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

Appendix No. VI.

Description of the Desert from the Neighbourhood of Damascus towards the Euphrates.

From the Wady Serhhan northward and north-eastward, the whole desert is called El Hammad (ﺍﻟﺤﻤّﺎﺩ), till it reaches the neighbourhood of the Euphrates, where the broad valley of the river is by the Arabs called Oerak (Irak). That name therefore is not exclusively applied to the Djezire or island between the Tigris and the Euphrates, but (in the Bedouin acceptation of the word at least), to the fertile country also between the desert and the river’s right bank.

At the end of the Ghouta or Merdj of Damascus, begins the Djebel Haouran,1 which takes a south direction; to the north runs the Djebel Ruak (towards Tedmor). The intermediate plain, which is about a day and a half in breadth, is called Ard Esseikal (ﺍﺭﺽ ﺍﻟﺴﻴﻘﻞ), having journied for two days in this plain, the mountains to the S. are no more visible, and a waterless plain lies before the traveller, which according to the camels strength may be crossed in seven, eight, or ten days. Water is met with on the road, only in winter, when rainwater collects in the low grounds, and Ghadirs. There are no hills or Wadys. Small pipe heads, in the eastern fashion, and made of stone, are frequently found in the plain. The Arabs say that an ancient tribe called Beni Tamour (ﺗﻌﻤﻮﺭ ﺑﻨﻲ) fabricated them. At the end of the number of days above-mentioned, a high insulated hill is met with, which is visible all round to the distance of two days journey. The Arabs call it Djebel Laha (ﻟَﻬﺎ ﺟﺒﻞ). It consists of sandy earth: there are no springs near it. From the Djebel Laha run two Wadys towards the Euphrates, the one called Wady Haouran (ﺣﻮﺭﺍﻥ ﻭﺍﺩﻱ), begins on the hill’s western side; the other Wady Tebbel (ﺗﺒّﻞ ﻭﺍﺩﻱ), on its northern side. They run in a parallel direction, till they unite in the vicinity of the Euphrates. To the N.W. of the Laha, at one day’s march, is another Wady, called Souan (ﺳﻮﺍﻥ ﻮﺍﺩﻱ), which takes the same direction with the other two, and joins them, near their termination. In the middle of the Wady Tebbel is spring water. To the E. of Laha, about three days from it, is a low ground called Kaar (ﻗﻌﺮ) (the general name given to such places), which is four or five days in circuit. It extends towards the Euphrates. The descent into it is two hundred or two hundred and fifty yards. There are two watering places in it, at a good day’s march from each other; Rahh (ﺭﺍﺡ), with a number of springs, and Molassa (ﻣُﻠَﺴّﺎ). There is always some verdure in the Kaar, and when the Aeneze pass that way, the whole tribe encamps there. From Molass it is one day’s journey to Gebesse, a poor village in a N.E. direction, from thence to Hit one. Hit, or Ith, is a well known station and village on the banks of the Euphrates.

The Djebel Ruak and the Djebel Abiad (which comes from the west) are united behind Tedmor with the Djebel Belaes (ﺑﻻﻳﺲ) which continues its course in a northerly direction, (somewhat to the E.) for two days. There is water in the Belaes but no villages. This mountain at the end of two days changes its name to Djebel Bishr (ﺑﻴﺸﺮ ﺣﺒﻞ), and terminates after one day’s journey in the Zor (ﺯﻭﺭ), which is the name of the broad valley of the Euphrates, on its right bank, from Byr down to Aene and Hit. There are sources in the Bishr, and ruins of villages. It produces also a tree which is about eight feet high, and whose root has so little hold, that the smallest effort will throw it down.

1 This northern part of the Djebel Haouran is called Es-Szaffa (ﺍﻟﺼَﻔّﺎ). On the eastern side of it is a pass called Bab es-Szaffa, where the mountain is entered by a deep cleft in the perpendicular rock, about two yards broad. The passage is about one hundred yards long, it leads to a plain in the middle of the mountain, also called Szaffa, which has no other known entrance, and is two days in circuit. This pass and plain are famed among the Arabs, who often retire there, before the troops of the Pasha of Damascus. There is no water in the Szaffa, except the ponds formed by the winter-rains. The earth is fertile and is occasionally sown by the Arabs when they remain there a sufficient time.

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