Persia/Chapter 2

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


CHAPTER II.

ASPECT AND NATURE OF THE SOIL—CLIMATE—POPULATION

Dead flats, fully exposed to the intense heat of the sun and covered with burning sand; successive ranges of mountains, some covered with trees, some with snow, others presenting bare masses of rock, separated by spacious valleys; vast uncultivated plains, destitute of water; deserts still more extensive, impregnated with marine salt; exhibiting throughout traces of destructive revolutions; ruined towns, uninhabited villages, here and there delicious vales, rich pasturage, and gardens producing abundance of fruit of all kinds: such is the general appearance of Persia, which is justify termed the country of mountains. Which way soever the traveller directs his course, whether he lands on the parched shore of the Persian Gulf, or braves the scorching sky of the plains of Babylonia, or comes from the wet and temperate borders of the Caspian Sea; before reaches the centre of the kingdom, he has to climb the most elevated rocks by narrow roads bordered with precipices; to encounter the extremes of heat and cold; to defy hordes of banditti who infest the whole country; to endure want of water and provisions; to expose himself at night to the inclemencies of the air, perhaps without any other shelter than a ruinous caravanserai, open on all sides, but most commonly his clothes and cloak alone. On reaching this central region his eye wanders over cultivated tracts, populous towns, numerous villages embosomed in forests of palm-trees, defended by ditches, mud walls, and a few brick towers. This description, however, must be understood to apply solely to the most populous districts, and the immediate environs of large cities, such as Teheran, Ispahan, Shiraz, &c.

Besides the mountains which intersect the interior of Persia in all directions, branches of the Taurus encompass it on the north, west and south. The Taurus, after traversing Armenia and Adherbijan, after uniting on the one hand with ramifications of the Caucasus, and forming on the other the various ranges of Media, skirts the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, and constitutes that lofty barrier which separates Ghilan and Mazanderan from the central provinces. Mount Zagros, which runs parallel to the course of the Tigris, stretches to the east of Shuster, enters Louristan, coasts the Persian Gulf at some distance from the sea, and terminates beneath its waters below Gomboon. A few leagues from Hamadan, the Alwend, the ancient Orontes, divides into two branches; the one, running north-east, passes to the west of Casbin, and unites to the south-west of the Caspian Sea with the Elborz, which is a continuation of the Taurus; the other, pursuing a contrary direction and joining the ramifications of the Zagros, forms the highlands of Louristan and Persia, or he snow-covered mountains inhabited by the Bakhtiaree and the Louree tribes.

From this disposition of the grand features of the country results the variety of temperature. The shores of the Persian the Kermanshah, for instance, are uninhabitable in summer. From the 15th of June to to the 15th of August, the season of extreme heat in that country, blows the malignant sam-yel whose breath, swift as lightning, is equally destructive. The inhabitants then forsake the villages and repair to the mountain, where they abide till the return of a temperature that is supportable. The northern provinces, Mazanderan and Ghilan, refreshed by the winds that regularly blow from the Caspian Sea and are repelled by the mountains, enjoy a temperate climate in winter as well as summer. Here the atmosphere is cooler, and the vegetables are succulent; mountains clothed with wood remind the European of the Alps and the Pyrennees; but as he rises from these low tracts, in his progress to the central platform of Persia, the wind becomes colder, the productions of the earth are changed, and he would almost imagine that he was transported into some distant region. Thus the variation of climate depends more on the elevation of the soil than the difference of latitude; so that you may pass in a few hours from the climate of Montpellier, to that of Siberia. The order of the seasons is nearly as follows:

From the middle of May, to the end of September, the heat is excessive along the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, in the Kuzistan, the deserts of Kerman, and even in some parts of the interior, as at Teheran. The summers are generally temperate in tracts of middling elevation. Mr. Kinnier found the mountains covered with snow in July 1810, and the cold was so severe in some of the valleys between Shiraz and Ispahan, that two or three blankets were scarcely sufficient to protect him from it in the night. The winter nevertheless generally begins in November and lasts till March. To the north of Shiraz, in the vicinity of Teheran and Tabriz, that season is very cold, and frequently interrupts for months the communication between those cities and their dependencies. From May till September, the atmosphere is serene, and cooled by the breezes which blow morning and evening.

One striking peculiarity of Persia, is, that a kingdom of such extent contains not a single navigable river, to impart fertility to the country and to facilitate the communication between different provinces. All the mountains, excepting those which run parallel to the Gulf and the Caspian Sea, are destitute of trees, the hills exhibiting nothing but bare and dreary crags. In summer no refreshing dew gives moisture to vegetation, no vapour veils the face of heaven, no fog hovers over the hills. Notwithstanding this general drought, the soil richly remunerates the toil of the cultivator. Wherever despotism has not wholly paralysed the energies of man, and wherever he seconds by his industry the bountiful dispositions of Nature, the earth produces abundance of exquisite fruit and succulent plants. Wheat, barley, millet, rice, grow almost every where. Melons and culinary vegetables of all sorts are plentiful and excellent. The grapes of Basan, the dates of Kerman, the pomegranates and figs of Yezd, the plumbs of Khorasan, the pistachio-nuts of Casbin, the pears, apples, oranges, and quinces, of Mazanderan—in short, almost all the fruits of Europe, and many which we have not, are of exquisite flavour. From September to the end of April, Mazanderan is covered with flowers and fruit. The jessamine, the carnation, the tulip, the anemone, the hyacinth, the lily, the myrtle, surpass in the splendour, the variety, the richness and the purity of their colours, and in their exquisite perfume, the most renowned productions of the kind that the West can boast of. The queen of the garden, the constant object of the tender love and the melodious strains of the nightingale, the rose, whose charms, whose blandishments, and whose fickleness have been described in harmonious verse by the most eminent Persian poets, here attains unrivalled luxuriance and beauty: and after adorning the gardens in the spring, she comes in the form of an ethereal essence to charm Europeans and Asiatics with her perfume.

Among the productions of another class we find silk, wool and goats' and camels' hair: these supply the Persian manufactures, by which they are converted into rich stuffs, costly and ordinary carpets, and garments of all kinds, and form the most important branch of the commerce of Persia with the East. We also meet with cotton, inferior indeed to that of India, but superior to the Turkish, madder, sugar, manna, asphaltum, naphtha, tutty, bezoar and gum-dragon.

If not more than a twentieth part of Persia be now under cultivation, the fault lies not so much in Nature as in the inhabitants. Let the religion of the Persians, like that of their ancestors, impose on them the duty of propagating their own species, useful animals and all the vegetables necessary to man; let the peace of the kingdom rest on a solid basis, and agriculture and commerce will flourish and mutually support each other. The ancient canals will be repaired and new ones dug; the rain or snow water, collected in the ravines and valleys, and judiciously employed, will fertilize the land. Success will give a fresh impulse to exertion, the valleys will be covered with willows, sycamores, poplars, and lime-trees; the fields with rich crops of cotton, Turkey corn, and tobacco; and the whole country with vegetables. The heat will then decrease, the atmosphere become more damp and rain more frequent: the number of springs and streams will increase, and Nature will from day to day he come more and more profuse of her bounty.