James Bell Forsyth.

A few months in the East : or, A glimpse of the Red, the Dead, and the Black seas online

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means. A large khan stands near the Upper Pool.;
it seemed quite deserted, although it was said to be
occupied by the guardian of the waters. We could
not, in common with many others, forbear from
quoting, on such an occasion, the words of Solomon


himself, reflecting on the vanity of all human under-
takings : " I made me great works ; I builded me
houses ; I planted me vineyards : I made me gardens
and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds
of fruits : I made me pools of water to water there-
with the wood that bringeth forth trees." Eccle-
siastes, ii. 4.

From the Pools to Hebron the roads were very
bad ; and it was eight o'clock ere we reached this
ancient city, the oldest, perhaps, in the world. It is
mentioned in Scripture before Damascus ; although
the latter, when first alluded to by name, is spoken
of as a place well-known, and, apparently, of some
note. In Hebron David established the seat of
government after the death of Saul, and kept it there
for seven years. But this celebrated site derives its
greatest interest from the associations, which have
descended from many hundreds of years before
that period, in connection with the history of the
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here the
great father of the faithful dwelt ; here, while his
numerous herds and flocks fed on the fertile pastures
around, he pitched his tent beneath the oak of
Mamre, and entertained the heavenly messengers ;
here Jehovah vouchsafed to talk, face to face, with
his chosen servant, when He announced the fate of
the doomed Cities of the Plain.

ii 2


Our tents were pitched close to the town ; and
early next morning, before breakfast, we visited the
Cave of Machpelah, which, with the field, Abraham
bought as a burial place. Over the sepulchres of the
three great Patriarchs and their wives, Solomon built
a massive structure of stone, 200 feet long by 150 in
breadth. The stones are of great size, upwards of
twenty feet long, bevelled and hewn smooth, exactly
similar to those still visible in the foundations of the
Temple at Jerusalem. The structure has been con-
verted into a mosque ; and, like that of Mecca, and
one in Constantinople, it cannot be entered except
by the faithful.

The oak, which rears its branches in the Plain of
Mamre,is a fine, hale old tree, measuring about twenty
five feet in girth. Many persons doubt, with plausible
reasoning, that this could possibly be the oak under
which Abraham received the angels ; yet, situated as
it is, probably in the identical spot in the Plain of
Mamre where the Patriarchs pitched their tents, it is
surely very pardonable to indulge in the traditional
belief. The celebrated tree in the Crystal Palace at
Sydenham, or rather its bark, brought from Cali-
fornia, is reputed to be four thousand years' old !
" The existing oak-tree of Mamre" (says the author of
the Handbook) " has no marks of such high antiquity,
nor is there any early written testimony to give pro-


bability to the theory." "But" (he adds in another
place) "though we have no ancient record of this
venerable tree, we cannot but recognise it as a repre-
sentative of the oaks of Mamre, under whose shade
Abraham communed with his Creator, and received
angels as guests. It is the last tree of that sacred
forest ; and as such, all honour to its noble stem and
wide -spreading boughs !" Hebron possesses the
highest site among the towns of Syria, being nearly
3000 feet above the level of the sea.

Dr. Coates and myself had intended visiting the
farm at Urtas, to witness the luxuriance of the soil
when properly cultivated, We were, however, unable
to do so ; but at the Greek Convent, between Jeru-
salem and Bethlehem, we had an opportunity of see-
ing what industry and care could accomplish. With
such proof of the fertility of the soil before his eyes,
no person can reasonably doubt that, with due culture
and perseverance, (and the curse withdrawn,) this
land would still be "a land flowing with milk and
honey." We returned to Jerusalem by Solomon's
Pools and Bethlehem.

The next day was the festival of the Resurrection.
We appreciated with sincere gratitude the oppor-
tunity, which we thus enjoyed, of celebrating Easter-
day in the Holy City, of attending church in the


earthly Zion, and there participating in the appointed
commemoration of our great Redeemer's death. I
hope it will not be for a moment supposed, from the
expression of such feelings, that I consider there is
any greater efficacy in the Holy Communion here
than elsewhere ; for God is present everywhere. Still
such scenes, and the associations connected with them,
impart a feeling of peculiar interest : the place is
holy ground, where the shoes must be taken from the
feet, and the heart must bend in adoration and thank-
fulness to the God of mercy.

Prayers were read by Dr. Goold, an Archdeacon
from Ireland a most exemplary clergyman ; the
Communion service was conducted by the Bishop,
and an excellent sermon was preached by Dr. Craw-
ford. Though the whole service lasted three hours
and a half from the necessity of administering the
Sacrament in different tongues we did not find it at
all irksome. It was a pleasing and a most interesting
sight to see the Communion administered in the Hebrew
tongue to converted Jews, clothed in their rich eastern
dresses ; and also, in their own vernacular language, to
Arabs, clad in their simple and scanty covering. After
the service, I accompanied Dr. Coates to Bethany; and
in returning, we seated ourselves on the Mount of
Olives, where the doctor read, for our mutual edifi-


cation, several portions of the Bible, appropriate to
the locality; and, among others, that in which our
Saviour denounced the infatuated city.

We then visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Of this edifice so many detailed accounts have been
published, that I will adhere to my prescribed rule.
The Holy Sepulchre itself is in the centre of the
Kotunda : when we arrived at the entrance, we took
off our shoes (according to custom) and entered the
tomb. The apartment is very small ; and the crowds
of people were so numerous and so eager to gain
admittance, that it was impossible to indulge in any
suitable train of meditation. In the evening, the
Rev. Mr. Murray held a service in the school-room,
after the form of the Free Church ; there was a
numerous congregation, and all present seemed much
pleased and edified, especially with the able discourse
delivered on the occasion, which was most appropriate
to the day and place.

Until within a few years it was almost impossible
to gain admittance into the far-famed Mosque of
Omar, the most conspicuous object which now occu-
pies the site of the Temple, the summit of Mount
Moriah. Though, in 1856, it was understood that
the sacred edifice would in future be open to the
traveller on the payment of one pound sterling, yet


there is still considerable difficulty in the way ; and,

indeed, even now, if a stranger is found in any of

the avenues leading directly to the Mosque, he runs a

risk of being insulted and very uncourteously treated.

At the time of my sojourn in Jerusalem, the Pacha

was represented as being very intolerant on this

point and in other such matters ; and we were told

that it was impossible to obtain leave of admission.

Fortunately, however, for us, the Pacha required,

at this time, some favor, from Mr. Finn, the Consul ;

and this gentleman, in return, procured a, firman,

sanctioning the admission of seven or eight persons

to the interior of the Mosque. The Consul was kind

enough to include me in the privileged number ; and

thus, on the following morning, I was admitted within

the Temple grounds, in company with Sir George

and Lady Ramsay, Mr. Murray, Mr. Brown, Dr.

Coates, and two young Englishmen. We were met

at the gate by the Sheikh ; and, on presenting our

firman, with seven sovereigns, were allowed to pass

the barrier.

The Mosque of Omar is certainly a splendid edifice,

even more beautiful, in my opinion, than the Metro-
politan Mosque of St. Sophia in Constantinople. The
history of this famous site, and of the platform which
it now occupies, is long and intricate. It would
be far beyond the object of these pages to trace the


record through the nearly four thousand years which
have passed since the father of the faithful erected
an altar on the spot, on which to sacrifice his son
Isaac, in obedience to Jehovah's command : here was
the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite ; here
stood the Temple of Solomon, with the Holy of
Holies ; and here taught a greater than Solomon, as
one having authority, and not as the scribes.

This renowned locality, as our neighbours might
justly term it, is now called Haram, or Haram-esh-
sharif" The Noble Sanctuary;" it is equal in extent
to about one-fifth of the whole city, and certainly
the finest part of it. The platform is evidently, in a
great measure, artificial, and much more spacious than
was the site of the Temple. In the centre rises the
great mosque with its magnificent dome. The interior
is certainly very beautiful ; the splendid tiles and
coloured glass, and the great gilt dome itself, dazzle
and delight the visitor. Within is the summit of the
natural rock, occupying the greater part of the space
beneath the dome, and venerated by all as a most
sacred spot. It is exposed to view, and has an awn-
ing over it. The following graphic description of the
Mosque is extracted from the Hand-book of Syria
and Palestine :

*' It is the Kubbet-es-sukhrah, or the Dome of the Rock, for
such is the name of the central mosk ? and its spacious area, which


give such an exquisite charm to every view of Jerusalem from the
Mount of Olives ; and perhaps there is not one point, where we
see it to such advantage, as that where the road from Bethany

just tops the southern shoulder of the hill This was the

view which burst on the Saviour's gaze, on the day of his tri-
umphant entry The Dome of the Bock is by far the most

beautiful, and, on account of its site, the most interesting building
in the Holy City. Crowning the very summit of Moriah, its
graceful proportions and noble dome strike the eye from afar ; but
when from the brow of Olivet we look down on its cloistered courts,
carpeted with verdure, dotted with arches and colonnades, and
miniature cupolas, and tall cypresses, the building itself rising
proudly over all, glittering in the sun-light and reflecting every
colour of the rainbow, we feel we are indeed in that glorious
East, which fancy pictured, when we used to revel in the Arabian
Nights: 1

We then proceeded to visit the Mosque El-Aksa,
which is also a handsome building, having been ori-
ginally erected by Justinian as a church, in honor of
the Virgin Mary. When the great Caliph, Omar,
took Jerusalem, having been informed, in reply to
his inquiries, that this edifice was on the site of the
Temple, he prayed in it ; and since his time it has
been regarded, by the Moslems, with great veneration,
and the spot where Omar prayed is still devoutly
shewn. We paid a visit to the very remarkable and
extensive vaults, on which the area of the Temple
stands. These are formed by large piers and pillars,
spanned by arches ; and they appear to be in as per-
fect a state as when the Temple was reconstructed by
Herod. They are generally regarded as antecedent-


to that monarch's age, though they may have been
repaired, and some of them possibly built, by him.

As my sojourn in the Holy City now draws to a
close, I may with propriety take the opportunity of
recommending, which I do in very strong terms, the
two engravings of "Jerusalem in her Grandeur and
in her Fall," executed by Selous, and published by
Beeforth, Scarborough, England. I do not think
that I ever saw a more truthful delineation of any
place than that of Modern Jerusalem, as she now is.
To depict what the City was in her grandeur must
depend in some measure on the imagination of the
artist ; but Mr. Selous has paid due attention to the
authority of Scripture, as well as of Josephus and
other ancient authors. This tribute I consider justly
due to Mr. Selous, who is a perfect stranger to me,
as is also the publisher. The original drawings,
from which the engravings are copied, are entitled
"Selous' Two Grand Pictures of Jerusalem, (1) In
her Grandeur, A. D. 33, with Christ's Triumphant
Entry into the Holy City ; (2) In her Fall, as now
viewed from the Mount of Olives."




On my last evening in Jerusalem, I enjoyed a pleasant
party at Mrs. Finn's, to whose kindness, as well as to
that of her husband, the Consul, I felt much indebted;
they certainly did all that lay in their power to make
the fortnight, which I spent in the City of David and
its vicinity, pass in a useful and an agreeable manner.

Although, in former years, I was a tolerable
horseman, I had not latterly enjoyed much prac-
tice ; and when I was at Gibraltar, I declined a ride
to the Cork-wood a distance of some fifteen miles
either way. But after I had been ten days on
an Arab, I could manage long distances ; so that, by
the time I got to Constantinople, I accomplished, in
company with Mr. Hill, thirty miles between luncheon
and dinner. These remarks are intended as a prelude


to the announcement of my determination to proceed
to Jaffa on horseback, so as to get over the ground
in one day, instead of two, the time generally taken.
I left Jerusalem at 9 o'clock A. M., accompanied by a
young lad with my carpet-bag on a mule. I moved
along briskly, and cantering in places, where formerly
on going up we could scarcely walk without fear, I
reached Jaffa by 6 o'clock. When I was about halfway
on my trip, and had left my muleteer far behind, I
met two horsemen. On descrying me, they set
their horses at full gallop, and, with their lances in
rest, approached very rapidly. I had no arms about
me ; but quietly waited their arrival, smoking a cigar,
and holding an umbrella over my head for protection
from the intense heat of the sun. When they came
up, one went on my right, and the other on my left ;
they grinned and laughed, and were evidently sur-
prised that they had not frightened the Englishman.
About an hour afterwards an Arab issued from the
side of the hill ; and whether I galloped or walked my
horse, he kept up with me for an hour. Upon the
whole, therefore, I was not sorry, on arriving at the
foot of the hill-country, to find myself at a khan,
where coffee was provided. I happened to have
about me some thirty pounds, during my long ride;
and I am thus induced to confess that I had run
considerable risk, perhaps foolishly, and certainly


unnecessarily, in undertaking to ride such a long
distance alone.* The boy with my baggage was, at
least, an hour behind me.

I was seated, next morning, at breakfast in a very
tolerable hotel, kept in Jaffa by a Maltese, when I
was suddenly accosted by a gentleman, calling me
aloud by name, in these terms : " Well, the next
time we meet will be, I suppose, at Madagascar or
the Sandwich Islands ! " Now, it had so happened,
that the gentleman who addressed this remark to me
(Lord Mark Kerr), when he was on Lord Elgin's
staff in Canada, had met me in several of the most
out-of-the-way places in almost every part of the
Province, and subsequently in England also ; so that
at our last rencontre, five or six years ago, he had
rather strikingly exclaimed : " Well, I suppose our
next place of meeting will be Jerusalem ! "

From Jaffa we sailed in a French steamer, the
" Mersey," in which we formed a small party of four,
including Mr. Hill of Cardiff, Mr. Peyton, formerly
of the Dragoon Guards, Mr. Alexander of Bristol,
and myself. The steamer, sailing along the Syrian
coast and pausing at some of the principal stations or

* A young gentleman from Quebec, now in Palestine, had lately
a very narrow escape from robbers, from having lagged behind his


sites, was to convey us at length as far as Smyrna.
We were thus to be some fifteen or sixteen days to-
gether, and we certainly had no reason to regret that
our number was so small ; for, with our state-rooms,
large saloon, and agreeable fellowship, we enjoyed all
the advantages which a yacht could afford, without
any of the annoyances attendant on a larger or more
crowded vessel. It produced no ordinary sensation
in the mind, thus to pass along, on board of a modern
steamer, such renowned sites as those of Carmel,
Akka, Tyre and Sidon ; but steadily the vessel pro-
ceeded on her course, and we arrived on the follow-
ing morning in the Bay of Beyrout. This sea-port
of Syria the Berytus of the Greeks and Romans,
originally founded by the Phoenicians appears to
great advantage as viewed from the sea. It was
indeed refreshing to us, after having been accustomed
to the sterile and desolate appearance of southern
Palestine, to look upon the town and vicinity full of
gardens and orchards, miles of land covered with the
mulberry and other fruit-trees, and the Lebanon
towering over all.

It had been to me a matter of deep regret, that I
was unable to take the usual route from Jerusalem to
Damascus and Palmyra by land ; whereby I should
have had the opportunity of visiting Mount Tabor,
the Lake of Genesareth, Nazareth (so often men-


tioned in the New Testament, but never in the
Old), the sites of the towns and villages on the
lake so intimately connected with Christ's ministry;
Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in Syria except
the loftiest peaks of Lebanon, and numerous other
scenes replete with interest and with sacred and his-
torical associations. Yet, in one sense, I had just
reason also to refrain from expressions of regret or
complaint ; for several gentlemen, who left Jerusalem
about the same time with myself, on the more interest-
ing route, narrowly escaped serious danger, and were,
with difficulty, hurried away from Damascus, on the
breaking out of the troubles, which immediately fol-
lowed our visit to Syria.

At Bey rout we remained three days ; and,
although we did not proceed so far as the re-
nowned Cedars of Lebanon, yet we ascended
the mountain ranges some ten miles ( " tell
it not in Grath " ) in a modern omnibus ! The
French, who are, beyond doubt, gradually acquiring
a sure footing in Upper Syria, where lies (according
to many) the true route through the desert to
Bagdad and India, have obtained a concession for
the construction of a highway from Beyrout to
Damascus. They already engross the greater propor-
tion of the trade in this quarter, and are becoming,


from day to day, more intimately connected with the
country ; indeed they seem fairly settled in it, and
are not likely to relinquish the hold which they have
acquired in so important a locality.

If, in ascending the Lebanon and looking upwards,
the traveller finds the prospect bleak and dreary ; it
is very different, when he has attained a certain
height and looks downwards. The whole slope is
very beautiful, covered with terraces overspread with
the vine, and with orchards of fig-trees and apricots;
with fine walnut-trees interspersed here and there.
"Villages" (as the Manual expresses it) "are seen
on every side, clinging to cliffs and nestling in wooded
dells ; while convents, like feudal castles of bygone
days, crown the peak."

Although we did not reach the Cedars, the reader
may expect, and might be disappointed in not finding,
some account of these time-honoured trees, or their
representatives at the present day. It is strange that
the accounts of travellers and professed eye-witnesses
differ very considerably in description and impression.
We cannot, however, do better than transcribe what
the accurate author of Murray's Handbook has written
on the subject :

" At the head of Wady Kadisha there is a vast recess in the
central ridge of Lebanon, some eight miles in diameter. Above it


rise the loftiest summits in Syria, streaked with perpetual snow.
The summits are white and rounded, and the sides descend in
naked uniform slopes, in the form of a semicircle. In the very
centre of this recess, on a little irregular knoll, stands the clump of
cedars. They are all alone. There is not another tree in sight.
There is scarcely a bush or patch of verdure on the surrounding
acclivities. When we see them from a distance, we feel bitter
disappointment, for they look like a speck on the vast mountain ;
but, on entering the grove, all feelings of disappointment vanish.
Then the beautiful fan-like branches and graceful pyramidal forms
of the younger trees ; the huge trunks of the patriarchs and their
great gnarled branches extending far on each side, and interlacing
with their brethren ; and the sombre shade they make in a blaze
of light, all tend to excite feelings of highest admiration. And
when we think of their high antiquity, their ancient glory, the
purposes to which they were applied, we can comprehend the won-
drous attraction, that has for centuries drawn numbers of pilgrims
from the ends of the earth to this lonely spot. The whole grove
is scarcely now half a mile in circumference, and may contain
about 400 trees of all sizes, the young ones mostly on the out-
skirts, and the oldest in the centre. Only a few, perhaps a dozen,
very ancient trees remain. There are, however, 30 or 40 others
of very respectable dimensions ; some of them three, four and five
feet in diameter. One or two of the oldest are upwards of forty
feet in girth ; but the trunks are short and irregular. They are
much broken and disfigured ; partly by the snows of winter, but
chiefly by the vandalism of visitors."

Among the many beautiful and interesting rides in
the vicinity of Beyrout, we chose, on the following
day, the ride to the Nahr-el-Kelb, or " Dog- River."
We rode along the beach, mostly at a gallop, though
the sand was soft, a circumstance which made it
rather fatiguing for the horses. In about an hour
and a half, we reached the pretty sparkling river,



which takes its name from the supposed likeness of a
large rock near it to a wolf or a dog ; its more
ancient name was Lycos (wolf) ; but respecting the
origin of the denomination some doubt exists, and
there are several traditions.

As the banks of the river are approached, their
height and precipitous nature become apparent and
are very striking ; but the curiosities of art and
antiquity here vie with those of nature. On the
smooth faces of the rock, by the side of the ancient
road, several sculptured tablets are to be seen, with
Roman, Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions, some
of them as plain as on the day when they were first
chiselled. These are satisfactory proofs, that the
highway through Syria, in this direction, must have
run along the tract of this ancient road from the
remotest ages, affording access to the Assyrian and
Egyptian forces, and, in later times, to the Roman

When in this part of the country, we witnessed
nothing indicative of the fierce and cruel conduct
ascribed to the Druses against the Maronites. Ak
though we may not consider the former so much to
blame as the latter, it would still prove a great fact
and an important object, if the Turkish power, in
these parts, should find itself sufficiently strong to.


restore order and maintain peace among the different

The French have for years been extending their
commercial relations with this, the finest part of the
East. Their excellent line of steamers, known as the
Messagerie Imperiale, or Postal Line, largely sub-
sidized by government, has given them an immense
advantage over the British in this quarter. The trade
of Damascus and the interior is almost exclusively in
their hands ; and when the macadamized road, which
a French company have obtained leave to construct
between Beyrout and Damascus, is completed, this
trade, as well as the influence of their fellow-country-
men, will be greatly increased in these regions. The
same quantity of goods may then be transported,
with ease, in a few hours, over a distance, which
would now take loaded camels some two or three
days to accomplish. The gradients of this road are
formidable, as may be readily supposed, when the
heights of Lebanon are taken into consideration.
But, although several travellers have ventured to
cast ridicule on the attempts of the French company,
I must acknowledge that I have seldom travelled on

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Online LibraryJames Bell ForsythA few months in the East : or, A glimpse of the Red, the Dead, and the Black seas → online text (page 6 of 10)