Travels in Arabia, by John Lewis Burckhardt

Preface of the Editor.

SOME years have now elapsed since two distinct portions of Burckhardt’s works (his Travels in Nubia and Syria) were offered to the public, and most favourably received; their success being insured not only by instrinsic merit, but by the celebrity of their editor as a scholar and antiquary, a traveller and a geographer. It must not however be inferred, from any delay in publishing the present volume, that its contents are less worthy of notice than those parts which have already proved so interesting and instructive to a multitude of readers. It was always intended that this Journal, and other writings of the same lamented author, should issue successively from the press: “There still remain,” says Colonel Leake, in his Preface to the Syrian Journal (p. ii.) “manuscripts sufficient to fill two volumes: one of these will consist of his Travels in Arabia, which were confined to the Hedjaz or Holy Land of the Muselmans, the part least accessible to Christians; the fourth volume will contain very copious remarks on the Arabs of the Desert, and particularly the Wahabys.”

Respecting the portion now before the reader, Colonel Leake, in another place, expresses a highly flattering opinion. “Burckhardt,” says he, “transmitted to the Association the most accurate and complete account of the Hedjaz, including the cities of Mekka and Medina, which has ever been received in Europe. His knowledge of the Arabic language, and of Mohammedan manners, had enabled him to assume the Muselman character with such success, that he resided at Mekka during the whole time of the pilgrimage, and passed through the various ceremonies of the occasion, without the smallest suspicion having arisen as to his real character.” (See the Life of Burckhardt prefixed to his Travels in Nubia, p. lvii. 4to. edition, 1819).

Recommended so strongly, the work of a less eminent traveller would be entitled to our notice: this presents itself with another claim; for the manuscript Journal was partly corrected and prepared for publication by the learned editor of Burckhardt’s former writings. But some important literary occupations prevented Colonel Leake from superintending the progress of this volume through the press. His plan, however, has been almost invariably adopted by the actual editor; particularly in expressing with scrupulous fidelity the author’s sentiments on all occasions, and in retaining, without any regard to mere elegance of style or selection of terms, his original language, wherever an alteration was not absolutely necessary to reconcile with our system of phraseology and grammatical construction certain foreign idioms which had crept into his English writings. [It was thought expedient, from circumstances of typographical convenience tending to facilitate and expedite the publication of this volume, that the Arabic characters which in the original manuscript follow immediately certain words, or appear between the lines or in the margin, should here be placed together at the end, as an Index, with references to the pages wherein they occur.]

The map prefixed to this volume might almost appear superfluous, since the positions of Djidda, Mekka, Medina, Tayf, and Yembo, the chief places of Hedjaz visited by Burckhardt, are indicated with accuracy in the excellent maps that illustrate his Nubian and Syrian Travels. But as the reader of this volume cannot reasonably be supposed to have constantly at hand, for immediate reference, the two former portions of our author’s works, a map is here given, in the construction and delineation of which Mr. Sydney Hall has attended to every suggestion offered by the editor: at whose recommendation the names of places are spelt after Burckhardt’s manner, however different from that more usual among us. [Thus in the map as in the letter-press of this volume, Mekka might have been spelt Mecca; and Hejaz, Jidda, Nejed, would as well express the proper sounds of those words as Hedjaz, Djidda, Nedjed; and at the same time approximate more closely to the original Arabic orthography, by which our English j (as in Jar, James, &c.) is represented without the assistance of a d; although the prefixing of this letter to the j might prevent a Frenchman from pronouncing it as in jour, jamais, &c.]

By the editor’s advice, also, several places situate beyond the Eastern limits of Hedjaz are included in this map; since Burckhardt, although he did not visit them himself, has given some original itineraries, in which they are mentioned.

That those places do not belong to the region properly denominated Hedjaz, is evident; but how far this region extends eastward cannot easily be determined; and the same difficulty respecting it occurs in various directions. The editor, that he might ascertain by what boundaries we are justified in supposing Hedjaz to be separated from other provinces of Arabia, consulted a multiplicity of authors, both European and Oriental. The result, however, of his inquiry has not proved satisfactory; for to each of the neighbouring countries certain writers have assigned towns, stations, and districts, which by others of equal authority are placed in Hedjaz.

Such confusion may partly have arisen from the different statements of the number, extent, and names of divisions comprised within the same space; this being occupied, according to European writers, by three great regions, the Stony, the Desert, and the Happy Arabia; while Oriental geographers partition it into two, five, six, seven, or more provinces, under denominations by no means corresponding in signification to the epithets above mentioned, which we have borrowed from the Greeks and Romans.

That it would be a most difficult, or scarcely possible task, to fix precisely the limits of each Arabian province, is acknowledged by that excellent geographer, D’Anville; but he seems disposed to confound the region comprising Mekka, Djidda, and Yembo, (places which, as we know, are unequivocally in Hedjaz,) with Arabia Felix. [D’Anville, Géographie Ancienne.] D’Herbelôt, in one place, declares Hedjaz to be Arabia Petraea, [See the Bibliothèque Orientale in “Hegiaz ou Higiaz”—“Nom d’une province de l’Arabie, que nous appelons Pierreuse,” &c. — Richardson also, in his Arabic and Persian Dictionary, explains Hijaz by “Mecca and the adjacent country, Arabia Petraea;” and Demetrias Alexandrides, who translated some portions of Abulfeda’s Geography into Greek, (printed at Vienna, 1807, 8vo.) always renders Hedjaz by [Greek text] and in another he identifies it with Arabia Deserta. [“Les Provinces de Tahama et d’Iemamah sont comme au coeur du pays; celle de Hegiaz est devenue la plus célebre à cause des villes de la Mecque et de Medine, et fait avec les deux dernières que nous avons nommées ce que nous appelons l’Arabie Déserte.”— Biblioth. Orient. in “Arab.”]]

Among the Eastern writers, some divide Arabia into two parts, Yemen and Hedjaz; others into five great provinces, Yemen, Hedjaz, Nedjed, Tehama, and Yemama. Bahrein has also been included; and Aroudh is named as an Arabian province, but appears to be the same as Yemama. Hadramaut, Mahrah, Shejr, Oman, and other subdivisions have likewise been reckoned independent provinces by some, while many confound them with the greater regions, Yemen and Hedjaz. To the latter, indeed, are often assigned even the extensive countries of Nedjed, Tehama, and Yemama.

Respecting the boundaries of all these provinces, much embarrassment has arisen from contradictory statements made by several of the most eminent Oriental geographers; Edrisi, Abulfeda, Al Madaieni, Ibn Haukal, Ibn el Vardi, Bakoui, and others. Mr. Rommel, a very ingenious commentator on Abulfeda’s “Arabia,” is frequently obliged to acknowledge the difficulty of ascertaining where one division begins and another terminates. With regard, more particularly, to the boundaries of Hedjaz, Abulfeda is silent; but it appears that his opinion, so far as Mr. Rommel could collect from incidental accounts of places assigned to this province and adjoining territories, did not in all respects coincide with the statements of other celebrated geographers. [See “Christophori Rommel Abulfedea Arabiae Descriptio, commentario perpetuo illustrata,” Gottingae, 1802, 4to. “Ambitum et fines hujus provinciae Abulfeda designare supersedet. — Al Madaieni haec profert: ‘Hhegiaz est provincia complectens illum tractum montium qui inde ab Yaman expansus usque ad Sham (Syriam) protenditur. In eo tractu sitae sunt Madinah et Amman’— Cum hoc dissidere Abulfedam non dubium est. — Ibn al Arabi: “Quod est inter Tehamah et Nagd illud est Hhegiaz.’— Fusius Ibn Haukal: ‘Quod protenditur a limite Serrain urbis sitae ad mare Kolzum adusque viciniam Madian, et inde reflectendo per limitem tendentem in ortum urbis Hhegr, ad montem Tai trunseundo juxta tergum Yamamah ad mare Persicum, hoc totum ad Hhegiaz pertinet.’ Et alio loco: ‘Hhegiaz ea est provincia, quae Maccah et Madinah et Yamamah cum earundem territoriis comprehendit.’— Ibn al Vardi Hhegiaz appellat provinciam secus Sinum Arabicum et a regione Habyssiniae sitam — Bakui eam inter Yaman et Syriam posuisse satis habet, simul longitudinem ejus mensis itinere emetiens.”—(pp. 57–68.)]

It may perhaps be asked, why our inquisitive traveller did not learn from some intelligent native the precise extent and limits of Hedjaz? To this question the following passage (written by Burckhardt, near the end of his journal, and probably intended for the Appendix,) may serve as a reply, and show that even the present inhabitants do not agree in their application of the name Hedjaz. “This,” says he, “is not used by the Arabian Bedouins in the usual acceptation of the word. They call Hedjaz exclusively the mountainous country, comprehending many fertile valleys south of Tayf, and as far as the dwelling-places of the Asyr Arabs, where the coffee-tree begins to be cultivated abundantly. This is the general application of the term among all the Bedouins of those countries; and the town’s-people of Mekka and Djidda also use it in that sense among themselves. But when they converse with foreigners, whose notions they politely adopt, the name Hedjaz is bestowed on the country between Tayf, Mekka, Medina, Yembo, and Djidda. The Bedouins give the name of El Ghor, or the low-land, to the whole province westward of the mountains from Mekka up to Beder and Yembo; while those mountains themselves northward of Tayf are called by them Hedjaz-es’- Shám, or the Northern Hedjaz.” [This would confirm the derivation of Hedjaz (mentioned by Golius) from ahhtedjezet, “quod (provincia Hhegiaz) colligata et constricta montibus sit:” but others derive it from the Arabic word yehedjez, because Hedjaz divides Nedjed from Tehama, or because it connects Yemen with Syria, between which it is situate. As even the shortest note written by Burckhardt must be considered valuable, a few lines, that immediately follow the passage above quoted from his Journal, are here given: “I compute the population of the province usually called Hedjaz, comprising the whole territory of the Sherif of Mekka, together with that of Medina and the towns situated therein, and all the Bedouin tribes, at about two hundred and fifty thousand souls; a number which, I am certain, is rather over than under rated; the greater part being the Bedouin inhabitants of the mountains, and principally the strong tribes of Beni Harb.”]

On reference to pages 396 and 397, a remark will be found concerning the different application of this name (Hedjaz) among those who inhabit the sea-coast and those Bedouins who occupy the interior country; and it will even appear that doubts have been entertained whether the sacred city Medina does not belong rather to Nedjed than to Hedjaz.

From statements so vague as those above quoted, an attempt to trace exactly the limits of any country must be vain and fallacious: that region, therefore, which borders on the Red Sea, and which the natives, we know, entitle unequivocally Hedjaz, is marked in our map, as in almost every other published hitherto, merely with that name, its first letter being placed where the editor supposes Arabia Petraea to terminate, and its last letter where he would separate Hedjaz from Tehama. [Burckhardt (Syrian Travels p. 511.) quotes Makrizi, the Egyptian historian, who says, in his chapter on Aila, (Akaba): “It is from hence that the Hedjaz begins: in former times it was the frontier place of the Greeks, &c.”]

To those who seek the most accurate information respecting places but little known, this work is sufficiently recommended by the name of its author, and of the country which it describes. “The manners of the Hejazi Arabs have continued,” says Sir William Jones, “from the time of Solomon to the present age.” [Discourse on the Arabs, Asiat. Researches, vol. ii.] “Our notions of Mecca must be drawn,” says Gibbon, “from the Arabians. As no unbeliever is permitted to enter the city, our travellers are silent; and the short hints of Thevenot are taken from the suspicious mouth of an African renegado.” [Roman Empire, chap. 50. note 18.]

But the reader of this preface must not be withholden from perusing Burckhardt’s authentic and interesting account of the places which he visited, of the extraordinary ceremonies which he witnessed, and of the people among whom he lived in the character of a Muselman.

Some short notices, written on a detached leaf, but evidently intended by the author as an introduction to his Journal, are given accordingly in the next page: for, that the Arabian Travels should appear under such a form as Burckhardt himself probably wished them to assume, has been throughout a favourite object of the editor,


London, January, 1829.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51