Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/25
RECEIVING, on Monday, the joyful intelligence that Homer was out of danger, and that Mr. Aulick and Mr. Bedlow were on the way to rejoin us, I determined to remain no longer inactive; and, early on the 19th, started to lead the party over the Anti-Lebanon into the plain of Damascus.
Clambering diagonally up the mountain-side, which was beautifully terraced, and clothed with vineyards and olive and mulberry orchards, we passed two Druse villages, and a silk-mill, near a cave, which was filled with water, and contained crypts and sarcophagi. The cultivation gradually disappeared as we ascended, and was succeeded by dwarf oaks, with some large ones in the hollows, and in sheltered places; there were several streams trickling down the mountain side. Near the streams was some grass, and on their banks, and upon the mountain-slope, we observed the oleander, the convolvulus, the pink-flowered valerian, and the retem or broom-plant, the last covered with its straw-coloured and fragrant blossoms. The oak was succeeded by heath and fern, the last beautiful with its small, scarlet blossom; then succeeded lichens and moss, terminating in masses of limestone-rock, with boulders of quartz. We crossed, in a gorge (the Wistanee), between Mount Hermon and the next peak to the southward. The two crests were covered and many clefts on both sides filled with snow. From the summit, the country below, which had seemed so mountainous to the upward view, appeared an immense rolling plain. Far to the north-west, at the verge of the seeming plain, were the red sands, a dazzling line of gold separating the luxuriant green of the plain from the light azure of the far-stretching sea. Upon that line of sand, like clustering dots upon a chart, were the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Beïrût. Another plain stretched, from the opposite side, south to the Hauran, and to the east until it was lost in the great desert. On the northern margin of that plain, but yet in the far distance, lay the city of Damascus, Es Sham (the Holy), embosomed in groves and meadows. We made an attempt to ascertain the height of Mount Hermon with our boiling-water apparatus, but the thermometer attached to it was not graduated sufficiently low. The summit is estimated to be about 9000 feet above the level of the sea, which is, perhaps, but little more than the actual height. As we ascended, we suffered from a stricture about the temples, but nearer the summit, the feeling passed away, and was succeeded by great nervous exhilaration.
We found snow some distance down the eastern slope; and the descent was gradual; but, from the nature of the road, very slow and excessively fatiguing. As we descended, the limestone rock disappeared, giving place to sand-stone and trap; and, lower down, serpentine occasionally cropped out. At ‘Ain Ennahad (Copper Fountain), the water was deeply impregnated with iron; the dry bed of one of its branches was coated with the yellow oxide of the same metal, and the rocks around bore marks of metallic corrosion. Near the base of the mountain, there was a profusion of wild roses.
The next day, the road led over a high, rolling plain, along the flank of the mountain, which, ribbed and capped with snow, formed a bleak barrier to the west. Ahead was a sea of verdure, which indicated the gardens around Damascus. There is an unfounded legend that Muhammed refused to enter that terrestrial paradise. Advancing into cultivation, there were patches of wheat and barley on the high ground; and in the ravines, groves of olives, figs, apricots, English walnuts, and some melons and cucumbers. The prevailing rock, a dark basalt, with metallic veins, and some quartz. As we proceeded, the number of villages increased, each with its girdle of vegetation; an oasis in the wide-spread and arid desert. Occasionally the wind, sweeping down the gorges of the mountains, would whirl the dust of the incinerated plain in circling eddies, high in air, very much like our waterspouts at sea. There were some camels moving about in search of food; but there were few people, and no birds or wild animals: — a long, dreary ride over the dry plain, under a burning sun. I had brought the party down from the mountain, where the air was too keen for our debilitated condition; — here there was a prospect of the other extreme, and that the weather would prove hot and relaxing.
In the heat of the day, the whole plain seemed to undulate, and the ascending vapour formed a perfect mirage, through which, like light-houses above the sea, the minarets of the villages were alone visible. We passed through the populous village of Kattana, and a most extensive olive orchard — and with the suburb town of Salihiyeh on a slope of the mountain to the left, and on the right a long line of vegetation indicating the course of the river until it was lost in the desert; and Damascus, unseen though near, before us; we pressed forward as rapidly as our strength and that of our steeds permitted.
The road led through avenues of large English walnut trees, the blossoms nipped by frost. For miles the way was lined with walls composed of sun-dried blocks of mud, intermixed with pebbles, each about three feet high, four feet long; and one foot thick, larger, but in every other respect very much like the adobes of Mexico. This climate is said to be very cold in winter. It can only be so by contrast with the heat of summer, for much frost would crumble these walls in a single season. Within the lines of walnut trees there were orchards of olives and apricots, and patches of wheat, barley, melons, and leguminous plants. The road ran winding among these delicious gardens, with a rapid stream always on one and generally on both sides, and to which, through each garden there flowed a brawling tributary. After the poetic Lamartine and the graphic Miss Martineau, it would be folly to attempt a description of Damascus. I therefore simply transcribe what fell under our observation.
At 4 P.M., we were abreast of Bab el Karrawat (Gate of the Aqueduct), and turning to the left along the Grecian aqueduct, we came upon a beautiful green, level as a meadow, through the centre of which flows the far-famed Barada, formed by the union of two streams above, which are supposed to have been the Parphar and the Abana, rivers of Damascus, mentioned by Naaman the Syrian.
On our right was a collection of domes and minarets, and over the river on a slightly ascending slope, was the city proper of Damascus. On the high ground back of it was a suburb town, the resort of wild fanatics, conspicuous tomb, called the tomb of Nimrod, on a projecting promontory. To our surprise we found that Damascus was situated at almost the very base of Anti-Lebanon, instead of in the midst of an extensive plain. Crossing the bridge which spanned the Barada, we turned to the east, and skirting the northern wall, passed through a cemetery, many of the tombs in which were enclosed in wooden lattice work with bouquets of flowers suspended within, and many women moving about among them. We next passed a house enclosing the tomb of a santon, with numerous placards affixed to it, whither the afflicted or their friends come to pray for recovery from sickness. Very soon after we encountered a fellow-countryman, and our Vice-Consul, a Syrian Jew. By them we were conducted through Bab es Salem (Gate of Peace), to the quarters that had been provided for us. Before entering the city, we were advised to furl our flag, with the assurance that no foreign one had ever been tolerated within the walls; that the British Consul’s had been torn down on the first attempt to raise it, and that the appearance of ours would excite commotion, and perhaps lead to serious consequences. But we had carried it to every place we had visited, and, determining to take our chances with it, we kept it flying. Many angry comments were, I believe, made by the populace, but, as we did not understand what our to orgeman was too wary to interpret, we passed unmolested.
Our quarters consisted of a bower, about eighty by twenty feet, a small fountain at one end, and. a large reservoir at the other, with a miniature canal between; a grotto-like recess, with a divan, which was assigned to the sailors, and a large room, with a dais and a jet d’eau in a circular basin — called, by the Jews, “a sea” — for ourselves. The last gave us the first correct idea of the “Brazen Sea” of Solomon.
On our way around the walls, we had seen many light-coloured pigeons, with fan-tails; and in this garden were ravens of a fawn colour, with black head, wings, tail, and feet, — which contradicts mythology; for we are there told that the plumage of this bird was originally white, but that Apollo turned it all black, because it misinformed him of the infidelity of Coronis.
The windows of our apartments looked upon the Barada, which flowed immediately beneath them, between two tiny cataracts. On the opposite bank, was a large rural and crowded cafe, perfectly embowered in a grove of magnificent plane-trees. It was a lively and most attractive sight. There were Turks, Greeks, Arabs, and Syrians, in variety of costume, supinely sipping coffee or smoking, in groups or apart, or attending to the recital of a tale; and on one side a crowd was gathered, listening to a musician, and looking upon the feats of a tight-rope dancer, whose figure was at times half concealed from us by the intervening branches. As the day waned, numerous little coloured lamps, suspended in every direction about the trees, were lighted up, which shone beautifully amid the dark green foliage.
This scene so excited our curiosity, from the idea it conveyed of a social hilarity which we had never before witnessed in our intercourse among Asiatics, that, wearied as we were, we determined to sally forth. On our way, through the dark, narrow, and crooked streets, we frequently stumbled over sleeping dogs. These animals were by no means vicious, but would howl when trodden upon, and lazily get out of the way. They were more numerous than in Constantinople; and we were told that they perform the office of scavengers, and are, moreover, supported by charitable contribution.
While making our way through a crowded bazaar, a Turk, in passing, elevated his hands above his head. We did not at the time understand it, but learned afterwards, that formerly it was an enforced custom for Christians to keep the centre of the street, which is nothing more than a gutter, while the Muslims passed along the elevated side-walk. The Turk, on this occasion, not being so tall as the member of our party next to him, his gesture was intended as a kind of assertion of superiority.
The bazaars were covered in, and the shops in those appropriated to merchandise were closed; but there were a great many cafes, not confined to houses, but each one embracing a considerable space of the street before it. There were lines drawn across, some ten feet above the pavement, to which were suspended hundreds of little lamps, under which, on broad benches and low stools, squatted and sat, those visitors who preferred the sensual indulgence of coffee and the chibouque; while those whose tastes were more intellectual, listened silently within, as one read or related some tale of the East. The scene brought the days of our boyhood back, and we remembered the Arabian Nights, Haroun al Raschid, and his excursions in disguise.
Early the next morning, went to a bath, passing on the way the court of the great mosque, once the Christian church of St. John. Many of the streets were so narrow, that the projecting balconies often touched the walls of the houses opposite. The bath was very much like those of Constantinople, but more elaborate in its decorations, and the process of ablution was more prolonged and complex. The building was ornamented in the Chinese style. The interior of the dome-roof was painted skyblue, and the walls were in fresco, of Chinese scenery. There were pagodas six stories high, with grotesque ornaments on the top, and trees and flowers nearly as high as the pagodas. There were elevated divans around the rotunda, and two recesses, fitted in like manner, sufficiently large to accommodate about sixty people. These recesses led off to apartments with dome-roofs, studded with circular glass-lights, and having marble floors and fountains, and alabaster reservoirs. We were led into one upon wooden clogs, three or four inches high, — for the floors were heated from beneath, — and made to sit down by one of the fountains which supplied hot and cold water in unlimited profusion, and the whole apartment was filled with a hot and almost stifling vapour. After being parboiled, the scarf-skin of the whole body was scraped off with horse-hair gloves, by yellow imps with shaven crowns, nearly as naked as ourselves. We were afterwards conducted into a room of yet higher temperature, where we were boiled a little more, lathered, and thoroughly washed off. We were then enveloped in napkins, a capacious turban was wreathed around our heads, and, almost exhausted and panting for a less rarefied air, were slowly supported to the outer room, where we reclined upon luxurious couches, and, at will, sipped coffee or sherbet, or smoked the aromatic chibouque.
FRIDAY, JUNE 23. A close, warm day, but the air was much refreshed by the play of the fountains, which sounded like gentle rain, and mingling with the gush of the river, lulled us to sleep at night.
In the course of the day we visited the bazaars,which are larger, loftier, and cleaner; but the shops, even in Persian goods, were not so well supplied as those of Constantinople. The silk for this market is brought from the Anti-Lebanon, and is now about 110,000 lbs. per annum, one-half of the amount brought in formerly. The demand, which regulates the supply, has decreased, in consequence of the general introduction of cotton goods, mostly from England. There were a great many pieces of muslin with American stamps, but they were the counterfeits of English manufacturers. One of the khans was finer than any we had seen in Constantinople.
The population of Damascus was estimated by Dr. Mashaka, an intelligent Syrian and member of the Asiatic Historical Society of Beïrût, at 115,000, and he thinks it is upon the increase. This increase, however, is anything but an evidence of the prosperity of the country, for he attributes it to the desertion of the villages, caused by the frequent forays of the wandering Bedouin. He considers that the deaths are fewer even with the increased population, which he ascribes to the more frequent inoculation of children: — for the small-pox has been at times a devastating scourge.
In the evening we dined with Dr. Paulding, who with his brother-in-law, the Rev. Mr. Barnet, belong to the American Evangelical Mission in Syria. We were handsomely entertained, and in many other respects indebted to their kindness. In this land of mental indolence and sensual enjoyment, it was gratifying to converse with our countrymen, and to look upon books, maps, and other marks of western civilization. We heard to-day a singular but well authenticated history of a ruling family, which is indicative alike of the political features and the peculiar manners of the country.
Sa’id Jumblat was the wealthiest and most powerful of the princes of Lebanon. His younger brother, the Emir Beschir, since so well known in Syrian history, was aspiring and unprincipled, and in order to form a party of his own, professed to be a convert to Christianity, and by degrees won over the Maronites. As soon as he found himself sufficiently strong he made war upon his brother, and defeating him in a pitched battle, drove him to the Anti-Lebanon, where the fugitive was received by one of the mountain chiefs. But the treacherous host, bribed by the Emir, decoyed his guest to Damascus, where he was put to death. The widow of Sa’id Jumblat fled to the mountains of Hauran, with her three sons, but some years after being sorely pinched by want, she sent them to implore the mercy of their uncle. They suddenly and unannounced appeared before the Emir, and prostrating themselves in the humblest manner, quietly sat down upon the divan. Their uncle, not recognising them, demanded their business, when the eldest replied by asking if a child were responsible for the debts of a parent incurred before it was of age. The Emir said, certainly not.
“Then,” continued the eldest, “my brothers and myself are not answerable for the acts of our father,” and divulged who they were. Their uncle, moved by their appeal, received them into favour, and gave them back part of their paternal inheritance. After testing the character and qualifications of the eldest, he procured him the commission of colonel in the Egyptian army. When Syria reverted to the dominion of the Porte, the Emir Beschir was deposed, and, with his family, imprisoned in Constantinople; while his nephew, the eldest son of the murdered brother, was invested with the patrimonial estates of both families. But the two younger brothers were vicious and unprincipled; and, combining together, drove the elder away, and seized upon all his property. They had two cousins, the friends of that brother of whom they were jealous and fearful. Coming unexpectedly, one day, to the house of their kinsmen, they asked for a draught of water, but declined the invitation to enter. One of the cousins brought the water, and the other, equally unsuspecting, came forth to speak to them, when, without the slightest warning, they were both shot down. The second brother has since driven the younger one away, and offers 100,000 piastres for his head. This, better than a thousand comments, will give an idea of the insecurity of life and property in this region.
In the cool of the evening, we went without the walls. Passing through the east gate, consisting of a large central one, and two side ones now blocked up, we had, from without, a fine view of the city and its suburbs.
The walls are not strong, the towers having been levelled by Ibrahim Pasha, and the materials used in the construction of a large caserne, or infantry barracks, which, a monument of Turkish indolence, is unroofed and falling rapidly to decay. We saw the old Roman foundations of the walls, the ancient arches, the fosse, and evidences of a wall of cement between the outer and the inner one. Near the Jerusalem gate, we were shown the place where St. Paul was let down in a basket, and, on the road beyond, the spot of his conversion; and, on our return, we passed through “the street which is called Straight.”
This country is the cradle of the human race; and Damascus is certainly one of the oldest cities in the world. Its name is said to imply “the blood of the righteous;” derived, it is supposed, from the death of Abel Eleazar, the steward of Abraham, was from Damascus: and about half an hour beyond it, is Hobah of the Old Testament, whither the patriarch followed, to rescue Lot from his captors.
The history of this city teems with vicissitudes. Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Saracens, have been here; and there are ruins, and vestiges of ruins, which would delight an antiquarian.
On Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, we were taken to some houses of wealthy Jews. The exteriors of the dwellings were unpretending and semi-dilapidated; and the entrances were uncleanly, and, in some instances, almost filthy. A narrow, crooked way led to an open court, paved with marble, with a marble fountain and shrubs and flowering plants in the centre, and lofty, spacious, and elaborately decorated rooms and alcoves around it. At the farther end of each room, was the elevated dais, with divans of costliest silk cushions on the three sides, and Persian carpets between them. From the dais to the opposite end of the room, was a floor of tessellated marble, with an overflowing reservoir, or “sea,” supplied by a jet d’eau. The door and windows opened upon the court; and the walls, wainscoting, door and window-frames, and the lofty ceiling, were of mosaic, of different kinds of costly wood, with rich gilt edgings and arabesque figures.
There were neither tables nor chairs; and, in the sleeping apartments, the beds consisted of thick cushions piled upon each other. The men were dressed in black turbans and gaberdines; the wives and daughters, in narrow-skirted gowns, usually of English printed muslin; and a silk boddice, generally yellow, fitting closely to the form except that, opening and diverging in front, they displayed a thin, white gauze across the breast; which, in consequence of the pressure beneath, protruded forth and presented a most disgusting appearance. The married women sedulously concealed their own, but wore a quantity of artificial hair, confined by a net-work cap, ornamented with gold coins, pearls, and precious stones.
The unmarried wore their own hair, uncovered and unadorned. The eye-brows were shaved; and over each eye was a black, curved line, extending from the outer corner and meeting in the centre, at the bridge of the nose. The lower eye-lid, beneath the lash, was also blackened, and gave to the whole countenance a fierce and repulsive aspect, and the nails were stained with henna. They wore white stockings and loose, thin, yellow, morocco slippers, which, when they left the dais, were thrust into wooden clogs, and in which they moved about with perfect ease. These clogs were of wood, inlaid with pearl, consisting of one horizontal piece, shaped like the sole of a shoe, supported on two upright ones, eight inches high. They slipped their feet into them without stooping, merely half turning round in the evolution; and they always left them at the foot of the dais when they came upon it. Their appearance and their movements were unbecoming and ungraceful.
In the evening, the Great Sheikh of the ‘Anazeh tribe (the ruler of the desert) came to see us; and, also, the Sherîf of Damascus. The former is a fine, mild-looking man; but his character belies the expression of his features, for he was recently concerned in an outrage upon some English travelers. He is the Sheikh with whom those who wish to visit the ruins of Palmyra, or cross the great desert, must make their contract.
The Sherîf was a venerable-looking old man, with a magnificent turban, of a fine, white material, intertwined with gold thread. He came in imposing state, with numerous attendants; while the powerful sheikh, who holds life and death at his disposal, announced himself.
SUNDAY, JUNE 25. The weather oppressively hot, and many complaining; which determined me to remain no longer in the city, but to lead the party again across the mountains.
Starting a little before sunset, and passing through the suburb and a gorge in the hills, we had, from an elevation just above where the Barada bursts through the mountain, a full view of the city and the surrounding country. There were the mountains, the desert, and the forest of gardens; the last intermingled with walls, and domes, and minarets, and untold roofs, and the tops of trees, and the glittering sheen of running water, all forming a scene of beauty unparalleled and indescribable. Damascus, with its gardens, is a city in a grove; and conveys the idea of art seated in the lap of nature, — an island of architecture in the midst of a sea of verdure. A little after 7 P.M., we encamped, for the night, by the village of Damur, on the right bank of the Barada.
On the 26th our course led along the right bank of the river, now an impetuous stream, winding frequently, with many graceful curves from side to side of a narrow and luxuriant valley. The country was highly cultivated, with barley, dhoura, the walnut (which is an article of food), the olive, fig, apricot, and mulberry, the pea, and the castor bean. As we advanced, the olive was succeeded by the mulberry and the vine. The rocks were limestone, conglomerate, quartz, and concretions, and in one place there were scattered fragments of marble columns on the plain; and just below a Roman bridge a thick stratum of incrustations of roots of trees and other vegetable matter. The prevailing flowers were the wild white rose; a vine resembling the morning-glory, and a beautiful pink flower. It is strange that with a climate so similar to this, South America does not produce the white rose. High up on the eastern bank, over the bridge, are tombs excavated in the rock, and the ruins of a Roman aqueduct, and a tablet over it with an inscription in Roman characters.
Just before opening the plain of Zebdany, the Barada turns suddenly from west to south in its course, and is joined by a smaller but an impetuous stream from the north, and the two united leap a cataract of twenty, and thence rush foaming down a cascade — of thirty feet. Where the plain of Zebdany opens, the two ranges of mountains nearly meet, leaving but a passage to the great plain. The road, heretofore, had been winding within a narrow valley, with mountains on each side, and the river rushing and tumbling through; and wherever joined by a tributary there was a village, and around each, in proportion to the size of the stream, were irrigated fields and luxuriant gardens. But, soon after entering the wide plain, the vegetation began to spread from the centre, where ran the river, towards the brown and parched mountains, which, with their sharp and rugged outlines, bounded the horizon on either side. As we approached the village of Zebdany, the winding road was shaded by the willow, and confined between hedges of the wild rose and a fragrant but unknown shrub. We camped early just without the village, which is embosomed amid luxuriant gardens enclosed by wattled hedges with rude gates, and beautiful, shaded walks between. The enclosures, like those of Damascus, were a combination of patches of grain, orchards, and gardens, with a running stream through each. Among the fruit trees we gladly recognized the apple and the quince. The apples are celebrated in the market of Damascus.
Among these gardens, in the opinion of some writers, was the paradise of our first parents; and tradition denominates a spot within it the tomb of Adam.
In the evening, visited a holy spring above the town. It was a rill of water trickling from the hill-side and falling into a rude stone trough, with a banner on each side, containing an inscription from the Koran, praying God to bless all Muslims who drank at that sacred fountain. Upon the left was a lamp in a recess, which is lighted after nightfall. We found there a poor old Christian woman from Mesopotamia beyond the Euphrates. She had accompanied her husband on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he died, and she had only been able to get thus far towards her native country. While conversing with her, a proud Kurd, one of the princes of the district, rode up, and made her stop filling her jar and step aside for his horse to drink. It was a splendid chesnut mare, for which, he told us, he had refused 12,000 piastres. A few moments after him, a fellah came up, bearing something in his bosom. The prince demanded to see what it was, and the fellah exhibited a quantity of houma or pea of the country — of which the former, without leave or apology, took as much as he wanted.
We had reason to believe that inebriety prevailed among the Turks in Constantinople, but while in Syria saw only one intoxicated Arab — our muleteer on the present journey — who was rarely sober. On reaching Zebdany, he had deceived me about the best camping-place, and on my return from the fountain, I said to him, threateningly, as he laid beneath a tree, “I have. a great mind to pour a pint of arrack down your throat for telling me an untruth;” when springing up, he exclaimed, “do, Howajeh, and I will kiss your feet!”
TUESDAY, JUNE 27. The nature of the country before us rendered a long ride necessary to-day. We therefore rose at 3:45 A.M., the moon just peering over the eastern mountains, and started at 4:50, just as the first beams of the sun tinged the snowy peak of Hermon. At early daylight a great many goats were driven out to pasture, by herdsmen dressed in goat-skin jackets. We soon passed a holy well, enclosed, on the left; with sixteen banners, bearing inscriptions, around it, and one suspended from an adjoining tree; the road running parallel with the brawling stream; — terraced gardens below, on one hand, and barren mountains above us on the other; with conglomerate rock cropping out, and huge boulders of it on the mountain-side and in the valley.
Passing a small encampment of black tents, we ascended a hill-side, and skirted along a beautiful ravine, with a village at its head, surrounded by orchards. Here we entered upon an elevated plateau, three-fourths of a mile wide and five miles long, narrowing to the north, where a depression in the ridge leads to the great plain of Buk’ah. We then came upon a narrow, but highly cultivated valley, with a stream running through it. There were quantities of grain just reaped, and much of it ready for the sickle. A village, through which we passed, was embowered in the luxuriant foliage of the mulberry and the walnut. The houses were mud-plastered, stone huts; the people uncleanly in their persons and attire, — the women and children particularly so. The latter were mostly employed in bearing bundles of mulberry twigs, with the leaves on, to feed the silk-worms in their dwelling houses.
Until we came upon this valley, the prevailing rock was a coarse conglomerate; but here, the blue limestone, which yesterday dipped, again cropped out, and was succeeded by white calcareous limestone, with some quartz.
The stream widened, and increased in velocity, as we descended, and the strata of the cliffs above us were nearly at right angles to each other, — some horizontal, others perpendicular, and a rock upon the summit looked like a fortification in ruins. The willow, which early in the morning was occasional, became afterwards frequent; and on the brink of the stream were plane-trees, large in girth, but stunted and gnarled. Below them were wild roses, the yellow honeysuckle, and other flowers: we here saw a beautiful bird, resembling the oriole .
Passing by several villages, and a deep ravine with large blocks of conglomerate in its bed, we rode over the rolling, but parched and dreary plain of Buk’ah, with Ghebel Sunnin, crowned with snow, on our left. The Arabs hold that the ark rested on Sunnin after the flood, and that Noah lived, and was buried, in this plain. Of the last, which was part of the Coelosyria of the Romans, we, know that it was the high road along which Egyptian, Syrian, and Roman hosts have passed, in devastating progress.
Early in the afternoon, we came in sight of the ruins of Heliopolis, or the Great Temple of the Sun, at Ba’albek. While our eyes were riveted upon the colossal mass of architecture, we were startled by a reverberating sound, the echo of our horses’ tread, as if there were caverns or excavations beneath. We camped without the village, on the banks of the small, but rapid and clear stream, dignified with the name of the “river of Ba’albek.”
Thoroughly conscious of inability to convey an idea of these ruins, even if our exhausted condition had permitted sufficient notes to have been taken for the purpose, and as we possess an excellent sketch of them, taken by Mr. Aulick, I will select, from the description of Lamartine, some passages which are not exaggerated, and correspond with our own observation.
After describing a small octagonal temple, with a dome-roof, supported on granite columns, which is about half a mile distant from the great temple, he says of the last. —
“Mingled in confusion around it were shafts of columns, sculptured capitals, architraves, cornices, entablatures, and pedestals. Beyond, rose the hill of Ba’albek, a platform 1000 feet long and 700 feet broad, built entirely by the hands of men, of hewn stones, some of which are from fifty to sixty feet long, and fifteen to sixteen high, and the greatest part from fifteen to thirty above the ground.
Three pieces of stone give a horizontal line of 180 feet, and near 4000 feet of superficies. On this prodigious platform the temple stood; and the six gigantic columns, bearing majestically their rich and colossal entablature, soared above the scene.
“We skirted one of the sides of this hill of ruins, on which rose a multitude of graceful columns of a smaller temple. There were some having their capitals untouched and their cornices richly sculptured; and others were leaning, entire, against the walls which sustained them. But the greatest number were scattered in immense heaps of marble or stone upon the slopes of the hill, in the deep ditches which surround it, and even in the bed of the river flowing at its foot. There were prodigious walls, built of enormous stones, and almost all bearing traces of sculpture; the relics of another era, which were made use of at the remote epoch when they reared the temples which are now in ruins. From the summit of the breach, all around, were seen marble doorways of a prodigious height and breadth; windows or niches bordered with most admirable sculpture, arches, pieces of cornices, entablatures and capitals. We were still separated from the second scene of the ruins by the interior buildings, which intercepted the view of the temples. According to all appearance, we were but in the abodes of the priests, or on the sites of some chapels, consecrated to unknown peculiar rites. We cleared these monumental constructions, much more richly worked than the outer wall, and the second scene of the ruins was before our eyes. Much wider and longer, more decorated still than the one we had left, it presented an immense platform, in the form of an oblong square, the level being often broken by the remains of a raised pavement, which appeared to have belonged to temples utterly destroyed. All around this platform extended a series of chapels, decorated with niches admirably sculptured, with friezes, cornices, and the most finished workmanship. The only failing, is a superabundant richness; the stone is crushed beneath its own weight of luxury. Eight or ten of these chapels still remain almost uninjured, and they seem to have always existed thus open to the square they are built around, for the mysteries of the worship of Ba’al were doubtless celebrated in the open air.
“We then proceeded south, where the six gigantic columns reared their heads above the ruins. They are each seven feet in diameter and more than seventy high; they are composed of only two or three blocks, so perfectly joined together that it is scarcely possible to distinguish the lines of junction; their material is a stone of a colour between marble and sand-stone. These columns were either the remains of an avenue, or of an exterior decoration of the temple.
“Opposite, on the south, was the smaller temple, on the edge of the platform, about forty paces distant. It is of inferior proportions to that which the six colossal columns recall. It is surrounded by a portico, sustained by columns of the Corinthian order, each of them being five feet in diameter and forty-five feet in shaft, and composed of three cemented blocks. They are nine feet distant from each other, and the same space from the wall of the temple. A rich architrave and a beautifully sculptured cornice run around their capitals. The roof of this peristyle is formed of large blocks of stone, cut by the chisel into concave hollows, in each of which is represented the figure of a god, a goddess, or a hero. Some of these blocks had fallen; they were sixteen feet wide and nearly five feet thick. Not far from the entrance of the temple were large openings and subterranean stairs, which led to lower constructions, the use of which cannot be assigned with certainty.
They seemed to extend through the whole space of the hill. The pedestals of this group of monuments are constructed of stones of prodigious dimensions. They are of hewn granite, some of them fifty-six feet long, fifteen or sixteen broad, and of an unknown thickness, and are raised one upon the other, twenty or thirty feet above the ground. They are evidently of a different date from the temple, and belong to an unknown era; and have, probably, borne a variety of temples, sacred to a successive variety of creeds. There are arched passages, about thirty feet high, beneath the platform, running its whole length and breadth.
“The other ancient edifices of Ba’albek, scattered before us on the plain, had no power to interest us after what we had just inspected. We threw a superficial glance, as we passed, upon temples which would be considered wonders at Rome, but which are here like the works of dwarfs. One of them had served as a church, and the Christian symbols still remain. It is now uncovered and in ruins. The Arabs despoil it as they have occasion for a stone to support their roofs, or of a trough to water their camels.”
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 28. Weather, warm and calm; at mid-day, the heat oppressive, many of the party complaining, and some seriously indisposed. I determined, therefore, to forego a thorough examination of the ruins; and, abandoning the contemplated journey to the cedars of Lebanon, to hasten, with all practicable speed, to Beïrût, in the hope of meeting our ship. We found here a very beautiful species of the pink lark-spur, and also a pale, yellow honeysuckle, a native of the south of Europe, and naturalized as far north as Scotland, but which has not, before, been recognised so far to the East.
At 8:45 P.M., started, and passed a quarry where a huge block of granite lay ready, as it appeared, for transportation. We only stopped a sufficient time to measure it.
It proved longer than any in the ruins of the temple. An intelligent gentleman, whom we afterwards met, informed us that, on digging down, he discovered that its bottom was not detached from the rock beneath it.
Crossing the plain towards the Lebanon range, in an hour we passed a fountain near an artificial Roman mound. At the first were three fellahas, who expressed great fear of the ‘Anazeh Arabs. Two of them were young, and one unmarried: their faces were uncovered, and their lips stained blue. They were timid, but not uncourteous. Crossing the head-waters of the Litany, we were compelled to continue on for some time after dark. The mountains in solemn gloom, and lights here and there on the plain, indicated a distant village; the silence unbroken, but by the tramp of the animals and the tinkling bells of the caravan. At length we heard the welcome sound of dogs barking, succeeded by the voices of men; and at 9:45, camped, by starlight, near a village, where three snow-capped mountains overlooked the plain.
THURSDAY, JUNE 29. Two of the men sick last night, one of them very much so. We seemed to have imbibed the disease which has heretofore prostrated all who have ventured upon the Dead Sea, and were about to pass the ordeal. As I looked upon my companions drooping around me, many and bitter were my self-reproaches for having ever proposed the undertaking.
Started at 7:10 A.M., our course north-west for the first half hour, to regain the high road, from which we last night diverged in search of water. Our route then led along the flank of Lebanon towards the south-west. Here and there upon the plain on one side, and in every nook of the mountain on the other, was a village, through or beside which flowed a rivulet, bordered with trees and shrubbery, the only lines of vegetation above the plain.
The cultivation was the same as we have heretofore seen, with the addition of the kersenna, a round pea with a hard shell, growing two or three in a pod, and resembling very large radish seeds in appearance. The kernel is saffron-coloured, sweet to the taste, and it is an article of food for oxen and camels, the last particularly. It is broken and given in moistened balls. We saw very few birds in these mountains. We then traversed a well-watered and highly cultivated country, and passed through the village of Ma’alakah and the town of Zahley; the first seated on a slope, the last in a beautiful hollow of the mountain; the borders of the streams, tributaries of the Litany, in sight below, lined with willow and a profusion of the silver-leaved poplar. Near the town, we met a fellah on a donkey, travelling with all his effects; they consisted of a mat, two cushions, a pipe and an aba. This is considered the most flourishing town in the Lebanon, if not in all Syria. It has four Christian churches, each with its bell, which formerly was not permitted in the Turkish dominions. The houses present a neat appearance, and many of them were whitewashed. The people courteously saluted us as we passed. There are said to be some gypsies here.
From this place I sent the interpreter ahead to engage quarters for us in the vicinity of Beïrût, if the ship were not there, as medical attendance would be required immediately upon our arrival. The horse he rode, the best traveler we had, died upon the way. Descending and skirting along the route of Lebanon, we turned and clambered up again, and stopped to rest at noon upon a terrace overlooking the whole plain of Buk’ah, a glorious sight, but we were too sick to enjoy it.
At 3:60 P.M., started again. Two of the party scarce able to sit upon their horses but we were obliged to proceed for want of accommodation. The road was a most execrable one, leading over the summit ridges of the Lebanon — a keen, cold wind blowing from south-west. From the highest summit we could see the mist above the sea, but not the sea itself. At 6:40 P.M., we were compelled to stop, and camped near a dirty khan, on a little platform overlooking the lovely valley of Emana, one thousand feet below. It was a cold night, during which Lieut. Dale was attacked with the same symptoms as the other sick. One of the party, going out of the tent in the dark, nearly fell over the ledge down the precipice. Friday, June 30th, a chilly morning-misty clouds sweeping over the mountain-tops and resting in the chasms. We were 4000 feet above the level of the sea. The two first taken sick were better, but Lieut. Dale was worse. In company with Mr. Bedlow, I sent him ahead, that he might obtain the best medical advice as soon as possible.
Started at 7 A.M., the road winding over almost impassable mountain ridges, in some places by steps cut in the rock, and yet it is the high road from Beïrût to Damascus — one, the principal sea-port, and the other, the capital of all Syria. In our weak condition, we travelled slowly; the way grew longer and longer as the day wore on, and the coolness of the morning was succeeded by the scorching heat of noon.
For a short distance we travelled along an old Roman road, the curb-stones distinctly perceptible; and at 10:30, saw the ruins of an aqueduct over the river of Beïrût. There was a single tier of arches on the north, and a double tier on the south side of the stream. At 11, Beïrût and the sea in sight, but the sick scarce able to keep their saddles, when fortunately we met our countryman, Dr. DeForest, of the Evangelical Mission, who prescribed some medicine to be administered as soon as possible. At 11:20, stopped at a khan for that purpose. In an hour started again, and near the village of Bhamdun passed some deposites of petrified clam and oyster shells, with some ammonites. Just below was ferruginous sandstone, which dipped towards the west, next carbonate of lime and calcareous limestone.
At one place the crumbling sandstone presented a variety of hues, light brown, dark brown, maroon, purple, yellow, and pink. Two miles below, the sandstone descended to the plain, and vegetation increased. The wheat which grew so sparsely up the mountains as to be plucked up by the roots, was succeeded by the fig, the apricot, the vine, dhoura, beans, cucumbers and melons, while three-fourths of the space was covered with the mulberry. Along the road, just where the mountain sinks into the plain, were many carob trees, resembling the cherry in its trunk and limbs, and the colour of its bark, the apple tree in its leaves, and the catalpa in its fruit - a long narrow bean of an insipid sweet taste. As we opened the harbour of Beïrût, our strained eyes sought in vain for the ship we so longed to see. My heart sank within me, as, after many alternations of hope and fear, the only three-masted vessel in the port proved not to be the USS Supply. The end who could foresee!
The luxuriant foliage of the plain intercepted the light breeze we had felt in the mountains, and it was excessively sultry; but, we at length came to the groves of pine planted to arrest the encroachments of sand from the sea-shore, and thence riding through gardens that seemed interminable, we at length reached our quarters upon the sea-shore. Some of us were unable to dismount, from sheer exhaustion; Lieut. Dale, two of the seamen, and myself, requiring immediate medical attendance.
SATURDAY, JULY 1. All hands, nearly, sick. Dr. Suquet, a French physician, sent by his government to study the diseases of Syria, in attendance; but, feeling uneasy about two cases, I sent an express for Dr. DeForest. The weather warm and relaxing.
SUNDAY, JULY 2. The sick are mostly better. Dr. DeForest arrived. He said that much care was required; but that with care no danger was to be apprehended. He declined compensation. Weather warm but not oppressive.
MONDAY, JULY 3. The sick much better, except one new case. Our wounded man came to see us. We were ever scanning the horizon for the expected ship.
TUESDAY, JULY 4th. Sick convalescent with the exception of one of the seamen, attacked early in the morning. At noon, fired twenty-one guns in honour of the day. Weather warm.
On MONDAY, the 10th, Lieut. Dale, in the hope of being more speedily invigorated by the mountain air, rode to Bhamdun, a village about twelve miles distant up the mountain. It was the dreadful Damascus road, which we had travelled eleven days before. He arrived thoroughly exhausted, but was the next day much recruited. On the second day, however, a sirocco set in, which lasted three days, and completely prostrated him. On the 17th I received intelligence that he was very ill, and immediately hastened up, and found him partially delirious. He laboured under a low, nervous fever, the same which had carried off Costigan and Molyneaux. He was in the house of the Rev. Mr. Smith, of the American Presbyterian Mission, and received from all its members there the kindest and most assiduous nursing. Dr. De Forest was in constant attendance day and night, and his wife was as a ministering angel to the invalid. Dr. VanDyke came some distance to see him, and his case received every alleviation that the warmest sympathy could afford.
The exhibition of this sympathy for a stranger, was strikingly contrasted by a case of unfeeling selfishness in the village. It is a custom among the villagers, the Druses excepted, to fly from any one supposed to be attacked with a contagious disease. A woman, who washed for Dr. DeForest, being taken sick, her family believing that it was fever, contracted from his clothes, in consequence of his attendance on Lieut. Dale, they all, her husband and her children, immediately fled, leaving beside her a cucumber and a piece of bread. The Doctor could only prevail on the daughter to place medicine within her mother’s reach. And they are as ignorant and superstitious as they are selfish. On occasion of a solar eclipse not long since, they beat upon tin pans, &c., to frighten away the serpents which they imagined were eating up the sun and moon.
My poor friend lingered until the evening of the 24th, when he expired so gently, that it was difficult to tell the moment of dissolution. Determined to take his remains home, if possible, I started immediately with them for Beïrût. It was a slow, dreary ride down the rugged mountain by torchlight. As I followed the body of my late companion, accompanied only by swarthy Arabs, and thought of his young and helpless children, I could scarce repress the wish that I had been taken, and he been spared. At times, the wind, sweeping in fitful gusts, nearly extinguished the torches; and again their blaze would stream up with a lurid glare, as we made our way through chasms and hollows, enveloped in a dense and palpable mist. We reached the neighbourhood of the town at daylight, and the body was immediately placed in three coffins, (one metallic, and two wooden ones,) and laid in a vacant building.
In the gloom, consequent on our loss, we waited impatiently for the USS Supply; but in vain we hourly scanned the horizon. On the 30th, one month after our return, the physicians advised us to leave at once, as there could be no hope of the recovery of the sick at Beïrût. I therefore chartered a small French brig, to take our boats and effects, the body, of our friend, and ourselves, to Malta. An unhappy accident in the transportation of the remains from the shore to the vessel, and the superstitious fears of the French captain and his crew, compelled me most reluctantly to land them. About sunset, as the Turkish batteries were saluting the first night of the Ramedan, we escorted the body to the Frank cemetery, and laid it beneath a Pride of India tree. A few most appropriate chapters in the Bible were read, and some affecting remarks made by the Rev. Mr. Thompson; after which, the sailors advanced, and fired three volleys over the grave; and thus, amid unbidden tears and stifled sobs, closed the obsequies of our lamented companion and friend.
At 9 P.M., we embarked on board of La Perle d’Orient; and, after a tedious passage of thirty-eight days, during which we suffered much from sickness, debility, and scarcity of food and water, we reached Malta, and received every possible attention from our Consul, Mr. Winthrop. Coming from a sickly climate, we were not permitted to enter the town, or to associate with any one, but were confined in a building apart.
On the 12th of September, the USS Supply having arrived, I had the satisfaction of reembarking the Expedition, with only three of its members on the sick-report.
Sailing thence, we touched at Naples, Marseilles, and Gibraltar, in the hope of procuring supplies; but, in the two first places, we were refused pratique, and from the third, we were peremptorily ordered away. Like the dove that could find no resting-place, our weary ship then winged her way for home; and, early in December, we were greeted with the heart-cheering sight of our native land.