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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a better road, though it is decidedly rather too nar-
row. The present troubles, I should think, will tend
to encourage the projectors ; for I feel convinced that
they are assisted by government. And should the


road once be completed to Damascus, there is little
doubt that it will be carried farther than John Bull
would even now care to dream about. There is no
substantial reason to question that the French occu-
pation of Northern Palestine will be as lengthened as
their occupation of Rome has been ; and it will be
recollected that this, at the time (1849), was averred
to be but temporary.

The population of Beyrout is calculated to amount
to 50,000 ; and the town is certainly the only one in
the East, where I observed marks of improvement in
the shape of new buildings. In parts the streets are
wide ; there is also a large square, and altogether
there are undoubted signs of vitality and progress.
There is a very good hotel in the town, called the
" Hotel de Bellevue," situated close upon the sea,
very convenient for access to all places of business ;
nor must it be forgotten, that Beyrout is the principal
place in this part of the world for the transaction of
pecuniary matters, the negotiation of bills, and similar

As we remained three days at Beyrout, I regretted
very much that we had not gone as far as the cedars
of Lebanon, which, from our protracted stay, we might
have easily done. On the fourth day we resumed
our voyage, and steamed towards Tripoli, where we


safely arrived and remained one day. We went
ashore and walked to the town, which is certainly
beautiful, as is the whole scenery around. The soil
is rich and fertile, and the ground well watered, a
stream, in fact, flowing through the town. There are
gardens on either side of a large, wide grass-road,
and orchards full of orange, lemon, apricot and apple
trees. We went into the gardens, and for a penny
four of us had as many oranges as we chose to pluck.
The houses are built of stone, and have a substantial
appearance. The population is said to amount to
13,000 inhabitants, of whom about one-fourth belong
tc the Greek Church, and the rest are Moslems.

As we always steamed by night, every morning
found us in some new place, or in view of some
rresh and interesting scene. On the day after we
left Tripoli, we were opposite to Latakia; but, un-
fortunately, it was blowing a gale, and we could not
land. From the deck of the steamer, this place was
seen to great advantage. It presents a very beautiful
appearance in the midst of a now desolate coast, sur-
rounded with groves of mulberry and orange trees,
and having part of the Kamaranian chain of mountains
in the back -ground. Although a very moderate
smoker, I wished I could have disembarked, that I
might have been able to tell my friends in Canada,


that I landed at the town which gives name to the
tobacco so highly prized in the East, and had brought
to them some genuine specimens, purchased on the

Having been unable to land and make personal
observations, I will add a few particulars, gleaned
from other sources, concerning this still lively and
interesting town, though a mere shadow of what it
was in former times. It is situated on a rocky pro-
montory of considerable elevation, projecting about
two miles into the sea ; and it presents a marked
contrast to the desolation which reigns on other parts
of the coast. Its harbour is a deep cove, encircled
by high banks of rock, but the entrance is so narrow as
to render it destructively dangerous in rough weather,
The exports of the place consist chiefly of tobacco,
silk, cotton, oil, with a few other articles, all of
which might be increased a hundred-fold, if the
government could or would afford security for life
and property. There is scarcely an acre of the plain
between Tripoli and Latakia, that might not be
made to produce abundant crops of cotton (a subject
now engrossing so much attention in England) ; and
the mountain sides adjoining are admirably adapted
to the growth of the mulberry and vine. "Why
(asks the traveller, with good reason,) do British
merchants shut their eyes to the resources of Syria ?"


On the day after passing Latakia, we arrived at
Alexandrette or Iskanderoon, which now gives name
to the adjoining gulf, and is accounted the sea-port
of Aleppo, though that city lies at a distance from it
of at least seventy miles inland. The village is one
of the most abject and wretched that I have ever
seen ; and its site is low, marshy and unwholesome.
The locality, however, is famous in history ; and it
was by this way that Alexander the Great entered
Syria, after he had defeated Darius at Issus. Hence
the sea-port obtained from the Macedonian hero a
name, which it has ever since retained with some
slight variation.

Antioch is about a day's journey inland ; but we
were unable to visit the renowned capital of the
Graeco-Syrian kings, where the disciples of Christ
were first called Christians : the population does not
now exceed six thousand ! It was a subject of still
deeper regret, that we could not visit Tarsus, the
birth-place of the great Apostle of the Gentiles ; but
though there is a direct route from Iskanderoon to
that city, the distance is much greater, and the time
requisite for such a trip put any design of the kind,
on this occasion, altogether out of the question.

Leaving Iskanderoon and the Syrian seaboard, we
proceeded along the coasts of Asia Minor, and enjoyed


greatly the magnificent and bold scenery here pre-
sented to the voyager, with the great range of Taurus
and the Oilician mountains in the distance. But we
now hurried rapidly onwards ; and, passing close to
Cyprus and Rhodes, and numerous places of ancient
and modern note, we reached Smyrna on the twelfth
day from leaving Jaffa, all detentions included.

Our party on board the steamer, as I have already
remarked, was small ; and, having been so many days
together, we had become good and familiar friends.
We were most comfortably lodged, each having a
cabin to himself; and a most excellent table was kept
throughout the whole time. Indeed our own Canadian
line, as well as that of Cunard's, would not do
amiss to send a deputation of their stewards, and,
perhaps, cooks also, to see how nicely things are
managed during a trip along the shores of the
Levant. I will not venture to give a complete carte
a diner, but simply mention one incident, which
occurred off Beyrout, and which may serve to shew
the excellence of the cookery. Observing on that
day, at dinner, a very savoury and delicate looking
side-dish handed round, I partook of it, and found it
so delicious, that I asked the Captain what it was,
intending, like Oliver Twist, to ask for more. The
answer, however, sufficed, and made my friend oppo-
site drop his knife and fork : " Des escargots,


Monsieur;" and marking the effect produced by
his words, our gallant Captain exclaimed, rather in-
dignantly : " Now, see the force of prejudice ! Do
you not eat, with relish, oysters, periwinkles, and
other shell-fish of the ocean ? and why object to
snails ! "



The Bay of Smyrna is one of the finest in the world ;
this advantageous circumstance, together with the
excellent situation of the place, must be regarded as
the principal cause of its still continuing a flourishing
commercial city, while ruin has overtaken so many
renowned cities in Asia Minor. It is, indeed, ac-
counted, both as to population and wealth, one of
the very first marts in the Turkish empire, and one
of the largest and richest cities in the Levant. The
population has been reckoned as high as 150,000 ;
and of these not more than a third are Moslem, so
that it is still essentially a Greek city. There is said
to be resident at this port a consul from every nation
in Europe ; and it is certainly the rendezvous of
merchants from most parts of the world and a great
entrepot of merchandise.


The modern city does not occupy the same site as
the ancient, the latter having been seated on the
hills to the south of the former ; the earthquakes,
which more than once almost totally destroyed the
city, and the greater convenience to commerce caused
its removal to the lower declivities of the mountain.
From the bay and many points of view on land, the
appearance of the place is very beautiful ; the streets
being built on a gradually rising slope. There are
gardens and orchards in every section of the city,
and this gives an air of life and beauty to the scene.
On landing, however, and entering the place, we
soon have the illusion dispelled ; and here, as in
other parts of the East, the traveller finds himself
threading his way through narrow, dirty lanes. Yet
the houses are said to be better built, and the streets
more open, than in other towns in this quarter of the
world, once so famed for architectural excellence.
" The prosperity of Smyrna" (writes a traveller of no
mean authority) " is now rather on the increase than
the decline ; and the houses of painted wood, which
were most unworthy of its ancient fame and present
importance, are rapidly giving way to palaces of
stone; and probably, ere many years have passed,
the modern town may not unworthily represent the
ancient city." I cannot say that we could heartily
adopt these bright anticipations, nor realize the


views of the writer. We had, in fact, intended to
remain a few days in Smyrna, to examine the city
and vicinity in a more conciliatory mood ; but we
found the hotel so very indifferent, that we endea-
voured to make our rounds, and to see as much as we
well could, in the course of the day. We did not
fail to pay a visit to the Bridge of Caravans, near
which, tradition says, the great poet Homer was born
some thousands of years ago. We also made a point
of visiting the principal Greek Church, from the top
of which we had a very pleasing view of the city
and vicinity.

In the evening, according to our altered intentions,
we embarked on board an Austrian steamer, which
literally swarmed with passengers. We were soon
sensible of the sad change which we had made from
the quiet and comfort of the Mersey to the confusion
and discomfort of an overcrowded Austrian steamer.
The Austrian, Russian and Greek boats are very
much inferior to the French. On board, however,
we had the good fortune to form the acquaintance of
Mr. Fry, an English barrister settled in Constan-
tinople. The powers of this gentleman's memory are
so great, that, among other astonishing feats, he can
repeat the whole of Milton's Paradise Lost, and
several plays ! which wonderful faculty he exhibited
for our amusement, and thus beguiled the time.


On leaving Smyrna, we steamed uninterruptedly
through waters and along shores renowned in the
classical literature of Greece, in the pages of her
greatest poets and historians. We entered the Dar-
danelles, and the steamer threaded her way through
the celebrated Hellespont, which separates, by its
comparatively narrow channel, the vast continent of
Asia from Europe. At length the steamer reached
Gallipoli, a sea-port of considerable importance in
these parts, situated on the European side of the
strait, to which it has imparted its name. The town
is built on a peninsula, which forms two harbours,
wherein the Turkish fleets are often to be seen ; and
it stands at the broad entrance of the strait from the
sea of Marmora, the Propontis of the ancients, over
the waters of which the tourist obtains his first but
distant glance of Constantinople.

Having passed Gallipoli and continued our route
through the strait into and across the sea of Marmora,
we were, at an early hour next morning, rounding
the Seraglio Point, and gliding into the Golden
Horn, where the magnificent harbour of Constan-
tinople lay revealed to the astonished gaze of the
approaching strangers. It was thus that suddenly
the glorious scene burst upon our view, and the Queen
City of the East shone before us apparently in all her
ancient splendour. Brilliant edifices, elegant minarets


and imposing cupolas, were in themselves a sight
strikingly singular, and amply sufficient to excite
admiration and to draw forth exclamations of surprise
and delight. They presented, on this occasion, an
unusually gay and animated picture, for it was the
grand festival of Bairam ; and if we had arrived an
hour sooner, we might have seen the Sultan going in
state to the mosque of Saint Sophia.

But before landing, as our highly excited expecta-
tions may probably meet on shore with disappoint-
ment, let us take a view of the scene around us, for
(as it has been frequently acknowledged) it is one of
the most extraordinary with which the tourist will
meet in the eastern hemisphere. The bay of the
Golden Horn is an amphitheatre encircled by hills,
covered with palaces, minarets and splendid buildings,
intermingled on the heights with cypress groves, and
towards the shore with the masts and sails of innu^
merable vessels of all descriptions. A clear blue
sky, equally blue water, and a brilliant sun, produce
on such combinations a magnificent effect.

On landing, we proceeded to Misseri's Hotel, an
excellent house, which, indeed, I should have little
hesitation in pronouncing the best of the kind to
be found by travellers in the east. After a hearty
breakfast, we walked to the Bridge of Boats ; de*


scending the dirty unpaved street, which leads down
from Pera to Galata, we crossed, from the latter
suburb the water-side residence of merchants of all
origins over the Golden Horn, to Stamboul or Con-
stantinople. The view from the Bridge of Boats is
very grand, and the scene on the bridge itself is very
striking. As Bradshaw remarks, the extraordinary
oriental crowds, passing over and jumbled together,
present a wondrous scene, as bewildering as it is
novel and attractive. The vision of Mirza, so beau-
tifully narrated in the Spectator, will occur to the
mind of the traveller, as he gazes on the motley and
sublime picture before his eyes.

In the afternoon we rode out on horseback to the
"Sweet Waters" of Europe ; and, between luncheon
and dinner, we got over from twenty-five to thirty
miles, going round the walls of the city at a rate
which our dragoman did not much admire.

In our visit to the Seraglio, we were joined by a
large number of persons, many of them from the
States, in company with whom we went through the
apartments, which are usually shewn to strangers.
The Seraglio or Imperial Palace is enclosed within
lofty walls, and the whole space is covered with gar-
dens, groves, mosques, and suites of apartments.
Here are now to be found the various departments


of the principal ministers of state, such as the Grand
Vizier's Divan, the Mint, the Audience Chamber, in
which foreign ambassadors are received by the Sultan,
&c. The Seraglio is said to occupy the site of
ancient Byzantium, and is about three miles in cir-
cuit. The furniture of the place, as others have
remarked, consists chiefly of sofas placed round the
room, carpets and mirrors, the hangings being of
silk and cloth of gold with jewelled fringes, and the
walls being variously veneered.

We then proceeded to take a careful survey of the
magnificent temple of St. Sophia, originally a Chris-
tian Church, but now, and for many long years, a
Turkish Mosque. It is situated near the principal gate
of the Seraglio, and is generally said to have been
originally founded by Constantine himself, but was
actually built in the sixth century. The marble
pillars, used in its construction, were brought from
various renowned edifices : some from the temples of
the sun at Baalbec and Rome, six of jaspar, which
once supported the roof of the renowned temple of
Diana at Ephesus, and others of porphyry from
Alexandria. The interior is certainly very imposing ;
but, as I have elsewhere hinted, I think the Mosque
of Omar, in Jerusalem, is, on the whole, superior.
The description of the interior of this celebrated



edifice, as it now exists, is so graphically given in
Bradshaw's Guide, that I feel tempted to copy it, not
merely for the benefit of my readers who may not
possess that work, but because it affords a most com-
prehensive and appropriate glance at a most interest-
ing oriental scene : " The visitor should ascend the
stairs and go up to the gallery, whence the view is
exceedingly fine. The immense size of the building,
the stupendous concave of the dome, the magnificence
of the columns and varieties of marbles, the singular
manner in which the building is illuminated with
globes of crystal and lamps of coloured glass, and
ornamented with ostrich eggs, &c, produce a most
striking effect. On looking down and observing the
number of believers at prayers, kneeling in rows
across the body of the mosque, with their faces turned
towards Mecca, constantly bending up and down,
touching the ground with their foreheads and spring-
ing up again on their heels, the spectator must feel
interested in the scene before him, though the impres-
sion on his gravity may not be consistent with the
sacredness of the place, however grave the effect
produced on the Musselman."

The Mosques are so numerous, that the tourist
must rest satisfied with a visit to two or three of
the principal ones, and some of these are edifices
of striking grandeur. After viewing St. Sophia,


we went to that of Achmet, which was built
as a mosque originally, and not converted, as St.
Sophia, from the cross to the crescent. No expense
was spared in its construction ; and it is considered,
by many persons, as the finest building ever erected
by the Turks. I might be expected to allude to
several more of these edifices ; but it should not be
forgotten, that I am only writing a brief journal,
founded almost entirely on personal observation.

We rode through the old town of Stamboul, with
its narrow and dirty streets, towards the Castle of the
Seven Towers, as well as to the " Castles of Ancient
Days." It has been most justly remarked, that the
interior of the city is greatly at variance with the
noble appearance which it externally presents, even
at a short distance. It consists of a certain number
of dark and filthy streets, closely crowded together,
and choked up with dust and mud. The Castle of
the Seven Towers is a state prison, standing near the
Sea of Marmora, at the west point of the city from
the Seraglio. We ascended to the top of the build-
ing and enjoyed the prospect.

The Bazaars of Constantinople, where all the busi-
ness of the city is transacted, have long been famous
for the great variety and beauty of the wares pre-
sented for sale, the silks being especially notable.


The Bazaars themselves resemble a row of booths In
a fair, or have the appearance of a street of shops,
allotted out to particular trades, merchandize, and
dealers of different nations. They have been de-
scribed as lofty cloisters or corridors, built of stone,
and lighted by domes ; they are thus admirably
adapted for the climate, and afford a not unpleasant
retreat in summer. The crowd is of a very motley
description, but peculiarly oriental in character ; the
variety of dress and of the different modes of covering
the head produces a most striking and picturesque
effect. We purchased a few pairs of slippers, fans,
&c, &c, and some veritable otto of roses ; but we
had arranged our plans for an excursion through
the Bosphorus, and, in consequence, were unable to
remain as long at the Bazaars as some of our party

Though it rained in torrents, we embarked on
board a steamer from the Bridge of Boats, bound for
Buyukdere, situated on the European side near the
entrance of the Bosphorus from the Black Sea. The
steamer was densely crowded with passengers. I
have seen the penny-boats, which ply between Hun-
gerford Market and London Bridge, tolerably well
filled ; but never have I seen them so crowded as
those on the Bosphorus. Neither Mr. Hill nor myself
could succeed in getting a seat, indeed, we could


scarcely find standing room. Though the rain con-
tinued to pour down, and prevented our being on
deck, yet we did not fail to be much impressed, from
a peep now and then from the cabin windows, with
the extreme beauty of the scenery on both sides of
the Bosphorus.

We reached Buyukdere about 8 o'clock, and took
up our quarters at a capital hotel, kept by an Italian.
A son of the Greek admiral, who distinguished him-
self in the war of independence, introduced himself,
and having been in the British navy, he behaved
to us with great politeness and attention, and acted
in a most civil and serviceable manner. Next morn-
ing the sun shone brightly, and we obtained our
" glimpse of the Black Sea," under favorable circum-
stances ; and from the summit of a hill, behind this
village, a more extensive view was obtained of the
celebrated Euxine.

In returning to Constantinople, we had a better
opportunity of admiring the beauty of the scenery,
which adorns both sides of the straits. From the
Black Sea to the City there extends one continued
panorama of the most beautiful views that can well
be imagined. Shrubs and trees, flowering and fruit-
bearing, terraces and gay gardens rising one above
another with outlines of the hills for a background,


present a constant variety of beauty and grandeur.
Villas, palaces, kiosks, and other mansions, rise on
both sides, imparting animation to the scene ; indeed
these edifices so closely succeed one another, that
they present an appearance, along the shores, of one
large continued street some fifteen miles in length, of
which the stream is the central roadway. Here and
there the houses become sufficiently numerous to
form, as at Buyukdere, large villages, containing
shops, cafes and hotels.

The caiques at Constantinople serve the purpose
of cabs or hackney-coaches elsewhere ; they are rowed
by a couple of stout Turks, who do their work well.
This mode of making a trip being not only pleasant,
but one of the peculiarities of the place, we engaged
a caique to take us across to Scutari, a distance of a
mile and a half. Our principal object, in visiting
this oriental suburb of the Queen of the East, was to
view the burial-ground, where rest the bodies of so
many of our gallant countrymen, who fell in the
Crimean war, or perished victims to the climate. I
must acknowledge, that the monument here erected,
by the nation, to the memory of the brave men whose
lives were sacrificed in defence of their country's
honour, during the late contest with Russia, did not
appear to me altogether worthy of the cause, in point


of taste being rather clumsy and inelegant. At all
events a feeling of sorrow pervaded my mind, as I
gazed upon these records of departed valour.

The Bosphorus varies in width from one to
three miles. As the weather was fine, the trip on
the water was very pleasant, and nothing could ex-
ceed the gorgeous splendour, with which the Golden
Horn appeared to gleam, as we approached the city,
on our return from the Asiatic shore. Scutari, seen
from the water, presents itself like an amphitheatre,
being situated on sloping ground ; and it affords a
very picturesque view, from the admixture of trees,
mosques, minarets and houses. It is an emporium of
note, and the rendezvous of the Asiatic caravans. It
has been long noted for its extensive burying-grounds,
wooded with cypresses overshadowing innumerable
tombs. The Turks of Constantinople prefer being
interred on the Asiatic side ; for they regard Asia as
a land belonging to the true believers, while they
look upon the European side of the Strait as the
country of the infidel, and destined again to fall into
their hands ; indeed, this impression grows stronger
every year.

The extent of the cemeteries round about Con-
stantinople, as in the neighbourhood of Eastern cities
generally, is very considerable ; they spread over


miles in some places, and, not being inclosed with
walls, are usually kept in wretched order. The
tombstones are all flat, and are mostly in a broken
condition :

" Side by side,
The poor man, and the son of pride
Lie calm and still." Longfellow.

Our visit to Constantinople occurred, as I have
before remarked, during the festival of the Bairam ;
on which anniversary the whole population are much
enlivened, and fully intent on enjoying themselves
by land and water. The costumes of the people are

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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 7 of 10)