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Title: The Caravan Route between Egypt and Syria
Author: Ludwig Salvator, Archduke of Austria, 1847-1915
Language: English
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Libraries.)



[Illustration: JEBEL EL MAGARA.]



   THE CARAVAN ROUTE

   BETWEEN

   EGYPT AND SYRIA

   TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN

   [Illustration]

   WITH TWENTY-THREE FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS BY THE AUTHOR

   London

   CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY

   1881

   _All rights reserved._



PREFACE TO THE TRANSLATION.


The present work is by His Imperial Highness the Archduke Ludwig
Salvator of Austria, by whom also the accompanying sketches were drawn.

By his numerous travels and scientific labours, the name of this Prince
has become well known and highly appreciated among the geographers of
all nations; and only a short time ago His Imperial Highness was elected
an honorary member of the Royal Geographical Society, of whom there are
but eight others, in a total list of some 3500 Fellows.

His works of travel--comprising parts of America, Africa, and the
Mediterranean coasts--have also attracted so much attention, that their
translation into the English language seemed to be justified.

The list of these works, together with some details regarding the life
of their illustrious author, appeared in the translator's introduction
to the first work published in English;[1] and in referring to it the
translator of the present volume confidently expects a continuation of
the friendly reception accorded to "Levkosìa, the Capital of Cyprus."

                                      CHEVALIER DE HESSE-WARTEGG.

   GERMAN ATHENÆUM CLUB,
         _October 1881_.

[Footnote 1: Levkosìa, the Capital of Cyprus, with an Introduction by
the Chevalier de Krapf-Liverhoff, Imp. and Roy. Austro-Hung. Ministerial
Councillor, etc. etc. London: Kegan Paul and Co. 1881.]



PREFACE.


Once more I had traced my way to Egypt to pass the winter there. Like
every European who makes a lengthened sojourn in that ancient but
renewed land, I was led to recall the great engineering and other
achievements accomplished within our own time, and also to consider
future projects of development for which the country seems to present so
wide a scope. A great deal has been heard of late on the subject of
improved communication between Egypt and Southern Syria. Proposals for
the construction of a new harbour at Jaffa, for a railway through the
valley of the Jordan, and for harbour works at Beyrout, exercised my
mind in succession; and during my frequent walks in the beautiful
Esbekieh my thoughts were more particularly occupied with the overland
route between Syria and Egypt. Since the wanderings of the Israelites
through the desert, and the flight of the child Jesus, of how many great
events have these countries been the scenes, and what various
recollections are awakened by their names!

Former travels had rendered me familiar with both Egypt and Syria, as
well as with the different lines of communication between them,
excepting the old caravan route over Wadi el Harish, the ancient Torrens
Egyptii. Bearing in mind the bad harbours and dangerous anchorages of
Southern Palestine, I speculated upon the feasibility of a railway
connection round the coast, and, in view of that object, resolved
personally to examine the ground.

Many obstacles, however, presented themselves to the execution of my
intention. One of these arose from the circumstance that, since the
opening of the Suez Canal, the greater part of the traffic between Syria
and Egypt is carried on by the short water route _viâ_ Jaffa and Port
Said, in consequence of which the old highway, formerly so frequented by
caravans, travellers, and pilgrims, is now deserted and forgotten. Even
the cattle-dealers now prefer to send their stock by steamer from the
great export harbour of Jaffa to Alexandria, so that only a few
camel-drivers are to be met with on the once favourite route. I
therefore found it more expedient to order a caravan of horses and mules
from Jaffa to meet me in El Kantara, which I fixed upon as my starting
point for the desert. The following pages contain a narrative of the
expedition, which was undertaken in March 1878, as noted down in the
tent on the evening of each day. My investigation convinced me that the
railway communication so often dreamed of is absolutely impracticable,
chiefly on account of the easily movable character of the sands of the
desert. The line would become completely buried beneath them after every
storm of any degree of violence, and could therefore only be kept clear
by constant labour and expense. Of all proposals for the attainment of
the object in question the most promising appeared to me to be the
formation of a good harbour at Beyrout, to which all the trade of Syria
might be directed by means of two railways, one along the rich coast of
Southern Syria, and the other to pass down the valley of the Jordan.
Beyrout offers greater advantages for the purpose than Jaffa, inasmuch
as the harbour works would be easier, and therefore less costly; and the
town itself, besides being far richer, already possesses established
communications with Damascus and the inland trade.

The accomplishment of this work seems to me so important in view of the
welfare and commercial development of Syria, that I cannot conclude
without expressing a wish that it may be soon undertaken under the
auspices of those Powers in whose interests it may be.

   ZINDIS, NEAR TRIESTE,
         _October 1879_.



CONTENTS.


                                              PAGE

   I. EL KANTARA                                 1

   II. TO BIR EL NUS AND KATYA                   5

   III. FROM KATYA TO BIR EL ABD                11

   IV. FROM BIR EL ABD TO BIR EL MAGARA         18

   V. FROM BIR EL MAGARA TO EL HARISH           25

   VI. EL HARISH                                30

   VII. FROM EL HARISH TO SHEIK EL ZVOYED       47

   VIII. FROM SHEIK EL ZVOYED TO KHANYUNIS      52

   IX. KHANYUNIS                                57

   X. FROM KHANYUNIS TO GAZA                    65



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.[2]


   1. JEBEL EL MAGARA                      _Frontispiece._

   2. JEBEL ABOU ASSAB                  _To face page_  6

   3. EL GUJA                                       "   8

   4. RUMMAN                                         "  9

   5. KATYA                                          "  10

   6. SHEIK EL MZEYEN, IN KATYA                      "  12

   7. LEHOCHOMU-MELLEHA                              "  18

   8. JEBEL EL MAGARA (taken from El Brej)           "  22

   9. KOUBBA EL MAGARA                               "  23

   10. JEBEL EL HALAL (taken from Ard el Murrah)     "  26

   11. WADI ABOU-SBEH                                "  28

   12. EL HARISH                                     "  30

   13. THE BAZAAR OF EL HARISH                       "  40

   14. EL HARISH (View on the Northern Side)         "  42

   15. KOUBBA OF NABI GASSER                         "  44

   16. EL HARROUBA                                   "  48

   17. MELLEHA OF SHEIK EL ZVOYED                    "  50

   18. OUR CAMP IN SHEIK EL ZVOYED                   "  52

   19. SAGER EL EMIR                                 "  54

   20. RAFAH COLUMNS                                 "  55

   21. KALA OF KHANYUNIS                             "  58

   22. NEIGHBOURHOOD OF GAZA                         "  66

   23. ENTRANCE TO BAZAAR, GAZA                      "  68

[Footnote 2: All the illustrations were drawn by the author from nature,
reproduced on wood by Frederick Havranek, and engraved by F. Stolarz and
J. Jass of Prague.]



THE CARAVAN ROUTE

BETWEEN

EGYPT AND SYRIA.


I.

EL KANTARA.


One of the Suez Canal Company's tugs soon took us down the canal from
Ismailia to El Kantara (the bridge), where we were to meet our caravan.
Just as we were landing we observed the first few horses of the latter
crossing by the ferry which plies between the two sides of the canal.
The boat had to go over three times to get all our animals and luggage,
and we found it no easy work on the other side to strap up all our
things ready for the journey. Matters seldom go altogether smoothly on
the first day of a caravan expedition. At length a start was made, the
mules laden with our tents and luggage going on in front, and ourselves
bringing up the rear. The little hotel of El Kantara, with the few
patches of vegetation surrounding it, was the last sight we had of
civilised life. Following the telegraph posts, which mark the route from
Egypt to Syria, we then entered the rolling desert, and soon began to
enjoy that feeling of freedom which a boundless plain always inspires.
Only life on the sea, with all its wonderful charms, is to be compared
to a journey through the desert. In the midst of its vast and solitary
expanse the traveller feels himself overwhelmed, and his imagination
conjures up strange forms on the far horizon. The desert is to the Arab
what the sea is to the sailor; for both, their proper element has a
permanent and irresistible attraction. Old Abou Nabout, the leader of
our caravan, rode on quietly in front, his eyes gazing steadfastly
across the sandy plain, and dreams of his youth doubtless floated
through his mind as his horse threw up clouds of sand with his hoofs.

Our first ride soon came to a pause, for instead of encamping at two
hours' distance from El Kantara, as I had ordered, the moukri
(mule-driver) unpacked our tents in a small sandy valley which we
reached in half an hour only. Knowing from experience how necessary it
is to insist upon the execution of orders once issued, especially at
the commencement of a caravan journey, I made the moukri pack up again,
at which he was evidently not best pleased. We then continued our course
until we came to a shallow depression of the sandy ground, where I
directed our tents to be pitched. We travelled in a comparatively
comfortable manner, being furnished with two tents for sleeping, and a
third in which we took our meals. Besides these, we had a smaller tent
for a kitchen.

Everything was unpacked--our stores, the forage for our animals, and the
water casks. These had to pass a careful inspection by our old leader,
who repaired those which were leaky. The thirsty mules and donkeys were
taken back to El Kantara to drink, and the camels were driven to graze
in the neighbourhood, where were a few tamarisks, _Salsola echinus_,
_Portulaca_, and other plants of the desert.

Our tents were soon in order, and under their shelter we at last enjoyed
our rest. Before sunset we saw our animals return from El Kantara.
Horses and mules were then re-saddled and fastened together in a
straight line to a long rope. Their shadows, thrown by the moon upon the
sand, were extremely grotesque. We could now count them at our leisure.
There were seven horses, five mules, and three donkeys. The camels,
seven in number, were allowed to wander freely over the desert. To an
inexperienced traveller their huge forms on the vast plain, in a dark
night, have the appearance of ghastly phantoms. Our moukri and the
camel-drivers had lighted a big fire, and were now stretched out at full
length around it. We had four moukri, one of whom was a Persian named
Ahsen, and two camel-drivers, Daud and Hassan, both from El Harish. We
heard Abou Nabout's voice every now and then in the kitchen tent for
some little time, but complete peace soon reigned, and it was not long
before our little camp were fast asleep.



II.

TO BIR EL NUS AND KATYA.


The camels left the camp the first thing in the morning, that they might
have a good start of us, and by half-past seven o'clock the luggage was
disposed of, and we were again in the saddle. The traces of our sojourn
were still visible upon the moving sand, but would in all probability
become obliterated soon after our departure. It was a glorious day, and
we felt braced and invigorated by the pure air of the desert. Proceeding
through a uniform plain covered with purslane bushes, we saw rising in
the distance to our right, or south-east, the Jebel Abou Assab,
"Mountains of the father of the sugar-cane." From the more elevated
spots of the undulating surface we could see two steamers passing up the
canal, one of which was Austrian. The spectacle of these enormous
vessels, with their tall masts, majestically advancing to all appearance
through a sea of sand (for the canal itself was invisible), had a most
singular effect, and made us appreciate anew the wonderful character of
M. De Lesseps's grand undertaking. It was not long, however, before the
highest masts disappeared like phantoms behind the sandy waves through
which our path lay. After passing a small hillock on our right, called
Gerba--"water skin," we reached an undulating piece of ground commanding
a view of the mountains above referred to, and of the group of palms
known as Zaega--"the Beautiful." At the same time the scene was
agreeably relieved by one of those phenomena so common in the desert. A
beautiful mirage became gradually developed to our left, displaying the
reflection of a large lake, with its irregular outline, and even showing
with marvellous vividness the ruffled surface of the water. At some
distance we observed several Bedouins, and not far from us some of their
women, most of whom were engaged in leading black goats to their scanty
pasturage.

A little further on, we came to a small hollow where at one time a
little water was to be met with, but which is now quite dry. We then met
a caravan of people from Ramleh, in Syria, who were taking a few
wretched horses and mules to Egypt for sale, and subsequently two
Bedouins, who applied to us for the customary backshish.

[Illustration: JEBEL ABOU ASSAB.]

Monotonous as our route was, we were not without entertainment and
sources of interest. Soon after starting we were joined by a remarkably
lean dromedary, bearing the mails from El Harish. We learned from his
rider, who, as may be imagined, was glad enough of the company of a
caravan, that the post went each way once a week, and so kept up some
degree of communication between El Harish and the outer world. The ease
with which the fleet animal strode across the sandy ground was quite
delightful to witness. Now and again he got some distance ahead, and our
horses had some difficulty in overtaking him. The entomology, too, of
the desert did not escape our attention. We collected several specimens
of _Anthia_, _Asida_, and _Scarabæus sacer_, the historical Scarabæus of
the Egyptians.

After going slightly up hill for some distance further through the
wearisome sand, our eyes were gladdened by the sight of the group of
palms "El Guja"--"the snail," at the foot of the sand-hills, towards
which we turned that we might take our lunch beneath their grateful
shade. As one descends, a charming desert scene is presented by this
oasis, with the Jebel Abou Assab in the background. As soon as we
reached the spot, at half-past eleven o'clock, we pitched our little
tent, and, soothed by the gentle rustling of the breeze through the
leafy crowns of the tall and slender palms, enjoyed a delightful rest. I
afterwards made a sketch of a portion of the group (see illustration),
while Vives (one of our party) shot a couple of Calander larks and
captured a snake. Striking our tent at two o'clock, we went, before
continuing our journey, to look at the little well, which is lined with
palm-stems to keep out the sand. We found the water saline, as is usual
with desert springs.

Again, proceeding upward across the sandy ground, we obtained a view on
our right of the summit of Jebel Abou Assah. Further on, we reached an
extended range of sand-hills, the tops of which had, from the action of
the wind, become as angular as though they had been cut with a knife. In
every direction were to be seen scattered about carcasses and skeletons
of camels, the most recent of which our horses passed with great
reluctance. The only living creatures to be met with in this still
desert region are a few king-ravens, two of which came within range, but
we did not feel tempted to take a shot at them. To our right we passed,
at the foot of low sand-hills, another small group of palms, called by
the natives El Garabiyat--"the foreign woman," with an enclosure
made by the Bedouins for the storage of dates.

[Illustration: EL GUJA.]

[Illustration: RUMMAN.]

Our poor horses continued toiling along, alternately up and down hill,
across this chain of sand-hills, the sharp peaks of which stood out with
remarkable clearness against the dark blue sky. Here and there tufts of
grass, called Sabad, growing out between the sand, provide a welcome
fodder for the camels. Imposing in its wild solitude is the view
backward over the desert scene, with the palm group of
Rumman--"pomegranate," to the right (see illustration). Soon, however,
to our great joy, we came upon the palm group of Bir el Nus, signifying
"Half-way Well," with a tamarisk growing near. The well itself, the
water of which is slightly saline, is placed under a small group of
palms to the left. This little oasis, situated at three-fourths of the
distance from Kantara to Katya, is an inviting resting-place, but we
decided to go on; and, continuing our progress along the well-marked
road across the deep sandy ground, reached the small palm group of
Tahte--"subjacent," from which that of El Garif may be seen to the left
and that of Abou Raml to the right. These groups of verdure form a most
enlivening contrast to the dreary scene around.

From Tahte the ground gradually rises, and we soon saw over the sandy
undulations the countless palms of Katya. Upon this, our Bedouins, who
were quite exhausted from their toilsome journey through the sand and
the scorching sun, expatiated in glowing terms upon the refreshing shade
and abundant water awaiting us. We then went on through a plain and
small coppice into a kind of Melleha, or saline plain, where we could
see in the distance gleaming between the palm stems the white canvas of
our tents, which we at length reached just before dusk.

Our horses were much in need of rest after their laborious day's work,
and it may be imagined how welcome the flaming fire close to the tents
was to ourselves, and how heartily we enjoyed the evening meal which we
found ready laid for us, and the repose upon the soft outspread carpets.
All around us were encamped troops of Bedouins, the song of whose women
resounded far away in the stillness of the night.

[Illustration: KATYA.]



III.

FROM KATYA TO BIR EL ABD.


We awoke in sunny Katya, a delicious oasis of the most beautiful and
shady of palms! While the tents were being packed, that they might be
sent on to Bir el Abd, I reconnoitred the immediate neighbourhood. In
the middle of the zone of palms which encircle Katya like a girdle, is
an elevation covered with fragments of tiles, between which grow
numerous plants of _Sedum_, some of which are very thick-leaved. Near an
old tamarisk stands a very peculiar ruin of turret-like appearance,
called by the Arabs Burj--"castle." It is built of tiles and stones,
horizontally and vertically placed, and has a spiral staircase inside.
Not far off is a Koubba, containing a tomb, a defaced marble inscription
in Arabian, and two ancient columns, from one of which a garland hangs.
The palm-leaf stalks stuck in the ground outside indicate the sites of
various graves. Scattered about are several enclosures formed with
stalks of palm leaves, for the storage of ripe dates. The ground on
which the ruin stands is picturesquely surrounded with palms, of which
there are four principal groups, the total number of trees being perhaps
1500, for which the resident Bedouins have to pay the Government 1600
piastres a year.

In the first group of palms near the Koubba is the telegraph station, or
little house of the Arab watchmen who see to the maintenance of the
telegraph posts and wires. Behind a small hillock south of this house
there is another Koubba called Sheik el Mzeyen (see illustration), with
a doorstep of apparently old marble stone and an ornamental cupola. It
is surrounded by a great number of aloes, and contains a simple tomb.
Here, too, is a burial-place, with the graves indicated either by two
stones, a piece of palm stem, or a leaf stalk, and, in some cases, by a
fragment of camel bone. From this Koubba, the palm plantations extend
southward and form a kind of festoon with the Keteya group, which is
protected on the south-west by a hill of white sand.

[Illustration: SHEIK EL MZEYEN, IN KATYA.]

In the course of our ramble we met several Bedouins, who hailed us from
a distance with a friendly Marhaba--"Welcome!" With one or two of
them I exchanged a few words. Vives meanwhile shot a beautiful tufted
cuckoo (_Cuculus glandarius_), a splendid bird, which habitually flies
from the crown of one palm to that of another, and also a brace of
shrikes, or butcher birds (_Lanius minor_), and some black and white
chats (_Saxicola_).

After resting awhile under the shady palms, we resumed our journey
towards noon, passing on the way the large well of Katya. This well is
the great feature of the beautiful oasis. It is of large dimensions,
lined with tiles, and provided with a gutter or trench to conduct the
water drawn to the different watering-places. There we found a caravan
from Damascus, with a number of horses and mules in the charge of
several lank moukri, who were bound for Cairo. This herd, together with
the tall drivers, with their fine swarthy features, and the background
of gigantic palms, made up a strikingly harmonious and characteristic
picture, the effect of which was greatly enhanced by the fragrant aroma
of the desert, and the various colours it presented under the bright
rays of the morning sun.

Having no more time to spare, we resumed our way across the sandy plain,
and beautiful Katya soon vanished from our view like the fabric of a
vision. Here and there the uniformity and loneliness of the desert scene
were varied and enlivened by small groups of palms, beneath one of
which, after a long march, we fixed our midday station. The breeze
rustled gently through the crowns of the trees high over our heads,
while we lay on the ground gazing dreamily towards the yellowish horizon
clearly defined against the deep blue sky. All around reigned perfect
stillness. Now and then a party of Bedouin women, laden with
water-skins, passed us on the way to their tents, which probably were at
some hours' distance.

After a brief rest we again went forward through the sandy tract,
diversified only by occasional groups of palms, and after proceeding
some distance reached a gentle slope, which brought us to the sandy hill
of Bar Sat Man, half-way to Bir el Abd. From there the road alternately
rises and descends over bare sand ridges, and then passes down a
declivity overgrown with rushes and grass to Bir el Aafin--"the stinking
well," which contains but little water, and that almost putrid. In the
distance we saw several flocks of goats in the charge of Bedouins, who
inhabit the whole tract of country right up to the sea. We also met a
caravan with horses, asses, and mules, which some Kurds were taking to
Cairo, the leader himself--a man advanced in years, wearing a green
turban--riding at their head on a handsome bay.

After reaching a point from which we could see in the distance the Jebel
el Magara, a mountain spur of soft outline, we descended into a hollow.
To our right, between sandy ridges, lay Garif Bir el Abd, an extensive
Melleha, overgrown with rushes and purslane, and containing a small
quantity of rain-water. The action of this water on the soil produces an
excellent salt, which the Bedouins collect after evaporation at the
beginning of the summer. The smooth firm surface of the salty ground of
the Melleha, with bushes of purslane and _Caucalis_ on either side, is a
welcome change to both man and beast after so much laborious marching
through the bare sand. The purslane, when fresh and green, is much
relished by camels. In the Melleha we saw two laden with straw, with
their Bedouin keepers.

Proceeding on our way, we soon found ourselves again in deep sand, and a
little further came to a small Sepha. The road then rises gently over
another sandy ridge to the funnel-shaped hollow of Bir el Abd--"the
negro's well," where we were to stay the night. The place had also been
chosen by some Bedouins for their encampment. As it was not at all late
when we arrived, I climbed the sandy hill near, in order to make a
sketch of the chain of the Magara, then illuminated by the setting sun
(see illustration); and we afterwards went on to one of the cottages of
the telegraph watchmen, who came forward to give us a friendly welcome.
These men are Arabs, and live there with their families. They are
provided with a small store of wire and a few insulators to enable them
to keep the telegraph in working order. They are placed at intervals all
along the line to Syria, the first station being the one I mentioned at
Katya, each man having a separate section to superintend. This
arrangement is absolutely necessary in consequence of the damage
occasioned by the violent winds which sometimes sweep over the desert.
At Bir el Abd there are two men, each with a separate house, built of
tiles, and a flat roof of the stalks of palm leaves. The lonesome and
uneventful life of these men seems strange enough when one thinks of the
important news constantly flashing over their heads, for the
uninterrupted transmission of which they are chiefly responsible. We
conversed with them for some little time, and gathered that they would
be well contented with their lot but for their anxiety on account of
the frequent danger to which their dwellings are exposed from the
strong, sand-bearing wind, called Hampsin. Little indeed is requisite to
satisfy the frugal and pious Arab. Bidding them farewell, we returned to
the tents and retired to rest soon after our meal.



IV.

FROM BIR EL ABD TO BIR EL MAGARA.


By six o'clock the next morning all were stirring, and at seven we
struck our tents. Ascending from the hollow in which Bir el Abd is
situated, we came to an acclivity known as El Homda Bir el Abd,
overlooking the extended chain of Jebel el Magara in the distance. This
was followed by a flat piece of ground, upon which little was growing
beyond a number of plants of wormwood (_Artemisia monosperma_), and a
kind of prickly gray-leaved shrub with blue blossoms. Our path then
brought us to a Melleha with a few rushes, where the water was almost
entirely dried up, leaving a bed of salt. A little later we passed
across a plain of an almost uniform level, which appeared bounded to the
right by the high hills in the distance. On the same side is situated
Bir el Mabruka--"Well of the Mabruka," towards which we saw a party of
Bedouins making their way. This plain is succeeded by hilly ground,
distinguished as El Bassoul--"the onions," where white-blossomed broom
with thin leaves is met with, and, in a slight declivity, a few bushes.
From El Bassoul the road descends gently through a sandy tract, from
which to the left we saw the great Lehochomu Melleha, with a mirage
effect of such remarkable vividness as to make us think we had the open
sea before us (see illustration). At this part of our journey we met two
Bedouins, who greeted us with much ceremony. Here too, scattered about,
we found specimens of _Caucalis_. Our course then lay through drearily
uniform sandy ground, of somewhat broken configuration, and covered with
bushy vegetation, where we passed a telegraph post bearing the notice
that it was half-way between Bir el Abd and Bir el Magara. Here we
overtook our camels, which, as usual, had preceded us; but we sent them
on again, as we decided to pause for our midday meal. The wind being in
the south, the air was terribly oppressive, and I felt some apprehension
of the Hampsin. We accordingly pitched our tent in a hollow, overgrown
with rushes, where we were to some extent protected from the scorching
blasts. All our provisions were covered with the fine sand with which
the air was filled. We were passed by two travelling companies of
Bedouins, whom we had already seen on the road taking their scanty meal.
An old woman came up to us to ask for a drop of water. Glad as we should
have been to accommodate the poor creature, we dared not do so, lest we
should have had a visit from the whole troop of Bedouins on the same
errand, when our store would very soon have been exhausted. A youth of
eighteen, to whom we gave a pipeful of tobacco, also begged for a little
water, but we had to refuse him too.

[Illustration: LEHOCHOMU-MELLEHA.]

Being anxious to get on, we did not rest more than an hour. Continuing
to follow the telegraph posts, we came to a hilly, sandy district,
called El Brej, a most fatiguing section of the route, and much dreaded
by the Bedouins on account of the almost entire absence of water. To the
right is a small hollow where, by digging to some depth, just enough may
be found to moisten the sand, but it is so saline that it aggravates the
thirst instead of appeasing it. As we went on, the wind increased in
violence. We met a number of Bedouins greatly suffering from thirst and
heat, who asked us for a little water. It was most heartrending to see
young children toiling along, and to hear them entreating their parents
for a draught. Even now I can fancy I hear their piteous lamentations,
as one after the other they tried to drain a drop from the empty clay
bottles. One family I remember particularly; it consisted of an old man
and three little children, the two younger of whom were mounted upon an
emaciated old donkey, while the eldest, a thin, sunburnt lad, walked
with the old man behind. As the poor beast was struggling up a sandy
slope, its two little riders holding tight on, with their wan faces
fixed on the distant goal, it came down all at once with a deep groan.
The poor children rolled off terrified on to the sand. I shall never
forget the eyes of the old man as he came up panting. "Allah! Allah!" he
cried, with a supplicating glance heavenward. He then sat on the sand,
and took the children in his arms, leaving the ass to recover itself. We
were obliged to go on, and could do nothing for him but hope that his
prayer for help had been heard.

A little further we passed a spot where we were told a wandering Hindoo
had four years ago succumbed from exhaustion and thirst. As may be
imagined, the account of his sufferings was anything but cheering.
Shortly after, we came upon our kitchen-boy, a native of Cairo, who
could go no further. All our people had become so worn out that they had
gone forward on the baggage mules, leaving the poor lad, as the
humblest among them, to make his way on foot through the deep sand as
best he could. He had besought our moukri to allow him to ride, but in
vain; every one cared only for himself. I ordered some bread, meat, and
water to be given to him, and we then had to leave him to shift for
himself. It was not until after midnight that he came into camp.

We then descended slowly between roundish sand-ridges to the great
Melleha, El Mestebak--"Melleha of the wall-seat," where the deep sand
ceases. At a spot close to the entrance of the Melleha a little water
may usually be obtained by digging, but our camel-drivers, after trying
in vain to get some, had to content themselves with cooling their arms
and feet with the moist sand. This Melleha is of great length,
interrupted in one place only by a small saddle-shaped sand-hill, and is
bounded on both sides by ridges of sand. It gradually slopes into a
great flat plain with but one slight elevation in the centre, near which
lies the grave of a soldier of the time of Ibrahim Pacha, marked by
wooden pegs. This spot is also frequently used by the Bedouins as a
burial-place. Beyond this part the Melleha increases in width, and the
enclosing ridges become gradually lower, until a view is obtained
over those to the right of the extended Jebel el Magara. Only at the
time of heavy rainfalls does this Melleha contain much water. The sandy
tract which follows contains a great deal of white-blossomed broom,
which also grows further on in abundance.

[Illustration: JEBEL EL MAGARA (TAKEN FROM EL BREJ).]

[Illustration: KOUBBA EL MAGARA.]

The wind having gradually abated, a cool afternoon breeze sprang up from
the direction of the sea. "Riyeh Bahri! Riyeh Bahri" (sea breezes),
cried our camel-drivers, delighted. It was not long before the Koubba of
Magara was within sight. Cheered with the thought of the approaching end
of our journey, we pushed briskly on, and at five o'clock reached the
camp, which had been pitched close to Bir el Magara--"Well of the
visit," in a hollow entirely surrounded by sand-hills, similar to that
of Bir el Abd.

Situated upon rising ground at a short distance from the spot is the
half ruinous Koubba of the Sheik Suleiman, built about sixty years ago
of fossiliferous limestone, in which shells of _Cardium edule_ are
particularly prominent. On the side next to the sea is a pointed arch.
In the interior is a simple tomb covered with a linen cloth, an
inscription in the recess of the outer window, a green flag, and two
white bannerets. There are two papers bearing inscriptions affixed to
the wall, which is also painted in many places with red letters and
several crosses.

Not far from the Koubba is the cottage occupied by the telegraph people,
natives of Cairo, who showed themselves very friendly, and gave us some
coffee, which a handsome boy handed round. After staying some little
time with them we returned to our tents, where we found a good dinner
ready for us.

At a very late hour, the kitchen-boy whom we had left on the road came
into camp, accompanied by two Persian knife-grinders, with a young
Dervish from Eastern Asia. The Dervish wore long hair, and was dressed
in a garment entirely made up of patches of cloth of various colours.
These people had travelled with our caravan for two days, each carrying
the heavy grindstone in turns. It had often much amused us to watch the
care of the young Dervish, despite his fatigue, not to part with his
alms bag, attached to the end of a long staff, when taking the stone
upon his strong shoulders.



V.

FROM BIR EL MAGARA TO EL HARISH.


At a quarter past seven the next morning, we took our departure from Bir
el Magara and ascended the gently-rising ground by which it is enclosed.
Leaving to our left a large Melleha, called El Berdovil, which at high
tides is filled with sea water, we followed a smaller one to our right,
and came into a sandy, undulating, shrubby, and generally uniform tract
of ground, which, after many hours' ride, brought us to a valley or
Melleha-bottom, called Garif el Jemel--"Garif of the camel," lying
between ridges of steep hills. Here we found the whole landscape in all
the beauty of the early year, with the Bedouins' herds grazing upon the
fresh green grass, which was covered with primroses and other spring
flowers. On ascending the ridge to the right we enjoyed a most extensive
view. To the left lay the Melleha, the broad sea Bahr el Kebir, as the
Bedouins call it, the invigorating breezes of which reached us, and the
uniform plain, with the mountains of El Magara and El Halal. We lunched
on the ridge, feasting our eyes once more upon the distant sea, which we
had not seen for so long. A Bedouin came and sat by us without speaking
a word. We gave him a piece of bread, which, I suppose, satisfied him,
as he then left us and went down the hill.

It was soon time for us, too, to descend into the valley and resume our
course. Still following the telegraph posts through a uniformly
undulating plain, overgrown with shrubs, we reached a long Melleha
enclosed by low hills, beyond which are the so-called "steps" of Adam
Abou Zeit, the hero of Arabian legend, which are kept marked in the
moving sand by passing Bedouins. A heap of stones near indicates the
spot where Abou Zeit is said to have slain a Berdovil. On the left is a
ruined castle, built of shelly marlstone, which, according to Arabian
tradition, once belonged to the Berdovil in question. Thus does the
imagination of these children of the desert clothe even these desolate
places of the earth with interest, and connect ruins of diverse origin
with the heroes of their traditions. A step or two further are similar
ruins, known as Berj el Hashish--"the grass tracts," alleged by the
Arabs to be the remains of an old town. The great Melleha of Berdovil
extends along the foot of these ruins, and attains a considerable width
in the centre. We there saw a complete camel-skeleton, apparently of
somewhat recent date, which our horses scented from a distance, and took
care to keep a good way off in passing.

On both sides of the road, which here runs along a small ridge (see
illustration), we saw several herds of cattle and troops of Bedouins.
Among them were two children trying in vain to recapture a stray camel.
It was very amusing to watch them as they alternately employed stratagem
and agility in order to effect their object.

[Illustration: JEBEL EL HALAL (TAKEN FROM ARD EL MURRAH).]

Going on we passed Nahle Abou Sheh--"the palms of Abou Sheh," and, in a
declivity, several small palm groups. These, together with the
asphodels, which literally whiten the ground, indicate the neighbourhood
of the sea. The large picturesque group, Etmil et te Jaber, is named
after a young man, belonging to a distinguished family, by whom they
were planted. The valley, our course through which I have described, is
of great length, and opens out widely on each side. It contains several
groves of palms in most picturesque groups, three of the principal of
which are situated in a small valley to the left.

Beyond, the road leads, between roundish ridges of moving sand, through
the most complete desert, utterly desolate and bare, with scarcely a
bush to be seen. These ridges form a continuous line, with dales and
hollows between them. There is nothing to disturb the sublime stillness
of the scene. Not a creature is visible, and not a sound heard excepting
that of the distant breakers.

Still keeping to the telegraph posts, we soon came within sight of the
castle of El Harish, the last outpost eastward of the Egyptian
Government. As we advanced over ridges and then over heaps of ruins, the
view of the castle became more and more distinct, and at length we could
overlook the palm-wood towards the sea, the beauty and shade of which
had been so frequently enlarged upon by the camel-drivers. There can
indeed be no more attractive picture for the mind of an Arab to dwell
upon, when toiling over shifting sands under a scorching sun, than that
of a plantation of palms, with abundant supply of water, on the shores
of an invigorating sea!

[Illustration: WADI ABOU-SBEH.]

As we approached El Harish, a row of men gathered outside the town wall.
After saluting them we proceeded to our tents at the south-east end
of the town. Having reached them we were congratulated by Abou Nabout
upon having safely accomplished our journey across the desert.

After dinner we were visited by some of the authorities, who were
extremely cordial. As usual we offered them coffee and cigars. Their
stay, however, was but short, as they rightly presumed that we needed
repose.



VI.

EL HARISH.


El Harish is the town of the desert which forms the most advanced post
of the Khedive in the direction of Turkish territory, and, as it
possesses many remarkable features, is worthy of a detailed description.
As the point of convergence of the caravan routes, the entire life of
the place is bound up with the caravan traffic, carried on by the
resident population with their camels; it is, in a word, a place of
camel-keepers. It is situated at about two miles from the sea, on the
outskirts of the desert, the daily advancing sands of which threaten in
time to cover a considerable portion of the town, and indeed have
already overwhelmed many houses in the south-west quarter of it.

The climate is extremely salubrious. Snow is never to be seen; but there
are frequent hailstorms and heavy falls of rain, particularly in
February. The temperature is highest immediately after the Hampsin,
that is, at the beginning of the summer, and the very hot season lasts
four months. The strongest wind is the Hampsin, which prevails for fifty
days, and is here particularly disagreeable from the quantity of sand
which it brings.

[Illustration: EL HARISH.]

The population numbers 2800 souls, exclusive of the Bedouins living in
the neighbourhood. With scarcely an exception, the people are
Mussulmans, and extremely fanatical; some portion of them are of Turkish
origin, but none speak Arabic. There are but eight Christians in the
place--three of whom are women. The garrison consists of sixty soldiers,
including ten artillery-men, commanded by the governor of the fortress,
whose especial task it is to restrain the excesses of the Bedouin
tribes. The latter have a great dread of the military, as immediately a
Sheik lays himself open to suspicion he is arrested and despatched to
Cairo. Their conduct has consequently of late been very circumspect,
particularly since their last outbreak, which was severely punished.

There are no rich people in Harish, the richest possessing at the most
not more than twenty camels; many persons are, on the contrary, so poor
as to be forced to procure their camels on credit. Should an animal
come to grief under such circumstances, the poor debtor is a ruined man.
Altogether there are 500 camels in the place--60 of which are for the
use of the soldiers; also 60 hayin or dromedaries, one only of which is
assigned to them. There is an almost incredible difference between the
capabilities of the camel and the dromedary, as much as between those of
the English draught-horse and race-horse. An idea of the extraordinary
fleetness of dromedaries may be gathered from the fact that there are
several in Harish who can run easily in one day from Harish to Kantara.
A very serviceable animal, suitable either for draught purposes or for
running, results from a cross between the dromedary and camel.

There are but ten horses in Harish; but, on the other hand, no less than
150 asses, of the black or black-and-white-spotted Bedouin race; about
200 goats, 100 sheep, and 35 cows. The sheep and cows are mostly from
Syria. Pigeons and fowls are largely kept, but only a few turkeys, and
still fewer ducks. Dogs are also not numerous.

The game of the district comprises quails (during the migratory season),
hares, and gazelles. The last named are caught by the Bedouins when
young, at some distance in the interior, but frequently die when their
horns begin to grow. They are transported long distances, without
injury, in a basket of palm leaves, the small feet being tucked up under
the belly, and the head only peering out of the basket, which of course
is firmly fastened with cord.

Fish abound in the neighbouring sea, and are caught by moonlight, with a
bell-shaped net only, draw-nets being not used here. In Harish itself
there are not more than fifteen or twenty persons who follow fishery as
a calling. There are, however, many fishermen engaged in the preparation
of salt fish, who come over from Damietta and live behind the Berdovil.
In the same way they fish the Melleha, referred to above, in which are a
large number of mullet. The fishing-ground has been rented from the
Government by an Arab, who is even thinking of setting up a boat.
Hitherto the fishermen have always come here from Port Said, along the
shore, on foot.

The palm trees of Harish, of which there are about 6000, are the
principal basis of the local product. No impost whatever is paid for
them to the Government, the concession being presumably accorded to the
population, in consideration of their being inhabitants of a frontier
station. No wine is made from the palms of Harish, the sap being
principally used for the preparation of sugar. The black and red dates
are retained for home consumption, while the yellow, as also the Agua
dates (pounded date cakes), are exported in sacks. The fruit of the
place consists principally of figs and grapes, the latter being chiefly
grown in the western portion of the district. For the most part they are
white table grapes, but we heard that the under health officer of Harish
was attempting to make wine from some of them. Melons are also
extensively cultivated here, more particularly in Wadi, and are
preserved for some time by hanging. The vegetables include tomatoes,
garlic, onions, and carrots; barley, wheat, maize, and small sweet
vetches are also grown, more or less.

Industrial pursuits are almost entirely neglected. A few articles of
clothing, etc., are made for actual home use, but nothing more. These
comprise, for instance, winter jackets of sheepskins (made with the
bare skin outside, the hair being worn next the body); camel's-hair
sacks; close-fitting camel's-hair caps (a very warm and practical
head-gear, and consequently worn by the military and officials under
their fez); and black and striped cloaks of sheep's wool, such as are
seen in Syria.

The commerce of the place is insignificant, and what there is consists
chiefly of a transit trade, for, being really little more than a large
station of camel-keepers, Harish has no trade of its own. It has,
therefore, much suffered from the construction of the Suez Canal, since
which, almost the entire trade between the south of Syria and Egypt goes
by water, leaving but a small portion for the once famous caravan route.
From Harish itself no goods whatever are exported by land, excepting,
occasionally, dates for Gaza. There are no boats at Harish, as the shore
is bad and full of reefs. Corn and fruit often come by ship from Jaffa,
and sometimes timber for building purposes, but this does not happen
very often, as most of the timber required at Harish is brought from
Wadi. Altogether, ships do not come more than fifteen or sixteen times
in the year, when they are either laden as described, or simply
ballasted, and return with cargoes of melons, dates, and Agua dates.
Sometimes shipwrecks occur on these inhospitable coasts. As has been
already mentioned, the postal service between Harish and the outer world
is provided for by a weekly mail to Kantara, by means of a dromedary.

I will now give some description of the place itself. Harish lies along
the side of an undulating hill fronting the sea, at the foot of the
large quadrangular castle, a substantial building of calcareous
marlstone. The only entrance to the castle is by a great gate opening
from the town, and, therefore, upon the side next the sea. On either
side of the gate is a round tower, with a marble pillar--the capital of
which is inverted--built into the stone. Above are five marble tablets
with inscriptions. A sixth tablet stands below the loophole, from which
the standard-bearer (whose grave will be mentioned presently) was killed
by the French. From the lower inscription we learn that the castle is
327 years old, and was built by the Sultan Suleiman. The upper tablets
bear the name of the Sultan Selim. A gate with iron mountings leads into
the T-shaped entrance-hall, in the centre of which is an oval cupola,
and on either side slightly pointed arches. At the entrance is a
circular arch, and a similar one at the opposite end of the hall, in
which a lamp is suspended, and where there are three marble steps
leading up to the mosque. This is a very simple edifice, covered by a
flat roof of palm-leaf stalks, and containing two rows of four pointed
arches, with four ancient marble pillars built into the stone. To the
left of the Mihrab, which has two marble pillars, and is also
distinguished by simplicity, is a mural inscription. The Mem Ber is of
the same character, and is constructed of red and green painted wood.
Four men are set apart for the service of the mosque, one only of whom
is a priest.

Passing out through a side-door to the left, we found, opposite to the
Jama, an old Egyptian sarcophagus of black granite, now used as a water
trough, covered within and without with very small hieroglyphics.

The interior of the fortress has a very deserted air. We found there
dilapidated clay houses for the soldiers, and, somewhat to the side, the
divan of the governor, which consists of a hall with two circular
arches, the interior containing low sofas covered with rich carpets.
There we waited upon the governor, who, according to invariable custom,
ordered coffee to be served. He then took us over the armoury, in which
was a small field-piece for mounting on camels, and afterwards conducted
us over the fortress. The entire castle, as already mentioned, forms a
quadrangle, and has four hexagonal towers, with embrasures, and a few
bronze cannons. A gallery in a ruinous condition runs round the entire
length of the walls, with a parapet of some six feet in height and
embrasures. The towers of the castle command an extensive view of the
desert, with the distant mountain chains of El Halal and El Magara in
the south-east, the magnificent palm plantation towards the sea, and the
town of Harish itself spread out below.

To the left hand of the castle gate, on passing out, is a small
enclosure overgrown with shrubs, in which is the tomb, already referred
to, of the Piraktar, or standard-bearer, who was killed by the French in
the time of Napoleon. It is of simple clay, ornamented at the corners
with ancient pillars.

Altogether, El Harish has a poverty-stricken appearance, with rugged
uneven streets, formed merely of a sandy earth. Gray is the prevailing
hue, relieved only in a few places by the green of one of the loftier
palm trees projecting above the buildings. These are of clay and
straw,--the clay tiles being cemented with sand and clay; the roofs are
flat and very roughly finished. Most of the houses have small courtyards
communicated with by rough sliding doors. It is very seldom that one
sees curved arches over these; they are almost invariably quadrangular,
with a wooden bar as head piece. To many of the doors camels' skulls
have been attached by the occupiers, who for the most part are
camel-keepers, as a protection against evil spirits. Over the entrance
doors large branches of the tamarisk are frequently hung for a shade.
These plain courtyards, which contain nothing but a few indispensable
things, are, as it were, the private domain of the inhabitants, in which
they often keep their cattle. They rarely communicate with each other,
and of course are closed to strangers, unless accompanied by the
proprietor. The chattels they usually contain are a few large clay
water-pitchers, clay vessels in the form of casks, for the storage of
grain, which, after being filled from the top, are closed and the grain
afterwards drawn off as required from an opening in the bottom; a
bell-shaped poultry-coop made of clay, with a lid, which is kept down by
a stone when necessary; pigeon-holes either in the clay wall round the
yard, or in the wall of the house itself; and small baking ovens with
side-door and place under for fire. In the kitchens, too, which are as a
rule wretched holes, there are small baking ovens with flat tops, such
as are common throughout Egypt. The houses of the more prosperous
inhabitants are not unfrequently provided with a raised space, railed on
both sides, and sometimes latticed in front, which is fitted with
receptacles for jars and other domestic articles.

Ancient columns and pedestals are sometimes built into the houses. There
are usually several wooden doors between these and the courtyards, which
also serve as windows. Light is also provided for in many rooms by small
wood lattices or jalousies, firmly built into the wall, the lattices
often consisting of nothing but palm-leaf stalks stuck into the clay
wall. When there is an upper story, which is rarely the case, it is
approached from the courtyard by a staircase, usually dilapidated, with
stairs of shelly marlstone. The stairs and floors of the interior, when
there are any, are of clay. The roofs are formed with cross beams
connected by palm-leaf stalks and pegs, which are then covered with palm
leaves, and clay finally thrown over the whole. Those provided with an
upper story live there in the summer, as it usually contains several
latticed windows, and is consequently cooler. Most of the houses have a
partition for sheep and goats.

[Illustration: THE BAZAAR OF EL HARISH.]

There is but little in the whole town worthy of a visit. East of the
fortress is the simple quadrangular tomb of Mahomet el Domiats, which
bears a Greek inscription. Facing this is a house of refuge for
casual passers-by, with a subterranean cistern, still containing water.
Upon a small uneven piece of ground, called Ard Sheik el Kashif, is a
Kittabia, or children's school, a roughly built house like the rest,
where the lively youngsters assemble to be taught by their half blind
master.

About the centre of the town is situated the little Souk or bazaar, with
a number of miserable booths (see illustration), which I searched in
vain for specimens of native industry. While engaged on my sketch I had
an opportunity of seeing some old coins found in the neighbourhood.

The cemetery is situated beyond a piece of land fenced with a prickly
hedge, at a short distance from which there is a very old Nebke tree. It
has a most neglected aspect. There are a large number of tombs in the
form of steps, and here and there various kinds of pedestals, some of
which are fluted. It also contains the roughly constructed Koubba of the
Sheik Ghebara, with a pyramidical cupola coated with clay.

On the opposite or east side of the cemetery there is a slight rise in
the ground affording a good view of the entire place, as well as of the
large palm wood towards the sea, and the extensive plain planted with
fig trees between the dunes of the coast and the cemetery. While I was
sketching there, an old man approached and looked at the grave of some
children, which no doubt were his own. He then looked up and enquired
whether I was a father, and on my replying in the negative, ejaculated
in a tone of the deepest sympathy, "Poor man!" An instance, this, of the
high value set by these people upon the blessings of family life. "But,"
he added after a pause, "we must submit to God's will."

Here and there we remarked tombs in a better condition, with aloes
planted around, and one or two that were even whitewashed. Many
"Haddayas" (_Milvus ater_, or black kite) and kestrels (_Falco
tinnunculus_) were flying about this deserted burial-place, which one
might almost have fancied to be the spirits of the departed.

Westward of the cemetery and below the town is a kind of vale or
declivity planted with tamarisks and fig trees, and containing three
wells provided with handspikes. Numbers of women and children with black
jugs from Gaza go there to draw water, giving, as may be imagined, great
life and animation to the scene. The water, like that of all the wells
of the place, is somewhat saline. At Wadi the water is perfectly fresh.

[Illustration: EL HARISH (VIEW ON THE NORTHERN SIDE).]

Proceeding still in a westerly direction, we came to the telegraph
posts and the beginning of the route leading through the desert, which
now lay unrolled before us. This road is the same by which we came to El
Harish. Ruins of old buildings, asserted by the inhabitants to date from
the time of the crusades, strewed the ground in every direction. In some
cases the foundations might be clearly traced. It is said that old coins
are still found now and then under the ruins. From the numerous aloes
growing, it is perhaps to be inferred that graves once existed at this
spot. A good view is obtained there of the place and its surroundings,
including the sea and the verdant edge of the palm wood near it.

The lazaretto is a wretched building, with a flagstaff and two houses
projecting on the two sides. The entrance is from the side fronting the
road towards Syria. In the rear is a yard, containing a small garden but
no supply of water, which has therefore to be brought from the Wadi. The
houses are of the same character as those of El Harish generally, but
slightly more European in style. In the larger lives the deputy
commissioner, the smaller being occupied by his adjutant, who is a
remarkable example of the mixture of races so common in this country.
His father was a Dalmatian, whose family came from Sebenico, and he
himself was born in Egypt of a Nubian mother, being therefore almost a
mulatto. He was educated in Dalmatia, and is a Christian.

The quarantine processes do not take place in the building, but are
performed in tents, which are kept in readiness on the premises, and
erected as occasion requires.

From the lazaretto we proceeded in the afternoon towards the sea, which
is beyond the beautiful palm plantations, and not more than
half-an-hour's ride from El Harish. Our path first brought us to the
Koubba of Nebi Gasser (see illustration). This is a quiet burial-place
planted round with dark green tamarisks, strongly contrasting with the
yellow sands, which again are well set off by the background of sea and
sky. The repose and peace of this little spot are intensified by the
neighbourhood of the vast expanses of desert and sea, which here meet as
though to rival each other.

[Illustration: KOUBBA OF NABI GASSER.]

Upon the hill of the Koubba, fragments of old masonry lie scattered
about. In the interior of the somewhat large building, the door of which
bears an Arabian inscription, is a conical cupola upon four roughly
constructed arches. To the right, on entering, is the tomb of Nebi
Gasser, over which is a canopy of green cloth upon a framework of
wood. To the left is that of one of his followers. There are in the
sand, on the land side, many traces of graves, which may be known by the
aloes growing near. In many places a piece of marble column or of stone
still projects, but it cannot be long before all such vestiges disappear
under the ever advancing sands. At the side of the Koubba is an old
tamarisk of the thick-leaved sort, called by the people Atel, those with
the thin leaves, of which there are many examples here, being known as
Tarfa.

Going eastward from the Koubba of Nebi Gasser, we soon reached the broad
Wadi, which still brings water down from the hills. It may be crossed
either close to the sea-shore, or at a shallower spot not far distant.
To the left of the Wadi are many vegetable gardens, with numerous wells.
The large palm wood lies to the right of the Wadi, and stretches down
nearly to the sea. The trees generally are of slender dimensions, but of
gigantic height. The scene altogether is one calculated powerfully to
stimulate the imagination. The solemn stillness which prevails it is
impossible to describe. The regular sound of the distant breakers,
mingled with the gentle whisperings of the breeze through the palms; the
flights of kites floating aimlessly in the air; the peculiar character
of the shade of the palm, through the leafy crowns of which the light
penetrates in trembling waves; the dark green tints of the foliage
against the transparently blue Egyptian sky;--all combine to produce an
effect which must be experienced to be realised.

The different groups of the palm wood are interspersed with pieces of
meadow land, watered by seven wells, and upon which are ten mean huts
occupied by Arab herdsmen. The wood stretches for some distance over the
broad surface of the Wadi, which, when swollen, frequently uproots
many trees. In the entire Wadi there are some thirty fresh-water wells
for the supply of the vegetable gardens, where onions, tomatoes, melons,
etc., are grown. It contains, too, numerous young palm groves of recent
plantation. Immediately beyond the point to which irrigation extends,
the barren desert again commences.



VII.

FROM EL HARISH TO SHEIK EL ZVOYED.


But at length the time came to take leave of El Harish and its friendly
inhabitants. Early on the morning of our departure the governor and all
our acquaintances came once more to greet us, and, on our moving away
eastward, stood until we were out of sight, making signs of farewell and
other demonstrations of goodwill. The governor strongly counselled us
not to stop until we reached Sheik el Zvoyed, as he judged the road
between El Harish and that place to be unsafe for encampment, and also
furnished us with an attendant, named Ramadan, a powerfully built man,
with sunburnt features, as a guard in case of our meeting with hostile
Bedouins. Our escort, who was mounted upon a cross-bred camel, and armed
with a long sword and Arabian firearms, proved to be a most obliging and
serviceable companion.

Soon after quitting El Harish we advanced upward into the broad clayey
bed of the Wadi, upon the opposite bank of which we found the
burial-place of the Bedouins, containing several tombs and a large
number of aloes. Then we reached the opposite side of the Wadi, of
cliff-like character, the clay of which is much worn away by the water.

A guardhouse is situated there, occupied by three soldiers, who demanded
from us certificates of health. On our telling them that everything had
been arranged at El Harish, and that we had but just left there, we were
allowed to proceed without further question.

Beyond the guardhouse the road passes through a bare plain, and then
rises for some distance over sandy hills into undulating ground, where
the hill ridges run parallel to the sea. We observed a number of
asphodels growing, and here and there patches of corn land. As we
advanced further the vegetation became thicker and thicker, the bare
sand-hills continuing on our left only. We saw many Bedouins at work on
the land--of which many extensive tracts are under cultivation--with no
other implements than ordinary hoes and a one-horse "camel." In many
places there grows an inferior kind of grass, called Hafour, which,
however, makes excellent pasturage. We saw a good number of goats and
sheep about, evidently in a thriving condition.

[Illustration: EL HARROUBA.]

After passing through the large fruitful valleys of Wadi el Geradi
(valley of the earth), and Wadi el Harrouba (valley of the St. John's
bread--the Locust or Carob tree), we ascended a hill from which there is
an extensive view (see illustration). From there the road runs through a
short valley past some cultivated tracts, the land being elsewhere
overgrown with _Artemisia monosperma_. To the right a tree may be
observed, which marks the scene of a terrible battle that took place
fifteen years ago between the Tarabin Bedouins from Gaza and the Zowarka
Bedouins from El Harish.

We found the land improve as we went on, and in many places observed
well-cultivated fields. Some attempts, moreover, had been made to define
and improve the road by the construction of ditches on each side.
Continuing to follow the telegraph posts, we came, after some distance,
to rising ground, from which we had a wide view of the almost flat
valley, which was covered with the above-named shrubs. In the distance,
to the left of the valley, we could see, along the borders of an utter
desert, the palms and the Koubba of Sheik el Zvoyed.

At the foot of the partially cultivated hill to the left, is a large
Melleha filled with rain-water, and bounded on the other side by bare
sand-hills, in the midst of which are three beautiful palm groups. For a
full view of this characteristic picture, rendered remarkably effective
by the solitude of the scene, it is necessary to cross the hill. On the
east side the Melleha is shallow, and ends in marshy ground, overgrown
with rushes, beyond which is a plain extending to the desert. So
exhilarated were our horses by the taste of the green herbage, of which
they had so long been deprived, that many got away from us and galloped
wildly across the Melleha. It took us nearly an hour to secure them,
which we ultimately did by hemming them in between the water and
ourselves. Flights of kites passed over our heads, probably attracted by
some carcass not far distant.

From the Melleha we soon reached Sheik el Zvoyed, where we found to our
delight the tents already pitched upon the emerald green sward.

[Illustration: MELLEHA OF SHEIK EL ZVOYED.]

We were met in a friendly way by the man in charge of the telegraph
posts of the district; and several Bedouins, attracted either by
curiosity or the hope of a "backshish" in some shape or other, came
and seated themselves around us in picturesque groups. After remaining a
short time longer, to enable me to complete a sketch of this bright
little spot (see illustration), we returned to our tents, which we were
very glad to reach after our long ride.



VIII.

FROM SHEIK EL ZVOYED TO KHANYUNIS.


The meadows lay smiling in the morning sun, and their fresh pasture
appeared greatly to strengthen and invigorate our animals. While the
packing was being done I went to take a look round Sheik el Zvoyed. The
first thing I came to was the house, built of clay and straw, similar to
that described at El Harish, where the man lives who keeps the telegraph
posts and wires in working order. Attached to it is a small courtyard,
in the peaceable possession of fowls, turkeys, pigeons, and even ducks.
Not far off is a smaller house, where oil and various wares from Gaza
are sold for the benefit of the neighbouring Bedouins, who all belong to
the Zowarkas. Behind the houses are a number of slender palms, and at a
short distance lies the burial-ground, containing a few graves, with
numerous aloes growing between them. In the centre stands the Koubba
of Sheik el Zvoyed, built of square stones, with an inscription in
Arabic over the door. The interior of the Koubba is cupola-shaped, and
it contains a tomb covered with green cloth stretched over a wooden
frame.

[Illustration: OUR CAMP IN SHEIK EL ZVOYED.]

Water is procurable from the sand-hills somewhat to the west behind the
houses, not saline, but not of good flavour. The Bedouins of the
neighbourhood go there with their donkeys to draw it in black Gaza jars.
Both men and boys may be constantly seen threading their way along the
sandy path; many of the boys have fine regular features, with sparkling
eyes, but of that melancholy expression so peculiar to Bedouin children.
In many parts of the country surrounding Sheik el Zvoyed, ruins and
heaps of stones are to be met with, telling of places formerly
inhabited.

On returning to the camp I found the packing completed, and after
shaking hands with the telegraph man we at once continued our journey.
At first we passed through meadows, partially bordered with trees, and
across sandy hills, and then descended a grassy slope called Lazga, from
which we surveyed the extensive plain before us, with the sandy hills on
the left projecting into the bright green surface like islets in the sea
(see sketch). To the right are two large "Sidr" trees called Sager el
Emir (the tree of the Emir) or Magrunte.[3] In the gently undulating
plain there are many daffodils and blue-flowering Iris. The pretty
meadows then alternated with barley fields, where numerous birds, such
as larks, large buntings, and quails, are constantly to be seen. From a
slight elevation we could overlook the whole of the plain stretching
away beneath us, and in the distance we saw three Bedouin tents, and
some cows grazing on the rich meadow land. We then passed the road
leading to Arfeh, about two miles distant, where good water is to be had
in the very middle of the sand.

[Footnote 3: Large specimens of _Zizyphus Spina-Christi_, Willdenow,
called "Sidr" in Egypt, where its fruit is called "Nabak." In Palestine,
the tree is named "Doom," and the fruit "Sidr." Magrunte or Magroonât
(in Syriac "Madjroonât") means "the female neighbours."]

Fragments of gray granite pillars, still standing, are here to be met
with about the road, the fields, and the sand, and we saw one lying on
the ground half buried. On one side stands a "Sidr" tree (see sketch),
and to the right in the other hollow of the valley is another. The
pillars are the remains of an ancient temple, Raphia, and are of special
importance in the eyes of the Arabs, who call them Rafah, as they mark
the boundary between Egypt and Syria.

[Illustration: SAGER EL EMIR.]

[Illustration: RAFAH COLUMNS.]

We took our midday meal close to the pillars, being now within the Holy
Land, and after a short rest resumed our journey. Leaving a green
sloping valley on the left, and passing sandy hills, we went over gently
undulating grass-land, and saw before us the township of Benishaela,
situated on the flat crest of a hill. Numerous cows grazing, and flocks
of kites soaring in the air, enlivened the otherwise monotonous
landscape.

But here the aspect of the country suddenly changed, and we saw that we
had entered the Land of Promise. Mud walls, with thorn bushes and
prickly pears, enclosed the fields, in which almonds, apricots, and
figs, sycamores, locust, and "Sidr" trees, vied with each other in a
luxuriance all the more cheering to the eyes of the traveller from the
barren desert. Passing several small houses built of clay, straw, and
stones, we reached at three o'clock Khanyunis, the picturesque Kala of
which seemed to invite our approach. We found that our camps had been
pitched opposite to it in a field surrounded by opuntias.

The governor Chaker Effendi, whose family were still in El Halil
(Hebron), where he formerly resided, came to welcome us. He was very
friendly, and ordered our camp to be guarded by three cavalry and four
infantry soldiers, who relieved each other every two hours. There were
one or two negroes amongst them, but the greater number were slim and
muscular Arabs, and some of them remarkably handsome men. The governor
personally conducted us afterwards over the Kala. Before describing
this, however, I must give the reader some general account of
Khanyunis.



IX.

KHANYUNIS.


Khanyunis (or Khan Yunas) is the furthest Syrian place in the direction
of Egypt, and in some respects the last outpost of the immediate
authority of the Porte, as El Harish is of that of the Khedive. Between
the two lies that desert tract in which the Rafah pillars stand,
indicating the supposed boundary between the two countries. The Bedouin,
however, wanders at will over the waste land, caring little whether he
happens to be in Egypt or Syria.

As in El Harish, the Kala constitutes the castle of the place, and is at
the same time the nucleus around which the other buildings have
gradually clustered.

Khanyunis is now a pleasant village, but does not at present contain
more than 1000 inhabitants. Formerly the population was larger, having
reached 1800, but it has decreased owing to the frequent inroads of the
Tarabin Bedouins, who only three years ago set fire to the crops of the
poor villagers. All the Bedouins who haunt the neighbourhood are
Tarabins. They are generally well provided with horses and asses, some
of the former being fine animals, of great powers of endurance. Since
Khanyunis has been supplied with a stronger garrison, they are kept in
check, and the state of affairs is consequently much improved. There are
now fifty foot and fifty horse soldiers, almost exclusively sons of the
desert, who look quite picturesque with their Koufi as head-dress, and
Arabian costume. They are fine muscular fellows, and extremely courteous
in manner. The villagers wear the usual South Syrian costume, and are of
fairly strong build. Some of the boys have two ringlets hanging at the
sides of their heads,--a fashion not uncommon among the Bedouins. There
are two schools for the instruction of youth, and, judging from the fact
that nearly every one can read, they must be well attended.

[Illustration: KALA OF KHANYUNIS.]

The interior of the village presents but a poor appearance, the streets
being dirty and disfigured by numerous trenches for carrying off the
rain. The houses, between which lofty palms raise their towering heads,
are built of mud and stone. The inferior quality of stone consists of
shell detritus and shale conglomerate from the neighbouring
sea-shore, and the better material is brought from different ruins,
sometimes from a distance of ten to twelve hours' journey. The roofs of
the houses are flat, and over many of the entrances, which have wooden
lintels, a piece of bone is fixed as a protection against the influence
of the Evil eye. For the better defence of the inhabitants against the
incursions of the Bedouins, the houses have loopholes; ventilation is
provided for by a number of round holes arranged either in rows or
tasteful designs. As has been said, the principal feature of Khanyunis
is its Kala (see sketch), which abuts on a broad place or square, the
left side of which still shows traces of a former enclosure. On either
side of the entrance is a hall, with a fragment of a pedestal. That on
the left contains the modest dwelling of the governor, who lives quite
alone here, with but one servant. The Kala, which is 850 years old, once
formed a square, at the corners of which were circular towers, with oval
cupolas, and three embrasures. The two front towers only now remain, the
back wall having been quite destroyed, and the once enclosed square is
now filled with a wild confusion of wretched houses, half in ruins,
which serve the soldiers as a place of habitation. In the centre of the
front side is a gate with loopholes within the pointed arch, above
which is a Moorish frieze crowned with lilies. On both sides of the
gate, and on the broad front wall, are pyramidical battlements with
tapering ends. Inside the archway is an inscription of Sultan Bargut of
Cairo, and either side is ornamented with a lion, rudely sculptured in
relief. Arabic inscriptions are cut in the walls on both sides of the
gate, and in the gateway itself; no regard having been paid to keeping
within the stone rows. To the right of the gate, within the Kala, rises
the octagonal minaret of the mosque, from which is obtained a fine view
of the ruinous interior, with its labyrinth of dilapidated houses, as
well as of the whole village. From here four roads can be seen diverging
from Khanyunis, namely the El Harish road, the road leading to Suez
_viâ_ Akaba, the Benishaela road, and lastly, the Gaza road. At the
entrances to these roads are grouped the houses of the village. Raising
our eyes towards the horizon we saw the yellow sand-hills which bound
the plantations towards the sea, strikingly contrasting with the bright
green trees, and on the other side the rich verdant plain stretching
away towards Gaza, which may be discerned in the distance. The numerous
prickly-pear bushes surrounding the village on the Gaza side are a
conspicuous feature in the landscape.

We now descended to complete our inspection of the Kala. In the interior
the mosque, with its oval dome, has almost gone to ruin; but the fine
though simple marble pulpit still stands in good preservation. In the
midst of the ruins, which have a somewhat picturesque appearance, is a
house in a very dangerous condition, in consequence of a considerable
portion of the mosque having fallen on it a short time since.
Notwithstanding this, however, the people are heedless enough to
continue occupying it. Only a few steps' distance a lofty palm was
recently blown down by a violent storm. Thus the works both of man and
nature meet with a common destruction, the inhabitants not thinking it
worth while to do the least in the way of repair, or to make the
slightest attempt to protect themselves against impending danger.
Lethargy and nonchalance are the leading characteristics of Eastern
nations, and a certain evidence of the gradual decay of their religion
and race.

There is another mosque in the village opposite the Kala, but without a
minaret. From its exterior it is scarcely to be recognised as a Jama.
Near one of the ruined towers of the Kala's outer enclosure, and at the
corner of a house on the road to Gaza, stand ancient pedestals, serving
as seats for the Mayor, Sheik el Beled.

The Souk or Bazaar of Khanyunis is formed by two streets lined with
wretched Turkish shops, with mud or clay projections for seats. The
doors are made to flap upward, but they close imperfectly; the roofs
are, as usual, made of the Artemisia shrub. The goods exposed in these
shops come for the most part from Gaza and Jaffa; but the caps of
camel's hair and of cotton, as well as the white and black Syrian
mantles, are made by the villagers themselves. At the end of the
village, near the Souk, and on the road to El Harish, is the second
public well, about 18 fathoms deep, and built entirely of ancient marble
fragments. At the side is a cistern with cattle-troughs of the same
material, which evidently belongs to a more flourishing period than the
present. Somewhat further on, behind a slight hollow with stagnant water
and a few palm trees, in the Akaba and Suez road, is the burial-ground,
containing a few whitewashed tombs of step-like construction. At the
opposite end of the village, where the road is open to the surrounding
country, we came upon a hollow with embankments, and then took the road
leading to Benishaela.

In the neighbourhood of Benishaela there are many gardens, which bear
witness to the extreme fertility of the soil; though unfortunately there
is not a single well among them. Almonds and apricots are the chief
productions, and the raised ground enclosing them is often covered with
small branches of the thorny "Sidr." Near the village we saw several
"Sidr" trees, as well as tamarisks (Atel) and sycamores. The most
numerous class are the thorny Opuntias, which grow round some of the
gardens in rank luxuriance.

The people of Khanyunis do not live exclusively from the cultivation of
the ground; they are also largely engaged in cattle-breeding, and a
great many cows are to be seen in the neighbourhood. Of camels there are
but few; horses, on the other hand, are numerous. I also saw four
greyhounds of the Syrian breed. As is well known, it is Richard Coeur
de Lion to whom is ascribed the introduction into the Holy Land of the
greyhound, which, crossing with the ordinary street dog, originated the
above-mentioned breed. These dogs were not of pure blood; they were
spotted white and yellow, with shaggy hair and blue stripes, studded
with cowries, on their haunches. They are used for hunting gazelles,
which are frequently caught alive when very young. One of these graceful
creatures was brought to us and offered for a sum equal to six
shillings; it was very tame, and we carried it for some distance. But at
length it died, in consequence, as was said, of having eaten bread,
which, according to Abou Nabout's assertion, is very unwholesome for
these animals. The more probable cause was the trying journey it made in
a basket on a camel's back. There are only a few street dogs in
Khanyunis; but, as a compensation, any quantity of kites, kestrels, and
crows, which alight in hundreds on the loftier sidr or sycamore trees in
the neighbourhood, and may often be seen hovering over the village on
the look-out for prey and carrion.



X.

FROM KHANYUNIS TO GAZA.


The broad sandy road from Khanyunis to Gaza passes for some distance
through gardens with Opuntia hedges, and embankments crowned with thorn
bushes. To the left, the gardens extend to sandy hills; and to the right
as far as Benishaela, a village standing on an elongated hill, and
containing 500 inhabitants. Behind this is another village called
Abansan, with many cultivated tracts in the neighbourhood. On the
uniform hill-range on which Benishaela is situated, and which bounds the
valley on the land side, is the grave of Sheik Mohammed, at the foot of
an old tree, and adjoining a small house which serves as the Koubba. To
the right are the tents of the Bedouins, who are numerous here, and are
the sole proprietors of the rich meadow lands.

After keeping for some distance to the telegraph posts across the sand,
we again passed through meadows, and then reached the dry sandy bed of
a brook called Wadi Selga, bordered on the left by earth banks and on
the right by meadows. After heavy rainfalls the stream of this brook
extends from the mountains to the sea.

On the left hand, about half-an-hour's ride from the main road, is the
village of Der el Belah (enclosure of date-trees), the only one we met
with before reaching Gaza. It lies in a valley, on a Melleha, which is
only separated from the sea by a rather low shore, and bounded at the
lower end by sand and clay hills. The village is recognised from a
distance by the numerous slender palm trees, which give it a
particularly charming and picturesque appearance. It contains about 100
inhabitants, and consists of a few ruinous houses, the mud roofs of
which are covered with grass. Between the buildings are cultivated
pieces of ground, fenced with mud walls. Here and there we met with
fragments of ancient pillars. There is also a rudely-built and
dilapidated tower, tapering upward, and provided with loopholes, which
is occasionally occupied by soldiers. To the north of the hamlet there
is another Melleha, enclosed by beautiful groups of palms, and on the
seaside by sandy hills. Not far from this a direct road leads from Der
el Belah to Gaza, but we wished to follow the main road, and
therefore crossed the hills behind Der el Belah, over green meadows,
where we saw plenty of daffodils and squills. From the top of the hills
we had a view of the luxuriant meadows of the valley, where many cows of
the small South Syrian breed were grazing, and in which we observed an
old "Sidr" tree, called El Jemeter, near which there are said to be some
ruins. On the other side we had before us the wide sea, separated from
the meadows by sand-hills only, on which is a group of trees called Em
Maharnes.

[Illustration: NEIGHBOURHOOD OF GAZA.]

Having reached the road, we continued to advance across the plain, where
we met with numerous tents of Tarabin Bedouins and several head of
cattle. We remained but a short time for breakfast on the open meadow
land, being anxious to get to Gaza. Soon after we came to the dry sandy
bed of the Wadi Gaza, and, climbing the low hills lying behind it, we
could see in the distance the minarets and palms of Gaza, the sight of
which cheered the last steps of our journey. The town is situated to the
right, commanded by the Mountar Hill, so called from the Sheik who is
buried there. This hill is the principal feature in the landscape.
Leaving to the left the path which we have mentioned as joining the
main road from Der el Belah, we followed the sandy path along the
telegraph posts. We then passed through fields and gardens fenced by
thorny Opuntias, and planted with almonds, figs, olives, sycamores, and
a few tamarisks, and finally reached the Quarantine Building of Gaza by
half-past two o'clock.

Here we had to take leave of our camel-drivers; and not without regret
did I grasp the hand of honest old Daud, who had accompanied me the
whole distance from El Kantara.

All our superfluous luggage was here disposed of, for we were now in the
Holy Land, the land of Plenty and Wealth. After a few days' rest in Gaza
we started again with our horses and mules to make for the third time
the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO BAZAAR, GAZA.]


THE END.


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.





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