Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, by John Lewis Burckhardt

Appendix. No. III.

The Hadj Route from Damascus to Mekka.

IN later times the Hadj has been accustomed to leave Damascus on the 15th Shauwal. On the 26th or 27th it leaves Mezerib, and meets the new moon at Remtha or Fedhein.

The Hadj route from Damascus to Mekka has changed three different times; at first it passed on the eastern side of Djebel Haouran; the fear of the Arabs made the Pashas prefer afterwards the route through the Ledja and Boszra; about eighty years ago the present caravan route was established.

1st. day. The Emir el Hadj leaves the town about mid-day, and remains the night at Kubbet el Hadj el Azeli (ﺍﻠﻌﺰﻟﻲ ﺍﻠﺤﺞ ﻗﺒﺔ),an ancient mosque at a quarter of an hour from Bab Ullah or the southern gate of Damascus. Near the Kubbe lies the village of Kadem (ﻗﺎﺩﻡ).

2. At four hours is the village of Kessoue (ﻗﺴﻮﻩ), with a well provided Bazar. One hour Khan Denoun (ﺩﻧﻮﻥ ﺧﺎﻥ),situated on the river Aawadj (ﻋﻮﺍﺝ), which comes from Hasbeia and empties itself into the Ghouta of Damascus. The Khan is in ruins. At a quarter of an hour to the S.E. from it lies the village of Khiara (ﺧﻴﺎﺭﻩ).

3. Four hours from Denoun is the village Ghebaib (ﻏﺒﺎﻳﺐ); it has a small Khan to the left of the Hadj route, to the right of it is a Birket or reservoir of water, which is supplied by the river Shak-heb (ﺷﻘﻬﺐ), whose source, Ain Shak-heb, with a village called Shak-heb, lies to the N.W. of Ghebaib. In that source the barbers of Damascus collect leeches (ﻋﺎﻟﻖ), The Shak-heb loses itself in the plain of the Haouran, after having watered the gardens and Dhourra fields of Ghebaib. Three hours farther the village Didy (ﺩﻳﺪﻰ); one hour farther the ruins of a town and castle called Es-szanamein (ﺍﻟﺼﻨﻤﻴﻦ), where there are two towers built of black stone, still remaining. The Fellahs have a few houses there. An hour and a half farther a hill with a small Birket at its foot, called El Fekia (ﺍﻟﻔﻘﻴﻊ), containing a source which loses itself in the eastern plain. The Hadj passes the night sometimes here, and sometimes at Szannamein.

4. At four hours from Szannamein is a hill called the hill of Dilly (ﺩﻟﻲ ﺗﻞ), with a ruined village at the top. At its foot flows a river whose source is at Tel Serraia (ﺳﺮﺍﻳﻪ ﺗﻞ), a hill two hours W. of Dilly, likewise with a ruined village. The river works a mill near Dilly. In winter and spring time the district of Dilly is a deep bog; at four hours farther is a village called Shemskein (ﺷﻤﺴﻛﻴﻦ), of considerable size, and in a prosperous state. Three hours farther is Tafs (ﻃﻔﺲ), a village, ruined by the Wahabis in June 1810. One hour farther is El Mezareib (ﺍﻠﻤﺰﺍﺭﻳﺐ), with a castle of middling size, and the principal place in the Haouran next to Boszra.

5. At one hour from Mezareib is the Wady el Medan (ﺍﻠﻤﺪﺍﻥ), which comes from the Djebel Haouran. In winter time the Hadjis were often embarrassed by it. Djezzar Pasha ordered a bridge to be built over it. The ground is a fine gravel; even in summer time, when the Wady is dry, water is found every where underground by digging to the depth of two or three ells. At three hours is the village El Remtha (ﺍﻠﺮﻣﺜﺎ), inhabited by Fellahs, who have about ten cisterns of rain-water, and a small Birket in the neighbourhood of the village. Most of them live in caverns underground, which they arrange into habitations; the caverns are in a white rock. The Sheikh of Remtha is generally a Santon, that dignity being in the family of Ezzabi (ﺍﻠﺰﻋﺒﻲ), who possesses there a mosque of the same name. On account of the sanctity of his family, the Pasha does not take any Miri from the Sheikh Ezzabi. The Hadjis sometimes sleep at Remtha, at other times they go as far as Fedhein (ﻓﻀﻴﻦ), also called Mefrak (ﻣﻔﺮﻕ), a castle four hours from Remtha, where the Pasha keeps a small garrison, under the orders of an Aga, or Odabashi. The Arabs of the Belka are in the habit of depositing in the castle of Fedhein their superfluous provisions of wheat and barley, which they retake the next year, or sell to the Hadj, after having paid to the Aga a certain retribution. From Fedhein runs a Wady E. which turns, after one day’s journey towards the S. and is then called Wady Botun. The Djebel Heish, which continues its southerly course to the W. of the Hadj route, changes its name in the latitude of Fedhein into that of Djebel Belka (ﺑﻠﻘﺎﻕ ﺣﺒﻞ). To the east of Fedhein the Djebel Haouran terminates, not far to the North of Boszra. At one day’s journey from where the mountain finishes lies the village of Szalkhat (ﺻﻠﺨﺖ). From Fedhein to the south-east the plain is uncultivated, and without habitations.

6. The castle of Zerka (ﺍﻠﺰﺭﻗﻊ ﻗﻠﻌﺔ) is at one day’s journey from Fedhein. The Hadj rests here one day, during which the Hadjis amuse themselves with hunting the wild boars which are found in great numbers on the reedy banks of Wady Zerka. The castle is built in a low Wady which forms in winter-time the bed of a river of considerable size, called Naher Ezzerka (ﺍﻠﺰﺭﻘﻊ ﻧﻬﺮ), whose waters collect to the south of Djebel Haouran. In summer time the Wady to the E. of the castle has no water in it, but to the west, where there are some sources, the river is never completely dried up. It then enters the Djebel Belka and empties itself into the Sheriat el Kebir. The Pasha of Damascus has an Aga in the castle, who is always an Arab of the tribe of Ehteim (ﺍﺣﺘﻴﻢ), part of whom live in tents round the castle and sow the ground. They have plenty of grapes, and sow Dhourra and wheat.

7. One day’s journey is Kalaat el Belka (ﺍﻠﺒﻠﻘﺎﻉ ﻗﻠﻌﺔ). The name of Kalaat, or castle, is given on the Hadj route, and over the greater part of the desert, to any building walled in, and covered, and having, like a Khan, a large court-yard in its enclosure. The walls are sometimes of stone, but more commonly of earth, though even the latter are sufficient to withstand an attack of Arabs. The castle of Belka has a large Birket of rain-water. Its commander or Odabashi is always chosen from among the Janissaries of Damascus. It serves the Arabs of the Djebel Belka as a depot for their provisions. To the west of the castle the mountain of Belka terminates. The Arabs of Belka live in tents round the castle, and are Felahein or cultivators of the ground.

8. One day’s journey from the latter is the Kalaat el Katrane (ﺍﻟﻘﻄﺮﺍﻧﻪ ﻗﻠﻌﺔ), whose Odabashi is likewise a Janissary from Damascus. It has a Birket of rainwater. At one day’s journey to the N.W. of it is the Kalaat Kerek (ﻛﺮﻙ), from whence the Arabs of Kerek bring wheat and barley for sale to the Odabashi of Katrane, who sells it again to advantage to the Hadjis.

9. One day’s journey Kalaat el Hassa, (ﺍﻟﺤﺴﺎ ﻗﻠﻌﺔ), with a fine source, whose water is drawn up by means of a large wheel. The castle is built in the middle of a Wady running from E. to W.; in the winter a river runs through the Wady, which is dry in summer; but at a quarter of an hour W. from the castle, there are several springs of good water, which are never dry. They collect into a river which empties itself into the Jordan or Sheriat el Kebir at two days’ journey from El Hassa. The Fellahs who live round the castle in the Wady, in several small villages, sow Dhourra and barley, those that live towards the western mountains, sow for their masters the El Hadjaia Arabs (ﺍﻟﺤﺠﺎﻳﻪ ﻋﺮﺐ), and receive from them half of the harvest in return. To the S.E. of El Hassa, on the northern side of the Wady, about five hours distance from El Hassa, is a high hill, called Shehak (ﺷﻬﺎﻕ), which is visible from Masn and Akaba. At the same distance due east from El Hassa is a watering place called Meshash el Rekban (ﺍﻟﺮﻛﺒﺎﻥ), where water is found on digging to a small depth. To the S. of Wady el Hassa, in the Djebel Shera, is the town of Tafyle. South of it the Shera spreads into four or five branches, and embraces the whole country as far as Djebel Tor. At two days journey from Wady el Hassa, is a road leading along the summit of the mountain towards Gaza; this road is called Akaba, or more frequently Eddhohel (ﺍﻟﻀﺤﻞ); it is much frequented by the people of Tafyle and the Arabs Toueiha.

10. Half a day’s journey is Kalaat Aeneze (ﻋﻨﺰﻩ ﻗﻠﻌﺔ), with a Birket of rain-water.

11. Another half day’s journey Kalaat Maan (ﻣﻌﺎﻥ ﻗﻠﻌﺔ), where the Hadjis remain for two days. Maan has a large well of water. The town consists of about one hundred houses on both sides the Hadj route, which divides the town; the eastern part is called Shamie, the western Maan. The inhabitants cultivate figs, pomegranates, and plums in large quantities, but do not sow their fields. They purchase wheat from Kerek, which their women grind; and at the passage of the Hadj they sell the flour as well as their fruits to the pilgrims; which, is their means of subsistence. They purchase articles of dress and luxury from Ghaza and El Khalil.

12. A long day’s journey to the castle of Akaba Esshamie (ﺍﻟﺸﺎﻣﻴﻪ ﻋﻘﺒﻪ), or the Syrian Akaba, so called in opposition to the Akaba el Masri or the Egyptian Akaba which is on the eastern branch of the Red-sea, at one day’s journey from the Akaba Esshamie; here is a Birket of rain-water. The Hadj road, as far as Akaba, is a complete desert on both sides, yet not incapable of culture. The mountain chain continues at about ten hours to the west of the Hadj route. Akaba is in the hands of the Arabs el Howeytat (ﺍﻟﺤﻮﻳﺘﺎﻁ ﻋﺮﺏ), who are in communication with Cairo. From the foot of the castle walls the Hadj descends a deep chasm, and it takes half an hour to reach the plain below. The pilgrims fear that passage, and repeat this prayer before they descend; “May the Almighty God be merciful to them who descend into the belly of the dragon” (ﺍﻟﻐﻮﻝ ﺑﻄﻦ ﻓﻰ ﻧﺰﻟﻮﺍ ﺍﻧﻬﻢ ﺗﻌﺎﻟﻲ ﷲ ﺭﺣﻮﻡ). The mountain consists of a red gray sand stone, which is used at Damascus for whetstones. There are many places where the stones are full of small holes. When the pilgrims reach the bottom of the descent they fire off their pistols for the sake of the echo. The mountain sinks gradually, and is lost at a great distance in the plain, which is very sandy.1

13. Medawara (ﺎﻟﻣﺪﻭﺍﺭﻩ), one day’s journey, a castle with a Birket of rainwater.

14. Dzat Hadj (ﺣﺞ ﺫﺍﺕ), a castle surrounded by a great number of wells, which are easily found on digging two or three feet. It has likewise a Birket of rainwater. At four hours from it is a descent, rendered difficult by the deep sand. It is called El Araie (ﺍﻟﻌﺮﺍﻳﻪ), or Halat Ammar (ﻋﻤﺎﺭ ﺣﺎﻻﺕ); it was here that in the time of Daher el Omar, Pasha of Acre, and of Osman, Pasha of Damascus, the Arabs Beni Szakher plundered the Hadj in theyear 1170 of the Hedjra (1757), the only example of such an event in the last century. From Halat Ammar the plain is no longer sandy, but covered with a white earth as far as Tebouk. The vicinity of Dzat Hadj is covered with palm trees: but the trees being male, they bear no fruit, and remain very low. The inhabitants sell the wood to the Hadj.

15. One day from Dzat Hadj is Tebouk (ﺗﺒﻮﻙ), a castle, with a village of Felahein, of the tribe of Arabs Hammeide. There is a copious source of water, and gardens of fig and pomegranate trees, where Badintshaus (egg plant), onions, and ether vegetables are also cultivated. The Fellahs collect in the neighbouring desert the herb Beiteran (a species of milfoil), which the Hadjis buy up, and bring to Damascus. The castle is also surrounded by shrubs with long spines called Mehdab, which the Fellahs sell to the Hadj as food for the camels, and likewise two other herbs called Nassi and Muassal. They thus earn their livelihood. If the Hadj arrives in the neighbourhood of Tebouk at night, the bones of dead camels indicate the way to the castle. The Hadj rests here one day

: and on its return is met by the Djerde, or provision caravan, headed by the Pasha of Tripoli, by which all the Syrian pilgrims, receive refreshments, sent by their families.

16. Akhdhar (ﺍﻻﺧﻀﺮ), a castle with a Birket of rainwater, upon a small ascent. Two or three hundred years ago, the Hadj went to the E. of the present route, and it is even now called the eastern road.

17. El Moadham (ﺍﻟﻤﻌﻈﻢ), a very long day’s march.

18. Dar el Hamra (ﺍﻟﺤﻤﺮﻩ ﺩﺍﺭ).

19. Medayn Szaleh (ﺻﺎﻟﺢ ﻣﺪﺍﻳﻦ), with a number of habitations hewn in the rock; and many sculptured figures of men and animals.

20. El Olla (ﺍﻟﻌﻠﻪ), a village of about two hundred and fifty houses, with a rivulet and agreeable gardens of fruit trees. Its inhabitants are all of barbaresque origin.

21. Biar el Ghanam (ﺍﻟﻐﻨﻢ ﺑﻴﺎﺭ), with many wells of fresh water.

22. Byr Zemerrod (ﺯﻣﺮﺩ ﺑﻴﺮ), a large well.

23. Byr Djedeyde (ﺟﺪﻳﺪﻩ ﺑﻴﺮ).

24. Hedye, where the Hadj remains two days. It is a Ghadeir, or low Wady coming from Khaibar, which is four hours distant. The people of the caravan often go thither to buy fresh provisions.

25. El Fahletein (ﺍﻟﻔﺤﻠﺘﻴﻦ); apes, and what the Arabs call tigers, are met with here. An ancient building of black stones is near it; it is called Stabel Antar.

26. Biar Naszeif (ﻧﺎﺻﻴﻒ ﺑﻴﺮ), a number of wells in the sandy ground, which are every year newly digged up, because the wind covers them immediately after the caravan’s departure. El Fahletein is the last castle. At all these stations small castles have been built, close to the basons in which the rain water is collected. If there are any wells, they are within the walls of the castle, and the water is drawn up by camels in order to fill the basons, on the arrival of the Hadj. The pilgrims, in order to lighten their loads, generally leave in every castle a small parcel of provisions, which they take on their return. These castles are garrisoned by four or five men of Damascus, who remain shut up there the whole year until they are relieved by the passage of the caravan. It often happens that only one man is left alive of the number; the others having been either killed by the Arabs, or having died from the effects of the confinement, for the fear of the Arabs seldom permits them to issue out of the castle. Each of these castles has a Meghaffer (ﻣﻐﻔﺮ), or protector, among the neighbouring Arab tribes, to whom the Pasha pays a certain tribute. The office of these guardians, who are usually inhabitants of the Meidhan or suburb of Damascus, is very lucrative, on account of the presents and small contributions paid to them by the pilgrims. One of them has been known to remain for twenty-three years at Fahletein. Ibn Balousa, a man of the Meidhan of Damascus, is looked upon as the chief of all these castles, and resides generally at El Hassa.

27. El Medine, where the Hadj remains three days. There are two different roads leading from Medine to Mekke, the eastern and western. The principal men of the Arab tribes of both routes meet the Pasha at Medine, to learn which road the Hadj intends to take, and to treat with him about the passage duty. On the eastern route (ﺍﻟﺸﺮﻗﻲ ﺩﺭﺏ), the first station from Medine is:

28. (1) El Khona (ﺍﻟﺨﻨﻊ), a deep Wady with rain water.

29. (2) El Dereybe (ﺍﻟﺪﺭﻳﺒﻪ), a village with walls.

30. (3) Sefyne (ﺳﻔﻴﻨﻪ), a village.

31. (4) El Kobab (ﺍﻟﻘﺒﺐ), an assemblage of wells.

32. (5) Biar el Hedjar (ﺍﻠﺤﺠﺮ ﺑﻴﺮ), wells.

33. (6) Set Zebeyde (ﺯﺑﻴﺪﻩ ﺳﺖ), a ruined village with a large Birket.

34. (7) El Makhrouka (ﺍﻟﻤﺨﺮﻭﻗﻪ), wells.

35. (8) Wady Leimoun (ﻟﻴﻤﻮﻥ ﻭﺍﺩﻱ), a village with a rivulet.

36 (9) Byr el Baghle (ﺍﻟﺒﻐﻠﻪ ﺑﻴﺮ), wells.

37.(10) Mekke (ﻣﻛﻪ).

The western road, or as it is likewise called, the great road (ﺍﻟﺴﻠﻄﺎﻧﻪ ﺩﺭﺏ) is the more usual, but Djezzar always used to take the other. The first station from Medine on this route is:

28. (1) Biar Aly (ﻋﻠﻲ ﺑﻴﺎﺭ), a village with wells and gardens.

29. (2) El Shohada (ﺍﻟﺸﻬﺪﺍ), a spot in the plain, without any water.

30. (3) Djedeyde (ﺟﺪﻳﺪﻩ), and at a short distance before it the well called Byr Dzat el Aalem (ﺍﻠﻌﺎﻟﻢ ﺬﺍﺕ ﺑﻴﺮ). Djedeyde is a considerable village on the sides of a rivulet. The Sheikh of the western route lives here (ﺍﻟﺴﻠﻄﺎﻧﻪ ﺷﻴﺦ). The year before the last Hadj caravan effected its passage, Abdullah Pasha of Damascus was attacked in a Wady near Djedeyde by the armed population of that village, who were Wahabi. They routed his army, and obliged him to pay forty thousand dollars for his passage. From Djedeyde the route leads through the villages of Esszafra (ﺍﻟﺼﻔﺮﺍ), and El Hamra (ﺍﻠﺤﻤﺮﻩ), to the second station, which is:

31. (4) The famous Beder (ﺑﺪﺭ), where Mohammed laid the foundation of his power by his victory over his combined enemies. It contains upwards of five hundred houses, with a rivulet. The Egyptian pilgrim caravan generally meets here the Syrian.

32. (5) El Kaa (ﺍﻟﻘﺎﻉ), a spot in the desert without any water. From thence a long march to

33. (6) El Akdyd (ﺍﻻﻗﺪﻳﺪ), which is twenty-eight hours distant from Beder.

34. (7) Rabagh (ﺭﺍﺑﻎ), a village. Between Rabagh and Khalysz, the Red sea is seen from the Hadj route. There are Wadys coming from the Red sea, which in times of high flood are filled with the sea water; it remains sometimes during the whole summer, at a distance of six and seven hours from the sea. The water brings with it a large quantity of fish. The camels and horses drink the water of these Wadys.

35. (8) Khalysz (ﺧﻠﻴﺺ), a village with a rivulet.

36. (9) El Szafan (ﺍﻟﺼﻔﺎﻥ), two wells.

37.(10) Wady Fatme (ﻓﺎﻃﻤﻪ ﻭﺍﺩﻱ), a rivulet, with a village and gardens.

38. Mekke.

1 To the southward of Kerek all the women on the Hadj route wear the Egyptian face veil or Berkoa (ﺑﺮﻗﻊ), which is not a Syrian fashion.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:56