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

Appendix No. IV.

Description of the Route from Boszra in the Haouran, to the Djebel Shammor.

ON the western side of the Djebel Haouran, at a small distance from its southern extremity, lies Boszra. On the eastern foot and declivity of Djebel Haouran, are upwards of two hundred villages built of black stone in ruins, at a quarter or half an hour’s distance from each other. The country beyond them is completely level and is called El Hammad (ﺍﻟﺤﺪﺍﺩ ﺍﺭﺽ). About five hours to the S. of the Djebel, lies the half ruined town of Szalkhat (ﺻﻠﺨﺖ); it has a large castle, with strong walls, several cisterns and Birkets of rainwater. From that place begins the Wady Serhhan (ﺳﺮﺣﺎﻥ), which runs to the E.S.E. It is a low ground, with sloping sides; at every three or four hours a well is met with in the Wady, with a little grass round it, but even in winter there is no running stream; though water is found in many places at a small depth below the surface of the earth. The traveller frequently passes in that Wady small hills (Tels), which consist of thin layers of salt (about six inches thick), alternating with layers of earth of the same thickness. The Arabs sell the salt in the villages of the Haouran. Following the course of that Wady, which at length takes a more southerly direction, you arrive, after ten or eleven days journey (with camels about eight days), in the country called Djof (ﺟﻮﻑ). The Tels about Djof are called Kara (ﻗﺎﺭﻩ). The Djof is a collection of seven or eight villages, built at a distance of ten minutes or a quarter of an hour from each other, in an easterly line. The ground is pure sand. These villages are called Souk (or markets), the principal of them are: Souk Ain Um Salim (ﺳﺎﻟﻴﻢ ﺍﻡ ﻋﻴﻦ ﺳﻮﻕ), Souk Eddourra (ﺍﻟﺬﺭﻉ ﺳﻮﻕ), Souk Esseideiin (ﺍﻟﺴﺪﻳﻴﻦ ﺳﻮﻕ), Souk Douma (ﺩﻭﻣﺎ ﺳﻮﻕ), Souk Mared (ﻣﺎﺭﺪ ﺳﻮﻕ). These villages are all built alike: the houses are built round the inside of a large square mud wall, which has but one entrance. This wall therefore serves as a common back wall to all the houses, which amount in some of the Souks to one hundred and twenty, in others from eighty to one hundred. The middle part of the enclosed square is empty. The roofs of the houses are made of palm wood, and their walls of bricks, called Leben, dried in the sun, which are about two feet square, and one foot thick. When strangers arrive, their camels remain in the middle of the Souk, and they themselves lodge at the different houses. Round the Souk are gardens of palm trees, which the inhabitants call Houta (ﺣﻮﻃﻪ): in several of these are deep wells, the water from some of which is conducted by small canals (ﺳﺎﻘﻲ) into the gardens of those, who not having any wells are obliged to purchase water from their neighbours. She camels are employed to draw the water out of the wells; this is done by tying a rope round the camel, which walks away from the well till the bucket, which is fastened to the other end of the rope, is drawn up, and empties its contents into the canals. These she camels are called Sanie (ﺳﺎﻧﻴﻪ). Most of the inhabitants of the Djof are either petty merchants or artificers; they work in leather, wood, iron, and make boots, sword hilts, horse shoes, lance heads, &c. which they sell to the Arabs, together with the produce of their palm trees; in return they, take camels. They sow very little wheat; the small extent of ground which they cultivate is worked with the hand; for they have no ploughs. They eat very little bread, living upon dates, butter, and flesh meat. Besides the game which they hunt in the neighbourhood, they eat camels flesh almost daily, and they even devour the ostriches and wild dogs, the former of which are sold to them by the Arabs Sherarat. They preserve their dates in large earthen jars for the use of the great Arab tribes which often pass here; of these the Rowalla come almost every year: before the time of the Wahabi, the El Hessene and Beni Szakher likewise visited the Djof.

The Felahein of the Djof are called Karaune (ﻗﺮﻭﻧﻪ), a name which in the neighbourhood of Damascus is given to all Syrians or those who are presumed to be of Syrian origin. Although Fellahs, the people of the Djof intermarry with Arab girls, whence it happens that many Arabs of Shammor and Serhan have settled here and become Fellahs; and they continue notwithstanding, to be looked upon in their respective tribes by the heads of families, as proper husbands for their daughters. The workmen or artificers (ُﺻﻨﻊ), on the contrary, never can marry Arab girls, nor even the daughters of the Fellahs, their immediate neighbours; they intermarry exclusively amongst themselves, or amongst the workmen who have settled in the Bedouin encampments.

Every Souk has a Sheikh or chief; the name of the present grand Sheikh is Ibn Deraa (ﺩﺭﻉ ﺇﺑﻦ). It is about twenty years since they were converted to the Wahabi creed. Their grand Sheikh collects the tribute or Zika (ﺯﻛﺎ), for Ibn Saoud, and lodges it in a particular house; after taking from it the necessary expense for entertaining strangers, or for provisions for Wahabi corps which pass by, he sends the remainder to Saoud. The people of the Djof are all armed with firelocks; they have no horses.

At Souk Mared is an ancient tower of remarkable structure. Its height, I was told, is greater than the Minaret near my lodgings at Damascus, which I should compute at about forty-five feet. Its basis is square, it rises in steps and ends in a point; I had already heard at Aleppo from some travelling Turks, that there were in the desert, towards Deraye, pyramids like those of Cairo; by which they probably meant the Souk Mared. The door of the tower is about ten feet high and eight broad; but it is half filled up. The Kasr gate of Salamia,1 which is of wood with iron bars, has been transported here by the Arabs to serve as a gate for the tower. The inside is not paved. There are three floors, and staircases leading from one to the other. There are very small windows in the sides of the tower, which seem rather to have been destined for loop holes for musquetty. The walls of the tower are built of large square white stones, and are in good preservation. The two floors one over the other are not vaulted. On the top of the tower a watchman constantly resides, to give notice of the arrival of strangers. To the E. and somewhat to the S. from Djof, three hours, begins the plain called Eddhahi or Taous (ﻃﻌﻮﺲ ﺍﻟﺼﺎﺣﻲ), a sandy desert full of small hills or Tels, from which it derives the name of (ﻃﻌﻮﺲ). Although there is no water in the plain, a tree is very abundant which the Arabs call Ghada (ﻏﺪﺍ), about eight feet high; the people of Djof burn it as fire wood. Near the trees grows in spring a kind of grass, which in summer soon dries up, it is called Nassy (ﻧَﺴّﻲ), and resembles wheat. Wild cows (ﻭﺤﺶ ﺑﻘﺮ) are found here. My man told me that they resemble in every particular the domestic cow. The Arabs Sherarat kill them, eat them, and make of the leather targets, which are much esteemed (ﺩَﺭَﻗﻪ). Of their horns the people of Djof make knife handles. Wild dogs, Derboun (ﺩَﺭﺑﻮﻥ), of a black colour, are likewise met with here; the Arabs kill and eat them. It is principally in the Dhahy that ostriches breed, and great quantities of them are killed there. This desert is moreover inhabited by a large lizard called Dhab (ﺿَﺐ), of one foot and a half in length with a tail of half a foot, exactly resembling in shape the common lizard, but larger. The Arabs eat them in defiance of the laws of their prophet; the scaly skin serves them instead of a goat skin to preserve their butter in. These Arabs likewise eat all the eagles (ﺭﺧﻢ) and crows which they can kill. The plain of Eddhahi continues for three days camel’s march (with a caravan it would take six days), without any water, extending as far as the chain of mountains called Djebel Shammor (ﺷَﻤّﺮ) which runs in an easterly direction five or six days journey. From where it ends to Deraye, the seat of Ibn Saoud, are ten days more. The Djebel Shammor is inhabited by the Arabs Shammor, many of whom have become Fellahs, and live in villages in these mountains. They are true and faithful Wahabis.

1 Salamia is a ruin eight or ten hours S.E. of Hamah.

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