Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

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on still farther to Zebedexi, which was said to be situated
on the eastern decli\^ty of Anti-Libanon, two hours from
hence. As none of our people had ever gone this road
across the mountains, we took a guide with us, who very
soon led us out of our valley, which ascended towards the
north, between the lower mountains and the principal ridge,
and led us up a steep, toilsome, and endless rocky path on
our right hand. The moon rose, hours passed on, and the
ardently-desired Zebedeni would never make its appearance.

* Burckhardt must have been mistaken when (Trav. in Syr., p. 5)
he states that the tomb of Noah was only 10 feet long, although the
same statement is repeated by Schubert (Reise in das Morgenland,
vol. iii., p. 340). It is well known how frequently the number 40 is
found employed by the Hebrews as an indeterminate multiple. The
same custom seems to have been peculiar to all Semetic nations; it
may at least be pointed out frequently, and at all periods, among
the Phoenicians and Arabians; even the numerical words for 4 and 40
in these languages indicate the universal idea of multitude. See my
Sprachvergleichenden Abhandlungen, Berlin, 1836, p. 104, 139, and the
Chronologie der jEgi/pter, vol. i., p. 15.


At length we stood on the precipitous border of another deep
valley, up which we were compelled to clamber painfully on
foot, for another whole hour, leading our animals; and it
was not before midnight that we reached Zebedeni, after a
march of six hours. All here were plunged in the most
profound slumber; we were obliged to knock at several
houses to inquire our road to the convent, where we hoped
to find some shelter. At length we were told that there was
indeed a church, but no room in the adjoining convent to
receive us. We therefore quartered ourselves in. the last
house, which was opened to us after knocking at it for a
long time. It only contained one large room, but there was
sufficient space for ourselves and our servants, after the
whole of the numerous famdy of men, women, and children,
had retired to one comer. The people were, however,
friendly and courteous, the next morning received their
backshish, and took leave of us, with an invitation to repeat
the \-isit on our return. We now proceeded down the
beautiful fertile valley of Zebedeni towards the south, for an
hour and a half, when we again turned eastward, into the
precipitous rocky defile, where the rippling brook, beside
which we had hitherto been marching, swelled into a small
river, called Baeada, opening a path for itself, in most
beautiful and picturesque cascades, through luxuriant ver-
dure, to the great plain of Damascus. We rode for several
hours along its precipitous banks, sometimes in the very
bed itself, till we came to a lofty pointed arch, which, as a
bridge, conducted us from the left to the right bank. Here
the road went up the mountain, and disclosed a number
of ancient rock-tombs, opposite the continuation of the
steep rock-precipice we had just left. Soon afterwards the
wild ravine opened into a broader valley, through which
the rushing river winds more quietly, passing several plea-
santly situated villages. It had hitherto pierced in an
easterly direction, through a mountain ridge, passing from
north to south, from which it now issued through a lofty
rock-gate. Two single mountain masses rose up like mighty



pylons towards the east ; on the summit of the one to the
south, rising almost perpendicularly several thousand feet,
was a small sepulchral edifice, surrounded by trees. This
place is worshipped as the tomb of Abel, Nebbi Habil, who,
according to tradition, was buried here. The summit is said
to be almost inaccessible, and so it appeared, at least from
this side, we therefore omitted to investigate whether a
tomb, 40 ells in length, had been also erected to the youth
Habel. At the foot of the mount the ancient city of Abila
was formerly situated, whose name has probably given rise
to the story.

We now quitted for several hours the enchanting valley of
the Barada, and rode over bare rocky plateaus, till at GtEDI-
DEH we again descended to it, and rested a short time upon
its bank, in the shadow of tall plane-trees and silver poplars
of changing hue. At length we once more quitted the
river, which ]iad become gradually fuller, and more rapid,
hy the addition of various brooks, and ascending a high
mountain, we suddenly stood in front of the illimitable
plain, which lay spread out before us unbounded by moun-
tain ranges, and covered like one large garden with innu-
merable leafy green trees, and intersected by roads and
streams. In the midst of this garden, and immediately at
our feet, lay glorious Damascus, with its cupolas, mina-
rets, and terraces. We knew that we were about to see one
of the most celebrated prospects in the world, but we were,
nevertheless, astonished, and found our expectations siir-
passed by the magnificent picture which, like a stroke of
enchantment, unfolded itself before us in the direction of the
lo'vely but narrow valleys, alternating with barren, rocky
deserts. We lingered nearly an hour at this point, which
has been rendered prominent by a magnificent dome, resting
upon four isolated pillars, called Qubbet e' Nase, the " vic-
torious cupola."

Damascus is one of the holiest and most lauded cities
of the East. The prophet Mohammed considered it thrice
blessed, because the angels spread their wings over the city,

DA^iAscrs. 341

and at the glorious sight are said not to have taken pos-
session of it for this reason, that one Paradise only is in-
tended for man, and that one he will find in heaven. In the
Koran, God swears by the fig and the olive-tree, that is by
Damascus and Jerusalem, and the Arabian geographers call
it the mole on the cheek of the World, the plumage of the
peacock of Paradise, the necklace of beauty, and among the
Sultan's titles, "the Paradise-scented Dimischk."* In ac-
cordance with the legend of the Oriental Christians, Adam
was here formed out of the reddish earth of the district ; and
tradition places the spot where Cain slew Abel on Mount
Kasitjn, near this.

The Barada, which we had followed from its first source,
enters the great plain a little south of Damascus, turns to
the left towards the city, through which it flows in seven
branches, and then passes into a lake. It was the gold-
streaming Chrysorrhoas of the ancients, the much-praised
Farfar of the Eastern poets. It was this river that, calling
forth the whole idea of Paradise, gave at all times to this
most ancient city — known even by Abraham, and conquered
by David — its great importance. Damascus was formerly
one of the chief seats of Arabian literature and learning, and
a disciple of the Prophet is said to have given instruction in
reading the Koran to 1600 of the faithful at once (after the
method of Joseph Lancaster) in the great mosque of the
Ommiads. The city at first seemed but little to correspond
with the glorious country surrounding it. "We entered
streets of considerable breadth, but bare, closed in by low
houses, whose mud walls had small doors, and scarcely any
windows. None of the beautiful wood-carvings of Cairo, or
stone decorations, were to be seen on the windows and doors.
Some of the mosques and fountains which we passed were
the only exceptions ; and the number of single trees in the
streets and in the squares had a pleasant appearance. Far-
ther in the interior of the city we came to the long bazaar,

* See V. Hammer, Geschichte des Osmanischen Reichs, Div. ii.,
p. 482.


consisting mostly of massive building. The well-filled booths,
the abundance of fruits of every kind that were heaped up,
finally, the crowd of people, of all ages and of every descrip-
tion, in all sorts of costumes, and the endless turnings from
one street into the other, impressed us with the feeling that
we were in a large and wealthy capital of the East. "We
first rode to our Prussian consul, who was, however, pros-
trated with fever. "VVe therefore proceeded still farther, to
an inn, lately established. Here also, as in the consul's
house, we passed through a narrow door in a plain outer
wall into a small dark court, and out of that into another
low and angular passage. But then a beautiful spacious
court was disclosed, surrounded on all sides by magnificent
shining marble walls, in the centre of which was a fountain,
overshadowed by tall trees. On the farther side was a
vaulted niche, the entrance-arch of which was five-and-twenty
feet high. To this we ascended by some marble steps, and
now found ourselves in a somewhat narrow but lofty saloon,
which was open to the court, and had commodious divans
placed along the inner walls. On the left of this niche was
the dining-room; on the right a staircase, by which we
ascended to the rooms above, which we occupied. They were
wainscoted all round, and the walls, as well as the ceiling,
were adorned with a variety of decorations painted in gold
and silver. "We afterwards saw several more of the finest
houses in Damascus, all of which appeared externally almost
mean, but in the interior displayed Oriental splendour more
like a fairy tale than anything which I have since seen in
these countries. And occasionally, even at the present day,
they build their houses in this style, at least if we may judge
by some of these small palaces, which were only erected
between ten and twenty years ago. There is a lavish display
of marble, and other costly stones, in these courts, halls, and
rooms, such as with us is only seen in royal palaces. The
beautiful open hall, which is always formed in front simply
by a lofty arch, sometimes appears on two, or even three,
sides of the court, and not unfrequently has also a small


fountain to itself, independent of the larger one, whicli is
never absent, and is usually shaded by trees, which grow up
from the midst of the slabs of marble.

The following day we spent entirely in viewing the city,
and especially the rich bazaars, in which beautiful silks em-
broidered in gold and silver, splendid weapons, and other
brilliant articles of Eastern luxury are exposed for sale. "We
visited tlie great Khan, with its nine immense domed cham*
hers, a kind of exchange frequented by the most considerable
merchants ; then the mighty Mosque of the Ommiads, re-
garded as very sacred, whose Hall of Pillars is 550 feet long
and 150 broad. It was formerly a Christian church, which
itself was said to have been built on the foundation of a
Eoman temple to Juno. "We were not permitted to enter, and
therefore could only survey it through the numerous open
gates, and were even prevented from mounting on the roof of
a neighbouring house by a fanatical Mussulman, so that we
were obliged to defer doing so till our return on the following
day. "We were shown the enormous plane-tree, thirty-five
feet in circumference, standing in the middle of a street near
a fountain, called after an old Sheikh, Ali, who is said to have
planted the tree. AV^e also stepped into the inviting coffee-
houses on the cool bank of the river. Next morning we rode
to the southern gate of the city, called Bab Allah, to which
a street above an hour long leads in a direct line between
magnificent shops, mosques, workshops, and other build-
ings; this is probably the so-called " Straight - street"
(77 pvnT) rj xaKovufvrj, evOe'ia) iu which Saul dwclt wheu he was
converted by Ananias. (Acts ix. 11.)

On the road we stopped at the small cupola building which
is usually regarded as the tomb of Saladin, but which is only
a place of worship built to his honour by Sultan Selim. The
real tomb is said to be twelve hours to the south of Damas-
cus, near a place called Gibba ; this was confirmed by the
Sheikh whom we met here. From Bab Allah, the " gate of
God," through which. the pilgrims to Jerusalem and Mecca


pass, we rode to tlie left round the city tliroiigh the plea-
sant gardens of olives, poplars, mulberries, and gigantic
apricot-trees ; these last produce those delicious apricots
which, when dried, are sent to all quarters of the world
under the appellation of Misch-misch. "We then came to the
cemetery of the Jews, where a corpse was being lowered into
the grave ; and, according to the custom here, the virtues of
the deceased were called to mind and eulogised. Not far
off is situated the Christian cemetery, near which the spot
is marked where Saul was struck to the ground by the
heavenly vision. Thence our road led over a' small bridge
to the city wall, in which, near a gate now built up, we
were shown a Tsandow from which Paul was let down. We
followed the wall as far as a beautiful ancient Eoman gate
with three entrances, the jporta orientalis, through which we
came to the house of Ananias, with the rock-cave, which is
now converted into a Latin chapel. We then rode through
the gardens of fruit and olive-trees to a neighbouring village,
Gob A, where Elisha crowned King Hazael of Syria, and
where Elijah was fed by a raven in a chamber of the rock.

On our departure from Damascus we also visited Salhieh,
a place in the neighbourhood, the tomb of the greatest of the
Arabian mysticists, the celebrated Sheikh Mohieddin el
Aeabi, and were here also reminded of his teacher, Schedeli,
who invented the beverage of coiFee, and who was in the habit
of keeping his disciples awake with it.

In Palestine we had wandered among the tombs of Abra-
ham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Eebecca, Leah, and Eachel, of
Joseph, David, Solomon, and the prophets, of Christ, his
parents and disciples. Here we came to the tombs of ISToah
and Abel, and soon after to Seth also, and set foot on the
fields of Paradise, which belonged to the first pair. What a
strange sensation to travel in these regions, where tradition
deals with such materials !

We halted the first night after our departure in Suk el
Eaeada, at the foot of Nebbi Habil. Prom this point


we again crossed over the old pointed arch bridge, which,
like most earlj structures in this country, is said to have
been built by the Empress Helena; and this time we ex-
amined the ancient rock-tombs somewhat more accurately.
We reached them by a difficult path, partly by an ancient
aqueduct hewn in the rock. Some of these tombs were
planned in a singular manner, and appeared to be very old ;
farther on followed several from the Greek period, with bas-
reliefs and gable-ends, and some steles upon the rock, on
which we were still able to decipher some G-reek words.
jN'ot far from this, up the river, we found a mighty Eoman
work, the great, ancient, now deserted high-road hewn for a
considerable distance through the living rock, and two Roman
inscriptions, each in two copies, on the flat lofty wall behind.
The longer one ran as follows : — iMPerator CAEsar Marcus


PEOYiNciae | STEisa et amicym syym | impendiis abile-
NOEYM. The other : — peo salyte iMPeratoris AYGusti


1 (ceuturio) LEGionis xyi Flaviae Firmae | qyi opeei in |
STiTiT Yota suscepto.*

Since that time the rock has no doubt been twice hollowed
out and broken away by the torrent, which has certainly
c^reat force every spring ; for, in the immediate neighbour-
hood of the second copy of the two inscriptions, the rock-
road is terminated by a sudden precipice. By four o'clock
we had mounted Anti-Libanon, and at Nebbi Schit, that is
Seth, we again entered the great plain of the Leontes.
We immediately went in search of the tomb of Nebbi Schit,
and were not a little surprised to find here also, as at Nebbi
Xoeh, a solid ancient Arabian building, with a small cupola

* Compare Krafft, Topographie Jerusalems. Bonn, 1846. P. 269,
and Plate II., No. 33.


standing beside it, and within, a tomb forty ells long. It
was even broader than that of Noah, because three steps led
up to the height of the monument on either side, the whole
way along, which in the former case were wanting. By
bestowing on [them such an unusual size of body, the legend
evidently wished to distinguish these two patriarchs as
haviug lived before the Flood, and the number 40, which is
used so frequently both in the Old and New Testament as
an undetermined sacred number, has not, as is here exempli-
fied, lost its application among the Arabs.

The same evening we rode on two hours farther, to
Beitan ; and the following morning we started before sun-
rise for Balbeck, the ancient Heliopolis, with its celebrated
ruins of the temple of the Sun. I lingered first at the
ancient stone-quarries, in front of which the road passed,
and there measui'ed a block of building-stone, which was
not quite separated from tlie rock ; it was 67 feet long, 14
feet broad, and 13 feet 5 inches thick. Many of the walls in
the temple ruins in Balbeck are composed of similar, or not
much smaller blocks. One which I measured on the spot,
and in its original position, "«-ithout making any particular
selection, was 65 feet 4 inches by 12 feet 3 inches and 9 feet
9 inches large. They are, indeed, grand ruins, but the orna-
mental part of the architecture is heavy, overloaded, and some
in a very barbarous taste.

Balbeck is associated with a sad recollection. As I ap-
proached the scattered houses of the village, immediately
adjoining the ancient temple ruins, my faithful servant Ibra-
him, who had arrived here before us, met me with the joy-
ful intelligence that Abeken, from whom we had separated
in Jerusalem, had just arrived. I found him, in fact, in
the house of the venerable Bishop Athanasius situated close
at hand; but we had scarcety greeted each other, when
I was informed that Ibrahim was lying in the road dying.
I hastened out, and found him almost in the very spot
where he had shortly before saluted me in so friendly a

DEE EL ah:\iae. SisT

manner, lying extended with the rattle in his throat ; his
ejes were already dim. It was in vain that a priest of the
neighbouring convent endeavoured to give assistance; in a
few minutes he died before my face. His death seems
to have been occasioned by a chill. He was a thoroughly
excellent man, with a natural nobleness of character not often
found among the Arabs. I had taken him with me on my
journey to Nubia from Assuan ; he wished of his own accord,
and from his attachment to me, to accompany me to Europe,
and by his knowledge of the Nubian dialect, would have been
very useful to me in my studies of the languages of the
Sudan. I was anxious to place a tombstone to his memory
at the foot of Anti-Libanon, where he was buried on the
declivity of the hill, beside a tree, but we found no stone-
mason who could execute it. I therefore sent one to Balbeck
from Berut, with an inscription as follows : — Ibeahimo
Hassan Stene Oeiyndo seeyo bene meeenti P. E..
Lepsius. D. XXI. Novemb. mdcccxly.

This news made a great impression on Grabre Mariam when
I communicated it to liim in Berut ; he wept bitterly, for
they had been excellent friends.

Before we left Balbeck, the bishop advised us to take a
diiferent road from what we intended, as intelligence had
been received that there was much disturbance on the other
side of Libanon, and that the population had revolted. But,
in fact, as the whole country was in a state of great excite-
ment, and we had notwithstanding found no difficulty, we
paid little regard to his recommendation, and told him we
should only pass through Christian districts, whose in-
habitants would look upon us as friends. AVe quitted Bal-
beck shortly before sunset, and traversed the narrow plain,
in order to spend the night in Dee el Ahmae, the "Eed
Convent," and the following day, witli renewed strength,
ascend Libanon almost to its highest point, so that we
might again descend by the famous cedar forest. Hitherto
we had been favoured, during our whole journey in Palestine


and Syria, with tlie most beautiful weather. From day to
day we had been expecting increasing rain, according to the
calendar of the weather on other years, and up to the present
time had only once been drenched — on our return from the
Dead Sea to Jerusalem. The wide plain of Beqa'a, which we
now traversed for the second time, is quite impassable after
rain at this season of the year, and the numerous mountain
streams of Libanon, so abounding in springs, generally swell
these to such a degree that, with the frequent absence of
bridges, they can only be crossed with extreme danger. The
sky clouded over in a threatening manner this evening, the
obscurity of the night was impenetrable, and at length, after
we had already seen some of the lights of Dee el Ahmar in
the distance, we lost our way on a barren piece of ground
rent by rugged clefts. At length, we had hardly arrived,
when the rain poured down in torrents. Here again we
shared a large room with the whole of a Christian peasant
family, but we spent a most restless night. There were
constant groans and lamentations among the women and
children, who appeared to be sick. In a short time the
incessant rain had soaked through the flat roof of the house,
and trickled upon the beds ; people were now sent up to
throw fresh sand upon the roof, and to ram it firm with
pieces of stone pillars, which are ready for this purpose on
the top of all the houses ; but this operation sent down so
much lime and dirt upon us, that we were at length com-
pelled to request they would discontinue this well-intentioned
repair. In a small shed near the door lay a dog with a
numerous progeny, whose bed seemed also to have been in-
vaded by the rain, for they began to whine and yelp in the
most wretched manner. At length our hosts were roused by
repeated loud knocks, to furnish a horse for a soldier, who
was carrying letters farther on at the utmost speed for the
Pascha. Thus we got no rest the whole night through ; and
if an Arabian proverb says, that the king of the fleas keeps
his court in Tiberias, the holy city of the Jews, I have now


every reason to suppose that he has since then transferred
his residence hither from that spot, where we had found good
and undisturbed lodf]:infr.

The rain subsided towards morning, and gave place to a
thick mist wliich, continuing still in single large clouds,
seemed sometimes wholly to cut off the ascent to the mountain
fronting the lofty ridge of Libanon, but also often charmed
us by its magic play with the penetrating light of the cool
morning sun round the nearer and the more distant wooded
hills and points of rock. When we reached the first eleva-
tions, which are separated from the principal chain by a level
valley, we suddenly burst upon an indescribably beautiful and
astounding prospect. The sight of the chain of Libanon,
covered in its wliole extent and far down with fresh dazzlinjr
snow, was a real Alpine landscape on the grandest scale, rising
majestically above the eternal spring of this blessed land,
though now indeed so miserably trodden down by the here-
ditary enemy the Turk. I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual
spectacle, which roused a true home-like joy in my heart, and
I endeavoured to imbibe all that I could of the clear, white,
quiet light. I drove my little Egyptian horse in front of
me, which had lost its rider in Balbeck, and now bore on
its back the small possessions he had left behind him. I
tliought how, a few days previously, I had been enjoying the
thoughts of seeing my good Ibrahim's surprise when he
should pass through the snowy region of Libanon along with
us. The deep parts of the snow wliich soon after we were
obliged to ride through, did not seem to annoy the ass ; it
frequently stood still astonished in the midst of the snow,
and no doubt viewed it all as salt, soft white fields of which
it had known near the Eed Sea and elsewhere. "We rode
zig-zag up the extremely steep mountain precipice between
seven and eight thousand feet high. It is not rocky at this
point, but covered with earth, and terminates in a sharp
ridge. " El hamdu I'illah," exclaimed the old guide when
he had attained the summit, and " Salam, salam," resounded
in one chorus of voices. "We had almost ascended the highest


point of Libanon, but the prospect over land and sea was un-
fortunately hidden from us by clouds and layers of mist,

Online LibraryRichard LepsiusLetters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai → online text (page 30 of 54)