Medina is situated on the edge of the great Arabian Desert, close to the chain of mountains which traverses that country from north to south, and is a continuation of Libanon. I have already stated in my Journal through Arabia Petræa, that the chain on the east of the Dead Sea runs down towards Akaba. From thence, it extends along the shore of the Red Sea as far as Yemen, sometimes close to the sea, at others having an intervening plain called by the Arabs Tahama, a name which, in Yemen, is also bestowed upon a particular part of it. I have likewise mentioned in that Journal, that the eastern descent of these mountains, all along the Jordan, the Dead Sea, and the valley called Araba, down to Akaba, is much less than the western, and that therefore the great plain of Arabia, which begins eastward of these mountains, is considerably elevated above the level of the sea. I made the same remark in going to Tayf, after having crossed the mountain called Djebel Kura, which forms part of that chain; and the same is to be observed at Medina. The mountain which we had ascended in coming from Mekka, when seen from the coast, presents peaks of considerable height; when we reached the upper plain, in the neighbourhood of Medina, these summits appeared on our left like mere hills, their elevation above the eastern plain being not more than one-third of that from the western sea-shore.
The last undulations of these mountains touch the town on the north side; on its other side, the country is flat, though not always a completely even plain. A branch of the chain, called Djebel Ohod, projects a little into the plain, at one hour’s distance from the town, bearing from the latter N.N.E. to N.E. [In these bearings the variation of the needle is not computed.] At eight or ten hours’ distance, (E. 6 N.-E. 6 S.) a chain of low hills rises in an eastern direction, across which lies the road to Nedjed. Similar hills, at the same distance, are to the S.E. The country to the south extends on a perfect level as far as can be seen. On the S.W., about an hour, or an hour and a half distant, a branch called Djebel Ayra projects, like Djebel Ohod, from the main chain, into the plain.
The town itself is built on the lowest part of the plain; for it receives the torrents from the western mountains, as well as the currents from the S. and S.E. quarters; and they produce in the rainy season numerous pools of stagnant water, which is left to evaporate gradually; the gardens, trees, and walls, with which the plain abounds, interrupting the free current of air. These gardens, and date-plantations, interspersed with fields, enclose the town on three sides, leaving only that part of the plain open to the view, which is on the side of the road towards Mekka, where the rocky nature of the ground renders cultivation impossible.
Medina is divided into the interior town, and the suburbs; the interior forms an oval, of about two thousand eight hundred paces in total circuit, ending in a point. The castle is built at the point, upon a small rocky elevation; and the whole is enclosed by a thick stone wall, between thirty-five and forty feet high, flanked by about thirty towers, and surrounded by a ditch, (the work of the Wahabys,) which is in many places nearly filled up. The wall is in complete repair, forming, in Arabia, a very respectable defence; so that Medina has always been considered as the principal fortress of the Hedjaz. The wall was built A.H. 860; and till that time the town was quite open, and daily exposed to the incursions of the neighbouring Bedouins. It was subsequently rebuilt at different times, but principally in A.H. 900, a ditch having been previously carried round it in 751 (v. S.) According to Asamy, it was built as it now stands, with its gates, by order of Solyman ibn Selym, at the close of the sixteenth century of our era. Three fine gates lead into the town: Bab el Masry, on the south side, (which, next to Bab el Fatouh, at Cairo, is the finest town-gate I have seen in the East); Bab es’ Shámy, on the north side; and Bab el Ujoma, on the east side: a smaller by-gate, called Bab es’ Soghyr, in the south wall, had been closed up by the Wahabys. Near the Bab es’ Shámy, close to the castle, is a niche in the town-wall, where, it is related, a small chapel once stood, called Mesdjed es’ Sabak, from whence the warlike adherents of Mohammed used to start in their exercise of running.
Medina is well built, entirely of stone; its houses are generally two stories high, with flat roofs. As they are not white-washed, and the stone is of a dark colour, the streets have rather a gloomy aspect; and are, for the most part, very narrow, often only two or three paces across: a few of the principal streets are paved with large blocks of stone; a comfort which a traveller little expects to find in Arabia. It is, on the whole, one of the best-built towns I have seen in the East, ranking, in this respect, next to Aleppo. At present, it has a desolate appearance: the houses are suffered to decay; their owners, who formerly derived great profits from the crowd of visiters which arrived here at all times of the year, now find their income diminished, and decline the heavy expense of building, as they know they cannot be reimbursed by the letting out of apartments. Ruined houses, and walls wanting repair, are seen in every part of the town; and Medina presents the same disheartening view as most of the Eastern towns, which now afford but faint images of their ancient splendour.
The principal street of Medina is also the broadest, and leads from the Cairo gate to the great mosque: in this street are most of the shops. Another considerable street, called El Belát, runs from the mosque to the Syrian gate; but many of its houses are in ruins: this contains also a few shops, but none are found in other parts of the town; thus differing from Mekka, which is one continued market. In general, the latter is much more like an Arab town than Medina, which resembles more a Syrian city. I had no time to trace all the different quarters of the town; but I shall here give the names by which they are at present known.
The quarter comprised between the two main streets leading from the Egyptian and Syrian gates to the mosque, are, Es–Saha, Komet Hasheyfe, El Belát, Zogág el Towál, (here is situated the Mekkam, or house of the Kadhy, and several pleasant gardens are attached to the larger buildings;) Zogág el Dhorra, Sakyfet Shakhy, Zogág el Bakar.
The quarters lying to the north of the street El Belát, extending to the north of the mosque, as far as the gate El Djoma, are:— El Hamáta, Zogág el Habs, Zogág Ankyny, Zogág es’ Semáhedy, Háret el Meyda, Haret es’ Shershoura, Zogág el Bedour, Haret el Agowat, where the eunuchs of the mosque live.
The quarters from the gate El Djoma, along the southern parts of the town, as far as the Egyptian gate, and the great market-street, are: Derwan, Es–Salehye, Zogág Yáhou, Háret Ahmed Heydar, Háret Beni Hosseyn, the tribe of Beni Hosseyn living here; Háret el Besough, Háret Sakyfet, Er–Resás, Zogág el Zerendy, Zogág el Kibreit,
Zogág el Hadjamyn, Háret Sydy Málek, where Málek ibn Anes, the founder of the Malekite sect, had his house, and Háret el Kamáshyn.
Very few large buildings, or public edifices, are found in the precincts of the town. The great mosque, containing the tomb of Mohammed, is the only temple. A fine public school, called Medrese el Hamdye, in the street El Belát; a similar one, near the mosque, where the Sheikh el Haram, or its guardian, lives; a large corn-magazine, enclosing a wide yard, in the southern quarter of the town; a bath, (the only one,) not far distant from it, built in A.H. 973, by Mohammed Pasha, vizier of Sultan Soleyman, are all the public buildings which fell under my observation. [The historian of Medina mentions several Okals, or public khans, in this town; but I saw none, nor do I believe that they now exist] This want of splendid monuments was likewise remarked by me at Mekka. The Arabians, in general, have little taste for architecture; and even their chiefs content themselves in their mansions with what is merely necessary. Whatever public edifices are still found in Mekka and Medina, are the work of the Sultans of Egypt or of Constantinople; and the necessary expenses incurred annually by these distant sovereigns, for the sake of the two holy cities, were too great to allow of any augmentation for mere show. For the want of public buildings, however, in the town, a compensation is made by the number of pretty private habitations, having small gardens, with wells, the water of which is used in irrigation, and fills marble basins, round which, in summer-time, the owners pass the hours of noon under lofty sheds.
The castle, which I have mentioned above, is surrounded by very strong walls, and several high and solid towers. I was not permitted to enter it, on applying at the gate. It contains sufficient space for six or eight hundred men; has many arched rooms, bomb-proof; and, if well garrisoned, and furnished with provisions, may be deemed impregnable by an Arabian force, as it is built upon a rock, and therefore cannot be undermined. To European artillery, however, it would appear an insignificant fort. It contains a deep well of good water.
Two or three, guns only are at present mounted on its towers; nor were there more than a dozen serviceable guns to defend the whole town.
On the west and south of the town extend the suburbs, which cover more ground than the town itself. They are separated from it by an open space, narrow on the south side, but widening on the west, before the Cairo gate, where it forms a large public place, called Monákh; a name implying that caravans alight there, which is really the case, as it is always crowded with camels and Bedouins. Several rows of small huts and sheds are erected here, in which provisions are sold, principally corn, dates, vegetables, and butter; and a number of coffee-huts, which are beset the whole day with visiters. The side of the suburbs fronting the Monakh has no walls; but on the outside, to the west and south, they are enclosed by a wall, of inferior size and strength to the interior town wall. In several parts it is completely ruined; on the south side only it is defended by small towers. Four gates lead from the suburbs into the open country; they are small wooden doors, of no strength, except that leading from the Cairo gate, which is larger and better built than the rest.
The greater part of the suburbs consists in large court-yards, with low apartments built round them, on the ground-floor, and separated from each other by gardens and plantations. These are called Hosh, (plur. Hyshan,) and are inhabited by all the lower classes of the town, many Bedouins who have become settlers here, and all those who are engaged in agriculture. Each hosh contains thirty or forty families; thus forming so many small separate hamlets, which, in times of unsettled government, are frequently engaged in desperate feuds with each other. The cattle is kept in the midst of the court-yard, in each of which is a large well; and the only gate of entrance is regularly shut at night. On the S. and N.W. sides of the town, within the precincts of the wall, the suburbs consist entirely of similar court-yards, with extensive gardens between and behind them. On the west side, directly opposite the Cairo gate and the Monakh, the suburb consists of regular and well-built streets, with houses resembling those of the interior of the town. The broad street, called El Ambarye, crosses this part of the suburb, and has good buildings on both sides. In this neighbourhood lived Tousoun Pasha, in a private dwelling; and near it, in the best house of the town, belonging to the rich merchant Abd el Shekour, lived the Pasha’s mother, the wife of Mohammed Aly, and his own women, who had lately come on a visit.
The principal quarters of the suburbs are Háret el Ambarye, Háret el Wádjeha, Háret es’ Sahh, Háret Abou Aysa, Háret Masr, Háret el Teyar, Háret Nefýse, Háret el Hamdye, Háret el Shahrye, Háret el Kheybarye, Háret el Djafar. Many people of the interior town have their summer houses in these quarters, where they pass a month in the date-harvest. Every garden is enclosed by mud walls, and several narrow by-lanes, just broad enough for a loaded camel to cross the suburbs in every direction.
There are two mosques in the Monákh: the one, called Mesdjed Aly, or the mosque of the Prophet’s cousin, is said to be as old as the time of Mohammed; but the building, as it stands, was rebuilt in A.H. 876. Mohammed is said to have often prayed here; and, for the convenience of the inhabitants of the suburbs who are at a distance from the great mosque, the Khotbe, or Friday’s prayer, is likewise performed in it. The other mosque, called Mesdjed Omar, to which a public medrese, or school, was attached, serves at present as a magazine, and quarters for many soldiers. To both these mosques the historian of Mekka applies the name of Mesdjed el Fath: he calls the one Mesdjed el Aala, from standing on the highest part of the town. Two other mosques, the one called Mesdjed Aly Beker, and the other Mesdjed Zobáb, stood in this neighbourhood in the sixteenth century; and the Monákh at that time bore the name of Djebel Sola, the Arabians applying the name of Djebel (or mountain) to any slightly elevated spot of ground. In the same author’s time there were fifteen mosques in this town and its neighbourhood, all now ruined; and he gives the names and history of thirty-seven that were erected in the former ages of Islam.
I was told, that in the quarter El Ambarye the house where Mohammed lived is still shown; but many doubt this tradition, and the spot is not visited as one of the holy places. Here, as in Mekka, no ancient buildings are found. The winter rains, the nitrous, damp atmosphere during the rainy season, and the intense heat which follows it, are destructive to buildings; and the cement employed in their construction being of a very indifferent quality, the stones soon become loosened and the walls decay.
The town is supplied with sweet water by a fine subterraneous canal, carried hither from the village of Koba, about three quarters of an hour distant, in a southern direction, at the expense of Sultan Solyman, the son of Selym I. The water is abundant, and, in several parts of the town, steps are made down to the canal, where the inhabitants supply themselves with water, but are not, like the people of Mekka, obliged to pay for it. On the skirts of the Monákh, a large reservoir, cased with stone, has also been made, on a level with the canal, which is constantly kept full. The water in the canal runs at the depth of between twenty and twenty-five feet below the surface; it is derived from several springs at Koba, and, though not disagreeable to the taste, is nevertheless of bad quality. If left for half an hour in a vessel, it covers the sides of it with a white nitrous crust; and all foreigners, who are not accustomed to it from their earliest youth, complain of its producing indigestion. It is tepid at its source in Koba, and even at Medina slightly preserves its temperature. There are also many wells scattered over the town; every garden has one, by which it is irrigated; and wherever the ground is bored to the depth of twenty-five or thirty feet, water is found in plenty. Of some wells the water is sweet enough for drinking; of others quite brackish. The fertility of the fields and gardens is in proportion to the quality of the well-water; those irrigated with brackish water, repay badly the labour of their owners; the date-trees alone thriving equally well in any place.
In addition to the water of the wells and the aqueduct, the town in winter time receives a supply from the considerable torrent called Seyl el Medina, or Seyl Bathán, which flows from S. to N. passing across the suburbs, and losing itself in a stony valley to the N.W. [All the neighbouring torrents lose themselves in a low ground in the western mountains, called El Ghába, and also El Zaghába. See Samhoudy.] A heavy rain for one night will fill its bed, though it usually decreases as fast as it swells. In that part of the suburb, called El Ambarye, we find a good arched stone bridge thrown across its banks, where it is about forty feet in breadth. The neighbouring country abounds with similar torrents, which fill many ponds and low grounds, where the water often remains till the summer months: these, together with the wells, contribute to render the environs of this town celebrated for the abundance of water, surpassing, in this respect, perhaps, any other spot in northern Arabia, and which had made this a considerable settlement of Arabs, long before it became sacred among the Moslims, by the flight, residence, and death of Mohammed, to which it owes its name of Medina, or Medinet el Neby.
The great abundance of water has made cisterns of little use in the town; and I do not believe that more than two or three houses have them; though it would be very desirable to collect the rain-water for drinking, from the torrents, in preference to the nitrous water of Koba. During heavy rains the Monákh, between the suburbs and the town, becomes a complete lake, and the S. and S.E. environs are covered with a sheet of water. The inhabitants hail these inundations as a sure promise of plenty, because they not only copiously irrigate their date-trees, but likewise cause verdure to spread over the more distant plains inhabited by Bedouins, on whose imports of cattle and butter Medina depends for its consumption.
The precious jewel of Medina, which sets the town almost upon a level with Mekka, and has even caused it to be preferred to the latter, by many Arabic writers, [This is particularly the case with the sect of the Malekites, who pretend that Medina is more to be honoured than Mekka.] is the great mosque, containing the tomb of Mohammed. Like the mosque of Mekka, it bears the name of El Haram, on account of its inviolability; a name which is constantly given to it by the people of Medina, while, in foreign parts, it is more generally known under the appellation of Mesdjed en’ Neby, the mosque or temple of the Prophet, who was its original founder. The ground-plan will show that this mosque is situated towards the eastern extremity of the town, and not in the midst of it, as the Arabian historians and geographers often state. Its dimensions are much smaller than those of the mosque at Mekka, being a hundred and sixty-five paces in length, and a hundred and thirty in breadth; but it is built much upon the same plan, forming an open square, surrounded on all sides by covered colonnades, with a small building in the centre of the square. [The representations of this mosque, given both by Niebuhr and D’Ohhson, are very incorrect, being copied, probably, from old Arab drawings. I had intended to make a correct plan of it, but was prevented by my illness; and I should not wish to add one from mere recollection. Samhoudy states its dimensions as quite different, and says that it is two hundred and forty pikes in length, one hundred and sixty-five pikes in breadth on the S. side, and one hundred and thirty on the N. side. He adds that there are two hundred and ninety-six columns. I am not quite sure whether the building has been materially changed since his time, and after the fire in A.H. 886; but I believe not, and regard his account as much exaggerated.] These colonnades are much less regular than those at Mekka, where the rows of pillars stand at much the same depth on all sides. On the south side of this mosque, the colonnade is composed of ten rows of pillars behind each other; and on the west side are four rows; on the north, and part of the east side, only three rows. The columns themselves are of different sizes. On the south side, which contains the Prophet’s tomb, and which forms the most holy part of the building, they are of larger dimensions than in the other parts, and about two feet and a half in diameter. They have no pediments, the shafts touching the ground; and the same diversity and bad taste are as conspicuous in the capitals here as in the mosque at Mekka, no two being alike. The columns are of stone, but, being all plastered white, it is difficult to decide of what species. To the height of about six feet from the ground they are painted with flowers and arabesques, in a coarse and gaudy style; by which means, probably, it was intended to remedy the want of pediments. Those standing nearest to that part of the southern colonnade called El Rodha, are cased for half their height with bright glazed green tiles or slates, decorated with arabesques of various colours: the tiles seem to be of Venetian pottery, and are of the same kind as those used to cover stoves in Germany and Switzerland.
The roof of the colonnade consists of a number of small domes, white-washed on the outside, in the same manner as those of Mekka. The interior walls are also white-washed all round, except the southern one, and part of the S.E. corner, which are cased with slabs of marble, nearly up to the top. Several rows of inscriptions, in large gilt letters, are conducted along this wall, one above the other, and have a very brilliant effect upon the white marble. The floor under the colonnades, on the west and east sides, and part of the north, is laid out with a coarse pavement; the other part of the N. side being unpaved, and merely covered with sand; as is likewise the whole open yard. On the south side, where the builder of the mosque has lavished all this ornament, the floor is paved with fine marble across the whole colonnade; and in those parts nearest to the tomb of Mohammed, this pavement is in mosaic, of excellent workmanship, forming one of the best specimens of that kind to be seen in the East. Large and high windows, with glass panes, (of which I know not any other instance in the Hedjaz) admit the light through the southern wall; some of them are of fine painted glass. On the other sides, smaller windows are dispersed along the walls, but not with glass panes. [The art of painting glass with durable colours seems never to have been lost in the East.]
Near the S.E. corner stands the famous tomb, so detached from the walls of the mosque, as to leave between it and the S. wall a space of about twenty-five feet, and fifteen between it and the E. wall. The enclosure, which defends the tomb from the too near approach of visiters, forms an irregular square of about twenty paces, in the midst of the colonnade, several of its pillars being included within it: it is an iron railing, painted green, about two-thirds the height of the columns, filling up the intervals between them, so as to leave their upper part projecting above it, and entirely open. The railing is of good workmanship, in imitation of filligree, and is interwoven with open-worked inscriptions of yellow bronze, supposed by the vulgar to be of gold, and of so close a texture, that no view can be gained into the interior, except by several small windows, about six inches square, which are placed in the four sides of the railing, about five feet above the ground. On the south side of the railing, where are the two principal of these windows, before which the visiters stand when praying, the railing is thinly plated over with silver, and the often-repeated inscription of “La Illaha il Allah al hak al Mobyn,” (“There is no God but God, the evident Truth,”) is carried in silver letters across the railing all round these windows. This enclosure is entered by four gates, three of which are constantly kept shut, and one only is opened, every morning and.evening, to admit the eunuchs, whose office it is to clean the floor and light the lamps. Each of these gates has its particular name: Báb en’ Neby, Báb Errahme, Báb et Touba, Báb Setna Fatme. The permission to enter into this enclosure, which is called El Hedjra, is granted gratis to people of rank, as Pashas, or chiefs of the Hadj caravans, and may be purchased by other people from the principal eunuchs, at the price of about twelve or fifteen dollars, distributed in presents among them: but few visiters avail themselves of this privilege, because they well know that, on entering the enclosure, nothing more is to be seen than what falls under their observation when peeping in at the windows of the railing, which are constantly kept open; and I was myself not inclined to attract general notice, by thus satisfying my curiosity. What appears of the interior is a curtain carried round, which takes up almost the whole space, having between it and the railing an open walk, of a few paces only in breadth. The curtain is equal in height to the railing; but I could not distinguish from below, whether, like the latter, it is open at the top. There is a covering, (as the eunuchs affirm,) of the same stuff of which the curtain is made; this is a rich silk brocade, of various colours, interwoven with silver flowers and arabesques, with a band of inscriptions in golden characters, running across the midst of it, like that of the covering of the Kaaba. This curtain is at least thirty feet high: it has a small gate to the north, which is always shut; no person whatever being permitted to enter within its holy precincts, except the chief eunuchs, who take care of it, and who put on, during the night, the new curtain sent from Constantinople, whenever the old one is decayed, or when a new Sultan ascends the throne. The old curtains are sent to Constantinople, and serve to cover the tombs of the sultans and princes. [See D’Ohhson. The historian of Medina says, that in his time it was changed every six years, and that the income from several villages in Egypt was set apart at Cairo for the manufacturing of those curtains.]
According to the historian of Medina, the curtain covers a square building of black stones, supported by two pillars, in the interior of which are the tombs of Mohammed, and his two earliest friends and immediate successors, Abou Beker and Omar. As far as I could learn here, these tombs are also covered with precious stuffs, and in the shape of catafalques, like that of Ibrahim in the great mosque of Mekka. They are said to be placed in the following order: [not included] The largest being that of Mohammed, and the one above it Abou Beker’s. The historian says, that these tombs are deep holes; and that the coffin which contains the dust of Mohammed, is cased with silver, and has on the top a marble slab, inscribed, “Bismillahi Allahuma Sally aley.” (“In the name of God, bestow thy mercy upon him.”) They did not always stand in their present position: Samhoudy places them at different times thus: [not included]
The stories once prevalent in Europe, of the prophet’s tomb being suspended in the air, are unknown in the Hedjaz; nor have I ever heard them in other parts of the East, though the most exaggerated accounts of the wonders and the riches of this tomb are propagated by those who have visited Medina, and wish to add to their own importance by relating fabulous stories of what they pretend to have seen. Round these tombs the treasures of the Hedjaz were formerly kept, either suspended on silken ropes, drawn across the interior of the building, or placed in chests on the ground. Among these, may be particularly mentioned a copy of the Koran, in Cufic characters, kept there as a precious relic, from having belonged to Othman ibn Affan. It is said still to exist in Medina; but we may doubt whether it escaped the conflagration which destroyed the mosque. I have related, in my history of the Wahabys, that during the siege of Medina considerable portions of the treasures, more particularly all the golden vessels, were seized by the chiefs of the town, ostensibly for the purpose of being distributed among the poor, but that they were, finally, divided among themselves. When Saoud took the town, he entered the Hedjra himself, and penetrated behind the curtain, where he seized upon every thing valuable he found; of this he sold a part to the Sherif of Mekka, and the rest he carried with him to Derayeh. Among the precious articles which he took, the most valuable is said to have been a brilliant star set in diamonds and pearls, which was suspended directly over the Prophet’s tomb. It is often spoken of by the Arabs, who call it Kokab ed’durry. Here were deposited all sorts of vessels, set with jewels, ear-rings, bracelets, necklaces, and other ornaments, sent as presents from all parts of the empire, but brought principally by great hadjys who passed through Medina. There is no doubt that the whole formed a. collection of considerable value, but far from being inestimable, as the people are inclined to fancy. Sherif Ghaleb estimated that part of it which he bought, at one hundred thousand dollars. The chiefs of the town are said to have carried. off about one hundred weight of golden vessels, at most worth forty or fifty thousand dollars; and what Saoud took with him is said to have consisted chiefly in pearls and corals, and was certainly not worth more than Ghaleb’s purchase. The total value, therefore, might have amounted to about three hundred thousand dollars. Money never appears to have been deposited here; for whatever presents were made to the mosque in cash, were immediately distributed among its attendants. There is good reason for supposing, however, that the donations of the faithful, which accumulated here for ages, amounted to a much greater sun than what is stated above; but it would be strange if the governors of Medina, who were often independent, or the guardians of the tomb themselves, should not have made occasional draughts upon this treasure, in the same manner as the olemas of Mekka, about three hundred years since, stole the golden lamps of the Kaaba, and carried them out of the temple, hid under their wide sleeves, according to Kotobeddyn the historian.
Tousoun Pasha, on his arrival at Medina, made search for the golden vessels, which had been re-sold by the chiefs of the town to some other of the inhabitants, and not yet melted. He found several of them, which he bought from the owners for about ten thousand dollars, and replaced them in their original situation.
The floor between the curtain and the railing, and of all this part of the mosque, is laid with various coloured marbles in mosaic: here glass lamps are suspended all round the curtains, which are lighted every evening, and remain burning all night. The whole of this enclosure, or Hedjra, is covered with a fine lofty dome, rising far above the domes which form the roof of the colonnades, and visible at a great distance from the town; and the visiters coming to Medina, as soon as they catch the sight of it, repeat certain prayers. The covering is of lead surmounted with a globe of considerable size, and a crescent, both glittering with gold. [The globe was gilt, and the crescent sent from Constantinople, by the Sultan Soleyman ibn Selym. (See Asamy.) The cupola, and the whole of the temple as it now stands, was built by Kait Beg, Sultan of Egypt, from A.H. 881 to 892.]
It is reported that they are of massy gold; which can scarcely be believed, if we consider the little inclination that even the richest and most powerful of the Sultans have shown, to ornament with splendour either the mosque of Mekka or Medina. The Wahabys, allured by the appearance of the globe, and acting upon their invariable practice of destroying all domes or cupolas erected over the tombs of mortals, among whom Mohammed was to be reckoned, attempted to destroy the dome, and throw down the globe and crescent; but their solid construction, and the lead covering, rendered this a difficult undertaking two of the workmen slipped from the smooth roof, and were precipitated below, after which the work of destruction was abandoned; a circumstance which is now cited as a visible miracle worked by the Prophet in favour of his monument.
Near the curtain of the Hedjra, but separated from it, though within the precincts of the railing, which here, to admit it, deviates a little from its square shape, is the tomb of Setna Fatme, the daughter of Mohammed, and wife of Aly: it consists of a catafalque forming a cube, covered with a rich embroidered black brocade, and without any other ornament. But some difference of opinion exists, whether her remains actually rest here or in the burial-ground called Bakya, beyond the town. Till this dispute, however, be settled, the pilgrims are conducted to both places, and made to pay double fees. On the E. wall of the mosque, nearly opposite to this tomb, a small window is shown, at the place where the archangel Gabriel is said to have repeatedly descended from heaven, with messages to Mohammed. It is called Mahbat Djybrail.
Mohammedan tradition says, that when the last trumpet shall sound, Aysa (Jesus Christ) is to descend from heaven to earth, and to announce to its inhabitants the great day of judgment: after which he is to die, and will be buried in this Hedjra, by the side of Mohammed: that, when the dead shall rise from their graves, they will both rise together, ascend to heaven, and Aysa, on that day, will be ordered by the Almighty to separate the faithful from the infidels. In conformity with this tradition, the spot is pointed at through the curtain of the Hedjra, where the tomb of Aysa will be placed.
Outside the railing on the north, close by the tomb of Fatme, is a square bench in the mosque, elevated above the ground about four feet, and fifteen paces square, called El Meyda, or the table. Here the eunuch guardians of the mosque sit; and the councils of the primates of the town, or their principal assemblies, are often held here.
A wooden partition about eight feet high, and richly painted with arabesques, runs from the western side of the railing across the mosque, parallel with the south wall, and about twenty-five feet distant from it, and terminating near the gate called Báb-es-Salám, thus extending from the Hedjra nearly across the whole breadth of the mosque. It has several small doors, and is made to separate the holy place called El Rodha from the common passage of the visiters, who, on entering through Báb-es’-Salám, pass forward towards the Hedjra, along the columns standing between this partition and the south wall. Next to the Hedjra, that part of the southern colonnade north of the partition is considered the most holy place in the mosque, and called Rodha, i. e. a garden, or the Garden of the Faithful; a name bestowed upon it by Mohammed, who said: “Between my tomb and my pulpit is a garden of the gardens of Paradise.” The pulpit of the mosque stands close to this partition, about midway between the Hedjra and the west wall of the mosque, and the name Rodha strictly belongs to that space only which is between the pulpit and the Hedjra, though the whole southern colonnade of the temple to the north of the partition is often comprised under that appellation. It is on account of this name of Rodha, or garden, that the columns within its limits are painted to the height of five or six feet with flowers and arabesques, to assist the imagination, which otherwise might not readily discover any resemblance between this place and the Garden of Eden. Two mahrabs, or niches, towards which the people turn when praying, as they indicate the exact bearing of the Kaaba, [The Mahrab was turned S. 11 W. (variation not computed), which is therefore taken here as the exact bearing of Mekka.] are placed on both sides of the pulpit, and are, together with it, of exquisite workmanship, being the finest mosaic. One niche was sent from Egypt as a present to the mosque, by Kait Beg, and the other from Constantinople by Sultan Soleyman ibn Selym. The floor of the Rodha is covered with a number of handsome carpets, sent hither from Constantinople; and, as at Mekka, they are the only articles of real value that I saw in the mosque, and may be worth, altogether, about a thousand pounds. The upper part of the colonnades is covered with mats.
The congregation assembles upon the carpets of the Rodha, this being the favourite spot for prayers. No ceremony is observed in the seats; every one may place himself where he likes: it is however understood, that the first row nearest to the partition, and those especially in the immediate neighbourhood of the Imam, are destined for people of rank, and no one who does not belong to that class intrudes himself there. The entrance to the Rodha, near Báb-es’-Salám, has a splendid appearance: the gaudy colours displayed on every side, the glazed columns, fine carpets, rich pavement, the gilt inscriptions on the wall to the south, and the glittering railing of the Hedjra in the back-ground, dazzle the sight at first; but, after a short pause, it becomes evident that this is a display of tinsel decoration, and not of real riches. When we recollect that this spot is one of the holiest of the Mohammedan world, and celebrated for its splendour, magnificence, and costly ornaments, and that it is decorated with the united pious donations of all the devotees of that religion, we are still more forcibly struck with its paltry appearance. It will bear no comparison with the shrine of the most insignificant saint in any Catholic church in Europe, and may serve as a convincing proof, that in pious gifts the Mohammedan have at no period equalled the Catholic devotees; without noticing many other circumstances, which help to strengthen the belief, that, whatever may be their superstition and fanaticism, Mohammedans are never inclined to make as many pecuniary sacrifices for their religious establishments, as Catholic, and even Protestant Christians do for theirs.
The ceremonies on visiting the mosque are the following:— At first the pilgrim, before he enters the town, is to purify himself by a total ablution, and, if possible, to perfume his body with sweet odours. When he arrives in sight of the dome, he is to utter some pious ejaculations. When he intends to visit the temple, the cicerone, or, as he is here called, Mezowar, leads him into the gate called Báb-es’-Salám, passing his right foot first over the threshold, which is the general custom in all mosques, and particularly insisted upon here. While reciting some prayers, he steps forward into the Rodha, where he performs a short prayer, with four prostrations, as a salutation to the mosque, during which he is enjoined to recite the two short chapters (109th and 112th) of the Koran. He then passes through one of the small doors of the partition of the Rodha, and walks slowly towards the railing of the Hedjra, before the western window of which, on its south side, he takes his stand; with arms half raised he addresses his invocations to Mohammed, in the words “Salam aleyka ya Mohammed, Salam ya Rasoul illah,” &c. recapitulating about twenty of the different surnames or honorable titles of Mohammed, and prefixing to each of them “Salam aleyk.” He next invokes his intercession in heaven, and distinctly mentions the names of all those of his relations and friends whom he is desirous to include in his prayers: it is for this reason, that an inhabitant of Medina never receives a letter from abroad, without being entreated, at the end of it, to mention the writer’s name at the tomb of the Prophet. If the pilgrim is delegated on the pilgrimage for another, he is bound here to mention the name of his principal. In this prayer an expression is used, as at all the places visited for their sanctity about the town, but which appeared to me little calculated to inspire the visiter with humane or charitable feelings; among other favours supplicated in prayer to the Deity, the following request is made: “Destroy our enemies, and may the torments of hell-fire be their lot.”
After these prayers are said, the visiter is desired to remain a few minutes with his bead pressed close against the window, in silent adoration; he then steps back, and performs a prayer of four prostrations, under the neighbouring colonnade, opposite the railing; after which he approaches the second window, on this same side, said to face the tomb of Abou Beker, and goes through prayers similar to those said at the former window, (called Shobák-en’-Neby,) which are recited in honour of Abou Beker. Stepping back a second time to the colonnade, he again performs a short prayer, and then advances to the third window on this side of the railing, which is opposite that part of the curtain behind which the tomb of Omar is said to lie: similar prayers are said here. When this ceremony is finished, the visiter walks round the S.E. corner of the Hedjra, and presents himself before the tomb of Setna Fatme, where, after four prostrations, a prayer is addressed to Fatme-e’-Zohera, or the bright blooming Fatme, as she is called. He then returns to the Rodha, where a prayer is said as a salutation to the Deity on leaving the mosque, which completes this ceremony, the performance of which occupies at most twenty minutes.
On every spot where prayers are to be said, people sit with hand-kerchiefs spread out to receive the gifts of the visiters, which appear to be considered less as alms, than as a sort of toll; at least, a well-dressed visiter would find it difficult to make his way without paying these taxes. Before the window of Setna Fatme sits a party of women, (Fatme being herself a female saint,) who likewise receive gifts in their handkerchiefs. In the Rodha stand the eunuchs, or the guardians of the temple, waiting till the visiter has finished his last prayer of salutation, to wish him joy on having successfully completed the zyara or visit, and to receive their fees; and the great gate of Báb-es’-Salám is constantly crowded with poor, who closely beset the visiter, on his leaving the mosque: the porter also expects his compliment, as a matter of right. The whole visit cost me about fifteen piastres, and I gave ten piastres to my cicerone; but I might, perhaps, have got through for half that sum.
The ceremonies may be repeated as often as the visiter wishes: but few perform them all, except on arriving at Medina, and when on the point of departing. It is a general practice, however, to go every day, at least once, to the window opposite Mohammed’s tomb, and recite there a short prayer: many persons do it whenever they enter the mosque. It is also a rule never to sit down in the mosque, for any of the usual daily prayers, without having previously addressed an invocation to the Prophet, with uplifted hands, and the face turned towards his tomb. A similar practice is prevalent in many other mosques in the East, which contain the tomb of a saint. The Moslim divines affirm, that prayers recited in the mosque of Medina are peculiarly acceptable to the Deity; and invite the faithful to perform this pilgrimage, by telling them that one prayer said in sight of the Hedjra is as efficacious as a thousand said in any other mosque except that of Mekka.
I have already stated, that the north and east sides, and part of the west side, of the mosque are by no means so well built as the south side, where are the Hedjra and Rodha. The columns in those parts are more slender, and less carefully painted; the pavement is coarse, and no kind of ornament is seen on the white plastered walls, except on the east side, where the coarsely painted representations of the mosque of St. Sophia, of Sultan Ahmed, of Bayazed Waly, and of Scutari, celebrated temples in the capital, attract some notice: they are painted in water-colours, upon the white wall, without the smallest attention to perspective. The whole north side was at present under repair; and the old pavement had been removed, to be replaced by a better one.
The open court enclosed between the colonnades is unpaved, and covered with sand and gravel. In the midst of it stands a small building, with a vaulted roof, where the lamps of the mosque are kept. Near it is a small enclosure of low wooden railing, which contains some palm-trees, held sacred by the Moslims, because they are said to have been planted by Fatme, and another tree, of which the stem only now remains, and which I believe to have been a nebek, or lotus-tree. By it is a well, called Bir-en-Neby, the water of which is brackish, and for this reason, probably, enjoys no reputation for holiness. Samhoudy says that it is called Es–Sháme.
In the evening lamps are lighted round the colonnades; but principally on the south side, where they are in greater numbers than on the others; they are suspended from iron bars, extending from column to column. The eunuchs and the servants of the mosque are employed in lighting them; for a small donation to the latter, the visiters to the tomb are permitted to assist, and many foreign hadjys are anxious to perform that office, which is thought meritorious, and for which they are particularly praised by the eunuchs: but they are never allowed to light the lamps in the interior of the Hedjra. On the sides of the Mambar, or the pulpit, and of both the Mahrabs, large wax candles are placed, as thick as a man’s body, and twelve feet high, which are lighted in the evening by means of a ladder placed near them. They are sent from Constantinople. The lady of Mohammed Aly, who was now at Medina, had brought several of these candles as a present to the mosque, which had been transported with great difficulty from Yembo to this place.
The mosque has four gates: 1. Báb-es-Salám, formerly called Báb Merouán, (according to Samhoudy), on the south-west corner, is the principal one, by which the pilgrim is obliged to enter the mosque at his first visit. It is a beautiful arched gateway, much superior to any of those of the great mosque at Mekka, though inferior in size to several of them, and handsomer than any gate of a mosque I had before seen in the East. Its sides are inlaid with marble and glazed tiles of various colours; and a number of inscriptions in relief, in large gilt characters, above and on the sides of the arch, give it a very dazzling appearance. Just before this gate is a small fountain, filled by the water of the canal, where people usually perform their ablutions, if they do not choose to do it in the mosque itself, where jars are kept for the purpose.
2. Báb Errhame, formerly called Báb Atake, in the west wall, by which the dead are carried into the mosque, when prayers are to be read over them.
3. Báb Ed’ Djeber, called often likewise Báb Djybrail; and
4. Báb el. Nesa, on the east wall, the first close to the tomb of Setna Fatme, the other a little farther on.
A few steps lead from the neighbouring streets up to the gates, the area of the mosque being on a somewhat higher level, contrary to what is seen at Mekka. About three hours after sun-set the gates are regularly shut, by means of folding-doors coated with iron, and not opened till about an hour before dawn; but those who wish to pray all night in the mosque, can easily obtain permission from the eunuch in guard, who sleeps near the Hedjra. During Ramadhan, the mosque is kept open the whole night.
On the north-west and north sides are several small doors opening into the mosque, belonging to public schools or medreses originally annexed to it, but which have now forfeited their ancient distinction. On this side the schoolmasters sit with the boys in a circle round them, and teach them the rudiments of reading.
The police of the mosque, the office of washing the Hedjra and the whole of the building, of lighting the lamps, &c. &c. is entrusted to the care of forty or fifty eunuchs, who have an establishment similar to that of the eunuchs of the Beitullah at Mekka; but they are persons of greater consequence here; they are more richly dressed, though in the same costume; usually wear fine Cashmere shawls, and gowns of the best Indian silk stuffs, and assume airs of great importance. When they pass through the Bazar, every body hastens to kiss their hands; and they exercise considerable influence in the internal affairs of the town. They have large stipends, which are sent annually from Constantinople by the Syrian Hadj caravan; they share also in all donations made to the mosque, and they expect presents from every rich hadjy, besides what they take as fees from the visiters of the Hedjra. They live together in one of the best quarters of Medina, to the eastward of the mosque, and their houses are said to be furnished in a more costly manner than any others in the town. The adults are all married to black or Abyssinian slaves.
The black eunuchs, unlike those of Europe, become emaciated; their features are extremely coarse, nothing but the bones being distinguishable; their hands are those of a skeleton, and their whole appearance is extremely disgusting. By the help of thick clothing they hide their leanness; but their bony features are so prominent, that they can be distinguished at first sight. Their voice, however, undergoes little, if any change, and is far from being reduced to that fine feminine tone so much admired in the Italian Singers.
The chief of the eunuchs is called Sheikh el Haram; he is also the chief of the mosque, and the principal person in the town; being consequently of much higher rank than the Aga, or chief of the eunuchs at Mekka. He is himself a eunuch, sent from Constantinople, and usually belonging to the court of the Grand Signor, who sends him hither by way of punishment or exile, in the same manner as Pashas are sent to Djidda. The present Sheikh el Haram had been formerly Kislar Agassi, or prefect of the women of the Emperor Selym, which is one of the first charges in the court. Whether it was the dignity of his former employ, of which the eastern grandees usually retain the rank through life, even if they are dispossessed of it, or his new dignity of Sheikh el Haram, that gave him his importance, I am unable to say; but he took, on every occasion, precedence of Tousoun Pasha, whose rank was that of Pasha of Djidda, and of three tails; and the latter, whenever they met, kissed the Sheikh’s hands, which I have seen him do in the mosque. He has a court composed in a manner similar to that of a Pasha, but much less numerous. His dress is given with the most minute accuracy in D’Ohhson’s work: it consists of a fine pelisse, over a rich embroidered silk gown, made in the fashion of the capital; a khandjar, or dagger, set with diamonds, stuck in his belt; and a kaouk, or high bonnet, on his head. The present Sheikh kept about a dozen horses: whenever he walked out, a number of servants, or Ferráshyn of the mosque, armed with large sticks, walked before him.
The person of the Sheikh el Haram was respected by the Wahabys: when Saoud took Medina, he permitted the Sheikh, with several other eunuchs, to retire to Yembo, with his wives, and all his baggage and valuables; but would not receive another into the town; and the eunuchs themselves then appointed one of their number to preside over them, till after an interval of eight years, when the present chief was sent from Constantinople; but his influence over the affairs of the town is reduced to a mere shadow of what it was.
A eunuch of the mosque would be highly affronted if he were so termed by any person. Their usual title is Aga. Their chief takes the title of Highness, or Sadetkom, like a Pasha, or the Sherif of Mekka.
Besides those eunuchs, the mosque reckons among its servants a number of the inhabitants of the town; these are called Ferráshyn, a name implying that their duty consists in keeping the mosque clean, and spreading the carpets. Some of them attend at the mosque to light the lamps, and to clean the floor, together with the eunuchs; with others it is a mere sinecure, and some of the first people of the town belong to this body. I am unacquainted how the office is obtained, but believe that it is purchased from the Sheikh el Haram. The name of each Ferrásh is put down in the lists which are yearly sent to Constantinople, and they all share in the stipends which the town receives from that capital, and the whole Turkish empire, in which there is always a considerable portion for the Ferráshyn. It would appear that the office is hereditary; at least often transmitted from father to son. The number is fixed at five hundred; but to increase it, an expedient has, according to D’Ohhson, been adopted, of dividing each number into half, and third, and eighth shares; and any fractional part may be bestowed upon an individual, who thus becomes an inferior member of the corps. Many of these Ferráshyn are in partibus, the title having been given to great foreign hadjys, dispersed over the whole empire, who think themselves honoured in possessing it.
Many of these Ferráshyn are, at the same time ciceroni, or Mezowars, and exercise also, the very lucrative profession of saying prayers for the absent. Most hadjys of any consequence who pass here, form an acquaintance with some of these men, their guides over the holy places. On their return home, they often make it a pious rule to send annually some money, one or two zecchins, to their ancient cicerone, who is thus bound in honour to recite some prayers, in the name of the donor, before the window of the Hedjra. These remittances, wrapped up in small sealed papers, with the address upon them, are collected in every province or principal town of Anatolia, or Turkey in Europe, from whence they are principally sent, and brought to Medina by the Surra writer of Constantinople, who accompanies the pilgrim caravan, and is at the head of its financial department. Some of the principal Ferráshyns have monopolized whole towns and provinces; the natives of those parts, who pass through Medina, being introduced to them by their countrymen. The correspondents of others are dispersed over the whole empire. The profits which they derive from this profession, which resemble those accruing to Roman Catholic priests for the reading of masses, are very considerable: I have heard that some of the principal Ferráshyn have from four to five hundred correspondents dispersed over Turkey, from each of whom they receive yearly stipends, the smallest of which is one Venetian zecchin.
The number of Ferráshyn, as well as of Mezowars, is very great. The duties of their office can be so easily performed, that they are for the greater part a very idle class. During the time of the Wahabys, however, their perquisites ceased; and, as few pilgrims then arrived, they were reduced to great extremities, from which they are now beginning slowly to recover. They complain, that the long cessation of the yearly stipends has accustomed so many original correspondents to withhold their gifts, that, although the caravan intercourse is re-established, little inclination appears to renew them.
The Wahabys are forbidden by their law to visit the tomb of the Prophet, or to stand before the Hedjra and pray for his intercession in heaven. As Mohammed is considered by them a mere mortal, his tomb is thought unworthy of any particular notice. It was as much a strict religious principle, as a love of plunder, that induced Saoud to carry off the treasures of the Hedjra, which were thought little adapted in decency and humility to adorn a grave. The tomb itself he left untouched; and, for once, gave way to the national feelings of the Arabians, and perhaps to the compunctions of his own conscience, which could not entirely divest itself of earlier impressions; he neither removed the brocade from the tomb, nor the curtain which encloses it. Dreams, it is said, terrified him, or withheld his sacrilegious hand; and he in like manner respected that of Fatme: but, on the other hand, he ruined, without exception, all the buildings of the public burial-ground, where many great saints repose, and destroyed even the sculptured and ornamented stones of those tombs, a simple block being thought by him quite sufficient to cover the remains of the dead.
In prohibiting any visit to the tomb, the Wahabys never entertained the idea of discontinuing the visit to the mosque. That edifice having been built by the Prophet, at the remarkable epoch of his flight from Mekka, which laid the first foundations of Islam, it is considered by them as the most holy spot upon earth, next to the Beitullah of Mekka. Saoud had indeed once given orders, that none of these Turkish pilgrims, who still flocked from Yembo to this tomb, even after the interruption of the regular pilgrim-caravans, should any more be permitted to enter Medina: and this he did to prevent what he called their idolatrous praying; a practice which it was impossible to abolish without excluding them at once from the mosque; this prohibition Saoud did not think proper to enforce: he therefore preferred keeping them from the city, under pretence that their improper behaviour rendered such a proceeding necessary. He himself, with all his adherents, often paid a devout visit to the holy mosque; and in the treaty of peace which his son Abdallah, concluded with Tousoun Pasha in 1815, it is expressly stipulated that the Wahabys should be permitted to visit the Mesdjed-e’-Neby, or the mosque of the Prophet, (not his tomb,) without molestation.
Even with the orthodox Moslims, the visit to this tomb and mosque is merely a meritorious action, which has nothing to do with the obligations to perform the Hadj, incumbent upon the faithful; but which, like the visit to the mosque at Jerusalem, and the tomb of Abraham at Hebron, is thought to be an act highly acceptable to the Deity, and to expiate many sins, while it entitles the visiter, at the same time, to the pratronage of the Prophet and the Patriarch in heaven: and it is said, that he who recites forty prayers in this mosque, will be delivered from hell-fire and torments after death. As saints, however, are often more venerated than the Deity himself, who it is well known accepts of no other offerings than a pure conscience or sincere repentance, and is therefore not so easily appeased; so the visit to Medina is nearly as much esteemed as that to the house of God, the Beitullah at Mekka; and the visiters crowd with more zeal and eagerness to this shrine, than they do even to the Kaaba. Throughout the year, swarms of pilgrims arrive from all parts of the Mohammedan world, usually by the way of Yembo. The Moggrebyns especially seem the most fervent in their visits: they are, however, brought here by another object, for in this town is situated the tomb of the Imám Málek ibn Anes, the founder of the orthodox sect of the Malekites, to which belong the Moggrebyns.
The mosque at Mekka is visited daily by female hadjys, who have their own station assigned to them. At Medina, on the contrary, it is thought very indecorous in women to enter the mosque. Those who come here from foreign parts, visit the tomb during the night, after the last prayers, while the women resident in the town hardly ever venture to pass the threshold: my old landlady, who had lived close to it for fifty years, assured me that she had been only once in her life within its precincts, and that females of a loose character only are daring enough to perform their prayers there. In general, women are seldom seen in the mosques in the East, although free access is not forbidden. A few are sometimes met in the most holy temples, as that of the Azhar at Cairo, where they offer up their thanks to Providence, for any favour which they may have taken a vow thus to acknowledge. Even in their houses the women seldom pray, except devout old ladies; and it is remarked as an extraordinary accomplishment in a woman, if she knows her prayers well, and has got by heart some chapters of the Koran. Women being considered in the East as inferior creatures, to whom some learned commentators on the Koran deny even the entrance into Paradise, their husbands care little about their strict observance of religious rites, and many of them even dislike it, because it raises them to a nearer level with themselves; and it is remarked, that the woman makes a bad wife, who can once claim the respect to which she is entitled by the regular reading of prayers.
There are no sacred pigeons in this mosque, as in that at Mekka; but the quantity of woollen carpets spread in it, where the most dirty Arabs sit down by the side of the best dressed hadjys, have rendered it the favourite abode of millions of other animals less harmless than pigeons, and a great plague to all visiters, who transfer them to their private lodgings, which thus swarm with vermin.
This mosque being much smaller than that of Mekka, and a strict police kept up in it by the eunuchs, it is less infested with beggars and idle characters than the former. It should seem also, that the tomb of Mohammed inspires the people of Medina with much greater awe, and religious respect, than the Kaaba does those of Mekka; which sentiment deters them from approaching it with idle thoughts, or as a mere pastime: much more decorum is therefore observed within its precincts than within those of the Beitullah.
As at Mekka, a number of Khatybs, Imáms, Mueddins, and other persons belonging to the body of Olemas, are attached to the mosque. The olemas here are said to be more learned than their brethren of Mekka; and those of former days have produced many valuable writings. At present, however, there is less appearance of learning here than at Mekka. During my visits to the mosque I never saw a native Arab teaching knowledge of any kind, and only a few Turkish hadjys explaining some religious books in their own language, to a very few auditors, from whom they collected trifling sums, to defray the expenses of their journey home. Tousoun Pasha, the only one of his family who is not an avowed atheist, frequently attended those lectures, and sat in the same circle with the other persons present. I was told, that in the medrese called El Hamdye some public lectures are delivered; but I had no opportunity of ascertaining the fact. I believe that there is not in the whole Mohammedan empire a town so large as Medina where lectures are not held in the mosques; that this was formerly the case also in this town, is proved by the many pious foundations established exclusively for this purpose, the emoluments of which many olemas still enjoy without performing the duties.
The haram or mosque of Medina, like that at Mekka, possesses considerable property and annuities in every part of the empire. Its yearly income is divided among the eunuchs, the olemas, and the Ferráshyn. The daily expenses of lighting and repairing the building are made to account for the expenditure of the whole. As, excepting the precious articles contained in the Hedjra, no money-treasure has ever been kept in the mosque, a double advantage accrues to the inhabitants of the town, numbers of whom gain a comfortable livelihood, while all are exempted from the danger and the internal broils which would, no doubt, occur, were it known that a large sum of money might be obtained by seizing the mosque. The days are past, in the East, when a public treasure can be deposited in a place sufficiently sacred to guard it from the hands of plunderers. The smallest part of the income of all public foundations is spent in the relief of the poor, or the pious purpose to which it was destined: it serves merely to pamper a swarm of idle hypocrites, who have no other motives for acquiring a smattering of learning, than the hope of sharing in the illegal profits that accrue to the guardians or agents of these institutions.
Like most of the public buildings in the East, the approach to the mosque is choked on all sides by private habitations, so as to leave, in some parts, only an open street between them and the walls of the mosque; while in others the houses are built against the walls, and conceal them. Either three or five minarets (I forget which) are erected on different sides of the building; and one of them is said to stand on the spot where Bellal, the Abyssinian, the Mueddin of Mohammed, and one of his great favourites, used to call the faithful to prayers.
The following brief history of the mosque is taken from Samhoudy, the historian of Medina:
“The mosque of Medina was founded by Mohammed himself, and is therefore called his mosque, or Mesdjed-e’-Neby. When he reached the city, at that time an open settlement of Arabs, called Yathreb, (subsequently Medina) after his flight from Mekka, and was sure of being now among friends, he erected a small chapel on the spot where his camel had first rested in the town, having bought the ground from the Arabs; and he enclosed it with mud walls, upon which he placed a roof of palm-leaves, supported by the stems of palm-trees for pillars: this edifice he soon after enlarged, having laid the foundations with stone. Instead of the Mahrab, or niche, which is placed in mosques to show the direction in which the faithful ought to turn in their prayers, Mohammed placed a large stone, which was at first turned to the north, towards Jerusalem, and placed in the direction of the Kaaba of Mekka, in the second year of the Hedjra, when the ancient Kebly was changed.
“Omar ibn el Khatab widened the mosque with mud walls and palm-branches, and, instead of the stems of palms, he made pillars of mud. He first carried a wall round the Hedjra, or the place where the body of Mohammed had been deposited at his death, and which was at first enclosed only by palm-branches. The square enclosed by the walls of the mosque was increased to one hundred and forty pikes in length, and one hundred and twenty in breadth, A.H. 17.
“Othman built the walls of hewn stone: in A.H. 29, he renewed the earthen pillars, strengthening the new ones with hoops of iron, and made the roof of the precious Indian wood called Sadj. The square was enlarged to one hundred and sixty pikes by one hundred and fifty; and six gates were opened into it.
“Wolyd, he to whom Damascus owes its beautiful mosque, called Djama el Ammouy, further enlarged the Mesdjed-e’-Neby in A.H. 91.
Till then, the houses where the wives and daughter and female relations of Mohammed had resided, stood close to the Hedjra, beyond the precincts of the mosque, into which they had private gates. Notwithstanding the great opposition he encountered, Wolyd compelled the women to leave their houses, and to accept a fair price for them; he then razed them, and extended the wall of the mosque on that side. The Greek Emperor, with whom he happened to be at peace, sent him workmen from Constantinople, who assisted in the new building; [Makrisi, in his account of various sovereigns who performed the pilgrimage, says that the Greek Emperor (whom he does not name) sent one hundred workmen to Wolyd, and a present of a hundred thousand methkal of gold, together with forty loads of small cut stones, for a mosaic pavement.] several of whom, being Christians, behaved, as it is related, with great indecency; one of them, in particular, when in the act of defiling the very tomb of the Prophet, was killed by a stone which fell from the roof. New stone pillars were now placed in the mosque, with gilt capitals. The walls were cased with marble variously adorned, and parts of them likewise gilt, and the whole building thus completely renewed.
“About A.H. 160, the Khalife El Mohdy still further enlarged the enclosure, and made it two hundred and forty pikes in length; and in this state the mosque remained for several centuries.
“Hakem b’amr Illah, the mad King of Egypt, who sent one of his emissaries to destroy the black stone of the Kaaba, also made an unsuccessful attempt to take from the mosque of Medina Mohammed’s tomb, and transport it to Cairo. In A.H. 557, in the time of El Melek el Adel Noureddyn, king of Egypt, two Christians in disguise were discovered at Medina, who had made a subterraneous passage from a neighbouring house into the Hedjra, and stolen from thence articles of great value. Being put to the torture, they confessed having been sent by the King of Spain for that purpose; and they paid for their temerity with their lives. Sultan Noureddyn, after this, carried a trench round the Hedjra, and filled it with lead, to prevent similar attempts.
“In A.H. 654, a few months after the eruption of a volcano near the town, the mosque caught fire, and was burnt to the ground; but the Korans deposited in the Hedjra were saved. This accident was ascribed to the Persian sectaries of Beni Hosseyn, who were then the guardians of the tomb. In the following year its restoration was undertaken at the expense of the Khalife Mostasem Billah, Ibn el Montaser Billah, and the lord of Yemen, El Mothaffer Shams eddyn Yousef, and completed by El Dhaher Bybars, Sultan of Egypt, in A.H. 657. The dome over the tomb was erected in 678. Several kings of Egypt successively improved and enlarged the building, till A.H. 886, when it was again destroyed by fire occasioned by lightning. The destruction was complete; all the walls of the mosque, and part of those of the Hedjra, the roof, and one hundred and twenty columns fell: all the books in the mosque were destroyed; but the fire appears to have spared the interior of the tomb in the Hedjra. Kayd Beg, then king of Egypt, to whom that country and the Hedjaz owe a number of public works, completely rebuilt the mosque, as it now stands, in A.H. 892. He sent three hundred workmen from Cairo for that purpose. The interior of the Hedjra was cleared, and three deep graves were found in the inside, full of rubbish; but the author of this history, who himself entered it, saw no traces of tombs. The original place of Mohammed’s tomb was ascertained with great difficulty. The walls of the Hedjra were then rebuilt, and the iron railing placed round it which is now there. The dome was again raised over it; the gates were distributed as they now are; a new mambar, or pulpit, was sent as a present from Cairo, and the whole mosque assumed its present form. Since the above period, a few immaterial improvements have been made by the Othman Emperors of Constantinople.”
GARDENS and plantations, as I have already said, surround the town of Medina, with its suburbs, on three sides, and to the eastward and southward extend to the distance of six or eight miles. They consist principally of date-groves and wheat and barley fields; the latter usually enclosed with mud walls, and containing small habitations for the cultivators. Their houses in the immediate neighbourhood of the town are well built, often with a vestibule supported by columns, and a vaulted sitting-room adjoining, and a tank cased with stone in front of them. They are the summer residence of many families of the town, who make it a custom to pass there a couple of months in the hottest season. Few of the date-groves, unless those dispersed over the fields, are at all enclosed; and most of them are irrigated only by the torrents and winter rains. The gardens themselves are very low, the earth being taken from the middle parts of them, and heaped up round the walls, so as to leave the space destined for agriculture, like a pit, ten or twelve feet below the surface of the plain: this is done to get at a better soil, experience having shown that the upper stratum is much more impregnated with salt, and less fit for cultivation, than the lower. No great industry is any where applied; much ground continues waste; and even where the fields are laid out, no economy whatever is shown in the culture of them. Many spots are wholly barren; and the saline nature of the soil prevents the seed from growing. The ground towards the village of Koba, and beyond it, in a south and east direction, is said to consist of good earth, without any saline mixture; and in value it is consequently much higher than that near the town, which, after rains, I have seen completely covered for several days with a saline crust, partly deposited from the waters, and partly evaporated from the soil itself, in the more elevated spots which the waters do not reach.
Most of the gardens and plantations belong to the people of the town; and the Arabs who cultivate them (called nowakhele) are mostly farmers. The property of the gardens is either mulk or wakf; the former, if they belong to an individual; the latter, if they belong to the mosque, or any of the medreses or pious foundations, from which they are farmed, at very long leases, by the people of Medina themselves, who re-let them on shorter terms to the cultivators. They pay no duties whatever. Not the smallest land-tax, or miri, is levied; an immunity which, I believe, all the fertile oases of the Hedjaz enjoyed previous to the invasion by the Wahabys: these, however, had no sooner taken possession of the town, than they taxed the soil, according to their established rule. The fields were assessed, not by their produce in corn, but in dates, the number of date-trees in every field being usually proportionate to the fertility of the soil, and also to its crop of grain. From every erdeb of dates the Wahaby tax-gatherers took their quota either in kind or in money, according to the market-price they then bore. These regulations caused the Wahabys to be disliked here much more than they were at Mekka, where the inhabitants had no fields to be taxed; and where the tax which the Wahabys had imposed was dispensed with, or rather given up to the Sherif, the ancient governor of the town, as I have already remarked. The Mekkans, besides, carried on commerce, from which they could at all times derive some profit, independent of the advantages accruing to them from the foreign hadjys. The people of Medina, on the contrary, are very petty merchants; and their main support depends upon the pilgrims, the yearly stipends from Turkey, or their landed property. As they were obliged entirely to renounce the former, and were curtailed in the profits from the latter; and as the Wahabys showed much less respect for their venerated tomb than they did for the Beitullah at Mekka, we cannot wonder that their name is execrated by the people of Medina, and loaded with the most opprobrious epithets.
The principal produce of the fields [They are here called Beled, (plur. Boldan): the beled of such a one.] about Medina, is wheat and barley, some clover, and garden-fruits, but chiefly dates. Barley is grown in much larger quantity than wheat; and barley-bread forms a principal article of food with the lower classes. Its harvest is in the middle of March. The crops are very thin; but the produce is of a good quality, and sells in the market of Medina at about fifteen per cent higher than the Egyptian. After harvest, the fields are left fallow till the next year; for though there is sufficient water in the wells [Every garden or field has its well, from whence the water is drawn up by asses, cows, or camels, in large leathern buckets. I believe there are no fields that are not regularly watered, and the seed of none is left merely to the chance of the winter-rains.] to produce a second irrigation, the soil is too poor to suffer it, without becoming entirely exhausted. No oats are sown here, nor any where else in the Hedjaz. The fruit-trees are found principally on the side of the village of Koba. Pomegranates and grapes are said to be excellent, especially the former: there are likewise some peaches, bananas, and, in the gardens of Koba, a few water-melons, and vegetables, as spinach, turnips, leeks, onions, carrots, and beans, but in very small quantities. The nebek-tree, producing the lotus, is extremely common in the plain of Medina, as well as in the neighbouring mountains; and incredible quantities of its fruit are brought to market in March, when the lower classes make it a prime article of food. But the staple produce of Medina is dates, for the excellence of which fruit this neighbourhood is celebrated throughout Arabia. The date-trees stand either in the enclosed fields, where they are irrigated together with the seeds in the ground, or in the open plain, where they are watered by the rains only: the fruit of the latter, though less abundant, is more esteemed. Numbers of them grow wild on the plain, but every tree has its owner. Their size is, in general, inferior to that of the Egyptian palm-tree, fed by the rich soil of the country, and the waters of the Nile; but their fruit is much sweeter, and has a more fragrant smell.
The many different uses to which almost every part of the date-tree is applied, have already been mentioned by several travellers; they render it as dear to the settled Arab, as the camel is to the Bedouin.
Mohammed, in one of the sayings recorded of him, compares the virtuous and generous man to this noble tree. “He stands erect before his Lord; in his every action he follows the impulse received from above, and his whole life is devoted to the welfare of his fellow-creatures.” [See also the 1st Psalm, v. 3. —“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,” &c.] The people of the Hedjaz, like the Egyptians, make use of the leaves, the outer and inner bark of the trunk, and the fleshy substance at the root of the leaves where they spring from the trunk; and, besides this, they use the kernels of the fruit, as food for their cattle: they soak them for two days in water, when they become softened, and then give them to camels, cows, and sheep, instead of barley; and they are said to be much more nutritive than that grain. There are shops at Medina in which nothing else is sold but date-kernels; and the beggars are continually employed, in all the main streets, in picking up those that are thrown away. In the province of Nedjed the Arabs grind the kernels for the same purpose; but this is not done in the Hedjaz.
Various kinds of dates are found at Medina, as well as in all other fruitful vallies of this country; and every place, almost, has its own species, which grows no where else. I have heard that upwards of one hundred different sorts of dates grow in the immediate neighbourhood of the town; the author of the description of Medina mentions one hundred and thirty. Of the most common sorts are the Djebely, the cheapest, and I believe the most universally spread in the Hedjaz; the Heloua; the Heleya, a very small date, not larger than a mulberry; it has its name from its extraordinary sweetness, in which it does not yield to the finest figs from Smyrna, and like them is covered, when dried, by a saccharine crust. The inhabitants relate, that Mohammed performed a great miracle with this date: he put a stone of it into the earth, which immediately took root, grew up, and within five minutes a full-grown tree, covered with fruit, stood before him. Another miracle is related of the species called El Syhány, a tree of which addressed a loud “Salam Aleykum” to the Prophet, as he passed under it. The Birny is esteemed the most wholesome, as it is certainly the easiest of digestion: it was the favourite of Mohammed, who advised the Arabs to eat seven of its fruit every morning before breakfast. The Djeleby is the scarcest of them all: it is about three inches in length, and one in breadth, and has a peculiarly agreeable taste, although not so sweet as the Heleya. It seems that it grows with great difficulty; for there are, at most, not more than one hundred trees of this species, and they are less fertile than any of the other. They grow in no part of the Hedjaz, but here and in the groves of Yembo el Nakhel. The price of the Birny is twenty paras per keile, a measure, containing at least one hundred and twenty dates, while the Djeleby is sold at eight dates for twenty paras: they are in great request with the hadjys, who usually carry some of these dates home, to present to their friends, as coming from the city of the Prophet; and small boxes, holding about one hundred of them, are made at Medina, for their conveyance.
Dates form an article of food by far the most essential to the lower classes of Medina: their harvest is expected with as much anxiety, and attended with as much general rejoicings, as the vintage in the south of Europe; and if the crop fails, which often happens, as these trees are seldom known to produce abundantly for three or four successive years, or is eaten up by the locusts, universal gloom overspreads the population, as if a famine were apprehended.
One species of the Medina dates, the name of which I have forgotten, remains perfectly green although ripe, and dried; another retains a bright saffron colour: these dates are threaded on strings, and sold all over the Hedjaz, where they go by the name of Kalayd es’ Sham, or necklaces of the North; and the young children frequently wear them round the neck. The first dates are eaten in the begining of June, and at that period of their growth are called Rotab; but the general date-harvest is at the end of that month. In Egypt it is a month later. Dates are dressed in many different ways by the Arabs; boiled in milk, broiled with butter; or reduced to a thick pulp by boiling in water, over which honey is poured; and the Arabs say that a good housewife will daily furnish her lord, for a month, a dish of dates differently dressed.
In these gardens a very common tree is the Ithel, a species of tamarisk, cultivated for its hard wood, of which the Arabs make their camels’ saddles, and every utensil that requires strong handles.
In the gardens we seldom find the ground perfectly level, and the cultivation is often interrupted by heaps of rocks. On the N.W. and W. sides of the town, the whole plain is so rocky as to defeat all attempts at improvement. The cultivable soil is clay, mixed with a good deal of chalk and sand, and is of a grayish white colour: in other parts it consists of a yellow loam, and also of a substance very similar to bole-earth; small conical pieces of the latter, about an inch and a half long, and dried in the sun, are sold, suspended on a piece of riband, to the visiters of Medina. It is related that Mohammed cured a Bedouin of Beni Hareth, and several others, of a fever by washing their bodies with water in which this earth had been dissolved; and the pilgrims are eager to carry home a memorial of this miracle. The earth is taken from a ditch at a place called El Medshounye, in the neighbourhood of the town.
All the rocky places, as well as the lower ridge of the northern mountainous chain, are covered by a layer of volcanic rock: it is of a bluish black colour, very porous, yet heavy, and, hard, not glazed, like schlacken, and contains frequently small white substances in its pores of the size of a pin’s head, which I never found crystallised. The plain has a completely black colour from this rock, and the small pieces with which it is overspread. I met with no lava, although the nature of the ground seemed strongly to indicate the neighbourhood of a volcano. Had I enjoyed better health, I should have made some excursions to the more distant parts of the gardens of Medina, to look for specimens of minerals; but the first days of my stay were taken up in making out a plan of the town, and gaining information on its inhabitants; and I was not afterwards capable of the slightest bodily exertion. It was not till my return to Cairo, that, in reading the description of Medina, which I had purchased at the former place, (and of which, and of the descriptions of Mekka, I could never find copies in the Hedjaz, notwithstanding all my endeavours,) I met with the account of an earthquake and a volcanic eruption which took place in the immediate neighbourhood of Medina about the middle of the thirteenth century; and upon inquiry I learnt from a man of Medina, established at Cairo, that the place of the stream of lava is still shown, at about one hour E. of the town. During my stay, I remember to have once made the observation to my cicerone, in going with him to Djebel Ohod, that the country appeared as if all burnt by fire; but I received an unmeaning reply; no hint or information afterwards in the town which could lead me to suppose that I was near so interesting, a phenomenon of nature.
Some extracts from the work to which I have alluded, describing this eruption, may be thought worthy of the reader’s attention, and are given in the subjoined note.
[“On the first of the month Djomad el Akhyr, in A.H. 654, a slight earthquake was felt in the town; on the third, another stronger shock took place, during the day; about two o’clock in the ensuing morning, repeated violent shocks awakened the inhabitants, increasing in force during the rest of the morning, and continuing at intervals till Friday the sixth of the month. Many houses and walls tumbled down. On Friday morning a thundering noise was heard, and at mid-day the fire burst forth. On the spot where it issued from the earth a smoke first arose, which completely darkened the sky. To the eastward of the town, towards the close of day, the flames were visible, a fiery mass of immense size, which bore the appearance of a large town, with walls, battlements, and minarets, ascending to heaven. Out of this flame issued a river of red and blue fire, accompanied with the noise of thunder. The burning waves carried whole rocks before them, and farther on heaped them up like high mounds. The river was approaching nearer to the town, when Providence sent a cool breeze, which arrested its further progress on this side. All the inhabitants of Medina passed that night in the great mosque; and the reflection of the fire changed that night into day-light. The fiery river took a northern direction, and terminated at the mountain called Djebel Wayra, standing in the valley called Wady el Shathat, which is a little to the eastward of Djebel Ohod [two miles and a half from Medina]. For five days the flame was seen ascending, and the river remained burning for three months. Nobody could approach it on account of its heat. It destroyed all rocks; but, (says the historian,) this being the sacred territory of Medina, where Mohammed had ordained that no trees should be cut within a certain space, it spared all the trees it met with in its course. The entire length of the river was four farsakh, or twelve miles; the breadth of it four miles; and its depth, eight or nine feet. The valley of Shathat was quite choked up; and the place where it is thus choked, called from this circumstance El Sedd, is still to be seen. The flame was seen at Yembo and at Mekka. An Arab of Teyma (a small town in the N.E. Desert from six to eight days’ journey from Medina) wrote a letter during night by the light reflected from it to that distance.
“In the same year, a great inundation of the Tigris happened, by which half the town of Baghdad was destroyed; and at the close of this same year the temple of Medina itself was burnt to the ground. “The Arabs were prepared to witness such a conflagration; for they remembered the saying of Mohammed, that ‘the day of judgment will not happen until a fire shall appear in the Hedjaz, which shall cause the necks of the camels at Basra to shine.’”]
From this account the stream of lava must be sought at about one hour distant to the E. of the town. The volcanic productions which cover the immediate neighbourhood of the town and the plain to the west of it, are probably owing to former eruptions of the same volcano; for nothing is said, in the relation, of stones having been cast out of the crater to any considerable distance, and the whole plain to the westward, as far as Wady Akyk, three miles distant, is covered with the above-described volcanic productions. I have little doubt that on many other points of that great chain of mountains, similar volcanoes have existed. The great number of warm springs found at almost every station of the road to Mekka, authorises such a conjecture.
I am here induced, by a passage in the extract contained in the last note, to offer the following remark. According to the strict precept of Mohammed, that part of the territory of Medina which encompassed the town in a circle of twelve miles, having on the S. side Djebel Ayre, and on the N. side Djebel Thor, (a small mountain just behind Djebel Ohod,) as the boundary, should be considered sacred; no person should be slain therein, except aggressors, and enemies, in self-defence, or infidels who polluted it; and neither game should be killed nor trees cut in such a holy territory. This interdiction, however, is at present completely set aside; trees are cut, game is killed, bloody affrays happen in the town itself and in its immediate vicinity; and though an avowed follower of any other religion than the Mohammedan is not permitted to enter the gates of the town, yet several instances occurred, during my stay there, (and while I resided at Yembo,) of Greek Christians employed in the commissariat of the army of Tousoun Pasha encamping within gun-shot of Medina, previous to their departure for the head-quarters of the Pasha, then in the province of Kasym.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48