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 9 of 26)
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The desire of Mr. Bankes and myself to revisit
the ruins of Jerash was equally strong ; and
since all our endeavours were not sufficient to
prevail on our guides to brave the weather, we
determined on stealing to the ruins in the
interval, at all risks which it might involve.

As it was impossible, however, to absent our-
selves from so enquiring a company, without
being noticed, some motive was necessary to be
assigned, and it luckily happened that one really
presented itself of sufficient force to be admitted.
On the preceding day, while writing the notes
of our route from Jerusalem to Jerash, beneath
a rock, I had left a knife behind me, and it was
professedly under the hope of finding this that
we set out on foot to go a journey of two full
hours over a steep and rugged road, and amid
a heavy rain, which threatened long continuance.

We were accompanied by one of our guides
only, to whom a pair of boots was promised for
his pains, and by a man of the village with his
musket, to whom half a dollar was to be given
at his return. We were wet through, as might
have been expected, long before we reached the
spot ; but the grand view of Geraza, from the
northern heights which overlooked its splendid
ruins, was even in the mist that half obscured
them, sufficient of itself to repay our toils.

We descended now by another road, to avoid


passing immediately through the site of the city,
keeping on its western edge, and passed there an
extension of the Necropolis, through which we
had gone on the preceding day ; the form, the
size, and the sculptured ornaments of the sarco-
phagi, were still the same, and there were cer-
tainly more than fifty of them now above the
ground. They lay together in heaps, and
seemed, like the rest, to have been dragged up
from the earth with violence, as many of them
were broken, and others reversed.

Notwithstanding the violence of the rains,
which had reduced the parched earth to a state
of mud, and rendered the ploughed lands almost
impassable, the peasantry were all out, either at
the plough cr scattering seed, the labour of hus-
bandry being already too much retarded by the
late long drought to admit of an hour being lost.
This was most unfortunate for us, as we neces-
sarily passed several of them, and attracted the
more notice, from being on foot in such unsea-
sonable weather.

At length we reached the back of the southern
theatre, and descending into it by one of the
regular doors, sought a moment's shelter and
repose in the covered passage which led to the
seats. Even here, we were visited by one of the
old peasants from the fields, who insisted that
we were come to take away the hidden treasures


of the genii who had built these palaces and
castles. We replied, that, being on our way
from Egypt to Constantinople, we were desirous
of carrying to the Sultan, (whom all the faithful
reverenced as the head of Islam,) some account
of so wonderful a place as Jerash, of which he
had never yet heard ; and we begged that he, as
a true Mohammedan, would implore the blessing
of God upon our labours. The man was rather
confounded than satisfied, and soon began to
grow impatient ; but we contrived to bribe him
to stay, fearing that, by leaving us, he might
communicate our being here to his fellows, and
occasion our further interruption.

Mr. Bankes now prepared to draw from hence
a view of the interior of the theatre, including
chiefly its front and scene, being completely
sheltered from the rain, as well as from sight,
by the arched covering of the passage under
which he stood ; and in the meantime I em-
ployed myself in measuring the principal features
of this building, in laying down, by compass,
from an overlooking eminence, the relative po-
sitions of the principal edifices, and in forming
as accurate a ground-plan of the whole as the
unfavourable circumstances of the moment
would admit.

When Mr. Bankes had finished his drawing,
the two Arabs became impatient to return


to Soot\ and the third to see the treasure
opened. The rain still continued with increas-
ing violence, and nothing could be set on paper
without being under the shelter of some portion
of building, as even our inner clothes were as
wet as our outer ones, and nothing could be done
under them.

We set out together, however, from the thea-
tre to the southern gate of entrance, and paced
the whole of the way from thence to the northern
gate and wall, examining, cursorily, all the
buildings in the way, and forming from it the
ground-plan on a separate sheet, as well as col-
lecting the following observations of a general
nature on the city itself.

( 155 )



1 he geographical position and relative bearing
and distance of this place, from other established
and well-known points, will be best seen from
the map of our route, which has been con-
structed with great care, and that portion of
it, which includes the country east of the Jor-
dan, laid down entirely from our own journey
through it.

The city occupied nearly a square of some-
what less than two English miles in circumfer-
ence ; and the greatest length, from the ruined
arched building on the south of the first en-
trance, to the small temple on the north of the
opposite one, is about five thousand feet, as mea-
sured by paces, or nearly an English mile. The
general direction of this square is, with its sides,
nearly towards the four cardinal points ; but
none of these sides are perfectly straight, proba-
bly from the inequality of the ground along
which they run.

The city stood on the facing slopes of two





opposite hills, with a narrow but not a deep val-
ley between them, through which ran a clear
stream of water springing from fountains near
the centre of the town, and bending its way
thence to the southward.

The eastern hill, though rather more exten-
sive in its surface than the western one, rises
with a steeper slope, and is consequently not so
well fitted for building on. We found it covered
with shapeless heaps of rubbish, evidently the
wreck of houses, as the walls of some of them
were still visible ; but as neither columns nor
other vestiges of ornamental building were to
be seen among these, we concluded that this
portion of the city was chiefly inhabited by the
lower orders of the people.

The whole surface of the western hill is co-
vered with temples, theatres, colonnades, and
ornamental architecture, and was no doubt
occupied by the more dignified and noble of the
citizens, The general plan of the whole was
evidently the work of one founder, and must
have been sketched out before the Roman city,
as we now see it in its ruins, began to be built.
The walls of the city were as nearly equal in
length, and faced as nearly to the four cardinal
points as the nature of the ground would admit.

The eastern portion was chosen for the resi-
dence of the great mass of the people ; first,


from its being of more extensive surface ; and
next, from its being less adapted to the erection
of fine buildings, or the production of architec-
tural effect. The western portion was devoted
purely to the grandeur of display and decora-
tion, and the regularity of its arrangement is no
less striking than the number of splendid edi-
fices crowded together in so small a space.

One straight and spacious street extends
through the whole length of the city, from north
to south, ending at the gates of these respective
quarters, there being only these two now re-
maining ; nor are there, indeed, any conclusive
appearances of there ever having been any
other than these two 'entrances into the city.

This main street is intersected, at nearly equal
distances of one fourth of its length from each
gate, by two other streets, which cross it at
right angles, and extend through the whole
breadth of this western portion of the city, the
point of intersection in each being ornamented
with a public square.

From each of these intersections to their
respectively nearest gate, the order of archi-
tecture that prevailed was Ionic ; but in the
central space, between these intersections, and
including a length equal to half that of the
whole city, the predominant order was Corin-


In the centre, or nearly so, of this central
space was a noble palace, probably the residence
of the Governor, with a beautiful Corinthian
temple in front, and another more ruined one
behind, in right lines with it ; and the semicir-
cular recess of a still more highly-finished temple
beside it. In a line with these edifices, and on
the east of them, was a bridge crossing the
small stream in the valley. In a line with the
first or southern street of intersection was ano-
ther bridge, and nearly in a line with the
northern street, and also on the east of it, was a
very extensive bath.

Just within the southern gate of entrance,
was a peripteral temple, a circular colonnade,
and a theatre ; and just within the northern
gate of entrance was also a theatre, a temple,
and a military guard-house. Both the principal
street extending the whole length of the city,
and those which crossed it and ran through its
breadth, were lined by avenues of columns ex-
tending in one unbroken range on each side,
and ascended to by steps.

There were also other edifices scattered in
different parts of the city, which will be seen
in examining the plan ; but the whole was
remarkable for the regularity and taste of its
design, no less than for its able and perfect


Between those two hills on which the whole
city thus stood, was the narrow valley before
mentioned. At its upper or northern end it
became so confined as to constitute a difficult
pass ; and it was near to this part that the mili-
tary guard-house stood to command it. Below
this, to the southward, was a large Corinthian
temple on the plain ; still farther down in this
valley, or near the centre of its whole enclosed
length, was the source of a beautifully clear
spring, around which had been erected fountains
and other appropriate works. Still to the south
of this, was another large bath, consisting of
many apartments, and having many fallen co-
lumns near it ; and almost opposite to this were
the bridge before spoken of, and an aqueduct
which crossed the stream on arches. The
stream then pursued its course to the south-
ward, until it passed beneath the city walls there,
and followed afterwards the general direction
of the valley.

Such were the outline features of this inte-
resting city ; but it will be perhaps worth a
more minute description. This can be best
made by following up the order in which the
edifices presented themselves to us on our first
visit; and this, too, will furnish just occasion to
preserve the first impressions which the sight
of these edifices respectively made, corrected,


when necessary, by those of our subsequent


The outer or southernmost building was un-
questionably a triumphal arch *, and, as such,
stood quite unconnected with any wall, and lay
in the direct line to the city-gate, for the passage
of processions through it on approaching the
city from the southward. The style of its
architecture has been already particularly de-
tailed ; the whole length of its front is forty
paces, or about eighty feet, t

It consists of three arched passages, the
central one of which is about thirty feet in
height within, and twenty feet broad ; and the
two side ones about twenty feet in height, and
ten feet broad ; the length of all the passages
being the same, and measuring about twenty
feet, so that the central one is a square below,
and the side ones of an oblong form.

In a direction of S. by W. from this triumphal
arch, and at the distance of about three hundred
yards, are the remains of a ruined building, of
which nothing is now seen but some portions of
excellent masonry,' and arches of the Roman
form. Sufficient of the edifice does not remain,

* No. 1. of the General Plan.

f The measurements were all made by short paces, and
these were found, on taking an average of one hundred of them,
to be about two English feet each.


however, to decide on its nature or its original

To the S. S. E., at about one hundred and
fifty yards' distance from the triumphal arch,
and beyond the limits of the plan, are about
twenty sepulchral caves hewn down in the rock.
They are now open and destitute of sarcophagi
within, though some of these are found on the
outside, dragged from their original silence, and
violated, broken, and destroyed. These sepul-
chral caves are seen on the brows of both the
hills here, with the stream of water and the
valley between them, and facing respectively to
the eastward and to the westward. Those which
are on the eastern hill are near the very edge of
the low cliff there, and face toward the west ;
but these are mostly broken and injured by their
exposed situation.

Those on the western Jiill are more perfect,
the passage into them being cut obliquely down
through the earth on a gentler slope. Some
of these caverns are large within, but all are of
rude workmanship ; several of them have been
recently used for dwellings, or places of tem-
porary shelter, as small fences and marks of fire-
places remain to be seen.

The small ruined building which is within the
triumphal arch on the E. N. E., is of a square
form, and has some few shafts of columns near


it, both erect and fallen ; but it presents nothing
remarkable in its construction, nor is its original
use easily conjectured.

The naumachia is about seven hundred feet
in length, and three hundred in breadth, pre-
serving nearly an oblong form. * At the south-
ern, or lower end, the wall is straight, and at
right angles with the sides ; but at the northern,
or upper end, the form is semicircular. The
depth now visible below the upper edge of the
masonry, which is itself level with the soil
without and around it, is about eight feet ; but
as there has been, for many ages, an accumula-
tion of soil, by the yearly deposit of water and
decay of vegetable matter in this reservoir, there
is now a cultivated piece of ground within it.
The masonry of the sides of this naumachia is
of the most uniform and excellent kind ; the
inner face is smooth, and the outer, or that pre-
sented to the soil behind it, preserves the pro-
jections of the rustic manner. The upper edge
is neatly finished with a moulding, but there are
no appearances of seats or benches for the spec-
tators, who must therefore have witnessed the
exhibition from one common level above.

The two channels for filling it with water are
still perfect, and led into it from about equal

* No. 2. of the General Plan
M 2


distances on the eastern side, as marked in the
plan. Above that part of the city wall under
which the stream runs, and where the wall
makes an elbow to fall into a line with the city-
gate, one branch of the stream is carried over
the brow of the western hill, to conduct a por-
tion of the waters to the channels for filling the
naumachia ; and another continues along the side
of the same western hill, going to the southward
for some purpose that we did not trace ; while
the main body of the stream runs in the valley
below, descending progressively to a deeper bed.
But these two channels, which here lead to
separate destinations, unite only from the arched
aqueduct, a little southward of the bridge,
running from thence along the side of the west-
ern hill, and preserving its original level ; while
the bed of the valley gradually slopes downward
to the south. On the brow of the opposite or
eastern hill, still without the w T alls of the town,
is seen also a channel which conveys water, even
at the present time, to some part more southerly,
which we did not however trace to its end.

The intention of placing this naumachia im-
mediately within the triumphal arch, and exactly
in the line of march from thence to the prin-
cipal entrance of the city, was perhaps for the
exhibition, of some naval shows, illustrative of
the exploits of the person honoured with the


triumph, and for whom both the arch and the
naumachia were probably expressly constructed.
It is easy to suppose that it might have been a
triumph given to some hero who had distin-
guished himself in a battle on the sea of Galilee
or the lake of Tiberias, since there were many
sea-fights there between the Jews and the Ro-
mans ; but the details of the history of this city
are so scanty, that no particular instance of
such triumph is known to me as being on

It may be observed, that the building here
assumed to be a naumachia could not have been
a circus, or a hippodromus : first, because it is
evidently too much sunk beyond the common
level for such a place ; next, because water
could not have been necessary to be supplied
to it in streams by aqueducts, if this were the
purpose to which it was applied ; and, lastly,
because there is no visible appearance in any
part of it, though its wall is still perfect all
around, of any place of descent for either
horses or chariots, or even of steps for the
descent of footmen.

To the north-west of the naumachia, on a
higher part of the hill, distant from two to three
hundred yards, and beyond the limits of the
plan, are a great number of sarcophagi, reversed,
broken, and scattered about, but evidently not



far from their original place, so that one of the
portions of the necropolis of this city must have
been here. These sarcophagi are all of the
black basaltic stone, and mostly sculptured with
Roman devices ; but among them there are
none remarkable for superior elegance in their

In a direction of N. N. W. from the nauma-
chia, also on the hill, and still without the city-
walls, are the remains of a Corinthian work,
which offered nothing remarkable in its con-
struction ; and this completed all that fell
within our notice on the outside of the city to
the south of it.

On entering the city itself, by its southern
gate, the passage is difficult, from the gateway
being buried in its own ruins. Enough of it
remains, however, to show the general design
of three arched passages, as in the triumphal
arch without ; and the order of architecture in
both is ^he same. The walls of the city are
here plainly to be traced, connected with the
gate on both sides, going from it upward on
the west over the rising ground, and descending
from it on the east to go down over the brow
of the hill, and lastly ascending from thence
over the steep slope of the opposite or eastern

On passing within this gate, the attention is


suddenly arrested by the beautiful group of
buildings which appear on the left, consisting
of a peripteral temple, a theatre, and a circular
colonnade. From the suddenness of the charm
which this produces on the beholder, the actual
deviation from a right line is not at all per-
ceived, nor were we even aware of such an
irregularity, until the relative positions and
bearings of every object came to be set down
on paper, in the delineation of the general plan.
The spectator walks forward, unconscious of
such a deviation ; and this illusion, which at
first is principally caused by the splendour of
the whole view, is considerably assisted by the
front wall of the platform of masonry, built to
support the foundations of the peripteral temple
above it, and partly, perhaps, to aid the effect.
As this wall is perfectly parallel with the direc-
tion of the line of movement in going toward
the colonnade, and the view is directed to the
centre of this great circle, the deception is com-
pleted on arriving there by a magnificent
prospect of the principal street, which is lined
by a continued avenue of columns, extending
to the opposite gate of the city on the north.
Nothing could be more ingenious than this
contrivance to hide an irregularity of plan.
The nature of the ground seems not to have
admitted the placing the gates of the city

M 4


immediately opposite to each other, and having
the street between them in a right line ; but
this defect is so happily veiled, that, I believe,
many persons might enter it at one end, and
quit it at the other, without at all perceiving it. *

The peripteral temple, which is the first
building on entering the city from the south,
stands on very elevated ground, and seems
almost to hang on the brow of the hill. To
support its foundations, and to extend the level
space in front of it, a long pier of masonry has
been constructed, which forms a sort of plat-
form before the edifice, and on this is seen a
small square building, with fragments of arched-
work near it, the use of which is not apparent, t

The form of this temple is an oblong square,
the front of which faces exactly E. by N. by
compass. At this front stood a noble portico,
formed by a double row of eight columns.
Around the rest of the edifice was a single row

* A similarly ingenious arrangement, for concealing a devi-
ation from a right line, is found in the beautiful temple of
Philoe, at the Cataracts of the Nile, as is well delineated and
illustrated by Denon, in his plans of the edifices on that
island ; and at Palmyra too, those accurate observers, Messrs.
Wood and Dawkins, noticed a gate-way which was so con-
trived, as that the two fronts faced at right angles with the
respective streets which led from them, though these streets
were not in one right line, as may be seen in their superb
drawings and plans of the ruins there.

| No. 4. of the General Plan.

:: '1 ;": ! \ I I BM I LE ■.







of similar columns, eleven in number, on each
side. In each side-wall, about half way up its
height, were nine niches, answering to the in-
tervals formed by the intercolumniation of the
surrounding colonnade ; and seven of these nine
were still perfect. Whether they were intended
to ornament the wall, or to contain statues,
did not appear ; but they presented nothing
remarkable in their design. The masonry was
everywhere smooth, and the outer frieze and
cornice of the building was quite plain.

On entering this temple, nothing is seen but
plain walls of smooth and good masonry, as on
the outside, excepting that on each of the sides
are seven pilasters, placed at equal distances,
and reaching all the height of the building.
Two of them, on each wall, are injured, and
five of them are still perfect. The dimensions
of the temple within are thirty paces long by
twenty broad. The principal door of entrance
is that through the portico opening to the E. by
N. ; but it had, besides, a smaller door of
entrance in the side wall, near the N. E. angle
of the building, and opening to the N. N. W.

On each side the great door-way of the
eastern front, were two fan-topped concave
niches, corresponding with those on the sides,
and, like them, facing the interval between the
inner row of the columns of the portico; but no


mention is made in our notes on the spot of any
such niches in the back or western wall. There
are no remains of either pediment or roof, and
there are, certainly, not sufficient fragments or
rubbish within the temple to be considered as
the wreck formed by its falling in. Whether it
had originally been a covered or an open
temple we could not, therefore, decide.

Just above this building, to the westward,
and still on higher ground, is a beautiful theatre,
pressing close against the city wall, and opening
exactly towards the north. This edifice, as may
be seen by the annexed plan of it, was of a
semicircular form, the seats for the spectators
being ranged around the interior of the circular
part, the arena before them in the centre, and
the stage beyond that in front, with a closed
scene. *

The front of this theatre, as measured by
paces on the outer face of its scene, was about

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 9 of 26)