1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hejaz

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18713731911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 13 — HejazRobert Alexander Wahab

HEJAZ (Hijaz), a Turkish vilayet and a province of Western Arabia, extending along the Red Sea coast from the head of the Gulf of Akaba in 29° 30′ N. to the south of Taif in 20° N. It is bounded N. by Syria, E. by the Nafud desert and by Nejd and S. by Asir. Its length is about 750 m. and its greatest breadth from the Harra east of Khaibar to the coast is 200 m. The name Hejaz, which signifies “separating,” is sometimes limited to the region extending from Medina in the north to Taif in the south, which separates the island province Nejd from the Tehama (Tihama) or coastal district, but most authorities, both Arab and European, define it in the wider sense. Though physically the most desolate and uninviting province in Arabia, it has a special interest and importance as containing the two sacred cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina (q.v.), respectively the birthplace and burial-place of Mahomet, which are visited yearly by large numbers of Moslem pilgrims from all parts of the world.

Hejaz is divided longitudinally by the Tehama range of mountains into two zones, a narrow littoral and a broader upland. This range attains its greatest height in Jebel Shar, the Mount Seir of scripture, overlooking the Midian coast, which probably reaches 7000 ft., and Jebel Radhwa a little N.E. of Yambu rising to 6000 ft. It is broken through by several valleys which carry off the drainage of the inland zone; the principal of these is the Wadi Hamd, the main source of which is on the Harra east of Khaibar. Its northern tributary the Wadi Jizil drains the Harrat el Awerid and a southern branch comes from the neighbourhood of Medina. Farther south the Wadi es Safra cuts through the mountains and affords the principal access to the valley of Medina from Yambu or Jidda. None of the Hejaz Wadis has a perennial stream, but they are liable to heavy floods after the winter rains, and thick groves of date-palms and occasional settlements are met with along their courses wherever permanent springs are found. The northern part of Hejaz contains but few inhabited sites. Muwela, Damgha and El Wijh are small ports used by coasting craft. The last named was formerly an important station on the Egyptian pilgrim route, and in ancient days was a Roman settlement, and the port of the Nabataean towns of el Hajr 150 m. to the east. Inland the sandstone desert of El Hisma reaches from the Syrian border at Maʽan to Jebel Awerid, where the volcanic tracts known as harra begin, and extend southwards along the western borders of the Nejd plateau as far as the latitude of Mecca. East of Jebel Awerid lies the oasis of Tema, identified with the Biblical Teman, which belongs to the Shammar tribe; its fertility depends on the famous well, known as Bir el Hudaj. Farther south and on the main pilgrim route is El ʽAla, the principal settlement of El Hajr, the Egra of Ptolemy, to whom it was known as an oasis town on the gold and frankincense road. Higher up the same valley are the rock-cut tombs of Medina Salih, similar to those at Petra and shown by the Nabataean coins and inscriptions discovered there by Doughty and Huber to date from the beginning of the Christian era. To the south-east again is the oasis of Khaibar, with some 2500 inhabitants, chiefly negroes, the remnants of an earlier slave population. The citadel, known as the Kasr el Yahudi, preserves the tradition of its former Jewish ownership. With these exceptions there are no settled villages between Maʽan and Medina, the stations on the pilgrim road being merely small fortified posts with reservoirs, at intervals of 30 or 40 m., which are kept up by the Turkish government for the protection of the yearly caravan.

The southern part of the province is more favoured by nature. Medina is a city of 25,000 to 30,000 inhabitants, situated in a broad plain between the coast range and the low hills across which lies the road to Nejd. Its altitude above the sea is about 2500 ft. It is well supplied with water and is surrounded by gardens and plantations; barley and wheat are grown, but the staple produce, as in all the cultivated districts of Hejaz, is dates, of which 100 different sorts are said to grow. Yambu’ has a certain importance as the port for Medina. The route follows for part of the way along the Wadi es Safra, which contains several small settlements with abundant date groves; from Badr Hunen, the last of these, the route usually taken from Medina to Mecca runs near the coast, passing villages with some cultivation at each stage. The eastern route though more direct is less used; it passes through a barren country described by Burton as a succession of low plains and basins surrounded by rolling hills and intersected by torrent beds; the predominant formation is basalt. Suwerikiya and Es Safina are the only villages of importance on this route.

Mecca and the holy places in its vicinity are described in a separate article; it is about 48 m. from the port of Jidda, the most important trade centre of the Hejaz province. The great majority of pilgrims for Mecca arrive by sea at Jidda. Their transport and the supply of their wants is therefore the chief business of the place; in 1904 the number was 66,500, and the imports amounted in value to £1,400,000.

From the hot lowland in which Mecca is situated the country rises steeply up to the Taif plateau, some 6000 ft. above sea-level, a district resembling in climate and physical character the highlands of Asir and Yemen. Jebel el Kura at the northern edge of the plateau is a fertile well-watered district, producing wheat and barley and fruit. Taif, a day’s journey farther south, lies in a sandy plain, surrounded by low mountains. The houses, though small, are well built of stone; the gardens for which it is celebrated lie at a distance of a mile or more to the S.W. at the foot of the mountains.

Hejaz, together with the other provinces of Arabia which on the overthrow of the Bagdad Caliphate in 1258 had fallen under Egyptian domination, became by the conquest of Egypt in 1517 a dependency of the Ottoman empire. Beyond assuming the title of Caliph, neither Salim I. nor his successors interfered much in the government, which remained in the hands of the sharifs of Mecca until the religious upheaval which culminated at the beginning of the 19th century in the pillage of the holy cities by the Wahhabi fanatics. Mehemet Ali, viceroy of Egypt, was entrusted by the sultan with the task of establishing order, and after several arduous campaigns the Wahhabis were routed and their capital Deraiya in Nejd taken by Ibrahim Pasha in 1817. Hejaz remained in Egyptian occupation until 1845, when its administration was taken over directly by Constantinople, and it was constituted a vilayet under a vali or governor-general. The population is estimated at 300,000, about half of which are inhabitants of the towns and the remainder Bedouin, leading a nomad or pastoral life. The principal tribes are the Sherarat, Beni Atiya and Huwetat in the north; the Juhena between Yambu’ and Medina, and the various sections of the Harb throughout the centre and south; the Ateba also touch the Mecca border on the south-east. All these tribes receive surra or money payments of large amount from the Turkish government to ensure the safe conduct of the annual pilgrimage, otherwise they are practically independent of the Turkish administration, which is limited to the large towns and garrisons. The troops occupying these latter belong to the 16th (Hejaz) division of the Turkish army.

The difficulties of communication with his Arabian provinces, and of relieving or reinforcing the garrisons there, induced the sultan Abdul Hamid in 1900 to undertake the construction of a railway directly connecting the Hejaz cities with Damascus without the necessity of leaving The Hejaz railway. Turkish territory at any point, as hitherto required by the Suez Canal. Actual construction was begun in May 1901 and on the 1st of September 1904 the section Damascus-Maʽan (285 m.) was officially opened. The line has a narrow gauge of 1·05 metre = 41 in., the same gauge as that of the Damascus-Beirut line; it has a ruling gradient of 1 in 50 and follows generally the pilgrim track, through a desert country presenting no serious engineering difficulties. The graver difficulties due to the scarcity of water, and the lack of fuel, supplies and labour were successfully overcome; in 1906 the line was completed to El Akhdar, 470 m. from Damascus and 350 from Medina, In time to be used by the pilgrim caravan of that year; and the section to Medina was opened in 1908. Its military value was shown in the previous year, when it conveyed 28 battalions from Damascus to Maʽan, from which station the troops marched to Akaba for embarkation en route to Hodeda. The length of the line from Damascus to Medina is approximately 820 m., and from Medina to Mecca 280 m.; the highest level attained is about 4000 ft. at Dar el Hamra in the section Maʽan-Medina.

Authorities.—J. L. Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia (London, 1829); ʽAli Bey, Travels (London, 1816); R. F. Burton, Pilgrimage to Medinah and Mecca (1893); Land of Midian (London, 1879); J. S. Hurgronje, Mekka (Hague, 1888); C. M. Doughty, Arabia Deserta (Cambridge, 1888); Auler Pasha, Die Hedschasbahn (Gotha, 1906).  (R. A. W.)