James Silk Buckingham.

Travels in Palestine, through the countries of Bashan and Cilead, east of the River Jordan; including a visit to the cities of Geraza and Gamala, in the Decapolis (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryJames Silk BuckinghamTravels in Palestine, through the countries of Bashan and Cilead, east of the River Jordan; including a visit to the cities of Geraza and Gamala, in the Decapolis (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 26)
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and refreshment, by these hospitable wanderers,
without a thought of compensation.

After a stay of about half-an-hour, we de-
parted from hence, continuing still through the
most beautifully-wooded scenery on all sides.
Mr. Bankes, who had seen the whole of England,
the greater part of Italy, and France, and almost
every province of Spain and Portugal, frequently
remarked, that in all his travels, he had met
with nothing equal to it, excepting only in some
parts of the latter country, Entre Minho, and
Duoro, to which he could alone compare it. It
is certain, that we were perpetually exclaiming,
at every turn, How rich ! How picturesque I
How magnificent ! How beautiful ! and that we
both conceived the scenery alone to be quite
worth all the hazard and privation of a journey
to the eastward of Jordan.

The woods growing gradually more open as
we proceeded, we came at length in sight of
distant hills, of a dull grey hue, stoney and
bare. The land between these contrasted ex-


tremes, presented still a fine green turf, and
marks of having been once cultivated, as the
stones were laid out in ridges, to mark the
boundaries of enclosures ; and in other places
were gathered up in heaps, as if to clear the

On our left, we passed a village standing on
the verge of a hill, and distant from our road
about a mile, which the Arabs called Samoon ;
and soon afterwards, as we gained a sufficient
height to look over the last ridge of barren hills
described, the extensive plain of the Hauran
was opened to us on our right, spreading as far
as the eye could reach, and having the horizon
for its boundary in all directions.

At the foot of the hills, where the western
edge of the plain commenced, stood the village
of Hussun, in which there seemed to be a tower
or castle, and walls around it ; and still further
on, at the distance of about a mile, were scat-
tered heaps of stone, that looked from hence
like ruins, but of what age they might have been
we could not learn.

The plain itself appeared to be highly culti-
vated ; its ploughed lands showing themselves
in brown patches only, as the long drought had
kept back all appearance of the young corn.
The road of the pilgrims, from Damascus to

it 3


Mecca, was pointed out to us as running nearly
north and south through this plain, and passing
through Sal and Arimza, the former a village,
and the latter a considerable town, both visible
from hence, with beaten paths leading to each
of them easterly across the plain.

Proceeding onward, we observed a number
of wrought stones near the road, and several
rude grottoes, which seemed to indicate the site
of some former settlement ; and soon after noon,
when the rain began to abate, and the sky grew
clear, we reached the village of Aidoone, where
we alighted to refresh.

This village, which consists of about thirty or
forty dwellings, is singularly seated on the brow
of a rude cliff or quarry, in such a way that
many of its buildings are half constructed of
masonry, and half gained by excavation out of
the rock ; the whole presenting an appearance
of poverty and want of comfort, beyond any
thing we had lately seen. We entered into the
public room here, in which we found above
twenty persons already seated around a fire on
the floor. Place was made for us instantly ; and,
by order of the Sheikh, who was under the Pasha
of Damascus, warm cakes, olive-oil, and honey
were served to us, with pipes and coffee, and
the comfort of a fire to warm and dry ourselves,


These people were far less inquisitive, and more
civil than those of Soof^ and seemed even to have
a milder cast of countenance.

Leaving the village of Aidoone, we passed
again by some good cisterns, excavated out of
the rocks, and saw, near them, several fragments
of ancient masonry ; when, continuing S. W.
over a barren tract, we passed in about an hour
under the village of Erbeed. This, though now
small, is seated on an eminence which commands
the country for some distance round, and enjoys
an admirable position for a city. We saw here
an octagonal tower, of good workmanship, pro-
bably of the Saracen age ; and near this a large
reservoir for water, well-lined with masonry of
hewn stones, and descended into by steps, re-
sembling the famous cisterns which are called
the pools of Solomon, near Jerusalem, though
not quite so large.

About an hour and half before sunset, still
continuing through a stoney and barren tract
of land, with patches of cultivation here and
there only, we reached the village of Bahrahah,
where our halt was fixed for the night. This
place stands at the bottom of a gentle declivity,
and has some few portions of good red soil
around it, but its neighbourhood is entirely des-
titute of wood. On entering it, we observed
the ruined arches of an old mosque, of very

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excellent masonry, and within the walls, the
capitals of two Doric columns, in white marble,
and some scattered shafts of the same material.
In the court of the Khan, where we alighted, was
a fine sarcophagus, of a black porous stone, of a
basaltic or volcanic nature. It bore on its sides
sculptured devices, and had evidently been exe-
cuted with great care ; but from whence it had
been brought we could not learn. We found
another sarcophagus of the same material, and
several large hewn stones were seen in different
parts of the town, which, with the marble
columns in the ruined mosque, induced us to
conclude that this also had been the site of some
ancient settlement.

The present village of Bahrahah does not
contain more than fifty dwellings, and is go-
verned by a Sheikh, who acknowledges the
authority of the Pasha of Damascus. He ques-
tioned us very strictly about our papers and the
object of our journey, and we only escaped by
having Mr. Bankes's soldier with us, who replied,
that he was in the service of the Pasha himself,
and had been sent from Jerusalem to protect
and accompany us to Sham.

We were accommodated with good shelter in
a covered room ; but for our horses and our-
selves we were obliged to purchase provisions,
this constituting the chief difference between an


an Arab village and an Arab camp. The popu-
lation here are all Mohammedans, and from
some cause which no one could explain, there
was a remarkable deficiency in the proportion of
female inhabitants.

3d. We quitted the village of Bahrahah at an
early hour, and having a fine day, proceeded on
our journey with quickened pace. The first in-
habited spot we saw was the hamlet of Beit-el-
Ras, on the hills to the right of our track, where
there are said to be considerable ruins and

A few miles to the north of Beit-el-Ras is a
place called Abil, which is described to be si-
tuated on the angle of a mountain, and is said
also to contain caverns. It is now totally aban-
doned, but is reported to possess some fine ruins
of large edifices, walls, arches, columns, &c,
some of which last are without the walls of the
town, and from their size must have belonged to
some temple or palace. This is near to Beit-el-
Ras, and is only one day's journey, or from
twenty to thirty miles from El Hussun, the first
town at the foot of these hills to the N. E., on
entering from hence the great plain of the Hau-
ran, and may probably be the Abila of Josephus.*

A few miles further on, we came to the village
of Tugbool, which, like the last, was very small ;

* Ant. of the Jews, b. 19. c. v, s. I.


as well as another cluster of houses on the left,
called Cufr Sou.

Continuing on our way, we reached, in about
three hours after our first setting out, a stoney
tract of hill, in which were some few grottoes,
and a number of sepulchres hewn down into the
rock, exactly as our common graves are now
dug in the earth. Some of them were several
feet in depth, others only a few inches below the
surface, and all were now full of water. They
were exceedingly numerous, and seemed, from
their want of uniformity in size and relative
positions, as well as from the peculiarity of their
construction, to have been the works of a very
distant age, and the sepulchres of a rude people.

Passing onward over this bare and hilly tract,
we had on the right, at some little distance, the
villages of Simma and Jejean ; and on the left,
far off among the hills, was pointed out to us
the town of Tibbany, of a larger size. We then
passed the small village of Sar on the right ; and
before noon reached Foharrah, where we alighted
to refresh.

Our place of entertainment here was one of
those square towers with loop-holes and other
marks of Saracenic work, such as we had seen in
almost all the villages we had yet passed, from
Soof to this place, and were unquestionably in-
tended for security and defence. Our reception


was as kind as at the place of our halting on the
preceding day ; and after a meal of warm cakes
and oil, we prepared to depart. The village of
Foharrah, which occupies two divisions, contains
from three to four hundred inhabitants, all Mo-
hammedan, and is under the direction of a Sheikh
subject to Damascus ; its situation is low, and
the country around it is bare and uninteresting.
From hence we continued to ascend on our
way, still directing our course to the N. W.,
inclining somewhat more westerly than before.
The country into which we had now entered,
resembled that in the midst of which Jerusalem
stands ; bleak stoney hills, with scanty soil and
few spots even capable of cultivation. The view
around us, too, was as monotonous as that
from the Holy City, and formed a striking con-
trast of positive ugliness to the rich and verdant
beauties of the enchanting scenery through
which we had recently passed in the land of
Bashan and Gilead, and in the approach to and
departure from the ruins of Geraza.

On the left we passed the village of Seyfeen,
and reaching now the summit of the hills we had
been ascending, we came among some few clus-
ters of wood, and at about three hours after
noon, approached the modern settlement ofOom
Kais, on the site of the ancient Gamala, whose
ruins we alighted to examine.

( 252 )



As we approached these ruins from the east, our
attention was first attracted by the sight of
several grottoes facing towards that quarter, and
forming apparently the necropolis of the city on
the eastern brow of the hill. The first two that
we examined, were plain chambers, hewn down
so as to present a perpendicular front, and having
the posts and architraves of door-ways, but des-
titute of sculpture or other ornament, either
interior or exterior. The third, however, de-
lighted and surprised us as much as if it had been
a discovery of the highest importance. We had
heard much of the stone-doors and ceilings of the
ruined towns in the Hauran, which were thought
to be the works of the old Chaldean age, and we
had seen with regret the destruction of those
which closed the tombs of the kings at Jerusalem,
and which, from their being supposed to be
unique, had given these monuments a claim to
a higher antiquity than they perhaps possess ;
so that our gratification was higher than can be
described in finding here a tomb with its stone-


door as perfect as on the day of its being first

On entering it, we found an excavated
chamber of about seven feet in height, twelve
paces long, and ten broad : and within it a
smaller room not more than ten feet deep and
twelve wide ; the whole irregularly hewn, with-
out regard to uniformity of dimensions or design,
and having its walls and roofs quite rough. The
outer front, however, was extremely perfect,
and was descended to by a gradual slope, the
space being cut away out of the hill.

The rock out of which the chambers were
excavated was a coarse grey lime-stone ; but
the portals and architrave of the door-way, as
well as the door itself, were all of the black
basaltic stone, of which we had seen sarcophagi
at Bahrahah. The portals were solid, and,
though plain, were well-hewn and squared.
The architrave, which was broad and deep, was
ornamented in front with three busts of coarse
execution ; the head bare, the face full, and the
ears prominent, like the heads sometimes, but
rarely, seen among Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The door, which was seven spans high, was
pannelled by a double moulding, in four oblong
squares, and divided by a perpendicular line,
left in relief upon its centre, and resembling
exactly a bar of iron, with five studs, like the


heads of iron bolts. The greatest peculiarity
was, perhaps, the small stone knocker, in the
centre of one of the pannels, cut like the seeming
iron bars and bolts, all of it of one solid stone,
and of a piece with the door itself, so as to give
it the appearance of a well-secured dwelling
on approaching it.

The door was fixed like those in the tombs of
the kings at Jerusalem, by a long circular spindle,
running up into a cell in the thick and solid
architrave above, and a short lower pivot bedded
in a shallower socket in the threshold below ;
these pivots being both of a piece with the door
itself. By clearing away the rubbish, we found
the door to traverse easily on its hinges, and we
could see that the manner of hanging it must
have been to insert first, the upper spindle into
the circular hole in the architrave, and then to
bring the lower pivot immediately over its socket,
suffering it to fall into it ; as the space between
the upper part of the door and the foot of the
architrave, was just equal to the length of the
pivot below. A small overlapping piece was
left to descend like a moulding, at the foot of
the architrave in front, so that, though the vacant
space was visible when the door was open, this
stone ledge completely covered it when the door
was closed.

Leaving this tomb, wc ascended the hill, and


found others still more interesting ; as, besides
the door of the same construction still standing,
we entered one in which were ten sepulchres,
ranged along the inner wall of the chamber in a
line, being pierced inward for their greatest
length, and divided from each other by a thin
partition left in the rock, in each of which was
cut a small niche in front, for a lamp, as in the
royal tombs at Jerusalem. Several of these
niches were seen also on the side-walls of this
excavation ; and though every sepulchre had
been violated, some of the sarcophagi, broken
and reversed, still remained in the room.

At the side of this chamber was an opening,
communicating with a larger and more rude ex-
cavation, in which was a dark arched passage
of some length ; as a stone which was thrown in
returned no sound, though propelled with all
our force.

The outer door was exactly similar to the one
last described, both in size and design ; having
the pannels, the studded bar, and the knocker,
as well as a small cavity near the centre of its
side-edge, with a corresponding opening in the
opposite portal, for some kind of fastening or
bolt to be let in. The ornament of the archi-
trave, instead of the busts before described, was
a garland in the centre, with a full blown flower
on each side.


Among a number of other tombs which we
entered, all very similar in design, some without
sarcophagi, and others containing several, both
perfect and broken, we found one door entirely
plain ; another having only the studded bar
down the middle, without pannels or knocker ;
and another more strongly ornamented with
imitations of iron-bolts, as if to represent an ad-
ditional effort for security. The ornaments of
the architraves were chiefly garlands and flowers,
and these, with their portals and thresholds,
were all of the black stone. The door last
described was still hanging, and some sarco-
phagi were lying within the chamber which it
guarded. *

Beyond these we found innumerable sarco-
phagi of the same basaltic material, some highly
ornamented with garlands and wreaths, others
with heads of Apollo, and little Cupids, or genii
with wings, joining hands together beneath those
heads ; and some with shields, as we had seen them
at Geraza. The covers, which were numerous,

* Capt. Beaufort met with tombs similar to these in Asia
Minor. He says, " At Makry, Myra, and other places, is the
excavated catacomb, with the entrance carefully closed by a
slab, which is not inserted, but worked in the external face of
the rock, and curiously pannelled, in such exact imitation of a
wooden door, that even the representation of the nail-heads
and hinges is not omitted." — Beaufort's Caramania, p. 191.


were all pent-roofed, and had, at their corners,
the quarter section of the globe in the Roman
style, as well as marks of their fastenings to the
lower part of the sarcophagi, still remaining.
At the ends were generally wreaths of flowers
or rings, and on the sides the devices described ;
but none presented specimens of very fine sculp-
ture, for which, indeed, the stone itself was
unfit. There were scarcely less than two hun-
dred of these sarcophagi perfect, besides the
broken ones ; and all were torn out of the tombs,
and laid in heaps above-ground.

At length we reached the summit of the hill
on which the ruins of the Roman city stands ;
and though the country around is stoney and
bare, and the hills destitute of wood or verdure,
it was impossible not to admire the commanding
view from hence, and the extent and grandeur
of the scene, devoid as it was of more finished
or softer beauties. Beneath us, on the N. E.,
flowed the Nahr-el-Hami, or the ancient Hiero-
max, coming from the eastward, through high
cliffs on its northern bank, and a bed of verdant
shrubs on its southern, and bending its way by
the hot springs and ruins of the Roman bath on
its edge, to increase the waters of the Jordan.
On the N. W., in a deep hollow, surrounded by
lofty hills, was the still sea of Galilee *, or lake

* Mark, vii. 31.


of Gennessaret *, on the southern bank of which
stood the small village of Sumuk, and on the west-
ern the town of Tiberias, still preserving nearly
its ancient name. From this lake, now unruffled
by the slightest breeze, the Shereeah of the
Arabs, or the Jordan of earlier days, was seen
to issue, and wind its southern course through a
desert plain, between the mountains of Judea
and those of Arabia, till it emptied itself from
this second reservoir into the larger one of the
Dead Sea. The whole view, indeed, was as
grand from its scenery as it was interesting
from the recollections which it could not fail to

After devoting about an hour to the exami-
nation of the ruins of Gamala, and traversing
them on foot in every direction, we were enabled
to perceive that the city formed nearly a square ;
its greatest length being from east to west,
which w r e found to measure one thousand six
hundred and seventy paces, of about two feet
each, or just half a mile; and its breadth, per-
haps, one fourth less. The upper part of the
city stood on a level spot, on the summit of the
hill, and appears to have been walled all around,
the acclivities of that hill being on all sides ex-
ceedingly steep, and having appearances of

* Luke, v. I .


ruined buildings, even on their steepest parts.
The eastern gate of entrance has its portals still
remaining, and was near the northern wall.
From hence a noble street ran through the whole
length of the city, extending the number of
paces mentioned, as it was along this that the
measurement was taken. This street was fifteen
paces, or about thirty feet in breadth, from pil-
lar to pillar : as it had a colonnade of the Ionic
and Corinthian orders, at intervals lining it in
avenues on each side, as at the ruins of Geraza.
The street was paved throughout with fine
squared blocks of the black volcanic stone, and
this pavement was still so perfect, that the ruts
of carriage-wheels were to be seen in it, of
different breadths, and about an inch in depth,
as at the ruins of Pompeii in Italy.

The first edifice which presented itself, on
entering at the eastern gate, was a theatre on
the left, the scene and front of which was
entirely destroyed, but its benches were still
remaining, and it faced towards the north.
Still further on, were appearances of an Ionic
temple, the colonnade of the street being con-
tinued; and, at about the centre of its length,
a range of Corinthian columns, on pedestals,
marked the site of a grand edifice on the left.
Not a column now remained erect, but the plan
could be distinctly traced. This apparent

s 2


temple was a hundred paces in depth from
north to south, or from the street inward ; and
its fa9ade, which fronted the street and came in
a line with the grand colonnade before de-
scribed, was about seventy paces in breadth.
The chief peculiarity of this edifice was, that it
was built on a range of fine arches, so that its
foundations were higher than the general level
of the town, and the pedestals of its columns
were elevated considerably above the level of
the street, by which it must have been ren-
dered most conspicuous.

At the southern end of this edifice was a
second theatre, open toward the west, and front-
ing the central cross-street, which here inter-
sected the city from north to south, at right-
angles with the larger one running from east to
west. This second theatre had only a portion
of its front preserved, but its benches and doors
of entrance, the pavement of its stage, and part
of its scene, were as perfect as either of those at
Geraza, to which it was also equal in size and
similar in general design ; but it was in less
perfect preservation, and, on the whole, inferior
in the taste and execution of its details to either
of them.

Besides the edifices enumerated, there were
appearances of several other buildings, but all
now too indistinct to pronounce on their nature.


The prevalent orders of architecture which we
observed, were Ionic and Corinthian ; though
some few Doric capitals were seen. The stone
was sometimes the grey rock of the mountain,
and sometimes the black volcanic stone used in
the tombs and sarcophagi, of which there were
several shafts of pillars and other blocks for

As the ruins here described are not immedi-
ately on the position generally assigned to
Gamala on the maps, and as the only person
who has given any notice to the world of having
visited them inclines to think that they are
those of Gadara *, it may be well to insert the
description of the former place by the historian
who was contemporary with its destruction by
Vespasian, and who, indeed, himself fortified
and fought in it.

This writer says, " Gamala is a city over
against Tarichea, but on the other side of the
lake (of Tiberias). This city lay upon the
borders of Agrippa's kingdom, as also did So-
gana and Seleucia, and these were both parts of
Gaulanitis ; for Sogana was a part of that called
the Upper Gaulanitis, as was Gamala of the
lower." t

* Vide a letter from Dr. Seetzen to the editor of L'Ambigu,
inserted in No. 253. of that work.

t Joseph. Wars of the Jews, b. iv. c. 1 . s. 1.
S 3


The boundaries of the kingdom of the elder
Agrippa, or Agrippa the Great, the grandson of
Herod, were at first similar to those of his
grandfather at the period of his death, but were
afterwards enlarged by the bounty of Claudius. *
" Now on the death of Herod, a Jewish embassy
went from Jerusalem to Rome to petition for
the liberty of living by their own laws, and to
accuse Herod, in his late reign, of iniquitous
and tyrannical government, under the hope of
kingly power being dissolved in Judea, and of
their being added to Syria, and ruled under
such presidents as might be sent to them from
hence. Nicolaus vindicated Herod from these
accusations ; and when Caesar had heard the
pleadings on both sides, he dissolved the assem-
bly : but a few days afterwards he appointed
Archelaus, not indeed to be king of the whole
country, but ethnarch of one-half of that which

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Online LibraryJames Silk BuckinghamTravels in Palestine, through the countries of Bashan and Cilead, east of the River Jordan; including a visit to the cities of Geraza and Gamala, in the Decapolis (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 26)