Laurence Oliphant.

The land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; online

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and his family. They were the occupants and guard-
ians of the fort in the absence of the troops, and
the latter had not thought it necessary to turn them
out. As the only light came through the door, and
as the walls within were thickly grimed with the soot
and smoke of ages (for the place has always been
occupied by Arabs, who make their fire inside), it was
both dark and dirty work groping our way through
women, babies, and vermin to the narrow stone stair
that led to the top. There were other apartments
above the lower room, which were full of ddbris and
rubbish, to be traversed before we reached it, and
then we came upon the stone roof, from which a
fine view over the surrounding country was obtained.
In the courtyard below were small rooms built under
the wall which might be used for barracks. The
building was evidently one of great antiquity, but I
could find no trace of inscription or carving, though
there may be plenty of both under the soot, if there
were light enough to look for them. The probability
is that the fort dates from the great wars of the Arabs


here against the remnants of the authority of the
Byzantine empire in the seventh century ; for the
Arabs, in spite of their nomadic habits, were good
fort-builders, and they may have been the architects
of Kalat Zerka, though it is possible they may have
found the materials on the spot, as its strategic posi-
tion doubtless necessitated a fort here before their
time. In the early part of the same century, the
whole of this country was conquered by the armies
of Chosroes, king of Persia, who built the mag-
nificent palace of Mashita, the extensive ruins of
which were discovered by Sir Henry Layard in
1839, and have since been visited and most elabo-
rately described by Canon Tristram. Mashita is
about twenty miles to the south of Zerka, but there
was nothing about the architecture of the latter to
warrant the supposition that it was the work of the
Persians, who only held the country for ten years.

Meantime the sun was setting over the eastern
deserts, and our servants, tent, and baggage, which
were under the charge of the second zaptieh, whom
we had last seen at Jajtas, had not turned up. Sulei-
man, the old zaptieh, who had been most uncom-
municative, ignorant, and disobliging all the way,
told us he had sent them by a short cut; but we
had not travelled sufficiently fast, by what we now
found had been a circuitous route, to warrant the
delay. Suleiman himself, however, volunteered to go
and look for them, an office which he performed by


riding down to the river, fording it, dismounting, and
going to sleep flat on his back on the Hadj encamp-
ment on the other side within full view of us, as a
piece of bravado, leaving his horse to graze. The
captain kindly sent some soldiers down to rouse
him up and bring him back ; but he was a hardened
old sinner, and did not seem to care much for threats
of martial law.

In the interval Sheikh Diab of the Beni Atiyeh,
who was to be our escort to the Beni Hassan, arrived,
but he brought us small consolation. He seemed
extremely disinclined to undertake the responsibil-
ity of introducing us to those interesting nomads ;
probably he felt it would make him unpopular, and
interfere with his future good relations with them.
It was impossible, he said, to go to Rahab and back
in one day. The way was through the mountains, a
bad and difficult road, and food for the horses other
than grass at this season impossible to be obtained
from the Arabs except in very small quantities. I
asked him if he would take us to the top of the
highest mountain in Eastern Gilead, and this he
consented to do, though he said it would take us
five hours to reach it, two hours over the rolling
prairie and three hours through the forest in a
north-westerly direction. The whole of this group
of mountains, he told us, were heavily timbered ;
they probably attain an altitude of nearly 4000
feet. Rahab, it seemed, was in the Es Zuweit


country, rather more to the east. While I was dis-
cussing our prospects with him the mules arrived, to
our great relief for it had become dark, and our
dinner was still to be cooked and our tent pitched ;
but now it turned out that the quantity of grain
with which our donkeys were laden was much less
than we intended, and that the daily amount of con-
sumption would seriously curtail our projected trip.
At Kalat Zerka there was no grass, and Captain
Phibbs's two Arab horses were too valuable to put
on short commons. The captain did not seem to
take the hints I gave on the subject ; still we were
loath to give up our enterprise, and put off a final
decision till the following morning.

We had scarcely stretched some quilts with which
Mr Halil had kindly supplied us on the hard stone
ground, when our doubts were removed by a shower
of rain fortunately not a heavy one, but still indi-
cating a change in the weather, which made an ex-
pedition to a mountain to be a very questionable
proceeding so far as the prospect of a good view
was concerned, and a two days' excursion to Rahab
still less desirable. Our servants were sleeping under
the sky on the wet ground outside, and our own tent
was not calculated to keep out the rain, as we sub-
sequently discovered. In the morning the sky looked
gloomy and overcast. Our zaptiehs predicted a
wreck's heavy down-pour, but we knew that they
probably had interested motives in wishing us to


curtail our trip. The forage question was the one
which really turned the scale, and we reluctantly gave
the word for Rabbath-Ammon as our day's journey.

Since my return to England I regret far more
deeply than I did at the time not having explored
the subterranean cities of Derat, Beloola, and Rahab.
Of these the two latter have never been visited ; and
indeed their existence has never been suspected prior
to the report which I received at Irbid of Beloola
from the Tunisian officer, and at Salt of Rahab from
the Syrian merchant. I did not at the time fully
credit their reports, for I had not then read Wetz-
stein's description of Derat from which, when at
Mezarib, I was only five miles distant and who
is the only traveller who has partially explored its
hidden mysteries. It is probable, from the descrip-
tions I received of Beloola and Rahab, that they
are in no way inferior to Derat ; and in order that
the future explorer may form some idea of the inter-
est which may attach to an examination of these un-
known and hitherto unheard-of underground cities, I
annex a translation of Wetzstein's account of what
he saw at Derat. He seems to consider it identical
with Edrei, the capital of Og ; and in his * Reisebe
richt iiber Hauran und die Trachonen ' (Berlin, i860),
pp. 47, 48, he says :

" I visited old Edrei the subterranean labyrin-
thine residence of King Og on the east side of
Zumle Hills. Two sons of the sheikh of the village

DERAT. 247

one fourteen, the other sixteen years of age
accompanied me. We took with us a box of matches
and two candles. After we had gone down the
slope some distance, we came to a dozen rooms,
which at present are used as goat-stalls and store-
rooms for straw : the passage became gradually
smaller, until at last we were compelled to lie down
flat and creep along. This extremely difficult and
uncomfortable process lasted for about eight minutes,
when we were obliged to jump down a steep wall
several feet in height. Here I noticed that the
younger of my two attendants had remained behind,
being afraid to follow us ; but probably it was more
from fear of the unknown European than of the dark
and winding passages before us.
/" We now found ourselves in a broad street which
had dwellings on both sides of it, whose height and
width left nothing to be desired. The temperature
was mild, the air free from unpleasant odours, and I
felt not the slightest difficulty in breathing. Further
along there were several cross-streets, and my guide
called my attention to a rosen (a window or hole in
the ceiling for air), like three others which I after-
wards saw closed up from above. Soon after, we
came to a market-place, where for a long distance,
on both sides of a pretty broad street, there were
numerous shops in the walls, exactly in the style of
the Dukkan {i.e., shops) that are seen in the Syrian
cities. After a while we turned into a side street,


where a great hall, whose roof was supported by
four pillars, attracted my attention. The roof or
ceiling was formed of a single slab of jasper, per-
fectly smooth and of immense size, in which I could
not perceive the slightest crack. The rooms for
the most part had no supports ; the doors were
often made of a single square stone ; and here
and there I noticed also fallen columns. After we
had passed several more cross alleys or streets,
and before we had reached the middle of this sub-
terranean city, my attendant's light went out. As
he was lighting it again by mine, it occurred to me
that possibly both our lights might be put out, and
I asked the boy if he had the matches ? 'No,' he
replied ; * my brother has them.' ' Could you find
your way back if our lights should be put out?'
* Impossible,' he replied. For a moment I began to
feel alarmed in this under-world, and urged an imme-
diate return. Without much difficulty we got back
to the market-place, and from there the youngster
knew the way well enough. Thus, after a sojourn
of more than one hour and a half in this labyrinth, I
greeted the light of day."

I believe Beloola to lie in the isolated mountain
Jebel Kafkafa, or its immediate neighbourhood, and
it may possibly prove to be the site of the ancient
city of Argob. I trust that in the survey which it
has been decided shall be undertaken to the east of
the Jordan by the Palestine Exploration Fund, the


attention may be bestowed on this unexplored range
which I feel sure it merits ; while the region lying
between Jerash and Kalat Zerka is also entirely un-
known, and it is about half-way between these two
places, as nearly as I can judge, that the subterranean
city of Rahab will be found. It is possible that they
were used in old time as cities of refuge indeed
Wetzstein says that even in the present day he be-
lieves that in the case of a devastating war the pop-
ulation of the village of Derat, which lies directly
over the subterranean city, would take refuge in its
underground recesses. When we were at Kalat
Zerka, the tents of the Beni Hassan were described
as being pitched immediately over Rahab.

We now found to our disgust that our way lay
back along the valley of the Jabbok, and that for
two hours and a half we should have to retrace
our steps ; whereas if we had taken the short cut by
which our servants had been sent the night before,
we should have varied our route, which, in a country
teeming with ruins, is always desirable, especially if
it has not previously been explored, as was the case
here. It was useless to expostulate with the old
zaptieh, who seemed to take a malicious pleasure in
bringing us back over the old road. We had not
gone far along it when we were overtaken by the
Sheikh Diab, who brought us a lamb to propitiate
us, apparently alarmed at our sudden departure
without his escort in the desired direction, con-


sidering the letter which we had brought him from
the Caimakam, ordering him to place his services at
our disposal. He offered, however, to accompany us to
Ammon, and be our guide from there to Heshbon on
the following day. This offer we accepted; and he fol-
lowed in our train, accompanied by a beautiful Palmyr-
ian greyhound, scarcely larger than the gazelle which
he hunted with it a graceful fawn-coloured creature,
with the most delicate limbs, and pendent ears and
drooping tail, both covered with long fluffy hair.

We stopped and had a delicious swim in the
Jabbok, at a spot where it had been dammed for
irrigating purposes, in a thicket of oleanders. I
never have seen any stream so full of fish, which
is accounted for by the fact that the Arabs never
indulge in piscatorial pursuits. Most of them resem-
bled chub, running up to a weight of two or three
pounds. The doctor at Kalat Zerka told me he
pulled them out as fast as he could throw in his line ;
and I should certainly have tried to scoop them out
with my hat, if that civilised article had not been
replaced by the far more comfortable Arab kufeiyeh.
Near here we also saw a couple of otters, and on one
field of young corn I counted a flock of a hundred
storks. In the shape of game, we have seen, since
entering the Belka, quail, partridges, wild-duck, and

We continued to follow the valley of the Jabbok,
after passing the point at which we had entered it the


day before. It now contracted considerably, and the
sandstone cliffs were curiously honeycombed with
caves. In about an hour and a half from the mouth
of the Wady Zorbi, or four hours from Kalat Zer-
ka, we came upon the ruins of Rabbath-Ammon at a
point where the valley again widened. Immediately
on the right on entering the vast expanse of ruins,
was an excavation in the cliff, entered by a hand-
some doorway, flanked on each side with Corinth-
ian pilasters, with a carved lintel overhead, and an
ornamented ceiling inside. It was a small oblong
room, and was probably used as a tomb. From this
point to the end of the ruins at their south-eastern
extremity, where traces of the original gateway still
exist, is about a mile and a half, and throughout this
entire distance we are surrounded with the majestic
remains of one of the most ancient and celebrated of
historical cities.

We decided to encamp on a green spot, sheltered by
the massive remains of an old wall, close to the river
brink, and immediately facing the grand theatre.
Here we were quickly surrounded by a group of
Circassians who have been settled by the order of the
Government amidst these ruins. Like those I had
met at Kuneitereh, they no sooner found that I had
travelled in their native valleys, and knew the names
of some of their chiefs, than they were full of polite-
ness and offers of service. They said that 500 of
them had arrived here about three months pre-


viously, but that the majority had speedily become
discontented with their prospects and had gone away ;
150, including women and children, were all that
remained, and these had decided to settle here.
They had already planted a vegetable garden, had
got a good herd of cattle, a flock of sheep, and
seemed likely to do well. The spot had been
selected, in the first instance, on account of the
shelter which the caverns and old rock -cut tombs
afforded ; and they were so satisfied with these prim-
itive and singular lodgings that they had not yet
begun to build, but they had discovered a still more
striking and interesting method of temporarily hous-
ing themselves, and one which illustrated in a very re-
markable manner the irony of history. The grand
theatre, which was constructed to accommodate 6000
spectators, and is nearly 100 yards in breadth, con-
tains forty-three rows of seats, divided into three tiers
by broad passages (prcscinctiones), and the adiia lead-
ing behind the seats, and going completely round the
horse-shoe theatre, opened upon them. These adiia,
which had become choked by the accumulated rub-
bish and debris of some fourteen or fifteen centuries,
the Circassians had cleared out, and turned into
lodgings for their wives and little ones. Standing
at our tent I watched their women sfoingr Jq and out
of these corridors, once frequented by Roman ladies
of fashion. I saw groups of these poor exiles in
their ragged but picturesque attire, hunted by the


persecution of a Christian nation from one country
to another, to make way for what we call civilisation,
at last taking refuge in those very vaults where,
eighteen centuries before, persecuted Christians used
to be confined previous to ministering by their suf-
ferings to the cruel instincts and the bigotry of
another civilisation and another religion. On the
floor of the old forum, whose eight noble Corinthian
columns are still standing, and where toga'd digni-
taries used to exert their eloquence, two pretty little
Circassian girls were weeding onions. A man was
ploughing in and out between beautifully carved
pedestals, cursing the ornamented fragments of stone
which he turned up, to the detriment of his plough
and his furrows. The walls of a small and elegantly-
shaped little Greek temple, by the help of some of
the half columns still remaining erect, was turned
into a very satisfactory cattle-pen. Three beautifully
carved Corinthian capitals, placed on their broadest
sides, made very good stepping-stones across the
brook ; and a Circassian not a New Zealander
was contemplating the havoc from the ruins of a
bridge. In fact, it seemed as if these barbarians, un-
able to satisfy their vengeance upon the civilisation
of the present, had determined to wreak it upon that
of the past. But who shall say that the present has
earned from the future a better fate ?

While I was thus moralising, and sketching the
theatre from the door of the tent, it began to rain,



and a Circassian suggested that rather than trust to
the doubtful shelter of the tent we should share the
accommodation afforded by the theatre. There
was something tempting in the proposal, and we at
once accepted it ; so he went to make the necessary-
arrangements with his family, while we sat upon the


lower row of seats and looked over the arena. Going
in at one end of the aditum and coming out at the
other, he shortly returned with the intelligence that
the objections of the female part of the community
to receiving us among them were insuperable. Per-
haps, considering the want of air and light which
must have reigned in that ancient passage, this was
not altogether to be regretted, though we were de-


prived of the strange experience of occupying an old
Roman theatre under such unique conditions ; but
he showed us the way to two commodious caves
which had been recently vacated by some families,
and here we decided to install ourselves, until, upon
close inspection, we discovered that they had left
a legacy in the shape of innumerable fleas, which
hopped about with such activity that we forthwith
followed their example, and made up our minds to
save our skins and brave the elements.

The fact that a small colony of 150 Circassians
were thus settled with their flocks and herds, and
peaceably pursuing their agricultural avocations,
surrounded by the Beni Atiyeh, the Adwan, the
Beni Hassan, and other Arab tribes, was a valuable
evidence that the problem of colonisation by a for-
eign element in this country, so far as Arabs are
concerned, is by no means insoluble, if the colony
has the goodwill and protection of the Turkish
Government, and the settlers are prepared to let it
be understood that they know how to defend them-
selves. Indeed I am convinced, from what I have
seen of the Arabs, that the danger to be appre-
hended from them at all events in the provinces of
Jaulan, Ajlun, and the Belka is very much exag-

We had still a whole afternoon before us, which
we determined, notwithstanding a drizzling rain, to
devote to an examination of the ruins, which sur-


pass in interest any to be found in Palestine ; for
while those of Jerash, which are exclusively Roman,
are in some respects more perfect and beautiful,
those of Rabbath-Ammon cover a much larger area
of ground, have been originally constructed on a far
grander scale, are replete with infinitely more inter-
esting associations, date from a much greater an-
tiquity, and comprise the remains, still clearly to be
detected, of at least three distinct periods of history
and epochs of civilisation.

y.Here may be seen those massive blocks of rough-
hewn stone which composed the foundations and
lower portions of the original Ammonite fortress,
and upon which were afterwards superimposed the
erections of Grecian architects, when, in b.c. 285,
the city was conquered and rebuilt by Ptolemy XI.
(Philadelphus), king of Egypt, and called Philadel-
phia. It was taken from his grandson nearly seventy
years afterwards by Antiochus the Great, became
for some centuries one of the most flourishing cities
of the Persea, and the monuments of the Romans,
the ruins of which are so abundant, and in many
instances so perfect, replaced those which have pre-
ceded them. They in their turn were followed by
structures in the Byzantine style ; and the most com-
plete of all the ruins is a basilica, dating back prob-
ably to the fourth or fifth century, when we hear of
Ammon as the seat of a bishopric. It seems never
to have been occupied either by the Saracens or


Turks, and consequently from the date of the Arab
wars in the seventh century has remained a desola-
tion and a wilderness. It has been reserved for the
Circassians to be the first settled population, after an
interval of more than a thousand years, to take pos-
session of these crumbling remains of former great-
ness. It is marvellous that during all that time
Ammon should have resisted all attempts perma-
nently to change its name, and be known among the
Arabs of the present day by the identical appellation
it bore when we first heard of it, 1 500 years before
the Christian era, as being the repository of the great
iron bedstead of Og the king of Bashan : " nine cubits
was the length of it, and four cubits the breadth of
it, after the cubit of man." According to the Mos-
lem idea, however, this would have been far too
small to contain a giant of Og's dimensions, for we
are informed by Mohammed that he was alive bej^re
the Flood, and saved himself upon that occasion by
wading (see Sale's Koran).

Ammon is perhaps more authentically connected
with another antediluvian survivor in the person of
Ham, the son of Noah ; for we find that " Chedor-
laomer, and the kings that were with him, smote the
Rephaims at Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims at
Ham." Now when the Israelites advanced through
Moab on Ammon, we are told that "giants dwelt
therein in old time, and the Ammonites call them
Zamzummims." If, as seems extremely probable,



the Zamzummims were the same as the Zuzims, who
were also giants, and dwelt near the Rephaim, who
occupied the Hauran immediately to the north, then
the original name of Ammon was Ham, and it might,
without any strained conjecture, have been so named
by Canaan, the son of Ham, who we know came into
possession of all this region. This theory has been
advanced by Ewald and others, and would make
Ammon one of the first cities built after the Flood.
Perhaps some of the identical caves in which we had
wellnigh taken up our quarters for the night were
originally occupied by Zamzummims, who were fa-
miliar, by hearsay, with the incidents of that great
catastrophe. I think, however, that the name was
more probably derived from Ammon, the son of
Lot, to whom this district was especially given.




For picturesqueness of situation, I know of no ruins
to compare with Ammon. The most striking feature
is the citadel, which formerly contained not merely
the garrison but an upper town, and covered an ex-
tensive area. The lofty plateau upon which it was
situated is triangular in shape : two sides are formed
by the wadies Nuegis and Hadeidah, which diverge
from the apex, where they are divided by a low
neck, and thence separating fall into the valley of
the Jabbok, which forms the base of the triangle,
and contained the lower town.

Climbing up to the citadel we can trace the
remains of the moat, and crossing it find ourselves
in a maze of ruins. The massive walls the lower
parts of which still remain, and which, rising from the
precipitous sides of the cliff, rendered any attempt at
scaling impossible were evidently Ammonite. As


Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 17 of 35)