceful as the statues of Greece; they use for transporting the water, vases of a fine antique form; and as they moved along with these on their heads, the beauty of their figures and extreme elegance of their movements, left an abiding impression on the mind akin to that produced by some fair vision.
The beans were very high and in bloom, and the whole country beautifully green. We burnt lamps at night in hope of keeping the "creeping and flying things innumerable," with which we were persecuted, at a little distance, but only partially succeeded; however, I slept a little in spite of everything, for the first time since leaving Alexandria.
The next day being calm, we left our boat in order to shoot pigeons, and to see a few of the villages, all of which we found finer and better built than Afté. The pigeon-houses, before mentioned, are very curious, built of mud, in the form of sugar-loaf, the interior fitted with earthern pots, nicely arranged from top to bottom. We were so busy shooting their tenants, that we forgot all about the boat; the reis, it appeared, taking advantage of a breeze which sprung up, had set his sails, and left us behind; at dinner time, the old fellow was obliged to dispatch half his crew in all directions to find us; and we did not reach our boat till late in the evening, weary with the long distance we had walked.
About 11 A.M. next day, caught sight of the everlasting pyramids; – certainly that first and distant view rather disappoints one's expectation; as children, we are taught to consider them as among the world's wonders; we think them not the less so, when, having passed childhood, we endeavour to realize to our ardent imaginations, some idea of their magnitude, architectural perfection, and indestructibility; and however completely the pyramids of our creation may be revealed to us as we stand beneath them, and compare their ponderous proportions with modern fabrics, (for then and there, no one I should say, can feel disappointed), a contrary impression is produced when they are first seen at three or four hours' distance.
We reached Boulac between two and three, and mounting donkeys, rode to Grand Cairo, which is nearly two miles from the river.
This city offers a pleasing contrast to Alexandria; after passing through many of its turnings and windings, we found ourselves at the grand eastern hotel; after a wash, we paid a visit to the English consul, with whom we drank coffee and smoked pipes, as nearly as we could manage it, in the Turkish fashion. Walmé is a good consul, perhaps, but he could give us no information whatever; after our chat with him, we returned to our quarters, and enjoyed a delightful night's rest in the absence of all tormentors.
The 14th very fine; rode to Boulac, and engaged a boat for Upper Egypt; signed the agreement with the reis before the American consul, who had no more information to give than our friend Walmé. We next visited the slave-market, which is in the centre of the town; it is a large square yard with cells all round it; the cells in a gallery above on one side of this square, were filled with black slaves, and a more disgusting sight I never beheld; they were valued at from 500 to 4000 piastres. The more beautiful and highly-priced slaves are not thus publicly exposed to view; but among those exhibited for sale was one girl rather pretty; she was much lighter than the rest and delicately formed, and she appeared very shy; the owner saw me looking at her, and offered to sell her for 3000 piastres; she had a most beautiful mouth, and the rascal knew it well, for he repeatedly opened it to shew me her fine teeth; I felt a great inclination to knock out his, and in order that I might not be tempted to make a useless exhibition of the indignation I could not but feel, hastened off in another direction.
We directed our course through the town; the pace at which the donkeys carry you through the ever-crowded alleys of Cairo is quite astonishing; to be sure, a few were upset by us, but the people regain their legs with great composure, and take no notice whatever. If at any time we came to a standstill, the drivers cried, "Kalic, kaluc, shemarluc," &c., applied their sticks vigorously, and the donkeys, in spite of our efforts to restrain them, bore down in their way.
Cairo is certainly a fine city; its bazaars are endless, and many of them at a first view cannot but strike the stranger as extremely rich and picturesque, particularly those devoted to arms, carpets, shawls, and jewellery, (for every article of use or ornament is to be purchased only in the bazaar set apart for that particular class of merchandize.) They are for the most part roofed with rafters, and are open at each end; and through the centre a mixed multitude is incessantly pouring. On either side are the stalls of the merchants whose rich wares are spread with lavish hand around, and above too, for if the nature of his commodities admits, they are displayed hanging, waving, or festooned towards the roof; there hangs the golden-broidered scarf or shawl, the luxurious carpet, the dainty silk, or the flashing and jewelled scimitar; and in the midst of this profusion, on a raised and carpeted platform, sits the turbaned, bearded proprietor; who, when a frank attended by his dragoman, comes to treat for his wares, seats himself opposite him on his carpet, presents him with coffee and a pipe, (with which he is also himself supplied) and, as they sip and smoke, the bargain is discussed and concluded, the dragoman acting, of course, as interpreter, and invariably taking charge of his master's purse, which he resigns only with his engagement. Buyers and sellers thus engaged, added to the motley costumes of the passing throng, make altogether a scene, of which it is difficult to give a complete description.
On our return we found that our friend, whom we had left at Afté with his sick wife, had arrived; she was better, but still very ill. The next morning we paid a visit to the citadel, which stands high above the town, and from this elevation the view of Cairo is splendid. The most conspicuous object in the town itself, is the great mosque of Abdel Hassan, with its immense domes and graceful minarets; and the peculiar characteristic of the houses is their flat roofs: the eye, however, does not rest long upon either of these objects, but ranges over the varied and extensive scene beyond.
On that side of Cairo where stand the tombs of the caliphs, lies the desert, and its arid sands at that point come close to the very walls of the city. In the distance are the pyramids, and more distant still, the mountains; and to this wilderness, the broad Nile and cultivated valley, and the beautiful gardens of the Pasha offer an agreeable relief.
The Pasha was building a beautiful mosque on the site of Saladin palace, the only remains of which are a few broken pillars; the marble they were raising had the external appearance of alabaster.
The palace is not worth seeing; the citadel contains the Mint, the Hall of Justice, and Joseph's Well, which supplies it with water.
We next visited the largest mosque in Cairo, that of Abdel Hassan; its immense size and the absence of all decoration, strike a stranger forcibly on entering; and his eyes and ears are greeted by the sight and sound of the silver waters of the large fountain which rises under the dome. Beyond is the tomb of Abdel Hassen, on which is placed an immense and richly ornamented copy of the koran.
I glanced with some little apprehension at my boots, on having the fact brought to my recollection, that it is customary to uncover the feet on entering a mosque; but this was soon relieved by my guide, who thrust a pair of slippers over them; and thus qualified, I walked in. As there were no more slippers to be had, my friend remained at the threshold; but we had not advanced many paces when he bethought himself of holding up a 3-piastre piece; this overcame their scruples, and (booted as he was) they beckoned him to follow.
Our first inquiry on reaching home, was for Mrs. C.; we found her gradually sinking, and at 11 that night she died. She was beautiful and amiable, and only 23; her loss cast a gloom over us all.
On the 16th I did not leave my room; and at 7 the next morning, the remains of our fellow-traveller were placed in a coffin, and the Church of England service performed over them. Her husband intended transporting them to America, and between 6 and 7 in the evening we followed them to Boulac, where a boat was waiting to convey them to Alexandria. The American consul's janissary led the way, attended by Arabs, each holding high in the air blazing fires in small iron baskets; and strange and wild was the appearance of the funeral procession, as the fitful red light flashed on the group of Arabs who assisted in conveying the body; their light dresses and red caps contrasting strongly with our own dark garments – for she was followed by four Europeans all of different nations.
We arrived at Boulac a little before 9, and a few minutes after the boat dropped down the river with her melancholy freight, and we returned to Cairo.
ON the 18th we visited the petrified forest which is about five miles from Cairo. Many entire trunks of palm and other trees are lying here, perfectly transformed into solid stone, and the hills for miles are covered with fragments of their branches, brittle, and glazed in appearance, and which on being struck, give forth a ringing metallic sort of sound, something similar to that elicited from the musical stones (commonly so called) quarried in Westmoreland.
The 19th was a lovely day; we started at 9, to see the pyramids; passed through some beautiful gardens belonging to Ibrahim Pasha, to old Cairo; where we crossed the Nile, and had a delightful ride, through a very rich country.
The pyramids stand on a sandy plain, about sixty feet above the valley of the Nile, and about four miles from Cairo. Truly sublime did they appear to me as I now for the first time stood face to face before these mutely eloquent monuments; but I will spare the reader the train of ideas which was interrupted by the offer of the guides to assist me in making the ascent: with the help of two very active fellahs I gained the top with ease in a few minutes, and found the task much lighter than I had been led to imagine. The stones are very irregular, and from two to four and a half feet in height.
The space at the top, I should think about twenty feet square: the view from it is fine in the extreme. On one side flows the Nile, through one of the richest valleys in the world; on the other is the fearful Lybian desert. It appeared as if there were some hidden barriers against the flowing sands, and that the fertilizing waters of the Nile were not unaided in repelling them; so distinct is the desert from the valley: it seems from this height quite possible to walk with one foot in either. More distant, the domes and minarets of Cairo, rise above masses of trees against the sky; and close beneath the enormous sphinx reveals her colossal proportions, dimly but unmistakably, through the sand, which veils, but does not quite conceal that part which lies between the shoulders and tail; and as the clouds at this moment break, a flood of sun-light crosses the track of a company of Arabs and camels, and their many coloured dresses and picturesque arrangement contrast powerfully opposed to the uniform tone of the plain around.
We gazed long on the scene I have attempted to describe, and even then turned unwillingly to make the descent. The vast proportions of the great pyramid strike you more when half way up its side, than from any other point. Its height is 461 feet. The clouds which had screened us having dispersed, we felt much annoyed by the heat, and were glad to halt for a time in a small chamber about one third of the way down.
The descent is very easy; but this is more than I can say for our task in the interior, to which the entrance is on the northern side. The passage inclines at the angle of 27° and is about three and a half feet square: at the end of this passage is a false entrance to the right, up which we were pulled by our guides, and found ourselves in another passage (inclining upwards,) one hundred feet in length, and five in height. In a recess at the extremity of this second passage, is the well spoken of by Pliny. A third, and very low passage, led us to the Queen's chamber – a rather large apartment, with an arched, and somewhat pointed roof: above this is the King's chamber, which is five good strides in width, and eleven in length; its sides are of polished granite, its roof flat, and composed of enormous stones; at one end is a broken sarcophagus, which it is evident, (from the fact of its being too large to have entered the apartment, either by its entrance or its approaches,) must have been placed in it as their construction was in progress.
There are several chambers above this, but the ladder which leads to them was broken, and as we had no means of supplying its place, we were fain to exchange the intense heat for the comparatively cool external air, which we reached, nearly choked with dust.
We now approached to take a nearer view of the sphinx. The face is not of that order of beauty, or to be measured by those proportions which the whole civilized world has for more than two thousand years agreed to worship; possibly it imaged forth the beau-ideal of an earlier age, and even in its present mutilated state a surprising degree of sweetness and repose dwells on every feature. The sands have been cleared from the upper part of the figure, and a wooden frame-work set up, which in a great degree has resisted their progress, and enough was to be seen to give an idea of its exquisite proportions. The head has suffered very much; one of our party took aim at an eagle that was perched on it, but we persuaded him to refrain from shooting it; there were, however, many of these majestic birds about the pyramids. and he brought down several of large size.
The objects which next engaged our attention were of a different order from those we were contemplating yesterday; viz: the ovens for hatching eggs; it being an extraordinary but well-known fact, that the hens in Egypt will not take the trouble to hatch their own; we did not see the process in operation, as they do not begin till next month, (February.) We staid some time watching the boats, which are constantly engaged in conveying passengers and provisions from this side of the river to Old Cairo on the opposite bank; and afterwards rode to Boulac, where they were painting our boat, preparatory to our starting for our further voyage up the Nile.
Spent the 21st in the bazaars; found one very narrow one, filled with druggists; I bought some otto of roes of an old fellow, who applied the cork of the bottle to my whiskers and mustachios with such a liberal hand, that I carried a violently perceptible sweet odour with me. I was more annoyed than ever on this day with the sight of the women, whose ugly habit of blinking at you with one eye, had impressed me disagreeably from the first. On the approach of a man they are obliged to cover their faces, which, if I may judge from the few I saw, (and the pretty ones, it is said alone, by accident let fall their veil,) are extremely ugly; their eyes are large, but their features irregular, with a bad expression.
The law of divorce is singular; the husband is only obliged to say to his wife, in the presence of two witnesses, "I divorce thee;" he may a second time marry her after she has been married by another; but if the divorce be a third time pronounced, he can never marry her again.
In the afternoon of the 22nd the camels were brought to convey our luggage to the boat; they make a dreadful noise during the whole time the business of loading them is going on; this was not accomplished till 6, and it was 8 when we got on board.
ON the 23rd, at 1 A.M., we hoisted the Prussian flag, and left the shore; the wind was not favourable, and the crew were obliged to tow. As we were passing the island of Rhoda, an officer boarded us, saying, that our reis owed him 900 piastres, and that it was his intention to arrest him; if he came with the idea that we should liquidate the debt rather than lose our reis, (as I have no doubt he did) he found himself mistaken; for we shewed him the Pasha's firmam, and stated we were not inclined to submit to delay for any one; so he quietly took a cup of coffee, and left us and our reis.
We arrived at Old Cairo at 7, and witnessed the most gorgeous sunset that even this clime can display; for the sun sunk behind the pyramids, and left on the Arabian mountains, and the sky with which they seemed to mingle, a hue and a glory of which nor pen or pencil can give an idea. Something of the twilight tinge which succeeds this, Martin gave in his "Flight into Egypt," exhibited two years ago.
The next morning was dreadfully cold; I shivered under my cloak; the wind was favourable, and at 11 A.M. we sailed away in gallant style, and soon lost sight of the Great Pyramid, and passed those of Scharah and Dashoor; the immense proportions of the latter were very striking. Passed the village of Holman about 2; and after a good day's sail, hauled up to the bank close to a village; it was a beautiful moonlight night, and long did I remain looking on the silent river and the majestic palms; there was just wind enough to stir their feathery branches; and as they waved gracefully to and fro, the moonlight lay on their pale edges (in contrast with the dark green of the leaf above) like molten silver.
By the next morning the wind had changed and was blowing in our teeth; our men made so little progress, that at night we could see our starting-post. Our boat was somewhat too large and heavy; it had two cabins and a capital tent on the quarter-deck, where we dined in hot weather; the two latteen sails were immense, I should think the main full eighty feet in length; they gave her a very elegant appearance. Our crew consisted of twelve, (without the reis), six of whom were blacks from Nubia.
We were upon the whole very comfortable, and in cold weather could shut ourselves in, for we had six glass windows in the cabin – very necessary articles, even in this climate.
The next morning brought but little wind and our men were again obliged to tow; we halted at a village at breakfast-time for some milk, which we did not succeed in obtaining; their sheik came on board, and having smoked a pipe, asked for some tobacco; but as we had only just enough for our journey, we thought it prudent to refuse him; at this, the old fellow went off quite disappointed, without giving us the customary salute.
The men continued to tow till noon, when we hauled to the bank to rest them; and as soon as they had made fast, they threw themselves on the sand, and were almost instantly asleep; while they were thus engaged, the Count and I went into a village and astonished the natives by shooting their pigeons: in a short time we had all the inhabitants round us, who eagerly pointed out the birds for us to shoot. Though most of them fell quite dead, I observed they cut off their heads, which Agassi (my dragoman) explained by saying, that the Mahomedans are forbidden to touch anything killed by an infidel; so they no doubt settled all qualms of conscience by the proceeding just described.
The following was a terrible day; we moved about half a mile up the river, but the wind being right in our teeth, were obliged to haul to the bank: as we peeped out from our windows, the scene was most desolate; the air was loaded with sand, which it carried in clouds hither and thither with great fury; and our men had taken shelter under a high bank, where they lay huddled together.
The two next days brought but little improvement in the weather, and we made scarcely any progress; on the third, we could make no way; and I had my head shaved by one of our crew, who had a touch as light as any Parisian barber could boast of: the sensation was agreeable, and I felt extremely comfortable after the operation. The tarbouch is a red cap with a silk tassel, and is a delightful head-dress; it is worn by all the Pasha's troops, and with few exceptions, by all other classes in Egypt. Europeans are obliged to protect the head from the excessive heats of the country, by winding a shawl round the tarbouch, in form of a turban; a custom very generally practised by the natives, but an indulgence not allowed to the military.
The next morning (the 31st) early, there was a fine favourable wind, and we piped all hands, but it soon fell, and we were again obliged to crawl along the banks at a snail's pace, which we could not quicken, either on that day or the next; the evening of which found us (having worked our way with great difficulty,) at Beni Souef, about two hours after a most gorgeous sunset.
We landed for a short time, and took a cup of coffee in one of the miserable coffee-houses of the town. Beni Souef is quite deserted, Mahomed Ali having forced all its inhabitants to work at the dykes; we saw about a dozen marching away with iron collars round their necks, and guarded by soldiers.
This morning, February 2nd, the wind became favorable, and we sailed in gallant style till 10 P.M. when it fell.
The Arabs are so fond of company of all sorts, that they take care, if possible, to haul the boat either close to a village, or some other boats, from which you receive a fresh supply of rats and other vermin; but for a change we made them drift her into the middle of the river, and cast anchor. This was a fine day's sail, and we were all in good spirits. 3rd, splendid wind, so we weighed at an early hour, but at 11, ran, with all our canvas set, on one of the shifting sand-banks, which make the navigation of the Nile so difficult.
We were in this pleasant position about three hours, during which we had made more than one attempt to get her off; at two P.M. we gave our men a glass of spirits, (to which, whatever travellers may say, we never found them object,) and piped all hands to make another effort. The count jumped overboard to see that all did their duty, while V—and I remained at the poles, and in a few minutes we were again running at a great rate before the wind.
About fifteen miles south of Beni Souef, the Nile washes the base of the Arabian mountains; these and the Lybian range run through the whole length of the country, enclosing and protecting from the deserts the splendid valley through which the river holds its serpentine course. The country is flat, and consequently there is little variety in the scenery; but nothing can exceed the richness of the crops.
All the grain is bearded; wheat, beans, peas, Indian corn, sugar-cane, rice, dates, coarse tobacco, cotton, and white and red clover, are the general produce. In the pastures we saw immense numbers of buffaloes, unlike the animal known in England by that name; they are very large, of a dirty blackish colour, and have no hump on the back. In order to protect their unwieldly bodies from the attacks of insects they remain in the river during the heat of the day, and when the sun was powerful, we saw droves of them with only their noses above water, their flesh is not eatable, but we found their milk excellent. The Pasha has introduced a great many head of cattle from Europe; there are no pigs, (of course in a nation of Mahomedans,) but plenty of sheep, fowls and pigeons. As far as that part of the river in which we now were, the valley (whose average width is 27 miles,) had presented the rich appearance I have described; but above this, on the Arabian side, for miles there was no cultivated ground. Here was an encampment of Bedouins, the first we had seen, but they were at too great a distance for us to examine their appearance minutely, even had we not been sailing at a great rate; on a previous day one of our boatmen was taken ill, of course we prescribed for him; to-day another complains, and we have administered a dose of magnesia. I suppose we shall have to do the same to all; for, strange to say, they are delighted of an excuse to take physic, of which they are really fond: as we gave them only magnesia, and as a single dose never failed to remove their ailments, it is pretty clear they could have been only fancied.
Fine wind all night; we ran on several sand-banks, but fortunately lost but little time; the navigation at night is very difficult. At 8 the following morning, we sailed with a fine wind into Mineyeh, where we remained a few minutes for our men, who bought their bread in the town; passed Melani at 10 P.M. having sailed beautifully all day. Light wind all night; there were a great many boats going up, but ours passed them with ease; we only struck on one sand-bank, but this detained us an hour.
5th. Splendid wind still; at 10 A.M. we met a boat bearing the American stripes and stars: spoke her, but the delicious breeze allowed us but little time for a parley, and carried us at a tremendous pace into Manfacant. About half an hour before our arrival we observed a party of crocodiles, to the number of 8 or 10 on a bank, and regretted that we could not have a shot at them, but the wind was too precious to lose a single puff; they were the first we had seen; indeed, they are now never met with lower than Mineyeh, though ancient historians speak of them at the river's mouth.
We remained at this village half an hour for provisions; and after a fine afternoon's sail, arrived at 9 P.M. at Siout, the capital of Upper Egypt. Here our reis found some of his friends, and refused to move when we ordered him to make sail; some of our party went into the town to solicit the interference of the Governor to oblige our refractory sailing-master to fulfill the terms of the agreement, which (as is usual in such cases) was, that we should sail night and day when the wind was favourable; and that when it was foul, the crew should not tow except between sun-rise and sun-set; however, the Governor had retired to his harem, and we were obliged, with what patience we could, to pass the night stationary, instead of taking advantage of the wind, which was fine.
Early next morning we had our reis up before the Governor, who having asked a few questions, made a sign, whereupon three of the guards seized the delinquent, and threw him on the floor, when he received an unmerciful thrashing, until we cried, "Hold! enough!" I asked Agassi how long he would have been beaten, had we not interfered? He replied, that it depended on the humour of the Governor; and that had it not been for us, he would have received it on the soles of his feet.
He returned quite an altered man; and at 12, we left Siout, deferring the inspection of the tombs, &c. in its neighbourhood till our return. The fine breeze with which we left, continued through this day and the two next; but dropped on the 8th at midnight. On the 9th, our men were obliged to tow, and we went on shore to shoot, and found immense numbers of pigeons, but no game. At 4, we had a nice breeze, and sailed well till 8, when our pilot ran our boat into a creek, in which we lost a great deal of time.
At noon the following day we landed at Kenneh, to walk to the temple of Dendirah, which lies about a mile and a half from the river; it is one of the most perfect and the most correctly-proportioned in Egypt; its massive columns are seven feet in diameter, and the distance between them is not more than two diameters and a half; and the solidity and (if the word be permitted) the peculiar solemnity of Egyptian sacred architecture strike the traveller with awe, when he looks on this, the first temple to which his steps are turned in the ascent of the Nile. The façade and vestibule are exceedingly grand; the whole of its columns covered with hieroglyphics, whose colours have, however, suffered from the easterly winds. With the aid of candles we explored the inner chambers, which we found equally rich in sculptured and painted hieroglyphics; on the ceiling of the largest, the signs of the zodiac are painted. This splendid temple is disfigured with the miserable ruins of a modern town, which was deserted a few years ago, (for what reason no one could inform us).
At 3, we were again under sail; in the evening we ran on a sand-bank, where we spent the night. At 6 the following morning, our men got the boat off; the breeze was light, and increased till 10, when we sailed; with every prospect of seeing Thebes before night, but were again to be doomed to disappointment; for the wind fell at 2 P.M., and we crawled along the banks at a miserable pace, and anchored about five miles from Thebes, near one of the Pasha's cotton plantations. The valley here is very narrow on the Lybian side, but the Arabian range can hardly be seen. The wheat was in bloom, and they were planting tobacco. Our men made a large fire, round which they sat like so many monkeys; for they screw themselves into the ordinary attitude of those animals. It is quite delightful to see them enjoy the heat. At tea-time, Agassi informed us he had no milk, and that one of our men would go with him to the Pasha's temporary settlement. I took down my sword and joined them; on the outskirts of the said settlement we sustained a severe attack from the dogs, who appeared determined to oppose us; but they kept at a respectful distance from my steel; we found a dozen men round a capital fire, near which they made room for me, while Agassi executed his commission. We were escorted on our return by half the party, who kept off their dogs, at which attention he seemed highly delighted. We passed the night here, and at 10 the next morning arrived at Luxor.
AS soon as possible after landing, we took our way to the temple of Karnac, which stands about a mile and a half from Luxor; the approach to it is through an avenue of sphinxes, which at one time extended the whole distance, and many of which now raise their mutilated shoulders, (for none boast of a head), at intervals, above the sand in which they are imbedded. This avenue leads to the temple of Isis, which formed one of a series of smaller ones connected with the great temple.
The entrance to the temple of Isis is magnificent, and the only perfect one remaining at Karnac. But I forgot all on entering the great temple; for never did I see such a scene of havoc and destruction. If the great pyramid had been shaken to its foundation, it could not have covered a much greater space; tottering walls and pediments, broken obelisks and columns, all of immense proportions, thrown in all directions, covering the ground, with here and there a threatening pillar declining from its centre, gave to this immense ruin an air of desolation not met with in any other; and yet, 134 of its gigantic columns still remain in a perfect state, covered with hieroglyphics, and beautifully proportioned, forming an avenue through the centre of the building, along which the eye ranges through an extent of upwards of 1200 feet. The roof of one immense apartment is composed of enormous slabs, and was supported by sixteen rows of pillars, beyond which lies another of still larger dimensions, which was upheld by 168 columns.
The outer walls are in a good state of preservation, and on their sides, the wars of the kings of Egypt are represented, many of the figures as large as life. In front of the temple stands the obelisk of Luxor perfect and beautiful; its hieroglyphics fresh as if sculptured yesterday; and I should imagine no one could look on the vacant spot where its equally perfect companion stood, without lamenting the existence of that false taste which has led the French to transport it to the "Place de la Concorde," in their capital, where it is so lamentably out of place, and where the frost has already done on it the work of time, and bids fair to destroy it utterly; instead of leaving it in a spot to which it gave, and from which it received beauty.
In the temple itself, of the many obelisks that decorated it, two only remain on their pedestals. The avenue which passes through the largest of the numerous temples connected with the great one, was prolonged by a double row of sphinxes to a similar gateway to that on the east side; and each of the principal entrances was likewise, through avenues of sphinxes, and one entire cluster of temples would appear to have been surrounded by a line of those monsters. The finest view of the ruins is from the smallest obelisk standing; shattered sphinxes, statues of sheep and other animals (many of them of colossal size) lie in every direction; but no adequate idea of this vast ruin, this assemblage of temples, which covers a space nearly two miles in circuit, can be conveyed by the pen. An Arab village is built in and about it) and nothing can be more striking than the contrast offered between its miserable hotels and these monuments of a vanished race.
We did not return to out boat till late in the evening; on reaching Luxor we found one belonging to two of our countrymen, with whom we passed the evening; during which we were entertained by the performances of a troop of dancing girls.
The next morning (the 13th,) was very cold; we crossed the river in a small boat, to visit the wonders on that side: and on landing, were assailed by a number of fellahs who wished to act as our guides; we selected two, but the whole troop followed for a great distance. We first visited the colossal memnons, called by the Arabs, Shanny and Danny; these splendid statues stand alone on the plains, surrounded by cornfields, and are on account of their beauty, size, and antiquity, interesting objects; the heads had suffered very much, and unfortunately one had been repaired.
The temple of Medinet Abou, which was the next object of our attention, stands to the south of Thebes, and is remarkable for the beauty and high preservation of its hieroglyphics. The court in the centre is exceedingly fine, and all its columns (which are square) are, as well as its walls, quite perfect; they are covered with hieroglyphics, which are full half an inch deep (intaglio) beautifully colored with red, blue, &c. The exterior walls are covered by sand, and little is to be seen with the exception of the grand entrance and the centre square.
We passed several deep mummy pits; a little fellow ran after me, offering the head of a mummy for one piastre; and the ground was covered with all parts of the human frame, torn from the pits by the Arabs; the Pasha's edict has gone forth forbidding the traffic in mummies, which was formerly carried on by them in this place; not that he wished to dabble in it, but, because he preferred employing them in draining or cultivating the land; but we saw enough to convince us that it still goes on to a considerable extent.
The Memnonium must have been a splendid temple, and is still (after Karnac) the finest in Egypt; it has suffered more from the busy hand of man than from the Great Destroyer; all its beautiful statues have been removed, and but little remains, except two rows of columns; on four of which the figures are still almost perfect, and exhibit a greater variety, and higher degree of finish than is found in any other. These temples stand on the edge of a plain, at the foot of the Lybian range, which rises to a great height; its sides pierced with excavations and tombs, many of which are inhabited by Arabs, in a primitive condition; on entering the ruins of the Memnonium, we surprised three of these miserable creatures in a state of nudity; they ran away and took refuge on the top of the great wall which faces the Nile, where they remained until we had left the place.
It was noon next day before we crossed to the western bank, owing to a mutiny among our crew; we had them up before the Governor, who thought fit to bastinado one fellow, and send them all to prison for the day.
We mounted donkeys and ascended the Lybian range by a very steep path, and descended into a very deep valley, in which are the tombs of the Kings. We visited Belzoni's first; a flight of steps led us down to a lofty door-way about twenty feet below the surface, through which we entered a long corridor, at the end of which are the sepulchral chambers, at a great depth in the mountain; they are large and well proportioned; the largest has an arched roof, but its walls have suffered from some cause; I believe the experiments (!) of a French traveller.
All the walls are plastered, and covered with mysterious paintings and hieroglyphics.
The gods are represented by figures a foot and a half high, of men with birds' heads; they are hand-in-hand with the Kings, whose titles are written above them; the other figures are serpents, hyænas, geese, storks; but the favorite is the owl: both in their paintings and hieroglyphics the key of the Nile is seen near every King. The paintings in the small chamber near the arched one, are the most beautiful and perfect; the principal colours are red, blue, yellow and green; the primitive colours alone being known to the Egyptians. The corridors are not plastered, but ornamented by hieroglyphics cut in the stone; we visited five others which appeared very poor, after the splendid one discovered by Belzoni; they are the most extraordinary excavations in the world, and among the most interesting of Egypt's wonders.
I have described the principal objects in Thebes, but there are immense and shapeless masses of ruins in all directions; the paintings and decorations are similar in all the temples of Egypt; the winged globe, with serpents over every gateway, and the sacred vulture over every temple: in most of the hieroglyphics, birds and animals are introduced: I noticed very few composed entirely of characters.
In no instance are obelisks found on the western bank of the Nile, or pyramids on the eastern; and we see clearly the poetry and beauty of this arrangement, if we consider the former as representing a beam of the sun, and being thus placed, the first objects to receive on their gilded heads (for many were gilt) the earliest of his rays; while as he sank in the west, he shone full on the funeral monuments of those whose sun of existence had for ever set.
With the exception of Shanny and Danny, all the ruins of Egypt are surrounded by the sands, although they are within a short distance of the cultivated valley; in fact, they may be said to form a nucleus, round which the sands accumulate to a much greater depth than elsewhere. It is nevertheless true, that vast tracts have been lost within the last century, which may be accounted for in some measure by the increased depth of the Nile's channel, which of course diminishes the extent to which it overflows its banks, and repels the sands of the desert; the average height of the banks in this month, (February) I should guess at twelve or fourteen feet above water-mark.
At Thebes, the cultivated valley, between the Nile and the Lybian range, is about a mile and a half in width; but the Arabian mountains are hardly visible, and the next plain between them and Luxor is a perfect desert, in which stands the great temple of Karnac, some 200 yards from the river; it is evident, therefore, that the desert has made awful strides in this vicinity; nothing astonished me more than the luxuriant appearance of the crops, when the ground appeared baked and cracked by the heat, many of the fissures being eight or ten inches in depth.
We returned to our boat at 7 P.M.; the Governor was in attendance with all our crew; for the trouble he had taken, we presented him with a sum of eight piastres, with which he appeared satisfied; and I believe, would have bastinadoed the whole of them for another piece of gold.
I went on board my countryman's boat to bid them farewell, and about 9, our own was on our return to Cairo; but we made little progress, owing to a strong unfavourable wind.
15th. THE wind still unfavourable, and we could scarcely move with the stream in our favour; and felt envious of the speed at which the numerous boats passed that were sailing up. Passed Kenneh in the night; the beautiful porous vapours so generally used in Egypt for cooling water, are manufactured here. The next was a beautiful morning; at 8, the splendid temple of Dendera was visible from my window, and I had a long last look at it. About two hours later we had fine fun with the crocodiles, which were so numerous, that one might imagine they had come up from the bed of the river to pay their respects; so to return the compliment, we saluted them with a little lead, firing four barrels into a batch of eighteen, and the huge creatures scrambled one over another into the water (from which they are never seen more than a few feet distant.) We saw one fellow make his appearance a minute or two after he had received one volley, and we thought he was wounded, (for they always come on shore to die); so we landed and walked quietly up the bank, but he disappeared before we could give him another shot.
Having caught a glimpse of another party, we directed our steps towards them, but could not get within distance; one fine fellow, who measured at least fourteen feet, plunged in, in gallant style, and we returned without the prize we expected. The best way to get near them is, to drop down in a boat; it is impossible to get a shot at them by land: the largest I saw, I should think was between sixteen and eighteen feet in length; the fellahs fear them only when they are to be seen on the banks.
About half an hour after we lead this sport, we ran on a sand-bank; our men threw themselves overboard to get the boat off, and took the opportunity of having a bathe: this was the warmest day we had had on the Nile, the thermometer in our cabin, with windows open, standing at 75°. Before we left Thebes, the reis struck our mainsail, so that we had but the foresail left; instead of towing, the men work with long sweeps when the wind is not favourable, and the chants with which they accompany this labour, I found anything but disagreeable. We discovered we were without sugar, (that of Egypt is as dark as the soil) but we could procure none, and the next day purchased some treacle: Oh! such dreadful stuff!
About 5 P.M., we had some nice sport with our scaly friends, the crocodiles: we made our men crouch on the deck, and drifted silently down within ten or twelve yards of seven huge fellows who appeared to be asleep, and poured the contents of four barrels among them; I thought we had seriously damaged two, but they managed to scramble with their companions into the water, above which we saw their noses for some time, and peppered a few with small shot. About twenty minutes after we drifted down upon another lot, and passed within a few feet of them; the Count's gun was charged with shot, and only one of my barrels with ball, and that unfortunately missed fire; we then gave them a charge or two of shot, which made one leap from the ground; and this I believe is as much effect as ball generally takes on these well-protected creatures. They are seldom out of the water so late in the evening, rarely to be seen after sun-set; our men (who had been towing) were afraid to come on board, because they saw two of these ugly monsters on the opposite bank; but we laughed their terrors away, and they all plunged into the river, making as much noise as possible to keep the said monsters at a respectful distance. They do not think of them unless they are to be seen. Beautiful calm moonlight night!
On the 18th, at 9 A.M., we arrived at the small village of Bellyanna; and after breakfast started to see the ruins of the ancient Abydos, which are about four miles from the Nile; we passed through a beautifully rich country; the crops were luxuriant, though the earth appeared almost as hard as it does in England after a severe frost.
The only saddle I had was an old sack; and unfortunately my animal was one of the leanest of his kind, so that I was much inconvenienced until I made my fellah fill the sack with bean-haum.
There are three temples in a tolerable state of preservation, considering that they are nearly the most ancient ruins in Egypt; they are covered with sand, and we crawled with difficulty into two of them, the third was entirely closed up. The paintings, ornaments, and hieroglyphics, bear a great resemblance to those at Thebes, and I thought equally well executed; but so little was to be seen, that I could not form an idea of their proportions; the whole space between them and the Lybian range, appears to have been one vast cemetery; and hundreds of its grim tenants torn from their graves, were bleaching in the sun.
I returned quite tired and well shaken; it is no joke to ride without a saddle. Just as we reached the village, the Pasha passed in his steamer; wind high, cold night.
The next morning dull, wind still unfavourable; arrived at Djirjeh at 10 A.M., and remained a short time for provisions: our men worked with the sweeps, but the wind was so high, that we were obliged to halt about two miles below the town; we went ashore with our guns, and found a great number of quails. The Count and I chased a fox for some time; I sent a ball after him, but it struck the ground before him, and my companion brought him down with shot; he was a very fine fellow. I did not see a single partridge below Thebes, and hares are scarce.
On our return from the chase, we found our Nubians had decamped, leaving us with only five men besides the reis. During the night the wind changed, and blew in our favour, but we could not take advantage of it; we had 60° on deck.
Early in the morning we started to see the Governor of Djirjeh, whom we found seated at a café in the bazaar, and smoking; after drinking coffee, and taking a few whiffs from his pipe, we informed him that seven of our men had ran away; he said he could do nothing for us, so we took our leave; returned to our boat, and started for Siout, but made but little progress, the wind being right against us; it increased at night, and we had a severe storm of rain, 66° on deck. 21st. The wind still unfavourable, and so strong, that it was useless to attempt to move; crossed to the Lybian side, and had some excellent quail-shooting. The weather improved towards evening, and at 8, with a moderate wind, we set sail, and got on better than we expected. Early next morning we arrived at Akmin, and about three hours later passed a large village; and hearing that a Pasha was in its vicinity, we hauled to the bank, and two or three of our party, who went in search of him, returned with a reinforcement of four men, who only engaged to go as far as Siout with us: made but little way, the wind falling (as it generally does) at sunset; calm, but cold night. About four next morning, we found ourselves quietly fixed on a sand-bank (how tired I was of the name of one!) and we were obliged to leave our beds to make our men get her off, which they did in a few minutes, when they could be once induced to exert themselves.
Our boat did not drift well on account of her lightness, for we had no ballast on board, and another which passed us with a French flag, soon left us in the rear. Splendid moonlight night, not a cloud to be seen in the sky, or a ripple on the river; this was the most delightful night I had passed on the Nile; and I remained on deck contemplating the repose of the scene, stirred only by the moving and whispering of the solemn palms, till one in the morning.
Arrived at Siout at an early hour; and after breakfast, rode into the town, and paid a visit to the Governor, with whom we smoked and drank coffee; he promised to supply us with men, and we started to see the tombs in Djebel el Koperi, which stand in the Lybian range: there are hundreds of excavations, the largest runs from one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet into the mountain; it has several chambers, but they are quite plain. This tomb was quite full of bats, three times the size of those of Europe; the form of their heads is not unlike that of a bull's without horns; their mouths are very large and their teeth long and sharp.
The baths of Siout are among the best in the country; and on our return we took our way thither, the cold winds having prevented our paying them an earlier visit. I could not have imagined anything more luxurious; but, I must describe the treatment; – We undressed in a small room with a comfortable divan; as soon as I was ready, a sturdy fellow took me in hand, and led me through a narrow passage into the hall of the bath, where I was nearly suffocated by the steam and heat; he then conducted me into a very small chamber, placed me on a marble seat in a reclining position, and scrubbed me well with a rough glove, cracked all my joints, and left me for a minute or so to recover; he then laid me on the marble floor of the hall, and covered me with soap, which he washed off by throwing hot water over me; he next covered me with a great quantity of linen, and led me from the bath to the dressing-room; the scene in the hall was rather singular; dozens of men and boys, motionless as statues, were stretched at full length on the floor; our white skins rendered us conspicuous objects among this swarthy collection.
In our dressing-room I found the Count and V— rolled up like mummies, and my attendant soon relieved me of my wet drapery, and covered me with half a dozen large pieces of rough linen, winding one piece round my head in form of a turban; having placed me in an inclined position, he presented me with a cup of coffee and a pipe, and left me to enjoy myself; a boy pressed my limbs to circulate the blood, which operation nearly sent me to sleep, and left a delightful sensation: most thoroughly did I enjoy this bath.
We paid the Governor another visit, who provided us with six men, and we returned to our boat at four P.M.
The capital of Upper Egypt is rather a fine town, the bazaars, and many of the buildings are handsome; it stands in the centre of the valley, which is here about three miles in width, extremely rich and well cultivated. The elevated causeway from the town to the river, is one of the wonders of Egypt, being considered as ancient as the pyramids.
Our new men crossed the river to bid adieu to their families, promising to be aboard before night. There were three boats in the little harbour, displaying respectively, the flags of England, France, and Prussia. At eight P.M., our men gave us the signal, and we drifted to the opposite side to take them on board. Calm moonlight night; I felt delightfully soft and comfortable – the effect of the bath.
Sailed in gallant style till twelve next day, when we ran on a sand-bank, where we remained till evening, when the wind changed, and with the help of our sail, we got her off. Calm lovely night, nothing to be be heard but the chant of our men.
Arrived early next morning at Mineyeh, where we remained an hour to have our boat examined, but they could find no leak, though we had been baling out water all night. Sailed in beautiful style till two P.M., when we lost the wind: dull night. The following day, at one P.M., we were sailing merrily past Beni Souef; two hours after we were once more stationed on a sand-bank, where we sojourned some hours. Towards evening we moved; our men worked all night at the sweeps, which prevented me from getting any sleep.
28th. Beautiful morning; the pyramids were in sight before we were up; arrived at those of Sacchara at 10 A.M., and landed a couple of miles down the river; we could find no donkeys, and were obliged to walk to the Lybian range, which is excavated for miles; we entered by an opening cut in the rock, extending about thirty feet; at the end of which was a pit about fourteen feet deep, down which we sent an Arab to see if it was the right entrance; we descended, and found ourselves in a low square cell, at the opposite end of which we noticed a small outlet, through which we squeezed ourselves with difficulty; we were here obliged to light our candles, for it was as dark as night. I found it very difficult to crawl on my hands and knees and hold my candle; we passed through a great many passages and small chambers filled with the remains of human mummies and sarcophaghi, many of the latter quite perfect. We descended to two of the lower floors, and I felt certain there were others below them, but my candle was burnt out before I could satisfy my curiosity; and the Count's would not have lasted much longer, when we found another outlet quite by accident.
I would advise all persons exploring places like these, to provide themselves with more than one candle; for the prospect of groping our way out was anything but cheering, and our success I thought somewhat problematical; we found the interior of the tombs dreadfully hot, but the air good.
On our re-appearance we found Agassi quite uneasy; he feared our candles were burnt out, and that we had lost our way. On our return, we passed through the largest forest of palms in Egypt; the trees were all in rows, and the corn grew luxuriantly under them; and on their trunks, the height to which the water attained during the last inundation, was distinctly marked.
Reached our boat rather fatigued; and with a favourable wind set sail for Cairo (then in sight). Arrived at Boulac at 6 P.M., and rode thence to the capital, which appeared finer than when I left it, which is not surprising, when it is considered, that in the interval I had seen so many of the second-rate towns and poor villages of Upper Egypt.
THE population of Egypt is two and a hall millions; that of Cairo, two hundred and forty thousand; of whom one hundred and ninety thousand are Mahometans.
Egypt contains two millions of acres, watered by the Nile; irrigation is carried on to a great extent by manual labour, as might be supposed, a slow and fatiguing proceeding; for the fellahs actually dip from the river the quantity of water necessary to supply their fields; but in the island of Rhoda – the Pasha's gardens – the wheel is used; and no doubt as civilization advances, it will be more extensively adopted, and displace the method above described, which we saw almost universally followed on the Nile, and which the extreme cheapness of labour doubtless tends (with other causes) to perpetuate.
The fellahs are very fine men; with not very dark complexions, not unlike the colour of the soil, which is a rich-looking yellow sandy loam; but they are a broken-spirited race.
We occasionally had to see that the boatmen did their duty, and sometimes were under the necessity of enforcing it, but on the whole they are handy and very willing, and severely handled as they (like most Egyptians) are, all their lives, not only appreciate good treatment, but repay it by often anticipating the wishes of their master. The travellers making the voyage up the Nile, should take none but boatmen who belong to Lower Egypt; for Nubians, and those from Upper Egypt will decamp as soon as they get to the south.
The boat should be as light as possible, the navigation being very difficult, owing (as has been before stated) to the sand-banks, which shift every season. It is necessary to have plenty of ballast, which you can throw overboard when firmly fixed, and by that means often avoid detention. Have her painted, but do not allow the men to sink her, (as they are fond of proposing) to drown the rats, for the effluvia arising from these, when dead, renders them much more disagreeable companions than when living. I have already suggested that the crew should not add to the quantity of vermin with which the voyager will find his boat furnished, by hauling her alongside others, which may be even more liberally supplied.
It is necessary to comfort, that the doors and windows of the cabin should fit and shut up closely, for the winds are sometimes exceedingly cold, and the air often loaded with sand.
The provisions necessary are good Lataika tobacco (the best is only to be bought at Cairo) sugar, coffee, rice, potatoes, hams, porter; maccaroni, coarse tobacco for the boatmen, and a small quantity of wine and spirits; the country affords bread, (which is much better in Upper than in Lower Egypt,) butter, milk; eggs forty for a piastre, sheep from eighteen to twenty-five piastres each, fowls from one and a half to three piastres, Lataika tobacco eighteen piastres an oka, (2½ English pounds,) but with the exception of the last, these are considered high prices, and only paid by Khawaja Englise. Dates are abundant, and pigeons are to be had for only the trouble of shooting them.
DRESS – Two suits; one very light, the other very warm, (he who travels in the frank dress is always the most respected,) shooting-coats, very loose trowsers, plenty of linen, Turkish slippers; black boots are unbearable, but I wore the light morocco ones made in the country with slippers over them; which latter were put off when I sat in the divan, a good warm cloak is indispensable; the head must be shaved, the tarbouch worn, and a large turban be ready to wind round it when the wearer is exposed to the sun; a large silk sash round the loins completes the list of apparel; but a telescope, thermometer, gun, pistols, and sword, must not be forgotten; an Arab will form his estimate of you by your arms, of which they are great admirers; the handsomest present you can give being a sword, or a brace of percussion pistols.
The contract must be signed by the parties before the consul, when the reis will affix his stamp on which is his name; should time be an object, the best way is to agree for the trip, if this is not a consideration, by the month.
If the party be numerous, a cook must be included in the crew, for your dragoman ought always to be with you; however, for two he can manage very well.
The best time to start for Upper Egypt is the end of October or beginning of November, when the north winds prevail; should the wind be favourable, stop to see nothing on the way up.
The distance from Cairo to Thebes and back is seven hundred and ninety-seven miles; the voyage occupied us exactly five weeks.
Two of our party on the Nile (the Count and V—) having decided on proceeding direct from Cairo to Jerusalem, A., H., and myself, rode a few miles with them on the afternoon of the 5th of March, and after taking leave, agreed with a Sheik, to start on the ninth, for the spot which of all others I most wished to behold – Petra. I was so anxious to commence the journey that the interval seemed very tedious; the more so as we had some wet days, but these are rare.
On the first fine morning, H. and I mounted camels for the first time in our lives, and rode to Shooborough, where the Pasha principally resides; it is three or four miles down the river, a fine avenue runs the whole distance, and it is the most delightful ride near Cairo.
The gardens are beautiful; containing, in addition to the native trees, many varieties (lately introduced) of those of Europe, many elegant kiosks raise their light forms among them, and the addition of water completes the perfection of this charming retreat.
We saw the Pasha taking his tiffin, seated at a small table in the European style; he is a very fine looking man, and has a splendid beard. I saw him pass through Cairo after this; he was in a magnificent European carriage, followed by four attendants on camels, and a few horsemen. It is said, that he rarely passes through the city without causing the death of one or two of the inhabitants; but this I think must be as false as many other misdeeds charged upon him, for he was moving at a very slow pace: he halted for several minutes opposite where I stood.
We are all very busy to-day, making preparations for our long journey, to which I looked forward with no little pleasure and impatience; we shall muster nine, and three will follow us in a day or two.
At length the ninth arrived, and our baggage-camels made their appearance; but it was late before their burden was completed, and they left town. A— and I rode out to the camp together: they had fixed on a place about three miles from Cairo, and we arrived before our tent was pitched: but this was soon accomplished, and I slept for the first time under canvas. We did not move any further next day; some of our party not having completed their purchases in Cairo; wind rather high, and cold night.
COLD morning, wind high; rose early, and about half past eight struck our tents, and commenced our journey. We mustered nine, having four tents, forty full-sized camels, fourteen young ones, seven servants, and a host of Arabs, forming altogether, rather a numerous caravan. I was delighted at its picturesque appearance, as it set out headed by the Sheik; and not a little amused at the various costumes displayed by my European fellow-travellers, who had severally equipped themselves in the manner which each thought most likely to enhance his comfort. Whether this consideration influenced one of their number, Mr. B—, a native of Scotland, who had made no change in his style of attire since leaving that country, I cannot take upon myself to say.
We passed two of Hill's stations today, and pitched our tents at 5 P.M.; very fine night.
Started a little earlier this morning, and after riding a short distance, left our camels, and went in search of partridges; we saw numbers, and killed a few brace. I brought one fellow down, as he was passing over my head, to the great delight of the Arabs.
The wind next day very cold and high; arrived at the last station about 4 P.M., and soon after pitched our tents, The road is excellent, except between the two middle stations, where it is covered with large loose stones. The stations are very comfortable; we halted at all of them, (there are eight between Cairo and Suez) and sent our baggage on, so that we enjoyed an hour's repose without losing time; (for it will be understood that the camels bearing the tents and their furniture, proceed somewhat in advance, and their conductors select a spot for encamping.) Near the middle station is a fine old thorn, covered with rags, tied on by the pilgrims on their return from Mecca; and I observed two or three others on the way, similarly ornamented.
I did not find the motion of my camel so disagreeable and distressing as I expected; and the shaking it produced caused me to sleep soundly. Our tent was hardly large enough, and we could not quite close it at night.
14th. Started at the usual hour; I felt my seat uncomfortable, and in the hope of improving it, called to my camel, who answered with a well-trained alacrity for which I was by no means prepared, for he dropped on his knees, (and my saddle coming forward,) sent me sprawling over his head among the stones. I escaped with only a few bruises, but it was a warning to me ever after to look to my girths.
About half an hour's march brought us in sight of the Red Sea; shortly after, our baggage-camels struck off to the left, to go round the head of the gulf, and we rode forward to Suez, where we arrived at 11 A.M.: it is a very miserable place. At 4 P.M., we crossed in a small boat to the opposite shore, and for the first time I set foot in Asia. The African mountains looked magnificent, and even the miserable town appeared well from the shore: we enjoyed the scene for an hour or so, until our camels arrived; we found the country very rough and uneven, but they carried us in safety, and we reached our camp at 7 P.M.
Our tents were pitched near the wells of Moses, and filthy pools they are. A few miserable palms are near, around which the Arabs endeavour, almost in vain, to cultivate some small patches of ground. Our track the next day lay through an immense plain, bounded on the left by low mountains, and on the right by the Red Sea, and the splendid range on the African shore, in which I noticed two very wide openings: the first, I should think about a mile and a half or two miles from the head of the gulf: the second is about half a mile more distant; and I have no doubt that it was through one of these that Moses led the chosen people, and from this point our path lay through scenes which are associated in holy writ, with their forty years' wandering: – and first, the fountain of Marah; it is on a hill a few feet only above the level of the plain, and near it grow two fine palms. Bitter, indeed are its waters; nevertheless, a donkey belonging to one of our men drank freely, but our camels would not touch them.
We waited here till our caravan came up, and only marched a mile or two beyond. Our sheik, Hassan, found out a delightful spot for our camp in a small shady ravine; and Ishmael (who replaced Agassi at Cairo as my dragoman) served a capital dinner, – game, soup, boiled mutton, plum pudding, porter and coffee; but we rarely fared so well, and before I left the desert, I was weary enough of pilaw, pilaw, pilaw, every day, with nothing else. We had not seen a single partridge since we left Suez; but there were plenty of hares.
A very nice looking dog joined (uninvited) our party at Cairo, and still kept us company; in the day-time he was to be seen running in the shade of a camel, or waiting under a shrub to join the rear-guard. While the tents were being pitched, he would throw himself on the sand, but was always ready, after we had washed, for the water, which he thought none the worse for the addition of a little soap. His appearance improved wonderfully in consequence of the regular visits he paid our dinner tables; he had no doubt journeyed in the desert before.
17th. Started at 8 A.M.. We had now entered the wilderness of Sinai, and a few hours' march brought us to the fountain of Elim, which has two small springs, but our camels managed to get enough water. In sight of this spot we counted threescore and ten palms, many of them fine trees, and under their refreshing shade we enjoyed our tiffin. Having ended our light meal, we held a council to determine the road we should take, and the majority was for the longest, through Wady Feiran: we marched on through narrow passes, and encamped in a very nice spot, the dry bed of a torrent, called Wady Taebe.
I placed a white cap on a shrub, and made one of our Arabs fire at it with his matchlock, which he rested on a bush, to take aim; they have no idea of standing up for that purpose as we do. He succeeded, however, in hitting the mark.
The next day we continued our journey through the Wady, for half an hour or so, entirely shut in by high mountains, when a sudden turn brought us in sight of the Red Sea; and we marched for the greater part of the day along its shore: the mountains obliged us, in places to ride through the waters, which my camel did not at all relish.
I and another of our party entered a very wide plain, and turned to the left to visit a pool of fresh water; we rejoined our caravan as it was about to enter a very narrow pass, which led us into a perfect wilderness, but one more beautiful I never saw. The bright blue, purple, grey, yellow, slate, and sandstone tints, contrasted with the beautiful black granite and porphyry mountains, gave an indescribable effect to the scene: the granites in this wilderness are finer than any others I had observed: we encamped on very high ground; high wind, very warm.
Soon after striking our tents the next morning, we crossed a mountain by a zig-zag path, and descended by a very narrow one cut out of the rock; the scenery was grand; the red granite mountains rose nearly perpendicular to a great height on every side, leaving in places only just space enough for two camels to pass. Our track continued through the dry bed of a torrent, in some places only a few yards in breadth, in others a quarter of a mile. I was in advance with two of our party at the usual time for halting, but we were obliged to retrace our steps, they having pitched our camp in the vicinity of a basin of water at some distance behind in the mountain; we were, however, paid for our extra exertions by finding dinner ready on our return. We were at the mouth of Wady Feiran, surrounded by mountains from 1000 to 1500 feet high, at whose base our tents looked like specks: they were pitched as usual, fifteen or twenty yards from each other, and the camels arranged in a semi-circle, in the centre of which the Arabs bivouacked. I strolled out of my tent at night, and the scene whose prominent features I have here sketched, was shewn to the greatest advantage by the full moon's light; it was one of perfect, still, and solemn beauty, and alone and in silence, I remained looking on it for hours.
At this time of the year there is always plenty of water in the natural basins in the mountains, which are known to the Arabs: we did not suffer much from the heat, except in the very narrow passes; there was generally a refreshing breeze. Skins keep the water very cool, but ours were unfortunately bad ones, and rendered our water scarcely drinkable. I found cold tea the best beverage; and from the second day of my entering the desert, always carried a bottle. We all enjoyed excellent health.
20th. AT 11 A.M. we arrived at Wady Feiran, and a refreshing sight it was to gaze on its verdure, after the sterile track through which we had passed. This valley is very narrow, and about five miles in length; it is entirely filled with palms, with an occasional sprinkling of sider trees, which bear a fruit resembling haws, only larger. Here and there were a few patches of corn, walled round with loose stones, and their owners dwelt in small houses built of the same material. A stream of sweet water completes the beauty of this oasis; the only one I believe in the wilderness of Sinai. We saw a few sheep, and plenty of goats; our party bought a fine kid for five piastres. Our sheiks were dressed on this occasion in their scarlet robes, whose amplitude gave dignity to their fine figures.
We continued our route, and encamped within a mile or two of Mount Serbal, which we left on our right. Sent our baggage on the following morning by the usual track, and took a shorter one, by a very rough pass, through which we were obliged to walk, leaving our camels to follow.
We reached the convent at which we intended to pass the night, at about 4 P.M. We found one of our company waiting there, for none of the monks could speak French or English, and as he produced no letter, they would not let him in; but on our arrival, and a few explanatory words in Italian, the rope was instantly lowered, and in a minute or so, I found myself on a level with the door, (which is about twenty-five feet above the ground) where the monks were stationed to pull me in. In this manner we all reached the interior of the convent, where we were received by the Superior, a fine looking middle-aged man, with a splendid white beard. He took his stand near the door, and after they had raised the little baggage we had with us, led the way to our apartments, which we found very comfortable; four of them were large, and fitted-up with divans, and one had a table and chairs; our dinner was but a scanty meal, owing to the absence of our baggage, which did not arrive till late in the evening, and the good superior would not supply us with anything but bread; he told us they never touched meat, and I doubt not would have added, arrack, had he not seen a smile on all our faces. In the evening all our baggage was hoisted into the convent, but the monks would not allow even our shiek to enter.
The next day we did not go beyond the walls, but the Superior shewed us over all within them: the convent resembles a fortified village, the walls being at least forty feet in height; the church is rather large and handsome, and attached to it is a small chapel, built, they say, over the spot where the burning bush appeared to Moses; they would not allow us to enter without uncovering our feet. The store-rooms are dark and very dirty; a covered gallery runs all round the massive wall; there is a well of excellent water in the court-yard, and plenty of arrack in the cellars. The library is very poor, but I observed a beautiful bible enclosed in a massive silver cover. The convent garden is a delightful retreat, also surrounded by very high walls; it contains a great many cypress, orange, almond, crab and prickly pear-trees, vines and olives; it is kept in very excellent order; the approach to it from the convent is by a very long subterranean passage, in which are several massive iron doors.
The following morning we started at an early hour for the summit of Mount Sinai, descending from the garden wall by a rope; we reached a beautiful spring in about twenty minutes, and were tempted to halt a little while near it; our next resting-place was the chapel of the Virgin; in a few minutes thence we reached a large open space, in the centre of which is a lone and lovely cypress, and the grotto and wells of Elias; from the spring above-mentioned, to this place, the ascent, though very steep, is not difficult, there being steps cut in the rock all the way; in some places this singular staircase is very narrow, and near the open space an arch is thrown over it.
We had nearly reached the summit, when our attention was drawn by our guide to the print of a camel's foot on the rock; there is a tradition among the Arabs that Mahomed rode to the top of the mountain on one of these animals, and they consider this foot-print an indubitable evidence of the fact.
After a fatiguing journey of two hours we arrived at Mount Sinai, the highest of the many peaks of Mount Horeb. The barren mountains of the south-west of Scotland, or the beautiful ones of Switzerland, even in its wildest districts, sink into tame insignificance when compared with the wide, wild desolate scene here witnessed – fitting spot for one of the most awful events that the world ever saw; when Israel's thronging thousands stood around! while "Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where GOD was."
The limits of the mountain are well defined; on one side rises the lofty Mount St. Catherine, which is much higher than Sinai, and on the other is the valley of Rephidim. The Red Sea is not visible. This holy ground is desecrated by two miserable hovels, in a ruined state, and which I longed to pull down.
On our return we remained some time at the convent, at the foot of Mount Horeb, and enjoyed a meal provided by the monks, of bread, dates and coffee, with the addition of a bottle of wine from our own store. We found the descent very fatiguing, and the wind so very cold, that we were glad to turn steps towards our own convent, (pro. tem.) which we entered as we had left it, by the garden-wall, and we did justice to the capital dinner, which (thanks to our own cooks) awaited us; for the selfish Superior provided only bread.
The next was an idle day for me; but two of our party undertook an expedition to Mount Saint Catherine; they returned very weary, and reported having seen the Red Sea from its summit.
The next day our servants packed up; at 11 all was ready for starting; and after dangling for a minute, we found ourselves once more in the desert.
Our Arabs were glad to see us. Old Hassan came up, saying he had a fresh camel for me, which I found much easier than the one I had ridden before. The motion of the camel is not disagreeable, for you enjoy an advantage on them which you could not on any other animal: you can sit as you like, and moreover, alter your seat when fatigued; and when the slow pace at which travellers are obliged to proceed, and the number of hours together they remain on the animal's back are considered, this means of relief will be appreciated.
Before we left the convent, Sheik Touleb arrived from Akaba; he was the bearer of a letter from the party of English who were in advance, which we opened, and were not at all pleased at its contents. They complained of the treatment they had received from the Governor of Akaba, who detained them at that place six days.
Our party appeared in gay colours on leaving the convent; for, besides our own two sheiks, we were joined by the bearer of the letter and his brother; and all four were arrayed in their scarlet robes, and scarlet and gold head-dresses. I did not think the expression of Touleb's countenance at all prepossessing; he only rode a mile or two with us.
At 5 P.M. we pitched our six tents in a narrow valley, surrounded by very high mountains; another lovely moonlight night made this a scene to look on and remember forever.
This day's march (the 26th) was through an uninterrupted wilderness, exceedingly dreary. For the first time we saw some Bedouins' tents; they are very simple – four poles driven into the ground (the two back ones being much shorter than the others) are connected by four rafters; forming a frame-work, over which is thrown one large piece of coarse black stuff, made principally of camel-hair, which reaches to the ground at the back, leaving the front open. Old Hassen told us, that all the encampments of the Bedouins were high in the mountains, which circumstance accounts for our seeing only a few of their tents during our journey.
All the Arabs are well armed with long matchlocks and swords; even the boys carry the latter weapon at their sides: the men are small, but well made, and excellent walkers. Our dog left us last night; we were sorry to lose him, but even our good treatment could not induce him to pass his home.
27th. We passed through a very singular country this day; the ravines and crevices in the mountains were filled with beautiful white sand, from which, in spite of the protection afforded by a thick veil, my eyes suffered very much. I was riding in advance of our party, when our sheik hailed me; he was climbing up a steep cleft in the mountain, and beckoned me to follow, saying, there was good water. I accordingly dismounted, and drove my camel before me up the dangerous track, but he was well rewarded for his trouble; although they can go a long time without water, I never knew them pass any without imbibing an extraordinary quantity.
The heat was very great, and we all threw ourselves on the sand to enjoy pipes and coffee, and a little rest, sending our baggage on.
On reaching our encampment, I found a most romantic spot had been selected; the heat at night was dreadful in our tent, the thermometer standing at 84°; the dread khamseen was the cause, and I suffered greatly, and slept but little.
In the morning the wind was very high, the sand flying in all directions. An hour's march brought us to the narrow and beautiful pass of Wady Ine, the bed of a torrent, in places only twenty yards in width, the mountains rising on either side to the height of from 1000 to 1500 feet. We found but a small stream running through the valley, but there was abundant evidence that at times great bodies of water pass through it; an immense quantity of rushes and shrubs filled the torrent's bed, through which we passed with great difficulty; which, however, was amply compensated by the exceeding beauty of the scenes; for stately palms rose in lovely groups, and their leafy crowns, contrasted gloriously with the barren and rugged mountains which sheltered the narrow valley. The Arabs filled our water-skins, and to my surprise, my camel took in a great supply. The narrow pass extends for a quarter of a mile, when it gradually widens towards the sea; we were three hours reaching the outlet; and were all nearly blown from our saddles on entering the plain near the sea, whose blue waters were hidden from our view by clouds of sand which darkened the sky. The khamseen was blowing furiously, and we took shelter (or rather sought it) in a small ravine where we took our coffee filled with sand, so that our tiffin was anything but refreshing. The wind was at our backs; had it been otherwise, we must have halted, for our camels could not have faced it. As we proceeded, we found our veils almost useless, for we literally breathed the sand, for about two hours I felt it beating against me like hard rain; the atmosphere was not more transparent than that of London in a dense fog. We were all muffled up, and our camels followed the baggage without our guidance; the wind was very hot indeed, but at sunset it fell, and we rode along the shore of the Red Sea, picking up shells and pieces of coral; we thought to refresh ourselves after our fatiguing day's journey by taking a bath; but unfortunately went in at a bad place for the purpose, on coral rocks, over which the breakers ran high. At 10 P.M. it was beautifully calm, and our tent was pitched a few feet only from the sea, whose waves lulled us to sleep.
In the morning I rose early, and ran from my bed into the sea, and enjoyed a delightful bath, though I found the water somewhat cold; the khamseen again blew, and though not with such violence as on the preceding day, the air was darkened with clouds of sand, and we were nearly smothered in a ravine in which we lost our coffee.
Between 1 and 2 P.M. it cleared up, and we had a view of the mountains on the opposite shore; we encamped in a small plain close to a pretty little bay shut in by high mountains; the large tent was nearly carried away by the wind, and we were all laughing at the confusion of its inmates, when our own was completely blown over, just as Ishmael was on his way to it with the soup; but Old Hassen and his men soon raised the fallen canvas, and secured it by a rope passed over the top of the pole.
A fisherman joined our caravan yesterday; he wished to reach Akaba, and said, if we would allow him to keep us company, he would fish for us by the way; it was quite a treat to see him creep along the shore, and cast his circular net, for his attitudes were exceedingly graceful. In three casts he took eighty-four fish, weighing from a quarter of a pound to a pound each, resembling our English perch; they were very delicious. Not quite so hot; very stormy night; our tent was several times nearly blown over: we had one refreshing shower.
The next morning was consequently cooler, and some of our party started on foot to walk round the horn of the bay, but I preferred the back of my camel; we crossed a range of mountains by a rather dangerous zig-zag track; I was in advance, and turned often to admire the picturesque appearance of our caravan, which, on account of the narrowness of the path, was drawn out to a considerable extent, and shewn to the greatest advantage as its long line wound round the rugged path. An hour's march brought us once more to the seashore, where we were joined by the pedestrians; we all took our tiffin under a few palm trees, opposite the island of Graia; the only one in the Gulf of Akaba, and on which are the ruins of a fortress.
THE palms of Akaba were in sight; a tedious march round the head of the gulf followed, and at 4P.M. we arrived at the fortress, above which the greet caravan of pilgrims from Mecca was encamped; but as we had no wish to join them, or the Governor, we passed the fortress, and pitched our own tents a short distance beyond it, close to the sea.
Soon after the Governor paid us a visit; we told him it was our intention to visit Petra, and wished him to send immediately for the Sheik of the Alouins, which he agreed to do if we would pay three hundred piastres, as he said the sheik was at least two days' journey from Akaba. We informed him that the letter sent by the English party to the English Consul had been opened and read by us; and that if he dared to detain us, we would not only give him no present, but represent his conduct to the Pasha. In the evening he sent six guards, of whom we kept three, ordering them to fire their pieces every hour; and in consequence enjoyed but little sleep.
Rather a cold night: 63° in our tent. The following morning after breakfast, we paid a visit to the Bey commanding the Hadj; he received us very well, politely inviting us to his mat, and coffee and pipes as usual were served. He was very communicative; said he had been absent from Cairo four months, and that fifty days had been spent in returning from Mecca: he also stated that some of the Alouin sheiks (whose services he did not require) were at that moment in Akaba, a piece of information which interested us more than he imagined, as we hoped to proceed on our journey two days sooner in consequence.
The tent was very large, and great quantities of goods were placed on each side, the space between covered with a carpet. Two guards were at the door when we entered, but a picturesque crowd made its appearance during our visit. The Bey had with him three troops of irregular cavalry.
Our next visit was to the tent of a wealthy merchant of Damietta, who invited us to his divan with great kindness, and appeared exceedingly pleased; he was a most intelligent and happy-looking fellow, and laughed and talked with a freedom quite foreign to the Mussulman character; he smiled when we told him we were already tired of the slow rate of traveling in the desert.
The little value the people of the East set upon time surprises an European; not one of our men could give the least idea of their age, and appeared quite astonished when asked the question. Though our Damietta friend had been so many months in the desert, he seemed quite content with the life he was leading; he had his harem with him, and a very large establishment; the ladies were confined in three or four small tents attached to the large divan in which we were seated. As we strolled through the camp we received invitations from a great many to enter their tents, &c., which we were obliged to decline, having spent too much time already in smoking and drinking coffee. It was rather strange to see a party of Christian "Dogs" marching through the camp of bigoted Mussulmen, and meeting with smiles and courteous behaviour from all: we were escorted over the encampment by several Hadj, who pointed out everything they thought remarkable; had the Pasha himself been of our number, I do not think they could have shewn us more attention. So much toleration quite delighted and surprised me.
The panniers in which the ladies ride are very comfortable; on the outside, they have latticed windows, and are quite open on the inside, so that their occupants can see and converse with each other freely; but the wives of the poor ride in very rough wooden frames, and many a camel bears the weight of a whole family. The Asiatic camels are much larger than the African; in our stroll, we noticed some immense animals; they pointed out one that had been eleven times to Mecca. The horses looked well, and were in excellent condition.
This camp contained six thousand souls, but I will not attempt to describe its singular appearance; tents, camels, horses, their furniture, and the motley throng around, made up a scene better imagined than accurately pictured. Groups innumerable, in rich and many coloured garments were smoking and drinking coffee; others gathered round a steed (of purer blood than those near him) lavishing their caresses on his glossy neck; others busily engaged in the care of the arms they all value so highly; and the poorer sort were quite as fully occupied in the more homely duty of setting their domestic wares in order, and many stretched in idle listlessness on the ground. Numerous as this company was, the Bey informed us that as many went from Suez by sea.
On our return, I saw a poor camel dying at a short distance from the camp; the poor creature was suffering dreadfully from a wound in its side, the saddle having worn away the flesh to the very bone; I drew a pistol from my belt; and was about to relieve it from all pain, when Ishmael seized my arm, and entreated me not to kill it; their owners never kill them, but when disabled, leave them to die where they fall.
The next morning brought the little Governor to our camp with two sheiks of the Alouins, named Salami and Abon Raschiede. The former habited in a loose scarlet-striped robe, over which he wore a blue cloth cloak, and a coarse yellow handkerchief on his head, secured by a beautiful red Persian shawl; also red morocco boots, evidently not made to fit, for he could with difficulty walk in them. (We afterwards found these boots were only exhibited on state occasions.) The only arms he carried were a sword and pistols. We all assembled in our big tent to treat with them; the Governor and sheiks alone entered, but the entrance was crowded with their men.
After the usual compliments, we proceeded to business, by offering the usual sum (viz., two hundred and forty piastres) for each camel, to which, to my astonishment, they immediately agreed. We then informed them that we intended to remain three or four days in Petra, and entered into other particulars to which they also agreed: but at last the reason of this ready compliance came out; they wanted us to take guards, or rather to pay the sum of nine thousand piastres. We positively refused to take a single guard, or to pay a piastre more, and they left our camp, but the Governor remained; we told him we should take no guards, but that it was our intention to make him a handsome present; the little rascal appeared quite satisfied, having evidently gained his point.
The sheiks who had conducted us from Cairo were to leave us at Akaba; and their men and camels had proceeded on their homeward track this morning. During our stay here, we were supplied with bad bread and milk, and we purchased dates, sugar, sheep, and kids; but the arrival of the Hadj had raised the price of everything.
Some of our party supped with the Governor and sheiks, but returned without having settled the business in hand. They found out that these Sheiks had never conducted travellers through their country, but the Governor assured them they belonged to powerful tribes. We were all tired of this uninteresting place, and longed to see the wonders before us.
April 2nd. Early this morning the Alouin sheiks paid us a visit; they still demanded the sum of nine thousand piastres, but at last came down to five thousand; this we declared we would not give, but offered half the sum besides the price of the camels; upon which they took their leave, telling us that we might remain ten years before they would take us for that sum.
About the middle of the day we heard several shots fired from the other side of the Gulf, and in an hour or two after, our friends M—, T—, and S—, who had agreed to join our caravan at Akaba, arrived.
In the evening, Hassan took his departure; he was as sorry to part with us, as we were to lose him; he took my hand, and kissed me on both cheeks, taking his leave with great reluctance. We made him a present of a pound of English gunpowder, which is much prized by the Arabs; and he promised to deliver all our letters to the British Consul at Cairo. He is a fine old fellow, very well made, standing about five feet ten; small, but piercing eyes, and a fine white beard. He could not tell his age, but I should guess it at fifty-five. The appearance of the Alouins we had seen suffered considerably when contrasted with that of the faithful fellows who had escorted us thus far in the desert.
In the evening a council was held among us, and we resolved to offer no more to the sheiks for twenty-four hours; we were now twelve in number, and had nothing to fear but detention.
The shieks made their appearance at our camp very early – a good sign I thought, for they were becoming impatient; as soon as we were assembled, they offered to take us for four thousand piastres, but we told them that we would return rather than pay so much; so they again left us; this was a very hot day, the thermometer in our tent stood at 82°, and in the sun 108°. In the evening, two of our number went to the fort; and empowered by us, came to the terms last offered by the sheiks – four thousand piastres; the newly arrived trio to pay in the same proportion. The contract was signed by the Governor, the shieks Salami and Abon Raschiede, and by two of our party. We were all glad the matter was concluded, and with the prospect of so soon proceeding on our journey.
At eleven the next day our camels arrived, and we all assembled in the big tent; the shieks were there too, and we paid them the whole of the tribute-money, and half the hire of the camels, in the Governor's presence; and the Arab chiefs counting the gold as our dragoman placed it before them, and the Governor looking on with greedy eyes, formed a group not easily forgotten.
This ceremony over, the signal was given to load the camels, and a scene of indescribable confusion followed. The animals were very wild indeed, and half of them were without halters; we soon found, too, that instead of having an extra number of men who were to have acted as guards, we had not half enough even to load our baggage, nor had they half enough cord to secure it. However, at 1 P.M. they commenced operations: Ishmael selected a very powerful brute to carry our kalpas2 and tents, but he proved to be a very desperate animal; and before the men could secure the baggage on his back, he bolted through the camp, overturning everything in his way; this was a signal for a general rush, and as the camels gained their legs, away they went, full gallop, sending our valuables in all directions; the Arabs followed, and our servants added to the confusion by roaring after them: poor Ishmael looked bewildered, and said, he was sure everything in the kalpas was smashed; and though I perfectly agreed with his opinion, I could not help laughing, the scene was so ridiculous.
At 4 P.M. we started in anything but good order from Akaba; we marched but an hour or two, and pitched our tents in almost as much confusion as we had witnessed in the morning, but it had a contrary effect on me. I did not laugh this time; for I was hungry, and knew well enough that I stood no chance of getting my dinner so long as Ishmael and the cook were running about after the camels. However, in course of time dinner appeared; and as soon as it was ended, Mustapha was despatched to bring the sheik before us. We told him we would not proceed any further unless he furnished more men and more ropes: he promised everything, and as we were in a position to enforce nothing, we were obliged to accept his promises. High wind at night, and we were covered with sand, but I slept soundly, nevertheless.
5th. We were up at an early hour; I found great fault with my camel, who had several bad habits, and Salami brought me his own, the best looking in the caravan; and he proved as good as his looks led me to believe him. We started at 8 A.M. and marched at a good pace till 4, when we pitched our tents in pretty good order, in the centre of Wady Araba, or Wady El Ghor, which is from three to five miles in width; the whole valley is filled with low shrubs, on which our camels fed. I was very much fatigued by the wind, which blew hard in our teeth all day, and was loaded with sand; we were all glad to go to rest early.
An hour's march next morning brought us to a pond of rain-water, at which we spent some time; our day's track was very uninteresting, diversified only by the amusement of riding over the high ridges of white sand which fill this uneven valley, and by the sight of a few hares, very small ones. They gave our camels no corn, but they lived very well on the shrubs.
Started early next day, passed a small wady on our right, where the shiek told us there was water, but our skins being quite full we did not halt. At half-past 2 P.M. we left the Wady El Ghor, which here might be about six miles in width, and crossed over some low hills into the "Land of Edom."
The first object of interest was an isolated rock, called El Dasé, out of which (at the top) is hewn a small square chamber; the view from it was very fine.
Our tents were pitched in a pleasant spot, but the ever-recurring consciousness that I was really in that country, which it had for years been my most anxious wish to visit, prevented me from sleeping as soundly as usual.
8th. STRUCK our tents at the usual time, and never did I leap into my saddle with greater pleasure than on this morning. Petra was before us, and only a few hours distant; and I rode forward delighted with the idea of so soon entering that extraordinary city, towards which my thoughts had so long been directed.
The country was uneven, covered (to a great extent at least) with shrubs and stunted trees, and intersected by innumerable channels, formed by the torrents. An hour's march brought us to a very narrow defile, hardly wide enough in places to allow our baggage-camels to pass. The ascent soon became so steep, that we were obliged to dismount and walk to the top of the first ridge of Mount Hor, where we halted for half an hour. The scenery was wild and beautiful, and never did camels and Arabs appear more picturesque than ours as they came slowly up the winding rocky path; at this point they turned off to the left, and we started in an opposite direction, up a difficult track which led us to the top of the pass, where we threw ourselves on the ground; but I did not feel the least fatigue, though the heat was very great. I am a bad walker in a level country, but in the rugged mountain passes always quite at home. I have walked over the highest mountains with ease, and with a lightness and buoyancy of spirits I never experienced in a low level. No! six thousand feet above the sea, is the altitude I enjoy.
We commenced our descent, which we found difficult and tedious, on the edge of a deep ravine. We suffered during the march for want of water; we had had only three small bottles between us, (twelve in number,) since our caravan left us; and on rejoining it at the base of Mount Hor, I rushed up to our water-camel, and before his rider, Mahomed, could tumble from his elevated seat, tore open the mouth of the water-skin, and imbibed the grateful liquid with indescribable satisfaction. Mahomed evidently participated in my enjoyment, for he grinned in such a manner, that, had it not been for his ears, I know not to what degree his mouth might have extended.
After the above mentioned long and strong pull at the water-skin, I felt quite refreshed and vigorous: in this country water is life; and I am sure, that with the addition of rice, I could live, if not called upon to perform exercise; for with the constant exertion of walking, and camel-riding, I do not think, I consume, one-third as much as I usually do when in Europe.
After proceeding a short distance, the track became so very dangerous, that we dismounted and walked, visiting in our way, some large excavations which were entirely without ornament, encumbered with briars and rubbish, and full of lizards; thus on the threshold, reminding us of the prophecies respecting the doomed city.
The descent from the base of Mount Hor to Petra is considerable; we followed the course of the bed of a torrent, and the first view it offered us of the situation of this "City of the Rock" more than realized all imagination had pictured. I say, the situation; for of Petra, as yet we saw only the excavations high in the western range; but all around, and far as the eye could reach, gigantic piles of rock – rocks of the wildest and most majestic form, and kindling with lovely tints; rocks, which have been described as a "sea, and its waves petrified," and some of which still shut in from our eyes, the desolate city: but after following the torrent's dry course for some distance further, we turned to the right up a steep ascent, and passed an isolated column near which were heaps of ruins, and from this spot we had a view of the open space, on which the greater part of the city stood; and hence we beheld the splendid monuments sculptured in the eastern range – a sight it was that might well arrest the traveller's steps, and absorb his every faculty, the power alone excepted, of gazing, awe-stricken, on the most "singular spectacle which the magnificent creations of nature, and the vain ambition of men have" united to "bequeath to the curiosity of those who should come after them."
We entered without seeing a single Arab, and pitched our tents in the centre of Petra.
The heat, during our long march, was very great; and as we all felt a little tired in consequence, we went early to rest.
In the morning, the tribe of Wady Moussa came down upon us in great force; they kept at a respectful distance from our tents, but made so much noise, that we were glad to rise a little earlier than usual. Ishmael said they had demanded an enormous tribute from our sheik; so after breakfast, we assembled in our large tent, and resolved to offer them three hundred piastres. The sheiks were then invited to a conference, but the whole tribe followed, jabbering, and making a great noise. Mustapha then told them we would give them three hundred piastres, if they would conduct us through the place, and show us the ruins; at this they feigned surprise, and walked away without even answering us; so we left the affair in the hands of our friend T—, and retired to our tents.
The Arabs, who were at a short distance, having held a stormy debate among themselves, returned to inform us, that we should not move from our tents until we paid twelve hundred piastres. Mustapha replied that we would give no more than we had at first offered, and they retired, leaving a guard at each outlet of our camp.
After waiting an hour or so, we summoned our own sheik, Salami, before us, and told him in plain terms, that if he did not escort us through the city, we would not pay him another para; and, moreover, that he might look to the Arabs of Wady Maussa for the handsome dress we had promised him.
This speech had the desired effect; for he went to the tribe, and after a long talk, they returned with him to our tent, and when we were all assembled, he told them, if they would not escort us, he would himself with pleasure, and pocket the three hundred piastres. They then offered to conduct us for three hundred and twenty, but we were determined to give no more than we had already proposed.
I am quite at a loss to describe the uproar and confusion of an Arab council; they all take the same opportunity of speaking in the most passionate and vehement manner, about even their most trifling concerns; and only those who have mixed with them, can have an idea of the noise and tumult occasioned by the steady manner in which we defended our pockets. On our refusing the additional twenty piastres, they ordered us to our tents in a most insolent manner, but finally made up their minds to take the three hundred; and at 3 P.M. we started, attended by fifteen of the tribe.
Having decided on going at once to the extraordinary, and only legitimate entrance to Petra, (for we had entered by climbing over its southern wall), we followed our guides to the mouth of a narrow ravine, choked up with oleanders, fig-trees, ivy, and other shrubs, through which we made our way with difficulty. After traversing this gloomy defile for twenty minutes, we entered an open area, and El Khasné; burst upon our view in all its grandeur and beauty.
I cannot attempt to describe my feelings on viewing this splendid Temple; fresh as if sculptured yesterday. Its façade is magnificent, hewn out of the rugged side of a sandstone mountain, whose rosy tints add much to its beauty; and whose rugged and misshapen crests contrast singularly with this finely proportioned edifice.
The portico is supported by Corinthian columns, one of which has fallen; but so imposing is the ensemble, that I did not for some moments observe the defect; the cornice and pediment are elaborately sculptured, and fresh and pointed, as from the hand of the mason. The colonade is thirty-five feet high; the columns, three feet in diameter; they each consist of three pieces, and are the only portions not hewn out of the rock; and this accounts for the entireness of the cornice, though one of the columns had fallen from beneath it.
I attribute much of the lightness and elegance of the Khasné to the divided pediment and the light lantern-like structure in its centre, surmounted by an urn. This urn is supposed by the Arabs, to contain gold, which is likely to remain untold by them, unless their ingenuity can suggest (which fate forbid) some other mode of reaching it, than by firing ball at it, as they now often do.
The colossal figures, in alto-relievo, near the ground, between the exterior pilasters, are the only ornaments which have suffered. The few steps leading to the portico are much worn, and partly covered with soil, whence more than one slender tree has sprung up, whose fragile stems and dainty green branches, almost compensate for the loss of the prostrate pillar, whose place they fill; and which, the damp accumulation of earth from which they spring, has doubtless, been the means of laying low.
The door-cases (of which there are three) are exceedingly elegant, particularly those at each end of the portico, which are adorned with beautiful Corinthian pilasters, elaborately sculptured, and have circular holes above them, the edges of which are beautifully worked in a wreathed pattern.
The interior is quite plain; the great chamber is forty-five feet square, and about twenty-five feet high; its walls smooth and regular. The lateral chambers are about sixteen feet, by seven or eight; the one on the left side is irregularly formed; and the general appearance of the interior led me to suppose it had been left in an unfinished state.
Again we started to explore the wonderful entrance to the city, the ravine called El Syk. We entered a cleft in the mountain, directly opposite El Khasné, completely choked up with luxuriant oleanders, and found ourselves treading the bed of a torrent: a most frightful chasm it is; in many places so narrow, that I could almost touch its sides, at the same time with my hands, and in no part wider than fifteen or sixteen feet. We proceeded for at least a mile and a half up this gloomy, yet sublimely beautiful track; the mountains rising on either side to an immense height, and in some places overhanging the narrow winding defile, and completely shutting out the sky from view; a place this, to see and feel the majesty of nature.
I began to feel oppressed with the exceeding grandeur and peculiar character of the scene; and though in no mood to utter a sound of any kind myself, must confess it was a relief to me to hear the pieces of my companions who were in advance. It appeared they were shooting some partridges and pigeons on the wing, to the delight and astonishment of the Arabs of Wady Moussa, who like all the rest, have no idea of shooting at any but stationary objects.
I traced almost all the way, the remains of an aqueduct hewn out of the side of the mountain, a few feet above the bed of the torrent; and in some parts the path has been widened by the chisel; it is paved for a considerable distance with large flat stones, and on the whole, the walking is not very difficult; a very strong current occasionally rushes through it.
We had proceeded about half-way when our guides told us there was nothing more to be seen in that direction; and were so vehement in their request that we would go no further, that our curiosity was excited to the utmost, and we dashed forward in spite of them, determined to find the outlet to this singular pass. Not far from the spot where we left our guides, the mountains are connected by a single arch thrown across the chasm; it is about sixty feet above the ground, without ornament, and the perpendicular faces of the rocks above it preclude the idea that it was intended for a bridge: below it on each side are niches for statues. From this point the mountains became gradually lower, and we soon reached the entrance filled with oleanders, and so perfectly concealed, that no one would fancy it to be the entrance to a city. The appearance of the country beyond was not extraordinary, and we noticed only a few traces of the chisel on the adjacent rocks.
In my way up, my attention was so absorbed in the grand features of the scene, that I did not sufficiently notice many lesser beauties that struck me on my return. The rugged rocks which towered to an immense height above our heads, were profusely mantled with the richest vegetation. The clinging ivy added to the gloom of the dark and narrow portions; while in those more exposed to the light, the deep green brambles grew in thick masses, the wild fig spread wide her leafy arms, and twining and creeping plants displayed their delicate greens in strong contrast to the rosy tints of mountains of stone. When about thirty yards from the outlet opposite the Khasné, I caught a glimpse of it, and after extricating myself from the oleanders, once more stood in front of that gem of the desert.
WE returned at our leisure down the ravine leading to the city, visiting the excavations, and viewing with delight the peculiar scenery; this defile runs at right angles with El Syk, than which it is much wider; it opens on a large space, where is one of the most curious objects in Petra – its theatre, which has thirty-three rows of seats, hewn out of the rock, most of which are quite perfect; at the back, above the seats, are chambers or boxes, also hewn in the rock. Its width is one hundred and twenty feet, and the scene (which was built) has disappeared altogether.
The beautiful proportions of the theatre are seen to great advantage from the upper seats, and thence, too, the view of the other ruins are splendid. H.— and I remained behind the others, and reclining on its topmost bench, gave ourselves up to the contemplation of the extraordinary scene around.
The western range is full of excavated tombs "high as the eagle's nest," many of then, being hundreds of feet from the ground; and nearer stand rich and lovely specimens of temple and tomb, whose formation hewn as they all are, must have occupied the ancient dwellers in Petra through successive generations; unlike the Egyptians, the inhabitants of this rock expended their wealth and talents in beautifying the exterior of their sepulchres, leaving the interior quire plain: but upon all has been stretched out the "line of confusion," and their stones are become "stones of emptiness;" "thorns and briars have come up in her palaces," "nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof."
In attempting to describe this "terrible" city, the words of the prophets offer themselves irresistibly, for the most complete picture of the capital of Idumea, in its present state, is that given in the sublime language of the Bible, uttered in its days of "pride;" and, yet how strong it was! far before us lay piled up mountains of rock, barriers that appear irresistible, but
"God cursed! and there was none to save."
We remained a long time absorbed in silent thought, and on arising bent our steps towards the Doric Temple, in the eastern range, overlooking the city.
This beautiful temple recedes considerably within the plain of the mountain, out of which it is hewn; two tiers of arches beautifully constructed, support the large open terrace in its front, on each side of which is a gallery hewn out of the rock, with five Doric columns; it appeared to me that the workmen, in cutting away to gain a surface sufficiently large for the façade, had removed the rock to too great a depth, and were obliged to replace it by the substructure to which I have alluded. The entablature and pediment; (which is whole) are surmounted by an urn, and supported by four immense Doric columns.
The simplicity and colossal proportions of this temple (which is one of the most perfect in Petra) pleased us exceedingly; after having contemplated it for some time, we threw ourselves on the mossy bed of the terrace, which is some height above the city, intending to feast our eyes on the scene from this point; but we were not destined to enjoy the calm and quiet so naturally looked for in such a place; a dozen strange Bedouins came running down the ravine towards the place where we were; they were talking as only Arabs can talk, and appeared very much excited, on seeing us they halted, but only for a moment, and were soon out of sight. In a few minutes after, the plot of ground near our camp appeared filled with Arabs whose furious tones rang through the valley; we descended in haste, and on our arrival found the men who had passed us.
It appeared they had heard the report of our guns in the ravine, El Syk, and had come down determined to share the tribute we had paid to our conductors; the fear that the Bedouins would make some such demand, no doubt was the reason of our guide's unwillingness to allow us to go to the entrance of that ravine, a mile beyond which is the abode of the whole tribe whose emissaries now honored us with a visit.
They are all great rogues, and will cheat one another, if possible; we did not interfere in their dispute, but retired to our tent, where the thermometer stood at 94°, but at night it stood at 74°, and the temperature was delightful.
We were disturbed in the morning betime by the fellaheen, who were assembled at a short distance from our camp, still quarrelling, and making a great noise; we were glad on this account to rise a little earlier than usual, and after breakfast, started with an escort to see the wonders of the western range.
The principal object is El Deir, which stands at a great height at the back of the western range; we approached it over shelving rocks, and through narrow chasms, filled with oleanders and wild fig-trees, the ivy and brambles hanging in rich festoons on the mountain's sides.
We passed an immense number of excavations, some of which had door-cases and small square openings above them; and at the very foot of the range these excavations were innumerable. We found the track rather difficult, although in many places we met with flights of steps hewn out of the rock, much worn away.
No scenery can be more wild and grand than that by which El Deir is surrounded; the lofty peaks of the western range with its deep chasms filled with foliage, and the rugged crags of Mount Hor rising out of a perfect chaos of rocks, add much to its imposing appearance.
Its façade is towards the west, and there is a large open platform before it; the cold, gray colour of the mountain out of which it is hewn, gives it a dull appearance, when contrasted, in idea, with the lovely tints which illuminate the Khasné. The style of the Deir is exceedingly fantastic, and approaches nearer the Doric than any other: in spite of the relief given by the broken pediment, it has a heavy appearance, owing, perhaps, to the massive circular shields which ornament the architrave. The design is very bold; and though this temple has not the lightness and elegance of the Khasné, its colossal proportions and perfect preservation, strike the beholder forcibly. This was the temple which Captains Irby and Mangles saw only from a distance through a telescope.
We took an early dinner, and afterwards I— accompanied me to the Corinthian temple, in the eastern range; its design is similar to the Khasné, to which it is by no means equal, and from its exposed situation, it has suffered very much. Close to it, and hewn out of the same mountain is an immense excavation, which, from the smallness of its chambers, and the great number of them, I imagine to have been a tomb.
Its façade is splendid, and the largest in Petra, but like its companion it has suffered much from exposure. It has three rows of columns one above another, and from the appearance of the rock above them, I believe it had two more at least.
The principal remains, except those I have mentioned, are a ruined bridge and triumphal arch of diminutive proportions. The only mass of masonry now standing, is one small building near the western range, and called by the Arabs, Kusr Far'on; but an immense area is covered with small square blocks of stone, broken pillars, and walls. The appearance of Petra, when viewed from any point, is singular and interesting, but it is desolate in the extreme; the Arabs rarely enter it, and although many of its excavations are commodious, they seldom make use of them, even for folding their sheep and goats, on account of the scorpions, lizards, and other creeping things, which are to be found under almost every stone. On the first day after our arrival, we found two large scorpions in our tent, and I shuddered every night when I went to bed. At 9 P.M. we had a gentle shower, and the temperature was delightful: went early to rest, having arranged to leave in the morning.
11th. At 7 A.M., I started before breakfast, attended by only one of the tribe, to take a last long look at El Khasné. I gazed on it with extreme delight, heightened, perhaps, by the knowledge that I should never have another opportunity; it appeared more lovely and brilliant than ever. Of the local colour of the stone I have more than once spoken: it is no exaggeration to call it rosy; it is literally of a pink rose tint, varying only in its hue, which is in some places deep, in others, only a faint blush: fancy this material wrought into a temple of exquisite beauty, and garlanded with the verdant gifts with which nature loves to decorate the ruin: fancy this, and beyond this, temple, tomb, and heaped rock, glowing in the light of an eastern sun, and you may have some idea of the spot on which I now looked an adieu, which I doubt not is eternal.
M— was there before me! and as we returned together, we once more climbed the moss-grown seats of the theatre, to take a last view thence; and there we found Mr. B—, (the Scotch gentleman, who it may be remembered, set out on the expedition equipped in European costume) seated, and diligently engaged in comparing the objects around, with – what will it be supposed? with the description in an old number of the Penny Magazine! Other chart or description I believe he had none; and singularly constituted must that man have been, who could undertake the journey from Europe only upon the strength of the true, but brief account given in the work in question; or who, feeling even the inclination to do so, did not possess himself of some further information on the subject: but, perhaps he was right; for at any rate, he must have been astonished the more, not knowing what to expect.
While he was endeavouring (I suppose) to test the exactness of the outline wood-cut he held in his hand, I found myself insensibly occupied, perhaps less successfully, in endeavouring to fancy what the scene before me might once have been; and in the contemplation of the ideal city, reached our camp, which was in all the bustle of preparation for departure,
AT half-past 10 on the morning of the 11th we left Petra, following the same track by which we had entered; we had not proceeded far when we left our caravan, and attended by half-a-dozen fellaheen and a few of our own men, ascended to Aaron's tomb on the summit of Mount Hor, to gain which it took us nearly an hour. In our progress we saw an immense number of lizards; they resemble those of Italy, and I thought them so beautiful, that I asked the Arabs to catch one for me; but they all made their escape, some of them by leaving their tails in the hands of the men.
The view from this mountain is fine; towards the west, the valley of El Ghor appeared at our feet; its white sands pointing out the course the Jordan once held; the range of hills on the other side of the valley was low, and we saw for a great distance beyond them. Wady Moussa was completely shut in by mountains; we had a good view of the Deir.
The view to the east was confined by a very high regular range of mountains, resembling our downs of England; it divides Arabia Petra from Arabia Deserta, and runs as far as the eye can reach; it was not so fine at this hour as in the early morning, and we could not see the Dead Sea, which, when the atmosphere is clear, is visible from this elevation.
A small mosque is built over the tomb, which is of white marble, with an Arabic inscription: one of the fellaheen, more bigoted than the rest, objected at first, to our entering the tomb; but he soon gave way, and we descended a flight of a dozen steps, which led to a very narrow vault, in which we could only see a lamp burning.
We descended to our camp, which was pitched half an hour's march from the mountain. This evening, with our tents closed; it was only 64°; but we were at least from 1000 to 1500 feet above the Wady El Ghor.
12th. As I threw down the clothes of my bed, to rise, I saw a very large scorpion creeping close to me. I instantly leaped out, taking care not to touch him; and as I had no wish to pass another night with such a bed-fellow; I put him into A—'s bottle of spirits of wine, and felt thankful for my escape: this dreadful visitor, no doubt, came from Petra in my bed.
At 8 A.M. we left our caravan, and with a few guides, descended to the valley of El Ghor, by a shorter track than the one our camels followed; it was a tedious road, and it was four hours before we reached the valley; our caravan was not in sight, and we crawled under some miserable shrubs to escape from the heat of the sun, in spite of scorpions and all other creeping things: we had only one small bottle of water with us, and suffered much in consequence. In about half an hour, Salami came galloping in advance to find us; soon after our caravan made its appearance, and we were glad to get on our camels; we struck out for the other side of the valley where we encamped; found several coveys of partridges, and fortunately bagged a brace.
As our servants were pitching our tents, Mr. —'s dragoman struck a camel with his tent-pole, for which the owner of the animal seized him, and a fight ensued, which might have ended seriously, had we not interfered; though large men, they were like children in our hands: none of them have any muscular power.
13th. We started at our usual hour, and marched nine hours, one of the most fatiguing days we had in the desert; in the morning it was cloudy, but our protectors soon vanished: we left the valley, and turned in among the low sand-hills, which bound it on the western side; and were nearly broiled by the intense beat of the sun: there was not a breath of wind. We passed several springs of excellent water. At a great distance we saw a few gazelles, and in the evening an Arab brought a small one to our camp.
We were very much annoyed by flies, the first we had seen since entering the desert; and our tent was full of beetles, and camel's and other lice: our provisions were nearly out, but we were only three days from Hebron.
An hour after our start the next morning, we ascended a very high mountain-pass, called Syke Suphe; it was very steep, but my camel carried me up with ease: from its summit we had a fine view of the desert, through which we had toiled so many days. It was over this pass that one division of Ibrahim Pasha's army retreated from Syria; and fine as the desert appeared to us, it must have been a terrible prospect for the poor Egyptians; the pass was covered with skeletons of men, horses, camels, and donkeys; also, saddles, harness, and cloths. Hundreds must have perished here.
We passed through several narrow valleys, and crossed an extensive plain, called Turaybat, where we met a great company of mules and asses with their drivers: the latter saluted our sheik: encamped at a place, called Kaurnoole, on the site of a ruined town.
15th. Having crossed the range under which we had spent the night, we entered the pretty Wady Cuperbal, in which were a great many ruined walls; the herbage was brown enough, but delightful to our eyes, and several herds of camels and flocks of sheep and goats were scattered about.
This led to the great plain Wady Ilwaller (for wady means plain as well as valley) in the centre of which are two fine Roman wells, about sixty feet deep; the coping-stones much worn by the ropes.
There were a few Arabs drawing water, who saluted us in a friendly manner, and drew for us, and for our camels. Near the wells were large stone basins for the cattle to drink in, and not far distant, the remains of a very large town; the plain was covered with a scanty crop of brown herbage, on which, as in the Wady Cuperbal numerous flocks were feeding. I rode my camel into a rich patch of grass, but it preferred a miserable shrub that grew near it; we found plenty of quails in the small patches of corn. At evening we pitched our tents on the borders of Palestine, but we did not get much rest, for our Arabs were seated in a circle round a good fire, singing, and clapping their hands, and making a fine noise, almost all night.
At the usual hour, 8 A.M., we started by a track which led us over the mountains; after passing the first range, the scenery changed, and we entered on an undulating country; the hills were rocky, and many of them covered by ruined towns; about 10, we saw for the first time since leaving Cairo, small fields of cultivated ground. As we approached the ruined town of Issemoor, an Arab, well mounted, rode up to the head of the caravan; he had only a few men with him, and they were unarmed; but in the distance we saw the whole tribe running towards us. The sheik, who was armed with a mace, which had an iron head, fluted, ordered us to the halt: to show the fellow that we were not defenceless, we brought out all our firearms, 40 barrels, independant of the matchlocks of our men, (a sight quite sufficient for any one tribe of Arabs,) and without saying a word to him, we drove our baggage-camels before us, and continued our march, leaving Salami to settle the affair, which he did (he said) by paying forty piastres; the object of the tribe having been to exact tribute for passing through their territory.
The track we followed, uphill and down dale, was very difficult and dangerous in places: the corn was out in ear, and enriched by its deep colour the scenery in the valleys, but the hills were very rocky and barren; till at half-past 3 P.M., we entered, by a very difficult pass, the beautiful little Valley of Hebron, called Wady Khalyle; and we were quite delighted with its green freshness, as we rode along, returning the friendly salutes of its inhabitants. The vineyards looked beautiful; and the whole valley (which is about two miles in extent) is exceedingly well cultivated, and filled with fig, olive, and other trees.
The town of Hebron lies at the base of the Mount of the same name; the houses are built of stone, and rise one above another on its sloping ascent, so that the whole many be seen at a glance; the dwellings are so clean and white, the gardens so nicely kept, and the springing trees were so refreshing to look on, that it appeared to us a perfect paradise: hundreds of its people came out to greet us.
We pitched our tents on a nice open grass-plot, to the west of the town; where, as soon as we were settled, the Jews made their appearance, and supplied most of our wants. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the town looked splendid. The dew was heavy, and we found it very cold and damp; the thermometer stood at 60° in our tent. There were immense number of dogs; their howlings reminded me of Egypt.
Early in the morning we paid a state visit to the Governor, who sent a janissary to conduct us over the town. The first object of interest was the Mosque, containing the ashes of Abraham and Sarah. We were only permitted to look through two holes in the wall, through which nothing was to be seen; they refused even to let us go up the steps leading to it. We then visited the Jews, who live by themselves, in a very snug quarter of the town, which we found exceedingly comfortable and clean. We were kindly received by the Rabbi, a fine old fellow, who appeared delighted to see us. Refreshments were handed round, and we talked with him for a long time; but his tongue was tied by the presence of the Turkish Janissary; for he secretly informed us that they were still the objects of persecution. They conducted us through the schools, and pointed out everything of interest. It was quite a treat to us to see the women unveiled; they were all very fair, and many of them pretty. The faces of those we passed in the town were so entirely concealed, that we could not see a single feature.
On our return from the schools, we passed through the bazaars, which were very poor, but all the houses are well built.
After dinner, the Governor, attended by the military commandant, returned our visit, and found our tobacco so good, that I thought he intended to sit smoking all night.
18th. It rained hard early in the morning. We held a grand council, at which Salami attended, with his men. We informed him that we were well pleased with them all, and presented him with the remainder of his money, and also, the handsome dress we had promised him. He appeared exceedingly pleased, thanking us with much warmth, and after the usual salute, took his leave. His tribe is one of the most powerful to the south of the Dead Sea: the fine dress and arms he wore were given him by the Pasha of Egypt, for escorting the Hadj.
I cannot conclude this chapter without expressing my regret that talented men should lose so much of their valuable time in insisting on the literal and entire fulfilment of the prophecy against Edom, "None shall pass through it for ever and ever;" as if the traversing of that land by a single individual, in any degree, invalidated a prediction visibly fulfilled in its minutest particulars. And yet, that some such fear impressed one writer, who admitting that Burkhard did pass through the land, thinks it necessary to qualify his statement by assuring us "that he died immediately after," is clear. Is this the way to look at this subject? Does the writer imagine that the Arabs of Wady Moussa never stray beyond the narrow limits of their valley? We did pass through Idumea from south to north, and encamped three days in its capital, and nevertheless, I am as satisfied of the fulfilment of the above prophecy as mortal can be. Idumea was once the great highway of the nations, and Petra a rich and powerful city; the former is a desolate wilderness, the once flourishing and strong city of the Rock, almost unknown to man. Let any one look, as I did, on the one and the other, and then say, if more than he sees be required to complete the prophesied condition of Edom!
THE best months for crossing the desert, are February, March, and April; the heat was occasionally oppressive, particularly in the narrow passes; but, on the whole, I did not find it so great as I had expected.
The Khamseen is terrific; it blew only for three days, and fortunately at our backs; for had it been in our teeth, we must have halted, for the camels will not face it.
In the desert no dew falls, and we had not a spot of rust on any of our guns or swords.
On the seventh day from Cairo, we reached the Fountain of Elim, and on the eighth, a small pool, an hour's march to the left of our track; but the only good water between Cairo and Sinai, are the two pretty streams running through the Wadys Feiran and Ine; the former is reached on the tenth day. From Akaba there is plenty, and thence we carried very little with us, there being abundance at Petra, and on the way to Hebron. Besides these places, there are numerous natural basins in the mountains, known only to the Arabs, but which must not be relied on. To Akaba, three travellers, with two servants, must carry five skins; they keep the water very cool; but I found it, after the first day, so offensive, both to the smell and taste, that nothing but extreme thirst would induce me to touch it; on these accounts I would recommend a small barrel for drinking-water, unless the skins are particularly good, which ours were not. I have mentioned, that I carried a large bottle of tea, and that my companions adopted the plan. A camel cannot well go longer than three days without water, and like the Arabs, will never pass it without filling their skins. They drink an immense quantity; are timid and patient; they rarely trot, unless urged: ours were loose, and fed by the way, except between Cairo and Akaba, where they found little to eat, and were fed on beans; but from thence they subsisted entirely on the herbs and shrubs. Between Sinai and Akaba, the valleys are filled with a low shrub, with a yellow flower, the odour from which is so dreadfully disagreeable, that I could hardly sit my camel after it had eaten of it: they will not feed on it unless forced by hunger.
Our charcoal lasted only half way to Akaba, but our cook picked up plenty of sticks by the road. We consumed great quantities of tea, coffee, and tobacco, and lived principally on mutton, rice, maccaroni, and biscuits, with now and then a fowl or kid: we carried flour, which is a great necessary, and Ishmael used to make capital puddings; but pilaw! pilew! quite sickened me; and nothing short of camel-riding, which is strong exercise, could have rendered it tolerable.
In the evening, when the camels were driven away to feed, some of the Bedouins would assist the cook in making a fire, (the first thing to be thought of,) while others would get up the tent, and arrange the beds, in form of a divan; meanwhile, we enjoyed a little repose on the sand, and after a wash in half a pint of water, used to look anxiously towards the cook's tent, and take our seats with an appetite truly enviable; but very necessary for the enjoyment of the poor fare set before us. After dinner, we used to recline on our divan, smoking and enjoying our coffee, when old Hassan, or Salami, generally paid us a visit, or rather, our coffee. After this, I used to take a stroll, and the beautiful picturesque position, in which our camp was sometimes pitched, and the moonlight, often tempted me to remain wandering round, or seated near it, till a late hour.
The common Egyptian tents are the best, for they are better understood by the Bedouins than the English ones; our neighbours, in the big tent, which had been brought from Europe, were hammering away long after we were comfortably settled in ours, which we had taken from Cairo.
We saw but little of the tribes in our progress – now and then a few tents; but the sheik informed us they lived higher up in the mountains. A few of the tribe would come out as we passed, and salute our sheik: they take the hand thrice, repeating each time the word "Salami." The Bedouins are great admirers of fine arms, and were astonished when I drew my long straight sword from the stick; and Ishmael was delighted when I afterwards gave it to him. They all carry sticks of a peculiar from, which are manufactured in great numbers at Damascus. The men of Wady Moussa are the best made, and best-armed tribe we saw.
The Arabs have the character of being great pilferers, (which I believe they well deserve), but fortunately, our conductors were not anxious to sustain it, and we lost nothing. Ishmael was my dragoman through the desert and Syria, he spoke English and Italian, and was a capital cook – an Arab.
Agassi was my favorite dragoman; I had him only in Egypt; he is a capital fellow, but could not think that Khawaja Englese's purse had an end, and consequently mine met with no mercy at his hands. He, too, is an Arab and speaks Italian well.
Our men were handy, and willing to do anything for us, and the Alouins certainly improved on acquaintance; but I was much disappointed with the Arabs generally; they lack that bold and daring spirit of which I always fancied them possessed; and instead of the open chivalrous bearing which I thought the chief characteristic of the lords of the desert, we found them mean, cunning, and avaricious in the extreme; and on every occasion in which we had to deal with them, have I been disgusted, as they cavilled for piastre after piastre, in the fashion of a Dutch auction. I did hope to see the opinion I had formed, fully sustained; and felt exceedingly annoyed as it dwindled on the development of their real character. There is nothing manly about them, and they rejoice in few good qualities: among these are, however, a strict regard to their own rude laws of honour, and extreme humanity towards animals; it is, no doubt, a mistaken feeling on this point that induces them to refrain from killing an animal when disabled. We had proof, too, that they will on no account kill even the most noxious reptile; and in a country where human life is so little valued, this strikes one as singular.
They have no idea of distance, counting by so many days' march. From Cairo to Sinai is 13 days, (or by a different track from that we followed) 12; from Sinai to Akaba, 6; from Akaba to Petra, 5; from Petra to Hebron, 5.
APRIL 18th. The sheik whom we had engaged to take us to Jerusalem presented himself at 10 A.M., and at that hour we struck our tents, and left Hebron. The appearance of our caravan was much altered; we were mounted on horses, and our baggage only carried by camels. I should have enjoyed the ride, even on the miserable hack I had, had I been able to stretch my legs; but their saddles are perfect instruments of torture, for it is impossible to sit in them except in the Turkish style.
The track we followed was one of the most dangerous I ever travelled; we crossed a great many rocky mountains, about which, numerous flocks of goats were scattered, and the valleys were rich and well cultivated. We passed Solomon's pools – they are three in number, and almost all perfect; there was little water in them, but a beautiful little stream was running through the aqueduct thence to Jerusalem.
A ride of two hours brought us in sight of Bethlehem. On our arrival at its convent, we found the monks could not accommodate us all, so I and two or three others, encamped in an olive grove about a mile and a half from the village.
We joined our companions at the convent next morning, and were conducted by the Superior over the establishment, which is of great extent, and well fortified.
The church possesses considerable claims to notice: it is large, and its roof of cedar is supported by forty-eight columns, (each of a single block of marble), arranged in two rows on each side of the centre, forming aisles and side-aisles, as in Notre Dame, Paris.
Our conductor led us hence through a long subterranean passage into a small chapel under the convent, and as tradition says, over the manger in which our Saviour was born. The pastoral inhabitants of the neighbourhood of the present time certainly make caverns like these occasionally serve as places of security for their cattle; and thousands of pilgrims who come to kneel in this chapel, made solemn as it is by silence, and the constant soft light shed from the hanging lamps above them, believe that the rocky caves in which it stands, were applied to a similar purpose more than eighteen hundred years ago, and that they verily worship at the "Shrine of the Nativity."
It would, doubtless, add to the interest of the looker-on, if he could think so too; but the single consideration that many years must have passed after that event, before the manger at which the wise men of the East knelt to offer their typical gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus, would have been sought out, forbids it. His earthly companions and immediate followers, they who worshipped in spirit and in truth, would naturally occupy themselves rather in meditating on the mercies and miracles of his life and death, and in doing his will, than paying external reverence to his humble birth-place. It is only when a church becomes less spiritual, that its members seek with avidity, visible objects to stimulate their waning faith; this has filled the church of Rome with relics, and her worship with forms.
If we admit the above consideration, in reference to the first Christians, we shall perceive, that the generations who succeeded them, must have found it difficult, if not impossible, to identify a spot, of which the recollection had not been preserved by earlier inquiry; and which time, and his mutations, in the meanwhile, might have done his worst to efface. Whatever others may think on the subject, I must confess, that this view of it always prevented my believing the traditional locality of the events, of which this Holy Land was the theatre, except where supported by natural and historical facts; and I felt more delight in gazing from the top of the convent, over the beautiful view around, and thinking, that within ken lay, perhaps the very spot, where the shepherds watched their flocks, when the multitude of the heavenly host proclaimed the good tidings of great joy, than in listening to the monks' account of anything in their keeping.
It was something too, to be in Bethlehem; the place, which as infants, we learnt to know and love. With what simple beauty is it chronicled in Holy Writ: the virgin and her child – the angelic anthem – the wail of Rachel; – who can think of all these, and walk unmoved through the vineyards and olive groves, which now surround the ruined village of Bethlehem?
The inhabitants are almost all Christians, most of whom speak Italian. The village stands on a high hill, and is built of stone. An hour's march thence brought us within view of Jerusalem: little of the Holy City is to be seen from this road, but I found the general aspect of the undulating country around it, just what it is represented in most of the old prints; offering, (no doubt,) in its present uncultivated state, a strong contrast to the view it must have exhibited, when made to minister to the necessities of a populous city.
At noon we arrived at the Bethlehem Gate, but were not allowed to enter. An Italian doctor, in the service of the Sultan, informed us, that the plague was raging at Cairo, and that we should be obliged to perform quarantine for ten days at least; we were ordered on to an open space, and guards were put over us. A few minutes after this, H—, (one of our party who had preceded us) made his appearance, with the British Consul, and was quite surprised to find us in quarantine: we hastened to inform the doctor that our contract, signed by the British Consul at Cairo, would prove that we had left that city more than forty days; he said, if we could produce that document he would be satisfied: it was then placed on the ground, and the farce ended. The majority of our party went to take up their quarters at the convent, but the consul took me and two of my companions to a private house, where we were offered the accommodation of one large room; and while our servants were cleaning and putting it in order, invited us home with him, and we did not take possession of our apartment till the evening – a miserable one it was to look at; its walls were broken and discoloured, and the only furniture it contained were two or three chairs, which had lost their legs, and a broken table; but we enjoyed ourselves in spite of our little troubles: folks are not apt to be very fastidious after sojourning in the desert; and after a refreshing night's rest, I arose, anxious to tread the footpaths of that city, which so many pilgrims, from afar have, through successive generations, sought and loved. And here, let me say, that the beauty of Jerusalem must not be sought in her present fallen and deserted state; but lies almost wholly enshrined in all that links her with the past, with the prophets, priests, and kings, whose history God himself has chronicled, and with him who united in his own person their three-fold offices. Its streets are gloomy, ruinous, and dirty – its bazaars poor; but from some points beyond its walls, the city still has a grand and imposing appearance, and in every view the magnificent mosque of Omar is the most conspicuous object.
This mosque occupies the site of the temple, and was commenced by the caliph, whose name it bears, in the early part of the seventh century. No Frank is permitted on any account to set foot within its precincts; but from the top of the Pasha's palace, which is near it, we had a fine view over the large open space in which it stands, and over which are scattered fountains, oratories, cypress, and olive-trees; the raised centre of this space is paved with marble, and in nearly the centre of this marble space, rises the elegant dome of the mosque itself: along one side of the inclosed space is a long range of buildings of rich Sarecenic architecture, used as schools, &c. A gentlemen, who contrived, under an assemblage of fortunate circumstances, to get within the enclosure, thus describes the building, in his letter lately published: – "It is octagonal in form, each side measuring sixty-seven feet. The lower division of the wall is composed of various coloured marbles, arranged in elegant and intricate patterns. The remaining portion is pierced with fifty-six pointed windows, filled with the most beautiful stained glass imaginable, perhaps, of greater brilliancy than the finest specimens in our own cathedrals. * * * A narrow corridor, about thirteen feet wide, runs round the entire building inside, having eight piers and sixteen marble columns: the second corridor, which also runs round the building, is about thirty feet in breadth; the interior diameter of it is ninety feet: the dome is sixty-six feet in diameter, supported by four massive stone piers, and twelve ancient Corinthian marble columns. The corridors are airy, light, and elegant; and the sun, streaming through the richly-stained glass windows, casts a thousand varied dyes upon the highly-decorated walls and marble pavements. In striking contrast to this is the sombre and impressive appearance of the dome: the eye in vain strives to pierce its gloom, to unravel its maze of rich Arabesque ornaments, and read its lengthened inscriptions, drawn from the Koran. In perfect keeping are the groups of pilgrims and Mussulmen, from all parts of the Mahomedan world.
Their picturesque variety of dress and feature, their deeply devout deportment, as headed by dervishes in green robes and high conical caps, they silently prostrate themselves in prayer, are very striking."
In the afternoon of this day, we paid a visit to the English Church, which has been founded near the Bethlehem Gate; it has risen four or five feet only above the ground; and a combination of circumstances which has arrested its elevation at that point, seems likely long to retard it. The vice-consul and architect took us over the church, and shewed us the design; which is very beautiful.
Our first visit to-day was to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Whatever be its title to be considered as covering the tomb of our Lord, this edifice must ever have the strongest claim on the sympathies of all Christians, both for the sake of the blood and treasure lavished to rescue it from infidel hands by those whose
"Bodies are dust, their good swords rust;
Whose souls are with the saints, we trust."
As well as for the feeling which has led thousands hither through sickness, toil, and pain, to kneel and pray the sins of a life away, as they believed, on the holiest spot of earth. Though it is impossible to identify with certainty through the rubbish five fathom deep, which now covers the original Jerusalem, many of the spots which claim to be those we would most willingly reverence, it must be admitted that nothing is advanced to prove that this could not have been the place of the sepulchre, though the much debated question of the course of the ancient city wall, must ever make the matter doubtful.
Under the centre dome of the church rises a white marble edifice, consisting internally of two divisions; the innermost of which encloses the sepulchre, or rather the marble, which is supposed to cover the rock in which it was hewn. The appearance of this inner sanctuary is impressive in the extreme; the faint day-beam, which struggles through its entrance, is dimmed by the light of very many pendant gold and silver lamps, of elegant form, which burn ever night and day, and shed a holy light on the prostrate figures of the pilgrims absorbed in devotion: incense burns around, and we regret being aroused from this impressive scene to look at the very slab on which Christ's body was laid – the stone on which the angels were seated when the Marys came to the grave, and many other "relics."
I felt more delight in walking (as I did this evening) to the Garden of Gethsemane, and down the valley of Jehosophat, than I did looking on these things. The position of the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and the evident great age of the trees, which there for centuries have reared their venerable trunks, favour the tradition, that here it was that the Redeemer prayed in agony. After lingering some time here, we pursued our way by the dry bed of the brook Kedron, and the base of the Mount of Olives, through that portion of the Valley of Jehosophat, in which are the so-called tombs of Absolom and Zachariah, hewn out of the rock, and a few other excavations, forming the most remarkable group of tombs round the city; though it is impossible to say for whom they were hewn, there can be no hesitation in saying, certainly not for those whose names they bear. The first-named (Absalom's) is of a mixed Greek and Egyptian style, ornamented with Ionic pillars; another has a Doric entrance, and a third (that of Zachariah,) can be referred to no order.
Above these ancient tombs rises the range of rugged rocks, which is now the great burying place of the Jews, and hundreds of funeral slabs, covered with Hebrew inscriptions, are seen through its whole extent; for it is still the anxious wish of the sons of Israel to lay their bones in this valley, where sleep their kings and mighty men, and where they, as well as Christians and Mahomedans, believe they shall be aroused, when "time shall be no longer," to meet their God, with the assembled world in judgment.
"I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people, and for my heritage, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations.
"Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge all the heathen.
"Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision; for the day of the Lord is near.
"The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.
"The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel." – JOEL iii. 2, 12, 14, 15 & 16.
Having seated ourselves, for some time, on the brink of a well near Absalom's tomb, and drank of its waters from the pitchers of some Arab women, who came there to draw, we crossed the ravine by a bridge opposite this spot, and returned home, deferring to another day, the further exploring of this awful valley.
One of the women who drew for us at the well was very beautiful, like her companions, she wore a large white linen veil over her head, falling in graceful folds on the shoulders, a sort of boddice or jacket, and a somewhat full petticoat, with a scarf round the waist, completes their costume; the feet and arms are bare, with the exception of massive bracelets on the latter: their limbs are beautifully formed, and all their movements graceful.
APRIL 23rd. I took my way this morning, through one of the few places about Jerusalem, from whose sanctity doubt and tradition have taken, and can take away nothing, "the Mount of Olives."
Leaving the Garden of Gethsemane, we slowly climb the ascent of the holy mountain, pausing often to look on the glimpses of the city presented to our view, beyond the openings in its ancient trees; but, though many of these partial views were grand, they sunk into insignificance when compared with the memorable prospect presented to the eye from the summit of the mountain.
Jerusalem, from this point still beautiful, is spread at our feet; and every object of interest she contains may be individualized. The most conspicuous is the Mosque of Omar, already described, standing in the centre of the view, on Mount Moriah, the summit of which has been levelled, and the lower portion artificially raised, to form the large platform on which it is built. On the left hand is Mount Zion, where is a mosque, said to cover the tomb of David, and near it the Armenian Convent. On the right of Mount Zion, the domes and tower of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre rise conspicuous; beyond Mount Acra, on which they stand, rises another elevation, Bethesda, crowned with a mosque. The curious low domes on all the houses, and the ruined and tottering condition of many, give a singular and picturesque character to portions of the city, to which the massive masonry of the ancient wall, (still in many places conspicuous,) offers a strong contrast.
The natural situation of the city is fine; I have named the hills on the summits of which it is built, and low at their bases lie the deep valleys through which the brook Kedron took its way. On the east is the Valley of Jehoshophat; on the south, the Valley of Hinnon; and on the west that of Gihon; but, looking beyond the city itself, other points of interest present themselves; below the olives of Gethsemane, the grave-stones of the Jewish cemetery and the tomb of Absalom gleam through the trees; a little further the village of Siloam is seen, and further still, extends a bleak space, where the nations, which successively "encamped against Jerusalem," set their battle in array.
Between the Mount of Olives and Siloam runs the road to Jericho, through wild volcanic-looking hills, and the eye ranges from these up the Valley of the Jordan, towards the Dead Sea, the mountains of Moab, and a vast extent of desert country.
This was all lying before us in the broad-noon day, but this is not the time to view, in its fallen state, the city over which in its beauty, Jesus wept; rather let the traveller who would muse on its past and present, gaze on it from this mountain, when the red flush of sunset fades, and the shades of evening succeed to the rich dyes with which it has tinted temple and tower, deepening the gloom of the olive groves and the valley where sleep her dead.
Having spent some time in contemplating the objects here mentioned, we took our way towards the western extremity of Mount Olivet, where lies the village of Bethany; its approach is through corn-fields, and from these its white roofs are seen beyond groves of olive. It is a beautiful walk, and cannot fail of recalling to the memory many touching portions of the New Testament.
We were fortunate in being at Jerusalem at Easter, when it is thronged with pilgrims, who at this season annually resort thither. Christians of various denominations, and from distant parts of the world, come to experience the healing or sanctifying powers which they believe the waters of the Jordan to possess. The way lies by Jericho as unsafe for travellers now as when it was chosen by our Lord as the scene of the parable of the Good Samaritan; and we have arranged to accompany the English Bishop to-morrow, in their track, for it is not safe to undertake the journey unless well protected.
April 25th. A beautiful day; we mustered (as had been agreed,) outside the town, near the Mosque of Omar, and numbered twenty-five English, including Bishop Alexander.
Our baggage was packed on mules, and we were mounted on very good horses. The great Hadj had left the town very early in the morning, and consisted of from five to six thousand Christians, from almost all parts of the world.
After passing through Bethany, the track was difficult, and as we approached the great valley of the Jordan, it became dangerous, and so very steep, that we were obliged to dismount; at this point we were at least three hundred feet above the valley, over which we had a fine view, but could see nothing of the river; the rear-guard of the Hadj was forming at the foot of the mountain, and a long, straggling line of camels, donkeys and their drivers, stretched across the plain to a great distance.
We passed the site of Jericho, about a mile from the foot of the mountain, close to the deep bed of a torrent; it was a mass of ruins, Ibrahim Pasha having destroyed it during the war; but in spite of its ruinous appearance, I was delighted to find myself in a town I had been so repeatedly requested to visit; "Go to Jericho," rang in my ears; and I thought I had at last gratified many a friend. This thought, however, soon gave way to others which the history of Jericho may be supposed to suggest.
We found the pilgrims encamped within a short distance of it, and amused ourselves in their camp until our baggage made its appearance; it was protected by a regiment of Turkish troops, five or six hundred strong, commanded by the Pasha of Jerusalem: we were surprised and delighted to see so much toleration: encamped about three miles farther in the valley, close to the Well of Elisha; the water was sulphurous, but we drank great quantities of it.
The Pasha politely offered to send a company of soldiers to protect us at night, which we declined with many thanks: it was fine moonlight, and the appearance of our camp was very beautiful, though perfectly different from what I had so often viewed with delight in the desert; instead of camels and wild Bedouins, our tents were surrounded by horses and mules, and Syrian peasants; after a long look at it I retired to rest.
About half-past 3 A.M., I was awoke by a great noise; I jumped out of bed and dressed as soon as possible; I had not left my tent many minutes, before an immense multitude rushed by our camp, at a great pace; it was very dark, and here and there were fires in iron frames, held high in the air, which threw a faint light on the mass as it swept past us, through a very uneven country; the noise they occasioned was thrilling in the extreme: horses, mules, donkeys, and camels, (many of the latter carrying whole families,) were urged to their best pace, and hundreds on foot were running, guarded by a cordon of soldiers; it was a very striking and imposing sight.
After burning our throats with coffee, we jumped into our saddles, and made across the valley after them. M— and I took the lead, and as I dashed over the brushwood and uneven country, I felt a little of the excitement I had so often enjoyed in merrie England; it was quite a treat after so much camel-riding.
We overtook the rear, and found ourselves in a glen filled with underwood, from five to ten feet in height, and with all sorts of animals pressing forward to the Jordan; the fires were still blazing, and the appearance of the glen was wild and singular in the extreme.
We squeezed ourselves with great difficulty through the mass of pilgrims and cattle, and after half an hour's hard work, reached the high bank of the Jordan, on which the Pasha was seated, enjoying the scene, which was extraordinary indeed. The glen was lighted by fires, and every twig appeared alive; all were pressing forward to the river, in which were men, women, and children of all ages, undergoing the ceremony of submersion, washing their clothes, and filling their water-bottles. Instead of dipping the old people, they poured three cups of water over their heads, but the young ones were ducked without mercy; they all wore loose white garments, and behaved with the greatest propriety.
All was over by the time the sun lighted up this beautiful spot; the wood naturally grows to the water's edge on both sides, but is kept low on this part to allow a passage for the pilgrims. The Jordan is a very rapid and muddy stream, about fifty feet in width. After the pilgrims had left, we followed the course of the river for some distance above the place they had occupied, but found it so muddy that we retraced our steps, and fixed upon bathing at a spot about five hundred yards below that where they had been.
The great Hadj returned the same day to Jerusalem, and we sent our baggage in the same direction, and proceeded ourselves through the valley of the Jordan, which has much the same appearance as the valley El Ghor, only its width is greater.
On reaching the Dead Sea, some of our party bathed, and found its waters exceeding buoyant; I was afraid to experimentalize myself, having only a few hours before bathed in the Jordan. The water of this lake is of a yellowish green colour, none of our horses would touch it. I washed my legs, and it stood in drops upon them, as if they had been greased.
We rode round the head of the sea, and up a very steep mountain pass, from which we had a fine view of the valley, and over some very high mountains, to the great convent of St. Saba. I had left my tent in such a hurry in the morning, that I found myself unprovided with tiffin, so had to depend on the liberality of my companions, who were themselves but slenderly provided; we had not a single water-bottle between us, and suffered dreadfully from thirst.
The approach to the convent of St. Saba is singular, the road being on the edge of a deep ravine, and in whose rocky sides, hundreds of cells are excavated; they were inhabited by hermits, who were murdered by the Turks. We arrived between 3 and 4 P.M., and entered by a door at a great height above the convent, to which we descended by several low flights of steps. We were kindly received by the Superior, and after a wash, and a very long pull at the water-jug, we all assembled in the divan, where we were served with sweetmeats, arrack, and coffee; and in an hour after with a capital dinner. This convent is extensive, well-built, well-fortified, and exceedingly clean. Eight of our party slept in a room large enough for fifty.
We left at nine next morning; the Bishop, with some of our party went on to Bethlehem, and I and the others returned to Jerusalem; we walked our horses all the way, and reached the villages and pool of Siloam at half-past 12. The latter is surrounded by a wall of loose stones, and its waters flow as "softly" as in the days of the Prophet, who so described them. Gracefully are these walls garlanded with foliage of a tender green, and the view from the time-worn steps that lead to the smooth waters, is very imposing. The picturesque pool and its approaches, with groups of women, camels, and horses, coming for water, form the foreground; and the steep ascent of Mount Moriah, which rises behind it, is varied by groups of mulberry and olive-trees, and crowned by the embattled wall of Jerusalem, (which at this point exhibits its towers in all their ancient strength), relieved clear against the sky; for at this distance below the city nothing is seen to rise above them.
The village of Siloam lies near the lower extremity of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which we had not before explored; and if we were struck with the appearance of the upper extremity, we were much more so with this part which is not often visited by travellers. Siloam lies high above the bed of the brook Kedron; in the tombs hewn in the steep rocks of the valley, to which the mighty men of Judah were borne with all the pomp of funeral "burnings," many of the Arab inhabitants have made their dwelling-place, and there do they fold their flocks; while those who have not found accommodation in the tombs themselves, have erected among their fragile huts whose appearance adds to the wild aspect of the scene: and anything more wild and grand than the prospect all along the rocky valley from this elevation, cannot well be imagined. Descending from this "wild Arabs' nest," we took our way homewards, and reached our quarters in the evening.
April 30th. At 2 P.M., went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to witness the "miracle" of the descent of the "Holy Fire." Two companies of Turkish troops were drawn up in front of the Church, to which we were admitted by the monks of the Greek convent, who placed us in the gallery within the cupola, from which we had a good view of the interior; the floor was crowded to excess by a sad set of ruffians, who were fighting and making a terrible noise. It was a motley assembly – Greeks, Turks, Arabs, Copts, Armenians, and Abyssinians were there, in a terrible state of confusion.
About half-an-hour after we entered, the Greek, Armenian, and Latin Bishops, walked twice in procession round the sepulchre, with banners, &c. At 3, an Armenian and a Greek Bishop entered the sepulchre; from which, in a few minutes after the Holy Fire appeared, when the shouting and uproar became dreadful, and the mob pressed forward to light their candles: in a few minutes the whole church was in a blaze, and the motions of the dense crowd, each individual of which held a lighted candle, gave a curious effect to the brilliant scene.
All denominations of worshippers have separate chapels in this church; and while we were there, two processions, one Greek, and the other Armenian, came in contact, and as neither would give way, a regular fight ensued; the banner-poles, and many of their holy instruments, were broken and used as weapons, and candlesticks were flying in all directions. The tumult raged with indescribable fury for nearly half an hour, when a body of Turkish troops marched in, cleared the church, and locked the doors. I left, disgusted with all I had seen, and not at all surprised that the spectators of such exhibitions, should apply the terms Christians and Dogs synonymously.
May 1st. The Bishop preached for the benefit of the society, to which we all contributed our mites; the congregation did not much exceed twenty, and when it is considered that the interests of a numerous body of men are vested in the establishments of other sects, I cannot but think it must be long, very long, before the Protestant Church at Jerusalem can become, what its friends at home who are unacquainted with the nature of the opposing prejudices and interests against which it has to contend, have been sanguine enough to imagine. One of our party had been acquainted with the Bishop when in England, and we spent this (our last evening in Jerusalem,) very pleasantly at his Lordship's house.
MAY 2nd. Our horses were at the door at an early hour, and at 1 P.M. we left Jerusalem by the Damascus Gate: the approach by the Damascus road is the finest, and the view of the city from a hill about a mile and a half distant from it, is magnificent. Our baggage was some distance in advance, and we had a good gallop to overtake it; the country appeared very well cultivated, but uneven, and the track dangerous in places. We passed a great many pilgrims, mostly Greek, and arrived very late at the spot selected for our camp; near it was a large encampment of pilgrims, who were making so much noise, that we resolved upon changing our position, and pitched our tent a few hundred yards off, on a terrace close to the road, under some fig-trees. We heard them playing on a sort of bagpipe, and singing all night long; they had rendered the water undrinkable; and we could not touch our tea.
3rd. Struck our tent at an early hour, but did not start till 8 A.M.: the country improved as we advanced; the soil appeared very rich; we noticed but few vineyards, but the olives, figs, and fields were numerous, and corn plenty. After a march of four hours, we found ourselves in a fine open corn country, well cultivated and well watered; and at half-past 3 P.M. entered Nablous, the ancient Neapolis.
The appearance of this place is lovely in the extreme; it stands in the centre of a valley, in a perfect forest of olive, alder, fig, and other trees, (I noticed only one stately palm), and from this dense mass of foliage, the white houses and minarets stand out in bold relief, and a beautiful stream runs through it, and gives life to the valley. Our track lay up the base of the northern range of mountains, and it was when we had reached an elevation of a few hundred feet above the valley, that the fair view beneath was seen to the greatest advantage. Higher up, we had a fine view of the Levant; crossed the range through a ravine, and, after marching eight hours and a half, pitched out tents in an open olive ground. Our party was smaller than when we reached Jerusalem, only two of the number having decided on taking the same route as myself: we had three horses, three mules for the baggage, four donkeys, my dragoman Ishmael, and three men. Mahomed had remained with our friends at Jerusalem, who were to join us in the Lebanon.
Very few of the pilgrims had tents, and the small one Ishmael had, he rarely put up; our own was filled with grasshoppers, and hundreds of creeping things, but such trifles did not annoy us much; for my own part, I felt happy at being again only under shelter of canvas.
The next was a beautiful day; a nice breeze; we advanced into an open country, well cultivated, and in one part counted at least fifty teams of oxen, ploughing and harrowing; it was quite a lively scene; we passed through several large forests of olives, and arrived at Djinnine at 3 P.M.: it stands on the border of a very extensive plain, and is fenced in with prickly pear-trees; they were out in bloom; the flower is a beautiful yellow. I noticed also a great many fine palms, and plenty of olive and fig-trees. A large stream of excellent water runs through it.
The following day our track lay under the high range which borders the great plain of Esdrelon, the extremity of which is called Mount Carmel. The whole range is covered with prickly oaks, which bear a resemblance to the English oak, though much smaller. The great plain is well cultivated, and watered by several streams, and the little river Kishon; we saw immense droves of fine cattle, and a few native encampments; their men (in a dress of a single piece, striped white and black), were seated near the tents in a circle, and the women, whose features were fine and regular, and their figures graceful, were employed in various avocations. Their dress consisted of a blue petticoat beneath, and a white tunic above, and they wore blue turbans.
This evening we arrived at Caypha, the sight of which pleased me exceedingly; as we passed through, we had a fine view of the noble bay and also the convent, which stands at a great height above the sea: the approach to it was through an olive grove, the ascent very steep, and we were rather tired after a ten hours' march. The sirocco blew hard, and my skin felt dry and parched: our reception at the convent repaid us for our labour up the hill; a monk showed us to some very comfortable rooms, furnished in the European style, and delightfully clean; I noticed that everything in them was French. Our conductor satisfied our immediate wants, by producing some delicious lemonade and arrack, and at seven we sat down to an excellent dinner, served on a snow-white cloth. Oh! what a treat! not the dinner – the cloth.
6th. Rose early – left the convent at eleven; passed though Caypha, and had a famous gallop round the bay to Acre; the wind blew great guns, and we were covered with sand; in two hours we arrived.
Acre has but one gate, near which was the great magazine which blew up when the place was bombarded; the large space on which it stood exhibited the havoc our shot had caused; the surface was broken and uneven, and almost level with the pavement.
We rode to the Pasha's palace, and sent in our dragoman to ask for a guide to conduct us round the fortifications; and on receiving for answer, that no one could be permitted to see them, sent in word that we wished to see the Pasha, and were conducted into his presence; he rose on his divan, saluted us in the usual way, and requested us, in very good French, to be seated. Coffee was handed round, and pipes presented to each of us. I then told him we felt great interest about the place, and wished much to see its fortifications, adding, that none of us were military men. He replied he was sorry to refuse our request, but be had received a letter from Stambaul, commanding him not to allow any foreigner to view them. He said he had been fourteen years in France: he was an ugly fellow, but behaved with great politeness to us. At his elbow, sat a fine old man, who appeared to be pleased with our visit, and to sympathize in our disappointment. The Pasha, by way of amends, recommended us to visit his garden, and after smoking our pipes we left him.
The appearance of the town was miserable in the extreme; the bazaars were in a sad state, and they expected the minaret of the great mosque to fall every day.
Acre stands a few feet above the plain; its fortifications are much stronger by land than the sea, to which I should think two-thirds of its wall is exposed. After seeing all we could in the town, (in the streets of which I counted about a score of 32 lb. shot,) we rode out to the Pasha's garden, about a mile and a half from its walls: it is a pretty place, and reminded me of Shooborough, although on a much smaller scale; the summer-houses and fountains are disposed much in the same style. Acre is supplied with water from these gardens by a rather fine aqueduct. On our return to the town, I took a guide, and rode over the ramparts and outer works; it certainly is a place of great strength by land.
I found several very heavy shot in the dykes, 84 lbs. at least, and some of the walls below the breastwork were damaged; a few hundred yards from the outer works, no masonry is to be seen, and for a mile from the walls there is a slight descent forming a beautiful glacis.
About half-past 4 we left the plain, and the wind not being so high as in the morning, we had a pleasant ride home. About the centre of the bay the Kishon falls into the sea. Caypha looked very pretty as we advanced from Acre; several consuls reside there, but not one of ours.
We reached the convent at seven, and after dinner one of the monks took us over the establishment, which is a very large fine building, quite new. The view from the terrace on the top of it is very fine, commanding the bay and the extensive plain, on which Acre stands, (about five or six miles within its opposite horn); its situation is low and unhealthy, but the Pasha had informed us, that there had not been a case of plague for one and twenty days.
In the evening, we were introduced to the Superior, a noble looking fellow, with a fine beard and brilliant eyes, and I guessed about 45 years of age – an Italian by birth; he could not speak French, or rather persisted in speaking Italian. I was much pleased with his frank manners, and we had a long chat. He questioned me so closely about all I had seen in Jerusalem, that I fancied he was not a stranger to that city, although he told me he had arrived at the convent only a few days before we made our appearance. He laughed heartily at the scene I described having witnessed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and made some very shrewd remarks: we were surrounded by almost all the monks, who appeared to enjoy his facetious talk.
This evening the sirocco blew hard, it was like the breath from a furnace; in the night it rained. We were up at an early hour the following morning, and started our baggage before breakfast. At 7 A.M., I went into the church, which is a fine building, and heard mass; I was quite delighted with the fine tones of the organ, which detained me almost to the end of the service, when the monk who attended on us, informed me that my companions were at breakfast.
At 9 A.M., we left this delightful spot, passed through Caypha, and rode three or four miles on the road at the foot of the Carmel range; at a small village we turned into the plain, and crossed the Kishon with some difficulty. The country was exceedingly pretty, and the immense quantities of prickly oaks, gave it the appearance of an English park. We met three of the party from Jerusalem, who informed us our baggage was some distance in advance, and in an hour after the second division of our companions were there, also bound for Mount Carmel; we spent half an hour with them, and then galloped forward to overtake our baggage. Passed a few miserable villages, but most of the inhabitants of the plain live in tents; and in dress and appearance, offer a strong contrast to those who live in the villages.
Arrived at Nazareth, at half-past 4 P.M., and pitched our tent near the fountain of Nahor. There had been a wedding; and in the evening the bride, with a bundle of clothes on her head, was escorted by a troop of girls with music, round the town to the house of her husband, where the girls remained clapping their hands, and, with the aid of a few drums, making a great noise till 10 o'clock.
The Syrian Greek women are, beyond comparison, the loveliest in the world; we saw many of those of Nazareth, who came down with their pitchers to the fountain of Nahor for water, in whom were visibly united, all that painters may in vain endeavour to picture – all that poets dream. Their features combine the perfect proportion of the Greek model, with the character and expression of the daughters of Israel; their figures, the united delicacy and voluptuousness of form, which the finest Grecian statues possess. The costume of those we saw this evening, was well suited to its wearers.
Their long hair, which was plaited, fell over their shoulders, and was in many instances ornamented with great numbers of gold sequins, and some pearls; in others, flowers of brilliant hues replaced the "pearl and gold," but all wore the full loose trowsers, drawn tight at the ankle, (which, not unfrequently, was encircled with silver bracelets;) the petticoat reaching only to the knees, and the upper vest open at the breast, it is neither boddice, tunic, or jacket, but something between each.
Our tent was quite full of all sorts of insects, and the lizards swarming, as they do all through Syria, on every tree. The Syrian lizard is a disgusting looking creature; the form of its body is not unlike that of a toad; they have very long tails, and are either of a dark grey colour, or nearly black.
8th. Left Nazareth at 8 A.M.; sent our baggage on direct to Tiberias, and we rode to Mount Tabor, where we arrived at a quarter past 10, having passed several large encampments on our way.
We left our horses at the foot of the mount, and made the ascent with some difficulty and much fatigue, in three quarters of an hour. The sides are covered with long dry grass, and prickly oaks, a little forest of which grew on the summit. We traced the remains of a deep fosse all round the crown of the mount, which is very extensive, and covered with huge stones; the remains of its outer wall, and a few buildings, prove their architect to have been an able one.
The highest point is to the East, from which we had a fine view over an immense plain to the south, and a hilly and irregular country to the north, the high mountains to the east being covered with snow; a small portion of the Sea of Galilee is also visible. The mount itself is beautifully formed, and stands quite alone.
At half-past 12, we again mounted our horses; our guides knew but little of the country, but taking the direction of the Sea of Galilee, we arrived at Tiberias at half-past 4, and found our tents pitched on a hill above the town, close to the sea: a bath in its waters refreshed me after the fatigue of this very hot day.
Tiberias is a most wretched place – in fact, a heap of ruins; many of its inhabitants live in tents pitched within the wall, which, except on that side where they are washed by the sea, are in bad condition; indeed, in some parts levelled with the ground.
I never passed so miserable a night as this; I could not write for the numerous flies and other pests which swarmed in our tent; what a chance for a naturalist! for I believe every known insect was to be seen. The heat was so great, that I could not sleep, the thermometer, with our tent half open, (at 10 P.M.) stood at 90°, and we felt dreadfully languid; at midnight it blew a gale, and Ishmael was obliged to close our tent, when the heat became so oppressive, that we could scarcely remain in it.
9th. At 4 A.M. we had a little thunder, the wind increased, and down came our tent. I had changed my position in time to avoid the pole, which fell across my pillow. Our things were blown in all directions, and in the darkness and confusion, H— unfortunately smashed my thermometer. The wind was so hot, that I was glad to escape from it into Ishmael's tent, while he raised ours from the ground; for, with the aid of his men, this took him a long time.
After this pleasant night we were not sorry to leave Tiberias at 8 next morning. and had a delightful ride by the sea-side. Nothing remains of Capernaum except three small forts in a ruined state near the sea; for two or three miles beyond it, a bog extends almost on a level with the water, on which is a perfect forest of oleanders; they were in full bloom, and looked exceedingly pretty.
The beautiful Lake of Genneseret is about nine miles in length, from two to three in breadth, and shut in by high mountains, very many of which are extinct volcanoes, and masses of lava mingle their strange hues with the various tints of the rocks over which they must have flowed before Jesus "walked" upon the waters at their base.
ON leaving the Sea of Tiberias we turned up a difficult track across a rocky hill from which we saw the high mountains of Hermon, and the small lake, called the Waters of Merou. We encamped at 5 P.M. close to the Jordan, which is here one of the fastest rivers I ever saw. Enjoyed a delightful night.
10th. The track we followed today was very rough, but not steep; we traced the remains of an ancient paved road for many miles; had several good views of the Sea of Galilee; and after a tedious march of two hours, arrived at an open plain resembling an English common, across which the eye could not reach: there were hundreds of horses and cattle grazing, and numerous groups of tents formed of coarse matting, stretched on poles. We took a famous gallop, and enjoyed it exceedingly; for it was cloudy, and a fine breeze came from the mountains of Hermon, whose tops were covered with snow; at their base, and close to a brawling stream, we pitched our tents. On our march we found some partridges and quails, and bagged a few of each. Cold night, and very damp; our tent in the morning was wet through.
At 7 A.M. we were "en route;" traced the ancient paved road all the way to Salcah, which we reached in two and a half hours, having crossed many small streams, but we followed the river Abana, (which runs through Salcah,) all the way thence to Damascus. The road between these two places is excellent, and the country improved as we drew near the latter; within a mile or two of the town the country is enclosed, and the crops looked beautifully rich.
I was rather disappointed with the approach to Damascus, which stands in such a dense forest, that till we fairly entered the place, we could only see one or two minarets.
We rode down a very wide street for nearly half a mile, and then through a great number of narrow ones, to the house of one Kharouf, where we arrived, after a long march of ten hours. I was rather tired, and much tormented by the flies; the heat also was very great.
This is not the country in which to live comfortably in tents, the dews being so heavy. Kharouf gave H— and I a room, which we found very comfortable, but poor — was driven from his by the swarming insects.
In the morning we visited Mr. Wood, the British Consul, who received us in a very friendly manner; we smoked pipes, and spent several hours most agreeably with him. His house is one of the finest in Damascus; in the centre is a large court-yard, with a fountain, and large basin of water; creeping plants are trained up the walls, and orange, and other trees, tastefully arranged round the fountain. The apartments are lofty and well furnished, partly in the European style. The summer sitting-room is beautiful; one half of the apartment is raised about three feet above the other; round the three sides of the elevated part is a divan, and in the centre of the lower part, a beautiful marble fountain; the walls are nicely painted, and the whole appearance of the place refreshing.
Our visit ended, we took a walk through the bazaars, which rival those of Cairo; many of them are splendid. I was most struck with the contents of that devoted to the sale of horse-furniture, the richness of which exceeded anything I had fancied. Many of the saddles, intended for the Arab Chiefs, were covered with silk or velvet, gorgeously embroidered with gold and pearls; the collars of red morocco, fringed with scarlet and gold; and the elegantly formed bridles, of the same material. Round about the shops of the sellers are seen groups of Arabs from the Syrian desert, whose only clothing is a single piece, manufactured of white wool, whose ample drapery gives a classic appearance to their figures, which offer a striking contrast to that of the crimson-robed Aga, who stands near them, followed by a train of servants, bearing his pipe, &c. It was quite delightful to watch the eager look of the Arabs; as they sought or found some fitting decoration for their horses; many of which were to be seen in the streets, and well supported their reputation for breeding and beauty.
I returned in the evening quite delighted with the town, and its novel and picturesque architecture. The gate of the Khan of Hassan-Pasha offers one of the most perfect specimens of Sarecenic architecture that can be found – rich in its design and detail beyond idea; and near it is a mosque of a mixed and picturesque style.
Kharouf is a good fellow; and beside doing all he could to make us comfortable in his own house, took us today to those of one or two of his friends, in which we found the principal apartments beautified (as his own) with fountains and flowers, and where we saw some ladies, whose beauty (like most of the Damascenes) was of the same style I have described, as distinguishing in so eminent a degree, those of Nazareth. Here we had the same form and feature, with all the advantage that added richness of costume could bestow. This climate is favourable to the preservation of beauty; we found the mothers of grown-up daughters, scarcely less fair than they; all have an unembarrassed manner, and converse easily; their voices are by no means their least perfection, for they have a peculiarly silver sweetness.
The costume of the ladies we saw today, is of the same style as that I have described elsewhere, only of richer materials. Their hair mingled with jewels, and flowers, fell on their shoulders; the bosom, as is the custom, is uncovered; a vest of silk broidered with silver or gold, fits close to the back and waist; and its sleeves open to the elbow, display the arm; full muslin trowsers descend to the instep, and a full tunic of the same material bordered with flowers of silver, and fastened round the waist by a long scarf, completes the most beautiful of dresses.
With many thanks to our host for the pleasure he had procured us, we bid him good night, and the next day paid a visit to the baths, which are the finest I have seen; the dressing-rooms are very picturesque; after they had gone through the usual process of washing, shampooing, &c., they placed us in the divan, served us with pipes, coffee, and iced lemonade, and words cannot describe the exquisite sensation enjoyed, as one dozes here, on a soft couch, after the fatigues of a bath-room.
On our return home, we heard of the arrival of our friends, who had taken up their quarters at the convent. We had several storms to-day; the temperature was delightful in consequence.
15th. Had several hail-storms to-day; the stones were as large as beans. T— and I walked through the town, and visited most of the coffee-houses on the river Abana (which is here a very rapid stream); they are covered is by coarse matting, thrown over a loose frame-work, and are exceedingly picturesque. On our return, we strolled through some of the bazaars, among others, the armourers; but Damascus blades are no longer to be found there, at least, not of a temper like those which were for centuries held to be unrivalled. In exchange of this manufactory, is an extensive one of silk scarfs of great beauty; lemonade and sherbet, iced, are among the good things offered to one in the bazaars; we drank more than once of the latter, and found it delicious.
Damascus approaches nearer the idea I had formed of an oriental town than any other I have seen, and it must be almost as large as Cairo; we left on the 17th at noon, and as we ascended the mountains, the view was splendid. I could not have conceived anything more beautiful than the scene we enjoyed, when elevated one hundred and fifty, or two hundred feet above the plain on which the town stands. Its white walls and graceful minarets rise out of a dense forest of alder, poplar, sycamore; olive, and beach, with groups of cypress and palm trees. A river, whose branches are seven-fold, waters the plain, which for some distance round the town presents the appearance of a lovely garden; orchards, villas, lakes, and rivers, reflecting the bright heaven above them, and all this bordered on the right by the distant but imposing forms of the anti-libanus, and on the left by the opposite range, crowned with eternal snow, altogether present to the eye a spot, which the Arab traditions may be excused for stating to have been the paradise of our first parents, one of those places which to see is to remember till we die.
We crossed the mountain and descended to the beautiful Wady Barada, filled with trees and underwood, and through which runs a rapid river: we waited nearly an hour at a small khan on the road for our mules, and then set forward: we did not arrive at the rendezvous till half-past 7: fine moonlight night.
Started at 7 A.M.; our track led us through a beautiful pass; a great many chambers were excavated in the mountain's sides; crossed a torrent by a bridge, whence the view was fine, and entered a pretty valley full of vineyards and corn-fields. We fancied our guides were misleading us, so we took the first track we met with to our right; it led us into a narrow ravine, and over one of the most rugged passes ever crossed; the mules followed with difficulty, and fell a great many times; we descended into the great plain, and arrived at Baalbec at 7 P.M.; we saw nothing of its temples before we arrived; as the low hills which border the plain completely intercept the view, on the side by which we approached; and as they now appeared suddenly before us, lighted up by all the glory of the setting sun, we stood as spell-bound, to gaze on one of the most beautiful scenes, that art and nature united, could present to the eye of man; we watched the purple and gold fade, and then repaired to our tents, (which were pitched close to the walls of the great temple,) and then walked forth to view these monuments of beauty, appearing in the moonbeams so fair and fresh, that it was difficult to believe that seventeen centuries of time and change had swept past since they were reared.3
18th. Arose early, anxious to make a close examination of the temples. The principle ruins of Baalbec are encircled by a wall and deep moat; they consist of the remains of three temples of the Corinthian order.
The Great Temple is the most perfect, and is, indeed, a splendid ruin; its walls are quite perfect, and seventeen of its columns remain; they are forty-eight feet and a half in height without their capitals, which are six feet; their diameter at the base is six feet, at the top five and a half; they are beautifully proportioned, and none of their shafts consists of more than three pieces, so well put together, that their junction is scarcely perceptible. The entrance is very fine, but must soon lose its beauty, the centre piece of the pediment having already slipped four or five inches from its position; the eagle, with extended wings, sculptured on its face, is most beautifully executed. The interior of this entrance is adorned with pilasters; the cornices and niches elaborately and beautifully carved, overcharged with their splendour. The roof is entirely gone; near the entrance we discovered a small hole, through which we squeezed ourselves, and ascended a spiral staircase, to the top of the walls. This temple had eight columns in each front, and twelve in the sides, most of which were thrown down by earthquakes.
Standing high above all other ruins, their bases cresting on a massive wall, are six beautiful columns supporting a frieze, in a perfect state; we measured one of their fallen companions, and found it be seven feet in diameter, and its capital seven feet in length; nothing can exceed the magnificence of this fragment; and its elevated position makes it conspicuous from all sides.
The remains of the third temple are very extensive, but not at all fine; they consist of an immense number of semicircular recesses, in which: are a great many niches; two galleries each one hundred and seventy yards in length, joined together by a third, run under this part of the citadel; they are arched, and exceedingly well built.
The walls which enclose these ruins must have been built at different periods, and in them, about twenty feet above the solid rock, on which they are built, there are several immense stones; one measured sixty-seven feet in length, and two others sixty-three feet eight inches, and sixty-two and a half feet. The upper part is very irregular, and built of broken columns, cornices, and capitals, taken from the temples.
A very beautiful octagon temple, of the Corinthian order, stands in the village; it is highly ornamented, and closely resembles the Temple of Vesta, at Tivoli. I walked to the source of the river, which runs through the village; it rises by several fine springs, which are enclosed in a large basin, the edges of which are built of stone. In its progress onward it flows over prostrate columns, capitals, and figures, among which slender green trees spring up in abundance.
From a hill, close to the village, I enjoyed an excellent view of the ruins, the great valley, and the splendid range of Lebanon, which runs as far as the eye can reach, its summit covered with perpetual snow. I traced also, from this spot, the ancient walls of the city to their full extent; they are in many places quite perfect, but not a tenth-part of the space enclosed by them is covered by the present miserable village. The hill on which I stood, is one of a number of low sandy ones, which cluster round the base of the Anti-Lebanon range; at its base, within a few hundred yards of the walls, is the great quarry which provided the stone of which the city and temples were built; it contains one immense stone hewn out of the rock, from which it has not been entirely detached; I found it to be sixty-eight feet long, seventeen feet and a half wide, and thirteen feet ten inches thick.
The sirocco blew hard all day, but the night was fine, and I enjoyed an hour or two by moonlight among the ruins. We had rain in the night; the following morning very rough, the sirocco blowing hard, and storms and thunder succeeding; as soon as the weather cleared, I walked to a small temple standing about a mile or so from the walls – an octagon form, having eight red granite columns, without capitals, supporting a cornice; the whole entirely without ornament. From this temple the view of the citadel is very fine, and the village, enlivened as it is by a fine stream and a number of ash, poplar, willow, and walnut-trees, would have looked well even without its architectural treasures. The space within its walls, not occupied by the inhabitants, is covered with heaps of rubbish and shapeless ruins, under which many beautiful objects are no doubt hidden.
At half-past 3 we took our departure, but turned very often in our progress over the plain, to gaze upon the six marvellous columns of the Temple of the Sun; for it was long before this remnant of the giant fane, which alone would testify to the ancient magnificence of Heliopolis, was hidden from our view. At 7 P.M. we encamped at the foot of Mount Lebanon.
STRUCK our tents at 7 A.M., and commenced the ascent of Mount Lebanon. The scenery was exceedingly wild and picturesque; we followed a tiresome track among the rugged hills covered with trees which stand at the base of the range, and the ascent of the steep bare sides of the mount itself proved most tedious and difficult. Within a hundred and fifty yards of the summit, we crossed a great quantity of snow, over which our poor mules staggered with much difficulty, and fell several times with our baggage. At noon we reached the summit, where we halted for a short time; it was, unfortunately, a dull day, and we saw but little of the great valley.
The descent was very steep; we left our mules behind us, and at 2 P.M., arrived at the Cedars, the most interesting surely of all natural monuments. Only seven of the old trees remain, beautiful in themselves, and hallowed by so many associations. The snow at this season descends to within a few feet of these ancient trees, but earlier in the year extends far beyond them, and is so deep as to prevent a near approach; but in the middle of summer, the inhabitants of the valley ascend hither to perform mass beneath them. About two hundred young trees have sprung up, forming a noble clump.
We remained some hours at the Cedars, the scenery is of the wildest character; the dullness of the day was a source of some regret, but the wild peaks of the Lebanon, and the variety and loveliness of the tints of the snow which crown them, furnished us with ample matter for admiration.
A quarter of an hour's walk brought us in sight of Beshirai, the most beautiful spot in the Lebanon; it is built on the slope of a very deep ravine, whose sides are built up in terraces, well watered and cultivated; at the extremity of the ravine a small stream falls over a precipice of two hundred feet in height, giving an addition to what might be deemed perfect without it. From the place where we stood, the flat-roofed houses of the beautiful village appeared almost buried in a mass of deep coloured foliage, out of which rose clumps of tall poplars, and hundreds of neat terraces covered the slopes below. The mountains on the opposite side rise to an immense height, their sides quite covered with trees, and through this splendid ravine the Kasheda pursues its serpentine course. Many of the villagers were seated in parties in their gardens, apparently busily engaged; their picturesque dresses enlivened the prospect.
We pitched our tents in a mulberry-grove, close to the village, to which we were conducted by the inhabitants, who appeared delighted to see us; they are Maronites and Christians, and a nice-looking people; many of the women I thought very beautiful. The matrons wear an unsightly appendage, a horn, (generally of silver,) which projects from a foot and a half to two feet from the forehead and over which is thrown a large veil. This preposterous ornament is not removed even at night.
One young fellow came to our tent who could speak Italian and French very well, and who acted, during our short stay, as dragoman, while Ishmael was engaged; and his services as interpreter was put in active requisition; for while we were smoking after dinner, we were surrounded by a large portion of the population of Beshirai.
Next day we sent our baggage on to Tripoli, and rode along the slope overhanging the ravine in which this loveliest of villages lies; it is irrigated by numberless little aqueducts, and so well cultivated, that not a yard of available ground is lost.
We left our horses, and descended about two hundred feet down the steep side of the ravine, to the convent of Kanobin, the seat of the Maronite Patriarch. It is singularly situated on a narrow ledge of rock, overhanging the ravine, and the scene from this point is beautiful. The interior of the convent was wretched; none of the monks could speak Italian; we soon made them understand our wants, but these they ill-supplied, for the fare placed before us detestable; we remained about an hour, and then set forth upon the track leading to Eden; this we found dangerous, but escaped without a fall.
The whole country is beautifully cultivated, clad with vineyards and mulberry-groves. We passed through one very pretty village, whose inhabitants saluted us in a friendly manner, and we crossed a deep ravine, through which dashed a foaming torrent, close to which stands the village of Eden. Its houses have only a ground floor, are built of stone, and flat-roofed.
We paid the sheik a visit, but found him enjoying a siesta, so we took our seats on the divan, and had a long chat with his dragoman, who proved to be a very superior fellow, and spoke French and Italian well. Sweetmeats, lemonade, and coffee, were handed round, and after an hour's rest, we took our leave, but would not allow the slumbers of the sheik to be disturbed.
A short distance from Eden the descent became very steep and rough; we reached the foot of the Lebanon range at 5 P.M., after a most fatiguing march. We saw an immense number of villages among the mountains, and the spire of a convent in each.
The Maronites form the most numerous proportion of the population of the Lebanon; there are also many Druses, who are Mahometans, or as some say, of no religion.
The hills and valleys at the foot of the range are exceedingly rich and picturesque; we followed the course of a fine stream which rises among them, and runs through the plain to Tripoli. Olives and mulberry-groves, many of them bright with the blossoms of the oleanders, border its banks, and after a delightful ride beneath their shade, we reached Tripoli at half past 7 P.M. The town stands a quarter of a mile from the sea, its streets are very narrow, but the houses being built of lightish coloured stone, and surrounded by numerous trees, it looked beautiful by moonlight. I noticed a few palms, but they are very scarce in Syria.
At 9 A.M. we left Tripoli; the orange-grove in which we had passed the night, was beautiful; the trees were out in bloom, and the odour from them was delicious. We rode by the sea-side all this day, passing one village in which the plague was raging; fortunately, we did not enter it, but there was no cordon to prevent our doing so.
Reached Djebail at 8 P.M., and pitched our tent on an elevated space close to its walls. The sun set gloriously, and then the moon arose above the Lebanon – a lovely night, our last under canvas, for Beyrout is but a day's journey hence.
Struck our tents at 7 A.M., and continued our march along the coast; crossed the Dog River (which is a noble stream) by a fine bridge, and halted for an hour at a khan near it; passed another river, and soon after saw Beyrout distinctly, and heard the royal salute fired in honour of the birth-day of our Queen; we arrived at half-past 4, and found the — 92 guns, the — 36, and the H— Steamer, in the roadstead, decked out in all their flags; also, a French corvette, and two Austrian men-of-war, with a few merchantmen, all within three quarters of a mile of the town, for it has no harbour. The heat was dreadful all night, and the mosquitoes bit severely, for none of our curtains could keep them out.
25th. The Austrian steamer arrived, and we secured our berths; and then H— and I paid H.M.S. — a visit; we had Ishmael with us, and it was quite laughable to see him with his sword, swaggering among the crew. They weighed while we were on board, and when the sails were shaken out we left her, and she bore gently away for the Dog River for water, but there was but little wind, and the heat dreadful.
27th. Beyrout is like an oven; the heat during the few days we remained there was excessive, and I felt exceedingly weak and languid.
Towards evening, two or three of us went on board the "Inconstant," for the sake of a little fresh air; the view of Beyrout and the mountains behind, was beautiful from the deck.
The town was full of Albanian soldiers, who insulted every one they met in the streets; they cared not a fig for their officers. It had been the intention of the Government to march them into the Lebanon mountains; but I believe the hardy Maronites would soon have destroyed such soldiers as they are; the general opinion of them is, that they are only fit to cut the throats of women and children.
We bade adieu to our faithful Ishmael tonight, and completed our preparations for quitting Beyrout on the morrow.
April and May, though unhealthy months, are the best for travelling in Syria, the weather then being delightful. The wet season commences in the autumn, and the great heat about the middle of May, when the plague vanishes. The dews are very heavy, and the swarms of flies, beetles, and all sorts of vermin, render a residence under canvas in this country anything but agreeable; but, nevertheless, a tent is indispensable, for the miserable khans offer us many drawbacks to comfort, and more to cleanliness.
The mules are fine strong animals, and are chiefly used for the transport of baggage; the horses are good serviceable hacks; they walk fast, and a very sure-footed. Many of the tracks are exceedingly dangerous, particularly those between Hebron and Solomon's pools, and between Beshirai and Eden. An English saddle is necessary, for theirs are instruments of torture to Europeans.
The scenery throughout the country is varied and beautiful, the soil extremely rich and well cultivated, and the herbage excellent. The song of the husbandman is heard in every valley, and the hills and plains are enlivened by numerous herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep and goats. The prickly oak (which although much smaller, closely resembles our own noble tree) gives a park-like appearance to the country: and the prickly pear (which blooms in May), encircles many a picturesque village, forming a beautiful and massive wall.
The land is studded with forests of olives, and in the narrow valleys of the Lebanon the vine is cultivated to a great extent; while between Tripoli and Beyrout the mulberry is the principal care, cultivated for silk-worms, but no ground is lost, for they grow corn and vegetables under them. They manufacture the silk, and the beautiful sashes worn by the Turks and Arabs come either from Beyrout or Tripoli. The Syrian tobacco is the finest in the world. The produce of the country (silk, tobacco, olives, corn, and cattle,) is sent principally to Egypt. The trees are – the prickly oak, poplar; alder, beech, willow, mulberry, ash, cedar, fig, olive, and prickly pear: oleanders and other shrubs in abundance.
Several of its rivers are fine; the Dog River, Jordan and Barada, are the largest; but the little Kishon is the most useful, for it fertilizes one of the most beautiful plains in the country. The most picturesque towns are Nablous and Damascus; but nothing I have seen can be compared to the lovely village of Beshirai.
The towns and villages of Syria are inhabited by Christians, Jews, and Turks, while a race, resembling the Bedouins in dress and appearance, dwell in tents, and are much feared by their peaceful neighbours.
The greater part of the Lebanon is inhabited by the Maronites, who are Christians, and deservedly bear a good character; for they are a delightful people, fortunately a numerous one, and rather too powerful for the Sultan, who lately made an attempt to bring them under his yoke, by ordering them to disarm, and sending a body of troops to Beyrout, but he was foiled by their bravery and determination. Many of them declared to us, that should the Albanians march into the Lebanon, they would never let them return out of it. They have always been governed by their own Emir, (subject to the Porte,) and I hope will ever remain so. If well governed, Syria would be an exceedingly rich country, but never can be under the Turkish rule; for so long as the Pashas pay their annual tribute to the Porte, no notice whatever is taken of the amount extorted from the inhabitants.
The Druses, who wear the turban, profess to be Mahometans, but conform to any religion; they are a wild, lawless set, and are independent of the Sultan; they inhabit a small portion of the Lebanon, and are constantly at war with their Maronite neighbour who care little for them, being so much more numerous and powerful than they.
The Mahometans of Damascus, Hebron, and Nablous, are the most bigoted in Syria. In Nablous, one English gentleman was obliged to remove from his hat a green veil, that being the sacred colour, which none but Hadj are allowed to wear in their turbans. Their women cover the face entirely.
The inhabitants of Syria, (particularly the Christians,) spoke well of Ibraham Pasha, and all appeared to regret the return of the Turks.
Distances: – Hebron to Jerusalem, one day's march; Jerusalem to Damascus, seven; Damascus to Baalbec, two; Baalbec to Beyrout, four, by Tripoli.
Average rate of travelling, about three and a half miles an hour.
28th. ON going on board the steamer, which was to carry us to Constantinople, we found three-parts of the deck partitioned off for Negip Pasha and suite, but the captain informed us that the whole of the cabin was at our service. Sailed at 8 P.M.: a few storms of rain – calm sea – fine night. Made Cyprus, at 8 A.M., but the yellow flag waved at our mast-head, and we were not allowed to land; we anchored off the island five or six hours; its appearance is very barren. Came in sight of the rugged and magnificent coast of Asia Minor, and sailed all day, in shore, sometimes not more than a quarter of a mile distant from it. The high peaks in the back-ground were splendid, many of them covered with snow.
31st. Reached Rhodes at 5 P.M., and spent the night in its beautiful harbour; a glorious sunset. Our yellow flag effectually prevented any one from shore paying their respects.
June 1st. Beautiful morning; left Rhodes with a favourable wind, and as we steamed through the channel, (which may be from four to five miles in width,) the town and island looked lovely; its mosques, and graceful minarets, rising in dazzling whiteness above masses of foliage. Spoke an Austrian frigate, and reached Cos in the evening; remained there only a few minutes; steamed away all night, and were at Smyrna at eight next morning. The appearance of the gulf and town was pleasing, particularly the latter, when lighted up at night.
4th. Beautiful morning; entered the Dardanelles at 10 A.M. The first strong forts we saw were Chalnak Kalessi, on the Asiatic shore, and a large one opposite it; the guns in one of its batteries are immense, and made for throwing the large marble shot, used by the Turks; the forts are very numerous, and all stand on low headlands, close to the water's edge, and opposite each other; they might be all carried with ease by land. The width of the stream is about a mile and a half on the average; between Sestos and Abydos, I should think it a mile and a quarter at least, and the current strong. The coast is low and flat on the Asiatic shore, but on the European, it is shut in by a pretty range of hills. Entered the Sea of Mannora before sun-set, and at dusk were off the island of that name. Fine night.
5th. About ten minutes before sun-rise we turned the Seraglio point, and anchored in the Golden Horn. Of the appearance of Constantinople from this point, and at sun-rise, words must fail to give anything like an adequate idea; she has a regal beauty, which admits not of comparison. "See Naples and die," says the Italian proverb; Genoa writes herself "La superba," and in desolate majesty does Venice still "sit in state, throned on her hundred isles;" and truly and joyously have I rendered my homage to each of them; but here is that which exceeds in majesty and loveliness, all that memory could regal, or imagination picture. Out of the sea, blue as the Rhone's blue waters, rise the seven hills whereon this peerless city sits; terrace rises above terrace, and between them spring up the graceful plantain and the solemn cypress trees; numberless domes, minarets, and kiosks, bright with gilding, and dainty colours glitter in the sun-light; gardens, mountains, and villages, stretch out beyond and around, while hundreds of vessels, of all forms, and of all nations, ride at anchor, forming an incomparable beautiful foreground to the scene I have sketched. Our own proud ships lay there, the Pasha's fleet, and many Arab boats, whose elevated prows, and general form, remind one of the ancient galleys; and smaller and fairy-like, the caiques, by hundreds, dotted and brightened the smooth water.
We enjoyed the enchanting scene only for half an hour, when our boat returned from the quarantine office, and we were ordered to the Lazaretto for fifteen days. The captain told us our bill of health was a very bad one.
Steered up the Bosphorus, passed the Turkish fleet, and the Sultan's palace, and arrived at our prison at 7 A.M. Our baggage was placed in a small room to be fumigated, and the doctor, (an Italian,) informed us, we could shorten the terns of our detention six days, by performing "spoglio;" so one after another, we ducked ourselves in a large tub, the doctor standing by, to see that we all "performed spoglio" properly. They gave us fresh clothes, but could not provide us with beds, (our own were being fumigated,) and we were all obliged to sleep on the floor. There was not a single piece of furniture in the room, if I except a small brazier, and round this, it was ridiculous enough to see us all squatted. At night I was covered with vermin, and had it not been for the restlessness of my companions, could have fancied I was engrossing their whole attention.
6th. We passed a miserable day, having no soap, brushes, or other toilet requisites, papers, or books. In the evening, Misseri (of whom more hereafter) sent us beds and some other necessaries. Next morning after breakfast, the same individual presented himself with a welcome supply of newspapers. This day all our things, except our beds, were given up, and we were pretty comfortable. We had an Italian cook with us, and two guardians, who made themselves "generally useful." An Italian, (who was pratique,) outside, went twice or thrice to the city for us.
The Lazaretto is about three miles from Constantinople, and stands close to the Bosphorus, overlooking which we had five windows, commanding a view of the new palace, the fleet, and a large portion of the town, and hundreds of caiques enlivened the scene. The hills which enclose the Bosphorus on either side, are covered with plantations, and studded with villages, kiosks, and pretty gardens, and a more delightful prospect I could not have desired. Our walks were confined to the large court of the Lazaretto, which we never entered without a "guardiano," who carried a long stick, for the purpose of keeping all people and things at a safe distance – a needless precaution I thought, on our arrival, for we found every body anxious to avoid us; and during the last day or two we remained in our rooms, not wishing to run the risk of another week's imprisonment, by the possible contact with any object, to which the suspicion of infection could be attached by our watchful guardians.
We were much amused during the day by the lively scene on the water; a great many Turkish ladies passed under our windows in their caiques; their noses and eyes were uncovered, and we could see the other part of their faces distinctly through the thin gauze they wear over it. Their complexions were beautiful – their faces round, their features large and regular; of their figures we could see nothing, for they were entirely enveloped in large loose cloaks.
We were favoured, too, with the sight of some European ladies, who walked every evening under the noble palm-trees close to our prison; we saw, also, a few gaudy carriages, drawn by oxen, large enough for six or eight persons, and now and then a troop of cavalry. On one occasion, the Sultan visited a mosque in a village nearly opposite the Lazaretto, and was saluted by the ships and the numerous batteries on the Bosphorus.
It was pretty to watch the course of the fish at night by the phosphoric light they occasioned; but with all this, and a rubber occasionally besides, we were glad when the 14th, arrived, the last day of our confinement.
The Doctor and Governor made their appearance at an early hour with leave for us to quit the Lazaretto. Misseri had a large caique for our baggage, and smaller ones for ourselves; and between 8 and 9 A.M., we left our prison, and feasted our eyes anew on the beauty of Constantinople as we glided down the smooth stream thither. On landing, we were escorted to the hotel so nicely kept by Misseri and his wife (an English woman); there we found an excellent breakfast ready, the table-cloth white as snow, and everything else in the house as clean and comfortable as one could wish.
Having done justice to the breakfast aforesaid, I and H— strolled forth, and had not proceeded far, when we met Baron B—, our companion on the Nile. After exchanging salutations and news, the Baron informed me that the Belgian Minister had obtained a firman from the Sultan to visit the Seraglio and the great mosques of the city, and kindly offered to introduce me; and it being finally settled that the advantage of the firman should be extended to all my party, the next day at 11, we started with the Belgian Minister, crossed the Golden Horn, and landed near the Seraglio, over which we were conducted by a great many guides. Since the erection of the new palace, this has not been inhabited by the Sultan. I was disappointed with the building, but the gardens are pretty.
The Great Mosque of St. Sophia is very magnificent; we were obliged to put on slippers over our boots before we were allowed to enter. The whole interior is simple and grand; the aisles are very lofty, and from their roofs hundreds of lamps are suspended. From the gallery which runs round the western aisle, we had a fine view of this vast building, which is one of the most ancient in Stamboul, having been partly built by Constantine. The cupola is immense, (certainly not smaller than that of St. Peter's, at Rome), and beautifully formed; this is more, however, than I can say, for some of the columns which appear to have formed part of other temples before they were placed here; those which support the gallery seemed in a falling state. The form of the Mosque is that of a Greek cross. The magnificent dome rises in the centre, and graceful minarets at the four corners.
We visited three other mosques – that of Soliman the Magnificent; the mosque of Sultan Osman, highly decorated; and the mosque of Sultan Achmet, – its appearance is light and modern; this mosque has six minarets, but the more usual number is four, and all have a dome in the centre; and before all, too, is a court where numerous fountains flow beneath the grateful shade of stately trees. Here the faithful perform their ablutions, and from the light lace-work-like galleries that encircle the minarets, does the muezzen call to prayer.
I was quite delighted with the solemn grandeur of these mosques; they were silent as the grave, though hundreds were at prayers within their walls.
We visited some very ancient tombs of the sultans, and the modern one of the late Sultan, Mahomed; it is circular, and built of beautiful white marble; the tomb itself is covered with elegant shawls, and is surmounted by a fez ornamented with brilliants, and on a stand richly inlaid with mother-of-pearl, &c., is placed a fine copy of the Koran. Having spent the day in this manner, I returned by the only bridge over the Golden Horn.
The Sultan went to a mosque as usual, and afterwards proceeded six or seven miles up the Bosphorus to the "sweet waters of Asia;" we followed, and found it a beautiful spot, where two pretty streams run into the Bosphorus; the scenery around is fine. The Sultan remained some hours enjoying himself in a kiosk close to the water's edge, and hundreds of ladies were promenading attended by their black guardians.
The Sultan has many of these kiosks, and on our return we landed at one of the finest, standing on a high hill above our old prison, from which we enjoyed a splendid view of the city, the sea of Marmora, and almost the whole of the Bosphorus.
We next visited the slave-market, which was very full indeed; saw but few white slaves; but were struck with the grace and beauty of some of a darker tint, Abyssinians. So completely is slavery considered in the East the natural position of woman, and so inseparable from the state of society, as there constituted, is that system which makes her a recognised object of barter, that in very many instances, instead of the shrinking from view, the timidity which the European dreads to see, he observes the girl herself rather anxious than otherwise, to become the property of a purchaser who may place her in a position, of which neither religion, custom, nor education, have taught her the degradation. Indeed, so anxious are the Circassians to secure for their daughters a place in the harem of some rich Turk, that they are brought up with the greatest care, with this view only, and smuggled into Constantinople in defiance of the regulations made by Russia to prevent this disgraceful commerce. The most beautiful slaves, and among these, of course are the Georgians, are carefully kept from general view.
18th of June, and we did not let the anniversary of Waterloo pass without a health to the great captain; and while enjoying an extra bottle on the occasion, the alarm of fire was given, which proved to be raging in the Jews' quarter; we ran down to the Golden Horn, and getting into a caique, rowed in that direction, and a more splendid sight could not be imagined than the queenly city illuminated by the raging flame, and reflected in the smooth still sea, presented. The Golden Horn was covered with caiques, and the Turks who filled them devoutly ejaculated, "Allah, Illah, Allah!" "God is great!" while in compliance with their superstitious belief in predestination, both they and those on shore abstained from making the slightest attempt to arrest the progress of a visitation which they consider sent immediately from God.
The houses are of wood and soon consumed. I noticed some close to the water's edge which were completely destroyed in the course of a few minutes. We staid till 2 in the morning, at which hour the fire was still lighting up the stately city.
June 19th. We went to the quarantine Lazaretto to fetch our baggage, and passed several hours of the day on the water. In the Bosphorus were five line-of-battle ships (one 130 guns) and in the Golden Horn six line-of-battle ships, and about ten large frigates in ordinary; but the Turks have not had a fine fleet since the battle of Navarino.
Constantinople is divided by the Golden Horn from Para and Galata; there is one bridge, but hundreds of caiques are employed in carrying passengers over; the price for one which would hold five or six persons is half a piastre. These boats are long and narrow, one of thirty feet long not being much more than three feet wide; they make their way rapidly through the water, but are very uncomfortable and crank; if you move the least on one side, the rower cannot use his sculls, which are large and heavy; in many of the caiques they pull three pair; they scull very well indeed.
The state caiques in which the Sultan only goes to the mosques, are very long; their bows much out of the water, and their glittering, gilded prows many feet in advance of the body of the boat; they have each twenty-four rowers, who rise from their seats and throw their whole weight on their oars; these are built on the same principle as the other caiques, painted white and gold, and have a particularly classical appearance.
All the Turks, whose means admit of keeping a caique, do so; indeed, they are indispensable for those, who in the course of business, must have often in the day to cross the water; these private caiques are rowed by the servants of their owners; the rowers, who are employed in the public ones, are a fine set of men; their dress is a pair of very full white drawers, a shirt with large hanging sleeves, open at the breast, and loose about their finely turned-throat, a crimson silk sash round the waist, and a small red cap, with a long silk tassel on the head.
I enjoyed this day exceedingly, everything was so full of beauty; thousands of the elegant boats I have been describing, around a forest of shipping of all nations, before us, Constantinople at a little distance, and the sea washing the marble terraces of many houses close at hand, while graceful trees hung over the balustrades, even into the very water; above flew those birds, called by the Turks, the "souls of the damned," for they are never seen to rest, but winging their way over the Bosphorus, and altogether, the scene was one of enchantment.
Spent the next day in the bazaars; the armoury bazaar is the richest, containing an immense quantity of splendid objects. Besides the mass, led by curiosity to visit them, a great many men walk through with carpets, and all sorts of merchandize for sale, which they offer to those seated in their stalls. The dogs every where are incredibly numerous, and are to be seen sleeping, I had almost said in masses, in the narrow streets, where I have often been obliged to step over them, for they will not move for you. They know their respective quarters well, and should one of their number so far forget himself as to intrude upon the precincts of a separate community, he is soon made aware of the indiscretion, for they unite to drive out the intruder by force.
24th. We took a caique to see the Sultan go to a mosque, but could only get near enough to see a fez; all the ships salute as he passes, and it was a treat to me to hear it, and I may add, to see it; for a new and beautiful effect was thrown over the port and city, as both were for a few moments veiled in the smoke.
Went to see the dancing dervishes; we were obliged to take our boots off, and were then admitted into a narrow space, round a small circular area, in which were seventeen dervishes sitting in the Turkish fashion; a rather tedious service was performed by the chief, after which, the sixteen rose and saluted him, threw off their cloaks, and commenced spinning round, in an extraordinary manner, to the sounds of a small drum and pipe; we saw several bouts, each of which lasted nearly ten minutes; their large petticoats were expanded, and elevated, almost to their waists, by the rapidity of their movements, which were executed with great precision. The ladies were accommodated in a gallery above, screened by heavy lattice work; through which we could see nothing of them.
The heat of the last few days had been very great, and we made preparations for leaving Old Stamboul, and in the afternoon of the 27th, went on board the French war-steamer, at anchor in the Golden Horn, and steamed round the Seraglio point at half-past 5 P.M. The town presents an immense front towards the Sea of Marmora, but its appearance thence is by no means pleasing. No, the City of the Crescent is not seen in its beauty, till the traveller thitherwards has turned the Seraglio point.
29th. ENJOYED a delightful passage to Smyrna, where we arrived at 1 A.M., and spent the day and night on shore; it is a disagreeable, dirty town. The French Admiral was at anchor in the Inflexible, close to it, in company with another line-of-battleship, and a corvette: there was a gentle breeze in the evening, and the Admiral weighed and stood out to sea, in company with a steamer, – a sight this, I never tire of looking on.
Beautiful moonlight night. 30th. At 8 A.M. we left Smyrna, but night found us near Chio; the sea ran very high, it blew half a gale of wind, and we were tossed about famously. Arrived at Syra at 4 A.M., and at 8 A.M. we were conveyed to the quarantine establishment; the director gave us a small room in which we took breakfast: we opened all our baggage, which they fumigated; we then went down to the sea, and performed spoglio, with our guardiano, who also took a dip and changed his clothes; they gave us a comfortable room, the windows of which commanded the bay and town of Syra, which are extremely pretty, when viewed from this spot. Having performed spoglio, we had only nine days' quarantine to go through, which passed very pleasantly.
On the 2nd, we were allowed to take our baggage: we enjoyed a bath in the sea every evening, from the pier-head; we jumped into five fathoms of water, so beautifully clear, that the bottom could be seen. We were allowed to walk in front of the building, (during the day,) down to the sea, between a large open space enclosed by high walls. I wrote to the British Consul, who kindly sent us a number of papers; we were enjoying the fresh air from our windows when I fancied that something was running about me, and on clapping my hand on my leg, I felt a bite, and a large centipede nearly three inches in length fell from me; I called the guardiano, who appeared to think it a serious affair. He killed the creature, and rubbed the wound (which was very much swollen,) with it; I had a stiff leg for three days. Our fare during the last few days of our detention was so bad, that we threatened to complain to our consul.
9th. Once more in freedom; we left the Lazaretto very early, and crossed the bay to Syra; the miserable inn was quite full, but its owner gave us a delightful cottage, in which we were very comfortable indeed; a covered gallery ran round it, facing the sea, which almost washed its walls, and there we enjoyed ourselves during the heat of the day, and in the evening walked on the fine promenade above the town.
It was a calm, lovely evening, and as we were enjoying its serenity, the "Inflexible'' entered the harbour, and looked beautiful as she passed within a few hundred yards of the rock on which we stood; her fine band played the Marseilles' hymn as she came majestically onwards, and its thrilling strains, in such a scene, stealing over the wave as the sun sunk beneath it, had an effect which never will pass from my recollection: –
It was a gorgeous eve! the broad sea slept,|
Robed in the lustrous hues of that bright clime;
And from the shore a faint sweet odour crept
From the pale orange flowers and from the lime.
The sun had set, but the broad arch of heaven
Was steeped in purple, or was dyed with gold;
So much of beauty to that hour was given,
It seemed the spell was perfect; – when behold!
There swept a strain of music o'er the wave!
Tones that have stirred to good or evil deeds;
And won men on to glory or the grave,
As freedom, tyranny, or fury leads!
Anon, the trumpet's echoes wandered by,
And as the ear caught their last brazen sound;
The drooping lid closed o'er the listener's eye,
Sated with gazing on the glory round.4
The next evening we spent with the Consul and his two pretty daughters, neither of whom being able to speak a word of English, the conversation was carried on in French.
11th. This morning an English man-of-war (eighty guns) arrived, and saluted within a few hundred yards of our windows, which were nearly shaken from their frames. She sent a boat to the town, and on its return spread her canvas to the wind and bore away.
Left Syra in a small Austrian steamer at half-past 9 P.M.; a brilliant night, but the heat was excessive.
12th. At 10 A.M. we approached Port Piræus. There is not, perhaps, a spot in all Greece that more forcibly brings before the mental vision her former state. Hence did Athens send forth galleys gorgeously equipped for fight; here an Alcibiades (so eminent for beauty in a land whose people were so richly dowered therewith) stood on the gilded poop, while her old men, her maids, and matrons came out to join in the shout that went up for his – for their success. The trumpets sound, the Athenian youths that fill the ships join in the hymn of battle. The golden cups are every where filling with wine; the libations are poured; and so they sail out of port. But vision after vision crowds on the fancy, for how many of the glorious names of Greece are there not linked with the prospect here? Entirely must we revert to the past for all the charm – a railroad now runs where the "Long Walls" stood. Yes, that famous fortification which Themistocles raised, whose destruction Lysander made an express stipulation, which Conon rebuilt, to suffer in later times, from the Roman Sylla, now lie "low in the dust."
But a truce to dreaming: – we have entered the port, and shall soon set foot on that little portion of Europe which in a comparatively short space of time rose to the height of intellectual refinement; which in the imperishable arts of sculpture, architecture, and poetry, left to all that should come after them a standard whereby to measure and find themselves wanting; which, great in its own strength, bids defiance to united millions, and left the world examples of magnanimity and devotion unparalled in its history.
The Piræus is a beautiful harbour; the entrance is very narrow, but line ships can enter on the payment of a drachma or two. On landing, our baggage was allowed to pass unopened, and we started immediately for Athens, which is distant five miles. We took up our abode at an hotel on the outskirts of the town. but within reach of so many splendid ruins; we had not courage to go out before sunset, so contented ourselves with looking at the Piræus from our windows.
Athens reached its highest degree of splendour during the administration of Pericles, in the early part of the fifth century, before Christ; and in the year 1667, all the ruins visible at the present day in the Acropolis were in a good state of preservation. In 1687 it suffered by the hands of the Venetians; and subsequently from the Turks, who bombarded it from the Lycabettus. Still how much of beauty have time, war, and Lord Elgin left!
The Acropolis, an isolated rock, rises one hundred and fifty feet above the plain, to the south of the modern town, and commands a view of the country, whose appearance is exceedingly barren, except where a large olive grove spreads from the base of Mount Corydalus to the Piræus; to the North Mount Lycabettus rises to a considerable height above the Acropolis, beyond Lycabettus and in the same direction rises the Parnese range, which is joined by a low ridge to the Pentelic range; on the north-east (which furnished the beautiful white marble of which ancient Athens was built); on the west, lie Mounts Egialus, Corydalus, and Amphialus; while on the east, the splendid range of the Hymettus shuts in the plain. At the foot of the last-named, flows the Ilissus, a small stream; and from each of the elevations in and around the city, the sea can be seen. The sides of the Acropolis are perpendicular on the north, south, and east; the only approach being on the western face of the rock. It must have been a place of great strength, and was fortified from the earliest ages. Some part of the ancient walls still exist, but by far the larger portion are the irregular patchwork of the Venetians and Turks.
We entered through the Propylœa, of which little, save its columns (which are of the Doric order) remain; as we advanced through them, the façade of the Parthenon appeared: in all its beauty; it stands in the centre of the Acropolis, on its highest point, and quite realises the idea we form of the chaste perfection of the Temple of Minerva. It consisted of a cell, (the only remains of which are the western front,) surrounded by a peristyle, which had eight columns in the front, and seventeen in the sides; their height 34 feet, their diameter at the base, six feet two inches; they are fluted, of the Doric order, and deeply coloured by time. The length of this temple is 228 feet, its breadth 100. The columns in the two fronts are quite perfect, but many are missing from the sides. The greater portion of the freize which decorated it, is with us, that on the front of the Posticum, however, still retains its place. The Turkish mosque, which had been built in the centre of the temple, was removed about two years ago.
To the south-east of the Acropolis, are the magnificent ruins of the Olympeum, which was the largest temple in Athens; they consist of sixteen Corinthian columns of Pentelic marble, six and a half feet in diameter, and above, sixty in height, fluted, and none of whose capitals are quite perfect. Time has adorned them with splendid colours, resembling rather the lovely and variegated tints more generally found in soft sand-stone, than in the material of which they are composed. They stand on an elevated platform, supported by a strong wall, and are the only remains of this gorgeous and stupendous structure, which once numbered in its peristyle, one hundred and twenty columns. This temple was founded by Pisistratus, anal finished by the Emperor Adrian, when the chryselephantine Jupiter of Phidias (similar to his colossal Minerva in the Parthenon) was enthroned there. With the exception of the sixteen columns, not a single block of marble now remains; and by what means such masses were removed out of the country, (for they are not to be found in Attica,) still remains a mystery. Little less surprising is it, that any other ruins than these should ever have been mistaken, (as those on the north of Acropolis have been,) for those of the temple of Jupiter. A mistranslation of a passage in Thucidides should not have been allowed to weigh against the very circumstantial account given of it, both by him and Vitruvius, and with which the remains just described, alone correspond.
Between the Olympeum and the modern town, stands the arch of Adrian, a structure hardly worthy of the name it bears. The octagonal tower, erected by Andronicus Cyrrhestes, called the "tower of the winds," stands at the foot of the Acropolis; the soil around it has, in the course of centuries, risen many feet above its original level; and this takes much from its elegant proportion. The roof still remains, and beneath the cornice, on each of the eight sides, are figures beautifully sculptured, each representing the attribute of the wind it faces; they are in an almost horizontal position, and quite float on the "wings of the wind;" below them are traced solar dials, and in the interior are the remains of a clepsydra, or water-clock, which was supplied by an aqueduct, whose ruins are still visible.
The Temple of Theseus can hardly be termed a ruin; the whole of its columns, thirty-four in number, as well as the walls of the cell, are quite perfect. The height of the columns is nineteen feet; their diameter at the base, three feet four inches; and the whole height from the base of the superstructure on which the colonnade stands, to the summit of the pediment, is only thirty-three and a half feet. The posticum is still adorned with its exquisite frieze, representing one of the famous exploits of the hero to whom this temple was raised – the combat of the Centaurs and Lapithæ; while that on the eastern front of the portico depicts ten of the labours of Hercules. The interior was decorated with paintings of the combat of the Centaurs and Lapithæ. It was built over the bones of Theseus, when they were brought from the island of Scyros, by Cimon the son of Miltiades; consequently is with, the exception of the Olympeum, the most ancient in Athens. The marble columns are fluted, of the Doric order, and beautifully coloured by time.
The small circular building, commonly called the "Lantern of Demosthenes," is a perfect specimen of architectural beauty; nothing can be more incorrect, however, than to attribute it to the sage whose name it bears. Several persons are named in the inscription round it, and it was erected as a monument of the victory gained by them in one of the games. It consists of a frieze cornice and cupola, supported by six elegant fluted columns, whose capitals, composed of flowers and acanthus-like leaves, are of an astonishing delicacy of finish. The outside of the cupola is sculptured to represent laurel leaves laid partly over each other, those at the centre being small, but each successive row increasing in size as they radiate from it. From the middle of this singular roof (which consists of one piece only), springs up a most beautiful foliated ornament, fit companion to the capitals of the pillars.
But the crowning beauty is the frieze, which exhibits, in an eminent degree, the perfection of form and design, and the careful execution, so distinguishing of the best days of Grecian art. The story is from the life of Bacchus – his transformation of the pirates into dolphins, and the masts and the oars of their trireme into serpents. All is in a high state of preservation, perhaps partly owing to the protection afforded by the wretched modern houses by which it is surrounded.
To the east of the Acropolis, on the southern bank of the Ilissus, is the Stadium, which is beautifully formed; its length is six hundred and thirty feet; its sloping sides are covered with grass, and not a single piece of its marble seats remains.
The theatre of Herodias Atticus is a very fine ruin; its seats are hewn out of the rock; the scene was built of brick, and is in a tolerable state of preservation.
Of the grand theatre of Bacchus but little remains; the scene and walls are levelled with the ground, but traces remain on the rock of several seats, which extend to an immense distance. From Plato's account, it would appear that it held more than thirty thousand people, and was one of the most splendid theatres existing in his time.
To the west of, and a few hundred paces from the Acropolis, is the Pynx. The back part of the area is upheld by a massive wall, and contains more than 12,000 square yards; so that here, with little trouble, was formed a place of meeting large enough to hold the entire population of Athens. The bema, or platform from which the orators addressed them, is hewn out of the rock, and stands ten or twelve feet above the area, from which steps lead up to it; it commands a view of the mountains of Salamis, the Pentelic, and other ranges which enclose the plain: the Piræus, the Temple of Theseus, and the Acropolis, which last is, I think, seen to greater advantage hence, than from any other point.
If Manlius was not allowed to plead for himself, in sight of the capitol, from the conviction that an appeal to the scene which had been there enacted, would not have been made in vain to the comparatively stern Romans, what an irresistible controul may not the orators, who addressed the Athenians here, have had over their excitable hearers, with so many witnesses of the deeds of their ancestors on the right hand and on the left, by which to arouse them to the like – by which to stir the heights and depths of human passions!
Within a few yards of the north-west angle of the Acropolis, is a spot little less interesting than the last mentioned; the Areopagus, or Hill of Mars. A flight of fifteen steps, cut out of the rock, leads to the platform, where the Areopagites sat in judgment, and from which Saint Paul preached. There are traces of the chisel (and in many places a few steps,) almost all over this low hill, which runs due west to a considerable distance. On another, to the west of the Areopagus, an observatory has been erected, and at its foot is the smooth stone down which the Grecian dames used to slide.
To the south-west of the Acropolis is the high hill, called Musæum, on the summit of which is the monument of Philosappus, rather a picturesque ruin.
The portico of the Agora, or market-place, has four fluted Doric columns, supporting a pediment; on a marble slab, inside, Adrian's market-tariff remains, and the upper part is still legible.
16th. At 5 A.M. we started for the summit of Mount Lycabettus, which we gained in two hours. The view hence is very fine; the sea has the appearance of a large lake enclosed by the noble mountains of Salamis; and hence Athens, and the mountains near it look beautiful. From this elevation may be seen the Acrocorinthus, or the rock and citadel of the same name which rises above Corinth, though it is distant more than forty miles. We found the sun so powerful, even at 7 A.M., that we were glad to return to our hotel; indeed, during our stay the heat was, with scarcely any exception, too great to allow of any going out while the sun was up.
From whatever side we look on Athens, the still polished and glittering columns of the Parthenon crown the picture, standing as they do, the deep blue of heaven is alone seen beyond them when viewed from any part of the plain: but from all the elevated points the scene towards the west, shortly after sunset, is magnificent; and at that hour my steps were often turned to the Acropolis, there to gaze again and again on the temple which has no rival, and to muse on the probable or possible causes of the perfection which the Greeks attained in the arts.
It has been said, that "the master secret of the supremacy of the Greeks in sculpture lay in the mythic character of the beings represented." There was nothing of actual nature about them – nothing of the fluctuating and transitory self which constitutes the individuality of the actual man – all was changeless and immortal – fresh with the dews of perennial youth.
"The glorious shapes of the Greek mythology were absolute ideas; humanized and transfixed they stand before us like so many living thoughts seized and smitten as by a lightning-stroke into a visible revelation." – Athæneum 1843.
With all this I entirely agree; but a perfect conception of the beautiful must have been reached ere this resulted. Human beauty cannot at once be comprehended, still less revealed in marble; and that a full appreciation of the loveliness of nature was necessary before the Greeks could from her most perfect works, select parts which in combination should visibly embody the attributes of Deity, must be admitted. A sufficient reason why they alone should have conceived the perfection of loveliness will perhaps always be to be sought; but once imagined by them, two causes seem to me above all others to have conduced to its execution.
The recognised existence of deities, to whose imagined decrees their votaries cheerfully sacrificed their dearest interests, demanded, they believed, the first and best fruits of their own good gifts, and their sculptors eagerly sought, through created nature, those types and forms that might most truly and worthily image forth the ideal beings sought to be represented.
They wrought then with enthusiastic devotion; and when the multitude of gods and demi-gods acknowledged by Greece, and the fact, that all her numerous temples possessed visible representatives of them is considered, is it surprising that with such moving causes, the mute marble should have been transformed into immortal shapes of beauty?
A second reason may be found in the circumstance that among the Athenians the intellectually-gifted held their fitting, honoured station. Their artists, like their heroes, were stimulated by the desire, not of gain but glory. Their aspirations for the beautiful were not depressed, and its manifestation circumscribed by the stern necessity of toiling for daily bread, and struggling for social position; for these sons of genius were a public care, and regarded as public treasures. The people who murmured at Phidias, when he only hinted at the employment of materials less costly than the costliest for the Minerva for the Parthenon, were not likely to fail in doing honour to all who should aid them in the erection or decoration of temples for the worship of those gods they so highly reverenced.
A secondary reason of their being well acquainted with the actual form and capabilities of the human figure, may be found in the facilities for its study afforded in the games, and by some other social institutions.
It will be remembered, that I am not attempting to account for the Greeks alone, of all the ancient nations, having understood the beautiful: this is an enquiry, which I incline to believe will always remain unanswered; but, I think the two points on which I have enlarged, account, in a great measure; for their having exclusively reached perfection. The brute deities of the Egyptians could not have been represented under lovely forms; the most elegant mythological fables among the Romans, and the fairest forms in their Pantheon, were veritably Greek; and the best sculpture executed in Rome, was by the hands of those, who, when her power had annihilated Greece, and her generals had brought thence statues by thousands, sought occupation with the conquerors.
There is a fine promenade to the north of Modern Athens, where a military band performs on Thursdays; there are one or two good streets, and several cafés well supplied with ices. A. great many of the inhabitants wear the tunic, and several of the officers are magnificently dressed, but are as vain as peacocks; it was quite ridiculous to see them strutting about and admiring themselves. The men are certainly better-looking than the women; I saw but few of the latter that had claims to admiration. I met only three during my stay who were in costume; they were fine women, and their figures were shown to great advantage by their graceful dress. The Queen, who is rather pretty, does not wear the Greek dress; the King always appears in the costume of the country.
The houses in the town are neatly built of stone; carts are little used, almost everything being carried on horses and donkeys, which are very numerous. The corn is all dressed in the open air; there was an immense quantity on the floor of the Olympeum.
26th. Our last evening in Athens; we took a last fond look of her treasures, and at 6 P.M., on the 27th, left the Piræus; a beautiful evening; we passed close to Cape Matapan, and in the evening of the 28th steamed into the splendid Bay of Navarino, one of the finest natural harbours in the world, large enough for all the fleets of Europe to swing in; it is shut in by two large islands; the town is a poor place.
We had a delightful passage to Patras, the ancient Patræ, at the entrance of the Gulf of Corinth. 29th. Passed Missolonghi, a miserable place, and considered very unhealthy. Arrived at Corfu on the 30th; at Ancona, 2nd of August; having passed the previous night in a miserable boat, (whose decks the tremendous sea washed from stem to stern), and landed in England on the 15th of the following month.
CROZIER, PRINTER, SILVER STREET, GOLDEN SQUARE.
1 This is now universally admitted to be a misnomer.
2 Containing earthenware. &c.
3 The Temple of the Sun was built by Antoninus Pius, while pro-consul of Asia, in the early part of the second century after Christ.
4 The description of this particular evening suggested the above lines to the Authoress; she abstains from making any change in them, as they could not in that case claim the indulgence usually granted to an impromptu.