ABOUT the beginning of April 1816 Cairo was again visited by the plague. The Franks and most of the Christians shut themselves up; but as I neither wished to follow their example nor to expose myself unnecessarily in the town, I determined to pass my time, during the prevalence of the disease, among the Bedouins of Mount Sinai, to visit the gulf of Akaba, and, if possible, the castle of Akaba, to which, as far as I know, no traveller has ever penetrated. Intending to pass some days at the convent of Mount Sinai, I procured a letter of introduction to the monks from their brethren at Cairo; for without this passport no stranger is ever permitted to enter the convent; I was also desirous of having a letter from the Pasha of Egypt to the principal Sheikh of the tribes of Tor, over whom, as I knew by former experience, he exercises more than a nominal authority. With the assistance of this paper, I hoped to be able to see a good deal of the Bedouins of the peninsula in safety, and to travel in their company to Akaba. Such letters of recommendation are in general easily procured in Syria and Egypt, though they are often useless, as I found on several occasions during my first journey into Nubia, as well as in my travels in Syria, where the orders of the Pasha of Damascus were much slighted in several of the districts under his dominion.
A fortnight before I set out for Mount Sinai I had applied to the Pasha through his Dragoman, for a letter to the Bedouin Sheikh; but I was kept waiting for it day after day, and after thus delaying my departure a whole week, I was at last obliged to set off without it. The want of it was the cause of some embarrassment to me, and prevented me from reaching Akaba. It is not improbable that on being applied to for the letter, the Pasha gave the same answer as he gave at Tayf, when I asked him for a Firmahn, namely, that as I was sufficiently acquainted with the language and manners of the Arabs, I needed no further recommendation.
The Arabs of Mount Sinai usually alight at Cairo in the quarter called El Djemelye, where some of them are almost constantly to be found. Having gone thither, I met with the same Bedouin with whom I had come last year from Tor to Cairo; I hired two camels from him for myself and servant, and laid in provisions for about six weeks consumption. We left Cairo on the evening of the 20th of April, and slept that night among the ruined tombs of the village called Kayt Beg, a mile from the city. From this village, at which the Bedouins usually alight, the caravans for Suez often depart; it is also the resort of smugglers from Suez and Syria.
April 21st. — We set out from Kayt Beg in the course of the morning, in the company of a caravan bound for Suez, comprising about twenty camels, some of which belonged to Moggrebyn pilgrims, who had come by sea from Tunis to Alexandria; the others to a Hedjaz merchant, and to the Bedouins of Mount Sinai, who had brought passengers from Suez to Cairo, and were now returning with corn to their mountains. As I knew the character of these Bedouins by former experience, and that the road was perfectly safe, at least as far as the convent, I did not think it necessary this time to travel in the disguise of a pauper. Some few comforts may be enjoyed in the desert even by those who do not travel with tents and servants; and whenever these comforts must be relinquished, it becomes a very irksome task to cross a desert, as I fully experienced during several of my preceding journeys.
The Bedouins of Sinai, or, as they are more usually denominated, the Towara, or Bedouins of Tor, formerly enjoyed the exclusive privilege of transporting goods, provisions, and passengers, from Cairo to Suez, and the route was wholly under their protection. Since the increased power of the Pasha of Egypt, it has been thrown open to camel-drivers of all descriptions, Egyptian peasants, as well as Syrian and Arabian Bedouins; and as the Egyptian camels are much stronger, for a short journey, than those of the desert, the Bedouins of Mount Sinai have lost the greater part of their custom, and the transport trade in this route is now almost wholly in the hands of the Egyptian carriers. The hire of a strong camel, from Cairo to Suez, was at this time about six or eight Patacks, from one and a half to two Spanish dollars.
The desert from Cairo to Suez is crossed by different routes; we followed that generally taken by the Towara, which lies mid-way between the great Hadj route, and the more southern one close along the mountains: the latter is pursued only by the Arabs Terabein, and other Syrian Bedouins. The route we took is called Derb el Ankabye (ﺔﻴﺒﻘﻧﻌﻟﺍ ﺏﺭﺩ).
We proceeded on a gentle ascent from Kayt Beg, and passed on the right several low quarries in the horizontal layers of soft calcareous stone of which the mountain of Mokattam, in the neighbourhood of Cairo, is composed; it is with this stone that the splendid Mamelouk tombs of Kayt Beg are built. At the end of an hour, the limestone terminated, and the road was covered with flints, petrosilex, and Egyptian pebbles; here are also found specimens of petrified wood, the largest about a foot in length. We now travelled eastward, and after a march of three hours halted upon a part of the plain, called El Mogawa (ﻪﻭﺎﻘﻟﺍ), where we rested during the mid-day heat. Beyond this spot, to the distance of five hours from Cairo, we met with great quantities of petrified wood. Large pieces of the trunks of trees, three or four feet in length, and eight or ten inches in diameter, lay about the plain, and close to the road was an entire trunk of a tree at least twenty feet in length, half buried in sand. These petrifactions are generally found in low grounds, but I saw several also on the top of the low hills of gravel and sand over which the road lies. Several travellers have expressed doubts of their being really petrified wood, and some have crossed the desert without meeting with any of them. The latter circumstance is easily accounted for; the route we were travelling is not that usually taken to Suez. I have crossed this desert repeatedly in other directions, and never saw any of the petrifactions except in this part of it. As to its really being petrified wood there cannot be any reason to doubt it, after an inspection of the substance, in which the texture and fibres of the wood are clearly distinguishable, and perfectly resemble those of the date tree. I think it not improbable, that before Nechos dug the canal between the Nile and the Red sea, the communication between Arsinoe or Clysma and Memphis, may have been carried on this way; and stations may have been established on the spots now covered by these petrified trees; the water requisite to produce and maintain vegetation might have been procured from deep wells, or from reservoirs of rain water, as is done in the equally barren desert between Djidda and Mekka. After the completion of the canal, this route was perhaps neglected, the trees, left without a regular supply of water, dried up and fell, and the sands, with the winter rains and torrents, gradually effected the petrifaction. I have seen specimens of the petrified wood of date trees found in the Libyan desert, beyond the Bahr bala ma, where they were observed by Horneman in 1798, and in 1812, by M. Boutin, a French officer, who brought several of them to Cairo. They resemble precisely those which I saw on the Suez road, in colour, substance, and texture. Some of them are of silex, in others the substance seems to approach to hornblende.
We continued our route E. by S. over an uneven and somewhat hilly country covered with black petrosilex; and after a day’s march of eight hours and a quarter, we halted in a valley of little depth, called Wady Onszary (ﻱﺭﺎﺼﻧﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), where our camels found good pasture. Close by are some low hills, where the sands are seen in the state of formation into sand-rock, and presenting all the different gradations between their loose state and the solid stone. I saw a great quantity of petrified wood upon one of these hills, amongst which was the entire trunk of a date tree.
April 22d. — From Onszary we travelled E. by S. for one hour, and then E. At the end of three hours, the hilly country terminates, beyond which, in this route, no petrified wood is met with; we then entered upon a widely extended and entirely level plain, called by the Bedouins El Mograh (ﺡﺮﻘﻤﻟﺍ), upon which we rested after a march of five hours and a half. While we were preparing our dinner two ostriches approached near enough to be distinctly seen. A shot fired by one of the Arabs frightened them, and in an instant they were out of sight. These birds come into this plain, from the eastward, from the desert of Tyh; but I never heard that the Bedouins of this country take the trouble of hunting them. The plain of Mograh is famous for the skirmishes which have taken place there, for the caravans that have been plundered in crossing it, and for the number of travellers that have been murdered on it. In former times, when this desert was constantly over-run by parties of robbers, the Mograh was always chosen by them as their point of attack, because, in the event of success, no one could escape them on a plain where objects can be distinguished in every direction to the distance of several hours. Even at present, since the route has been made more secure by the vigilance of the Pasha of Cairo, robberies sometimes happen, and in the autumn of 1815 a rich caravan was plundered by the Arabs Terabein.1
The desert of Suez is never inhabited by Bedouin encampments, though it is full of rich pasture and pools of water during winter and spring. No strong tribes frequent the eastern borders of Egypt, and a weak insulated encampment would soon be stripped of its property by nightly robbers. The ground itself is the patrimony of no tribe, but is common to all, which is contrary to the general practice of the desert, where every district has its acknowledged owners, with its limits of separation from those of the neighbouring tribes, although it is not always occupied by them.
In the afternoon we proceeded over the plain, and in eight hours and three quarters arrived opposite to the station of the Hadj, called Dar el Hamra which we left about three miles to the north of us, and which is distinguished by a large acacia tree, the only one in this plain. At the end of nine hours and a half, and about half an hour from the road, we saw a mound of earth, which, the Arabs told me, was thrown up about fifty years ago, by workmen employed by Ali Beg, then governor of Egypt, in digging a well there. The ground was dug to the depth of about eighty feet, when no water appearing the work was abandoned. At eleven hours and a quarter, our road joined the great Hadj route, which passes in a more northerly direction from Dar el Hamra to the Birket el Hadj, or inundation to the eastward of Heliopolis, four hours distant from Cairo, upon the banks of which the pilgrims encamp, previous to their setting out for Mekka. Between this road, and that by which we had travelled, lies another, also terminating at Kayt Beg. The southernmost route, which, as I have already mentioned, is frequented only by the Arabs Terabein, branches off from this common route at about six hours distant from Suez, and is called Harb bela ma (the road without water); it is very seldom frequented by regular caravans, being hilly and longer than the others, but I was told that notwithstanding its name, water is frequently met with in the low grounds, even in summer. Just beyond where we fell in with the Hadj route, we rested in the bed of a torrent called Wady Hafeiry (ﻱﺮﻴﻔﺣ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), at the foot of a chain of hills which begin there, and extend to the N. of the route, and parallel with it towards Adjeroud. Our camels found abundance of pasture on the odoriferous herb Obeitheran (ﻥﺍﺮﺜﻴﺒﻋ), Santolina fragrantissima of Forskal, which grew here in great plenty.
April 23d. — Our road lay between the southern mountain and the abovementioned chain of hills to the north, called Djebel Uweybe (ﻪﺒﻳﻮﻋ ﻞﺒﺟ), direction E.S.E. In three hours we passed the bed of a torrent called Seil Abou Zeid (ﺩﻴﺯ ﻮﺒﺍ ﻞﻴﺳ), where some acacia trees grow. The road is here encompassed on every side by hills. In four hours and a half we reached, in the direction E. by S. Wady Emshash (ﺵﺎﺸﻣﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), a torrent like the former, which in winter is filled by a stream of several feet in depth. Rains are much more frequent in this desert than in the valley of Egypt, and the same remark may be made in regard to all the mountains to the southward, where a regular, though not uninterrupted rainy season sets in, while in the valley of the Nile, as is well known, rain seldom falls even in winter. The soil and hills are here entirely calcareous.
We had been for the whole morning somewhat alarmed by the appearance of some suspicious looking men on camels at a distance in our rear, and our Bedouins had, in consequence, prepared their matchlocks. When we halted during the mid-day hours, they also alighted upon a hill at a little distance; but seeing us in good order, and with no heavy loads to excite their cupidity, they did not approach us. They, however, this evening, fell upon a small party of unarmed Egyptian peasants who were carrying corn to Suez, stripped them, took away their camels and loads, and the poor owners fled naked into Suez. It was afterwards learnt that they belonged to the tribe of Omran, who live on the eastern shore of the gulf of Akaba. Without establishing regular patrols of the Bedouins themselves on this road, it will never be possible to keep it free from robbers.
At six hours and a half begins a hilly country, with a slight descent through a narrow pass between hills, called El Montala (ﻊﻠﻄﻧﻤﻟﺍ), a favourite spot for robbers. At seven hours and a half we passed Adjeroud (ﺩﻭﺮﺠﻋ), about half an hour to our left; about two miles west of it is a well in the Wady Emshash, called Bir Emshash, which yields a copious supply of water in the winter, but dries up in the middle of summer if rains have not been abundant; the garrison of Adjeroud, where is a well so bitter that even camels will not drink the water, draws its supply of drinking water from the Bir Emshash. From hence the road turns S.E. over a slightly descending plain. At ten hours and a half is the well called Bir Suez, a copious spring enclosed by a massive building, from whence the water is drawn up by wheels turned by oxen, and emptied into a large stone tank on the outside of the building. The men who take care of the wheels and the oxen remain constantly shut up in the building for fear of the Bedouins. The water is brackish, but it serves for drinking, and the Arabs and Egyptian peasants travelling between Cairo and Suez, who do not choose to pay a higher price for the sweet water of the latter place, are in the habit of filling their water skins here, as do the people of Suez for their cooking provision. From an inscription on the building, it appears that it was erected in the year of the Hedjra 1018. We reached Suez about sunset, at the end of eleven hours and a half. I alighted with the Bedouins upon an open place between the western wall of the town, and its houses.
April 24th. In the time of Niebuhr Suez was not enclosed; there is now a wall on the west and south-west, which is rapidly falling to decay. The town is in a ruinous state; and neither merchants nor artisans live in it. Its population consists only of about a dozen agents, who receive goods from the ports of the Red sea, and forward them to their correspondents at Cairo, together with some shop-keepers who deal chiefly in provisions. The Pasha keeps a garrison here of about fifty horsemen, with an officer who commands the town, the neighbouring Arabs, and the shipping in the harbour. As Suez is one of the few harbours in the Red sea where ships can be repaired, some vessels are constantly seen at the wharf; the repairs are carried on by Greek shipwrights and smiths, in the service of the Pasha, who are let out to the shipowners by the commanding officer. Suez has of late become a harbour of secondary importance, the supplies of provisions, &c. for the Hedjaz being collected principally at Cosseir, and shipped from thence to Yembo and Djidda: but the trade in coffee and India goods still passes this way to Cairo. I saw numerous bales of spices and coffee lying near the shore, and a large heap of iron, together with packages of small wares, antimony, and Egyptian goods for exportation to Djidda, and ultimately to Yemen and India. The merchants complained of the want of camels to transport their goods to Cairo. The Pasha, who owns a considerable part of the imports of coffee, has fixed the carriage across the desert at a low price, and none of the agents venture to offer more to the camel drivers; the consequence of which is, that few are encouraged to come to Suez beyond the number required for the Pasha’s merchandize. A caravan consisting of five or six hundred camels leaves Suez for Cairo on the 10th of each lunar month, accompanied by guards and two field-pieces; while smaller ones, composed of twenty or thirty beasts, depart almost every four or five days; but to these the merchants are shy of trusting their goods, because they can never depend on the safety of the road; accidents however seldom happen at present, so formidable is the name of Mohammed Ali.
Before the power of this Pasha was established in Egypt, and during the whole period of the Mamelouk government, the Bedouins might be called complete masters of Suez. Every inhabitant was obliged t[o] have his protector, Ghafyr (ﺮﻴﻔﻏ), among the Bedouins of Mount Sinai, to whom he made annual presents of money, corn, and clothes, and who ensured to him the safe passage of his goods and person through the desert, and the recovery of whatever was plundered by the others. At that time the rate of freight was fixed by the Bedouins, and camels were in plenty; but, whenever the governors of Cairo quarrelled with the Bedouins, or ill-treated any of them at Cairo, the road was immediately interrupted, and the Bedouins placed guards over the well of Naba (ﻊﺑﻧ), two hours distant from Suez, in the hills on the eastern side of the gulf, to prevent the people of the town from drawing from thence their daily supply of sweet water. The difference was always settled by presents to the Bedouins, who, however, as may readily be conceived, often abused their power; and it not unfrequently happened that, even in time of peace, a Bedouin girl would be found, in the morning, sitting on the well, who refused permission to the water carriers of Suez to draw water unless they paid her with a new shirt, which they were obliged to do; for to strike her, or even to remove her by force, would have brought on a war with her tribe. The authority of the Bedouins is now at an end, though their Sheikhs receive from the Turkish governors of Suez a yearly tribute, under the name of presents, in clothes and money; the Pasha himself has become the Ghafyr of the people of Suez, and exacts from every camel load that passes through the gates from two to four dollars, for which he engages to ensure the passage through the desert; when the caravan however was plundered in 1815, he never returned the value of the goods to the owners.
The Arabs Terabein are the conductors of the caravans to Ghaza, and Khalyl (Hebron), the latter of which is eight days distant. At this time the freight per camel’s load was eighteen Patacks, or four dollars and a half. These caravans bring the manufactures of Damascus, soap, glass-ware, tobacco, and dried fruits, which are shipped at Suez for the Hedjaz and Yemen.
The eastern part of the town of Suez is completely in ruins, but near the shore are some well built Khans, and in the inhabited part of the town are several good private houses. The aspect of Suez is that of an Arabian, and not an Egyptian town, and even in the barren waste, which surrounds it, it resembles Yembo and Djidda; the same motley crowds are met with in the streets, and the greater part of the shop-keepers are from Arabia or Syria. The air is bad, occasioned by the saline nature of the earth, and the extensive low grounds on the north and north-east sides, which are filled with stagnant waters by the tides. The inhabitants endeavour to counteract the influence of this bad atmosphere by drinking brandy freely; the mortality is not diminished by such a remedy, and fevers of a malignant kind prevail during the spring and summer.
The water of the well of Naba, though called sweet, has a very indifferent taste, and becomes putrid in a few days if kept in skins. The government has made a sort of monopoly of it; but its distribution is very irregular, and affrays often happen at the well, particularly when ships are on the point of sailing. In general, however, they touch at Tor, for a supply; those lying in the harbour might fill their casks at the well of Abou Szoueyra (ﻩﺮﻳﻮﺻ), about seven hours to the south of Ayoun Mousa, and about half an hour from the sea shore, where the water is good; but Arabs will seldom give themselves so much trouble for water, and will rather drink what is at hand, though bad, than go to a distance for good.
Ships, after delivering their cargoes at Suez, frequently proceed to Cosseir, to take in corn for the Hedjaz. They first touch at Tor for water, and then stand over to the western coast, anchoring in the creeks every evening till they reach their destination. The coast they sail along is barren, and without water, and no Arabs are seen. At one or two days sail from Suez is an ancient Coptic convent, now abandoned, called Deir Zafaran or Deir El Araba (ﻪﺑﺮﻌﻟﺍ ﺮﻳﺩ); it stands on the declivity of the mountain, at about one hour from the sea. Some wild date-trees grow there. At the foot of the mountain are several wells three or four feet deep, upon the surface of whose waters naphtha or petroleum is sometimes found in the month of November, which is skimmed off by the hand; it is of a deep brownish black colour, and of the same fluidity as turpentine, which it resembles in smell. This substance, which is known under the name of Zeit el Djebel (ﻞﺒﺠﻟﺍ ﺖﻳﺯ), mountain oil, is collected principally by the Christians of Tor, and by the Arabs Heteim, of the eastern shore of the Red sea; it is greatly esteemed in Egypt as a cure for sores and rheumatism, and is sold at Suez and Tor, at from one to two dollars per pound.
Niebuhr, travelling in 1762, says that Suez derives its provisions in great part from Mount Sinai and Ghaza: this is not the case now. From Mount Sinai it obtains nothing but charcoal, and a few fruits and dates in the autumn; dried fruits of the growth of Damascus are the only import from Ghaza. The town is supplied with provisions from Cairo; vegetables are found only at the time of the arrival of the caravan. Every article is of the worst quality, and twenty-five per cent. dearer than at Cairo. Syrian, Turkish, and Moggrebyn pilgrims are constantly seen here, waiting for the departure of ships to the Hedjaz. I found three vessels in the harbour, and it may be calculated that one sails to the southward every fortnight. No Europeans are settled here; but an English agent is expected next year, to meet the ships from Bombay, according to a treaty made with the Pasha, by several English houses, who wished to open a direct communication between India and Egypt.2
April 15th. — As the small caravan with which I had come to Suez remained there, I set out accompanied only by my guide and another Arab, whom he had engaged, and who afterwards proved through the whole journey a most serviceable, courageous, and honest companion. We left Suez early in the morning: the tide was then at flood, and we were obliged to make the tour of the whole creek to the N. of the town, which at low water can be forded. In winter time, and immediately after the rainy season, this circuit is rendered still greater, because the low grounds to the northward of the creek are then inundated, and become so swampy that the camels cannot pass them. We rode one hour and three quarters in a straight line northwards, after passing, close by the town, several mounds of rubbish, which afford no object of curiosity except a few large stones, supposed to be the ruins of Clysma or Arsinoë. We then turned eastwards, just at the point where the remains of the ancient canal are very distinctly visible: two swellings of the ground, of which the eastern is about eight or ten feet high, and the western somewhat less, run in a straight line northwards, parallel with each other, at the distance of about twenty-five feet. They begin at a few hundred paces to the N.W. of high-water mark, from whence northwards the ground is covered by a saline crust. We turned the point of this inlet, and halted for a short time at the wells of Ayoun Mousa, under the date trees. The water of these wells is copious, but one only affords sweet water, and this is so often rendered muddy by the passage of Arabs, whose camels descend into the wells, that it is seldom fit to supply a provision to the traveller, much less for shipping. We rested, at two hours and three quarters from the wells, in the plain called El Kordhye (ﻪﻴﺿﺮﻜﻟﺍ).
April 26th. — We proceeded over a barren sandy and gravelly plain, called El Ahtha (ﻲﺜﺣﻻﺍ), direction S. by E. For about an hour the plain was uneven; we then entered upon a widely-extended flat, in which we continued S.S.E. Low mountains, the commencement of the chain of Tyh, run parallel with the road, to the left, about eight miles distant; they are inhabited by Terabein. At the end of four hours and a half we halted for a few hours in Wady Seder which takes its name of Wady only, from being overflown with water when the rains are very copious, which, however, does not happen every year. Its natural formation by no means entitles it to be called a valley, its level being only a few feet lower than that of the desert on both sides. Some thorny trees grow in it, but no herbs for pasture. We continued our way S. b. E. over the plain, which was alternately gravelly, stony, and sandy. At the end of seven hours and a half we reached Wady Wardan (ﻥﺍﺩﺭﺍﻭ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), a valley or bed of a torrent, similar in nature to the former, but broader. Near its extremity, at the sea side, it is several miles in breadth; and here is the well of Abou Szoueyra, which I have already mentioned. The Arabs of Tor seldom encamp in this place, but the Terabein Arabs are sometimes attracted by the well. During the war which happened about eight years ago between the Towara and the Maazy Bedouins, who live in the mountains between Cairo and Cosseir, a party of the former happened to be stationed here with their families. They were surprised one morning by a troop of their enemies, while assembled in the Sheikh’s tent to drink coffee. Seven or eight of them were cut down: the Sheikh himself, an old man, seeing escape impossible, sat down by the fire, when the leader of the Maazy came up, and cried out to him to throw down his turban and his life should be spared. The generous Sheikh, rather than do what, according to Bedouin notions, would have stained his reputation ever after, exclaimed, “I shall not uncover my head before my enemies;” and was immediately killed with the thrust of a lance. A low chain of sand-hills begins here to the west, near the sea; and the eastern mountains approach the road. At nine hours and a half, S.S.E. the eastern mountains form a junction with the western hills. At ten hours we entered a hilly country; at ten hours and three quarters we rested for the night in a barren valley among the hills, called Wady Amara (ﺓﺭﺎﻤﻋ). We met with nobody in this route except a party of Yembo merchants, who had landed at Tor, and were travelling to Cairo. The hills consist of chalk and silex in very irregular strata: the silex is sometimes quite black; at other times it takes a lustre and transparency much resembling agate.
April 27th. — We travelled over uneven hilly ground, gravelly and flinty. At one hour and three quarters we passed the well of Howara (ﻩﺭﺍﻮﻫ ﺮﻴﺑ), round which a few date trees grow. Niebuhr travelled the same route, but his guides probably did not lead him to this well, which lies among hills about two hundred paces out of the road. He mentions a rock called Hadj er Rakkabe, as one German mile short of Gharendel; I remember to have halted under a large rock, close by the road side, a very short distance before we reached Howara, but I did not learn its name. The water of the well of Howara is so bitter, that men cannot drink it; and even camels, if not very thirsty, refuse to taste it.
From Ayoun Mousa to the well of Howara we had travelled fifteen hours and a quarter. Referring to this distance, it appears probable that this is the desert of three days mentioned in the Scriptures to have been crossed by the Israelites immediately after their passing the Red sea, and at the end of which they arrived at Marah. In moving with a whole nation, the march may well be supposed to have occupied three days; and the bitter well at Marah, which was sweetened by Moses, corresponds exactly with that of Howara. This is the usual route to Mount Sinai, and was probably therefore that which the Israelites took on their escape from Egypt, provided it be admitted that they crossed the sea near Suez, as Niebuhr, with good reason, conjectures. There is no other road of three days march in the way from Suez towards Sinai, nor is there any other well absolutely bitter on the whole of this coast, as far as Ras Mohammed. The complaints of the bitterness of the water by the children of Israel, who had been accustomed to the sweet water of the Nile, are such as may daily be heard from the Egyptian servants and peasants who travel in Arabia. Accustomed from their youth to the excellent water of the Nile, there is nothing which they so much regret in countries distant from Egypt; nor is there any eastern people who feel so keenly the want of good water as the present natives of Egypt. With respect to the means employed by Moses to render the waters of the well sweet, I have frequently enquired among the Bedouins in different parts of Arabia whether they possessed any means of effecting such a change, by throwing wood into it, or by any other process; but I never could learn that such an art was known.
At the end of three hours we reached Wady Gharendel (ﻝﺪﻧﺮﻏ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ) which extends to the N.E. and is almost a mile in breadth, and full of trees. The Arabs told me that it may be traced through the whole desert, and that it begins at no great distance from El Arysh, on the Mediterranean, but I had no means of ascertaining the truth of this statement. About half an hour from the place where we halted, in a southern direction, is a copious spring, with a small rivulet, which renders the valley the principal station on this route. The water is disagreeable, and if kept for a night in the water skins, it turns bitter and spoils, as I have myself experienced, having passed this way three times.
If we admit Bir Howara to be the Marah3 of Exodus (xv. 23), then Wady Gharendel is probably Elim, with its wells and date trees, an opinion entertained by Niebuhr, who, however, did not see the bitter well of Howara on the road to Gharendel. The nonexistence, at present, of twelve wells at Gharendel must not be considered as evidence against the just-stated conjecture; for Niebuhr says that his companions obtained water here by digging to a very small depth, and there was a great plenty of it, when I passed; water, in fact, is readily found by digging, in every fertile valley in Arabia, and wells are thus easily formed, which are quickly filled up again by the sands.
The Wady Gharendel contains date trees, tamarisks, acacias of different species, and the thorny shrub Gharkad (ﺪﻗﺮﻏ), the Peganum retusum of Forskal, which is extremely common in this peninsula, and is also met with in the sands of the Delta on the coast of the Mediterranean. Its small red berry, of the size of a grain of the pomegranate, is very juicy and refreshing, much resembling a ripe gooseberry in taste, but not so sweet. The Arabs are very fond of it, and I was told that in years when the shrub produces large crops, they make a conserve of the berries. The Gharkad, which from the colour of its fruit is also called by the Arabs Homra delights in a sandy soil, and reaches its maturity in the height of summer when the ground is parched up, exciting an agreeable surprise in the traveller, at finding so juicy a berry produced in the driest soil and season.4 The bottom of the valley of Gharendel swarms with ticks, which are extremely distressing both to men and beasts, and on this account the caravans usually encamp on the sides of the hills which border the valley.
We continued in a S.E. ½ E. direction, passing over hills, and at the end of four hours from our starting in the morning, we came to an open, though hilly country, still slightly ascending, S.S.E. and then reached by a similar descent, in five hours and a half, Wady Oszaita (ﺔﻄﻴﺻﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), enclosed by chalk hills. Here is another bitter well which never yields a copious supply, and sometimes is completely dried up. A few date trees stand near it. From hence we rode over a wide plain S.E. b. S. and at the end of seven hours and three quarters came to Wady Thale (ﺔﻠﻌﺛ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). Rock salt is found here as well as in Gharendel; date, acacia, and tamarisks grow in the valley; but they were now all withered. To our right was a chain of mountains, which extend towards Gharendel. Proceeding from hence south, we turned the point of the mountain, and then passed the rudely constructed tomb of a female saint, called Arys Themman (ﻥﺎﻤﺛ ﺲﻳﺮﻋ), or the bridegroom of Themman, where the Arabs are in the habit of saying a short prayer, and suspending some rags of clothing upon some poles planted round the tomb. After having doubled the mountain we entered the valley called Wady Taybe (ﻪﺒﻴﻃ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), which descends rapidly to the sea. At the end of eight hours and a half we turned out of Wady Taybe into a branch of it, called Wady Shebeyke (ﻪﻘﻴﺒﺷ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), in which we continued E.S.E. and halted for the night, after a day’s march of nine hours and a quarter. This is a broad valley, with steep though not high cliffs on both sides. The rock is calcareous, and runs in even horizontal layers. Just over the road, a place was shewn to me from whence, some years since, a Bedouin of the Arabs of Tor precipitated his son, bound hands and feet, because he had stolen corn out of a magazine belonging to a friend of the family. In the great eastern desert the Aeneze Bedouins are not so severe in such instances; but they would punish a Bedouin who should pilfer any thing from his guest’s baggage.
April 28th. — We set out before dawn, and continued for three quarters of an hour in the Wady, after which we ascended E. b. S. and came upon a high plain, surrounded by rocks, with a towering mountain on the N. side, called Sarbout el Djemel (ﻞﻤﺠﻟﺍ ﺕﻮﺑﺮﺳ). We crossed the plain at sun rise; and the fresh air of the morning was extremely agreeable. There is nothing which so much compensates for the miseries of travelling in the Arabian deserts, as the pleasure of enjoying every morning the sublime spectacle of the break of day and of the rising of the sun, which is always accompanied, even in the hottest season, with a refreshing breeze. It was an invariable custom with me, at setting out early in the morning, to walk on foot for a few hours in advance of the caravan; and as enjoyments are comparative, I believe that I derived from this practice greater pleasure than any which the arts of the most luxurious capitals can afford. At two hours and a half the plain terminated; we then turned the point of the above-mentioned mountain, and entered the valley called Wady Hommar (ﺮﻤﺣ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), in which we continued E. b. N. This valley, in which a few acacia trees grow, has no perceptible slope on either side; its rocks are all calcareous, with flint upon some of them; by the road side, I observed a few scratchings of the figures of camels, done in the same style as those in Wady Mokatteb copied by M. Niebuhr and M. Seetzen, but without any inscriptions. At four hours we issued from this valley where the southern rocks which enclose it terminate, and we travelled over a wide, slightly ascending plain of deep sand, called El Debbe (ﻪﺑﺪﻟﺍ), a name given by the Towara Bedouins to several other sandy districts of the same kind. The direction of our road across it was S. E. by S. At six hours and a half we entered a mountainous country, much devastated by torrents, which have given the mountains a very wild appearance. Here sand-stone rocks begin. We followed the windings of a valley, and in seven hours and a quarter reached the Wady el Naszeb (ﺐﺼﻨﻟﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), where we rested, under the shade of a large impending rock, which for ages, probably, has afforded shelter to travellers; it is I believe the same represented by Niebuhr in vol. i. pl. 48. He calls the valley Warsan, which is, no doubt, its true name, but the Arabs comprise all the contiguous valleys under the general name of Naszeb. Shady spots like this are well known to the Arabs, and as the scanty foliage of the acacia, the only tree in which these valleys abound, affords no shade, they take advantage of such rocks, and regulate the day’s journey in such a way, as to be able to reach them at noon, there to take the siesta.
The main branch of the Wady Naszeb continues farther up to the S.E. and contains, at about half an hour from the place where we rested, a well of excellent water; as I was fatigued, and the sun was very hot, I neglected to go there, though I am sensible that travellers ought particularly to visit wells in the desert, because it is at these natural stations that traces of former inhabitants are more likely to be found than any where else. The Wady Naszeb empties its waters in the rainy season into the gulf of Suez, at a short distance from the Birket Faraoun.
While my guides and servant lay asleep under the rock, and one of the Arabs had gone to the well to water the camels and fill the skins, I walked round the rock, and was surprised to find inscriptions similar in form to those which have been copied by travellers in Wady Mokatteb. They are upon the surface of blocks which have fallen down from the cliff, and some of them appear to have been engraved while the pieces still formed a part of the main rock. There is a great number of them, but few can be distinctly made out. I copied the following from some rocks which are lying near the resting-place, at about an hundred paces from the spot where travellers usually alight. [not included] The fallen blocks must be closely examined in order to discover the inscriptions; in some places they are still to be seen on the rock above. They have evidently been done in great haste, and very rudely, sometimes with large letters, at others with small, and seldom with straight lines. The characters appear to be written from right to left, and although mere scratches, an instrument of metal must have been required, for the rock, though of sandstone, is of considerable hardness. Some of the letters are not higher than half an inch; but they are generally about fifteen lines in height, and four lines in breadth; the annexed figure, (as M. Seetzen has already observed in his publication upon these inscriptions in the Mines de l’Orient) is seen at the beginning of almost every line. Hence it appears that none of the inscriptions are of any length, but that they consist merely of short phrases, all similar to each other, in the beginning at least. They are perhaps prayers, or the names of pilgrims, on their way to Mount Sinai, who had rested under this rock. A few drawings of camels and goats, done in the coarsest manner, are likewise seen. M. Niebuhr (vol. i. pl. 50) has given some sketches of them.
Some Syale trees, a species of the mimosa, grow in this valley. The pod which they produce, together with the tenderest shoots of the branches, serve as fodder to the camels; the bark of the tree is used by the Arabs to tan leather. The rocks round the resting-place of Naszeb are much shattered and broken, evidently by torrents; yet no torrents within the memory of man have ever rushed down the valley.
In the afternoon we entered a lateral branch of the Naszeb, more northerly than the main branch which contains the well, and we gradually ascended it. We had been joined at the Ayoun Mousa by an Egyptian Bedouin, belonging to the Arabs of the province of Sherkyeh, who was married to a girl of the Towara Arabs; last night, being in the vicinity of the place where he knew his wife to be, he put spurs to the ass on which he was mounted, and thinking that he knew the road, he quitted the Wady Shebeyke two hours before we did, and without any provision of water. He missed his way on the sandy plain of Debbe, and instead of reaching the spring of Naszeb, where he intended to allay his thirst, he rode the whole of this morning and afternoon about the mountain in different directions, in fruitless search after the shady and conspicuous rock of Naszeb. Towards the evening we met him, so much exhausted with thirst, that his eyes had become dim, and he could scarcely recognise us; had he not fallen in with us he would probably have perished. My companions laughed at the effeminate Egyptian, as they called him, and his presumption in travelling alone in districts with which he was unacquainted. At the end of eight hours and three quarters, in a general direction of. E. by S. we passed a small inlet in the northern chain, where, at a short distance from the road, is said to be a well of tolerable water, called El Maleha (ﻪﻟﺎﻤﻟﺍ), or the saltish. We then ascended with difficulty a steep mountain, composed to the top of moving sands, with a very few rocks appearing above the surface. We reached the summit after a day’s march of nine hours and three quarters, and rested upon a high plain, called Raml el Morak (ﻕﺍﺮﻌﻤﻟﺍ ﻞﻣﺭ). From hence we had an extensive view to the north, bounded by the chain of mountains called El Tyh (ﻪﻴﺘﻟﺍ); this range begins near the abovementioned mountain of Sarbout el Djemel, and extends in a curve eastwards twenty or twenty-five miles, from the termination of the Wady Hommar. At the eastern extremity lies a high mountain called Djebel Odjme (ﺔﻤﺠﻋ ﻞﺒﺟ), to the north of which begins another chain, likewise running eastwards towards the gulf of Akaba. The name of El Tyh is applied to this ridge as well as to the former, but it is specifically called El Dhelel (ﻞﻠﺿ). These chains form the northern boundaries of the Sinai mountains, and are the pasturing places of the Sinai Bedouins. They are the most regular ranges of the peninsula, being almost throughout of equal height, without any prominent peaks, and extending in an uninterrupted line eastwards. They are inhabited by the tribes of Terabein and Tyaha, the latter of whom are richer in camels and flocks than any other of the Towara tribes. The valleys of these mountains are said to afford excellent pasturage, and fine springs, though not in great numbers. The Terabein frequently visit Cairo and Suez; but the Tyaha have more intercourse with Ghaza, and Khalyl, and are a very bold, independent people, often at war with their neighbours, and, even now, caring little for the authority of the Pasha of Egypt. At the southern foot of the mountain Tyh extends a broad sandy plain, called El Seyh, which begins at the Debbe, and continues for two days journey eastwards. It affords good pasturage in spring, but has no water, and is therefore little frequented by Bedouins.
April 29th. — We crossed the plain of Raml Morak in a S. by E. direction. From hence the high peak of Serbal bore S. In an hour and a quarter we reached the upper chain of the mountains of Sinai, where grünstein begins, mixed in places with layers of granite, and we entered the valley called Wady Khamyle (ﺔﻠﻴﻤﺧ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). At the end of two hours we passed in the valley a projecting rock, like that of Naszeb, serving for a resting-place to travellers: here I observed several inscriptions similar to those of Naszeb, but much effaced, together with rude drawings of mountain goats. As I did not wish to betray too much curiosity, until I could ascertain what conduct I ought to pursue in order to attain my chief object of penetrating to Akaba, I did not stop to copy these monuments. At the end of two hours and a half in the Wady Khamyle we came to the first Bedouin encampment which I had seen since leaving Suez. It belonged to the tribe of Szowaleha (ﻪﺤﻟﺍﻮﺻ). On the approach of summer all the Bedouins leave the lower country, where the herbage is dried up, and retire towards the higher parts of the peninsula, where, owing to the comparatively cooler climate, the pasture preserves its freshness much longer. Ascending gently through the valley, we passed at three hours a place of burial called Mokbera (ﻩﺮﺒﻘﻣ), one of the places of interment of the tribe of Szowaleha. It seems to be a custom prevalent with the Arabs in every part of the desert, to have regular burial-grounds, whither they carry their dead, sometimes from the distance of several days journey. The burying ground seen by Niebuhr5 near Naszeb, which, as I have already mentioned, I passed without visiting, and missed in my way back, by taking a more southern road, appears to have been an ancient cemetery of the same kind, formed at a time when hieroglyphical characters were in use among all the nations under Egyptian influence. As there are no countries where ancient manners are so permanent as in the desert, it is probable that the same customs of sepulture then prevailed which still exist, and that the burying ground described by Niebuhr by no means proves the former existence of a city. Among the rude tombs of Mokbera, which consist, for the most part, of mere heaps of earth covered with loose stones, the tomb of Sheikh Hamyd, a Bedouin saint, is distinguished; the Szowaleha keep it always carefully covered with fresh herbs.
At the end of three hours and a half we entered another valley, called Wady Barak (ﻕﺮﺑ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), where the ascent becomes more steep. Here the rock changes to porphyry, with strata of grünstein; the surface of the former is in most places completely black. The mountains on both sides of the valley are much shattered: detached blocks and loose stones covered their sides, and the bottom of the valley was filled, in many places to the depth of ten feet, with a layer of stones that had fallen down. The Wady becomes narrower towards the upper end, and the camels ascended with difficulty. At the end of six hours and a quarter we reached the extremity, to which the Bedouins apply the name of Djebel Leboua (ﻩﻮﺒﻟ ﻞﺒﺟ), the mountain of the lioness, a name indicating, perhaps, that lions existed at one period in the peninsula of Mount Sinai, though no longer to be found here. In ascending Wady Barak, I saw upon several blocks lying by the road side short inscriptions, generally of one line only, all of which began with the remarkable character already represented.
From the top of Djebel Leboua we descended a little, and entered the Wady Genne (ﺔﻨﻗ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), a fine valley, several miles in breadth, and covered with pasturage. It lay in a straight line before us, and presented much of Alpine scenery. We here found several Bedouins occupied in collecting brush-wood, which they burn into charcoal for the Cairo market; they prefer for this purpose the thick roots of the shrub Rethem (ﻢﺛﺭ), Genista rætam of Forskal, which grows here in abundance. Of the herbs which grow in this valley many were odoriferous, as the Obeytheran, Sille (ﺔﻠﺳ), perhaps the Zilla Myagrum of Forskal; and the Shyh (ﺢﻴﺷ), or Artemisia. The Bedouins collect also the herb Adjrem (ﻡﺮﺠﻋ), which they dry, break in pieces and pound between stones, and then use as a substitute for soap to wash their linen with. I was told that very good water is found at about two miles to the E. of this valley.
We gained the upper extremity of Wady Genne at the end of nine hours. The ranges of mountains in this country differ in their formation from all the other Arabian chains which I have seen, the valleys reaching to the very summits, where they form a plain, and thence descend on the other side. A very pointed peak of rocks, near the left of the summit of Wady Genne, is known by the appellation of Zob el Bahry (ﻱﺮﺤﺒﻟﺍ ﺏﺯ). After crossing a short plain, we again descended S.E. by S. and entered the valley called Wady Berah (ﺡﺍﺮﺑ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), where I saw another block with inscriptions. Near it were many others, but effaced. The following was more regularly and clearly written than any I have seen: [not included] We descended slowly through this valley, which is covered with sand, till, at the end of ten hours, we entered a side valley called Wady Osh (ﺶﻋ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), and at ten hours and a half alighted at an encampment of Bedouins, pitched at no great distance from a burial ground similar to that which we had passed in the morning.
This encampment belonged to the Oulad Said (ﺪﻴﻌﺳ ﺩﻻﻭﺍ), a branch of the Szowaleha tribe, and one of their Sheikhs, Hassan (ﻥﺎﺴﺣ), had his tent here; this we entered, though he was absent, and the Arabs had a long and fierce dispute among themselves to decide who should have the honour of furnishing us a supper, and a breakfast the next morning. He who first sees the stranger from afar, and exclaims: “There comes my guest,” has the right of entertaining him, whatever tent he may alight at. A lamb was killed for me, which was an act of great hospitality; for these Bedouins are poor, and a lamb was worth upwards of a Spanish dollar, a sum that would afford a supply of butter and bread to the family for a whole week. I found the same custom to prevail here, which I observed in my journey through the northern parts of Arabia Petræa; when meat is served up, it is the duty of one of the guests to demand a, portion for the women, by calling out “ Lahm el Ferash,” i.e. “the meat for the apartment of the women;” and a part of it is then either set aside, or he is answered that this has been already done. In the evening we joined in some of the popular songs, of which a description will be found in my illustration of Bedouin manners6
I was naturally asked for what object I had come to these mountains. As the passage of Greeks on their way to visit the convent of Sinai is frequent, I might have answered that I was a Greek; but I thought it better to adhere to what I had already told my guides, that I had left Cairo, in order not to expose myself to the plague, that I wished to pass my time among the Bedouins while the disease prevailed, and that I intended to visit the convent. Other Moslems would have considered it impious to fly from the infection; but I knew that all these Bedouins entertain as great a dread of the plague as Europeans themselves. During the spring, when the disease usually prevails in Egypt, no prospect of gain can induce them to expose themselves to infection, by a journey to the banks of the Nile; the Bedouins with whom I left Cairo were the last who had remained there. Had the Pasha granted me a Firmahn to the great Sheikh of the Towara Arabs, I should have gone directly to his tent, and in virtue of it I should have taken guides to conduct me to Akaba; but being without the Firmahn, I thought it more prudent to visit the convent in the first instance, and to depart from thence for Akaba, in order to take advantage of such influence as the Prior might possess over the Bedouins, for though they pay little respect to the priests, yet they have some fear of being excluded from the gains accruing from the transport of visitors to the convent. As every white-skinned person, who makes his appearance in the desert, is supposed by the Arabs to be attached to the Turkish army, or the government of Cairo, my going to Akaba without any recommendations would have given rise to much suspicion, and I should probably have been supposed to be a deserter from the Turkish army, attempting to escape by that circuitous route to Syria; a practice which is sometimes resorted to by the soldiers, to whom, without the Pasha’s passport, Egypt is closed both by sea and land.
In the Wady Osh there is a well of sweet water. From hence upwards, and throughout the primitive chain of Mount Sinai, the water is generally excellent, while in the lower chalky mountains all round the peninsula, it is brackish, or bitter, except in one or two places. The Wady Osh and Wady Berah empty their waters in the rainy season into Wady el Sheikh, above Feiran.
April 30th. — We did not leave our kind hosts till the afternoon, for they insisted on my taking a dinner before I set out. I gave to their children, who accompanied me a little way, some coffee beans to carry to their mothers, and some Kammereddein, a sweetmeat made at Damascus from apricots, of which I had laid in a large stock, and which is very acceptable to all the Bedouins of Syria, Egypt, and the Hedjaz. The offer of any reward to a Bedouin host is generally offensive to his pride; but some little presents may be given to the women and children. Trinkets and similar articles are little esteemed by the Bedouins; but coffee is in great request all over the desert; and sweetmeats and sugar are preferred to money, which, though it will sometimes be accepted, always creates a sense of humiliation, and consequently of dislike towards the giver. For my own part, being convinced that the hospitality of the Bedouin is afforded with disinterested cordiality, I was in general averse to making the slightest return. Few travellers perhaps will agree with me on this head; but will treat the Bedouins in the same manner as the Turks, and other inhabitants of the towns, who never proffer their services or hospitality without expecting a reward; the feelings of Bedouins, however, are very different from those of townsmen, and a Bedouin will praise the guest who departs from him without making any other remuneration than that of bestowing a blessing upon them and their encampment, much more than him who thinks to redeem all obligations by payment.
We returned from Wady Osh towards Wady Berah; but leaving the latter, which here takes a direction towards Wady Feiran, we ascended by a narrow valley called Wady Akhdhar (ﺮﻀﺧﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). Here I again saw some inscriptions on blocks of stone lying by the road side. A few hours to the N.E. of Wady Osh is a mountain called Sheyger, where native cinnabar is collected; it is called Rasokht (ﺖﺨﺳﺭ) by the Arabs, and is usually found in small pieces about the size of a pigeon’s egg. It is very seldom crystallized; but there are sometimes nodules on the surface; it stains the fingers of a dark colour, and its fracture is in perpendicular fibres. I did not hear that the Arabs traded at all in this metal. In Wady Osh are rocks of gneiss mixed with granite. Gneiss is found in many parts of the peninsula.
After one hour we came to a steep ascent, and descent, called El Szaleib (ﺐﻴﻠﺼﻟﺍ), which occupied two hours. We then continued our descent into the great valley called Wady el Sheikh (ﺦﻴﺸﻟﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), one of the principal valleys of the peninsula. The rocks of Szaleib consist throughout of granite, on the upper strata of which run layers of red feldspath, some of which has fallen down and covers the valley in broken fragments. The Wady el Sheikh is broad, and has a very slight acclivity; it is much frequented by Bedouins for its pasturage. Whenever rain falls in the mountains, a stream of water flows through this Wady, and from thence through Wady Feiran, into the sea. We rode in a S.E. direction along the Wady el Sheikh for two hours, and then halted in it for the night, after an afternoon’s march of four hours. Several Arabs of the encampment where we slept the preceding night had joined our party, to go to the convent, for no other reason, I believe, than to get a good dinner and supper on the road. This evening eight persons kneeled down round a dish of rice, cooked with milk which I had brought from Wady Osh, and the coffee-pot being kept on the fire, we sat in conversation till near midnight.
May 1st. — We continued in a S.E. direction, ascending slightly: the valley then becomes narrower. At two hours we came to a thick wood of tamarisk or Tarfa, and found many camels feeding upon their thorny shoots. It is from this evergreen tamarisk, which grows abundantly in no other part of the peninsula, that the manna is collected. We now approached the central summits of Mount Sinai, which we had had in view for several days. Abrupt cliffs of granite from six to eight hundred feet in height, whose surface is blackened by the sun, surround the avenues leading to the elevated platform, to which the name of Sinai is specifically applied. These cliffs enclose the holy mountain on three sides, leaving the E. and N.E. sides only, towards the gulf of Akaba, more open to the view. On both sides of the wood of Tarfa trees extends a range of low hills of a substance called by the Arabs Tafal (ﻞﻔﻃ), which I believe to be principally a detritus of the feldspar of granite, but which, at first sight, has all the appearance of pipe-clay; it is brittle, crumbles easily between the fingers, and leaves upon them its colour, which is a pale yellow. The Arabs sell it at Cairo, where it is in request for taking stains out of cloth, and where it serves the poor instead of soap, for washing their hands; but it is chiefly used to rub the skins of asses during summer, being supposed to refresh them, and to defend them against the heat of the sun.
At the end of three hours we entered the above-mentioned cliffs by a narrow defile about forty feet in breadth, with perpendicular granite rocks on both sides. The ground is covered with sand and pebbles, brought down by the torrent which rushes from the upper region in the winter time. In a broader part of the pass an insulated rock, about five feet high, with a kind of naturally formed seat, is shewn as a place upon which Moses once reposed, whence it has the name of Mokad Seidna Mousa (ﻲﺳﻮﻣ ﺎﻧﺪﻴﺳ ﺪﻌﻘﻣ); the Bedouins keep it covered with green or dry herbs, and some of them kiss it, or touch it with their hands, in passing by. Beyond it the valley opens, the mountains on both sides diverge from the road, and the Wady el Sheikh continues in a S. direction with a slight ascent. A little to the east, from hence, is the well called Bir Mohsen (ﻦﺴﺤﻣ ﺮﻴﺑ). After continuing in the Wady for an hour beyond the defile, we entered a narrow inlet in the eastern chain, and rested near a spring called Abou Szoueyr (ﺮﻳﻮﺻ ﻮﺑﺍ). At four hours and a half was a small walled plantation of tobacco, with some fruit trees, and onions, cultivated by some of the Bedouins Oulad Said. In the afternoon we crossed the mountain by a by-path, fell again into the Wady el Sheikh, and at the end of eight hours from our setting out in the morning reached the tomb of Sheikh Szaleh (ﺢﻟﺎﺻ ﺎﻨﻴﺳ ﻡﺎﻘﻣ), from which the whole valley takes its name. The coffin of the Sheikh is deposited in a small rude stone building; and is surrounded by a thin partition of wood, hung with green cloth, upon which several prayers are embroidered. On the walls are suspended silk tassels, handkerchiefs, ostrich eggs, camel halters, bridles, &c. the offerings of the Bedouins who visit this tomb. I could not learn exactly the history of this Sheikh Szaleh: some said that he was the forefather of the tribe of Szowaleha; others, the great Moslem prophet Szaleh, sent to the tribe of Thamoud, and who is mentioned in the Koran; and others, again, that he was a local saint, which I believe to be the truth. Among the Bedouins, this tomb is the most revered spot in the peninsula, next to the mountain of Moses; they make frequent vows to kill a sheep in honour of the Sheikh should a wished-for event take place; and if this happens, the votary repairs to the tomb with his family and friends, and there passes a day of conviviality. Once in every year all the tribes of the Towara repair hither in pilgrimage, and remain encamped in the valley round the tomb for three days. Many sheep are then killed, camel races are run, and the whole night is passed in dancing and singing. The men and women are dressed in their best attire. The festival, which is the greatest among these people, usually takes place in the latter part of June, when the Nile begins to rise in Egypt, and the plague subsides; and a caravan leaves Sinai immediately afterwards for Cairo. It is just at this period too that the dates ripen in the valleys of the lower chain of Sinai, and the pilgrimage to Sheikh Szaleh thus becomes the most remarkable period in the Bedouin year.
In the western mountain opposite Sheikh Szaleh, and about one hour and a half distant, is a fruitful pasturing place, upon a high mountain, with many fields, and plantations of trees, called El Fereya (ﻊﻴﺮﻔﻟﺍ), where once a convent stood. It is in possession of the Oulad Said.
We continued from Sheikh Szaleh farther S. till at the end of six hours and a half we turned to our right into a broad valley, at the termination of which I was agreeably surprised by the beautiful verdure of a garden of almond trees belonging to the convent. From thence, by another short turn to the left, we reached the convent, in seven hours and a half. We alighted under a window, by which the priests communicate with the Arabs below. The letter of recommendation which I had with me was drawn up by a cord, and when the prior had read it, a stick tied across a rope was let down, upon which I placed myself, and was hoisted up. Like all travellers I received a cordial reception and was shewn into the same neatly furnished room in which all preceding Europeans had taken up their abode.
I rested in the convent three days. When I told the monks that I intended to go to Akaba, they gave me very little encouragement, particularly when they learnt that I had no Firmahn from the Pasha; but finding that I was firmly resolved, they sent for the chief Ghafyr, or protector of the convent, and recommended me strongly to him. The monks live in such constant dread of the Bedouins, who knowing very well their timid disposition, take every opportunity to strengthen their fears, that they believe a person is going to certain destruction who trusts himself to the guidance of these Bedouins any where but on the great road to Suez or to Tor. I had been particularly pleased with the character and behaviour of Hamd Ibn Zoheyr, the Bedouin who had joined us at Suez; and not being equally satisfied with the guide who had brought me from Cairo, I discharged him, and engaged Hamd for the journey to Akaba; he did not know the road himself, but one of his uncles who had been there assured us that he was well acquainted with the tribe of Heywat, which we should meet on the road, and with all the passages of the country; I therefore engaged him together with Hamd.
As no visitor of the convent is permitted to leave it without the knowledge of one of the Ghafyrs, who has a right to share in the profits of the escort, I was obliged to give a few piastres to him who is at present the director of the affairs of the convent in the desert. The Arabs have established here the same custom which I remarked in my journey from Tor to Cairo. Every one who is present at the departure of a stranger or of a loaded camel from the convent is entitled to a fee, provided the traveller has not passed a line, which is about one mile from the convent. To avoid this unnecessary company and expense, I stole out of the convent by night, as secretly as possible; but we were overtaken within the limits by a Bedouin, and my guides were obliged to give him six piastres, to make him desist from farther claims. I left my servant and unnecessary baggage at the convent, and mounted a camel, for the hire of which I gave five dollars, and I paid as much to each of my guides, who were also mounted, and were to conduct me to Akaba and back again.
May 4th. — I left the convent before day light, but travelled no farther to day than to the well of Abou Szoueyr, where we had rested on the first of May, and where a large company of Arabs assembled when they heard of our arrival. They quarrelled long with my guides for having taken me clandestinely from the convent, but were at last pacified by a lamb which I bought, and partook of with them. In the evening we heard from afar the songs of an encampment, to which my guides went, to join in the dance. I remained with the baggage, in conversation with an Arab who had lately come from Khalyl or Hebron, and who much dissuaded me from going to Akaba. He assured me that the uncle of Hamd my guide knew nothing of the Arabs of those parts, nor even the paths through the country; but I slighted his advice, because I believed that it was dictated by envy, and that he wished himself to be one of the party. The result shewed, however, that he was right.
May 5th. — At sunrise we left Abou Szoueyr, and ascended a hilly country for half an hour. After a short descent, which on this side terminates the district of Sinai, properly so called, we continued over a wide open plain, with low hills, called Szoueyry (ﻱﺭﻴﻮﺻ), direction N.E. b. E. In an hour and a half we entered a narrow valley called Wady Sal (ﻝﺎﺳ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), formed by the lower ridges of the primitive mountains, in the windings of which we descended slightly E. b. N. and E.N.E. On the top I found the rock to be granite; somewhat lower down grünstein, and porphyry began to appear; farther on granite and porphyry cease entirely, and the rock consists solely of grünstein, which in many places takes the nature of slate. Some of the layers of porphyry are very striking; they run perpendicularly from the very summit of the mountain to the base, in a band of about twelve feet in width, and projecting somewhat from the other rocks on the mountain’s side. I had observed similar strata in Wady Genne, but running horizontally along the whole chain of mountains, and dividing it, as it were, into two equal parts. The porphyry I have met with in Sinai is usually a red indurated argillaceous substance; in some specimens it had the appearance of red feldspath. In the argil are imbedded small crystals of hornblende, or of mica, and thin pieces of quartz at most two lines square. I never saw any large fragments of quartz in it. Its universal colour is red. The lower mountains of Sinai are much more regularly shaped than the upper ones: they are less rugged, have no insulated peaks, and their summits fall off in smooth curves.
The Wady Sal is extremely barren: we found no pasture for our camels, as no rain had fallen during the two last years, in the whole of this eastern part of the peninsula. A few acacia trees grew in different places; we rested at noon under one of them while a cup of coffee was prepared, and then pursued the Wady downwards until, at the end of seven hours, we issued from it into a small plain, which we soon crossed, and at seven hours and a half entered another valley, similar to the former, where I again saw some granite, of the gray, small-grained species[.] Our descent was here very rapid, and at the end of nine hours and a half we reached a lower level, in a broad valley running southwards. From hence the summit of Mount St. Catherine, behind the convent, bore S.W. by W. Calcareous and sand rocks begin here, and the bottom of the valley is deep sand. We rode in it in the direction N.E. by N. and after a march of eleven hours alighted in a plain, at a spot which afforded some shrubs for our camels to feed upon. The elder of my two guides, by name Szaleh, soon proved himself to be ignorant of the road. He might have passed this way in his youth, and have had a recollection of the general direction of the valleys; but when we arrived in the plain, he proceeded in various directions, in search of a road from the east. We had now, about six or eight miles to our left, a long and straight chain of mountains, the continuation, I believe, of that of Tyh or Dhelel, mentioned above, and running almost parallel with our route. The northern side of these mountains is inhabited by the tribe of Tyaha. Here passes the road which leads straight from the convent to Akaba, while the one we took descended to the sea, and had been chosen by my guides for greater security. The upper road passes by the watering places Zelka, El Ain (the Well), a place much frequented by Bedouins, and where many date-trees grow, and lastly by El Hossey. It is the common route from the convent to Khalyl and Jerusalem.
May 6th. — We started early, and continued our way over the plain, which is called Haydar (ﺭﺍﺪﻴﺣ). It appears to follow the mountain of Tyh as far as its western extremity, and there to join the Seyh, of which I have already spoken, thus forming the northern sandy boundary of the lower Sinai chain. As we proceeded, we approached nearer to the mountain, and at length fell in with the looked for road. The ground is gravelly but covered with moving sands which are raised by the slightest wind. To the east the country was open, with low hills, as far as I could see. Our road lay N.E.½ N. At one hour and a half Mount St. Catharine bore S.W. by W. We now descended into a valley of deep sand covered with blocks of chalk rock. At one hour and three quarters the valley is contracted into a narrow pass, between low hills of sand-stone, bearing traces of very violent torrents. At the end of two hours, route east by north, we quitted the valley, and crossed a rough rocky plain, intersected on every side by beds of torrents; and at two hours and three quarters halted near a rock. One of the guides went with the camels up a side valley, to bring water from the well Hadhra (ﻩﺮﻀﺣ), (perhaps the Hazeroth (חערות) mentioned in Numbers xxxiii. 17), distant about two miles from the halting place. Near the well are said to be some date trees, and the remains of walls which formerly enclosed a few plantations.
We here met some Towara Bedouins on their way to Cairo with charcoal. After employing a considerable time in collecting the wood and burning it into coal they carry it to Cairo, a journey at least of ten days, and there sell it for three or four dollars per load: so cheap do they hold their labour, and so limited are their means of subsistence. In return, they bring home corn and clothes to their women and children.
We started again as soon as the camels returned from the well, but should probably have gone astray had not the Bedouins above mentioned pointed out the road we ought to take; for Szaleh, the uncle of Hamd, although he pretended to be quite at home in this district, gave evident proofs of being but very slightly acquainted with it. We made many windings between sand-stone rocks, which presented their smooth perpendicular sides to the road; some of them are of a red, others of a white colour; the ground was deeply covered with sand. The traces of torrents were observable on the rocks as high as three and four feet above the present level of the plain. Our main direction was E.N.E. At four hours and three quarters from the time we set out in the morning, we entered Wady Rahab (ﺏﺎﺣﺭ), a fine valley with many Syale trees, where the sands terminate. Route E. At five hours and a half we entered another valley, broader than the former, where I again found an alternation of sand-stone and granite. The barrenness of this district was greater than I had yet witnessed in my travels, excepting perhaps some parts of the desert El Tyh; the Nubian valleys might be called pleasure grounds in comparison. Not the smallest green leaf could be discovered; and the thorny mimosa, which retains its verdure in the tropical deserts of Nubia, with very little supply of moisture, was here entirely withered, and so dry that it caught fire from the lighted cinders which fell from our pipes as we passed. We continued to descend by a gentle slope, and at six hours and a half entered Wady Samghy (ﻲﻐﻤﺳ), coming from the south, in which we descended N.E. At the end of eight hours and a half we left this valley and turned E. into a side one, called Boszeyra (ﻩﺮﻴﺻﻮﺑ); where we halted for the night, at eight hours and three quarters.
We had met in Wady Samghy two old Bedouins of the Mezeine tribe, who belong to the Towara nation: they were fishermen, on their way to the sea to exercise their profession. One of them carried in a small sack a measure of meal which was to serve for their food on shore, the other had a skin of water upon his shoulder; they were both half naked, and both approaching to seventy years of age. One of them was deaf, but so intelligent that it was easy to talk with him by signs; he had established a vocabulary of gestures with his companion, who had been his fishing partner for ten years, and who was one of the shrewdest and hardiest Bedouins I had ever seen; in his younger days he had been a noted robber, and in attempting to carry off the baggage of a French officer in the Sherkyeh province in Egypt, he was seized, laid under the stick, and so severely beaten, that his back had from that time become bent; but notwithstanding this misfortune and his age, he had lost none of his spirits, and his robust constitution still enabled him to cross these mountains on foot, and to exert his activity whenever it was required. These two men partook this evening of my supper; they of course asked me where I was going, and shook their heads when I told them I was bound for Akaba. None of my guides knew what business I had there, but they supposed that I had some verbal message to deliver to the Turkish Aga, who was at the head of the garrison. Ayd es Szaheny (ﻲﻧﺣﺎﺼﻠﺍ), the old robber, soon found out that my guide Szaleh knew little of the road, and still less of the Arab tribes before us. He plainly told him that he would not be able to ensure either my safety or his own, in passing through their districts, and reproached him for having deluded me with false assurances. There appeared to be so much good faith and sense in all the old man said, and I found him so well informed respecting the country, that I soon determined to engage him to join us; but as we were to descend the next morning by the same road to the sea-shore, I deferred making him any overtures till we should arrive there.
The Wady Boszeyra is enclosed by gray granite rocks, out of which the Towara Arabs sometimes hew stones for hand mills, which they dispose of to the northern Arabs, and transport for sale as far as Khalyl. It is very seldom that any Arabs pasture in the district we had traversed, from Wady Sal. The Towara find better pasturage in the southern and south-western parts of the peninsula, and as its whole population is very small, the more barren parts of it are abandoned, and especially this side, where very few wells are found.
May 7th. — From Boszeyra we crossed a short ridge of mountains, and then entered a narrow valley, the bed of a torrent, called Saada (ﻩﺩﺎﻌﺳ), in the windings of which we descended by a steeper slope than any of the former; our main direction E. The mountains on both sides were of moderate height and with gentle slopes, till after an hour and a half, when we reached a chain of high and perpendicular grünstein rocks, which hemmed in the valley so closely as to leave in several places a passage of only ten feet across. After proceeding for a mile in this very striking and majestic defile, I caught the first glimpse of the gulf of Akaba; the valley then widens and descends to the sea, and after two hours and a quarter we alighted upon the sandy beach, which is here several hundred paces in breadth; the grünstein and granite rocks reach all the way down; but at the very foot of the mountain a thin layer of chalk appeared just above the surface of the ground. The valley opens directly upon the sea, into which it empties its torrent when heavy rains fall. Some groves of date-trees stand close by the shore, among which is a well of brackish but drinkable water; the place is called El Noweyba (ﻊﺒﻳﻮﻧﻟﺍ). We now followed the coast in a direction N.N.E. and at the end of three hours and a quarter halted at a grove of date-trees, intermixed with a few tamarisks, called Wasta (ﻪﻄﺳﺍﻭ), close by the sea. Here is a small spring at a distance of fifty yards from the sea, and not more than eight feet above the level of the water; it was choked with sand, which we removed, and on digging a hole about three feet deep and one foot in diameter, it filled in half an hour with very tolerable water. The shore is covered with weeds brought hither by the tide[.]
Here the two Bedouins intended to take up their quarters for fishing, but I easily prevailed upon Ayd to accompany us farther on. He promised to conduct us as far as Taba, a valley in sight of Akaba, but declared that he should not be justified in holding out to me promises of safety beyond that point. This was all that I wished, for the present, thinking that when we arrived thither, I should be able to prevail on him to continue farther. Szaleh now gave me reason to suspect that, from the moment of our setting out, he had had treacherous intentions. He secretly endeavoured to persuade Hamd to return, and finding the latter resolved to fulfil his engagements, he declared that he had now shown us enough of the way, that we had only to follow the shore to reach Akaba, and that the weakness of his camel would not allow it to proceed farther. I replied that he was at liberty to take himself off, but that, on my return to the convent, I should pay him only for the three days he had travelled with me. This was not to his liking, and he therefore preferred going on. Before we left this place Ayd told me that as I had treated him with a supper last night, it was his duty to give me a breakfast this morning. While he kneaded a loaf of flour, and baked it in the ashes, his companion caught some fish, which we boiled, and made a soup of the broth mixed with bread. The deaf man was made to understand by signs that he was to wait for the return of Ayd, and we set out together before mid-day. Before us lay a small bay, which we skirted; the sands on the shore every where bore the impression of the passage of serpents, crossing each other in many directions, and some of them appeared to be made by animals whose bodies could not be less than two inches in diameter. Ayd told me that serpents were very common in these parts; that the fishermen were much afraid of them, and extinguished their fires in the evening before they went to sleep, because the light was known to attract them. As serpents are so numerous on this side, they are probably not deficient towards the head of the gulf on its opposite shore, where it appears that the Israelites passed, when they journeyed from mount Hor, by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom,” and when the “Lord sent fiery serpents among the people.”7
On the opposite side of the gulf the mountains appeared to reach down to the sea-side. In the direction S.S.E. and S.E. they are high; to the northward the chain lowers, and from the point E.S.E. towards Akaba the level is still lower. We saw at a distance several Gazelles, which, my guides told me, descend at mid-day to the sea to bathe. At one hour from Wasta we reached near the sea another collection of palm trees, larger than the former, and having a well, which was completely choaked up. These trees receive no other irrigation than the winter rains; each tree has its acknowledged owner among some of the Towara tribes: those which I have just noticed belong to some persons of the tribe of Aleygat. Not the smallest attention is paid to the trees till the period of the date harvest, when the owners encamp under them with their families for about a week while the fruit is gathered. The shrub Gharkad also grows here in large quantities. At one hour and three quarters we came to another small bay, round which lay the road, the main direction of the shore being N.E. by N. The mountains approach very near to the water, leaving only a narrow sloping plain covered with loose stones, washed down from above by the torrents. The road was profusely strewed with shells of different species, all of which were empty. The fishermen collect the shells, take out the animals, and dry them in the sun, particularly that of the species called Zorombat (ﺕﺎﺒﻧﺭﺯ), which I have also seen in plenty on the African coast of the Red sea, north of Souakin, and at Djidda, where they are much esteemed by the mariners, and are sold by the fishermen at Tor and Suez. I here made a rough measurement of the breadth of the gulf: having assumed a base of seven hundred paces along the beach, and then measured with my compass the angles formed at either extremity of it, with a prominent point of the opposite mountain, the result gave a breadth of about twelve miles. The vegetation appeared to be much less impregnated with saline particles than I had found it on other parts of the coast of the Red sea.
At two hours and three quarters we had to pass round the bottom of another bay, of red and white sand-stone, where steep rocks advance so close to the water as to leave only a narrow path. At three hours and three quarters we passed an opening into the mountain, called Wady Om Hash (ﺵﺎﺣ ﻡﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), from whence a torrent descends, which, after its issue from the mountain, spreads to a considerable distance along the shore, and produces verdure. The shrub Doeyny (ﻲﻧﻴﻭﺩ) grows here in abundance; it is almost a foot in height, and continues green the whole year. The Arabs collect and burn it, and sell the ashes at Khalyl, where they are used in the glass manufactories. We passed on our left several similar inlets into the mountain, the beds of torrents, but my guides could not, or would not, tell their names. The Bedouins are generally averse to satisfying the traveller’s curiosity on such subjects; not being able to conceive what interest he has in informing himself of mere names, they ascribe to repeated questions of this nature improper motives. Some cunning is often required to get proper answers, and they frequently give false names, for no other reason than to have the pleasure of deluding the enquirer, and laughing at him among themselves behind his back. At four hours and a quarter we passed Wady Mowaleh (ﺢﻟﺍﻮﻣ); and at the end of five hours and three quarters reached the northern point of the last mentioned bay, formed by a projecting part of the mountain, or promontory, called Abou Burko (ﻊﻗﺮﺑ ﻮﺑﺍ), which means “he who wears a face veil,” because on the top of it is a white rock, which is thought to resemble the white Berkoa, or face veil of the Arab women, and renders it a conspicuous object from afar. Noweyba, where we had first reached the shore, bore from hence S.S.W. We rested for the night in a pasturing place near the mountain, on the south side of the promontory. Old Ayd, who carried his net with him, brought us some fish. His dog eat the raw fish, and his master told me that the dog sometimes passed several months without any other food.
May 8th. — We set out long before day-break. None of our party was ever more ready to alight, or to take his supper, than Szaleh, and none more averse to start. During the whole way he was continually grumbling, and endeavouring to persuade the others to turn back. We were one hour in doubling the Abou Burko, a chalky rock, whose base is washed by the waves. On the other side we passed, at two hours, in the bottom of a small bay, Wady Zoara (ﻩﺮﺍﻮﺯ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), where a few date trees grow, and a well of saltish water is found, unfit to drink. The maritime plain was here nearly two miles in breadth. Having made the tour of another bay from Abou Burko, we reached, at three hours and a half, a promontory forming its northern boundary, and called Ras Om Haye (ﻪﻴﺣ ﻡﺍ ﺲﺍﺭ), a name derived from the great quantity of serpents found there, some of which, Ayd told me, were venemous; we however saw none of any kind. The whole coast of the Ælanitic gulf, from Ras Abou Mohammed to Akaba, consists of a succession of bays separated from such other by head lands. The Ras Om Haye forms the western extremity of the mountain of Tyh, whose straight and regular ridge runs quite across the peninsula, and is easily distinguished from the surrounding mountains. We halted at the end of five hours in a rocky valley at the foot of Ras Om Haye, where acacia trees and some grass grow. Ayd assured us that in the mountain, at some distance, was a reservoir of rain water, called Om Hadjydjein (ﻦﻴﺠﻴﺠﺣ ﻡﺍ), but he could not answer for its containing water at this time. He described to Hamd its situation, and the way to it, with a view of persuading him to go and fetch some water for us; but his description was so confused, and I thought contradictory in several circumstances, and withal so pompous, that I concluded it to be all a story, and told him he was a babbler. “A babbler!” he exclaimed; “min Allah, no body in my whole life ever called me thus before. A babbler! I shall presently shew you, which of us two deserves that name.” He then seized one of the large water skins, and barefooted as he was, began ascending the mountain, which was covered with loose and sharp stones. We soon lost sight of him, but saw him again, farther on, climbing up an almost perpendicular path. An hour and a half after, he returned by the same path, carrying on his bent back the skin full of water, which could not weigh less than one hundred pounds, and putting it down before us said, “There! take it from the babbler!” I was so overcome with shame, that I knew not how to apologize for my inconsiderate language; but when he saw that I really felt myself in the wrong, he was easily pacified, and said nothing more about it till night, when seeing me take a hearty draught of the water, and hearing me praise its sweetness, compared with the brackish water of the coast, he stopped me, and said, “Young man, for the future never call an old Bedouin a babbler.”
On the opposite side of the gulf the mountains recede somewhat from the shore, leaving at their feet a sloping plain. A place on the coast, called Hagol (ﻞﻘﺣ), bore from hence E. b. S; it is a fruitful valley by the water side, with large date plantations, which were clearly discernible. It is in possession of the tribe of Arabs called Akraba (ﻪﺑﺮﻘﻋ). Behind them, in the mountains, dwells the strong and warlike tribe of Omran (ﻥﺍﺮﻤﻋ). Hagol is one long day’s journey from Akaba; to the south of it about four hours is a similar cluster of date trees, called El Hamyde (ﺓﺪﻴﻤﺤﻟﺍ), which bore from us S.E. b. E. The mountains on that coast are steep, with many peaks.
No Arabs live on the western coast, owing to the scanty pasturage; it is occasionally visited by fishermen and others, who come to collect the herb from which the soda ashes are obtained, or to cut wood and burn it into charcoal. The fishermen are very poor and visit the coast only during the summer months; they cure their fish with the salt which they collect on the southern part of the coast, and when they have thus prepared a sufficient quantity of fish, they fetch a camel and transport it to Tor or Suez. At Tor a camel’s load of the fish, or about four hundred pounds, may be had for three dollars. The fishermen prepare also a sort of lard by cutting out the fat adhering to the fish and melting it, they then mix it with salt, preserve it in skins, and use it all the year round instead of butter, both for cookery and for anointing their bodies. Its taste is not disagreeable. As the Bedouins prefer the upper road, this road along the coast is seldom visited, except by poor pilgrims who have been cut off from the caravan, or robbed by Bedouins, and who being ignorant of the road across the desert to Cairo, sometimes make the tour of the whole peninsula by the sea side, as they are thus sure not to lose their way, and in winter-time seldom fail in finding pools of water. Ayd told me that he had frequently met with stragglers of this description, worn out with fatigue and hunger.
From hence northwards the shore runs N.E. ½ N. Having doubled the point of Om Haye, we found on the other side, after again passing round a small bay, at five hours and three quarters, a bank of sand running into the sea to a considerable distance, and several miles in breadth; it is called Wady Mokabelat (ﺕﻼﺑﺎﻘﻣ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), and is the termination of a narrow Wady in the mountains to our left, from whence issues a torrent which spreads in time of rain over a wide extent of ground, partly rocky and partly sandy, where it produces good pasturage, and irrigates many acacia trees. The view up this Wady or inlet of the mountain is very curious: at its mouth it is nearly two miles wide, and it narrows gradually upwards with the most perfect regularity, so that the eye can trace it for five or six miles, when it becomes so narrow as to present only the appearance of a perpendicular black line. At six hours and a half we came again to a mountain forming a promontory, called Djebel Sherafe (ﻪﻓﺍﺮﺷ ﻞﺑﺟ). The mountains from Om Haye northward decline considerably in height. The highest point of the chain appears to be the summit above Noweyba, where we had descended to the shore.
Beyond Djebel Sherafe we found the road along the shore obstructed by high cliffs, and were obliged to make a detour by entering a valley to the west, called Wady Mezeiryk (ﻖﻳﺮﻴﺯﻤ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). We ascended through many windings, entered several lateral valleys, and descended again to the shore at the end of eight hours and a half, at a point not more than half an hour distant from where we had turned out of the road. We found the valley Mezeiryk full of excellent pasture; many sweet-scented herbs were growing in it, and the acacia trees were all green. Upon enquiry I learnt that to the north of Djebel Tyh copious rains had fallen during the winter, while to the south of it there had been very little for the last two years, and in the eastern parts none.
In the whole way from the convent I had not met with the smallest trace of antiquity, either inscriptions upon the rocks by the road-side or any other labour of man, until we reached the summit of Wady Mezeiryk, where, close to the road, is a large sand-stone rock, which seems, for a small space, to have received an artificial surface. Upon it I found rude drawings of camels, and of mountain and other goats, resembling those which I had before seen, and those which I saw afterwards in the Wady Mokatteb. No inscriptions were visible, but the annexed figures were drawn between the animals. These were the only drawings or inscriptions that I met with in the mountains to the E. of the convent, although I passed many flat rocks, well suited to them. I am inclined to think that the inscriptions have been written by pilgrims proceeding to Mount Sinai, and that the drawings of animals which are executed in a ruder manner and with a less steady hand, are the work of the shepherds of the peninsula. We find only those animals represented which are natives of these mountains, such as camels, mountain and other goats, and gazelles, but principally the two first,8 and I had occasion to remark in the course of my tour, that the present Bedouins of Sinai are in the habit of carving the figures of goats upon rocks and in grottos. Niebuhr observes, that in the hieroglyphic inscriptions which he saw in the ancient burying ground not far distant from Naszeb, he found figures of goats upon almost every inscribed tomb-stone; this animal is not very frequent in the hieroglyphic inscriptions of Egypt.
From the point where we descended again to the shore, we followed a range of black basaltic cliffs, into which the sea has worked several creeks, appearing like so many small lakes, with very narrow openings towards the sea; they are full of fish and shells. At the end of nine hours and a half we had passed these cliffs, and reached the plain beyond, upon which we continued our route near the shore, and rested for the night at ten hours and a quarter, under a palm-tree, in the vicinity of a deep brackish well, which we were obliged to excavate, in order to procure some water for our camels, they having drank none since we quitted Wasta.
From hence the promontory of Om Haye bore S.W. b. S. This plain, which is the extremity of a valley descending from the western mountain, is called Wady Taba (ﻪﻣﺎﻃ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). Ayd had promised to conduct me to this spot, but no farther; nor would the new offers which I now made induce hire to advance. We had already passed beyond the limits of the Arabs Towara, which terminate on this side of Wady Mokabelat, and we were now in the territory of the Heywat, who have a very bad reputation. We had met with nobody on the road, but in Wady Mezeiryk, as well as in Wady Taba, we saw footsteps, which shewed that some persons must have passed there a short time before. None of my guides were acquainted with the tribe of Heywat; had we therefore met any strong party of them, they would certainly have stripped us, although not at war with the Towara, for it is a universal practice among Bedouins to plunder all passengers who are unknown to them, and not attended by guides of their own tribe, provided they possess any thing worth seizing. Szaleh had completely deluded both myself and his own nephew Hamd: he had confidently asserted that he knew the Heywat well, and that the first individual of them whom we should meet would easily be prevailed upon to join our party, and to serve as an additional protector. About one hour before us was another promontory, beyond which we knew that the country was well peopled by two other tribes, the Alowein and Omran, who are the masters of the district of Akaba, intrepid robbers, and allies of the Heywat, and who are to this day quite independent of the government of Egypt. Through them we must unavoidably pass to reach Akaba, and Ayd could not give me the smallest hope of being able to cross their valleys without being attacked. Had I been furnished with a Firmahn from Mohammed Ali Pasha, I should have repaired at once to the great Sheikh of the Towara, and obliged him to send for some Heywat or Omran guides, who might have ensured my safety. But having been disappointed in this respect, I had no alternative but to turn back. Hamd, it is true, bravely offered to accompany me wherever I chose to go, though he knew nothing of the road before us, or the Arabs upon it; but I saw little chance of success, and knew, from what I had heard during my journey from Kerek to Cairo, that the Omran not only rob but murder passengers. Ayd had seen on the shore the footsteps of a man, which he knew to be those of a fisherman, a friend of his who had probably passed in the course of this day. Had we met with him he might have served as our guide, but not a soul was any where to be seen. Under these circumstances I reluctantly determined to retrace my steps the next day, but, instead of proceeding by the shore, to turn off into the mountains, and return to the convent by a more western route.
Akaba was not far distant from the spot from whence we returned. Before sun-set I could distinguish a black line in the plain, where my sharp-sighted guides clearly saw the date-trees surrounding the castle, which bore N.E. 1 E.; it could not be more than five or six hours distant. Before us was a promontory called Ras Koreye (ﺔﻳﺮﻗ ﺱﺍﺭ), and behind this, as I was told, there is another, beyond which begins the plain of Akaba. The castle is situated at an hour and a half or two hours from the western chain, down which the Hadj route leads, and about the same distance from the eastern chain, or lower continuation of Tor Hesma, a mountain which I have mentioned in my journey through the northern parts of Arabia Petræa. The descent of the western mountain is very steep, and has probably given to the place its name of Akaba, which in Arabic means a cliff or a steep declivity; it is probably the Akabet Aila of the Arabian geographers; Makrizi says that the village Besak stands upon its summit. In Numbers, xxxiv. 4, the “ascent of Akrabbim” is mentioned, which appears to correspond very accurately to this ascent of the western mountain from the plain of Akaba. Into this plain, which surrounds the castle on every side except the sea, issues the Wady el Araba, the broad sandy valley which leads towards the Dead sea, and which I crossed in 1812, at a day and a half, or two days journey from Akaba. At about two hours to the south of the castle the eastern range of mountains approaches the sea. The plain of Akaba, which is from three to four hours in length, from west to east, and, I believe, not much less in breadth northward, is very fertile in pasturage. To the distance of about one hour from the sea it is strongly impregnated with salt, but farther north sands prevail. The castle itself stands at a few hundred paces from the sea, and is surrounded with large groves of date-trees. It is a square building, with strong walls, erected, as it now stands, by Sultan el Ghoury of Egypt, in the sixteenth century. In its interior are many Arab huts; a market is held there, which is frequented by Hedjaz and Syrian Arabs; and small caravans arrive sometimes from Khalyl. The castle has tolerably good water in deep wells. The Pasha of Egypt, keeps here a garrison of about thirty soldiers, to guard the provisions deposited for the supply of the Hadj, and for the use of the cavalry on their passage by this route to join the army in the Hedjaz. Cut off from Cairo, the soldiers of the garrison often turn rebellious; three years ago an Aga made himself independent, and whenever a corps of troops passed he shut the gates of the castle, and prepared to defend it. He had married a daughter of the chief of the Omran, and thus secured the assistance of that tribe. Being at last attacked by some troops sent against him from Cairo he fled to his wife’s tribe, and escaped into Syria.
It appears that the gulf extends very little farther east than the castle, distant from which one hour, in a southern direction, and on the eastern shore of the gulf, lies a smaller and half-ruined castle, inhabited by Bedouins only, called Kaszer el Bedawy. At about three quarters of an hour from Akaba, and the same distance from Kaszer el Bedawy, are ruins in the sea, which are visible only at low water: they are said to consist of walls, houses, and columns, but cannot easily be approached, on account of the shallows. This information was not given to me by my guides, but after my return to Cairo, by some French Mamelouks, in the army of Mohammed Ali Pasha, who had formerly been for several weeks in garrison at Akaba; they, however, had never seen the ruins except from a distance. I enquired particularly whether the gulf did not form two branches at this extremity, as it has always been laid down in the maps, but I was assured that it had only a single ending, at which the castle is situated.
To the north of Akaba, in the mountain leading up to Tor Hesma, is a Wady known by the name of Wady Ithem (ﻢﺛﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). I was told that at a certain spot this valley is shut up by an ancient wall, the construction of which is ascribed by the Arabs to a king named Hadeid, whose intention in erecting it was to prevent the tribe of Beni Helal of Nedjed from making incursions into the plain. By this valley a road leads eastwards towards Nedjed, following, probably, a branch of the mountain which extends towards the Akaba of the Syrian Hadj route, where the pilgrims coming from Damascus descend by a steep and difficult pass into the lower plains of Arabia. I believe this chain of mountains continues in a direct and uninterrupted line from the eastern shore of the Dead sea to the eastern shore of the Red sea, and from thence to Yemen. Makrizi, the Egyptian historian, 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; at one mile from it, is a triumphal arch of the Cæsars. In the time of the Islam it was a fine town, inhabited by the Beni Omeya. Ibn Ahmed Ibn Touloun (a Sultan of Egypt), made the road over the Akaba or steep mountain before Aila. There were many mosques at Aila, and many Jews lived there; it was taken by the Franks during the Crusades; but in 566, Salaheddyn transported ships upon camels from Cairo to this place, and recovered it from them. Near Aila was formerly situated a large and handsome town, called Aszyoun (ﻥﻮﻴﺼﻋ),” (Eziongeber.)
My guides told me, that in the sea opposite to the above mentioned promontory of Ras Koreye, there is a small island; they affirmed that they saw it distinctly, but I could not, for it was already dusk when they pointed it out, and the next morning a thick fog covered the gulf. Upon this island, according to their statement, are ruins of infidels, but as no vessels are kept in these parts, Ayd, who had been here several times, had never been able to take any close view of them; they are described as extensive, and built of hard stone, and are called El Deir, “the convent,” a word often applied by Arabs to any ruined building in which they suppose that the priests of the infidels once resided.
The Bedouins in the neighbourhood of Akaba, as I have already observed, are the Alouein, Omran, and Heywat. They are all three entitled to a passage duty from the Hadj caravan; the Alouein exact it as owners of the district extending from the western mountain, across the plain to Akaba; the Heywat, as the possessors of the country from the well of Themmed, to the summit of the same mountain; and the Omran as masters of the desert from Akaba southward as far as the vicinity of Moeleh. Caravans of these tribes come occasionally to Cairo in search of corn, but they are independent of the Pasha of Egypt, of which they give proofs, by continually plundering the loads of the Hadj caravans, and of all those who pass the great Hadj route through their districts. Their intercourse with Syria, especially with Khalyl, is much more frequent than with Cairo.
We had had through the whole of this day a very intense Simoum, or hot-wind, which continued also during the night. In the evening I bathed in the sea, but found myself immediately afterwards as much heated as I had been before. After retiring to sleep we were awakened by the barking of Ayd’s dog, upon which Ayd springing up said he was sure that some people were in the neighbourhood. We therefore got our guns ready, and sat by the fire the whole night, for whatever may be the heat of the season, the Bedouin must have his fire at night. Szaleh gave evident signs of fear, but happily the morning came without realizing his apprehensions.
May 9th. — Ayd still expressed his certainty that somebody had approached us last night, so much confidence did he place in the barking of his dog; he therefore advised me to hasten my way back, as some Arabs might see our footsteps in the sand, and pursue us in quest of a booty. On departing, Ayd, who was barefooted, and whose feet had become sore with walking, took from under the date-bush round which we had passed the night, a pair of leathern sandals, which he knew belonged to his Heywat friend, the fisherman, and which the latter had hidden here till his return. In order to inform the owner that it was he who had taken the sandals, he impressed his footstep in the sand just by, which he knew the other would immediately recognise, and he turned the toes towards the south, to indicate that he had proceeded with the sandals in that direction.
We now returned across the plain to the before mentioned basalt cliffs, passed the different small bays, and turned up into Wady Mezeiryk. We had descended from our camels, which Szaleh was driving before him, about fifty paces in advance; I followed, and about the same distance behind me walked Hamd and Ayd. As we had seen nobody during the whole journey, and were now returning into the friendly districts of the Towara, we had ceased to entertain any fears from enemies, and were laughing at Ayd for recommending us to cross the valleys as quickly as possible. My gun was upon my camel, and I had just turned leisurely round an angle of the valley, when I heard Ayd cry out with all his might, “Get your arms! Here they are!” I immediately ran up to the camels, to take my gun, but the cowardly Szaleh, instead of stopping to assist his companions, made the camels gallop off at full speed up the valley. I, however, overtook them, and seized my gun, but before I could return to Hamd, I heard two shots fired, and Ayd’s war-hoop, “Have at him! are we not Towara?” Immediately afterwards I saw Hamd spring round the angle, his eyes flashing with rage, his shirt sprinkled with blood, his gun in one hand, and in the other his knife covered with blood; his foot was bleeding, he had lost his turban, and his long black hair hung down over his shoulders. “I have done for him!” he exclaimed, as he wiped his knife; “but let us fly.” “Not without Ayd,” said I: “No indeed,” he replied; “without him we should all be lost.” We returned round the corner, and saw Ayd exerting his utmost agility to come up with us. At forty paces distance an Arab lay on the ground, and three others were standing over him. We took hold of Ayd’s arm and hastened to our camels, though we knew not where to find them. Szaleh had frightened them so greatly by striking them with his gun, that they went off at full-gallop, and it was half an hour before we reached them; one of them had burst its girths, and thrown off its saddle and load. We replaced the load, mounted Ayd, and hastened to pass the rocks of Djebel Sherafe. We then found ourselves in a more open country, less liable to be waylaid amongst rocks, and better able to defend ourselves. Hamd now told me that Ayd had first seen four Bedouins running down upon us; they had evidently intended to waylay us from behind the corner, but came a little too late. When he heard Ayd cry out, he had just time to strike fire and to light the match of his gun, when the boldest of the assailants approached within twenty paces of him and fired; the ball passed through his shirt; he returned the fire but missed his aim; while his opponent was coolly reloading his piece, before his companions had joined him, Ayd cried out to Hamd, to attack the robber with his knife, and advanced to his support with a short spear which he carried; Hamd drew his knife, rushed upon the adversary, and after receiving a wound in the foot, brought him to the ground, but left him immediately, on seeing his companions hastening to his relief. Ayd now said that if the man was killed, we should certainly be pursued, but that if he was only wounded the others would remain with him, and give up the pursuit. We travelled with all possible haste, not knowing whether more enemies might not be behind, or whether the encampment of the wounded man might not be in the vicinity, from whence his friends might collect to revenge his blood.
Ayd had certainly not been mistaken last night; these robbers had no doubt seen our fire, and had approached us, but were frightened by the barking of the dog. Uncertain whether we were proceeding northward or southward, they had waited till they saw us set out, and then by a circuitous route in the mountains had endeavoured, unseen, to get the start of us in order to waylay us in the passes of the Wady Mezeiryk. If they had reached the spot where we were attacked two or three minutes sooner, and had been able to take aim at us from behind the rock, we must all have inevitably perished. That they intended to murder us, contrary to the usual practice of Bedouins, is easily accounted for they knew from the situation of the place, where they discovered us, as well as from the dress and appearance of my guides, that they were Towara Bedouins; but though I was poorly dressed, they must have recognized me to be a townsman, and a townsman is always supposed by Bedouins to carry money with him. To rob us without resistance was impossible, their number being too small; or supposing this had succeeded, and any of the guides had escaped, they knew that they would sooner or later be obliged to restore the property taken, and to pay the fine of blood and wounds, because the Towara were then at peace with all their neighbours. For these reasons they had no doubt resolved to kill the whole party, as the only effectual mode of avoiding all disclosures as to the real perpetrators of the murder. I do not believe that such atrocities often occur in the eastern desert, among the great Aeneze tribe; at least I never heard of any; but these Heywat Arabs are notorious for their bad faith, and never hesitate to kill those who do not travel under the protection of their own people, or their well known friends. Scarcely any other Bedouin robbers would have fired till they had summoned us to give up our baggage, and had received a shot for answer.
I had at first intended to visit, on my return, the upper mountains, to which there is a road leading through the Wady Mokabelat; but Ayd dissuaded me. He said that if the party from which we had just escaped meant to pursue us, they would probably lay in wait for us in some of the passes in that direction; as he did not doubt that it would be their belief, that we were bound for Tor or Suez, the nearest road to which places lies through the Wady Mokabelat. I yielded to his opinion, and we returned along the coast by the same road we had come. Hamd’s wound was not dangerous; I dressed it as well as I could, and four days afterwards it was nearly healed. We travelled a part of the night, and
May 10th — early the next morning we again reached Noweyba, the place where we had first reached the coast. We here met Ayd’s deaf friend. Szaleh had all the way, betrayed the most timorous disposition; in excuse for running away when we were attacked, he said that he intended to halt farther on in the Wady, in order to cover our retreat, and that he had been obliged to run after the camels, which were frightened by the firing; but the truth was, that his terrors deprived him of all power of reflection, otherwise he must have known that the only course, to be pursued in the desert, when suddenly attacked, is to fight for life, as escape is almost impossible.
Having been foiled in my hopes of visiting Akaba, I now wished to follow the shore of the gulf to the southward; but Szaleh would not hear of any farther progress in that direction, and insisted upon my going back to the convent. I told him that his company had been of too little use to me, to make me desirous of keeping him any longer; he therefore returned, no doubt in great haste, by the same route we had come, accompanied by the deaf man; I engaged Ayd to conduct us along the coast, Hamd being very ignorant of this part of the peninsula, where his tribe, the Oulad Sayd, never encamp.
The date trees of Noweyba belong to the tribe of Mezeine; here were several huts built of stones and branches of the trees, in which the owners live with their families during the date-harvest. The narrow plain which rises here from the sea to the mountain, is covered with sand and loose stones. Ayd told me that in summer, when the wind is strong, a hollow sound is sometimes heard here, as if coming from the upper country; the Arabs say that the spirit of Moses then descends from Mount Sinai, and in flying across the sea bids a farewell to his beloved mountains.
We rode from Noweyba round a bay, the southern point of which bore from thence S. by W. In two hours and three quarters from Noweyba we doubled the point, and rested for the night in a valley just behind it, called Wady Djereimele (ﻪﻟﻤﻴﺮﺟ), thickly overgrown with the shrub Gharkad, the berries of which are gathered in great abundance. Red coral is very common on this part of the coast. In the evening I saw a great number of shellfish leave the water, and crawl to one hundred or two hundred paces inland, where they passed the night, and at sun-rise returned to the sea.
During the last two days of our return from the northward I had found no opportunity to take notes. I had never permitted my companions to see me write, because I knew that if their suspicions were once raised, it would at least render them much less open in their communications to me. It has indeed been a constant maxim with me never to write before Arabs on the road; at least I have departed from it in a very few instances only, in Syria; and on the Nile, in my first journey into Nubia; but never in the interior of Nubia, or in the Hedjaz. Had I visited the convent of Mount Sinai in the character of a Frank, with the Pasha’s Firmahn, and had returned, as travellers usually do, from thence to Cairo, I should not have hesitated to take notes openly, because the Towara Arabs dread the Pasha, and dare not insult or molest any one under his protection. But wishing to penetrate into a part of the country occupied by other tribes, it became of importance to conceal my pursuits, lest I should be thought a necromancer, or in search of treasures. In such cases many little stratagems must be resorted to by the traveller, not to lose entirely the advantage of making memoranda on the spot. I had accustomed myself to write when mounted on my camel, and proceeding at an easy walk; throwing the wide Arab mantle over my head, as if to protect myself from the sun, as the Arabs do, I could write under it unobserved, even if another person rode close by me; my journal books being about four inches long and three broad, were easily carried in a waistcoat pocket, and when taken out could be concealed in the palm of the hand; sometimes I descended from my camel, and walking a little in front of my companions, wrote down a few words without stopping. When halting I lay down as if to sleep, threw my mantle over me, and could thus write unseen under it. At other times I feigned to go aside to answer a call of nature, and then couched down, in the Arab manner, hidden under my cloak. This evening I had recourse to the last method; but having many observations to note, I remained so long absent from my companions that Ayd’s curiosity was roused. He came to look after me, and perceiving me immoveable on the spot, approached on tip-toe, and came close behind me without my perceiving him. I do not know how long he had remained there, but suddenly lifting up my cloak, he detected me with the book in my hand. “What is this?” he exclaimed. “What are you doing? I shall not make you answerable for it at present, because I am your companion; but I shall talk further to you about it when we are at the convent.” I made no answer, till we returned to the halting-place, when I requested him to tell me what further he had to say. “You write down our country,” he replied, in a passionate tone, “our mountains, our pasturing places, and the rain which falls from heaven; other people have done this before you, but I at least will never become instrumental to the ruin of my country.” I assured him that I had no bad intentions towards the Bedouins, and told him he must be convinced that I liked them too well for that; “on the contrary,” I added, “had I not occasionally written down some prayers ever since we left Taba, we should most certainly have been all killed; and it is very wrong in you to accuse me of that, which if I had omitted, would have cost us our lives.” He was startled at this reply, and seemed nearly satisfied. “Perhaps you say the truth,” he observed; “but we all know that some years since several men, God knows who they were, came to this country, visited the mountains, wrote down every thing, stones, plants, animals, even serpents and spiders, and since then little rain has fallen, and the game has greatly decreased.” The same opinions prevail in these mountains, which I have already mentioned to be current among the Bedouins of Nubia; they believe that a sorcerer, by writing down certain charms, can stop the rains and transfer them to his own country. The travellers to whom Ayd alluded were M. Seetzen, who visited Mount Sinai eight years since, and M. Agnelli, who ten years ago travelled for the Emperor of Austria, collecting specimens of natural history, and who made some stay at Tor, from whence he sent Arabs to hunt for all kinds of animals.
M. Seetzen traversed the peninsula in several directions, and followed a part of the eastern gulf as far northward, I believe, as Noweyba. This learned and indefatigable traveller made it a rule not to be intimidated by the suspicions and prejudices of the Bedouins; beyond the Jordan, on the shores of the Dead sea, in the desert of Tyh, in this peninsula, as well as in Arabia, he openly followed his pursuits, never attempting to hide his papers and pencils from the natives, but avowing his object to be that of collecting precious herbs and curious stones, in the character of a Christian physician in the Holy Land, and in that of a Moslim physician in the Hedjaz. If the knowledge of the natural history of Syria and Arabia was the principal object of M. Seetzen’s researches, he was perfectly right in the course which he adopted, but if he considered these countries only as intermediate steps towards the exploring of others, he placed his ultimate success in the utmost peril; and though he may have succeeded in elucidating the history of the brute creation, he had little chance of obtaining much information on the human character, which can only be done by gaining the confidence of the inhabitants, and by accommodating our notions, views, and manners, to their own. When M. Seetzen visited these mountains, the Towaras were not yet reduced to subjection by Mohammed Ali; he was obliged, on several occasions, to pay large sums for his passage through their country, and the Mezeine would probably have executed a plot which they had laid to kill him, had not his guides been informed of it, and prevented him from passing through their territory.
I had much difficulty in soothing Ayd; he remained quiet during the rest of the journey, but after our return to the convent, the report spread among the Arabs that I was a writer like those who had preceded me, and I thus completely lost their confidence.
May 11th. — We continued along the coast S.S.W. and at four hours passed a promontory, called Djebel Abou Ma (ﺀﺎﻣ ﻮﺑﺍ ﻞﺒﺟ), consisting of granite. From hence we proceeded S.W. by S. and at seven hours came to a sandy plain, on the edge of a large sheltered bay.
We found here some Bedouin girls, in charge of a few goats; they told us that their parents lived not far off in the valley Omyle (ﻪﻟﻴﻤﻋ). We went there, and found two small tents, where three or four women and as many little children were occupied in spinning, and in collecting herbs to feed the lambs and kids, which were frisking about them. Ayd knew the women, who belonged to his own tribe of Mezeine. Their husbands were fishermen, and were then at the sea-shore. They brought us some milk, and I bought a kid of them, which we intended to dress in the evening. The women were not at all bashful; I freely talked and laughed with them, but they remained at several yards distance from me. Ayd shook them by the hand, and kissed the children; but Hamd, who did not know them, kept at the same distance as myself. Higher up in the Wady is a well of good water, called Tereibe (ﺔﺒﻳﺮﺗ).
From hence we went S.W. by S. and at eight hours came to Ras Methna (ﺎﻧﺜﻣ ﺱﺍﺭ), a promontory whose cliffs continue for upwards of a mile close by the water side. Granite and red porphyry here cross each other in irregular layers, in some places horizontally, in others perpendicularly. The granite of this peninsula presents the same numberless varieties as that above the cataract of the Nile, and near Assouan; and the same beautiful specimens of red, rose-coloured, and almost purple may be collected here, as in that part of Egypt. The transition from primitive to secondary rocks, partaking of the nature of grünstein or grauwacke, or hornstein and trap, presents also an endless variety in every part of the peninsula, so that were I even possessed of the requisite knowledge accurately to describe them, it would tire the patience of the reader. Masses of black trap, much resembling basalt, compose several insulated peaks and rocks. On the shore the granite sand carried down from the upper mountains has been formed into cement by the action of the water, and mixed with fragments of the other rocks already mentioned, has become a very beautiful breccia.
At the end of eight hours and three quarters we rested for the night, to the south of this promontory, in a valley still called Wady Methna. From some fishermen whom we met I bought some excellent fish, of a species resembling the turbot, and very common on this coast. These with our kid furnished an abundant repast to ourselves as well as to the fishermen. The love of good and plentiful fare was one of Ayd’s foibles; and he often related with pride that in his younger days he had once eaten at a meal, with three other Bedouins, the whole of a mountain goat; although his companions, as he observed, were moderate eaters. Bedouins, in general, have voracious appetites, and whoever travels with them cannot adopt any better mode of attaching them to his interests than by feeding them abundantly, and inviting all strangers met with on the road to partake in the repast. Pounds given as presents in money have less effect than shillings spent in victuals; and the reputation of hospitality which the traveller thus gains facilitates his progress on every occasion. My practice was to leave the provision sack open, and at the disposal of my guides, not to eat but when they did, not to take the choice morsels to myself, to share in the cooking, and not to give any orders, but to ask for whatever I wanted, as a favour. By pursuing this method I continued during the remainder of the journey to be on the best terms with my companions, and had not the slightest altercation either with Hamd or Ayd.
On the eastern shore of the gulf, opposite the place where we rested, lies a valley called Mekna (ﻊﻧﻘﻣ), inhabited by the tribe of Omran. Close to the shore are plantations of date and other fruittrees. The inhabitants of Mekna cross the gulf in small boats, and bring to this side sheep and goats for sale, of which they possess large flocks, and which are thus more plentiful in this part of the peninsula than in any other. The mountains behind Mekna recede from the sea, and further to the south take a more eastern direction, so as to leave a chain of hills between them and the shore, rising immediately from the water-side. The appearance of this gulf, with the mountains enclosing it on both sides, reminded me of the lake of Tiberias and of the Dead sea; and the general resemblance was still further heightened by the hot season in which I had visited all these places.
May 12th. — Our road lay S.S.W. along a narrow sandy plain by the sea side. In one hour and a half we reached Dahab (ﺐﻫﺩ), a more extensive cluster of date trees than I had before seen on this coast; it extends into the sea upon a tongue of land, about two miles beyond the line of the shore; to the north of it is a bay, which affords anchorage, but it is without protection against northerly winds. Dahab is, probably, the Dizahab mentioned in Deut. i. 1. There are some low hummocks covered with sand close to the shore of the low promontory, probably occasioned by the ruins of buildings. The plantations of date trees ar[e] here enclosed by low walls, within many of which are wells of indifferent water; but in one of them, about twenty-five feet deep, and fifty yards from the sea, we found the best water I had met with on any part of this coast in the immediate vicinity of the sea.
About two miles to the south of the date groves are a number of shallow ponds into which the sea flows at hightide; here the salt is made which supplies all the peninsula, as well as the fishermen for curing their fish; the openings of the ponds being closed with sand, the water is left to evaporate, when a thick crust of salt is left, which is collected by the Bedouins. Dahab is a favourite resort of the fishermen, who here catch the fish called Boury (ﻲﺭﻮﺑ) in great quantities.
The date trees of Dahab, which belong to the tribe of Mezeine and Aleygat, presented a very different appearance to those of Egypt and the Hedjaz, where the cultivators always take off the lower branches which dry up annually; here they are suffered to remain, and hang down to the ground, forming an almost impenetrable barrier round the tree, the top of which only is crowned with green leaves. Very few trees had any fruit upon them; indeed date trees, in general, yield a very uncertain produce, and even in years, when every other kind of fruit is abundant, they are sometimes quite barren. We met here several families of Arabs, who had come to look after their trees, and to collect salt. In the midst of the small peninsula of Dahab are about a dozen heaps of stones irregularly piled together, but shewing traces of having once been united; none of them is higher than five feet. The Arabs call them Kobour el Noszara, or the tombs of the Christians, a name given by them to all the nations which peopled their country before the introduction of the Islam.
We remained several hours under the refreshing shade of the palm trees, and there continued our road. In crossing the tongue of land I observed the remains of what I conceived to be a road or causeway, which began at the mountain and ran out towards the point of the peninsula; the stones which had formed it were now separated from each other, but lay in a straight line, so as to afford sufficient proof of their having been placed here by the labour of man. To the south of Dahab the camel road along the shore is shut up by cliffs which form a promontory called El Shedjeir (ﺮﻴﺠﺷ); we were therefore obliged to take a circuitous route through the mountains, and directed our road by that way straight towards Sherm, the most southern harbour on this coast. We ascended a broad sandy valley in the direction S.W.; this is the same Wady Sal in which we had already travelled in our way from the convent, and which empties itself into the sea. In the rocky sides of this valley I observed several small grottos, apparently receptacles for the dead, which were just large enough to receive one corpse; I at first supposed them to have been natural erosions of the sand-stone rock; but as there were at least a dozen of them, and as I had not seen any thing similar in other sand-rocks, I concluded that they had been originally formed by man, and that time had worn them away to the appearance of natural cavities.
We left the valley and continued to ascend slightly through windings of the Wady Beney (ﻲﻧﺑ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ) and Wady Ghayb (ﺐﻴﺎﻏ), two broad barren sandy valleys, till, at the end of four hours, we reached the well of Moayen el Kelab (ﺏﻼﻜﻟﺍ ﻦﻴﻌﻣ), at the extremity of Wady Ghayb, where it is shut up by a cliff. Here is a small pond of water under the shade of an impending rock, and a large wild fig-tree. On the top of a neighbouring part of the granite cliff, is a similar pond with reeds growing in it. The water, which is never known to dry up, is excellent, and acquires still greater value from being in the vicinity of a spacious cavern, which affords shade to the traveller. This well is much visited by the Mezeine tribe; on several trees in the valley leading to it, we found suspended different articles of Bedouin tent furniture, and also entire tent coverings. My guides told me that the owners left them here during their absence, in order not to have the trouble of carrying them about; and such is the confidence which these people have in one another, that no instance is known of any of the articles so left having ever been stolen: the same practice prevails in other parts of the peninsula. The cavern is formed by nature in a beautiful granite rock; its interior is covered on all sides with figures of mountain goats drawn with charcoal in the rudest manner; they are done by the shepherd boys and girls of the Towaras.
The heat being intense we reposed in the cavern till the evening, when, after retracing our road for a short distance, we turned into the Wady Kenney (ﻲﻧﻗ), which we ascended; at its extremity we began to descend in a Wady called Molahdje (ﺔﺠﺤﻠﻣ), a narrow, steep, and rocky valley of difficult passage. Ayd’s dog started a mountain goat, but was unable to come up with it. We slept in this Wady, at one hour and a half from Moayen el Kelab.
May 13th. — Farther down the Wady widens and is enclosed by high granite cliffs. Its direction is S. by W. Four hours continued descent brought us into Wady Orta (ﻊﻃﺭﺍ). The rocks here are granite, red porphyry, and grünstein, similar to what I had observed towards Akaba, at nearly the same elevation above the sea. At the end of six hours we left Wady Orta, which descends towards the sea, and turning to the right, entered a large plain called Mofassel el Korfa (ﺎﻓﺮﻘﻟﺍ ﻞﺼﻔﻣ), in which we rode S.S.W. From the footsteps in the sand Ayd knew the individuals of the Mezeine, who had passed this way in the morning. The view here opened upon a high chain of mountains which extends from Sherm in the direction of the convent, and which I had passed on my return from Arabia, in going from Sherm to Tor. It is called Djebel Tarfa (ﺔﻓﺮﻄ ﻞﺒﺟ), and is inhabited principally by the Mezeine. At eight hours the plain widens; many beds of torrents coming from the Tarfa cross it in their way to the sea. This part is called El Ak-ha (ﻲﻬﻗﻻﺍ), and excepting in the beds of the torrents, where some verdure is produced, it is an entirely barren tract. At nine hours we approached the Tarfa, between which and our road were low hills called Hodeybat el Noszara (ﺍﺭﺎﺼﻧﻟﺍ ﺕﺎﺒﻴﺪﺣ), i. e. the hump backs of the Christians. The waters which collect here in the winter flow into the sea at Wady Nabk. At ten hours the plain opens still wider, and declines gently eastwards to the sea. To the left, where the mountains terminate, a sandy plain extends to the water side. At eleven hours is an insulated chain of low hills, forming here, with the lowest range of the Tarfa, a valley, in which our road lay, and in which we halted, after a fatigueing day’s journey of twelve hours. As there were only two camels for three of us, we rode by turns; and Ayd regretted his younger days, when, as he assured us, he had once walked from the convent to Cairo in four days. The hills near which we halted are called Roweysat Nimr (ﺮﻤﻧ ﺕﺎﺴﻴﻭﺭ), or the little heads of the tiger.
May 14th. — We descended among low hills, and after two hours reached the harbour of Sherm (ﻡﺮﺷ). This is the only harbour on the western coast of the gulf of Akaba, which affords safe anchorage for large ships, though, by lying close in shore, small vessels might, I believe, find shelter in several of the bays of this gulf. At Sherm there are two deep bays little distant from each other, but separated by high land, in both of which, ships may lie in perfect safety. On the shore of the southern bay stands the tomb of a Sheikh, held in veneration by the Bedouins and mariners: a small house has been built over it, the walls of which are thickly hung with various offerings by the Bedouins; and a few lamps suspended from the roof are sometimes lighted by sailors. Sherif Edrisi, in his geography, mentions these two bays of Sherm, and calls the one Sherm el Beit (ﺖﻴﺒﻟﺍ ﻡﺮﺸ), or of the house, and the other Sherm el Bir (ﺮﻴﺑﻟﺍ ﻡﺮﺷ), or of the well, thus accurately describing both; for near the shore of the northern bay are several copious wells of brackish water, deep, and lined with stones, and apparently an ancient work of considerable labour. The distance from Sherm to the Cape of Ras Abou Mohammed is four or five hours; on the way a mountain is passed, which comes down close to the sea, called Es-szafra (ﺓﺮﻔﺼﻟﺍ), the point of which bears from Sherm S.W. by S.
Bedouins are always found at Sherm, waiting with their camels for ships coming from the Hedjaz, whose passengers often come on shore here, in order to proceed by land to Tor and Suez. The Arab tribes of Mezeine and Aleygat have the exclusive right of this transport. Shortly after we had alighted at the well, more than twenty Mezeine came down from the mountain with their camels; they claimed the right of conducting me from hence, and of supplying me with a third camel; and as both my camels belonged to Arabs of the tribe of Oulad Sayd, they insisted upon Hamd taking my baggage from his camel, and placing it upon one of theirs, that they might have the profits of hire. After breakfasting with them, a loud quarrel began, which lasted at least two hours. I told them that the moment any one laid his hands upon my baggage to remove it, I should consider it as carried off by force, and no longer my property, and that I should state to the governor of Suez that I had been robbed here. Although they could not all expect to share in the profits arising from my transport, every one of them was as vociferous as if it had been his exclusive affair, and it soon became evident that a trifle in money for each of them was all that was wanted to quiet them. They did not, however, succeed; I talked very boldly; told them that they were robbers, and that they should be punished for their conduct towards me. At last their principal man, seeing that nothing was to be got, told us that we might load and depart. He accompanied us to a short distance, and received a handful of coffee-beans, as a reward for his having been less clamorous than the others.
These people believed that my visit to Sherm was for the mere purpose of visiting the tomb of the saint. I had assigned this motive to Ayd, who was himself a Mezeine, telling him that I had made a vow to thank the saint for his protection in our encounter with the robbers; Ayd would otherwise have been much astonished at my proceeding to this distance without any plausible object. The nearest road from Sherm to the convent is at first the same way by which we came, and it branches off northward from Wady Orta; but as I was desirous of seeing as much as possible of the coast, I suggested to my guides, that if we proceeded by that route the Mezeine of Sherm might possibly ride after us, and excite another quarrel in the mountain, where we should find it more difficult to extricate ourselves. They consented therefore to take the circuitous route along the shore. Such stratagems are often necessary, in travelling with Bedouins, to make them yield to the traveller’s wishes; for though they care little for fatigue in their own business, they are extremely averse to go out of their way, to gratify what they consider an absurd whim of their companion.
From Sherm we rode an hour and a quarter among low hills near the shore. Here I saw for the first and only time, in this peninsula, volcanic rocks. For a distance of about two miles the hills presented perpendicular cliffs, formed in half circles, and some of them nearly in circles, none of them being more than sixty to eighty feet in height; in other places there was an appearance of volcanic craters. The rock is black, with sometimes a slight red appearance, full of cavities, and of a rough surface; on the road lay a few stones which had separated themselves from above. The cliffs were covered by deep layers of sand, and the valleys at their feet were also overspread with it; it is possible that other rocks of the same kind may be found towards Ras Abou Mohammed, and hence may have arisen the term of black (μέλαναορη), applied to these mountains by the Greeks. It should be observed, however, that low sand hills intervene between the volcanic rocks and the sea, and that above them, towards the higher mountains, no traces of lava are found, which seems to shew that the volcanic matter is confined to this spot.
We issued from the low hills upon a wide plain, which extends as far as Nabk, and is intersected in several places by beds of torrents. Our direction was N.E. by N. The plain terminates three or four miles to the east, in rocks which line the shore. At the end of three hours and a half we halted under a rock, in the bed of one of the torrents. The whole plain appears to be alluvial; many petrified shells are found imbedded in the chalky and calcareous soil. In the afternoon we again passed several low water-courses in the plain, and, at the end of five hours Wady Szygha (ﺔﻐﻴﺻ). At six hours and a half from Sherm we rested in the plain, in a spot where some bushes grew, amongst which we found a Bedouin woman and her daughter, living under a covering made of reeds and brush-wood. Her husband and son were absent fishing, but Ayd being well known to them, they gave us a hearty welcome, and milked a goat for me. After sunset they joined our party, and sitting down behind the bush where I had taken up my quarters, eat a dish of rice which I presented to them. The daughter was a very handsome girl of eighteen or nineteen, as graceful in her deportment and modest in her behaviour, as the best educated European female could be; indeed I have often had occasion to remark among the Bedouins, comparing them with the women of the most polished parts of Europe, that grace and modesty are not less than beauty the gifts of nature. Among these Arabs the men consider it beneath them to take the flocks to pasture, and leave it to the women.
In front of our halting place lay an island called Djezyret Tyran (ﻥﺍﺮﻴﺗ ﺓﺮﻴﺯﺟ): its length from N. to S. is from six to eight miles, and it lies about four miles from the shore. Half its length is a narrow promontory of sand, and its main body to the south consists of a barren mountain. It is not inhabited, but the Bedouins of Heteym sometimes come here from the eastern coast, to fish for pearls, and remain several weeks, bringing their provision of water from the spring of El Khereyde (ﺓﺪﻴﺮﺨﻟﺍ), on that coast, there being no sweet water in the island. Edrisi mentions a place on the western coast, where pearls are procured, a circumstance implied by the name of Maszdaf (ﻑﺪﺼﻣ), which he gives to it. The name is now unknown here, but I think it probable that Edrisi spoke of this part of the coast. The quantity of pearls obtained is very small, but the Heteym pick up a good deal of mother-of-pearl, which they sell to great advantage at Moeleh, to the ships which anchor there.
May 15th. — We continued over the plain in a direction N. by E. and in two hours reached Wady Nabk (ﻖﺒﻧ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), which, next to Dahab and Noweyba, is the principal station on this coast. Large plantations of date trees grow on the sea-shore, among which, as usual, is a well of brackish water. The plain which reaches from near Sherm to Nabk is the only one of any extent along the whole coast; at Nabk it contracts, the western chain approaches to within two miles of the shore, and farther northward this chain comes close to the sea. The promontory of Djebel Abou Ma bore from Wady Nabk N.N.E ½ E. From hence to Dahab, as the Arabs told me, is about six hours walk along the shore. The highest point of the mountain upon the island of Tyran bore S.E. by S. The opposite part of the eastern coast is low, and the mountains are at a distance inland. Near Nabk are salt-pits, similar to those at Dahab. Except during the date harvest, Nabk is inhabited only by fishermen; they are the poorest individuals of their tribe, who have no flocks or camels, and are obliged to resort to this occupation to support themselves and families. We bought here for thirty-two paras, or about four-pence halfpenny, thirty-two salted fish, each about two feet in length, and a measure of the dried shell-fish, Zorombat, which in this state the Arabs call Bussra. For the smaller kinds of fish the fishermen use hand-nets, which they throw into the sea from the shore; the larger species they kill with lances, one of which Ayd carried constantly with him as a weapon; there is not a single boat nor even a raft to be found on the whole of this coast, but the Bedouins of the eastern coast have a few boats, which may sometimes be seen in the gulf. We saw here a great number of porpoises playing in the water close to the shore. I wished to shoot at one of them, but was prevented by my companions, who said that it was unlawful to kill them, as they are the friends of man, and never hurt any body. I saw parts of the skin of a large fish, killed on the coast, which was an inch in thickness, and is employed by these Arabs instead of leather for sandals.
We now turned from Nabk upwards to the convent, and in half an hour entered the chain of mountains along a broad valley called Wady Nabk, in which we ascended slightly, and rested at two hours and a quarter from Nabk under a large acacia tree. In the vicinity were three tents of Aleygat Arabs, the women of which approached the place where we had alighted, and told us that two men and a child were there ill of the plague, which they had caught from a relative of theirs, who had lately come from Egypt with the disease upon him, and who had died. At that time they were in a large encampment, but as soon as the infection shewed itself, their companions compelled them to quit the camp, and they had come to this place to await the termination of the disorder. My guides were as much afraid of the infection as I was, and made the women remain at a proper distance; they asked me for some rice, and sugar, which latter article they believe to be a sovereign remedy against diseases. I was glad to be able to gratify them, and I advised them to give the patients whey which is almost the only cooling draught the Arabs know; they conceive that almost all illnesses proceed from cold, and therefore usually attempt to cure them by heat, keeping the patient thickly covered with clothes, and feeding him upon the most nourishing food they can afford.
Not far from our halting place, on the ascent of the mountain, is a reservoir of rain water, where we filled our skins. The acacia trees of the valley were thickly covered with gum arabic. The Towara Arabs often bring to Cairo loads of it, which they collect in these mountains; but it is much less esteemed than that from Soudan. I found it of a somewhat sweet and rather agreeable taste. The Bedouins pretend, that upon journeys it is a preventive of thirst, and that the person who chews it may pass a whole day without feeling any inconvenience from the want of water. We set out in the afternoon, and at the end of three hours and a half from Wady Nabk, passed the Mofassel el Korfa, which I have already mentioned. At four hours and a quarter we crossed Wady el Orta, the direction of our road N.W. by N., and at the end of five hours and a quarter we halted in Wady Rahab (ﺏﺎﺣﺭ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). All these valleys resemble one another; the only difference of appearance which they afford, is that in some places the ground is parched up, while in others, where a torrent passes during the winter, the shrubs still retain some green leaves.
May 16th. — During the night we had a heavy shower of rain with thunder and lightning, which completely drenched both ourselves and our baggage. A beautiful morning succeeded, and the atmosphere, which during the last three days had been extremely hot, especially on the low coast, was now so much refreshed, that we seemed to have removed from a tropical to an alpine climate. We passed through several valleys emptying themselves into Wady Orta; the principal of these is called Wady Ertama (ﺔﻣﺎﺗﺭﺍ). Route N.N.W. Although the rain had been heavy, the sands had so completely absorbed it, that we could scarcely find any traces of it. We started several Gazelles, the only game I have seen in the peninsula, except mountain-goats. Hares and wolves are found, but are not common, and the Bedouins sometimes kill leopards, of one of which I obtained a large skin at the convent. The Bedouins talk much of a beast of prey called Wober (ﺮﺒﻭ), which inhabits the most retired parts only of the peninsula; they describe it as being of the size of a large dog, with a pointed head like a hog; I heard also of another voracious animal, called Shyb (ﺐﻴﺷ), stated to be a breed between the leopard and the wolf. Of its existence little doubt can be entertained, though its pretended origin is probably fabulous, for the Arabs, and especially the Bedouins, are in the common practice of assigning to every animal that is seldom met with, parents of two different species of known animals. On the coast, and in the lower valleys, a kind of large lizard is seen, called Dhob (ﺐﺿ), which has a scaly skin of a yellow colour; the largest are about eighteen inches in length, of which the tail measures about one-half. The Dhob is very common in the Arabian deserts, where the Arabs form tobacco purses of its skin. It lives in holes in the sand, which have generally two openings; it runs fast, but a dog easily catches it. Of birds I saw red-legged partridges in great numbers, pigeons, the Katta, but not in such large flocks as I have seen them in Syria, and the eagle Rakham. The Bedouins also mentioned an eagle whose outspread wings measure six feet across, and which carries off lambs.
After four hours and a half we reached Wady Kyd (ﺩﻴﻜ), and rested at its entrance under two immense blocks of granite, which had fallen down from the mountain; they form two spacious caverns, and serve as a place of shelter for the shepherdesses; we saw in them several articles of tent furniture and some cooking utensils. On the sides figures of goats are drawn with charcoal; but I saw no inscriptions cut in the rock. The blocks are split in several places as if by lightning. We followed the Wady Kyd, continuing on a gentle ascent from the time of our setting out in the morning. The windings of the valley led us, at the end of five hours and a half, to a small rivulet, two feet across, and six inches in depth, which is lost immediately below, in the sands of the Wady. It drips down a granite rock, which blocks up the valley, there only twenty paces in breadth, and forms at the foot of the rock a small pond, overshadowed by trees, with fine verdure on its banks. The rocks which overhang it on both sides almost meet, and give to the whole the appearance of a grotto, most deligh[t]ful to the traveller after passing through these dreary valleys. It is in fact the most romantic spot I have seen in these mountains, and worthy of being frequented by other people than Arabs, upon whom the beauties of nature make a very faint impression. The camels passed over the rocks with great difficulty; beyond it we continued in the same narrow valley, along the rivulet, amidst groves of date, Nebek, and some tamarisk trees, until, at six hours, we reached the source of the rivulet, where we rested a little. This is one of the most noted date valleys of the Sinai Arabs; the contrast of its deep verdure with the glaring rocks by which it is closely hemmed in, is very striking, and shews that wherever water passes in these districts, however barren the ground, vegetation is invariably found. Within the enclosures of the date-groves I saw a few patches of onions, and of hemp; the latter is used for smoking; some of the small leaves which surround the hemp-seed being laid upon the tobacco in the pipe, produces a more intoxicating smoke. The same custom prevails in Egypt, where the hemp leaves as well as the plant itself are called Hashysh. In the branches of one of the date-trees several baskets and a gun were deposited, and some camels were feeding upon the grass near the rivulet, but not a soul was to be seen in the valley; these Bedouins being under no fear of robbers, leave their goods and allow their beasts to pasture without any one to watch them; when they want the camels they send to the springs in search of them, and if not found there, they trace their footsteps through the valleys, for every Bedouin knows the print of the foot of his own camel.
Notwithstanding its verdure, the Wady Kyd is an uncomfortable halting-place, on account of the great number of gnats and ticks with which it is infested. Beyond the source of the rivulet, which oozes out of the ground, the vegetation ceases, and the valley widens. We rode on, and at seven hours entered Wady Kheysy (ﻲﺴﻴﺧ), a wild pass, in which the road is covered with rocks, and the sides of the mountains are shattered by torrents. We ascended through many windings, in the general direction of W.N.W. until we found the valley shut up by a high mountain, called Djebel Mordam (ﻡﺍﺮﻣ ﻞﺒﺟ). The rocks are granite and porphyry; in many parts of the valley grow wild fig-trees, called by the Arabs Hamad; here also grows the Aszef (ﻒﺻﺍ), a tree which I had already seen in several of the Wadys; it springs from the fissures in the rocks, and its crooked stem creeps up the mountain’s side like a parasitic plant; it produces, according to the Arabs, a fruit of the size of a walnut, of a blackish colour, and very sweet to the taste. The bark of the tree is white, and the branches are thickly covered with small thorns; the leaves are heart-shaped, and of the same shade of green as those of the oak. This Wady, as well as the Kyd, is inhabited by Mezeine; but they all return in summer to the highest mountains of the peninsula, where the pasture is more abundant than in these lower valleys.
We ascended the Mordam with difficulty, and on the other side found a narrow valley, which brought us, at the end of eleven hours, to a spring called Tabakat (ﺕﺎﻘﺒﻃ), situated under a rock, which shuts up the valley. The spring is thickly overgrown with reeds and sometimes dries up in summer. Above the rock extends a plain or rather a country somewhat more open, intersected with hills, and bounded by high mountains. The district is called Fera el Adlial (ﻝﺎﻀﻌﻠﺍ ﻉﺮﻓ), and is a favourite pasturing place of the Arabs, their sheep being peculiarly fond of the little berries of the shrub Rethem (ﻢﺛﺭ), with which the whole plain is overspread. In order to take the nearest road to the convent, we ascended in a N. direction, the high mountain of Mohala (ﺔﻟﺎﺤﻣ), the top of which we reached at the end of eleven hours and three quarters; from hence the convent was pointed out to me N. b. E. On the other side we descended N.E. into a narrow valley on the declivity of the mountain, where we alighted, after a long day’s march of twelve hours and a quarter. This mountain is entirely of granite; but at Tabakat beautiful porphyry is seen with large slabs of feldspath, traversed by layers of white and rose-coloured quartz.
May 17th. — The night was so cold that we all lay down round the fire, and kept it lighted the whole night. Early in the morning we continued to descend the mountain, by a road called Nakb9 Abou el Far (ﺭﺎﻔﻟﺍ ﻭﺑﺍ ﺐﻘﻨ), and in half an hour reached the Wady Ahmar (ﺮﻣﺣﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), which, below, joins the Wady Kyd. Ascending again in this Wady, we came in an hour to the springs of Abou Tereyfa (ﻪﻔﻴﺮﻄ ﻮﺑﺍ), oozing, like that of Tabakat, from below a rock which shuts up the narrow valley. On the declivity of the mountains, farther on, I saw many ruins of walls, and was informed by my guides, that fifty years ago this was one of the most fertile valleys of their country, full of date and other fruit trees; but that a violent flood tore up all the trees, and laid it waste in a few days, and that since that period it has been deserted. At the end of two hours and a half, we descended into a broad valley, or rather plain, called Haszfet el Ras (ﺱﺍﺮﺍ ﺔﻔﺼﺣ), and perceived at its extremity an encampment, which we reached at three hours and a quarter, and alighted under the tent of the chief; he happened to be the same Bedouin who had conducted me last year from Tor to Cairo, and who had also brought the from Cairo to the convent. I knew that he was angry with me for having discharged him on my arrival at the latter place, and for having hired Hamd to conduct me to Akaba; he was already acquainted with my return, and that I had gone to Sherm, but little expected to see me here. He, however, gave me a good reception, killed a lamb for my dinner, and would not let me depart in the afternoon, another Arab having prepared a goat for our supper. We remained therefore the whole day with him, and, in the evening, joined in the dance and songs of the Mesámer, which were protracted till long after-midnight, and brought several other young men from the neighbouring encampments. The stranger not accustomed to Bedouin life can seldom hope to enjoy quiet sleep in these encampments. After the songs and dances are ended he must lie down in the tent of his host with a number of men, who think to honour him by keeping him company; but who, if the tent is not very large, lie so close as to impart to him a share of the vermin with which they are sure to be infested. To sleep in the open air before the tent is difficult, on account of the fierce dogs of the encampment, who have as great an aversion for townsmen as their masters have; the Bedouins too dislike this practice, because a sight of the female apartment may thus be obtained. I found the women here much more reserved than among other Bedouins; I could not induce any of them to converse with me, and soon perceived that both themselves and their husbands disliked their being noticed; a fastidiousness of manners for which they are no doubt indebted to the frequent visits of their husbands to the capital of Egypt.
We had another shower in the night; flying showers are frequent during the summer, but they are never sufficiently copious in that season to produce torrents.
May 18th left the tent before dawn, and proceeded along a Wady and then N.W. up an ascent, whose summit we reached in two hours. From thence a fine view opened upon a broad Wady called Sebaye (ﺔﻴﻌﺒﺳ), and towards the mountain of Tyh. We crossed Wady Sebaye, and then ascended the mountain which commands the convent on the south side, and descending again, reached the convent at the end of three hours and a half. Our march during the whole of this journey had been slow, except on the day of our flight from the robbers; for our camels were weak and tired, and one of us usually walked. There is a more northern road from Sherm to the convent, which branches off from that by which we came, at Wady Orta; it passes by the two watering places of Naszeb (ﺐﺼﻧ), and Ara-yne (ﺔﻴﻧﺍﺮﻋ); the former, which is in a fruitful valley, where date-trees grow, must not be confounded with the western Naszeb, already mentioned.
Hamd, afraid of being liable to pay the fine of blood, if it should become known that the robber had fallen by his hand, had made us all give him our solemn promise not to mention any thing of the affair. When I discharged him and Ayd at the convent, I made them both some presents, which they had well deserved, particularly Hamd; this he was so imprudent as to mention to his uncle Szaleh, who was so vexed at not receiving a present, that he immediately divulged all the circumstances of our rencounter. Hamd in consequence was under the greatest apprehensions from the relations of the robber, and having accompanied me on my return to Cairo, he remained with me some time there, in anxious expectation of hearing whether the robber’s blood was likely to be revenged. Not hearing any thing, he then returned to his mountain, four months after which a party of Omran, to whose tribe the men had belonged, came to the tent of the Sheikh of the Towara to demand the fine of blood. The man had died a few days after receiving the wound, and although he was a robber and the first aggressor, the Bedouin laws entitled his relations to the fine, if they waved the right of retaliation; Hamd was therefore glad to come to a compromise, and paid them two camels, (which the two principal Sheikhs of the Towara gave him for the purpose), and twenty dollars, which I thought myself bound to reimburse to him, when he afterwards called on me at Cairo. This was the third man Hamd had killed in skirmish; but he had paid no fine for the others, as it was never known who they were, nor to what tribe they belonged.
Had Hamd, whom every one knew to be the person who had stabbed the robber, refused to pay the fine, the Omran would sooner or later have retaliated upon himself or his relations, or perhaps upon some other individual of his tribe, according to the custom of these Bedouins, who have established among themselves the law of “striking sideways.”10
The convent of Mount Sinai is situated in a valley so narrow, that one part of the building stands on the side of the western mountain, while a space of twenty paces only is left between its walls and the eastern mountain. The valley is open to the north, from whence approaches the road from Cairo; to the south, close behind the convent, it is shut up by a third mountain, less steep than the others, over which passes the road to Sherm. The convent is an irregular quadrangle of about one hundred and thirty paces, enclosed by high and solid walls built with blocks of granite, and fortified by several small towers. While the French were in Egypt, a part of the east wall which had fallen down was completely rebuilt by order of General Kleber, who sent workmen here for that purpose. The upper part of the walls in the interior is built of a mixture of granite-sand and gravel, cemented together by mud, which has acquired great hardness.
The convent contains eight or ten small court-yards, some of which are neatly laid out in beds of flowers and vegetables; a few date-trees and cypresses also grow there, and great numbers of vines. The distribution of the interior is very irregular, and could not be otherwise, considering the slope upon which the building stands; but the whole is very clean and neat. There are a great number of small rooms, in the lower and upper stories, most of which are at present unoccupied. The principal building in the interior is the great church, which, as well as the convent, was built by the Emperor Justinian, but it has subsequently undergone frequent repairs. The form of the church is an oblong square, the roof is supported by a double row of fine granite pillars, which have been covered with a coat of white plaster, perhaps because the natural colour of the stone was not agree[a]ble to the monks, who saw granite on every side of them. The capitals of the columns are of different designs; several of them bear a resemblance to palm branches, while others are a close but coarse imitation of the latest period of Egyptian sculpture, such as is seen at Philae, and in several temples in Nubia. The dome over the altar still remains as it was constructed by Justinian, whose portrait, together with that of his wife Theodora, may yet be distinguished on the dome, together with a large picture of the transfiguration, in honour of which event the convent was erected. An abundance of silver lamps, paintings, and portraits of saints adorn the walls round the altar; among the latter is a saint Christopher, with a dog’s head. The floor of the church is finely paved with slabs of marble.
The church contains the coffin in which the bones of saint Catherine were collected from the neighbouring mountain of St. Catherine, where her corpse was transported after her death by the angels in the service of the monks. The silver lid of a sarcophagus likewise attracts attention; upon it is represented at full length the figure of the empress Anne of Russia, who entertained the idea of being interred in the sarcophagus, which she sent here; but the monks were disappointed of this honour. In a small chapel adjoining the church is shewn the place where the Lord is supposed to have appeared to Moses in the burning bush; it is called Alyka (ﻪﻘﻴﻠﻋ), and is considered as the most holy spot in Mount Sinai. Besides the great church, there are twenty-seven smaller churches or chapels dispersed over the convent, in many of which daily masses are read, and in all of them at least one every Sunday.
The convent formerly resembled in its establishment that of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, which contains churches of various sects of Christians. Every principal sect, except the Calvinists and Protestants, had its churches in the convent of Sinai. I was shewn the chapels belonging to the Syrians, Armenians, Copts, and Latins, but they have long been abandoned by their owners; the church of the Latins fell into ruins at the close of the seventeenth century, and has not been rebuilt. But what is more remarkable than the existence of so many churches, is that close by the great church stands a Mahometan mosque, spacious enough to contain two hundred people at prayers. The monks told me that it was built in the sixteenth century, to prevent the destruction of the convent. Their tradition is as follows: when Selim, the Othman Emperor, conquered Egypt, he took a great fancy to a young Greek priest, who falling ill, at the time that Selim was returning to Constantinople, was sent by him to this convent to recover his health; the young man died, upon which the Emperor, enraged at what he considered to be the work of the priests, gave orders to the governor of Egypt to destroy all the Christian establishments in the peninsula; of which there were several at that period. The priests of the great convent of Mount Sinai being informed of the preparations making in Egypt to carry these orders into execution, began immediately to build a mosque within their walls, hoping that for its sake their house would be spared; it is said that their project was successful and that ever since the mosque has been kept in repair.
This tradition, however, is contradicted by some old Arabic records kept by the prior, in which I read a circumstantial account how, in the year of the Hedjra 783, some straggling Turkish Hadjis, who had been cut off from the caravan, were brought by the Bedouins to the convent; and being found to be well educated, and originally from upper Egypt, were retained here, and a salary settled on them and their descendants, on condition of their becoming the servants of the mosque. The conquest of Egypt by Selim did not take place till A.H. 895. The mosque in the convent of Sinai appears therefore to have existed long before the time of Selim. The descendants of these Hadjis, now poor Bedouins, are called Retheny (ﻲﻧﺛﺭ), they still continue to be the servants of the mosque, which they clean on Thursday evenings, and light the lamps; one of them is called the Imam. The mosque is sometimes visited by Moslim pilgrims, but it is only upon the occasion of the presence of some Mussulman of consequence that the call to prayers is made from the Minaret.
In the convent are two deep and copious wells of spring water; one of them is called the well of Moses, because it is said that he first drank of its water. Another was the work, as the monks say, of an English Lord, it bears the date 1760. There is also a reservoir for the reception of rain water.
None of the churches or chapels have steeples. There is a bell, which, I believe, is rung only on Sundays. The usual mode of calling the monks to morning prayers is by striking with a stick upon a long piece of granite, suspended from ropes, which produces a sound heard all over the convent; close by it hangs a piece of dry wood, which emits a different sound, and summons to vespers. A small tower is shewn which was built forty or fifty years ago for the residence of a Greek patriarch of Constantinople, who was exiled to this place by the orders of the Sultan, and who remained here till he died.
According to the credited tradition, the origin of the convent of Mount Sinai dates from the fourth century. Helena, the mother of Constantine, is said to have erected here a small church, in commemoration of the place where the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and in the garden of the convent a small tower is still shewn, the foundations of which are said to have been laid by her. The church of Helena drawing many visitors and monks to these mountains, several small convents were erected in different parts of the peninsula, in the course of the next century, but the ill treatment which the monks and hermits suffered from the Bedouins induced them at last to present a petition to the Emperor Justinian, entreating him to build a fortified convent capable of affording them protection against their oppressors. He granted the request, and sent workmen from Constantinople and Egypt, with orders to erect a large convent upon the top of the mountain of Moses; those however to whom the work was entrusted, observing the entire want of water in that spot, built it on the present site. They attempted in vain to cut away the mountain on each side of the building, with a view to prevent the Arabs from taking post there and throwing stones at the monks within. The building being completed, Justinian sent from Constantinople some slaves, natives of the shores of the Black sea, to officiate as servants in the convent, who established themselves with their families in the neighbouring valleys. The first prior was Doulas, whose name is still recorded upon a stone built into the wall of one of the buildings in the interior of the convent. The above history is taken from a document in Arabic, preserved by the monks. An Arabic inscription over the gate, in modern characters, says that Justinian built the convent in the thirtieth year of his reign, as a memorial of himself and his wife Theodora. It is curious to find a passage of the Koran introduced into this inscription; it was probably done by a Moslem sculptor, without the knowledge of the monks.
A few years after the completion of the convent, one of the monks is said to have been informed in his sleep, that the corpse of St. Catherine, who suffered martyrdom at Alexandria, had been transported by angels to the summit of the highest peak of the surrounding mountains. The monks ascended the mountain in procession, found the bones, and deposited them in their church, which thus acquired an additional claim to the veneration of the Greeks.
Monastic establishments seem soon after to have considerably increased throughout the peninsula. Small convents, chapels, and hermitages, the remains of many of which are still visible, were built in various parts of it. The prior told me that Justinian gave the whole peninsula in property to the convent, and that at the time of the Mohammedan conquest, six or seven thousand monks and hermits were dispersed over the mountains, the establishments of the peninsula of Sinai thus resembling those which still exist on the peninsula of Mount Athos.
It is a favourite belief of the monks of Mount Sinai, that Mohammed himself, in one of his journeys, alighted under the walls of the convent, and that impressed with due veneration for the mountain of Moses, he presented to the convent a Firmahn, to secure to it the respect of all his followers. Ali is said to have written it, and Mohammed, who could not write, to have confirmed it by impressing his extended hand, blackened with ink, upon the parchment. This Firmahn, it is added, remained in the convent until Selim the First conquered Egypt, when hearing of the precious relic, he sent for it, and added it to the other relics of Mohammed in the imperial treasury at Constantinople; giving to the convent, in return, a copy of the original certified with his own cipher. I have seen the latter, which is kept in the Sinai convent at Cairo, but I do not believe it to be an authentic document. None of the historians of Mohammed, who have recorded the transactions of almost every day of his life, mention his having been at Mount Sinai, neither in his earlier youth, nor after he set up as a prophet, and it is totally contrary to history that he should have granted to any Christians such privileges as are mentioned in this Firmahn, one of which is that the Moslems are bound to aid the Christian monks in rebuilding their ruined churches. It is to be observed also that this document states itself to have been written by Ali, not at the convent, but in the mosque of the Prophet at Medina, in the second year of the Hedjra, and is addressed, not to the convent of Mount Sinai in particular, but to all the Christians and their priests. The names of twenty-two witnesses, followers of Mohammed, are subscribed to it; and in a note it is expressly stated that the original, written by Ali, was lost, and that the present was copied from a fourth successive copy taken from the original. Hence it appears that the relation of the priests is at variance with the document to which they refer, and I have little doubt therefore that the former is a fable and the latter a forgery.
Notwithstanding the difficulties to which the monks must have been exposed from the warlike and fanatical followers of the new faith in Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and the Desert, the convent continued uninjured, and defended itself successfully against all the surrounding tribes by the peculiar arms of its possessors, patience, meekness, and money. According to the statement of the monks, their predecessors were made responsible by the Sultans of Egypt for the protection of the pilgrim caravans from Cairo to Mekka, on that part of the road which lay along the northern frontiers of their territory from Suez to Akaba. For this purpose they thought it necessary to invite several tribes, and particularly the Szowaleha and the Aleygat to settle in the fertile valleys of Sinai, in order to serve as protectors of this road. The Bedouins came, but their power increasing, while that of the monks declined, they in the course of time took possession of the whole peninsula, and confined the monks to their convent. It appears from the original copy of a compact between the monks and the above Bedouins, made in the year of the Hedjra 800, when Sultan Dhaher Bybars reigned in Egypt, that besides this convent, six others were still existing in the peninsula, exclusive of a number of chapels and hermitages; from a writing on parchment, dated in the A.H. 1053, we find that in that year all these minor establishments had been abandoned, and that the great convent, holding property at Feiran, Tor, and in other fruitful valleys, alone remained. The priests assured me, that they had documents to prove that all the date valleys and other fertile spots in the gulf of Akaba had been in their possession, and were confirmed to them by the Sultans of Egypt; but they either could not or would not shew me their archives in detail, without an order from the prior at Cairo; indeed all their papers appeared to be in great confusion.
Whenever a new Sultan ascends the throne of Constantinople, the convent is furnished with a new Firmahn, which is transmitted to the Pasha of Egypt; but as the neighbouring Bedouins, till within a few years, were completely independent of Egypt, the protection of the Pashas was of very little use to the monks, and their only dependance was upon their own resources, and their means of purchasing and conciliating the friendship, or of appeasing the animosity of the Arabs.
At present there are only twenty-three monks in the convent. They are under the presidence of a Wakyl or prior, but the Ikonómos (Οικονόμος), whom the Arabs call the Kolob, is the true head of the community, and manages all its affairs. The order of Sinai monks dispersed over the east is under the control of an Archbishop, in Arabic called the Reys. He is chosen by a council of delegates from Mount Sinai and from the affiliated convent at Cairo, and he is confirmed, pro forma, by the Greek patriarch of Jerusalem. The Archbishop can do nothing as to the appropriation of the funds without the unanimous vote of the council. Formerly he lived in the convent; but since its affairs have been on the decline, it has been found more expedient that he should reside abroad, his presence here entitling the Bedouins to great fees, particularly on his entrance into the convent. I was told that ten thousand dollars would be required, on such an occasion, to fulfil all the obligations to which the community is bound in its treaties with the Arabs. Hence it happens that no Archbishop has been here since the year 1760, when the Reys Kyrillos resided, and I believe died, in the convent. I was informed that the gate has remained walled up since the year 1709, but that if an Archbishop were to come, it must be again opened to admit him, and that all the Bedouin Sheiks then have a right to enter within the walls.
Besides the convent at Cairo, which contains a prior and about fifty monks, Mount Sinai has establishments and landed property in many other parts of the east, especially in the Archipelago, and at Candia: it has also a small church at Calcutta, and another at Surat.
The discipline of these monks, with regard to food and prayer, is very severe. They are obliged to attend mass twice in the day and twice in the night. The rule is that they shall taste no flesh whatever all the year round; and in their great fast they not only abstain from butter, and every kind of animal food and fish, but also from oil, and live four days in the week on bread and boiled vegetables, of which one small dish is all their dinner. They obtain their vegetables from a pleasant garden adjoining the building, into which there is a subterraneous passage; the soil is stony, but in this climate, wherever water is in plenty, the very rocks will produce vegetation. The fruit is of the finest quality; oranges, lemons, almonds, mulberries, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, olives, Nebek trees, and a few cypresses overshade the beds in which melons, beans, lettuces, onions, cucumbers, and all sorts of culinary and sweet-scented herbs are sown. The garden, however, is very seldom visited by the monks, except by the few whose business it is to keep it in order; for although surrounded by high walls, it is not inaccessible to the Bedouins, who for the three last years have been the sole gatherers of the fruits, leaving the vegetables only for the monks, who have thus been obliged to repurchase their own fruit from the pilferers, or to buy it in other parts of the peninsula.
The excellent air of the convent, and the simple fare of the inhabitants, render diseases rare. Many of the monks are very old men, in the full possession of their mental and bodily faculties. They have all taken to some profession, a mode of rendering themselves independent of Egypt, which was practised here even when the three hundred private chambers were occupied, which are now empty, though still ready for the accommodation of pious settlers. Among the twenty-three monks who now remain, there is a cook, a distiller, a baker, a shoemaker, a tailor, a carpenter, a smith, a mason, a gardener, a maker of candles, &c. &c. each of these has his work-shop, in the worn-out and rusty utensils of which are still to be seen the traces of the former riches and industry of the establishment. The rooms in which the provisions are kept are vaulted and built of granite with great solidity; each kind of provision has its purveyor. The bake-house and distillery are still kept up upon a large scale. The best bread is of the finest quality; but a second and third sort is made for the Bedouins who are fed by the convent. In the distillery they make brandy from dates, which is the only solace these recluses enjoy, and in this they are permitted to indulge even during the fasts.
Most of the monks are natives of the Greek islands; in general they do not remain more than four or five years, when they return to their own country, proud of having been sufferers among Bedouins; some, however, have been here forty years. A few of them only understood Arabic; but none of them write or read it. Being of the lower orders of society, and educated only in convents, they are extremely ignorant. Few of them read even the modern Greek fluently, excepting in their prayer-books, and I found but one who had any notion of the ancient Greek. They have a good library, but it is always shut up; it contains about fifteen hundred Greek volumes, and seven hundred Arabic manuscripts; the latter, which I examined volume after volume, consist entirely of books of prayer, copies of the Gospels, lives of saints, liturgies, &c.; a thick folio volume of the works of Lokman, edited, according to the Arab tradition, by Hormus, the ancient king of Egypt, was the only one worth attention. Its title in Arabic is ﻢﻜﺤﻟﺎﺑ ﺚﻠﺛﻤﻟﺍ ﺲﻣﺮﻫ ﻒﻴﻟﺎﺗ ﺐﺨﺘﻤﻟﺍ ﻥﺎﻤﻘﻟ ﺏﺎﺘﻛ. The prior would not permit it to be taken away, but he made me a present of a fine copy of the Aldine Odyssey and an equally fine one of the Anthology. In the room anciently the residence of the Archbishop, which is very elegantly paved with marble, and extremely well furnished, though at present unoccupied, is preserved a beautiful ancient manuscript of the Gospels in Greek, which I was told, was given to the convent by “an emperor called Theodosius.” It is written in letters of gold upon vellum, and ornamented with portraits of the Apostles.
Notwithstanding the ignorance of these monks, they are fond of seeing strangers in their wilderness; and I met with a more cordial reception among them than I did in the convents of Libanus, which are in possession of all the luxuries of life. The monks of Sinai are even generous; three years ago they furnished a Servian adventurer, who styled himself a Knes, and pretended to be well known to the Russian government, with sixty dollars, to pay his journey back to Alexandria, on his informing them of his destitute circumstances.
At present the convent is seldom visited; a few Greeks from Cairo and Suez, and the inhabitants of Tor who repair here every summer, and encamp with their families in the garden, are the only persons who venture to undertake the journey through the desert. So late as the last century regular caravans of pilgrims used to come here from Cairo as well as from Jerusalem; a document preserved by the monks states the arrival in one day of eight hundred Armenians from Jerusalem; and at another time of five hundred Copts from Cairo. I believe that from sixty to eighty is the greatest number of visitors that can now be reckoned in a year. In the small but neat room which I occupied, and which is assigned to all strangers whom the prior receives with any marks of distinction, were the names of some of the latest European travellers who have visited the convent. The following inscriptions, written upon pieces of paper stuck against the walls, I thought worth the trouble of transcribing.
“Le quintidi, 5 Frimaire, l’an 9 de la République Française, 1800 de l’ère Chrétienne, et 3ème de la conquête de l’Egypte, les Citoyens Rozières et Coutelle, Membres de la Commission des Sciences et Arts, sont venus visiter les lieux saints, les ports de Tor, Ras Mohammed, et Charms, la mer de Suez et l’Accaba, l’extrémité de la presqu’île, toutes les chaines de montagnes, et toutes les tribus Arabes entre les deux golfes.” (Seal of the French Republic.)
M. Rozières made great mineralogical researches in these mountains, but he and his companion did not succeed in visiting all the chains of mountains or all the tribes of Arabs. They never reached Akaba, nor traversed the northern ranges of the peninsula, nor visited the tribes of Tyaha, Heywat and Terabein. The following is the memorial left by M. Seetzen:
“Le 9 d’Avril, 1807. U.J. Seetzen, nommé Mousa, voyageur Allemand, M.D. et Assesseur de Collège de S. Majesté l’Empereur de toutes les Russies dans la Seigneurie de Jever en Allemagne, est venu visiter le Couvent de la Sainte Cathérine, les Monts d’Horeb, de Moise, et de la Sainte Catherine, &c. après avoir parcouru toutes les provinces orientales anciennes de la Palestine; savoir, Hauranitis, Trachonitis, Gaulonitis, Paneas, Batanea, Decapolis, Gileaditis, Ammonitis, Amorrhitis et Moabitis, jusqu’aux frontières de la Gebelene (Idumæa), et après avoir fait deux fois l’entour de la mer morte, et traversé le désert de l’Arabie Petrée, entre la ville d’Hebron et entre le Mont Sinai, par un chemin jusqu’à ce tems-là inconnu. Après un séjour de dix jours, il continuait son voyage pour la ville de Suez.”
M. Seetzen has fallen into a mistake in calling the convent by the name of saint Catherine. It is dedicated to the transfiguration, or as the Greeks call it, the metamorphosis, and not to saint Catherine, whose relics only are preserved here. M. Seetzen visited the convent a second time, previous to his going to Arabia. He came then from Tor, and stopped only one day.
The visit of two English travellers, Messrs. Galley Knight and Fazakerly, is also recorded in a few lines dated February 13, 1811. The same room contained likewise several modern Arabic inscriptions, one of which says: “To this holy place came one who does not deserve that his name should be mentioned, so manifold are his sins. He came here with his family. May whoever reads this, beseech the Almighty to forgive him. June 28, 1796.”
The only habitual visitors of the convent are the Bedouins. They have established the custom that whoever amongst them, whether man, woman, or child, comes here, is to receive bread for breakfast and supper, which is lowered down to them from the window, as no Bedouins, except the servants of the house, are ever admitted within the walls. Fortunately for the monks, there are no good pasturing places in their immediate neighbourhood; the Arab encampments are therefore always at some distance, and visitors are thus not so frequent as might be supposed; yet scarcely a day passes without their having to furnish bread to thirty or forty persons. In the last century the Bedouins enjoyed still greater privileges, and had a right to call for a dish of cooked meat at breakfast, and for another at supper; the monks could not have given a stronger proof of their address than by obtaining the abandonment of this right from men, in whose power they are so completely placed. The convent of Sinai at Cairo is subject to similar claims; all the Bedouins of the peninsula who repair to that city on their private business receive their daily meal, from the monks, who, not having the same excuses as their brethren of Mount Sinai, are obliged to supply a dish of cooked meat. The convent has its Ghafeirs, or protectors, twenty-four in number, among the tribes inhabiting the desert between Syria and the Red sea; but the more remote of them are entitled only to some annual presents in clothes and money, while the Towara Ghafeirs are continually hovering round the walls, to extort as much as they can. Of the Towara Arabs the tribes of Szowaleha and Aleygat only are considered as protectors; the Mezeine, who came in later times to the peninsula, have no claims; and of the Szowaleha tribe, the branches Oulad Said and Owareme are exclusively the protectors, while the Koreysh and Rahamy are not only excluded from the right of protection but also from the transport of passengers and loads. Of the Oulad Said each individual receives an annual gift of a dollar, and the Ghafeir of this branch of the Szowaleha is the convent’s chief man of business in the desert. If a Sheikh or head man calls at the convent, he receives, in addition to his bread, some coffee beans, sugar, soap, sometimes a handkerchief, a little medicine, &c. &c.
Under such circumstances it may easily be conceived that disputes continually happen. If a Sheikh from the protecting tribes comes to the convent to demand coffee, sugar, or clothing, and is not well satisfied with what he receives, he immediately becomes the enemy of the monks, lays waste some of their gardens, and must at last be gained over by a present. The independent state of the Bedouins of Sinai had long prevented the monks from endeavouring to obtain protection from the government of Egypt, whose power in the peninsula being trifling, they would only by complaining have exasperated the Bedouins against them; their differences therefore had hitherto been accommodated by the mediation of other Sheikhs. It was not till 1816 that they solicited the protection of Mohammed Ali; this will secure them for the present against their neighbours; but it will, probably, as I told the monks, be detrimental to them in the end. Ten or twenty dollars were sufficient to pacify the fiercest Bedouin, but a Turkish governor will demand a thousand for any effectual protection.
The Arabs, when discontented, have sometimes seized a monk in the mountains and given him a severe beating, or have thrown stones or fired their musquets into the convent from the neighbouring heights; about twenty years ago a monk was killed by them. The monks, in their turn, have fired occasionally upon the Bedouins, for they have a well furnished armory, and two small cannon, but they take great care never to kill any one. And though they dislike such turbulent neighbours, and describe them to strangers as very devils, yet they have sense enough to perceive the advantages which they derive from the better traits in the Bedouin character, such as their general good faith, and their placability. “If our convent,” as they have observed to me, “had been subject to the revolutions and oppressions of Egypt or Syria, it would long ago have been abandoned; but Providence has preserved us by giving us Bedouins for neighbours.”
Notwithstanding the greediness of the Bedouins, I have reason to believe that the expenses of the convent are very moderate. Each monk is supplied annually with two coarse woollen cloaks, and no splendour is any where displayed except in the furniture of the great church, and that of the Archbishop’s room. The supplies are drawn from Egypt; but the communication by caravans with Cairo is far from being regular, and the Ikonómos assured me that at the time I was there the house did not contain more than one month’s provision.
The yearly consumption of corn is about one hundred and sixty Erdebs, or two thousand five hundred bushels, which is sufficient to cover all the demands of the Bedouins, and I believe that £1000. sterling, or 4000 dollars, is the utmost of the annual expenditure. The convent at Cairo expends perhaps two or three times that sum. The monks complain greatly of poverty; and the prior assured me that he sometimes has not a farthing left to pay for the corn that is brought to him, and is obliged to borrow money from the Bedouins at high interest; but an appearance of poverty is one of their great protections; and considering the possessions of this convent abroad, and the presents which it receives from pilgrims, I am much inclined to doubt the prior’s assertion.
The Bedouins who occupy the peninsula of Mount Sinai are:
I. The Szowaleha (ﺎﺤﻟﺍﻮﺻ). They are the principal tribe, and they boast of having been the first Bedouins who settled in these mountains, under their founder Ayd, two of whose sons, they say, emigrated with their families to the Hedjaz. The Szowaleha are divided into several branches: 1. The Oulad Said (ﺪﻴﻌﺳ ﺩﻻﻭﺍ), whose Sheikh is at present the second Sheikh of the Towara Arabs. They are not so poor as the other tribes, and possess the best valleys of the mountains. 2. Korashy (ﻲﺷﺍﺮﻗ), or Koreysh, whose Sheikh, Szaleh Ibn Zoheyr, is at present the great Sheikh of the Towara, and transacts the public business with the government of Egypt. The Korashy are descendants of a few families of Beni Koreysh, who came here as fugitives from the Hedjaz, and settled with the Szowaleha, with whom they are now intimately intermixed. 3. Owareme (ﻪﻣﺭﺍﻮﻋ), a subdivision of whom are the Beni Mohsen (ﻦﺴﺤﻣ ﻲﻧﺑ); in one of the families of which is the hereditary office of Agyd, or the commander of the Towara in their hostile expeditions. 4. Rahamy (ﻲﻤﺣﺭ). The Szowaleha inhabit principally the country to the west of the convent, and their date valleys are, for the greater part, situated on that side. These valleys are the exclusive property of individuals, but the other pasturing places of the tribe are common to all its branches, although the latter usually remain somewhat separated from each other.
II. Aleygat (ﺕﺎﻘﻴﻠﻋ). They are much weaker in number than the Szowaleha, and encamp usually with the Mezeine, and with them form a counterbalance to the power of the Szowaleha. A tribe of Aleygat is found in Nubia on the banks of the Nile about twenty miles north of Derr, where they occupy the district called Wady el Arab, of which Seboua makes a part.11 The Aleygat of Sinai are acquainted with this settlement of their brethren, and relate that in the time of the Mamelouks, one of them who had embarked with a Beg at Tor for Cosseir travelled afterwards towards Ibrim, and when he passed Seboua was delighted there to find the people of his own tribe. They treated him well, and presented him with a camel and a slave. I am ignorant by what chance the Aleygat settled in Nubia.
III. El Mezeine (ﻪﻧﻳﺯﻤﻟﺍ), who live principally to the eastward of the convent towards the gulf of Akaba.
IV. Oulad Soleiman (ﻥﺎﻤﻴﻠﺳ ﺩﻻﻭﺍ), or Beni Selman (ﻥﺎﻤﻠﺳ ﻲﻧﺑ), at present reduced to a few families only, who are settled at Tor, and in the neighbouring villages.
V. Beni Waszel (ﻞﺻﺍﻭ ﻲﻧﺑ), about fifteen families, who live with the Mezeine, and are usually found in the neighbourhood of Sherm. They are said to have come originally from Barbary. Some of their brethren are also settled in Upper Egypt.
These five tribes are comprised under the appellation Towara, or the Bedouins of Tor, and form a single body, whenever any foreign tribe of the northern Bedouins attacks any one of them; but sometimes, though not often, they have bloody quarrels among themselves. Their history, according to the reports of the best informed among them, founded upon tradition, is as follows:
At the period of the Mohammedan conquest, or soon after, the peninsula of Mount Sinai was inhabited exclusively by the tribe of Oulad Soleiman, or Beni Selman, together with the monks. The Szowaleha, and Aleygat, the latter originally from the eastern Syrian desert, were then living on the borders of Egypt, and in the Sherkieh or eastern district of the Delta, from whence they were accustomed to make frequent inroads into this territory, in order to carry off the date-harvest, and other fruits.12 Whenever the inundation of the Nile failed, they repaired in great numbers to these mountains, and pastured their herds in the fertile valleys, the vegetation of which is much more nutritious for camels and sheep than the luxuriant but insipid pastures on the banks of the Nile. After long wars the Szowaleha and Aleygat succeeded in reducing the Oulad Soleiman; many of their families were exterminated, others fled, and their feeble remains now live near Tor, where they still pride themselves upon having been the former lords of this peninsula. The Szowaleha and Aleygat, however, did not agree, and had frequent disputes among themselves. At that period there arrived at Sherm four families of the Mezeine, a very potent tribe in the Hedjaz, east of Medina, where they are still found in large numbers, forming part of the great tribe of Beni Harb. They were flying from the effects of blood-revenge, and wishing to settle here, they applied to the Szowaleha, begging to be permitted to join them in their pastures. The Szowaleha consented, on condition of their paying a yearly tribute in sheep, in the same manner as the despised tribe of Heteym, on the opposite coast of the gulf of Akaba, does to all the surrounding Arabs. (ﺓﻮﺨﻟﺍﻥﻮﻘﻮﺴﻴﻢﻬﻧﺍﻢﻴﺘﻫﺓﺩﺎﻋﻲﻠﻋ). The high spirited Mezeine however rejected the offer, as derogatory to their free born condition, and addressed themselves to the Aleygat, who readily admitted them to their brotherhood and all their pastures. Long and obstinate wars between the Szowaleha and Aleygat were the consequence of this compact. The two tribes fought, it is said, for forty years; and in the greatest and the last battle, which took place in Wady Barak, the Mezeine decided the contest in favour of the Aleygat. “So great,” says the Bedouin tradition, “was the number of the Szowaleha killed in this engagement, that the nails of the slain were seen for many years after, the sport of the winds in the valleys around the field of battle.”13 A compromise now took place, the Szowaleha and Aleygat divided the fertile valleys of the country equally, and the Mezeine received one-third of their share from the latter. The Sheikh of the Szowaleha was, at the same time, acknowledged as Sheikh of the whole peninsula. At present the Mezeine are stronger than the Aleygat, and both together are about equal in number to the Szowaleha.
Besides the Towara tribes, three others inhabit the northern parts of the peninsula; viz. The Heywat (ﺕﺍﻮﻴﺣ), who live towards Akaba; the Tyaha (ﺎﻫﺎﻴﺗ), who extend from the chain of the mountain El Tyh northwards towards Ghaza and Hebron; and the Terabein (ﻦﻴﺑﺍﺮﺗ), who occupy the north-west part of the peninsula, and extend from thence towards Ghaza and Hebron. These three tribes are together stronger than the Towara, with whom they are sometimes at war, and being all derived from one common stock, the ancient tribe of Beni Attye, they are always firmly united during hostilities. They have no right to the pasturages south of Djebel Tyh, but are permitted to encamp sometimes in that direction, if pasture is abundant. The pastures in their own territory, along the whole of the northern parts of Djebel Tyh, are said to be excellent, and to extend from one side of the peninsula to the other.
I believe that the population of the entire peninsula, south of a line from Akaba to Suez, as far as cape Abou Mohammed, does not exceed four thousand souls. In years of dearth, even this small number is sometimes at a loss to find pasturage for their cattle.
The Towara are some of the poorest of the Bedouin tribes, which is to be attributed principally to the scarcity of rain and the consequent want of pasturage. Their herds are scanty, and they have few camels; neither of their two Sheikhs, the richest individuals amongst them, possesses more than eight; few tents have more than two; it often happens that two or three persons are partners in one camel, and great numbers are without any. There are no horses even among the Sheikhs, who constantly ride on camels; but asses are common. Their means of subsistence are derived from their pastures, the transport trade between Suez and Cairo, the sale at the latter place of the charcoal which they burn in their mountains, of the gum arabic which they collect, and of their dates and other fruits. The produce of this trade is laid out by them at Cairo in purchasing clothing and provisions, particularly corn, for the supply of their families; and if any thing remains in hand, they buy with it a few sheep and goats at Tor or at Sherm, to which latter place they are brought by the Bedouins of the opposite coast of Arabia.
When Egypt was under the unsettled government of the Mamelouks the Towara Bedouins, who were then independent, were very formidable, and often at war with the Begs, as well as with the surrounding tribes. At present they have lost much of the profits which they derived from their traffic with Suez, and from the passage of caravans to Cairo; they are kept in awe by Mohammed Ali, and have taken to more peaceful habits, which, however, they are quite ready to abandon, on the first appearance of any change in the government of Egypt. Even now, they pay no duty whatever to the Pasha, who, on the contrary, makes their chief some annual presents; but they are obliged to submit to the rate of carriage which the Pasha chooses to fix for the transport of his goods. They live, of course, according to their means; the small sum of fifteen or twenty dollars pays the yearly expenses of many, perhaps of most of their families, and the daily and almost unvarying food of the greater part of them is bread, with a little butter or milk, for which salt alone is substituted when the dry season is set in, and their cattle no longer yield milk. The Mezeine appeared to me much hardier than the other tribes, owing probably to their being exposed to greater privations in the more barren district which they inhabit. They hold more intercourse with the neighbouring Bedouins to the north than the other Towaras, and in their language and manners approach more to the great eastern tribes than to the other Bedouins of the peninsula.
All the tribes of the Towara complain of the sterility of their wives;14 and though the Bedouin women in general are less fruitful than the stationary Arabs, the Towara are even below the other Bedouins in this respect, three children being a large family among them.
To the true Bedouin tribes above enumerated are to be added the advenæ called Djebalye (ﻪﻴﻟﺎﺒﺟ), or the mountaineers. I have stated that when Justinian built the convent, he sent a party of slaves, originally from the shores of the Black sea, as menial servants to the priests. These people came here with their wives, and were settled by the convent as guardians of the orchards and date plantations throughout the peninsula. Subsequently, when the Bedouins deprived the convent of many of its possessions, these slaves turned Moslems, and adopted the habits of Bedouins. Their descendants are the present Djebalye, who unanimously confess their descent from the Christian slaves, whence they are often called by the other Bedouins “the children of Christians.” They are not to be distinguished, however, in features or manners, from other Bedouins, and they are now considered a branch of the Towara, although the latter still maintain the distinction, never giving their daughters in marriage to the Djebalye, nor taking any of theirs; thus the Djebalye intermarry only among themselves, and form a separate community of about one hundred and twenty armed men. They are a very robust and hardy race, and their girls have the reputation of superior beauty over all others of the peninsula, a circumstance which often gives rise to unhappy attachments, and romantic love-tales, when their lovers happen to belong to other tribes. The Djebalye still remain the servants of the convent; parties of three attend in it by turns, and are the only Bedouins who are permitted to enter within the walls; but they are never allowed to sleep in the house, and pass the night in the garden. They provide fire-wood, collect dried herbage for the mule which turns the mill, bring milk, eggs, &c. and receive all the offals of the kitchen. Some of them encamp as Bedouins in the mountains surrounding the peaks of Moses and St. Catherine, but the greater part are settled in the gardens belonging to the convent, in those mountains. They engage to deliver one-half the fruit to the convent, but as these gardens produce the finest fruit in the peninsula, they are so beset by Bedouin guests at the time of gathering, that the convent’s share is usually consumed in hospitality.
The Djebalye have formed a strict alliance with the Korashy, that branch of the Szowaleha which has no claims of protectorship upon the convent, and by these means they have maintained from ancient times, a certain balance of power against the other Szowaleha. They have no right to transport pilgrims to the convent, and are, in general, considered as pseudo-Arabs, although they have become Bedouins in every respect. They are divided into several smaller tribes, some of whom have become settlers; thus the Tebna are settled in the date valley of Feiran, in gardens nominally the property of the convent: the Bezya in the convent’s gardens at Tor; and the Sattla in other parts, forming a few families, whom the true Bedouins stigmatize with the opprobrious name of Fellahs, or peasants. The monks told me that in the last century there still remained several families of Christian Bedouins who had not embraced Islamism; and that the last individual of this description, an old woman, died in 1750, and was buried in the garden of the convent. In this garden is the burial-ground of the monks, and in several adjoining vaulted chambers their remains are collected after the bodies have lain two years in the coffins underground. High piles of hands, shin bones, and sculls are placed separately in the different corners of these chambers, which the monks are with difficulty persuaded to open to strangers. In a row of wooden chests are deposited the bones of the Archbishops of the convent, which are regularly sent hither, wherever the Archbishops may die. In another small chest are shewn the sculls and some of the bones of two “Indian princes,” who are said to have been shipwrecked on the coast of Tor, and having repaired to the convent, to have lived for many years as hermits in two small adjoining caves upon the mountain of Moses. In order to remain inseparable in this world, they bound two of their legs together with an iron chain, part of which, with a small piece of a coat of mail, which they wore under their cloaks, is still preserved. No one could tell me their names, nor the period at which they resided here. At the entrance of the charnel houses is the picture of the hoary St. Onuphrius. He is said to have been an Egyptian prince, and subsequently one of the first monks of Djebel Mousa, in which capacity he performed many miracles.
After two days repose in the convent and its delightful garden, I set out for the holy places around it, a pilgrimage which I had deferred making immediately on my first arrival, which is the usual practice, that the Arabs might not confound me with the common run of visitors, to whom they shew no great respect. The Djebalye enjoy the exclusive right of being guides to the holy places; my suite therefore consisted of two of them loaded with provisions, together with my servant and a young Greek. The latter had been a sailor in the Red sea, and appeared to have turned monk chiefly for the sake of getting his fill of brandy from the convent’s cellar.
May 20th. — We were in motion before sunrise for the Djebel Mousa or Mountain of Moses, the road to which begins to ascend immediately behind the walls of the convent. Regular steps were formerly cut all the way up, but they are now either entirely destroyed, or so much damaged by the winter torrents as to be of very little use. After ascending for about twenty-five minutes, we breathed a short time under a large impending rock, close by which is a small well of water as cold as ice; at the end of three quarters of an hour’s steep ascent we came to a small plain, the entrance to which from below is through a stone gateway, which in former times was probably closed; a little beneath it stands, amidst the rocks, a small church dedicated to the Virgin. On the plain is a larger building of rude construction, which bears the name of the convent of St. Elias; it was lately inhabited, but is now abandoned, the monks repairing here only at certain times of the year to read mass. Pilgrims usually halt on this spot, where a tall cypress tree grows by the side of a stone tank, which receives the winter rains. On a large rock in the plain are several Arabic inscriptions, engraved by pilgrims three or four hundred years ago; I saw one also in the Syriac language.
According to the Koran and the Moslem traditions, it was in this part of the mountain, which is called Djebel Oreb, or Horeb, that Moses communicated with the Lord. From hence a still steeper ascent of half an hour, the steps of which are also in ruins, leads to the summit of Djebel Mousa, where stands the church which forms the principal object of the pilgrimage; it is built on the very peak of the mountain, the plane of which is at most sixty paces in circumference. The church, though strongly built with granite, is now greatly dilapidated by the unremitted attempts of the Arabs to destroy it; the door, roof, and walls are greatly injured. Szaleh, the present Sheikh of the Towara, with his tribe the Korashy, was the principal instrument in the work of destruction, because, not being entitled to any tribute from the convent, they are particularly hostile to the monks. Some ruins round the church indicate that a much larger and more solid building once stood here, and the rock appears to have been cut perpendicularly with great labour, to prevent any other approach to it than by the southern side. The view from this summit must be very grand, but a thick fog prevented me from seeing even the nearest mountains.
About thirty paces from the church, on a somewhat lower peak, stands a poor mosque, without any ornaments, held in great veneration by the Moslems, and the place of their pilgrimage. It is frequently visited by the Bedouins, who slaughter sheep in honour of Moses; and who make vows to him and intreat his intercession in heaven in their favour. There is a feast-day on which the Bedouins come hither in a mass, and offer their sacrifices. I was told that formerly they never approached the place without being dressed in the Ihram, or sacred mantle, with which the Moslems cover their naked bodies on visiting Mekka, and which then consisted only of a napkin tied round the middle; but this custom has been abandoned for the last forty years. Foreign Moslem pilgrims often repair to the spot, and even Mohammed Ali Pasha and his son Tousoun Pasha gave notice that they intended to visit it, but they did not keep their promise. Close by the footpath, in the ascent from St. Elias to this summit, and at a small distance from it, a place is shown in the rock, which somewhat resembles the print of the fore part of the foot; it is stated to have been made by Mohammed’s foot when he visited the mountain. We found the adjacent part of the rock sprinkled with blood in consequence of an accident which happened a few days ago to a Turkish lady of rank who was on her way from Cairo to Mekka, with her son, and who had resided for some weeks in the convent, during which she made the tour of the sacred places, bare footed, although she was old and decrepid. In attempting to kiss the mark of Mohammed’s foot, she fell, and wounded her head; but not so severely as to prevent her from pursuing her pilgrimage. Somewhat below the mosque is a fine reservoir cut very deep in the granite rock, for the reception of rain water.
The Arabs believe that the tables of the commandments are buried beneath the pavement of the church on Djebel Mousa, and they have made excavations on every side in the hope of finding them. They more particularly revere this spot from a belief that the rains which fall in the peninsula are under the immediate control of Moses; and they are persuaded that the priests of the convent are in possession of the Taourat, a book sent down to Moses from heaven, upon the opening and shutting of which depend the rains of the peninsula. The reputation, which the monks have thus obtained of having the dispensation of the rains in their hands has become very troublesome to them, but they have brought it on by their own measures for enhancing their credit with the Bedouins. In times of dearth they were accustomed to proceed in a body to Djebel Mousa, to pray for rain, and they encouraged the belief that the rain was due to their intercessions. By a natural inference, the Bedouins have concluded that if the monks could bring rain, they had it likewise in their power to withhold it, and the consequence is, that whenever a dearth happens they accuse the monks of malevolence, and often tumultuously assemble and compel them to repair to the mountain to pray. Some years since, soon after an occurrence of this kind, it happened that a violent flood burst over the peninsula, and destroyed many date trees; a Bedouin, whose camel and sheep had been swept away by the torrent, went in a fury to the convent, and fired his gun at it, and when asked the reason, exclaimed; “You have opened the book so much that we are all drowned!” He was pacified by presents; but on departing he begged that in future the monks would only half open the Taourat, in order that the rains might be more moderate.
The supposed influence of the monks is, however, sometimes attended with more fortunate results: the Sheikh Szaleh had never been father of a male child, and on being told that Providence had thus punished him for his enmity to the convent, he two years ago brought a load of butter to the monks, and entreated them to go to the mountain and pray that his newly-married wife, who was then pregnant, might be delivered of a son. The monks complied, and Szaleh soon after became the happy father of a fine boy; since that period he has been the friend of the convent, and has even partly repaired the church on Djebel Mousa. This summit was formerly inhabited by the monks, but, at present they visit it only in time of festivals.
We returned to the convent of St. Elias, and then descended on the western side of the mountain for half an hour by another decayed flight of steps, into a valley where is a small convent called El Erbayn, or the forty; it is in good repair, and is at present inhabited by a family of Djebalye, who take care of the garden annexed to it, which affords a pleasing place of rest to those who descend from the barren mountains above. In its neighbourhood are extensive olive plantations, but I was told that for the last five summers the locusts had devoured both the fruit and foliage of these trees, upon which they alight in preference to all others. This insect is not less dreaded here than in Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, but the Bedouins of Mount Sinai, unlike those of Arabia, instead of eating them, hold them in great abhorrence.
We passed the mid-day hours at St. Elias, and towards evening ascended the mountain opposite to that of Mousa, which forms the western cliff of this narrow valley. After proceeding about an hour we stopped near a small well, where we found several huts of Djebalye, and cleared a place among the rocks, where our party encamped for the night. The well is called Bir Shonnar (ﺭﺎﻧﺷ ﺮﻴﺑ), from the circumstance of a monk who was wandering in these mountains, and nearly dying of thirst, having miraculously discovered it by seeing the bird Shonnar fly up from the spot; it is closely surrounded by rocks, and is not more than a foot in diameter and as much in depth. The Bedouins say that it never dries up, and that its water, even when exposed to the sun, is as cold as ice. Several trees grow near it, amongst others the Zarour (ﺭﻭﺮﻋﺯ), now almost in full bloom. Its fruit, of the size of a small cherry, with much of the flavour of a strawberry, is, I believe, not a native of Egypt, but is very common in Syria. I bought a lamb of the Bedouins, which we roasted among the rocks, and although there were only two women and one girl present, and the steep side of the mountain hardly permitted a person to stand up with firmness, and still less to wheel about, yet the greater part of the night was spent in the Mesámer, or national song and dance, to which several other neighbouring Djebalye were attracted. The air was delightfully cool and pure. While in the lower country, and particularly on the sea shore, I found the thermometer often at 102°— 105°, and once even at 110°; in the convent it never stood higher than 75°. The Semoum wind never reaches these upper regions. In winter the whole of the upper Sinai is deeply covered with snow, which chokes up many of the passes, and often renders the mountains of Moses and St. Catherine inaccessible. The climate is so different from that of Egypt, that fruits are nearly two months later in ripening here than at Cairo; apricots, which begin to be in season there in the last days of April, are not fit to eat in Sinai till the middle of June.
May 21st. — We left our resting-place before sign-rise, and climbed up a steep ascent, where there had formerly been steps, which are now entirely destroyed. This side of Djebel Katerin or Mount St. Catherine, is noted for its excellent pasturage; herbs sprout up every where between the rocks, and as many of them are odoriferous, the scent early in the morning, when the dew falls, is delicious. The Zattar (ﺮﻃﻋﺯ), Ocimum Zatarhendi, was particularly conspicuous, and is esteemed here the best possible food for sheep. In the month of June, when the herbs are in blossom, the monks are in the habit of repairing to this and the surrounding mountains, in order to collect various herbs, which they dry, and send to the convent at Cairo, from whence they are dispatched to the archbishop of Sinai at Constantinople, who distributes them to his friends and dependents; they are supposed to possess many virtues conducive to health. A botanist would find a rich harvest here, and it is much to be regretted that two mountains so easy of access, and so rich in vegetation, as Sinai and Libanus, should be still unexplored by men of science. The pretty red flower of the Noman plant (ﻥﺎﻤﻌﻧ), Euphorbia retusa of Forskal, abounds in al[l] the valleys of Sinai, and is seen also amongst the most barren granite rocks of the mountains.
As we approached the summit of the mountain we saw at a distance a small flock of mountain goats feeding among the rocks. One of our Arabs left us, and by a widely circuitous road endeavoured to get to leeward of them, and near enough to fire at them; he enjoined us to remain in sight of them, and to sit down in order not to alarm them. He had nearly reached a favourable spot behind a rock, when the goats suddenly took to flight. They could not have seen the Arab, but the wind changed, and thus they smelt him. The chase of the Beden, as the wild goat is called, resembles that of the chamois of the Alps, and requires as much enterprise and patience. The Arabs make long circuits to surprise them, and endeavour to come upon them early in the morning when they feed. The goats have a leader, who keeps watch, and on any suspicious smell, sound, or object, makes a noise which is a signal to the flock to make their escape. They have much decreased of late, if we may believe the Arabs, who say that, fifty years ago, if a stranger came to a tent and the owner of it had no sheep to kill, he took his gun and went in search of a Beden. They are however even now more common than in the Alps, or in the mountains to the east of the Red sea. I had three or four of them brought to me at the convent, which I bought at threefourths of a dollar each. The flesh is excellent, and has nearly the same flavour as that of the deer. The Bedouins make waterbags of their skins, and rings of their horns, which they wear on their thumbs. When the Beden is met with in the plains the dogs of the hunters easily catch him; but they cannot come up with him among the rocks, where he can make leaps of twenty feet.
The stout Bedouin youths are all hunters, and excellent marksmen; they hold it a great honour to bring game to their tents, in proof of their being hardy mountain runners, and good shots; and the epithet Bowardy yknos es-szeyd (ﺪﻴﺼﻟﺍ ﺼﻧﻘﻳ ﻱﺩﺭﺍﻮﺑ), “a marksman who hunts the game,” is one of the most flattering that can be bestowed upon them. It appears, from an ancient picture preserved in the convent, which represents the arrival of an archbishop from Egypt, as well as from one of the written documents in the archives, that in the sixteenth century all the Arabs were armed with bows and arrows as well as with matchlocks; at present the former are no longer known, but almost every tent has its matchlock, which the men use with great address, notwithstanding its bad condition. I believe bows are no longer used as regular weapons by the Bedouins in any part of Arabia.
After a very slow ascent of two hours we reached the top of Mount St. Catherine, which, like the mountain of Moses, terminates in a sharp point; its highest part consists of a single immense block of granite, whose surface is so smooth, that it is very difficult to ascend it. Luxuriant vegetation reaches up to this rock, and the side of the mountain presented a verdure which, had it been of turf instead of shrubs and herbs, would have completed the resemblance between this mountain and some of the Alpine summits. There is nothing on the summit of the rock to attract attention, except a small church or chapel, hardly high enough within to allow a person to stand upright, and badly built of loose uncemented stones; the floor is the bare rock, in which, solid as it is, the body of St. Catherine is believed to have been miraculously buried by angels, after her martyrdom at Alexandria. I saw inscribed here the names of several European travellers, and among others that of the unfortunate M. Boutin, a French officer of engineers, who passed here in 1811.15 From this elevated peak a very extensive view opened before us, and the direction of the different surroundings chains of mountains could be distinctly traced. The upper nucleus of the Sinai, composed almost entirely of granite, forms a rocky wilderness of all irregular circular shape, intersected by many narrow valleys, and from thirty to forty miles in diameter. It contains the highest mountains of the peninsula, whose shaggy and pointed peaks and steep and shattered sides, render it clearly distinguishable from all the rest of the country in view. It is upon this highest region of the peninsula that the fertile valleys are found, which produce fruit trees; they are principally to the west and south-west of the convent at three or four hours distant. Water too is always found in plenty in this district, on which account it is the place of refuge of all the Bedouins when the low country is parched up.
I think it very probable that this upper country or wilderness is, exclusively, the desert of Sinai so often mentioned in the account of the wanderings of the Israelites. Mount St. Catherine appears to stand nearly in the centre of it. To the northward of this central region, and divided from it by the broad valley called Wady El Sheikh, and by several minor Wadys, begins a lower range of mountains, called Zebeir, which extends eastwards, having at one extremity the two peaks called El Djoze (ﻩﺯﻮﺠﻟﺍ), above the plantations of Wady Feiran, and losing itself to the east in the more open country towards Wady Sal. Beyond the Zebeir northwards are sandy plains and valleys, which I crossed, towards the west, at Raml el Moral, and towards the east, about Hadhra. This part i[s] the most barren and destitute of water of the whole country. At its eastern extremity it is called El Birka (ﺔﻗﺮﺒﻟﺍ). It borders to the north on the chain of El Tyh, which stretches in a regular line eastwards, parallel with the Zebeir, beginning at Sarbout el Djeinel. On reaching, in its eastern course, the somewhat higher mountain called El Odjme (ﺔﻤﺠﻌﻟﺍ), it separates into two; one of its branches turns off in a right angle northward, and after continuing for about fifteen miles in that direction, again turns to the east, and extends parallel with the second and southern branch all across the peninsula, towards the eastern gulf. The northern branch, which is called El Dhelel (ﻞﻠﻀﻟﺍ), bounds the view from Mount St. Catherine. On turning to the east, I found that the mountains in this direction, beyond the high district of Sinai, run in a lower range towards the Wady Sal, and that the slope of the upper mountains is much less abrupt than on the opposite side. From Sal, east and north-east, the chains intersect each other in many irregular masses of inferior height, till they reach the gulf of Akaba, which I clearly distinguished when the sun was just rising over the mountains of the Arabian coast. Excepting the short extent from Noweyba to Dahab, the mountains bordering on the gulf are all of secondary height, but they rise to a considerable elevation between those two points. The country between Sherm, Nabk, and the convent, is occupied also by mountains of minor size, and the valleys, generally, are so narrow, that few of them can be distinguished from the point where I stood, the whole country, in that direction, appearing an uninterrupted wilderness of barren mountains. The highest points on that side appear to be above Wady Kyd, above the valley of Naszeb, and principally the peaks called Om Kheysyn (ﻦﻴﺴﻴﺧ ﻡﺍ) and Masaoud (ﺩﻮﻌﺴﻣ).
The view to the south was bounded by the high mountain of Om Shomar (ﺭﺎﻣﻮﺷ ﻡﺍ), which forms a nucleus of itself, apparently unconnected with the upper Sinai, although bordering close upon it. To the right of this mountain I could distinguish the sea, in the neighbourhood of Tor, near which begins a low calcareous chain of mountains, called Djebel Hemam (i.e. death), not Hamam (or bath), extending along the gulf of Suez, and separated from the upper Sinai by a broad gravelly plain called El Kaa (ﻉﺎﻘﻟﺍ), across which the road from Tor to Suez passes. This plain terminates to the W.N.W. of Mount St. Catherine, and nearly in the direction of Djebel Serbal. Towards the Kaa, the central Sinai mountains are very abrupt, and leave no secondary intermediate chain between them and the plain at their feet. The mountain of Serbal, which I afterwards visited, is separated from the upper Sinai by some valleys, especially Wady Hebran, and it forms, with several neighbouring mountains, a separate cluster terminating in peaks, the highest of which appears to be as high as Mount St. Catherine. It borders on the Wady Feiran and the chain of Zebeir.
I took the following bearings, from the summit of Mount St. Catherine. These, together with those which I took from the peak of Om Shomar and from Serbal, and the distances and direction of my different routes, will serve to construct a map of the peninsula more detailed and accurate than any that has yet been published.
El Djoze (ﺓﺯﻮﺠﻟﺍ), a rock distinguished by two peaks above that part of Wady Feiran where the date groves are, N.W. b. N.
Sarbout el Djemel (ﻞﻤﺠﻟﺍ ﺕﻮﺑﺮﺻ), the beginning of Djebel Tyh, N.W. ¼ N.
El Odjme, N. ½ E.
El Fereya, a high mountain of the upper Sinai region, N.N.E.
Zelka is in the same direction of N.N.E. It is a well, about one day’s journey from the convent, on the upper route from the convent to Akaba, which traverses the chain of Tyh. The stations in that road, beyond Zelka, are, Ayn (ﻦﻴﻋ), Hossey (ﻲﺴﺣ), and Akaba. The bearing of Ayn was pointed out to me N.E. b. N.
The mountain over El Hadhra, a well which I passed on my road to Akaba, N.E. ½ E.
Senned, a secondary mountain between the upper Sinai and Hadhra, bordering upon Wady Sal; extends from E.N.E. to N.E.
Noweyba, E. We could not see the sea shore at Noweyba, but the high mountains over it were very conspicuous.
Wady Naszeb, on the northern road from Sherm to the convent, extended in a direction S.E. to E.S.E.
Dahab, on the eastern gulf, E.S.E.
Djebel Masaoud, a high mountain on the borders of the upper Sinai, S.E. b. E.
Wady Kyd, and the mountain over it, S.E.
The Island of Tyran, S.S.E. ½ E.
The direction of Sherm was pointed out to me, a little to the eastward of south.
Djebel Thomman (ﻥﺎﻤﺛ ﻞﺒﺟ), a high peak, belonging to the mountains of Om Shomar, a little distant from the Sinai, S.
The peak of Om Shomar, S.S.W.
El Koly (ﻲﻟﻮﻘﻟﺍ), a high peak of the upper Sinai, S.W. ½ S. At its foot passes the road from the convent to Tor.
The direction of Tor was pointed out to me S.W. The rocks of the upper Sinai, which constitute the borders of it in that direction, are called El Sheydek (ﻕﺪﻴﺸﻟﺍ).
El Nedhadhyh (ﺢﻴﺿﺎﻀﻧﻟﺍ, mountains likewise on the skirts of the upper Sinai, W. ¼ S. Madsous (ﺱﻮﺳﺪﻤ), another peak of the upper Sinai, W. ¼ N.
Serbal, N.W. ½ W. The well El Morkha, lying near the Birket Faraoun, in the common road from Tor to Suez, is in the same direction.
Om Dhad (ﺩﺎﺿ ﻡﺍ), N.W. This is the head of a Wady, called Wady Kebryt, on the outside of the Sinai chain.
Of the upper Sinai, the peaks of Djebel Mousa, of St. Catherine, of Om Thoman, of Koly, and of Fereya are the highest.
In making the preceding observations I was obliged to take out my compass and pencil, which greatly surprised the Arabs, who, seeing me in an Arab dress, and speaking their language, yet having the same pursuits as the Frank travellers whom they had seen here, were quite at a loss what to make of me. The suspicion was immediately excited, that I had ascended this mountain to practise some enchantment, and it was much increased by my further proceedings. The Bedouins supposed that I had come to carry off the rain, and my return to Cairo was, in consequence, much less agreeable than my journey from thence; indeed I might have been subjected to some unpleasant occurrences had not the faithful Hamd been by my side, who in the route back was of more service to me than all the Firmahns of the Pasha could have been.
We returned from Mount St. Catherine to the place where we had passed the night, and breakfasted with the Djebalye, for which payment was asked, and readily given. The conveying of pilgrims is one of the few modes of subsistence which these poor people possess, and at a place where strangers are continually passing, gratuitous hospitality is not to be expected from them, though they might be ready to afford it to the helpless traveller. The two days excursion to the holy places cost me about forty piastres, or five dollars.
Before mid-day we had again reached the convent El Erbayn, in the garden of which I passed a most agreeable afternoon. The verdure was so brilliant and the blossoms of the orange trees diffused so fine a perfume that I was transported in imagination from the barren cliffs of the wilderness to the luxurious groves of Antioch. It is surprising that the Europeans resident at Cairo do not prefer spending the season of the plague in these pleasant gardens, and this delightful climate, to remaining close prisoners in the infected city.
We returned in the evening to the convent, by following to the northward the valley in which the Erbayn stands. This valley is very narrow, and extremely stony, many large blocks having rolled from the mountains into it; it is called El Ledja (ﺓﺎﺠﻠﻟﺍ), a name given to a similar rocky district, described by me, in the Haouran. At twenty minutes walk from the Erbayn we passed a block of granite, said to be the rock out of which the water issued when struck by the rod of Moses. It lies quite insulated by the side of the path, which is about ten feet higher than the lowest bottom of the valley. The rock is about twelve feet in height, of an irregular shape approaching to a cube. There are some apertures upon its surface, through which the water is said to have burst out; they are about twenty in number, and lie nearly in a straight line round the three sides of the stone. They are for the most part ten or twelve inches long, two or three inches broad, and from one to two inches deep, but a few of them are as deep as four inches. Every observer must be convinced, on the slightest examination, that most of these fissures are the work of art, but three or four perhaps are natural, and these may have first drawn the attention of the monks to the stone, and have induced them to call it the rock of the miraculous supply of water. Besides the marks of art evident in the holes themselves, the spaces between them have been chiselled, so as to make it appear as if the stone had been worn in those parts by the action of the water; though it cannot be doubted, that if water had flowed from the fissures it must generally have taken quite a different direction. One traveller saw on this stone twelve openings, answering to the number of the tribes of Israel;16 another17 describes the holes as a foot deep. They were probably told so by the monks, and believed what they heard rather than what they saw.
About one hundred and fifty paces farther on in the valley lies another piece of rock, upon which it seems that the work of deception was first begun, there being four or five apertures cut in it, similar to those on the other block, but in a less finished state; as it is somewhat smaller than the former, and lies in a less conspicuous part of the valley, removed from the public path, the monks probably thought proper in process of time to assign the miracle to the other. As the rock of Moses has been described by travellers of the fifteenth century, the deception must have originated among the monks of an earlier period. As to the present inhabitants of the convent and of the peninsula, they must be acquitted of any fraud respecting it, for they conscientiously believe that it is the very rock from whence the water gushed forth. In this part of the peninsula the Israelites could not have suffered from thirst: the upper Sinai is full of wells and springs, the greater part of which are perennial; and on whichever side the pretended rock of Moses is approached, copious sources are found within a quarter of an hour of it. The rock is greatly venerated by the Bedouins, who put grass into the fissures, as offerings to the memory of Moses, in the same manner as they place grass upon the tombs of their saints, because grass is to them the most precious gift of nature, and that upon which their existence chiefly depends. They also bring hither their female camels, for they believe that by making the animal couch down before the rock, while they recite some prayers, and by putting fresh grass into the fissures of the stone, the camels will become fertile, and yield an abundance of milk. The superstition is encouraged by the monks, who rejoice to see the infidel Bedouins venerating the same object with themselves.
Those who should attempt to weaken the faith of the monks and their visitors respecting this rock, would be now almost as blameable as the original authors of the imposture; for, such is the ignorance of the oriental Christians, and the impossibility of their obtaining any salutary instruction under the Turkish government, that were their faith in such miracles completely shaken, their religion would soon be entirely overthrown, and they would be left to wander in all the darkness of Atheism. It is curious to observe the blindness with which Christians as well as Turks believe in the pretended miracles of those who are interested in deceiving them. There is hardly a town in Syria or Egypt, where the Moslems have not a living saint, who works wonders, which the whole population is ready to attest as eye-witnesses. When I was at Damascus in 1812, some Christians returned thither from Jerusalem, where they had been to celebrate Easter. Some striking miracles said to have been performed by the Pope during his imprisonment at Savona, and which had been industriously propagated by the Latin priests in Syria, seem to have suggested to them the design of imitating his Holiness: the returning pilgrims unanimously declared, that when the Spanish priest of the convent of the Holy Sepulchre read the mass on Easter Sunday or Monday, upon the Mount of Olives, the whole assembled congregation saw him rise, while behind the altar, two or three feet in the air, and support himself in that position for several minutes, in giving the people his blessing. If any Christian of Damascus had expressed his doubts of the truth of this story, the monks of the convent there would have branded him with the epithet of Framasoun (Freemason), which among the Syrian Christians is synonymous with Atheist, and he would for ever have lost his character among his brethren.
A little farther down than the rock above described is shewn the seat of Moses, where it is said that he often sat; it is a small and apparently natural excavation in a granite rock, resembling a chair. Near this is the “petrified pot or kettle of Moses” (ﻲﺳﻮﻣ ﺎﻧﺩﺪﻴﺳ ﺭﺪﻗ), a name given to a circular projecting knob in a rock, similar in size and shape to the lid of a kettle. The Arabs have in vain endeavoured to break this rock, which they suppose to contain great treasures.
As we proceeded from the rock of the miraculous supply of water along the valley El Ledja, I saw upon several blocks of granite, whose smooth sides were turned towards the path, inscriptions similar to those at Naszeb; the following were the most legible:
Upon a small block: [not included]
[not included] There are many effaced lines on this block.
Upon a rock near the stone of Moses: [not included]
Upon a block close to the above: [not included]
Upon the rock called the Pot: [not included]
Upon a large insulated block of granite: [not included]
It is to be observed, that none of these inscriptions are found higher up the valley than the water rock, being all upon blocks on the way from thence to the convent, which seems to be a strong proof, that they were inscribed by those persons only who came from the convent or from Cairo, to visit the rock, and not by pilgrims in their way to the mountain of Moses or of St. Catherine, who would undoubtedly have left some record farther up the valley, and more particularly upon the sides and summits of the mountains themselves: but I could there find no inscriptions whatever, although I examined the ground closely, and saw many smooth blocks by the road, very suitable to such inscriptions.
At forty minutes walk from Erbayn, where the valley El Ledja opens into the broad valley which leads eastwards to the convent, is a fine garden, with the ruins of a small convent, called El Bostan; water is conducted into it by a small channel from a spring in the Ledja. It was full of apricot trees, and roses in full blossom. A few Djebalye live here and take care of the garden. From hence to the convent is half an hour; in the way is shewn the head of the golden calf, which the Israelites worshipped, transmuted into stone. It is somewhat singular that both the monks and the Bedouins call it the cow’s head (Ras el Bakar), and not the calf’s, confounding it, perhaps, with the “red heifer,” of which the Old Testament and the Koran speak. It is a stone half-buried in the ground, and bears some resemblance to the forehead of a cow. Some travellers have explained this stone to be the mould in which Aaron cast the calf, though it is not hollow but projecting; the Arabs and monks however gravely assured me that it was the “cow’s” head itself. Beyond this object, towards the convent, a hill is pointed out to the left, called Djebel Haroun, because it is believed to be the spot where Aaron assembled the seventy elders of Israel. Both this and the cow’s head have evidently received these denominations from the monks and Bedouins, in order that they may multiply the objects of veneration and curiosity within the pilgrim’s tour round the convent.
On my return to the convent I could not help expressing to several of the monks my surprise at the metamorphosis of a calf into a cow, and of an idol of gold into stone; but I found that they were too little read in the books of Moses to understand even this simple question, and I therefore did not press the subject. I believe there is not a single individual amongst them, who has read the whole of the Old Testament; nor do I think that among eastern Christians in general there is one in a thousand, of those who can read, that has ever taken that trouble. They content themselves, in general, with their prayer-books, liturgies, and histories of saints; few of them read the gospels, though more do so in Syria than in Egypt; the reading of the whole of the scripture is discountenanced by the clergy; the wealthy seldom have the inclination to prosecute the study of the Holy writings, and no others are able to procure a manuscript copy of the Bible, or one printed in the two establishments in Mount Libanus. The well meant endeavours of the Bible Society in England to supply them with printed copies of the Scriptures in Arabic, if not better directed than they have hitherto been, will produce very little effect in these countries. The cost of such a copy, trifling as it may seem in England, is a matter of importance to the poor Christians of the east; the Society has, besides, chosen a version which is not current in the east, where the Roman translation alone is acknowledged by the Clergy, who easily make their flocks believe that the Scriptures have been interpolated by the Protestants. It would, perhaps, have been better if the Society, in the beginning at least, had furnished the eastern Christians with cheap copies of the Gospels and Psalms only, which being the books chiefly in use among them in manuscript, would have been not only useful to them, but more approved of by the directors of their consciences, than the entire Scripture. Upon Mohammedans, it is vain to expect that the reading of the present Arabic version of the Bible should make the slightest impression. If any of them were brought to conquer their inherent aversion to the book, they could not read a page in it without being tired and disgusted with its style. In the Koran they possess the purest and most elegant composition in their language, the rhythmical prose of which, exclusive of the sacred light in which they hold it, is alone sufficient to make a strong impression upon them. The Arabic of the greater part of the Bible, on the contrary, and especially that of the Gospels, is in the very worst style; the books of Moses and the Psalms are somewhat better. Grammatical rules, it is true, are observed, and chosen terms are sometimes employed; but the phraseology and whole construction is generally contrary to the spirit of the language, and so uncouth, harsh, affected, and full of foreign idioms, that no Musselman scholar would be tempted to prosecute the study of it, and a few only would thoroughly understand it. In style and phraseology it differs from the Koran more than the monkish Latin from the orations of Cicero.
I will not take upon me to declare how far the Roman and the Society’s Arabic translation of the Old Testament are defective, being unable to read the original Hebrew text; but I can affirm that they both disagree, in many instances, from the English translation. The Christians of the East, who will seldom read any book written by a Moslem, and to whom an accurate knowledge of Arabic and of the best writers in that language are consequently unknown, are perfectly satisfied with the style of the Roman version which is in use among them; it is for the sake of perusing it that they undertake a grammatical study of the Arabic language, and their priests and learned men usually make it the model of their own style; they would be unwilling therefore to admit any other translation; and there is not, at present, either in Syria or in Egypt any Christian priest so bold and so learned as Bishop Germanus Ferhat of Aleppo, who openly expressed his dislike of this translation, and had declared his intention of altering it himself, for which, and other reasons, he was branded with the epithet of heretic. For Arab Christians, therefore, the Roman translation will not easily be superseded, and if Mussulmans are to be tempted to study the Scriptures, they must be clothed in more agreeable language, than that which has lately been presented to them, for they are the last people upon whom precepts conveyed in rude language will have any effect.
In the present state of western Asia, however, the conversion of Mohammedans is very difficult; I have heard only of one instance during the last century, and the convert was immediately shipped off to Europe. On the other hand, should an European power ever obtain a firm footing in Egypt, it is probable that many years would not elapse before thousands of Moslems would profess Christianity; not from the dictates of their conscience or judgment, but from views of worldly interest.
I was cordially greeted on my return to the convent, by the monks and the fatherly Ikonómos, one of the best-natured churchmen I have met with in the East. The safe return of pilgrims from the holy mountains is always a subject of gratulation, so great is their dread of the Arabs. I rested the following day in the convent, where several Greeks from Tor and Suez had arrived; being friends of the monks, they were invited in the evening to the private apartments of the latter, where they were plied so bountifully with brandy that they all retired tipsy to bed.
Several Bedouins had acquainted me that a thundering noise, like repeated discharges of heavy artillery, is heard at times in these mountains; and they all affirmed that it came from Om Shomar. The monks corroborated the story, and even positively asserted that they had heard the sound about mid-day, five years ago, describing it in the same manner as the Bedouins. The same noise had been heard in more remote times, and the Ikonómos, who has lived here forty years, told me that he remembered to have heard the noise at four or five separate periods. I enquired whether any shock of an earthquake had ever been felt on such occasions, but was answered in the negative. Wishing to ascertain the truth, I prepared to visit the mountain of Om Shomar.
As I had lost much of the confidence of the Bedouins by writing upon the mountains, and could not intimidate them by shewing a passport from the Pasha, I kept my intended journey secret, and concerting matters with Hamd and two Djebalye, I was let down from the window of the convent a little before midnight on the 23rd of May, and found my guides well armed and in readiness below. We proceeded by Wady Sebaye, the same road I had come from Sherm. In this Wady, tradition says, the Israelites gained the victory over the Amalekites, which was obtained by the holding up of the hands of Moses (Ex. xvii. 12.), but this battle was fought in Raphidim, where the water gushed out from the rock, a situation which appears to have been to the westward of the convent, on the approach from the gulf of Suez.
I was much disappointed at being able to trace so very few of the ancient Hebrew names of the Old Testament in the modern names of the peninsula; but it is evident that, with the exception of Sinai and a few others, they are all of Arabic derivation.
On a descent from the summit of Wady Sebaye, at an hour and a half from the convent, we turned to the right from the road to Sherm, and entered Wady Owasz (ﺹﺍﻮﻋ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), in a direction S. b. W. I found here a small chain of white and red sand-stone hills in the midst of granite. The morning was so very cold that we were obliged to stop and light a fire, round which we sat till sunrise; my feet and hands were absolutely benumbed, for neither gloves or stockings are in fashion among Bedouins. We continued in the valley, crossing several hills, till at four hours and a half we reached Wady Rahaba (ﺔﺒﺣﺭ), in the lower parts of which we had passed a very rainy night on the 17th. Rahaba is one of the principal valleys on this side of the peninsula; it is broad, and affords good pasturage. We halted under a granite rock in the middle of it, close by about a dozen small buildings, which are called by the Bedouins Makhsen (magazines), and which serve them as a place of deposit for their provision, clothes, money, &c. As Bedouins are continually moving about, they find it inconvenient to carry with them what they do not constantly want; they therefore leave whatever they have not immediate need of in these magazines, to which they repair as occasion requires. Almost every Bedouin in easy circumstances has one of them; I have met with them in several parts of the mountains, always in clusters of ten or twenty together. They are at most ten feet high, generally about ten or twelve feet square, constructed with loose stones, covered with the trunks of date trees, and closed with a wooden door and lock. These buildings are altogether so slight, and the doors so insecure, that a stone would be sufficient to break them open; no watchmen are left to guard them, and they are in such solitary spots that they might easily be plundered in the night, without the thief being ever discovered. But such is the good faith of the Towara towards each other, that robberies of this kind are almost unheard of; and their Sheikh Szaleh, whose magazine is well known to contain fine dresses, shawls, and dollars, considers his property as safe there as it would be in the best secured building in a large town. The Towara are well entitled to pride themselves on this trait in their character; for I found nothing similar to it among other Bedouins. The only instance upon record of a magazine having been plundered among them, is that mentioned in page 475, for which the robber’s own father inflicted the punishment of death.
We continued our route in a side branch of the Rababa, till at the end of five hours and a half, we ascended a mountain, and then descended into a narrow valley, or rather cleft, between the rocks, called Bereika (ﺔﻜﻳﺮﺑ). The camel which I rode not being able to proceed farther on account of the rocky road, I left it here in charge of one of the Djebalye. This part of Sinai was completely parched up, no rain having fallen in it during the last winter. W.S.W. from hence, on entering a narrow pass called Wady Zereigye (ﻪﻘﻳﺭﺯ), we found the ground moist, there being a small well, but almost dried up; it would have cost us some time to dig it up to obtain water, which no longer rose above the surface, though it still maintained some verdure around it. This defile was thickly overgrown with fennel, three or four feet high; the Bedouins eat the stalks raw, and pretend that it cools the blood. Farther down we came to two copious springs, most picturesquely situated among the rocks, being overshaded by large wild fig-trees, a great number of which grow in other parts of this district.
We descended the Zereigye by windings, and at the end of eight hours reached its lowest extremity, where it joins a narrow valley extending along the foot of Om Shomar, the almost perpendicular cliffs of which now stood before us. The country around is the wildest I had yet seen in these mountains; the devastations of torrents are every where visible, the sides of the mountains being rent by them in numberless directions; the surface of the sharp rocks is blackened by the sun; all vegetation is dry and withered; and the whole scene presents nothing but utter desolation and hopeless barrenness.
We ascended S.E. in the valley of Shomar, winding round the foot of the mountain for about an hour, till we reached the well of Romhan (ﻥﺎﺤﻣﺭ), at nine hours from the convent, where we rested. This is a fine spring; high grass grows in the narrow pass near it, with several date-trees and a gigantic fig-tree. Just above the well, on the side of the mountain, are the ruins of a convent, called Deir Antous; it was inhabited in the beginning of the last century, and according to the monks, it was the last convent abandoned by them. I found it mentioned in records of the fifteenth century in the convent; it was then one of the principal settlements, and caravans of asses laden with corn and other provisions passed by this place regularly from the convent to Tor, for this is the nearest road to that harbour, though it is more difficult than the more western route, which is now usually followed. The convent consisted of a small solid building, constructed with blocks of granite. I was told that date plantations are found higher up in the valley of Romhan, and that the monks formerly had their gardens there, of which some of the fruit trees still remain.
May 24th. — Early this morning I took Hamd with me to climb the Om Shomar, while the other man went with his gun in pursuit of some mountain-goats which he had seen yesterday at sunset upon the summit of a neighbouring mountain; he was accompanied by another Djebalye, whom we had met by chance. I had promised them a good reward if they should kill a goat, for I did not wish to have them near me, when examining the rocks upon the mountain. It took me an hour and a half to reach the top of Shomar, and I employed three hours in visiting separately all the surrounding heights, but I could no where find the slightest traces of a volcano, or of any volcanic productions, which I have not observed in any part of the upper Sinai. Om Shomar consists of granite, the lower stratum is red, that at the top is almost white, so as to appear from a distance like chalk; this arises from the large proportion of white feldspath in it, and the smallness of the particles of hornblende and mica. In the middle of the mountain, between the granite rocks, I found broad strata of brittle black slate, mixed with layers of quartz and feldspath, and with micaceous schistus. The quartz includes thin strata of mica of the most brilliant white colour, which is quite dazzling in the sun, and forms a striking contrast with the blackened surface of the slate and red granite.
The mountain of Om Shomar rises to a sharp-pointed peak, the highest summit of which, it is, I believe, impossible to reach; the sides being almost perpendicular, and the rock so smooth, as to afford no hold to the foot. I halted at about two hundred feet below it, where a beautiful view opened upon the sea of Suez, and the neighbourhood of Tor, which place was distinctly visible; at our feet extended the wide plain El Kaa. The southern side of this mountain is very abrupt, and there is no secondary chain, like those on the descent from Sinai to the sea, in every other direction. I have already mentioned the low chain called Hemam, which separates the Kaa from the gulf of Suez. In this chain, about five hours from Tor, northward, is the Djebel Nakous, or mountain of the Bell. On its side next the sea a mass of very fine sand, which has collected there, rushes down at times, and occasions a hollow sound, of which the Bedouins relate many stories; they compare it to the ringing of bells, and a fable is repeated among them, that the bells belong to a convent buried under the sands. The wind and weather are not believed to have any effect upon the sound.
Tor, W.1.S. The usual road to Tor from the upper Sinai lies through the valley of El Ghor (ﺭﻮﻐﻟﺍ), not far distant to the N.W. of Shomar; to the south of El Ghor extends the chain of Djed el Aali (ﻲﻠﻋﻻﺍ ﺪﺟ); and another valley called El Shedek (ﻕﺪﺸﻟﺍ), entered from the Ghor, leads towards the lower plain
Djebel Serbal, N. ¼ W.
The Djoze, over Feiran, N. ½ W.
Om Dhad, N.N.W.
Fera Soweyd (ﺩﻳﻮﺳ ﻉﺮﻓ), a high mountain between Om Shomar and Mount St. Catherine, N. b. E. It forms one range with the peak of Koly, which branches of from hence, N.E. b. N.
Mountain of Masaoud, E.
Mountain over Wady Kyd, E. ¼ S.
We took a breakfast after our return to Romhan, and then descended by the same way we had come. In re-ascending Wady Zereigye we heard the report of a gun, and were soon after gratified by seeing our huntsman arrive at the place where we had left our camel, with a fine mountain goat. Immediately on killing it he had skinned it, taken out the entrails, and then put the carcase again into the skin, carrying it on his back, with the skin of the legs tied across his breast. No butcher in Europe can surpass a Bedouin in skinning an animal quickly; I have seen them strip a camel in less than a quarter of an hour; the entrails are very seldom thrown away; if water is at hand, they are washed, if not, they are roasted over the fire without washing; the liver and lungs of all animals are usually eaten raw, and many of the hungry bystanders are seen swallowing raw pieces of flesh. After a hearty dinner we descended, by a different path from that we had ascended, into the upper part of Wady Rahaba, in which we continued N.E. b. E. for two or three hours, when we halted at a well called Merdoud (ﺩﻭﺩﺮﻣ), at a little distance from several plantations of fruittrees.
My departure from the convent had roused the suspicions of the Bedouins; they had learnt that I was going to Om Shomar, and two of them set out this morning by different routes, in order to intercept my return, intending no doubt to excite a quarrel with me respecting my visits to their mountains, in the hope of extorting money from me. We met one of them at this well, and he talked as loud and was as boisterous as if I had killed some of his kindred, or robbed his tent. After allowing him to vent his rage for half an hour, I began to speak to him in a very lofty tone, of my own importance at Cairo, and of my friendship with the Pasha; concluding by telling him, that the next time he went to Cairo I would have his camel seized by the soldiers. When he found that he could not intimidate me, he accepted of my invitation to be our guest for the night, and went in search of a neighbouring friend of his, who brought us an earthen pot, in which we cooked the goat.
May 25th. — At one hour below Merdoud we again fell in with Wady Owasz, and returned by the former road to the convent. The monks were in the greatest anxiety about me, for the Bedouins who had gone in search of me, had sworn that they would shoot me; and had even refused a small present offered to them by the Ikonómos to pacify them, expecting, no doubt, to obtain much more from myself; but they now returned, and obliged him to give them what he had offered them, pretending that it was for his sake only that they had spared my life; nor would the monks believe me when I assured them that I had been in no danger on this occasion.
I passed the following four days in the convent, and in several gardens and settlements of Djebalye at a little distance from it. I took this opportunity to look over some of the records of the convent which are written in Arabic, and I extracted several interesting documents relative to the state of the Bedouins in former times, and their affrays with the monks. In one, of the last century, is a list of the Ghafeyrs of the convent, not belonging to the Towara. These are,
El Rebabein (ﻦﻴﺑﺎﺑﺭ), a small tribe belonging to the great Djeheyne tribe of the Hedjaz; a few families of the Rebabein have settled at Moeleh on the Arabian coast, and in the small villages in the vicinity of Tor. They serve as pilots in that part of the Red sea, and protect the convent’s property about Tor.
El Heywat (ﺕﺍﻮﻴﺣ), El Syayhe (ﺔﺤﻳﺎﻴﺳ), are small tribes living east of Akaba, among the dwelling-places of the Omran. El Reteymat (ﺕﺎﻤﻴﺗﺭ), a tribe about Ghaza and Hebron. El Omarein, or Omran. El Hokouk (ﻙﻮﻜﺣ), the principal tribe of he Tyaha. El Mesayd (ﺪﻴﻋﺎﺴﻤﻟﺍ), a small tribe of the Sherkieh province of Egypt. El Alowein, a strong tribe north of Akaba. El Sowareka (ﺔﻛﺭﺍﻮﺳ), in the desert between Sinai and Ghaza. El Terabein. El Howeytat. Oulad el Fokora (ﻩﺮﻘﻔﻟﺍ ﺩﻻﻭﺍ), the principal branch of the tribe of Wahydat near Ghaza. Individuals of all these tribes are entitled to small yearly stipends and some clothing, and are bound to recover the property of the monks, when seized by any persons of their respective tribes. In one of the manuscripts I found the name of a Ghafeyr called Shamoul (Samuel), a Hebrew name I had never before met with among Arabs.
On the 29th, I was visited by Hassan Ibn Amer (ﺮﻣﺎﻋ ﻦﺑﺍ ﻥﺎﺴﺣ), the Sheikh of the Oulad Said, who is also one of the two principal Sheiks of the Towara, and in whose tent I had slept one night in my way to the convent. He begged me to lend him twenty dollars, which he promised to repay me at Cairo, as he wished to buy some sheep to be killed on the following day in honour of the saint Sheikh Szaleh. I told him that I never lent money to any body, but would willingly have made him a present of the sum if I had possessed it. He then said in many words, that if it had not been for his interference, the Bedouins would have waylaid and killed me in returning from Djebel Katerin. I told him that he and his tribe would have been responsible to the Pasha of Egypt for such an act; and in short that I never paid any tribute in the Pasha’s dominions. It ended by my giving him a few pounds of coffeebeans, wrapped up in a good handkerchief, a few squares of soap, and a loaf of sugar, to present to his women, and thus we parted good friends. In the evening his brother came and also received a few trifles. He had brought a fat sheep to kill in honour of El Khoudher (St. George), a saint of the first class among Bedouins, and to whose intercession he thought himself indebted for the recovery of the health of his young wife. In the convent, adjoining to the outer wall, is a chapel dedicated to St. George; the Bedouins, who are not permitted to enter the convent, address their vows and prayers to him on the outside, just below the chapel. I was invited to partake of the repast prepared by the brother of Sheikh Hassan, and much against the advice of the monks, I let myself down the rope from the window, and sat below for several hours with the Arabs.
I was invited also to the great feast of Sheikh Szaleh, in Wady Szaleh, which was to take place on the morrow, but as I knew that Szaleh, the great chief of the Towara, was to be there, and would no doubt press me hardly by his inquiries why I had come without the Pasha’s Firmahn; and as the Arabs were greatly exasperated against me for my late excursion to Om Shomar in addition to other causes of displeasure, I thought it very probable that I might be insulted amongst them, and I therefore determined to seize the opportunity of this general assembly in Wady Szaleh to begin my journey to Cairo; by so doing, I should also escape the disagreeable necessity of having Bedouin guides forced upon me. I engaged Hamd and his brother with two camels, and left the convent before dawn on the 30th, after having taken a farewell of the monks, and especially of the worthy Ikonómos, who presented me at parting with a leopard’s skin, which he had lately bought of the Bedouins; together with several fine specimens of rock crystals, and a few small pieces of native cinnabar (ﺕﺨﺳﺭ). The crystals are collected by the Arabs in one of the mountains not far distant from the convent, but in which of them I did not learn; I have seen some six inches in length, and one and a half in breadth; the greater part are of a smoky colour, with pyramidal tops. The cinnabar is said, by the Bedouins, to be found in great quantities upon Djebel Sheyger (ﺮﻴﻘﺷ ﻞﺒﺟ), a few hours to the N.E. of Wady Osh, the valley in which I slept, at an Arab encampment, two nights before I arrived at the convent from Suez.
May 30th. — We issued from the narrow valley in which the convent stands, into a broader one, or rather a plain, called El Raha, leaving on our right the road by which I first reached the convent. We continued in El Raha N.N.W. for an hour and an half, when we came to an ascent called Nakb el Raha (ﻪﺣﺍﺮﻟﺍ ﺐﻘﻧ), the top of which we reached in two hours from the convent. I had chosen this route, which is the most southern from the convent to Suez, in order to see Wady Feiran, and to ascend from thence the mountain Serbal, which, with Mount Saint Catherine and Shomar, is the highest peak in the peninsula. I had mentioned my intention to Hamd, who it appears communicated it this morning to his brother, for the latter left us abruptly at Nakb el Raha, saying that he had forgot his gun, giving his camel in charge to Hamd, and promising to join us lower down, as his tent was not far distant. Instead, however, of going home, he ran straight to the Arabs assembled at Sheikh Szaleh, and acquainted them with my designs. Their chiefs immediately dispatched a messenger to Feiran to enjoin the people there to prevent me from ascending Serbal; but, fortunately, I was already on my way to the mountain when the messenger reached Feiran, and on my return I had only to encounter the clamorous and now fruitless expostulations of the Arabs at that place.
We began to descend from the top of Nakb el Raha, by a narrow chasm, the bed of a winter torrent; direction N.W. by N. At the end of two hours and a quarter we halted near a spring called Kanaytar (ﺮﻄﻴﻧﻗ). Upon several blocks near it I saw inscriptions in the same character as those which I had before seen, but they were so much effaced as to be no longer legible. I believe it was in these parts that Niebuhr copied the inscriptions given in plate 49 of his Voyage. From the spring the descent was steep; in many parts I found the road paved, which must have been a work of considerable labour, and I was told that it had been done in former times at the expense of the convent. This road is the only one passable for camels, with the exception of the defile in which is the seat of Moses, in the way from the upper Sinai towards Suez. At three hours and three quarters from the convent we reached the foot of this mountain, which is bordered by a broad, gravelly valley. This is the boundary of the upper mountains of Sinai on this side; they extended in an almost perpendicular range on our right towards Wady Szaleh, and on our left in the direction W.N.W. We now entered Wady Solaf (ﻑﻼﺳ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), “the valley of wine,” coming from the N. or N.E. which here separates the upper Sinai range from the lower. At five hours we passed, to our right, a Wady coming from the north, called Abou Taleb (ﺐﻟﺎﻁ ﻮﺑﺍ), at the upper extremity of which is the tomb of the saint Abou Taleb, which the Bedouins often visit, and where there is an annual festival, like that of Sheikh Szaleh, but less numerously attended. Our road continued through slightly descending, sandy valleys; at the end of five hours and a quarter, after having passed several encampments without stopping, we turned N. by W. where a lateral valley branches off towards the sea shore, and communicates with the valley of Hebran, which divides the upper Sinai from the Serbal chain. Wady Hebran contains considerable date-plantations and gardens, and this valley and Wady Feiran are the most abundant in water of all the Wadys of the lower country. A route from the convent to Tor passes through Wady Hebran, which is longer than the usual one, but easier for beasts of burthen.
At six hours and three quarters we halted in Wady Solaf, as I found myself somewhat feverish, and in want of repose. We saw great numbers of red-legged partridges this day; they run with astonishing celerity along the rocky sides of the mountains, and as the Bedouins do not like to expend a cartridge upon so small a bird, they are very bold. When we lighted our fire in the evening, I was startled by the cries of Hamd “to take care of the venemous animal!” I then saw him kill a reptile like a spider, to which the Bedouins give the name of Abou Hanakein (ﻦﻴﻜﻧﺣ ﻮﺑﺍ), or the two-mouthed; hanak meaning, in their dialect, mouth. It was about four inches and a half in length, of which the body was three inches; it has five long legs on both sides, covered, like the body, with setæ of a light yellow colour; the head is long and pointed, with large black eyes; the mouth is armed with two pairs of fangs one above the other, recurved, and extremely sharp. Hamd told me that it never makes its appearance but at night, and is principally attracted by fire; indeed I saw three others during this journey, and always near the evening fire. The Bedouins entertain the greatest dread of them; they say that their bite, if not always mortal, produces a great swelling, almost instant vomiting, and the most excruciating pains. I believe this to be the Galeode phalangiste, at least it exactly resembles the drawing of that animal, given by Olivier in his Travels, pl. 42-4.
May 31st. — A good night’s rest completely removed my feverish symptoms. Fatigue and a check of perspiration often produce slight fevers in the desert, which I generally cured by lying down near the fire, and drawing my mantle over my head, as the Bedouins always do at night. The Bedouins, before they go to rest, usually undress themselves entirely, and lie down quite naked upon a sheep’s skin, which they carry for the purpose; they then cover themselves with every garment which they happen to have with them. Even in the hottest season they always cover the head and face when sleeping, not only at night but also during the mid-day hours.
We continued in Wady Solaf, which was entirely parched up, for an hour and three quarters, and passed to the left a narrower valley called Wady Keyfa (ﺔﻔﻴﻛ), coming from the Serbal mountains. At two hours we passed Wady Rymm (ﻡﺭ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), which also comes from the same chain, and joins the Solaf; from thence we issued, at three hours, into the Wady el Sheik, the great valley of the western Sinai, which collects the torrents of a great number of smaller Wadys. There is not the smallest opening into these mountains, nor the slightest projection from them, that has not its name; but these names are known only to the Bedouins who are in the habit of encamping in the neighbourhood, while the more distant Bedouins are acquainted only with the names of the principal mountains and valleys. I have already mentioned several times the Wady el Sheikh; I found it here of the same noble breadth as it is above, and in many parts it was thickly overgrown with the tamarisk or Tarfa; it is the only valley in the peninsula where this tree grows, at present, in any great quantity, though small bushes of it are here and there met with in other parts. It is from the Tarfa that the manna is obtained, and it is very strange that the fact should have remained unknown in Europe, till M. Seetzen mentioned it in a brief notice of his tour to Sinai, published in the Mines de l’Orient. This substance is called by the Bedouins, Mann (ﻦﻣ), and accurately resembles the description of Manna given in the Scriptures. In the month of June it drops from the thorns of the tamarisk upon the fallen twigs, leaves, and thorns which always cover the ground beneath that tree in the natural state; the manna is collected before sunrise, when it is coagulated, but it dissolves as soon as the sun shines upon it. The Arabs clean away the leaves, dirt, &c. which adhere to it, boil it, strain it through a coarse piece of cloth, and put it into leathern skins; in this way they preserve it till the following year, and use it as they do honey, to pour over their unleavened bread, or to dip their bread into. I could not learn that they ever make it into cakes or loaves. The manna is found only in years when copious rains have fallen; sometimes it is not produced at all, as will probably happen this year. I saw none of it among the Arabs, but I obtained a small piece of last year’s produce, in the convent; where having been kept in the cool shade and moderate temperature of that place, it had become quite solid, and formed a small cake; it became soft when kept sometime in the hand; if placed in the sun for five minutes it dissolved; but when restored to a cool place it became solid again in a quarter of an hour. In the season, at which the Arabs gather it, it never acquires that state of hardness which will allow of its being pounded, as the Israelites are said to have done in Numbers, xi. 8. Its colour is a dirty yellow, and the piece which I saw was still mixed with bits of tamarisk leaves: its taste is agreeable, somewhat aromatic, and as sweet as honey. If eaten in any considerable quantity it is said to be slightly purgative.
The quantity of manna collected at present, even in seasons when the most copious rains fall, is very trifling, perhaps not amounting to more than five or six hundred pounds. It is entirely consumed among the Bedouins, who consider it the greatest dainty which their country affords. The harvest is usually in June, and lasts for about six weeks; sometimes it begins in May. There are only particular parts of the Wady Sheikh that produce the tamarisk; but it is also said to grow in Wady Naszeb, the fertile valley to the S.E. of the convent, on the road from thence to Sherm.
In Nubia and in every part of Arabia the tamarisk is one of the most common trees; on the Euphrates, on the Astaboras, in all the valleys of the Hedjaz, and the Bedja, it grows in great plenty, but I never heard of its producing manna except in Mount Sinai; it is true I made no inquiries on the subject elsewhere, and should not, perhaps, have learnt the fact here, had I not asked repeated questions respecting the manna, with a view to an explanation of the Scriptures. The tamarisk abounds more in juices than any other tree of the desert, for it retains its vigour when every vegetable production around it is withered, and never loses its verdure till it dies. It has been remarked by Niebuhr, (who, with his accustomed candour and veracity says, that during his journey to Sinai he forgot to enquire after the manna), that in Mesopotamia manna is produced by several trees of the oak species; a similar fact was confirmed to me by the son of the Turkish lady, mentioned in a preceding page, who had passed the greater part of his youth at Erzerum in Asia Minor; he told me that at Moush, a town three or four days distant from Erzerum, a substance is collected from the tree which produces the galls, exactly similar to the manna of the peninsula, in taste and consistence, and that it is used by the inhabitants instead of honey.
We descended the Wady el Sheikh N.W. by W. Upon several projecting rocks of the mountain I saw small stone huts, which Hamd told me were the work of infidels in ancient times; they were probably the cells of the hermits of Sinai. Their construction is similar to that of the magazines already mentioned, but the stones although uncemented, are more carefully placed in the walls, and have thus resisted the force of torrents. Upon the summits of three different mountains to the right were small ruined towers, originally perhaps, chapels, dependant on the episcopal see of Feiran. In descending the valley the mountains on both sides approach so near, that a defile of only fifteen or twenty feet across is left; beyond this they again diverge, when a range of the same hills of Tafel, or yellow pipe-clay are seen, which I observed in the higher parts of this Wady. At the end of four hours we entered the plantations of Wady Feiran (ﻥﺍﺮﻴﻓ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), through a wood of tamarisks, and halted at a small date-garden belonging to my guide Hamd. Wady Feiran is a continuation of Wady el Sheikh, and is considered the finest valley in the whole peninsula. From the upper extremity, where we alighted, an uninterrupted row of gardens and date-plantations extends downwards for four miles. In almost every garden is a well, by means of which the grounds are irrigated the whole year round, exactly in the same manner as those in the Hedjaz above Szafra and Djedeyde. Among the date-trees are small huts where reside the Tebna Arabs, a branch of the Djebalye, who serve as gardeners to the Towara Bedouins, especially to the Szowaleha, who are the owners of the ground; they take one-third of the fruit for their labour. The owners seldom visit the place, except in the date harvest, when the valley is filled with people for a month or six weeks; at that season they erect huts of palm-branches, and pass their time in conviviality, receiving visits, and treating their guests with dates. The best species of these is called Djamya (ﻊﻴﻤﺟ), of which the monks send large boxes annually to Constantinople as presents, after having taken out the stone of the date, and put an almond in its place. The Nebek (Rhamnus Lotus), the fruit of which is a favourite food of the Bedouins, grows also in considerable quantity at Wady Feiran. They grind the dried fruit together with the stone, and preserve the meal, called by them Bsyse (ﺔﺴﻴﺴﺑ), in leathern skins, in the same manner as the Nubian Bedouins do. It is an excellent provision for journeying in the desert, for it requires only the addition of butter-milk to make a most nourishing, agreeable, and refreshing diet.
The Tebna cultivators are very poor; they possess little or no landed property, and are continually annoyed by visits from the Bedouins, whom they are under the necessity of receiving with hospitality. Their only profitable branch of culture is tobacco, of which they raise considerable quantities; it is of the same species as that grown in the mountains of Arabia Petræa, about Wady Mousa and Kerek, which retains its green colour even when dry. It is very strong, and esteemed for this quality by the Towara Bedouins, who are all great consumers of tobacco, and who are chiefly supplied with it from Wady Feiran; they either smoke it, or chew it mixed with natron or with salt. Tobacco has acquired here such a currency in trade, that the Tebna buy and sell minor articles among themselves by the Mud or measure of tobacco. The other vegetable productions of the valley are cucumbers, gourds, melons, hemp for smoking, onions, a few Badendjans, and a few carob trees. As for apple, pear, or apricot trees, &c. they grow only in the elevated regions of the upper Sinai, where in different spots are about thirty or forty plantations of fruit trees; in a very few places wheat and barley are sown, but the crops are so thin that they hardly repay the labour of cultivation, although the cultivator has the full produce without any deduction. The soil is every where so stony, that it is impossible to make it produce corn sufficient for even the smallest Arab tribe.
The narrowness of the valley of Feiran, which is not more than an hundred paces across, the high mountains on each side, and the thick woods of date-trees, render the heat extremely oppressive, and the unhealthiness of the situation is increased by the badness of the water. The Tebna are far from being as robust and healthy as their neighbours, and in spring and summer dangerous fevers reign here.
The few among them who have cattle, live during those seasons under tents in the mountains, leaving a few persons in care of the trees.
As Mount Serbal forms a very prominent feature in the topography of the peninsula, I was determined if possible to visit it, and Hamd having never been at the top of it, I was under the necessity of inquiring for a guide. None of the Tebna present knew the road, but I found a young man who guided us to the tent of a Djebalye, which was pitched in the lower heights of Serbal, and who being a great sportsman, was known to have often ascended the mountain. Leaving the servant with the camels, I set out in the evening on foot with Hamd and the guide, carrying nothing with us but some butter-milk in a small skin, together with some meal, and ground Nebek, enough to last us for two days. We ascended Wady el Sheikh for about three quarters of an hour, and then turned to the right, up a narrow valley called Wady Ertama (ﺔﻣﺎﺗﺭﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ) in the higher part of which a few date-trees grow. In crossing over a steep ascent at its upper extremity, I met with several inscriptions on insulated blocks, consisting only of one line in the usual ancient character; but I did not copy them, being desirous to conceal from my new guide that I was a writing man, as it might have induced him to dissuade the Arabs in the mountains from accompanying me farther up. On the other side of this ascent we fell in with Wady Rymm, which I have already mentioned, and found here the ruins of a small village, the houses of which were built entirely with hewn stone, in a very solid manner. Some remains of the foundations of a large edifice are traceable; a little lower down in the valley are some date trees, with a well, which probably was the first cause of building a village in this deserted spot, for the whole country round is a wilderness of rocks, and the valley itself is not like those below, flat and sandy, but covered with large stones which have been washed down by torrents. From hence an ascent of half an hour brought us to the Djebalye Arab, who was of the Sattala tribe: he had pitched here two tents, in one of which lived his own, and in the other his son’s family; he spent the whole day in hunting, while the women and younger children took care of the cattle, which found good pasturage among the rocks. It was near sunset when we arrived, and the man was rather startled at our visit, though he received us kindly, and soon brought us a plentiful supper. When I asked him if he would show me the way to the summit of the Serbal, which was now directly before us, he expressed great astonishment, and no doubt immediately conceived the notion that I had come to search for treasures, which appears the more probable to these Bedouins, as they know that the country was formerly inhabited by rich monks. Prepossessed with this idea, and knowing that nobody then present was acquainted with the road, except himself, he thought he might demand a most exorbitant sum from me. He declined making any immediate bargain, and said that he would settle it the next morning.
June 1st. — We rose before daylight, when the Djebalye made coffee, and then told me, that he could not think of accompanying me for less than sixty piastres. As the whole journey was to last only till the evening, and I knew that for one piastre any of these Bedouins will run about the mountains on messages for a whole day, I offered him three piastres, but he was inflexible, and replied, that were it not for his friendship for Hamd, he would not take less than a hundred piastres. I rose to eight piastres, but on his smiling, and shrugging up his shoulders at this, I rose, and declared that we would try our luck alone.
We took our guns and our provision sack, filled our water skin at a neighbouring well, called Ain Rymm (ﻡﺭ ﻦﻴﻋ), and began ascending the mountain straight before us. I soon began to wish that I had come to some terms with the Djebalye; we walked over sharp rocks without any path, till we came to the almost perpendicular side of the upper Serbal, which we ascended in a narrow difficult cleft. The day grew excessively hot, not a breath of wind was stirring, and it took us four hours to climb up to the lower summit of the mountain, where I arrived completely exhausted. Here is a small plain with some trees, and the ruins of a small stone reservoir for water. On several blocks of granite are inscriptions, but most of them are illegible; I copied the two following: [not included]
After reposing a little, I ascended the eastern peak, which was to our left hand, and reached its top in three quarters of an hour, after great exertions, for the rock is so smooth and slippery, as well as steep, that even barefooted as I was, I was obliged frequently to crawl upon my belly, to avoid being precipitated below; and had I not casually met with a few shrubs to grasp, I should probably have been obliged to abandon my attempt, or have rolled down the cliff. The summit of the eastern peak consists of one enormous mass of granite, the smoothness of which is broken only by a few partial fissures, presenting an appearance not unlike the ice-covered peaks of the Alps. The sides of the peak, at a few paces below its top, are formed of large insulated blocks twenty or thirty feet long, which appeared as if just suspended, in the act of rushing down the steep. Near the top I found steps regularly formed with large loose stones, which must have been brought from below, and so judiciously arranged along the declivity, that they have resisted the devastations of time, and may still serve for ascending. I was told afterwards that these steps are the continuation of a regular path from the bottom of the mountain; which is in several parts cut through the rock with great labour. If we had had the guide, we should have ascended by this road, which turns along the southern and eastern side of Serbal. The mountain has in all five peaks; the two highest are that to the east, which I ascended, and another immediately west of it; these rise like cones, and are distinguishable from a great distance, particularly on the road to Cairo.
The eastern peak, which from below looks as sharp as a needle, has a platform on its summit of about fifty paces in circumference. Here is a heap of small loose stones, about two feet high, forming a circle about twelve paces in diameter. Just below the top I found on every granite block that presented a smooth surface, inscriptions, the far greater part of which were illegible. I copied the three following, from different blocks; the characters of the first are a foot long. Upon the rock from which I copied the third there were a great many others; but very few were legible. 1. [not included] 2. [not included] 3. [not included]
There are small caverns large enough to shelter a few persons, between some of the masses of stone. On the sides of these caverns are numerous inscriptions similar to those given above.
As the eye is very apt to be deceived with regard to the relative heights of mountains, I will not give any positive opinion as to that of Mount Serbal; but it appeared to me to be higher than all the peaks, including Mount St. Catherine, and very little lower than Djebel Mousa.
The fact of so many inscriptions being found upon the rocks near the summit of this mountain, and also in the valley which leads from its foot to Feiran, as will presently be mentioned; together with the existence of the road leading up to the peak, afford strong reasons for presuming that the Serbal was an ancient place of devotion. It will be recollected that no inscriptions are found either on the mountain of Moses, or on Mount St. Catherine; and that those which are found in the Ledja valley at the foot of Djebel Katerin, are not to be traced above the rock, from which the water is said to have issued, and appear only to be the work of pilgrims, who visited that rock. From these circumstances, I am persuaded that Mount Serbal was at one period the chief place of pilgrimage in the peninsula: and that it was then considered the mountain where Moses received the tables of the law; though I am equally convinced, from a perusal of the Scriptures, that the Israelites encamped in the Upper Sinai, and that either Djebel Mousa or Mount St. Catherine is the real Horeb. It is not at all impossible that the proximity of Serbal to Egypt, may at one period have caused that mountain to be the Horeb of the pilgrims, and that the establishment of the convent in its present situation, which was probably chosen from motives of security, may have led to the transferring of that honour to Djebel Mousa. At present neither the monks of Mount Sinai nor those of Cairo consider Mount Serbal as the scene of any of the events of sacred history: nor have the Bedouins any tradition among them respecting it; but it is possible that if the Byzantine writers were thoroughly examined, some mention might be found of this mountain, which I believe was never before visited by any European traveller.
The heat was so oppressive during the whole day, that I felt it even on the summit of the mountain; the air was motionless, and a thin mist pervaded the whole atmosphere, as always occurs in these climates, when the air is very much heated. I took from the peak the following bearings.
Wady Feiran, N.W.N.
Sarbout el Djemal, N.N.W.
El Djoze, just over Feiran, N.
Mountain Dhellel, N. b. E.N.E. b. N.
Wady Akhdar, which I passed on my road from Suez to the convent, N.E. ½ E.
Wady el Sheikh, where it appears broadest, and near the place where I had entered it, in coming from Suez, E.N.E.
Sheikh Abou Taleb, the tomb of a saint mentioned above, E. ½ S.
Nakb el Raha, from whence the road from the convent to Feiran begins to descend from the upper Sinai, E.S.E.
Mount St. Catherine, S.E. ½ E.
Om Shomar, S.S.E.
Daghade, (ﺓﺪﻏﺩ), a fertile valley in the mountains, issuing into the plain of Kaa, S.W.
The direction of Deir Sigillye was pointed out to me S. b. E. or S.S.E. This is a ruined convent on the S.E. side of Serbal, near the road which leads up to the summit of the mountain. It is said to be well built and spacious, and there is a copious well near it. It is four or five hours distant by the shortest road from Feiran, and lies in a very rocky district, at present uninhabited even by Bedouins.
I found great difficulty in descending. If I had had a plentiful supply of water, and any of us had known the road, we should have gone down by the steps; but our water was nearly exhausted, and in this hot season, even the hardy Bedouin is afraid to trust to the chance only of finding a path or a spring. I was therefore obliged to return by the same way which I had ascended and by crawling, rather than walking, we reached the lower platform of Serbal just about noon, and reposed under the shade of a rock. Here we finished our stock of milk and of water; and Hamd, who remembered to have heard once that a well was in this neighbourhood, went in search of it, but returned after an hour’s absence, with the empty skin. I was afterwards informed, that in a cleft of the rock, not far from the stone tank, which I have already mentioned, there is a small source which never dries up. We had yet a long journey to make, Hamd, therefore, volunteered to set out before me, to fill the skin in the valley below, and to meet me with it at the foot of the cleft; by which we had entered the mountain. He departed, leaping down the mountain like a Gazelle, and after prolonging my siesta I leisurely followed him, with the other Arab. When we arrived, at the end of two hours and a half, at the point agreed upon, we found Hamd waiting for us with the water, which he had brought from a well at least five miles distant. A slight shower of rain which had fallen, instead of cooling the air appeared only to have made it hotter.
Instead of pursuing, from our second halting-place, the road by which we had ascended in the morning from Ain Rymm, we took a more western direction, to the left of the former, and reached by a less rapid descent, the Wady Aleyat (ﺕﺎﻴﻠﻋ), which leads to the lower parts of Wady Feiran. After a descent of an hour, we came to a less rocky country.
At the end of an hour and a half from the foot of Serbal, where Hamd had waited for us, we reached the well, situated among date-plantations, where he had filled the skins; its water is very good, much better than that of Feiran. The date-trees are not very thickly planted; amongst them I saw several Doum trees, some of which I had already observed in other parts of the peninsula. This valley is inhabited by Bedouins during the date-harvest, and here are many huts, built of stones, or of date-branches, which they then occupy.
In the evening we continued our route in the valley Aleyat, in the direction N.W. To our right was a mountain, upon the top of which is the tomb of a Sheikh, held in great veneration by the Bedouins, who frequently visit it, and there sacrifice sheep. It is called El Monadja (ﻩﺎﺟﺎﻧﻤﻟﺍ). The custom among the Bedouins of burying their saints upon the summits of mountains accords with a similar practice of the Israelites; there are very few Bedouin tribes who have not one or more tombs of protecting saints (Makam), in whose honour they offer sacrifices; the custom probably originated in their ancient idolatrous worship, and was in some measure retained by the sacrifices enjoined by Mohammed in the great festivals of the Islam.
In many parts of this valley stand small buildings, ten or twelve feet square, and five feet high, with very narrow entrances. They are built with loose stones, but so well put together, that the greater part of them are yet entire, notwithstanding the annual rains. They are all quite empty. I at first supposed them to be magazines belonging to the Arabs, but my guides told me that their countrymen never entered them, because they were Kobour el Kofar, or tombs of infidels; perhaps of the early Christians of this peninsula. I did not, however, meet with any similar structures in other parts of the peninsula, unless those already mentioned in the upper part of Wady Feiran, are of the same class. At half an hour from the spring and date-trees, we passed to our left a valley coming from the southern mountains, called Wady Makta (ﻊﻄﻘﻣ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), and half an hour farther on, at sunset, we reached Wady Feiran, at the place where the date plantations terminate, and an hour’s walk below the spot from whence we set out yesterday upon this excursion.
In the course of my descent from the cleft at the foot of Mount Serbal, through the Wady Aleyat, I found numerous inscriptions on blocks by the side of the road, those which I copied were in the following order; some I did not copy, and many were effaced.
1. Upon a flat stone in the upper extremity of the Wady, descending from the foot of Serbal towards the well with date-trees: [not included]
2. Upon a small block lower down: [not included]
3. Upon a small rock still lower down: [not included]
4. 5. Still descending: [not included]
7. Upon a large rock beyond the spring, and towards Wady Feiran: [not included]
8. Further down, upon a rock, being one of the clearest inscriptions which I saw: [not included] On many stones were drawings of goats and camels. This was once probably the main road to the top of Serbal, which continued along its foot, and turned by Deir Sigillye round its eastern side, thus passing the cleft and the road by which we had ascended, and which nowhere bears traces of having ever been a regular and frequented route.
After my departure in the morning for Mount Serbal, the messenger dispatched by the Arabs assembled in Sheikh Szaleh, arrived at Wady Feiran, and forbad the people from guiding me to the top of Serbal; the news of this order had spread along the whole valley, so that on our reaching the first habitations under the date-trees, where I intended to rest for the night, all the Arabs assembled, and became extremely clamorous as well against me, as against Hamd for having accompanied me. I cared but little for their insolent language, which I knew how to reply to, but I was under some apprehensions for my servant and baggage, and therefore determined to rejoin them immediately. We ascended the valley, by a gentle slope, and reached Hamd’s garden late at night, greatly fatigued, for we had been almost the whole day upon our legs. We here met the Bedouins and their girls occupied in singing and dancing, which they kept up till near midnight.
June 2d. — When I awoke I found about thirty Arabs round me, ready to begin a new quarrel about my pursuits in their mountains. When they saw that I paid little attention to their remonstrances, and was packing up my effects, in order to proceed on my journey, they then asked me for some victuals and coffee. After having observed to them that I was more easily prevailed upon by civility than harshness, I distributed among the poorest such provisions as I should not want on my way back to Suez, together with some coffee-beans and soap. This immediately put them into good humour, and in return, they brought me some milk, cucumbers, and a quantity of Bsyse, or ground Nebek. I purchased from them a skinful of dates reduced to a paste, and one of them joined us for the sake of travelling in our company to Suez, where he intended to sell a load of charcoal; we then set out, leaving every body behind us well satisfied.
We followed the same road by which we had ascended last night, and halted again where the date trees terminate. Here the same Arabs whom we had found yesterday evening, having been informed that I had made some presents where I had slept, thought, no doubt, that by being vociferous they would obtain something. In this, however, they were mistaken, for I gave them nothing, telling them they might seize my baggage if they chose, but this they prudently declined to do. Ten years ago I should hardly have been able to extricate myself in this manner.
The valley of Feiran widens considerably where it is joined by the Wady Aleyat, and is about a quarter of an hour in breadth. Upon the mountains on both sides of the road stand the ruins of an ancient city. The houses are small, but built entirely of stones, some of which are hewn and some united with cement, but the greater part are piled up loosely. I counted the ruins of about two hundred houses. There are no traces of any large edifice on the north side; but on the southern mountain there is an extensive building, the lower part of which is of stone, and the upper part of earth. It is surrounded by private habitations, which are all in complete ruins. At the foot of the southern mountain are the remains of a small aqueduct. Upon several of the neighbouring hills are ruins of towers, and as we proceeded down the valley for about three quarters of an hour, I saw many small grottos in the rocks on both sides, hewn in the rudest manner, and without any regularity or symmetry; the greater part seemed to have been originally formed by nature, and afterwards widened by human labour. Some of the largest which were near the ruined city had, perhaps, once served as habitations, the others were evidently sepulchres; but few of them were large enough to hold three corpses, and they were not more than three or four feet high. I found no traces of antiquity in any of them.
At half an hour from the last date-trees of Feiran, I saw, to the right of the road, upon the side of the mountain, the ruins of a small town or village, the valley in the front of which is at present quite barren. It had been better built than the town above described, and contained one very good building of hewn stone, with two stories, each having five oblong windows in front. The roof has fallen in. The style of architecture of the whole strongly resembles that seen in the ruins of St. Simon, to the north of Aleppo, the mountains above which are also full of sepulchral grottos, like those near Feiran. The roofs of the houses appear to have been entirely of stone, like those in the ruined towns of the Haouran, but flat, and not arched. There were here about a hundred ruined houses.
Feiran was formerly the seat of a Bishopric. Theodosius was bishop during the Monothelite controversy. From documents of the fifteenth century, still existing in the convent of Mount Sinai, there appears at that time to have been an inhabited convent at Feiran. Makrizi, the excellent historian, and describer of Egypt; who wrote about the same time, gives the following account of Feiran, which he calls Faran.18
“It is one of the towns of the Amalakites, situated near the borders of the sea of Kolzoum, upon a hill between two mountains; on each of which are numberless excavations, full of corpses. It is one day’s journey distant [in a straight line] from the sea of Kolzoum, the shore of which is there called “the shore of the sea of Faran;” there it was that Pharaoh was drowned by the Almighty. Between the city of Faran and the Tyh are two days journey. It is said that Faran is the name of the mountains of Mekka, and that it is the name of other mountains in the Hedjaz, and that it is the place mentioned in the books of Moses. But the truth is, that Tor and Faran are two districts belonging to the southern parts of Egypt, and that it is not the same as the Faran (Paran) mentioned in the books of Moses. It is stated, that the mountains of Mekka derive their name from Faran Ibn Amr Ibn Amalyk. Some call them the mountains of Faran others Fyran. The city of Faran was one of the cities belonging to Midian, and remained so until the present times. There are plenty of palmtrees there, of the dates of which I have myself eaten. A large river flows by. The town is at present in ruins; Bedouins only pass there.”
Makrizi is certainly right in supposing that the Faran or Paran mentioned in the Scriptures is not the same as Feiran; an opinion which has been entertained also by Niebuhr, and other travellers. From the passage in Numbers xiii. 26, it is evident that Paran was situated in the desert of Kadesh, which was on the borders of the country of the Edomites, and which the Israelites reached after their departure from Mount Sinai, on their way towards the land of Edom. Paran must therefore be looked for in the desert west of Wady Mousa, and the tomb of Aaron which is shewn there. At present the people of Feiran bury their dead higher up in the valley, than the ancient ruins in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Abou Taleb. There is no rivulet, but in winter time the valley is completely flooded, and a large stream of water collected from all the lateral valleys of Wady el Sheikh empties itself through Wady Feiran into the gulf of Suez near the Birket Faraoun.
We rode for one hour from Feiran, and then stopped near some date trees called Hosseye (ﻪﻴﺴﺣ), where are several Arab huts, and where good water is found. Here I remained the rest of the day, as I felt very much the effect of yesterday’s exertions. In the evening all the females quitted the huts to join in the Mesámer, in which I also participated, and we kept it up till long after midnight. My servant19 attempted to join the party, but the proud Arabs told him that he was a Fellah, not of good breed, and would not permit him to mix in the dance. He met with the same repulse last night at Feiran.
June 3d. — We followed the valley by a slight slope through its windings W.N.W. and N.W. Many tamarisk trees grow here, and some manna is collected. The fertility of these valleys is owing chiefly to the alluvial soil brought down from the mountains by the torrents, and which soon acquires consistence in the bottom of the Wady; but if a year passes without rain these alluvia are reduced to dust, and dispersed by the winds over the mountains from whence they came. The surface was covered with a yellow clay in which a variety of herbs was growing. At two hours the valley, for the length of about an hour, bears the name of Wady el Beka (ﺀﺎﻜﺒﻟﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), or the valley of weeping, from the circumstance, as it is related, of a Bedouin who wept because his dromedary fell here, during the pursuit of an enemy, and he was thus unable to follow his companions, who were galloping up the valley to wards Feiran. The rock on the side of the road is mostly composed of gneiss. At three hours and a half we passed to our right Wady Romman (ﻥﺎﻣﺭ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). I was told that in the mountains from which it descends is a fine spring, and some date-trees about four hours distant. The road now turned N.W. b. W.; the granite finishes and sand-stone begins; among the latter rock-salt is found. At five hours we halted under a large impending sandstone rock, where the valley widens considerably, and continues in a W. direction down to the sea-side. Leaving this valley to the left, we rode in the afternoon N.W. b. W. ascending slightly over rocky ground, until we reached an upper plain at the end of six hours. The chain of granite mountains continued to our right, parallel with the road, which was overspread with silex, and farther on we met with a kind of basaltic tufa, forming low hills covered with sand. We then descended, and at six hours and a half entered the valley called Wady Mokatteb (ﺐﺘﻜﻣ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ). The appellation of Djebel Mokatteb, which several travellers have applied to the neighbouring mountains, is not in use. To the north of the entrance of this valley near the foot of the higher chain, is a cluster of magazines of the Bedouins, at a spot called El Bedja (ﺔﺠﺒﻟﺍ).
The Wady Mokatteb extends for three hours march in the direction N.W.; in the upper part it is three miles across, having to the right high mountains, and to the left a chain of lower sandrocks. Half way down, it becomes narrower, and then takes the name of Seyh Szeder (ﺭﺩﺻ ﺢﻴﺳ). In most places the sand-rocks present abrupt cliffs, twenty or thirty feet in height. Large masses have separated themselves from the cliffs and lie at their feet in the valley. These cliffs and rocks are thickly covered with inscriptions, which are continued with intervals of a few hundred paces only, for at least two hours and a half; similar inscriptions are found in the lower part of the Wady, where it narrows, upon the sand-stone rocks of the opposite, or north-eastern side of the valley. To copy all these inscriptions would occupy a skilful draughtsman six or eight days; they are all of the same description as those I have already mentioned, consisting of short lines, written from right to left, and with the singular character represented in p. 479, invariably at the beginning of each. Some of them are on rocks at a height of twelve or fifteen feet, which must have required a ladder to ascend to them. They are in general cut deeper than those on the granite in the upper country, but in the same careless style. Amongst them are many in Greek; containing, probably, like the others, the names of those who passed here on their pilgrimage to the holy mountain. Some of the latter contain Jewish names in Greek characters. There is a vast number of drawings of mountain goats and of camels, the latter sometimes represented as loaded, and with riders on their backs. Crosses are also seen, indicating that the inscribers were Christians. It should be observed that the Mokatteb lies in the principal route to Sinai, and which is much easier and more frequented than the upper road by Naszeb, which I took in my way to the convent; the cliffs also are so situated as to afford a fine shade to travellers during the mid-day hours. To these circumstances may undoubtedly in great measure be attributed the numerous inscriptions found in this valley.
We rested for the night, after a day’s march of nine hours and a quarter, near the lower extremity of the Seyh Szeder, and just beyond the last of the inscriptions. The bottom of the valley is here rocky, and as flat as if the rock had been levelled by art.
June 4th. — At a few hundred paces below the place where we had slept, the valley becomes very narrow, the mountains to the right approach, and a defile of granite rocks is entered in a direction W. by S. called Wady Kenna (ﺔﻧﻗ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), where the tomb of a saint of the name of Wawa (ﻩﻭﺍﻭ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ) stands. I was told afterwards at Cairo, by some Sinai Bedouins, that lower down in Wady Kenna there is a very deep cavern in the rock. At three quarters of an hour we passed to the right of the defile, and turned N.W. into a valley called Badera (ﻩﺭﺩﺎﺑ). The valley of Badera consists of sand rock, and the ground is deeply covered with sand. We ascended gently in it, and in an hour and three quarters reached its summit, from whence we descended by a narrow difficult path, down a cliff called Nakb Badera (ﻩﺭﺩﺎﺑ ﺐﻗﻧ), into an open plain between the mountains; we crossed the plain, and at two hours and a quarter entered Wady Shellal (ﻝﻼﺷ), so called from the number of cataracts which are formed in the rainy season, by the torrents descending from the mountains. A great number of acacia trees grow here, many of which were completely dried up; during the whole of our morning’s journey not a green herb could be discovered. We here met several Bedouins on foot, on their way from Suez to Feiran. They had started from the well of Morkha early in the morning; and had ventured on the journey without water, or the hope of finding any till the following day in Wady Feiran. We gave them each a draught of water, and they went off in good spirits, purposing to pass the afternoon under some shady rock, and to continue their journey during the night. We descended the valley slowly, W.N.W. and at the end of four hours and a half reached its termination, opening upon a sandy plain on the sea-shore. Many bones of camels were here lying about, as is generally the case on the great roads through the desert; I have observed that these skeletons are found in greatest numbers where the sands are deepest; which arises from the loaded camels passing such places with difficulty, and often breaking down in them. It is an erroneous opinion that the camel delights in sandy ground; it is true that he crosses it with less difficulty than any other animal, but wherever the sands are deep, the weight of himself and his load makes his feet sink into the sand at every step, and he groans, and often sinks under his burthen. It is the hard gravelly ground of the desert which is most agreeable to this animal.
On the plain we fell in with the great road from Tor to Suez, but soon quitted it to the right, and turned to the north in search of a natural reservoir of rain, in which the Bedouins knew that some water was still remaining. At the end of five hours and a half, we reached a narrow cleft in the mountain, where we halted, and my guides went a mile up in it to fill the skins. This is called Wady el Dhafary (ﻱﺮﻔﻀﻟﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ); it is sometimes frequented by the Arabs, because it furnishes the only sweet water between Tor and Suez, though it is out of the direct road, and the well of Morkha is at no great distance. Some rain had fallen here in the winter, and water was therefore met with in several ponds among the rocks. This is the lowest part of the primitive chain of mountains, and, I believe, the only place, on the road between Tor and Suez, where they approach the sea, which is only three miles distant, with a stony plain ascending from it. A slave of a Towara Bedouin here partook of our breakfast; he had been sent to these mountains by his master several weeks ago, to collect wood and burn charcoal, which he was doing quite alone, with no other provision than a sack of meal. Charcoal, commonly called Fahm in Arabic, is by these Bedouins called Habesh, a term which I never heard given to it by any other Arabs; this word may perhaps be the origin of the name of Abyssinia, which may have been called Habesh by the Arabs from the colour of its inhabitants. Travellers will do well to enquire for the Dhafary, in their way to Feiran, as the water of the Morkha is of the very worst kind; this memorandum would be particularly useful to any person intending to copy the inscriptions of Wady Mokatteb.
We reached Morkha, (ﺎﺧﺮﻣ), which bears from Dhafary N.W. b. N. in half an hour, the road leading over level but very rocky ground. Morkha is a small pond in the sand-stone rock, close to the foot of the mountains. Two date-trees grow near its margin. The bad taste of the water seems to be owing partly to the weeds, moss, and dirt, with which the pond is filled, but chiefly, no doubt, to the saline nature of the soil around it. Next to Ayoun Mousa, in the vicinity of Suez, and Gharendel, it is the principal station on this road. After watering our camels, which was our only motive for coming to the Morkha, we returned to the sea-shore, one hour distant N.W. We followed the shore for three quarters of an hour in a N.W. b. N. direction, and then halted close by the sea, where the maritime level is greatly contracted by a range of chalk hills which in some places approaches close to the water. Before us extended the large bay of Birket Faraoun, so called, from being, according to Arab and Egyptian tradition, the place where the Israelites crossed the sea, and where the returning waves overwhelmed Pharaoh and his host. There is an almost continual motion of the waters in this bay, which they say is occasioned by the spirits of the drowned still moving in the bottom of the sea; but which may also be ascribed to its being exposed on three sides to the sea, and to the sudden gusts of wind from the openings of the valleys. These circumstances, together with its shoals, render it very dangerous, and more ships have been wrecked in the Bay of Birket Faraoun than in any other part of the gulf of Tor, another proof, in the eyes of the Arabs, that spirits or demons dwell here.
This evening and night we had a violent Simoum. The air was so hot, that when I faced the current, the sensation was like that of sitting close to a large fire; the hot wind was accompanied, at intervals with gusts of cooler air. I did not find my respiration impeded for a moment during the continuance of the hot blast. The Simoum is frequent on this low coast, but the advantage of sea bathing renders it the less distressing.
June 5th. — We rode close by the shore, at the foot of sandy cliffs; but as the road was passable only at low water, we were obliged, as the tide set in, to take a circuitous route over the mountain. At the end of an hour we again reached the sea, and then proceeded north over a wide sandy plain. Towards the mountain is a tract of low grounds several miles in breadth, in which the shrubs Gharkad and Aszef were growing in great plenty. At the end of two hours and a half, having reached a very conspicuous promontory, of the mountain, over which lies the road to the Hammam Mousa, or hot-wells of Moses, we turned, on its south side, into a fine valley called Wady el Taybe (ﻪﺒﻴﻄﻟﺍ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), inclosed by abrupt rocks, and full of trees, among which were a few of the date, now completely withered. Want of rain is much more frequent in the lower ranges of the peninsula, than in the upper. At four hours and a half we passed Wady Shebeyke, reached soon afterwards the top of Wady Taybe, and then fell in with the road by which I had passed on my way to the convent from Suez. We rested in Wady Thale, under a rock, in the shade of which, at 2 P.M. the thermometer rose to 107°. After a march of eleven hours we halted in Wady Gharendel.
June 6th. — We continued in the road described at the beginning of this journal, and at six hours and a half reached Wady Wardan. Here we turned out of the great road to Suez, in a more western direction, towards the sea, in order to take in water at the well of Szoueyra, which we came to in three hours from Wardan. The lower parts of Wady Wardan, extending six or eight miles in breadth, consist of deep sand, which a strong north wind drove full in our faces, and caused such a mist that we several times went astray. Upon small sandy mounds in this plain tamarisk trees grow in great numbers, and in the midst of these lies the well of Szoueyra, which it is extremely difficult to find without a guide. It is about two miles from the sea. We here met many Terabein women occupied in watering their camels; I enquired of them whether they ever collected manna from the tamarisks; I understood from them that in this barren plain, the trees never yield that substance. In the evening we rode along a narrow path, parallel with the sea, for two hours and a half. The wind still continued, and obliged us to seek for shelter behind a hillock in the lower part of Wady Szeder, where we found protection against the driving sands.
June 7th. — In the morning we reached Ayoun Mousa. We found here, as we had previously done, in many places near the shore, the tracks of wheel-carriages, a very uncommon appearance in the east, and more particularly in deserts. It was by this road that Mohammed Ali’s women passed last year from Tor to Suez in their elegant vehicles. Towards evening we entered Suez.
June 8th. — A caravan was to leave Suez this day, but its departure was delayed. As I knew that the plague had subsided at Cairo, and thought that the road was tolerably safe, I asked Hamd whether he would venture with me alone upon the journey; fear seemed to be quite unknown to this excellent young man, and he readily acquiesced in my proposal. We left Suez in the evening with some hopes of overtaking a caravan of Towaras, which we were informed had this day passed to the north of Suez, in their way to Cairo with charcoal. Towards sunset we came in sight of the castle of Adjeroud, when Hamd having descried from afar some Bedouins on foot, who, from the circumstance of their walking about in different directions in a place where no road passed, and where Bedouins never alight, appeared to him to be suspicious characters, we halted behind a hill till it was dark, and took our supper. After sunset we saw several fires at a distance, in the plain, which Hamd immediately concluded to be those of the Towara caravan. Taking advantage of the darkness, to avoid the observation of the suspected persons, we rode towards the fires, which, instead of being those of the Towara, proved to belong to a small party of Omran, encamped near the well in the Wady Emshash. Hamd was much alarmed when he perceived his mistake, for he was well acquainted with the bad character of the Omran, and he dreaded them the more on account of the Arab of their tribe whom he had killed near Akaba. They looked very greedily at my travelling sack, but as I pretended to belong to the Pasha’s garrison at Suez, they did not make any attempt upon it. They told us that in coming here, they had found five Bedouins sitting near the well, who retired when they approached it, and who were probably the men we saw. As we thought it very likely that they would waylay us farther on, in the narrow pass of Montala, we deemed it prudent to retire to Adjeroud, and take shelter in the castle for the night. When we reached that place, it was with great difficulty that I persuaded the officer to open the gates and let us in; he was in no less fear of the robbers than ourselves; for two days they had driven back his people from the well of Emshash, where they were accustomed to fill their water skins, so that the garrison was reduced to great distress, as they had no provision of sweet water, and that of the castle well is scarcely drinkable. A Turkish officer, with his wife and son, and eight peasants from the Sherkieh, formed the whole garrison, and they trembled at the name and sight of the Bedouins as much as the monks of the Sinai convent.
June 9th. — This morning I proposed to the officer that we should go out in force and drive the robbers from the well, which was only half an hour distant; but this he refused to do, saying that he had no orders to leave the castle; he found it more convenient to seize my skins, which I had filled at Suez, and to make use of their contents for his family. Towards noon we saw several of the Bedouins hovering round the castle, no doubt expecting us to issue from it. In this difficulty, the Turkish officer having refused to lend his horse, I mounted Hamd in the evening upon the strongest of the camels, and told him to gallop to Suez, and acquaint the commander there with our situation, or else to hire some of his countrymen, who were there waiting for the departure of the caravan, and in their company to return to our relief, bringing with him a supply of water. He set out, but had not proceeded a mile before he saw the robbers running upon him from different quarters, and endeavouring to cut him off from the road. They fired at him, upon which he returned their fire, and gallopped back to the castle. The officer and his valiant garrison were now thrown into the greatest consternation, and could not devise any means of relief. I offered to ride to Suez, provided the officer would lend me his horse; but he appeared to be more afraid of losing the horse, than of dying from thirst. Being thus unable to effect any thing, I was under the necessity of waiting patiently till the great caravan from Suez should pass.
June 10th. — There was now not a drop of sweet water in the castle, and all that we could procure of the well-water of Adjeroud had been standing in the tank since it was filled from the well at the time of the last pilgrimage. The wheels of the well, which is two hundred and fifty feet in depth, are put in motion only at that time; during the rest of the year the building which encloses the well is shut up; and the person who keeps the key was now at Cairo. The water we were thus obliged to drink was saline, putrid, and of a yellow green colour, so that boiling produced no improvement in it, and our stomachs could not retain it.
June 11th. — A slight shower of rain fell, which the Turk ascribed to his prayers; but all the water we could collect in every vessel which the castle could furnish, scarcely afforded to each of us a draught. Hamd made a second attempt to night to go to Suez, but it being unfortunately moonlight, he was seen and again driven back.
June 12th. — After three days blockade, I had the pleasure of descrying the Suez caravan at a distance, on its way towards Cairo; we immediately got every thing ready, and when the caravan was opposite the castle, at about twenty minutes distance, Hamd and I hastily joined it. What became of the officer and his garrison, I never heard. I bought of the Bedouins of the caravan a supply of water, sufficient to last me to Cairo.
Although the passage of this desert is less dangerous than formerly, it is impossible to protect it effectually, without establishing a small body of horsemen or dromedaries at Adjeroud; and it is a discredit to the government of Egypt, that this is not done. The well of Emshash affords a seasonable supply of water to robbers, who lay in wait in the rocky country of Montala, where one of them stationed on the top of a hill gives notice of the approach of any enemy or object of plunder. The castle was undoubtedly intended as a look-out post against the Arabs. The French once had a garrison in it, and its walls have been repaired by Mohammed Ali Pasha, but the interior is in a very ruinous state, and few provisions are kept in the extensive store-houses within it.
On proceeding to Cairo, the caravan took, for the first stage from Adjeroud, a route somewhat to the southward of that by which I had gone to Sinai, and joined the latter at Dar el Hamra. Six hours and a half from Adjeroud we passed Wady Khoeyfera (ﺓﺮﻔﻳﻮﺧ ﻱﺩﺍﻭ), the bed of a torrent, with trees growing in it, a very little below the level of the surrounding plain. Here I saw the ruins of a small stone reservoir, and to a considerable distance round it, ruins of walls, and several wells, some built with brick and others with stone. They appear to have been surrounded by a wall, which now forms a circular enclosure of mounds almost wholly covered with sands. The existence of these ruins, which I do not remember to have seen mentioned by any traveller, confirms my belief, that in the most ancient times regular stations were established on this road, to which we must also attribute the date trees now found in a petrified state.
A road, called Derb el Ban (ﻥﺎﺒﻟﺍ ﺏﺭﺩ), leads from Adjeroud to Birket el Hadj, by the north side of the mountain El Oweybe; it is the most northern of all the routes to Suez, and is little frequented.
On the 13th of June, early in the morning, I entered Cairo; the plague had ceased, and had been less destructive, than it was last year.
1 These Arabs, under their Sheikh Abou Djehame (ﻪﻣﺎﻬﺟ ﻮﺑﺍ), made an excursion about the same time over the mountains towards Cosseir, and plundered a caravan of pilgrims and merchants who were going to Kenne. The Sheikh was seized on his return by the Maazy tribe and carried to Cairo, where he remained a year in close confinement, and after having delivered part of his booty into the treasury of the Pasha, was released a few days before I set out.
2 In May, 1817, a small fleet arrived at Suez direct from Bombay, which was composed of English ships, and of others belonging to Mohammed Ali Pasha: among the articles imported were two elephants destined by the Pasha as presents to the Porte. This has been the first attempt within the last forty years to open a direct trade between India and Egypt, and will be as profitable to the Pasha as it must be ruinous to his subjects. The cargoes of these ships and the coffee which he imports from Yemen, are distributed by him among the merchants of Cairo, in proportion to their supposed capital in trade, and they are obliged to take the articles off his hands at the highest prices which they bear in the Bazar. If this trade is encreased by the Pasha, it will entirely prevent the merchants from importing goods on their own account from Djidda, the quantity they are thus obliged to take from the Pasha being fully sufficient for the consumption of Egypt.
3 Morra in Arabic means “bitter.” Marah in Hebrew is “bitterness.”
4 Might not the berry of this shrub have been used by Moses to sweeten the waters of Marah? The words in Exodus, xv. 25, are: “And the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet.” The Arabic translation of this passage gives a different, and, perhaps, more correct reading: “And the Lord guided him to a tree, of which he threw something into the water, which then became sweet.” I do not remember, to have seen any Gharkad in the neighbourhood of Howara, but Wady Gharendel is full of this shrub. As these conjectures did not occur to me when I was on the spot, I did not enquire of the Bedouins whether they ever sweetened the water with the juice of the berries, which would probably effect this change in the same manner as the juice of pomegranate grains expressed into it.
5 Voyage, vol. i. p. 189
6 This will form part of a subsequent volume. Ed
7 Numbers c. xxi, v. 4, 6. The following passage of Deuteronomy (viii. 15) in giving a general description of this country, alludes to the serpents: “Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint. Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna,” &c. Scorpions are numerous in all the adjacent parts of Palestine and the desert. The Author observes in a note in another place, that the Arabic translation of the Pentateuch has “serpents of burning bites,” instead of “fiery serpents.” Note of the Editor.
8 It may be worthy of mention in this place that among the innumerable paintings and sculptures in the temples, and tombs of Egypt, I never met with a single instance of the representation of a camel. At Thebes, in the highest of the tombs on the side of the Djebel Habou, called Abd el Gorne, which has not, I believe, been noticed by former travellers, or even by the French in their great work, I found all the domestic animals of the Egyptians represented together in one large painting upon a wall, forming the most elaborate and interesting work of the kind, which I saw in Egypt. A shepherd conducts the whole herd into the presence of his master, who inspects them, while a slave is noting them down. Yet even here I looked in vain for the camel.
9 A steep declivity is called by the Bedouins Nakb, the plural of which (Ankaba ﺎﺑﺎﻘﻧﺍ) is often used by them synonymously with Djebal (ﻞﺎﺒﺠ), mountains.
10 See my remarks on the customs of blood-revenge, in the description of Bedouin manners.
11 See Journey towards Dongola, p. 26.
12 Some encampments of Szowaleha are still found in the Sherkieh.
13 No nation equals the Bedouins in numerical exaggeration. Ask a Bedouin who belongs to a tribe of three hundred tents, of the numbers of his brethren, and he will take a handful of sand, and cast it up in the air, or point to the stars, and tell you that they are as numberless. Much cross-questioning is therefore necessary even to arrive at an approximation to the truth.
14 They wish for children because their tribe is strengthened by it. But Providence seems to have wisely proportioned the fertility of their women to the barrenness of the country.
15 M. Boutin came to Egypt from Zante; he first made a journey to the cataracts of Assouan, and then went to Bosseir, where he hired a ship for Mokha, but on reaching Yembo, Tousoun Pasha, the son of Mohammed Ali, would not permit him to proceed, he therefore returned to Suez, after visiting the convent of Sinai, and its neighbouring mountains. After his return to Cairo, he went to Siwah, to examine the remains of the temple of Jupiter Ammon, carrying with him a small boat built at Cairo, for the purpose of exploring the lake and the island in it, mentioned by Browne. He experienced great vexations from the inhabitants of Siwah; and the boat was of no use to him, owing to the shallowness of the lake, so that after a residence of three days at the Oasis, where he seems to have made no discoveries, he returned to Cairo in the company of some Augila merchants. On his way he passed the wood of petrified date trees discovered by Horneman; his route, I believe, was to the south of that of Horneman, and nearer the lesser Oasis. I had the pleasure of seeing him upon his return from Siwah, when I first arrived at Cairo. He remained two years in Egypt, and then continued his travels towards Syria, where he met with his death in 1816, in the mountainous district of the Nosayris, west of Hamah, having imprudently exposed himself with a great deal of baggage, in company only of his interpreter and servant, and without any native guide, to the robbers of that infamous tribe. He was a lover of truth, and a man of observation and enterprize; the public, therefore, and his own government, have to regret his death no less than his friends.
17 Sicard, Mémoires des Missions.
18 The present Bedouins call it Fyran or Feiran (ﻥﺍﺮﻴﻓ), and thus it is spelt wherever it occurs in the Arabic documents in the convent. Niebuhr calls it Faran, and I have heard some Bedouins pronounce it as if it were written ﻥﺍﺮﻌﻓ, giving it nearly the sound of Fyran.
19 This was the same man who had accompanied me during my journey to Upper Egypt, as far as Assouan. I again engaged him in my service after my return fro[m] the Hedjaz.
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