Travels in Arabia, by John Lewis Burckhardt

Quarters of Mekka.

AT the entrance from the side of Djidda, in turning round the angle of a sandy and gravelly valley, the traveller sees two round watch-towers. They were constructed by the Sherif Ghaleb for the defence of his capital. Similar towers are seen at the other entrances of the town, and they are sufficiently spacious to contain about twenty men. As the hills approach very closely at the en­trance of the city, these towers command the passage. Here, it appears, was formerly a gate, the threshold of which only is now remaining, close to a small building, where the officers of the Sherif collected the duties on merchandize, &c. carried into the town. Here, also, is a row of shops, and low, ruined dwelling-houses, known by the appellation of Haret, or the quarter El Djerouel. It comprises an encampment to the right, in which the Bedouins live who carry on the transport trade between Mekka and Djidda; they belong to the tribes of Harb, Metrefy, and Lahawy.

Beyond the Djerouel, the name of the street changes to that of Haret el Bab. This is a broad street, with several good houses, and leads into the quarter of El Shebeyka, which extends principally to the right, and is so called because the followers of Mohammed, in their wars with the Koreysh, were here attacked and closely pressed by their enemies. There are many good houses in Shebeyka, which is one of the cleanest and airiest quarters in the town. Many of the people of Djidda reside in it; and here also the Sherif Ghaleb has a good house, where his family, consisting of several young children and a grown-up daughter, continued to dwell after his deposition. The main street is lined with coffee-shops, from which the post sets out every evening, on asses, with the letters for Djidda. This is the only post for letters that I have seen in the East, besides that esta­blished among the Europeans at Cairo, between that city and Alex­andria; but the delivery of letters is there much less regular than it is at Mekka, where it is duly performed, and at the trifling expense of two paras upon each letter, and as much more for the person who distributes the letters received from Djidda.

In the coffee-shops just mentioned, live also the caravan-brokers, through whose agency the Bedouins let out their camels for the journey to Djidda and Medina.

On the western side of the Shebeyka, towards the mountain, is a large burying-ground, in which are dispersed huts and tents of Bedouins, and some miserable dwellings of the lowest class of public women: this is called El Khandaryse. Although tradition says that great numbers of the friends and adherents of Mohammed lie buried here, yet it has become unfashionable to deposit the dead in it; and all of the first and second classes of Mekkawys use the extensive cemeteries lying on the north of the town. There are few shops in the Shebeyka; and it does not contain many foreign inmates during the Hadj, being inhabited by persons in easy circumstances, who consider it disgraceful to let out apartments.

In proceeding from the Shebeyka along the broad street, nor­therly, we come to a bath, which, though by far the best of the three in Mekka, is inferior to those of other Asiatic cities, from the scarcity of water; it was built in A.H. 980, by Mohammed Pasha, the vizier of Sultan Soleyman II., and is one of the best structures in the town. [Vide Kotobeddyn.] It is frequented principally by foreigners, the native Arabs being little accustomed to the use of the bath, and choosing to perform the ablutions prescribed by their religion at their own dwellings.

The bath, together with several by-streets leading to the mosque, forms the quarter called Haret Bab el Omra, which is inhabited by a number of the guides called Metowef, and is full of pilgrims, espe­cially of those from Turkey. The streets are narrow, and excessively dirty; but the hadjys prefer the quarter, because it is the cheapest in the vicinity of the mosque, near which they are anxious to reside, that they may be sure of not missing the prayers; or, (as they add) that, if disturbed in their sleep, they may have the temple close at hand to dispel their bad dreams. Men are seen, in the middle of the night, running to the mosque in their sleeping-clothes; here they perform the walk round the Kaba, kiss the black stone, utter a short prayer, drink of the water of Zemzem, and then return to their beds. Near to the gate of the mosque called Bab Omra, from which this quarter takes its name, is a spacious building, originally a public school, but now occupied by Hassan Pasha, governor of Mekka. It is probably the Medrese mentioned by El Fasy, as having been built near Bab el Omra, in A.H. 814, by the orders of Mansour Ghyath Eddyn Atham Shah, the Lord of Bengal. In A.H. 519, the governor of Aden also ordered a Medrese to be built in this neighbourhood, which was called Dar-es’-Selsale. In this quarter is one of the fountains of sweet water derived from the canal, and there are several wells of brackish water.

Returning from hence to the Shebeyka, and then turning southerly along different streets, composed of good buildings, but which are rapidly falling to decay, we descend by a slight slope into the street called Souk-es’-Sogheyr, or the little market, which terminates at the gate of the great mosque, called Bab Ibrahim. The houses on both sides of this street are low, and inhabited by the lower classes. There is a continued range of shops, in which are sold all sorts of provisions, but principally grain, butter, and dates. In some of the shops locusts are sold by measure. The Souk is fre­quented chiefly by Bedouins of the southern part of Arabia, who bring hither charcoal. Some poor Negro pilgrims of Africa take up their abode also in the miserable huts and ruined houses of this part of the town, and have here established a market for firewood, which they collect in the surrounding mountains.

The extremity of Souk-es’-Sogheyr, towards the mountain, is called Haret el Hadjela, or Hadjela b’il Tekyet Sadek; where stand a few tolerably good houses, inhabited by the eunuchs who guard the mosque, and who live there with their wives, for they are all married to black slaves. This is the lowest part of the town; and whenever great floods, during the rainy season, inundate the valley, the water rushes through this street, in its way to the open country. Some remains of the aqueduct are visible here; for when it was kept in good repair, its water, after supplying the town, was conducted this way into the southern valley, where it served to irrigate some fields.

The Souk-es’-Sogheyr is sometimes comprehended in the Mesfale, or “low place,” the name of the quarter on the east and south sides of the Souk; but that name is more commonly applied exclusively to the latter district. The Mesfale is tolerably well built, and, like the Shebeyka, contains a few new houses; but that part of it which lies towards the great castle-hill is now almost entirely in ruins. It is inhabited by Arab and Bedouin merchants, who travel in time of peace to Yemen, principally to Mokhowa, from whence they import grain, coffee-beans, and dried grapes. It is also the residence of many poor Indians, established at Mekka; these let out their houses to their countrymen, who visit this city in the time of the Hadj. In the ruined dwellings, Negro pilgrims take up their temporary abode; some of these are settled in Mekka, and their wives prepare the intoxicating liquor made from durra, and called bouza, of which the meaner inhabitants are very fond. It was in the Mesfale, as I have already mentioned, that I took up my lodging on returning from Djidda, at first in the house of a Maggrebyn settler, from which I soon afterwards removed into that of a Yemen merchant close by. The person, whose apartment I hired, was from Szana in Yemen, a Metowef or guide by profession, and who occupied the first floor of the house, from which he removed, during my stay, into a corner on the ground-floor; the other parts of the dwelling were inhabited by the Maggrebyn landlord and his family, by a village sheikh from Egypt, who had come to the Hadj, accompanied by several fellahs, by a poor man from the Afghan country, or territory El Soleymanye, as it is now usually called; and by a hadjy or pilgrim from one of the Greek islands. In the house of the Yemen merchant, I found myself among a party of Maggrebyn pilgrims belonging to the Berber nation, or the Shilhy, who had come by sea to Egypt. There are few houses in this part of the town, where the same strange mixture of nations is not to be met with.

On the southern extremity of the Mesfale is a large ruined khan, which, even when new, must have been a mean building. It was destined for the accommodation of the pilgrim-caravan, which formerly arrived by land from Yemen, along the coast. Another Yemen pilgrim-caravan came along the mountains.

In issuing from the town on this side, we discover a watch-tower standing in the plain, similar in construction to those at the Djerouel entrance. A broad valley leads from hence, in a southern direction, to the small village of Hosseynye, two or three hours distant, where are some date-trees. Here the Sherif Ghaleb had a small pleasure-garden and a country-house; and he kept here a herd of buffaloes, brought from Egypt; but they did not prosper. From Hosseynye a road leads to Arafat, passing to the S. and S.E. of Mekka, two or three hours distant from which, on that road, is the small fertile valley and Arab settlement of Aabedye. The valley just mentioned is called El Tarafeyn; one mile beyond the present skirts of the city may be traced the ruins of former habitations; among them are several large, deep, and well-built cisterns, which, with little labour, might again be rendered fit for their original purpose of collecting rain-water. At a mile and a half from the city is a large stone tank, called Birket Madjen, built for the supplying of water to the Yemen caravan; I found some water in it, but it is falling rapidly to decay. Beyond this tank, the people of the Mesfale cultivate a few fields of cucumbers and different vegetables, immediately after the fall of the rains, when the ground has been copiously irrigated. Many Bedouin huts and tents of the tribes of Faham and Djehadele are scattered over this valley: their inhabitants earn a livelihood by collecting in the mountains grass and wild herbs, which they sell, when dry, in the Mekka market, twisted into bundles: they serve to feed horses, camels, and asses; but are so scarce and dear, that the daily feed for a horse costs from two to three piastres. These Bedouins also rear a few sheep; but although poor, they keep themselves quite distinct from the lower classes of the Mekkawys, whom they scorn to imitate in their habits of mendicity. Some few of them are water-carriers in the city.

On one summit of the western chain of the valley of Tarafeyn, just in front of the Mesfale, stood, prior to the invasion of the Wahabys, a small building with a dome, erected in honour of Omar, one of Mohammed’s immediate successors, and therefore called Mekam Seydna Omar.

It was completely ruined by the Wahabys.

Nearly on the summit of the opposite mountain stands the Great Castle, a very large and massy structure, surrounded by thick walls and solid towers. It commands the greatest part of the town, but is commanded by several higher summits. I heard that this castle owes its origin to the Sherif Serour, the predecessor of Ghaleb; but I believe it to be of a more ancient date. It is often mentioned by Asamy, in his history, as early as the fourteenth century; but he does not say who built it. No person might enter without per­mission from the governor of Mekka, and I did not think it either prudent, or worth the trouble, to apply for that favour. Ghaleb considerably strengthened and thoroughly repaired the building, and mounted it with heavy guns. It was said that he had made its principal magazines bomb-proof. It contains a large cistern and a small mosque; and might accommodate a garrison of about one thousand men. To Arabs it is an impregnable fortress; and so it is considered by the Mekkawys; even against Europeans, it might offer some resistance. The approach is by a steep narrow path.

Below the castle-hill, upon a small plain between the mountain and the Djebel Kobeys, stands the great palace of the reigning sherif, called Beit es’ Sade. This, too, is said to have been built by Serour; but I find it mentioned by Asamy in the account of trans­actions that occurred two hundred years ago. Its walls are very high and solid, and seem to have been intended for an outwork to the castle above it, with which, according to the reports of the Mekkawys, there is a subterranean communication. It is an irregular pile of building, and comprises many spacious courts and gloomy chambers, which have not been inhabited since Sherif Ghaleb fled before the enemy to Djidda: he then attempted to destroy it by fire; but it was too strongly built. The Turks, under Mohammed Aly, have converted it into a magazine of corn. In the adjacent plain, which was formerly the place of exercise for the Sherif’s troops, I found a herd of camels, with the encampment of their drivers, who make a journey weekly to Djidda or Tayf. Here also many poor hadjys, who could not pay for lodgings, had erected their miserable tents, formed of a few rags spread upon sticks. The soldiers were busily occupied in destroying all the remaining ceilings of the palace, in quest of fire-wood.

In a narrow inlet in the mountain, to the north of the palace, and adjoining the above-mentioned plain, are numerous low huts built of brush-wood, the former abodes of Sherif Ghaleb’s slaves, who served as soldiers in his guard. The greater part of them fled after the Sherif’s capture; and the huts now form barracks for about two hundred Arab soldiers, in the service of his successor, Sherif Yahya.

In turning from hence towards the mosque, on the right hand, we come to a small quarter, built on the declivity of the mountain, in which are many half-ruined houses: it is called Haret el Djyad, and is inhabited by poor people, and several of the lower servants of the Sherif’s household. Asamy says that it derives its name from having been the post occupied by the horsemen who accompanied Toba, King of Yemen, in his expedition against Mekka; an event celebrated among the Moslim writers, for the miraculous destruction of the army. This is certainly one of the most ancient quarters of the town.

Close by the mosque, on either side of the entrance to the above­mentioned plain, stands a palace of the Sherif; the northern consists of two stately houses, connected together, which are occupied by Sherif Yahya: his women reside in the opposite southern building, which was erected by Sherif Ghaleb, who in this favourite residence spent the greater part of his time, induced by its vicinity to the mosque, its central situation, and the large open space which it commands.

Continuing from this place, in a northern direction, parallel with the mosque, we enter the long street called Mesaa. The small by­streets to the right, in approaching the Mesaa, form the quarter of El Szafa, which takes its name from the holy place Szafa, already de­scribed. The houses surrounding this place are handsome buildings, and here the richest foreigners, in the time of the pilgrimage, take up their abode. In a large house here resides the Aga of the eunuchs belonging to the temple, together with all the eunuch boys, who are educated here, till they attain a sufficient age to allow of their living in private lodgings.

We now turn into the Mesaa, the straightest and longest street in Mekka, and one of the best built. It receives its name from the ceremony of the Say, which is performed in it, and which I have already described: from this circumstance, and its being full of shops, it is the most noisy and most frequented part of the town. The shops are of the same description as those enumerated in the account of Djidda, with the addition of a dozen of tin-men, who make tin bottles of all sizes, in which the pilgrims, upon their return, carry the water of Zemzem to their homes. The shops are generally magazines on the ground-floor of the houses, before which a stone bench is reared. Here the merchant sits, under the shade of a slight awning of mats fastened to long poles; this custom prevails throughout the Hedjaz. All the houses of the Mesaa are rented by Turkish pilgrims. On the arrival of a party of hadjys from Djidda, which happens almost every morning, for four or five months of the year, their baggage is usually deposited in this street, after which they pay their visit to the mosque, and then go in quest of lodgings; and in this manner I found the street crowded almost every day with new comers, newsmongers, and guides.

About the time of my stay at Mekka, the Mesaa resembled a Constantinopolitan bazar. Many shops were kept by Turks from Europe or Asia Minor, who sold various articles of Turkish dress, which had belonged to deceased hadjys, or to those who, being deficient in cash, had sold their wardrobe. Fine swords, good English watches, and beautiful copies of the Koran, the three most valuable articles in a Turkish pilgrim’s baggage, were continually offered for sale. Constantinopolitan pastry-cooks sold here pies and sweetmeats in the morning; roasted mutton, or kebabs, in the afternoon; and in the evening, a kind of jelly called mehalabye. Here, too, are nume­rous coffee-houses, crowded from three o’clock in the morning until eleven o’clock at night. The reader will be surprised to learn, that in two shops intoxicating liquors are publicly sold during the night, though not in the day-time: one liquor is prepared from fermented raisins, and although usually mixed with a good deal of water, is still so strong, that a few glasses of it produce intoxication. The other is a sort of bouza, mixed with spices, and called soubye. This beverage is known (although not made so strong) at Cairo.

The Mesaa is the place of punishment: there capital offenders are put to death. During my stay, a man was beheaded, by sentence of the Kadhy, for having robbed a Turkish pilgrim of about two hun­dred pounds sterling; this was the only instance of the kind which came to my knowledge, though thieves are said to abound in Mekka, while the Hadj continues. The history of Mekka, however, affords many instances of the most cruel punishments: in A.D. 1624, two thieves were flayed alive in this street; in 1629, a military chief of Yemen, who had been made prisoner by the reigning Sherif, had both his arms and shoulders perforated in many places, and lighted tapers put into the wounds; one of his feet was turned up, and fastened to his shoulder by an iron hook, and in this posture he was suspended two days on a tree in the Mala, till he died. The destruction of a man’s sight, no uncommon punishment in other parts of the east, seems never to have been inflicted by the Hedjaz governors.

In the Mesaa, and annexed to the mosque, stands a handsome building, erected in A.H. 882, by Kaid Bey, Sultan of Egypt, in which he established a large public school, with seventy-two different apartments; he also furnished it with a valuable library. The historian Kotobeddyn, who, one hundred years afterwards, was librarian here, complains that only three hundred volumes remained in his time, the rest having been stolen by his unprincipled predecessors.

On the northern extremity of the Mesaa is the place called Merowa, the termination of the Say, as already described; this, as it now stands, was built in A.H. 801. Behind it is shown a house which was the original habitation of El Abbas, one of the many uncles of Mohammed. Near the Merowa are the barbers’ shops, in which pilgrims have their heads shaved after performing the Say. Here, too, public auctions are held every morning, where wearing-apparel, and goods of every description, are offered to the highest bidder: for the sake of the Turkish pilgrims, their language is used on these occasions; and there is scarcely a boy at Mekka who is not thus acquainted with, at least, the Turkish numerals. Near this place, too, is a public fountain, the work of the Othman Emperor Soleyman Ibn Selym: it is supplied from the Mekka aqueduct, and is crowded the whole day by hadjys, who come to fill their water-skins.

Eastward of the Mesaa, near its extremity at the Merowa, branches off a street called Soueyga, or the Little Market, which runs almost parallel with the east side of the mosque. Though narrow, it is the neatest street in the town, being regularly cleaned and sprinkled with water, which is not the case with any of the others. Here the rich India merchants expose their piece-goods for sale, and fine Cashmere shawls and muslins. There are upwards of twenty shops, in which are sold perfumes, sweet oils, Mekka balsam, (in an adulterated state,) aloe-wood, civet, &c. Few pilgrims return to their homes without carrying some presents for their families and friends; these are usually beads, perfumes, balm of Mekka, aloe-wood, which last is used throughout the east, in small pieces, placed upon the lighted tobacco in the pipe, producing an agreeable odour.

In other shops are sold strings of coral, and false pearls, rosaries made of aloe, sandal or kalembac wood, brilliant necklaces of cut cornelians, cornelians for seal-rings, and various kinds of China ware. These shops are all kept by Indians, and their merchandize is entirely of Indian production and manufacture. Against these Indians much prejudice is entertained in Arabia, from a general opinion that they are idolaters, who comply in outward appearance only with the rites of Mohammedism: they are supposed to be of the Ismayley sect; those mysterious devotees, of whom I have given some account in my journey to Lebanon, [See Travels in Syria, &c.] and whose name is, at Mekka, applied to those Indians. About a dozen of them reside here; the others arrive annually at the pilgrimage; they buy up old gold and silver, which they remit to Surat, from whence most of them come. Some have lived at Mekka for ten years, scrupulously performing every religious ceremony; they rent a large house, in which they live together, never allowing other strangers to occupy any part of it, even should several of the apartments be untenanted. Contrary to the practice of all other Mohammedans, these Indians never bring their women to the pilgrimage, although they could well afford the expense; and those residing, for however long a period, at Mekka have never been known to marry there; which is the more remarkable, as other natives of India, who live here for any length of time, usually take wives, although they may have been already married at home.

The same stories are prevalent respecting them, which are told of the Syrian Ismayleys, to my account of whom I must refer the reader. [See Travels in Syria and the Holy Land.] My endeavours to collect authentic information on the subject of their secret doctrines were as fruitless here as they had been in Syria, where it was vaguely reported that the chief seat of the Ismayleys was in India, and that they kept up regular correspondence between that country and Syria. A sect of “Light-­extinguishers” is said to exist in India, as well as in Mesopotamia, and to them the Ismayleys of Syria and those of Mekka may, perhaps, belong. Those whom I saw at Mekka have rather the features of Persians than of Indians, and are taller and stouter men than Indians in general. [The people here mentioned by our author were probably some Parsees from Surat or Bombay.]

About the middle of the Soueyga, where the street is only four paces in breadth, are stone benches on each side. Here Abyssinian male and female slaves are exposed for sale; and as beauty is an universal attraction, these benches are always surrounded by hadjys, both old and young, who often pretend to bargain with the dealers, for the purpose of viewing the slave-girls, during a few moments, in some adjoining apartment. Many of these slaves are carried from hence to the northern parts of Turkey. The price of the handsomest was from one hundred and ten to one hundred and twenty dollars.

At the extremity of the Soueyga, the street is covered with a high vaulted roof of stone, supported on each side by several massy buildings, serving as warehouses to the wealthy merchants; they were the work of one Mohammed, Pasha of Damascus, who lived several centuries ago, and now belong to the mosque. This, being the coolest spot in the town during mid-day, is on that account the most frequented. In the Soueyga all the gentlemen hadjys take their morning and evening lounge, and smoke their pipes. I formed an acquaintance with one of the perfume-sellers, and daily passed an hour in the morning, and another in the afternoon, seated on the bench before his shop, smoking my nargyle, and treating my friend with coffee. Here I heard the news:— whether any great hadjy had arrived the preceding night; what law-suits had been carried before the Kadhy; what was going forward in Mohammed Aly’s army; or what great commercial bargains had been concluded. Sometimes European news would be discussed, such as the last fortunes of Bonaparte; for the pilgrims who arrived from Constantinople and Greece were continually bringing news from Europe. I usually spent the early part of each morning, and the later part of the evening, in walking about the town, and frequenting the coffee­houses in its extremities, where I might meet with Bedouins, and, by treating them with a cup of coffee, soon engage them to talk about their country and their nation. During the mid-day hours I staid at home: the first part of the night I passed in the great square of the mosque, where a cooling breeze always reigns; here, seated upon a carpet, which my slave spread for me, I indulged in recollections of far distant regions, while the pilgrims were busily engaged in praying and walking round the Kaaba.

At the eastern extremity of the Soueyga, the street changes its name into that of Shamye, which is applied also to several by-streets on either side, those on the right leading towards the mountain, and those on the left towards the mosque. At the further end the Shamye joins the quarter of Shebeyka and Bab el Omar. This is a well-built part of the town, chiefly inhabited by rich merchants, or by olemas attached to the mosque. There are few shops in the main street except during the pilgrimage, when many are opened, in which the Syrian merchants display the produce and manufactures of their country; a circumstance from which it derives its name. In these shops are found silk stuffs from Damascus and Aleppo; cambric manufactured in the district of Nablous; gold and silver thread from Aleppo; Bedouin handkerchiefs, called keffie, of Baghdad and Damascus fabric; silk from Lebanon; fine carpets from Anadolia and the Turkman Bedouins; abbas from Hamah; dried fruits and the kammereddyn from Damascus; pistacios from Aleppo, &c. Among all the Syrians at Mekka, I could never discover any indi­vidual whom I had known in his own country, except the son of the chief of Palmyra, who, however, did not recognise me. He had come with two or three hundred camels, to transport the baggage of the Pasha of Damascus.

In returning through the Shamye towards the Soueyga, we find, on the north side of these streets, a quarter called Garara, the most reputable of the town, and perhaps the best built, where the weal­thiest merchants have their houses. The two first merchants of the Hedjaz, Djeylany and Sakkat, live here for the greater part of the year, and only go to Djidda (where they also have establishments,) when the arrival of the Indian fleet demands their presence at that place. In the quarter of Garara, the women of Mohammed Aly Pasha, with a train of eunuchs attached to them, have now taken up their abode. The houses are all two or three stories high, many of them gaudily painted, and containing spacious apartments. Here Sherif Ghaleb built a palace, the finest of all those he possessed at Mekka, and resided in it principally during the winter months, when he divided his time between this mansion and that near the mosque. Some military chiefs have now taken up their quarters in this palace, which will soon be ruined. It is distinguished from the other houses of Mekka only by its size, and the number of windows; having neither a fine portico, nor any other display of architecture.

Near the palace, upon a hill which may be described as within the town, Ghaleb built a fort, flanked by strong towers, but of much smaller size than the great castle. When the Turkish army advanced towards the Hedjaz, he mounted it with guns, and stored it well with provisions; but the garrison, like that of the castle, dis­persed immediately after he was made prisoner. The hill upon which it stands is known by the name of Djebel Lala, and is often mentioned by Arabian poets. Opposite to this hill, in a S.E. direc­tion, upon the summit of a mountain beyond the precincts of the town, stands another small fort, which was also repaired by Ghaleb. It is called Djebel Hindy, from the circumstance of a great sheikh or devotee from Cashmere having been buried there. The tower is now inhabited by a few Indian families, who enjoy the advantage of an excellent cistern for rain-water. This mountain is also called by the present Mekkawys “Djebel Keykaan”— an appellation more ancient probably than that of Mekka itself. Azraky, however, places the Djebel Keykaan more to the north, and says that the name is derived from the cries and the clashing of arms of the Mekkawy army, which was stationed there, when the Yemen army, under Toba, had taken possession of the hill of Djyad. Between the two castle-hills, the space is filled with poor, half-ruined houses, which are principally inha­bited by the lowest class of Indians established at Mekka.

In turning eastward from the Garara, and passing the quarter called Rekoube, which, in point of building, nearly equals the Garara, although it is not reckoned so genteel a residence, we arrive at the great street called Modaa, which is a continuation of the Mesaa, and then retrace our steps through the latter to the vicinity of El Szafa, that we may survey the eastern quarters of the town.

Near the Szafa branches off a broad street, running almost parallel with the Modaa, to the east of it, called Geshashye. Here, among many smaller dwellings, are several well-built, and a few lofty edifices; a number of coffee-houses; several gunsmiths’ shops; and a bath. Here resides the Hakem, or superintendant of the police, who is the first officer under the Sherif at Mekka. Part of the street is built on the lower declivity of the eastern mountain, called Djebel Kobeys, to which narrow, dirty, and steep lanes lead up on that side. The Geshashye is a favourite quarter of the pilgrims, being broad, airy, and open to the northerly winds. I lived here during the last days of Ramadhan, in September, 1814, when I first arrived at Mekka from Tayf.

This street, as it proceeds, adopts the name of Haret Souk el Leyl, which comprises an extensive quarter on the East, where the Moled e’ Nebby, or Prophet’s birth-place, is shown, and which adjoins the Moamele, or establishment of the potteries. The by-streets close to the Moled are denominated Shab el Moled, or “Rocks of the Moled,” the ground which rises here being covered with stones.

The Moamele lies on the side of Djebel Kobeys, and comprises about a dozen furnaces, of which the chief productions are jars, especially those used in carrying the water of the celebrated well Zemzem. These Moamele jars, although prettily wrought, are too heavy, dif­fering in this respect from the beautiful pottery of Upper Egypt and Baghdad, which are so slight that an empty jar may be thrown down by a mere puff of wind. The Moamele alone supplies all the Hedjaz, at present, with these water-vessels; and few hadjys return to their homes without some jars, as specimens of Mekkawy ingenuity.

Farther on, the Souk el Leyl takes the name of El Ghazze, and so are called both sides of the main street, which still forms a continuation of the Geshashye. Several deep wells of brackish water are situated in this street. Here also are found the shops of carpenters, upholsterers from Turkey, undertakers, who make the seryrs, or stands, upon which the Mekkawys sleep, as well as those on which they are carried to the grave. Wholesale dealers in fruits and vegetables, which are brought from Tayf and Wady Fatme, here dispose of their stock to the retail dealers early in the morning. At the northern end of the Ghazze, where the street widens consi­derably, is held a daily market of camels and cows. On the east side, towards the mountain, and partly on its declivity, stands the quarter called Shab Aly, adjoining the Shab el Moled: here is shown the venerated place of Aly’s nativity. Both these quarters, called Shab, (i.e. rock,) are among the most ancient parts of the town, where the Koreysh formerly lived; they are even now inhabited principally by sherifs, and do not contain any shops. The houses are spacious, and in an airy situation.

Beyond the cattle-market in the Ghazze, the dwelling-houses terminate, and low shops and sheds occupy both sides of the street. This part is called Souk el Haddadeyn; and here blacksmiths and Turkish locksmiths have their shops. A little further, the street opens into that called Mala, which is itself a continuation of the Modaa, and forms the division between the eastern and western parts of the town, running due north along the slightly ascending slope of the valley. The Modaa and the Mala, (which latter means the High Place, in opposition to the Mesfale, or the low quarter,) are filled with shops on both sides. Here are found grocers, drug­gists, corn-merchants, tobacconists, haberdashers, sandal-makers, and a great number of dealers in old clothes. In the Modaa is a large corn magazine, formerly a public school; and there is another in the Mala. From these, the provision-caravans for the Turkish army at Tayf take their departure: public auctions are held in this place every morning. At the northern end of the Mala is a market, whi­ther Bedouins from all quarters bring their sheep for sale. Here, also, are the butchers’ shops, in which beef, mutton, and camels’ flesh are sold; and in the same street is a small chapel, or Mesdjed, [I believe this to be the Mesdjed mentioned by historians under the name of Mesdjed Rayet. El Azraky speaks of four or five other mosques at Mekka in his time.] for daily prayers, the great mosque being distant; but the Friday’s prayers are always said in the latter. Towards this northern end of the Mala, where it joins the Souk el Haddadeyn, the stone houses terminate, and are succeeded by a single row of low shops and stands on each side, where provisions are sold to the eastern Bedouins, who come to Mekka for grain. Here is a coffee-house, called Kahwet el Hashashein, where are sold the intoxicating preparations of hashysh and bendj, which are mixed and smoked with tobacco. This house is frequented by all the lowest and most disorderly persons of the town. Sherif Ghaleb had imposed a heavy tax on the sale of hashysh, in order to discourage a practice directly violating the law.

The Mala is known also under the appellation of Haret el Naga, which is derived from the ancient name of Wady el Naga, given to this part of the valley of Mekka.

In the by-streets of the Modaa the richest Indian traders have their houses; here they receive customers, being too proud to open public shops or warehouses. An Indian of this quarter, originally from Surat, called El Shamsy, was esteemed the wealthiest man in the Hedjaz; yet his mercantile concerns were much less extensive than those of Djeylany, and several others. Though possessing several hundred thousand pounds sterling, this man bargained with me personally for nearly an hour and a half about a muslin shawl, not worth more than four dollars!

In the Modaa, a high, broad mole or embankment was thrown across the valley, with an iron gate, by Omar Ibn el Khatab, to resist the torrents flowing in this direction towards the mosque, during heavy rains. Some vestiges of it remained till the fourteenth century. While it existed, the pilgrims on arriving at Mekka used to enjoy from its summit the first sight of the Kaaba; there also they recited prayers, from which circumstance the street takes its name, Modaa meaning “ place of prayers.”

Between the Modaa and Mala, on the one side, and the Ghazze and Geshashye on the other, are several quarters consisting of tole­rable buildings, but of extremely dirty and narrow streets, from which the filth is never removed, and fresh air is always excluded. Here we find the Zokak e Seiny, or “Chinese street,” where gold and silversmiths have their shops. They work in the coarsest manner, but are very much employed, principally in making silver rings for men and women — ornaments very generally used among the Arabs. To the south of this quarter is the Zokak el Hadjar (called also Zokak el Merfek), or the “street of the stone,” which comprises the birth-place of Fatme, the daughter of Mohammed; and of Abou Beker, the prophet’s successor in the Khalifat. This street takes its name from the hadjar, or stone, which used miraculously to greet Mohammed with the salutation of “Salam aleyk,” whenever he passed this way on his return from the Kaaba. It has been mute since the days of the prophet, but is still shown, projecting a little from the wall of a house, which, in honour of it has been white-washed.

We now return towards the Mala, a little beyond the spot where it joins the Ghazze. The shops terminate, and a broad, sandy plain commences, on which there are only a few detached coffee-houses. This may be called the extremity of the town. What lies farther towards the north, must be considered as forming part of the suburbs. Continuing along the plain, we find on each side of the road large birkets, or reservoirs of water, for the accommodation of the pilgrim-caravans: they can be filled from the aqueduct which passes this way towards the town. Of these birkets, one is for the Egyptian caravan; another for the Syrian: they were constructed in A.H. 821, are entirely cased with stone, and continue in a state of perfect repair. Similar monuments of the munificent Turkish Sul­tans are found at every station of the Hadj, from Medina as far as Damascus and Aleppo. Some of those which I saw to the southward of Damascus, appeared more solid in their construction than the birkets of Mekka: that appropriated to the Egyptian pilgrims is about one hundred and sixty feet square, and from thirty to thirty­five feet in depth. When the birket contains from eight to ten feet of water, the supply is deemed sufficient for the caravan. These reservoirs are never completely filled. As the aqueduct furnishes water but scantily, adjoining to the western birket are some acres, irrigated by means of a well, and producing vegetables. Near it, also, is a small mosque, called Djama è Soleymanye, in a state of decay, and no longer used for religious purposes; but serving, at present, to lodge a few Turkish soldiers. It belongs to the quarter named El Soleymanye, which extends from Djebel Lala close to the western mountain, as far as the cemeteries beyond the birkets. It does not contain any good houses; and I heard that it derives its name from the Soleymanye, as the Muselmans call the people of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Cashmere, and several other countries on this side of the Indus. It is said that some descendants of those people who were the original settlers, still reside here, mixed with many Indians. It appears, however, from Kotobeddyn’s history, that Sultan Solyman erected, about A.H. 980, a mosque in this quarter. The mosque at least may be supposed to have borrowed its name from the founder. The inhabitants of Soleymanye are Muselmans of the Hanefy sect, the first of the four orthodox divi­sions, and not disciples of Aly, like the Persians; many of whom come yearly to the Hadj of Mekka, either by sea from Bombay or Bassora, or by land, travelling as dervises, along the southern provinces of Persia to Baghdad, and through Mesopotamia and Syria to Egypt. I have seen many who had come by that route; they appeared to be men of a much better and more vigorous character than the gene­rality of Indians.

Opposite to this quarter El Soleymanye, on the eastern mountain, and adjoining the Ghazze and Shab Aly, is a half-ruined district, called Shab Aamer, inhabited by Bedouin pedlars of the Thekyf and Koreysh tribes, and by a few poor sherif families. In this quarter are some large mills, worked by horses, for the Turkish governor: the town, I believe, does not contain any others of considerable size. It is the custom at Mekka to use hand-mills, which are usually turned by the slaves of the family, or, among the poorer classes, by the women. Here, also, are the only places in Mekka (or perhaps in the Hedjaz) where linen and cotton are dyed with indigo and saffron: woollen cloth is not dyed here.

As numbers of the public women reside at Shab Aamer, this quarter is not ranked among the most respectable in Mekka. Sherif Ghaleb imposed a regular tax upon those females, and required an additional payment from such of them as, in the time of the pilgrim­age, followed the hadjys to Arafat. A similar tax is levied at Cairo, and in all the great provincial towns of Egypt. Mekka abounds with the frail sisterhood, whose numbers are increased during the Hadj by adventurers from foreign countries. They are somewhat more decorous than the public women in Egypt, and never appear in the streets without veils. Among them are many Abyssinian slaves, whose former masters, according to report, share the profits of their vocation. Some are slaves belonging to Mekkawys.

The Arabian poets make frequent allusions to Shab Aamer; thus Ibn el Faredh says:—

“Is Shab Aamer, since we left it, still inhabited?

Is it to this day the place of meeting for lovers?”

[See Sir William Jones’s Comment de Poës. Asiat., on the subject of a poem by Ibn Faredh, which abounds with local allusions to Mekka.]

Proceeding from the birkets northward over the plain, we come to an insulated house, of good size and construction, belonging to the Sherif, in which some of Ghaleb’s favourites once resided. Opposite to this building, a paved causeway leads towards the western hills, through which is an opening that seems artificial. El Azraky applies the name Djebel el Hazna to this part of the mountain; and says that the road was cut through the rock by Yahia Ibn Khold Ibn Barmak. On the other side of the opening, the road descends into the plain of Sheikh Mahmoud, so named from the tomb of a saint, round which the Syrian pilgrims generally encamp. Sherif Ghaleb erected upon the hill, on both sides of the narrow road, which is formed in rude steps, (whether natural or artificial, it would be difficult to say,) two watch-towers, similar to those already described. On both sides of the causeway, in the valley of Mekka, extend the burying-grounds, where most of the inhabitants of the city have their family tombs.

A little beyond the Sherif’s house just mentioned, and at the termi­nation of the Mala, stands the tomb of Abou Taleb, an uncle of Mo­hammed, and father of Aly. The Wahabys reduced the building which covered the tomb to a mere heap of rubbish; and Mohammed Aly Pasha has not thought fit to rebuild it. Abou Taleb is the great patron of the city; and there are many persons at Mekka who, though they would have little scruple in breaking an oath taken before God, yet would be afraid of invoking the name of Abou Taleb in confirmation of a falsehood. “I swear by the Mosque”—“I swear by the Kaaba,” are ejaculations constantly used by the Mekkawys to impose upon strangers; but to swear by Abou Taleb is a more serious imprecation, and is seldom heard upon such occasions. Opposite to the ruined tomb stands a public fountain, consisting of a trough built of stone, fifty or sixty feet in length, which is daily filled with water from the aqueduct. Near it grow a few trees.

No buildings are seen beyond the fountain, till we come to a large palace of the Sherif, which is surrounded by high walls flanked with towers, and contains within the inclosure a spacious court-yard. In the time of the Sherif it was well garrisoned, and during his wars with the Wahabys he often resided here, as he could set out from hence upon a secret attack or expedition, without its becoming immediately known in the city. The building now serves as a barrack for the Turkish soldiers.

To the north of this palace lies the quarter or suburb called Moabede, which consists partly of low and ill-built stone houses, and partly of huts constructed of brushwood; it is wholly inhabited by Bedouins, who have become settlers here, for the purpose of carrying on a traffic, principally in corn, dates, and cattle, between the town and their native tribes. I have seen among them Arabs of the tribes of Koreysh, Thekyf, Hodheyl, and Ateybe; and it was said that, in time of peace, individuals of all the great tribes of the Desert, and of Nedjed, are occasionally found here. They live, as I have already observed in speaking of those who occupy another part of Mekka, much in the same manner as they would do in the Desert. Their houses contain no furniture but such as is to be found under the tent of a wealthy Bedouin. Being at a distance from the great mosque, they have en­closed a square space with low walls, where such of them as pretend to any regularity in their devotions (which seldom happens among Bedouins), recite their prayers upon the sand, according to the custom of the Desert.

The Turkish governor of Mekka has not thought proper to place here any of his soldiers, for which the suburb is much indebted to him. The Moabede is, by its situation, and the pursuits of its inhabitants, so much separated from the city, that a woman here had not entered the town for the last three years, as she herself assured me; although the Bedouin females walk about the valley with freedom.

The valley of Mekka has here two outlets: on the north side is a narrow passage, defended by two watch-towers: it leads to Wady Fatme. At the eastern extremity, the Moabede is terminated by a garden and pleasure-house of the Sherif, where Ghaleb used frequently to pass the hours of noon. The garden is enclosed by high walls and towers, and forms a fortified post in advance of the town. It contains date and nebek and a few other fruit-trees, the verdure and shade of which must be particularly agreeable. In the time of Ghaleb, the entrance was always open to the people of Mekka. The house is badly built, and is not one of Ghaleb’s works. During his last wars with the Wahabys, the latter obtained possession of this residence, and fought for several weeks with the soldiers of Mekka, who were posted at the neighbouring palace or barrack to the south; and who, having laid a mine, and blown up a part of the walls, forced the Wahabys to retreat. Ghaleb subsequently repaired the damage. Some Turkish soldiers now live in the house, which is already half ruined by them. A public fountain of sweet water, no longer in use, with a pretty cupola built over it, stands on one side of the garden; on the other is a large well of brackish water: many such are dispersed over the Moabede.

The road from Mekka, eastward, towards Arafat and Tayf, passes by this house; at a short distance beyond it the valley widens, and here the Egyptian Hadj establishes its encampment, part of which generally stretches over the plain towards the birket. Formerly, the Syrian caravan used to encamp at the same place. Between the garden­house and the palace or barrack just mentioned, the aqueduct of Mekka is conducted above ground for about one hundred paces, in a channel of stone, plaistered on the inside, and rising four feet above the surface. This is the only place in the valley of Mekka where it is visible.

As soon as we pass these extreme precincts of Mekka, the Desert presents itself; for neither gardens, trees, nor pleasure-houses, line the avenues to the town, which is surrounded on every side by barren sandy valleys, and equally barren hills. A stranger placed on the great road to Tayf, just beyond the turn of the hill, in the immediate neigh­bourhood of the Sherif’s garden-house, would think himself as far removed from human society as if he were in the midst of the Nubian Desert. But this may be wholly ascribed to the apathy of the inhabitants, and their indifference for agricultural pursuits. Numerous wells, dispersed throughout the town, prove that water may be easily obtained at about thirty feet below the surface.

In Arabia, wherever the ground can be irrigated by wells, the sands may be soon made productive. The industry of a very few years might thus render Mekka and its environs as remarkable for gardens and plantations, as it now is for absolute sterility. El Azraky speaks of gardens in this valley, and describes different springs and wells that no longer exist, having probably been choked up by the violent torrents. El Fasy likewise affirms that in his days the town contained no less than fifty-eight wells. But, in the earliest times of Arabian history, this place was certainly barren; and the Koran styles it accordingly “the valley without seeds.” Azraky further says, that before houses were constructed here by the Kossay, this valley abounded with acacias and various thorny trees.

Nothing is more difficult than to compute exactly the population of eastern towns, where registers are never kept, and where even the number of houses can scarcely be ascertained. To judge from appearances, and by comparison with European towns, in which the amount of population is well known, may be very fallacious. The private habitations in the East are generally (though the Hedjaz forms an exception to this rule) of one story only, and therefore contain fewer inmates in proportion than European dwellings. On the other hand, Eastern towns have very narrow streets, are without public squares or large market-places, and their miserable suburbs are in general more nurously peopled than their principal and best streets. Travellers, however, in passing rapidly through towns, may be easily deceived, for they see only the bazars and certain streets, in which the greater part of the male population is usually assembled during the day. Thus it happens that recent and respectable authorities have stated two hundred thousand souls as the population of Aleppo; four hundred thousand as that of Damascus; and three hundred thousand as that of Cairo. My estimate of the population of the three great Syrian towns is as follows:— Damascus two hundred and fifty thousand; Hamah (of which, however, I must speak with less confidence) from sixty to one hundred thousand; and Aleppo, daily dwindling into decay, between eighty and ninety thousand. To Cairo I would allow at most two hundred thousand. As to Mekka, which I have seen both before and after the Hadj, and know, perhaps, more thoroughly than any other town of the East, the result of my inquiries gives between twenty-five and thirty thousand stationary inhabitants, for the population of the city and suburbs; besides from three to four thousand Abyssinian and black slaves: its habitations are capable of containing three times this number. In the time of Sultan Selym I. (according to Kotobeddyn, in A.H. 923) a census was taken of the inhabitants of Mekka, previous to a gratuitous distribution of corn among them, and the number was found to be twelve thousand, men, women, and children. The same author shows that, in earlier times, the population was much more considerable; for when Abou Dhaher, the chief of the Carmatis, (a heretic sect of Moslims) sacked Mekka, in A.H. 314, thirty thousand of the inhabitants were killed by his ferocious soldiers.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31