Travels and Discoveries in the Levant/Volume 1/Letter XXV

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Departure for Calymnos—Smyrna—Discovery of Roman Remains near Caravan Bridge—The British Hospital


Smyrna, October 10, 1854.

I mentioned in a previous letter that after my visit to Calymnos last year, I applied to Lord Stratford for a firman to enable me to make excavations there. His Excellency having obtained this firman, and very kindly provided me with funds sufficient for carrying on a small excavation, I am now about to take advantage of his assistance, which I should have done sooner had it not been for the necessity of going to England last winter.

I arrived here yesterday on my way to Rhodes, where I have to exhibit the firman to the Pasha. To-day I went to see the new road which extends from the Caravan Bridge nearly to Bournabat. This road, which was made last year by subscription, in order to give employment to the poor in a period of great distress, is a good wide macadamized highway, with a footpath on each side; but the people of the country make little use of it, as they have no wheeled carriages. The mules and pack-horses have worn away a serpentine track through the bed of the road. The smart equestrians of Smyrna usurp the footpath, but nobody uses the road in the sense in which we use roads in Europe, and it will, consequently, be soon worn in patches, and the track in the centre will be broken into holes and puddles as the winter advances. Wherever I have seen an attempt at road-making in Turkey, I have always observed that the traffic is not on the road, but alongside of it, in order to avoid the hard pavement. Large sums were promised for the subscription by the Greeks; but now that the time for payment has come, there seems to be difficulty in realizing their promises. The making this road has led to the discovery of considerable ancient remains. Beyond Caravan Bridge, on the road to Bournabat, is a large Turkish cemetery. Immediately beyond this cemetery great quantities of squared blocks of marbles and mouldings of buildings—all rough-hewn— have been recently dug up; also several sarcophagi, one with ornaments in bas-relief, of a late Roman period; a colossal head of Apollo or Bacchus, which I did not see, but which, judging from a drawing, appeared very hard and mannered; and a fragment of an inscription which seemed to be sepulchral. This spot is probably the site of an ancient cemetery situated outside the old town. At Caravan Bridge a marble lion was found in 1852, which probably marks the situation of a tomb. Part of the ground where these antiquities were discovered belongs to Mr. Whittall, who would probably make an excavation on a large scale if he could get a firman. He is very rich and very generous; he gives away immense smns to the poor, and keeps up a very princely style of hospitality at Bournabat.

At the special request of Mr. Hanson and Dr. McCraith, I went yesterday to see the British hospital, which, I must say, is a disgrace to any nation occupying the position which we hold at present in the East. This hospital at Smyrna is intended for the exclusive benefit of British seamen from ships of war and the merchant navy. It is supported by dues levied on every British ship which arrives in the port at Smyrna. The revenue was formerly administered by the Levant Company, and was by them transferred to the Government. The hospital has remained in statu quo ever since the breaking up of the Levant Company. It is placed in a miserable, dilapidated old house, the ground-floor of which is periodically flooded in bad weather. The rooms on the upper floor are pictures of squalid misery, the plastering decayed and full of holes, the walls dirty,—"with no modern contrivances of any kind. We found three sailors imprisoned in this Black-hole; they were jolly good- humoured fellows, said the bugs were "as big as black currants," and that the bedsteads, though constantly washed with hot water, were so old and saturated with verin that their crevices contained "the essence of bugs." In the holes and corners were worm-eaten old chests, which still bore the name of the Levant Company.

Opposite the British hospital is the Dutch hospital,—a perfect model of neatness and propriety, with a garden kept in order and planted with trees, and that air of comfort both inside and out which contributes so much to the cure of an invalid. I next visited the Greek hospital, which is on a large scale and in excellent order; lastly, the Austrian,— small, but well organized. The French I had not time to see; but I was assured it was admirable. Now, there may be some good reason for the very singular contrast which our hospital presents; but I cannot help thinking that, if the British Government were really aware what a miserable place it is, they would take some more active steps to provide a better. It is no excuse to say that the English hospital at Constantinople is worse; and that there the bugs drop down from the ceiling on the patients' faces. In the course of this war we may want a good hospital for our merchant sailors at Smyrna, and so we may as well get it ready at once. At present the establishment is much more like a Turkish khan than the hospital of a civilized people, and yet we profess to exhibit to the Turks a model to be followed in all things.127