F. R Oliphant.

Notes of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryF. R OliphantNotes of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



ilM ,:

1 1H


Dr. Robert Ti Sutherland













All Rights reserved

J>3 lob




The bulk of these sketches first appeared in
a series of letters to the ' Spectator ' in the
summer of 1890. They have now been con-
siderably enlarged, and the first and last chap-
ters have been added, the former being chiefly
intended to give some guidance to people pur-
posing to visit the Holy Land, to whom some
homely details of direct information such as
are not usually vouchsafed by guide-books may
not be unwelcome.






DEAD SEA, ....












In these prosaic days there is no very great
degree of hardship involved in the notion of a
pilgrimage to Jerusalem, at least for a pilgrim
who does not think it necessary to gratuitously
increase the hardships of the journey, and who
is able, more or less, to pay his way. Still,
being an unadventurous person, I will admit
to having felt a certain natural shrinking from
an expedition which looked so tremendous on
the map ; and imagining that there may be
some future visitors equally timorous, I think
it as well to put down a few facts which may



reassure them at least, and be of some use in
foreshadowing what they are to expect when
they arrive in the Holy Land. To begin with,
it is hardly necessary to say that the traveller
in Palestine has no longer to encounter the
dangers which are so delightful to read of in
the fascinating pages of 'Eothen,' and must
be so very disagreeable to encounter in reality,
unless he wilfully goes out of his way to look
for them. There are still brigands in the moun-
tains of Moab, who live near enough to civilisa-
tion to get an additional touch of roguery over
and above their natural predatory habits, who
would be delighted to oblige any gentleman who
has a fancy to go through the interesting experi-
ence of being robbed ; inquirers of this class are,
however, advised to travel with a very small
train, for fear of frightening robbers away. It
is usual to amuse travellers on their way to the
Dead Sea with tales of possible Bedouin descents,
and dragomans are always careful to make very
ostentatious display of weapons on this expe-
dition ; I was even taken to task myself at
Jericho naturally by the last arrival from
Europe for openly wearing a gold watch-chain,


which might excite the cupidity of neighbouring
hordes, and bring destruction upon all of us.
The traveller need take no account of such silly
stories ; danger there may be for those who go
off the beaten track, but no inexperienced person
should do this without a perfectly reliable drago-
man. I am, of course, not writing for those
who have a real knowledge of the country.

With regard to the means of getting to Pales-
tine, the most usual route is that by Brindisi,
from which the Austrian Lloyd steamers go
once a- week to Alexandria, Port Said, Jaffa, &c,
and the P. & 0. ships weekly for Port Said, and
fortnightly for Alexandria. The journey from
Brindisi to Alexandria occupies about three
days. A pleasant little tour in Egypt can be
made in the few days elapsing between the
arrival of one steamer at Alexandria and the
starting of the next one from Port Said. This
will give time for a glance at Cairo, the Pyra-
mids of Gizeh which are disappointing, and
the Sphinx which is not. Of course, it is by
no means fair to Egypt to try and see it in this
way ; but it is hardly a chance to be missed,
and as there is no time to make one's way as


far as the greatest wonders of the land, this
flying visit does something to get the traveller
into tune for the sights he is to see that is,
if the East is unfamiliar to him and is hardly
sufficient to blunt his appetite. It was Thack-
eray's opinion that the most complete appre-
ciation of the East would be obtained by the
traveller who just got a sight of one thoroughly
Eastern town, and then at once turned his face
homewards and fled before he had time to lose
his first illusions on the subject. With this
theory I do not in the least agree. Though
beginning with a trifle like Cairo, I have found
the wonders I had expected to see, growing
greater and greater till they culminated at Da-
mascus, where our voyage ended. Still, there is
certainly a great deal in the first impressions:
the first sight of an Eastern city, where one begins
to realise that there actually are regions where
the population, as a body, are opposed to the
wearing of conventional coats and trousers ;
the first Arab mud village ; the first string of
camels above all, the first entry into a mosque
are things not to be forgotten. There is a
faint glamour of the ' Arabian Nights ' even about


poor prosaic Alexandria in its present fallen
condition, a city about as interesting as Mar-
seilles. The first ragged fellow one meets with,
the extraordinary patchwork garment which
serves him for a cloak only hanging together
by some miracle of art, might serve for Hassan
Alhabbal ; he looks quite equal to making his
fortune out of a lump of lead, if he only thought
it worth his while to take the trouble. The old
woman hobbling along in her blue cloak on the
other side of the road, might be the very person
who tried to lure the barber's brother to his
death ; while the two blind men feeling their
way along together, with their boy in front to
guide them, remind one of another member of
that ill-starred family. At Cairo, of course, the
illusion is greater : in spite of all the modern
Europeanism of the place, in spite of the crowds
of English travellers like ourselves who, we
are agreed, had much better have stayed at
home loafing about the entrances to the hotels,
in spite of Tommy Atkins pacing up and down
with his rifle over his shoulder, and the wives
of Tommy Atkins's commanders generally per-
vading the atmosphere in carriages or on donkeys,


we see in the bazaars the really Eastern charac-
ter of our surroundings. The chief question
that presented itself to our minds was, where
on earth these hordes of people could have come
from. I have seen immense crowds before on
great occasions in Europe ; but such an unceas-
ing stream, coming and going in every possible
direction, whichever way one turns, was a thing
not yet dreamed of in my philosophy. And
where, in the name of goodness, if the whole
of Egypt were roofed in, were they to be
housed ? Subsequent experience of other East-
ern cities has shown me that this swarming of
human creatures is not a characteristic of Egypt
alone, but it was certainly in this first view that
it made the most impression.

I have never been able to understand the
great enthusiasm into which some English
writers have worked themselves regarding the
religion of Islam ; and it was consequently less
with any absolute feeling of reverence than with
a desire not to appear irreverent, that I entered
the Mosque of Sultan Hassan under the guid-
ance of a pious Mohammedan dragoman,
whose faith, I imagine, was greater than his


works, for his mysterious habit of returning
alone to the shops where I had just made
purchases was, to say the least of it, suspicious.
But having already covered my infidel boots
with good Moslem slippers, in obedience to
Mohammedan prejudices, the involuntary feel-
ing of veneration inspired by the place made me
take my hat off also. There is something to my
mind strangely impressive about these Moham-
medan churches. There is none of the religious
upholstery with which our places of worship are
encumbered. A large niche (mihrab) in the wall
at one end to indicate the direction of Mecca a
great pulpit or canopied chair (mimbar) with a
stair leading to it, from which passages from the
Koran are occasionally read to the faithful a
small stone terrace or platform raised upon short
columns for a similar purpose and a profusion
of lamps, make up the furniture of the mosque.
Outside is a cool pleasant court, with a fountain
in the centre where the necessary ablutions are
performed, and where also passers-by may come
in to rest and refresh themselves, and will seldom
go away without a prayer or a holy thought.
The mosque itself is, except on rare occasions, a


place for private prayer, or for the united devo-
tions of a few who are gathered together by
chance, or have come in a body for the purpose.
Such a party we found in the Citadel Mosque
kneeling in a row, with one of their number,
probably more learned in the necessary prayers,
in front of them to lead. The spectacle of this
little group, muttering together and bowing their
heads in concert, or turning them from side to
side to the two angels who stand on either hand
of every man to record, one his good and the
other his bad actions, gave an added solemnity
to the great, cold, silent hall. It was most
truly a house of prayer one was inclined to say,
the house of God. Yet when one among us
spoke of it as a place where one might say one's
own prayers, there was a strange repugnance to
the idea, which yet I cannot well explain. There
is something natural in the disgust one feels at
seeing a Christian church turned into a mosque,
with all its sacred emblems forcibly erased, or
even one that is erected upon a spot which
has any sacred associations with our own
faith ; but it is hard to see any reason why we
should not kneel in the same house of prayer


with pious men who worship the same God,
because they include in their devotions the names
of other men whom they regard with an exces-
sive veneration. But man is an animal little
governed by reason.

A day's journey brings one from Cairo to Port
Said, half-way by railway to Ismailia and half-
way by small steamer up the Suez Canal. From
Port Said four lines of steamers go to Palestine
the Austrian Lloyd, the Messageries, a Eus-
sian company, and the Egyptian Khedivieh mail-
steamers. I believe, though I do not personally
know, that the last named are a rather inferior
class of ships ; the French, Austrian, and Prus-
sian are equally good, though at some seasons,
especially a short time before Easter, they are
most inconveniently crowded. We ourselves had
to give up all hopes of the Austrian Lloyd, and
thought ourselves lucky to secure sleeping-room
in the saloon of the Eussian steamer which
started a day later. I cannot wish my worst
enemy a harder fate than to spend two days at
Port Said, though it was certainly comfortable
to have a bed and even a bedroom for the
second night. The first had to be got through


on chairs or tables, or in cupboards or anything
that offered. Some people say that Egypt is so
delightful a place that one feels it difficult to
leave it. We certainly found the process of
leaving a most troublesome one.

The journey to Jaffa only takes one night, but
there is always the pleasing prospect, during bad
weather, that it may be found impossible to land
passengers at Jaffa : all may consequently have
to be taken on to Beyrout. I never heard of an
instance myself, but it is said to happen occa-
sionally; those who are afraid of such conse-
quences had better decide at once to go on to
Beyrout, which is an excellent starting- place for
the journey through Palestine, though not in
Palestine itself. To us the difficulties of the
landing at Jaffa appeared to have been exag-
gerated. There are certainly some very nasty
reefs close to the shore ; but the channel of
entrance to the harbour is fairly wide, and easily
managed in all but really stormy weather. It
is said to have been here that Perseus turned
the sea - monster, who was about to devour
Andromeda, into stone, and the reefs may well
be supposed to be some portions of his petrified


carcass. Considering the trouble they have
caused since his time, one is inclined to doubt
whether Perseus was justified in treating a
harmless necessary monster in such a manner.
Once on shore, after a little troublesome
waiting in the custom-house till the authorities
have settled the amount of bribe required for
letting you pass freely, the traveller will prob-
ably stumble through the dirty streets of Jaffa
till he reaches Mr Hardeck's hotel on the out-
skirts of the town. It may not be out of place
here to mention what kind of hotel accommo-
dation is to be found in the country we are
speaking of. There are excellent hotels at
Jerusalem, Damascus, and Beyrout ; my own
experience at the last-named place was not a
favourable one, but that was the result of arriv-
ing late at night in a crowded season. We had
to be packed off to a sort of succursale, which,
though a fine old Syrian house, was otherwise
undesirable, the cookery being wretched and
the wine atrocious. But I believe the first-class
hotels are good. The Grand New Hotel at
Jerusalem, and the Victoria at Damascus, I can
heartily recommend from personal experience.


There are also hotels of a sort at Jaffa, Eamleh,
Jericho, Haifa, Nazareth, Storah, and, I believe,
Baalbek. Those at Jaffa, Haifa, and Eamleh are
kept by members of the German Society of the
Temple, which fact is in itself as every one
who knows Palestine will agree a guarantee
for cleanliness, honesty, and an eager desire to
do everything that is possible for strangers of
all kinds, whether guests staying in the hotel
or not. That at Jericho is a nice little place,
well conducted, though perhaps a little primitive
in its arrangements. One does not expect much
more than a bivouac at Jericho, and from that
point of view the hotel is luxurious. 1 At
Storah, in the great plain of the Bukeia, be-
tween the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges,
there is now, I believe, a good hotel : though
when we were there, the accommodation was of
a very primitive nature.

Where there are no regular houses of enter-
tainment, it is always possible to put up at

1 Since I was in Palestine, I believe some progress has been
made in regard to hotel accommodation ; but as this has chiefly-
consisted in starting opposition establishments where there
was already a hotel existing, I have not thought it necessary to
alter what I had written.


a monastery ; but most travellers in the more
rural parts of Palestine will prefer to live in
their own tents : this can be made a most luxu-
rious form of life. The places I have mentioned
are chiefly on the outskirts of the country in
which the greatest points of interest lie. Some
visitors prefer to take to tent-life at once from
their first landing at Jaffa; but the greater
number keep to the more civilised habits as
far as Jerusalem at least, and only begin their
camping life when they make their first move
northwards. There is at least no trouble with
the weather in well-built stone houses. For a
couple of days at Jericho the hotel there is a
great convenience, and most travellers will be
content to give up their tents at Damascus and
return to ordinary life. The hotels, in fact, are
to be found in the parts of Palestine where it
is possible without extreme discomfort to travel
in carriages of some kind, as well as in the sea-
coast towns where the great steamers call.

Carriages as means of conveyance can only
be used in a few localities. There is an excel-
lent carriage-road from Beyrout to Damascus, and
there are passable specimens between Jaffa and


Jerusalem, and between Jerusalem and Bethany
and Bethlehem. It is said to be possible to
drive on beyond Bethlehem to Hebron, but it is
certainly in the highest degree unadvisable.
Driving is also possible at a very slow pace
and with great discomfort along the coast from
Jaffa to Haifa. In the neighbourhood of the
latter place the native roads have been much
improved by the efforts of the German settlers,
who also keep up a regular communication with
Nazareth by waggon, for goods at least. Pas-
sengers would find the journey rather fatigu-
ing, as the road still leaves much to be desired,
and the conveyances are of the rudest kind.
The German waggoners had to fight their way
against native marauders at first ; but there
is very rarely any trouble of this kind now,
brigandage in this district having been practi-
cally extinguished, as half the inhabitants are
awed by the honesty of their German neigh-
bours, and the other half are frightened by their
courage. It is most advisable not to try any
travelling by carriage between Jerusalem and
Damascus, but the journey connecting either of
these places with the coast is most conveniently


done in this manner. The best plan at the
commencement of the journey is to rest for a
while at Jaffa and lunch there, driving on in
the afternoon to Kamleh, some fifteen miles
away, where there is a fine Crusaders' church,
now a mosque, a curious old tower, and a rather
makeshift hotel. Here will be found also the first
instance of one of the saddest sights in Palestine,
the wretched groups of lepers who sit and beg
by the roadside ; few travellers will pass with-
out giving some trifling alms to the sufferers
from this awful affliction. The remainder of the
journey to Jerusalem, about twenty-five miles
further, can be accomplished with great ease the
next day. The road is not of any particular
interest, except for the picturesque gorge which
bears the name of Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law,
and the village of Abu Gosh, sometimes iden-
tified with Kirjath-jearim, where there are the
remains of a fine church of the crusading times.
For the journey through Palestine, riding is
almost the only possible mode of progression.
Care should be taken as to the selection of
horses, upon the quality of which the speed and
comfort of the journey naturally depend. The


Cook agency and I have no doubt that of Mr
Gaze also can generally be relied on to supply
sufficiently good horses, but a little personal
superintendence never does any harm. For
those who dislike this mode of conveyance,
the only resource for the long journeys across
country is that of a mule-palanquin, a kind of
wooden box, something like a sedan-chair, sup-
ported on two long poles, the ends of which are
borne by one mule in front and another behind.
Travelling in this manner is exceedingly un-
comfortable, especially in hilly country, as the
mules are unable to take advantage of the zig-
zag paths, owing to the difficulty of turning,
and have to go straight up and straight down.
Still it is a way in which people who are incap-
able of riding can visit practically every spot of
interest in Palestine. I only suggest it for cases
of physical incapability, as no knowledge of
horsemanship is required for a hundred miles'
journey on the back of such sedate and peace-
able animals as are usually provided for tourists.
The manner of travelling through the country
will be new to the great majority of visitors.
Great care should be taken in the selection of


a dragoman. To the inexperienced tourist, igno-
rant of Eastern languages and Eastern ways gen-
erally, the dragoman is a kind of impersonation
of Providence, to whom he must look for the
regulation of all his worldly affairs. With a
thoroughly qualified person to fill this import-
ant post, the traveller enjoys a happy freedom
from all responsibility, with a general sense
that every arrangement is made for him very
much better than he could do it himself. The
choice, however, is naturally difficult for the
inexperienced, for whom the safest plan is prob-
ably to put themselves at once into the hands
of Messrs Cook. There are independent drago-
mans who are as good as can be desired, but
it is not always easy to find the best of them :
it is at least a very unsafe course to select the
most plausible, as, in the absence of any infor-
mation on the subject, one is very apt to do.
There are also other agencies besides that of
Messrs Cook, but I only speak of things of
which I have personal knowledge. We were,
I believe, very exceptionally fortunate in secur-
ing the services of Mr David Jamal, of whose
qualifications it is difficult to speak too highly.


An admirable manager of all things under his
care, an excellent chief for the numerous retinue
which is necessary even for the smallest party, an
intelligent guide for all that is worth seeing, and
a pleasant, and never intrusive companion, I
am not sure whether it may not appear a lower
kind of commendation to speak of his remark-
able talent for bargaining, which stood us in
such good stead in Damascus and Constantinople.
Mr Jamal is one of the dragomans in the em-
ployment of Messrs Cook.

The engagement of the subordinate servants
can safely be left to the dragoman. A cook is
of the first necessity, a butler, with probably an
assistant to wait at table, a groom or two, and
a number of muleteers, varying according to
the amount of luggage, will make up the train
required. With regard to luggage, I do not
believe there is any article, of whatever weight
and size, which could not be conveyed on a
mule's back; but for obvious reasons of con-
venience and economy not to mention cruelty
to animals it is desirable to have as small
and, I may add, as strong articles of baggage
as is reasonably possible. Stores of all kinds
are easily procurable at Jerusalem or any of


the principal towns ; they are not, however,
easily renewed on the way, and one of the
most objectionable features of such a journey
is usually the condition of staleness to which
the bread is reduced after the first two or
three days. Very fair light wine of the country
can be bought at Jerusalem, both red and white :
the red carries best. It is the fashion with
English travellers to declare that the Jerusalem
wine is undrinkable, as indeed what country
is there where the genial Englishman does not
pronounce the native wine too bad for his un-
educated palate ? but it is really by no means
bad. The Lebanon wine is also good, when it
is good ; Jaffa wine is inferior, and that of Safed
a trifle less disagreeable than Dead Sea water.

A word about languages may not be out of
place. A knowledge of Arabic would be of
immense value in making the traveller inde-
pendent ; but only comparatively few visitors
to the Holy Land usually possess this accom-
plishment. With a competent dragoman, it is
quite possible to see everything in the Holy
Land without knowing a word of any language
but English. European languages, however, are
useful. French is spoken generally in Bey rout,


and many of the officials and the richer mer-
chants in all parts of Syria can speak it ; Italian
is understood in most Levantine coast towns,
and is also useful in speaking to Latin monks,
many of whom are Italians : many also are
Spaniards. German is of advantage for the
German Society of the Temple though many
of them speak English and for German-speaking
Jews. Modern Greek might also be useful with
Greek priests, but is hardly more generally known
among us than Arabic.

The line of route chosen by the traveller on
leaving Jerusalem will depend chiefly upon the
time at his disposal. The journey I am about
to speak of myself was undertaken with certain
particular objects, which made us stay longer
than is usual at certain places, and miss
out altogether some others which are well
worth visiting, but for which we had no time
left. Baalbek, which the traveller under or-
dinary circumstances should certainly not omit,

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryF. R OliphantNotes of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land → online text (page 1 of 11)