Eli Smith Edward Robinson.

Biblical researches in Palestine, and in the adjacent regions: a ..., Volume 2 online

. (page 19 of 75)
Online LibraryEli Smith Edward RobinsonBiblical researches in Palestine, and in the adjacent regions: a ..., Volume 2 → online text (page 19 of 75)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

area in the bosom of a mountain, swelling into mounds and in-
tersected with gullies ; but the whole ground is of such a nature
as may be conveniently built upon, and has neither ascent nor
descent inconveniently steep/' ^

Keeping near the bed of the brook, we soon came to the
fallen columns of a large temple. Each column had been
formed of several stones, and the joints now lay in their order
along the ground. Nearly opposite this spot, a Wady joins the
brook from the north, over which are the remains of a bridge.
Further west, the banks of the brook itself have once been built
up with strong walls, and the stream apparently covered over
for some distance; thus connecting the level tracts upon the

We now passed along the remains of the paved way, through
the rains of the arch of triumph, which stands near the brook,
fronting towards the east. The architecture is florid and corrapt.
It seems to have formed the approach to the palace or pile of
building beyond, which the Arabs call Edsr Far'on, ^' Pharaoh's
castle." This mass of walls is the only stracture of mason
work now standing in Wady Mtlsa. It is of very inferior archi-
tecture and workmanship, and apparently of a late age. Joists

> Irb7 and Mangles p. 424. [ISO.]

iL 522-524

Digitized by VjOOQIC

136 WADY MUSA. [SaaXn.

of wood are in different parts let in between the courses of
stone ; intended doubtless to receive the &stenings for orna-
ments of wood or stucco. The walls are mostly entire ; but the
columns of the northern front, which were composed of separate
pieces, are nearly gone. The distribution of the interior into
several chambers and stories, seems to show conclusively, that it
was not a temple ; it would appear rather to have been a public
edifice of a different character.

On the rising ground south of the KOsr and triumphal arch,
stands the lone colunm called by the Arabs Zub •Far'on ; on
ascending to it we found it composed of several pieces, and con-
nected with the foundations of a temple ; the firagments of sev-
eral other columns were strewed around.

These are the chief remains of particular structures, which
strike the eye of the wanderer upon the site occupied by the city
itself ; and they have been noticed and described by all travellers,
as well as by the pencil of Laborde. But these writers have
omitted to mention one circumstance, or at least all have not
given to it that prominence which it deserves, viz. that all these
are but single objects amidst a vast tract of similar ruins. Indeed
the whole area above described, was once obviously occupied by
a large city of houses. Along the banks of the stream, the vio-
lence of the water has apparently swept away the traces of
dwellings ; but elsewhere, the whole body of the area, on both
sides of the torrent, and especially on the north, is covered with
the foundations and stones of an extensive town. The stones
are hewn ; and the houses erected with them, must have been
solid and well built. On looking at the extent of these ruins, it
struck us as surprising, that they should hitherto have been
passed over so slightly ; although this may readily be accounted
for, by the surpassing interest of the surrounding sepulchres.
These foundations and ruins cover an area of not much less than
two miles in circumference ; affording room enough, in an orien-
tal city, for the accommodation of thirty or forty thousand inhab-

We were now near the western wall of cliffs, which are also of
red sandstone and higher than those on the east ; rising in some
parts* to an elevation of three or four himdred feet. This wall
too is full of tombs, some of them high up in the rock ; but in
general less numerous and splendid than those in the eastern
cliffs. One of the most conspicuous is the unfinished tomb of

* Bnrckhardt is here the most explicit : of iSbe river is a rising ground, extending

'* The groond is covered with heaps of westwards for neariy a quarter of an hour,

hewn stones^ foundations of bnildings, frag- entirely covered with similar remains. On

ments of columns, and vestiges of paved the right bank, where the ground is more

streets ; all clearly indicating that a laige elevated, ruins of the same description art

city once existed here. On the left side also seen.** Travels p. 427.

ii. 624, 625

Digitized by VjOOQIC

May $1,2 8ITK OF THB CITY. BUINS. 137

which a drawing is given by Laborde ; showing that in sculp-
turing the facades of the sepulchres, the workmen, (as was
natuial,) after smoothing the face of the rock, began at the top
and wrought downwards. We entered several of these tombs,
which presented nothing worthy of particular notice. The great
multitude of them are small and plain, mere excavations in the
te^ce of the rock.^

In the channel of the brook, which was dry below the Khflz-
neh quite across the open space, we now found, near the western
cliff, water again springing up in several places, in small quan-
tity indeed, but of excellent quality ; much purer indeed than
that in the brook above. It ran in a small stream along the bed
of the Wady, which here enters the front of the western cliffs
by a chasm similar to the eastern Sik ; but broader and less
r^ular. We entered and proceeded for some distance down the
ravine, which is full of oleanders and other shrubs and trees, so
that we could scarcely pass. The walls within the mouth are
fall of tombs, all small and without ornament. The high rock
upon the left, which is isolated by a very narrow chasm behind
it, is conjectured by Laborde to have been the acropolis of the
ancient city ; but we received the impression at the time, that
there was no special ground to justify this supposition.'

We followed the ravine considerably below this point ; and
endeavoured to find the lateral chasm, marked on Laborde's plan
as leading up towards the right quite to the Deir. There are
short chasms enough in that direction ; but none extending to
the Deir, which indeed seems to be incwjcessible from this quarter ;
as we found by our own experience, and from the testimony of
Arab shepherds on the spot.

Further towards the west the ravine has never been explored ;
and no one could tell in what direction the waters, when swollen,
find their way throi^ the cliffs. This only is certain, that the
Wady does not, as Wady Mdsa, extend down to the 'Arabah ;
and the course so marked upon Laborde's map has as little
actual existence, as the Wady M tlsa by which Schubert supposed
himself to have ascended from the 'Arabah towards Mount Hor.*

It was now sunset ; and we returned to our tent, fatigued,
and our eyes for the present * satisfied with seeing.' We had
obtained, so far as we desired, a general idea of the valley and

* Yfliy niAny of thote pimin MpnlchrM diirtingaished artist, who Tinted Wad j M{k-
diftr little from the mnUitndes of nmilar sa in 1689, that he remarked traces of
ones aroand Jenualem; except in their bnildiiigii, or at least of mason work, upon
poMtion and ^e nature of the rock. the summit of this cliit

* We did not indeed ascend the rock; • Reise n. ^ 414, 418. The road
nor does Laborde appear to hare done so. Arom *Akabah ascends through the Wad/
Iibj and Hangles are stlent as to it — I Abu Kusheibeh mentioned further on.
hare since leaned from Mr. Boberts, the

Vol. ir.— 12» ii. 625-627

Digitized by VjOOQIC


its wonders ; and we left for the morrow a visit to the Deir, a
closer examination of the tombs in the eastern cliffis back of our
tent, and a renewal of the impressions received from the KhQzneh
and the region around the theatre. Our further plan was to
ascend Mount Hor, and then take the usual road back to

The pencil of Laborde has spread before the world the de-
tails of the strange remains, which give interest and celebrity to
this valley ; but his work presents no correct general idea of the
whole. The best written descriptions are still those of the earliest
visitors ; first Burckhardt, and then Irby and Mangles. The
account of the former is the most exact and simple ; that of
the latter is more full, but also more coloured and somewhat
confused. Burckhardt was here but a part of a day, an object
of jealous suspicion to his Arab guide ; yet it struck me with
astonishment, to remark, upon the spot, the exactness and ex-
tent of his observations during that short interval.

A single glance had been sufficient to correct a false impres-
sion, which I had received from previous accounts, viz. that the
site of the ancient city was shut in on all sides by perpendicular
cliflFs, and that the entrance by the Sik was the only feasible one
from any quarter. This, as has been seen, is not the case. The
area of the city is bounded only on the east and west by walls
of rock ; that on the east being the broad sandstone ridge ex-
tending south below the southern end of the mountain of Dib-
diba ; while that on the west is the similar ridge, which further
north runs parallel to the same mountain, and is penetrated by
the Sik of Nemela. The brook of 'Ain Mtlsa, rising above Eljy,
flows down its valley and breaks through the midst of the east-
em ridge, thus forming the Sik ; then, crossing the open area
near the middle, it passes ofl* in like manner through the western
ridge. Towards the north and south the view is open. Towards
the northeast is seen the high southern end of the mountain of
Dibdiba, resting on white sandstone at its base ; and more to the
left the plain Sutiih Beida, through which we had approached.
From the eastern part of the area of the valley, the summit of
Mount Hor is seen over the western line of cliffs, bearing about
W. by S.

On each side of the brook, the ground rises towards the
north and south, as already described ; at first gradually by
irregular hillocks and eminences strowed with the scattered re-
mains of former houses ; and then, at the distance of a quarter
of a mile, more rapidly. Towards the north, this latter ascent
is cut up by several Wadys, and leads up through groups of
sandstone rocks to the plain Suttlh Beida. Two of these tor-
rent beds, coming from the end of the mountain of Dibdibai

il 627, 628

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Tinite in the northeast part of the area, having between them a
promontory of red sandstone, in which are tombs. Further west
are other small Wadys. Here, at the northeast corner, the road
from near Dibdiba comes in, by which our servants entered ; and
here, or somewhere in this quarter, must be the tomb described
by Irby and Mangles, as having an inscription in the unknown
Sinai tic character;^ and also that with a Latin inscription, dis-
covered by Laborde.

Towards the south, the ascent from the area of the city is
steeper, and somewhat greater, perhaps a hundred feet. It leads
up to a high plain of table land, extending westward around
the end of the western cliff (which here terminates) to Mount
Hor or Jebel Neby H^rtln. This plain bears the name of Suttlh
Hariin, " Aaron's Plains," corresponding to the Sutdh Beida,
" White Plains," on the north of Wady Miisa. At the south-
west comer of the area of the city, a path passes out, ascending
a long narrow Wady lined with tombs, to this terrace. It then
leads along the southern foot of Mount Hor, and dividing further
on, one branch descends to the ' Arabah towards the left through
Wady Abu Kusheibeh,* and so to 'Akabah ; while the other goes
more towards the right, and descends through Wady er-RoM'y
on the way to Hebron. At the foot of this latter pass, accord-
ing to our Arabs, there is a small spring of good water, called

In looking at the wonders of this ancient city, one is at a loss,
whether most to admiro the wildness of the position and natural
scenery, or the taste and skill with which it was fashioned into a
secure retreat, and adorned with splendid structures, chiefly for
the dead. The most striking feature of the place consists, not
in the fact that there aro occasional excavations and sculptures
like those above described ; but in the innumerable multitude
of such excavations, along the whole extent of perpendicular
rocks adjacent to the main area, and in all the lateral valleys
and chasms ; the entrances of very many of which are variously,
richly, and often fantastically decorated, with every imaginable
order and style of architecture. The cliffs upon the east and
west present the largest and most continuous sur&ces ; and here
the tombs are most numerous. But the spur from the eastern
cliffs formed by the Wady below the KhQzneh, as well as other
smaller spurs and promontories and single groups of rocks, both
in the north and south, are also occupied in like manner. All
these sepulchres of course looked down upon the city of the liv-
ing; but others, again, are found in retired dells and secret

' See at the end of Note XIX, end of borde writes H strangely enough ** Pabou*
YoL I. chdbe ; " although the sound otp does not

* This name is not qnite oertahL La- exist in the Arabic hmgoage.

ii. 528-530

Digitized by VjOOQIC

140 WADY HU8A. [Saa XO.

chasms, or sometimes among the heights on either side^ to which
flights of steps cut in the rock lead up in several places. Thus
the Deir lies high up among the cliffs of the western ridge^ more
than half an hour distant from the area of the city.

The most conspicuous of all the monuments^ next to the
Khtizneh and Deir, are those along the eastern cliffs north of
the theatre. Here towards the north is the immense facade with
three rows of columns one above another ; then the Corinthian
tomb depicted by Laborde ; and further south, it would seem,
the large tomb described by Irby and Mangles, with Doric por^
ticos and ornaments, and arched substructions in front. The
interior of this last, according to the same travellers, consists of
one large and lofty chamber, which in later ages was converted
into a Christian church ; having three recesses for altars at the
further end ; while an inscription in red paint, near an angle,
records the date of the consecration.*

The rock in which all these monuments are sculptured, is
the soft reddish sandstone of this whole district ; a formation
which has been already described as resting upon lower masses
of porphyry, and which appears to extend to a great distance
both north and south. The forms of the clifis are often exceed-
ingly irregular and grotesque. The highest, and indeed the only
high point, of all the sandstone tract, is Mount Hor. The sof^
ness of the stone afforded great facilities for excavating the sep-
ulchres and sculpturing their ornamental parts ; but the same
cause has operated against their preservation, except where
sheltered from exposure. The EhQzneh itself has been thus
wonderfully preserved, only by the overhanging vault of rock
which shields it.

Not the least remarkable circumstance in the peculiarities
of this singular spot, is the colour of the rocks. They present
not a dead mass of dull monotonous red ; but an endless variety
of bright and living hues, from the deepest crimson to the soft-
est pink, verging also sometimes to orange and yellow. These
varying shades are often distinctly mark^ by waving lines, im-
parting to the surfiu^e of the rock a succession of brilliant and
changing teints, like the hues of watered silk, and adding greatly
to the imposing efiect of the sculptured monuments. Indeed it
would be impos^ble ^' to give to the reader an idea of the singu-^
lar effect of rocks, teinted with the most extraordinary hues,
whose summits present us with nature in her most savage and
romantic form ; whilst their bases are worked out in all the
symmetry and regularity of art, with colonnades, and pediments^

> Jrhj and llABgle*' TraTela p. 429-481. [182.] To my grcftt regret I wm not
able to visit and examine this tomb.
iL 530. 531

Digitized by VjOOQIC


and ranges of corridors adhering to their perpendicular surfitce."'
This play of colours is strikingly exhibited, along the paths lead-
ing to the Deir, and to Mount Hor.

In the midst of the variety of architecture, which here as-
tonishes the spectator, two styles are obviously predominant, the
Egyptian and the Roman-Greek ; or rather, it is the mixture
and union of these two, which here constitutes the prevailing
style. The former is principally seen in the body or masses of
the fai^ades ; where the truncated pyramidal forms, and the
slightly tapering fronts and sides, remind one continually of the
majestic portals and propyla of the Theban temples. The more
classic orders of Greece and Rome are conspicuous in the col-
umns and other ornaments ; and prevail also throughout in some
of the more important monuments. But even here all is florid
and overloaded, indicating a later age and a degenerate taste ;
when a feeling of the beautiful still remained, but without the
simplicity of nature. This amalgamation of styles may be ac-
counted for, by the prevalence, first of the Roman influence and
then of the Roman dominion, which penetrated hither both by
way of Asia Minor and Syria, and also from Egypt. This took
place, as we know, about the Christian era ; and to that period
and the subsequent centuries, are probably to be ascribed the
architectural sUll and monuments, on which strangers now gaze
with surprise and wonder.

An interesting question, which occupied much of our atten-
tion on the spot, was. How for these excavations are to be re-
garded merely as sepulchres ? and whether any of them were
probably intended as abodes for the living ? I had formerly re-
ceived the impression, that very many of them were to be so
considered ; and indeed, that a great portion of the ancient city
had been composed of such dwellings " in the clefts of the
rocks."* But after attentive observation, we could perceive no
traces of any such design. The smaller and unomamented ex-
cavations, are entirely similar to the numerous sepulchreil around
Jerusalem ; and the one have no more the appearance of having
been intended as dwellings than the other. Those with orna-
mental facades have in general a like character within ; many
of them have niches for dead bodies ; and even such as have not
this decisive mark, exhibit nevertheless no trace of having been
constructed for habitations. At a later period, indeed, they may
not improbably have been thus used ; just as the tombs at
Thebes and those in the village of SUoam^ are now converted
into dwellings.'

' Iibj and Manxes p. 423. [129 iq.] paratively very nnall. Tbe caverns in the

* Jer. 49, 16. oonntry towards Damaacaa, which were

* The interior of an these tombs it com- never tombs, but always dwellings, are

iL 531-633

Digitized by VjOOQIC

142 WADY MU8A. [Sk. SL

The elegance of their exterior decoration, affords no ground
for supposing the most of these monuments to have been other
than tombs. The abodes of the dead were regarded in Egypt,
and also in Palestine, with profound veneration ; and were con-
structed with even greater pomp and splendour than the habita-
tions of the living. Witness the tomb of Helena at Jerusalem,
and the still more magnificent ones at Thebes ; to say nothing
of the mighty pyramids, erected apparently each as the sepul<-
chre of a single monarch.' — Nor is there any necessity for the
supposition, that these excavations were intended in part as
dwellings for the inhabitants of the place. The widely spread
ruins which are visible, attest, as we have seen, that a ktrge and
extensive city of houses built of stone once occupied this spot ;
and the sepulchres round about are comparatively less numerous,
than those which in like manner skirt the sites of ancient Thebes
and Memphis. The city which stood here, was of itself built
" in the clefts of the rocks ; " without the necessity of our look-
ing for single dwellings in such a situation*

Yet not all these structures, I think, were sepulchral ; some
of the larger and more splendid were more probably temples of
the gods. The fiw^ility and beauty with which the oniamented
fa9ade8 of monuments could be sculptured in the rock, might
easily suggest the idea of constructing &nes for the gods in Uke
manner; and such excavated temples were not unknown in
Egypt.' Hence the site of the beautiful Ehtizneh was selected,
directly opposite to the grand entrance from the east ; the char-
acter of its front is decidedly that of a temple. To the same
class probably belong some of the larger and more conspicuous
excavations in the eastern clifis ; especially the one described by
Irby and Mangles, as having arched substructions built up in
front, and afterwards used as a Christian church. The Deir too,
as we shall see, has similar features, and appears also to have
been transformed into a church. Nothing would be more natu-
ral, under the circumstances, than to convert heathen temples of
this kind into Christian sanctuaries ; but. had they been origi-
nally sepulchres, such a transition would have been less natural
and probable.

Such were the impressions with which we spent the evening
beneath our tent in Wady MiHsa. Around us were the desola-
tions of ages ; the dwellings and edifices of the ancient city

▼eiy capacious, affordiiig shelter to both ^powrlCov^ mpi 9h rks rtt^ impfioJ^

the inhabitants and their flocks. See See- ovjc ftiroXtdroWi ^orifi/ar. Coinp. Ge-

tien in Zach*i MonatL Corr. XVIII. pp. aenius Comm. ca Jesa. 14, IS— 20. 2S, 16»

856. 418. * £. g. the temples of Abu Simbel ; Wil-

' So too Diodoras Sioalof saya, in speak- kinson's Mod. Egypt, IT. pi 827 iiq. Bnrck*

ing of the Egyptians, 1. 51 : At6w9p tAp hardt'sNnbia,p. 88. Irby and Mangles, pp.

|Ur Karii rks ohclas MwnffntmNf (rror 29, 87 sq. [10^ 12 sq.]
ii. 533, 534

Digitized by VjOOQIC

^mslj TEMPLES. ABAB8. 148

crumbled and streiwed in the dust ; the mansolea of the dead in
all their pristine beauty and freshness, but long since rifled, and
the ashes of their tenants scattered to the winds. Well might
there be the stillness of death ; for it was the grave itself, a city
of the dead, by which we were surrounded.

Yet this impressive silence was not uninterrupted. Our Arabs
had slaughtered the sheep we had bought, and made themselves
a feast. They were in high glee ; and the voice of singing,
Btory-telling, and mirth, sounded strangely amid these sepul-
chres. Our Haweit^t companions had given us to-day another
specimen of their thievish propensities. As we entered the Sik,
they contrived to throw into confusion the flock of sheep which
was there feeding, watched by an Arab boy ; and separating a
lamb, drove it into the Sik along with the one which the Jehfilin
were leading. We were in advance at the time ; and as the
worthies came up, they pretended that the lamb had strayed
away and was following us of its own accord. It was not till
we appealed very decidedly to Sheikh Huss&n, that he sent one
of his men to take the animal back.

Friday^ June let. On entering the high table land of the
mountains yesterday, we heard that many of the Ma'az, an
Arab tribe from the sandy region of the Hismeh,^ east of 'Aka-
bah, having been driven out of their own country by the drought,
had spread themselves here among these mountains, where the
rains had been more abundant. Our Arabs of the Jeh&lin felt
some alarm on learning the presence of these strangers ; for
although they stood towards them in no relations either of alli-
ance or hostility, yet the character of all these lawless hordes of
the desert is such, that when away from home, where no respon-
sibility would fall on their own tribe, they would not hesitate to
rob a passing traveller or caravan. A large encampment of
them, it was said, lay near the way out from Wady Mi!ksa by
Mount Hor to the 'Arabah.

On awaking this morning, our first information was, that the
Sheikh of the Bedtln) a clan of the Haweitat who pasture in
and around Wady Mtlsa, had arrived in the night with several
armed men, in order to claim from us a GhUfr, that is, a tax,
tribute, present, or whatever else it may be called, for the privi-
lege of visiting the place. On looking out, we saw him sleeping
by his dromedary near the tent. Supposing the matter would
be arranged without difficulty, we left the Sheikh to finish his
nap ; wlule we went out before breakfast to improve our time
and visit the Deir, the only remaining distant point which we
now wished to examine.

We took as a guide a shepherd of the valley, who happened

' Seeaboye,yoLLp. 174.

Online LibraryEli Smith Edward RobinsonBiblical researches in Palestine, and in the adjacent regions: a ..., Volume 2 → online text (page 19 of 75)