We have now left the region explored by Europeans; and our line to the south and the south-east will lie over ground wholly new. In front of us the land is no longer Arz Madyan: we are entering South Midian, which will extend to El–Hejáz. As the march might last longer than had been expected, I ordered fresh supplies from El–Muwaylah to meet us in the interior viâ Zibá. A very small boy acted dromedary-man; and on the next day he reached the fort, distant some thirty-five and a half direct geographical miles eastward with a trifling of northing.
We left the Jayb el-Khuraytah on a delicious morning (6.15 a.m., February 26th), startling the gazelles and the hares from their breakfast graze.
The former showed in troops of six; and the latter were still breeding, as frequent captures of the long-eared young proved. The track lay down the Wady Dahal and other influents of the great Wady Sa’lúwwah, a main feeder of the Dámah. We made a considerable détour between south-south-east and south-east to avoid the rocks and stones discharged by the valleys of the Shafah range on our left. To the right rose the Jibál el-Tihámah, over whose nearer brown heights appeared the pale blue peaks of Jebel Shárr and its southern neighbour, Jebel Sa’lúwwah.
At nine a.m. we turned abruptly eastward up the Wady el-Sulaysalah, whose head falls sharply from the Shafah range. The surface is still Hismá ground, red sand with blocks of ruddy grit, washed down from the plateau on the left; and, according to Furayj, it forms the south-western limit of the Harrah. The valley is honeycombed into man-traps by rats and lizards, causing many a tumble, and notably developing the mulish instinct. We then crossed a rough and rocky divide, Arabicè a Majrá, or, as the Bedawin here pronounce it, a “Magráh,”159 which takes its name from the tormented Ruways ridge on the right. After a hot, unlively march of four hours (= eleven miles), on mules worn out by want of water, we dismounted at a queer isolated lump on the left of the track. This Jebel el-Murayt’bah (“of the Little Step”) is lumpy grey granite of the coarsest elements, whose false strata, tilted up till they have become quasi-vertical, and worn down to pillars and drums, crown the crest like gigantic columnar crystallizations. We shall see the same freak of nature far more grandly developed into the “Pins” of the Shárr. It has evidently upraised the trap, of which large and small blocks are here and there imbedded in it. The granite is cut in its turn by long horizontal dykes of the hardest quadrangular basalt, occasionally pudding’d with banded lumps of red jasper and oxydulated iron: from afar they look like water-lines, and in places they form walls, regular as if built. The rounded forms result from the granites flaking off in curved laminæ, like onion-coats. Want of homogeneity in the texture causes the granite to degrade into caves and holes: the huge blocks which have fallen from the upper heights often show unexpected hollows in the under and lower sides. Above the water we found an immense natural dolmen, under which apparently the Bedawin take shelter. After El–Murayt’bah the regular granitic sequence disappears, nor will it again be visible till we reach Shaghab (March 2nd).
About noon we remounted and rounded the south of the block, disturbing by vain shots two fine black eagles. I had reckoned upon the “Water of El–Murayt’bah,” in order to make an exceptional march after so many days of deadly slow going. But the cry arose that the rain-puddle was dry. We had not brought a sufficient supply with us, and twenty-two miles to and from the Wady Dahal was a long way for camels, to say nothing of their owners and the danger of prowling Ma’ázah. In front water lay still farther off, according to the guides, who, it will be seen, notably deceived us. So I ordered the camp to be pitched, after reconnoitering the locale of the water; and we all proceeded to work, with a detachment of soldiers and quarrymen. It was not a rain-puddle, but a spring rising slowly in the sand, which had filled up a fissure in the granite about four feet broad; of these crevices three were disposed parallel to one another, and at different heights. They wanted only clearing out; the produce was abundant, and though slightly flavoured with iron and sulphur, it was drinkable. The thirsty mules amused us not a little: they smelt water at once; hobbled as they were, all hopped like kangaroos over the plain, and with long ears well to the fore, they stood superintending the operation till it was their turn to be happy.
Our evening at the foot of El–Ruways was cheered, despite the flies, the earwigs, and the biting Ba’úzah beetle, which here first put in an appearance, by the weird and fascinating aspect of the southern Hismá-wall, standing opposite to us, and distant about a mile from the dull drab-coloured basin, El–Majrá. Based upon mighty massive foundations of brown and green trap, the undulating junction being perfectly defined by a horizontal white line, the capping of sandstone rises regular as if laid in courses, with a huge rampart falling perpendicular upon the natural slope of its glacis. This bounding curtain is called the Taur el-Shafah, the “inaccessible part of the Lip-range.” Further eastward the continuity of the coping has been broken and weathered into the most remarkable castellations: you pass mile after mile of cathedrals, domes, spires, minarets, and pinnacles; of fortresses, dungeons, bulwarks, walls, and towers; of platforms, buttresses, and flying buttresses. These Girágir (Jirájir), as the Bedawin call them, change shape at every new point of view, and the eye never wearies of their infinite variety. Nor are the tints less remarkable than the forms. When the light of day warms them with its gorgeous glaze, the buildings wear the brightest hues of red concrete, like a certain house near Prince’s Gate, set off by lambent lights of lively pink and balas-ruby, and by shades of deep transparent purple, while here and there a dwarf dome or a tumulus gleams sparkling white in the hot sun-ray. The even-glow is indescribably lovely, and all the lovelier because unlasting: the moment the red disc disappears, the glorious rosy smile fades away, leaving the pale grey ghosts of their former selves to gloom against the gloaming of the eastern sky. I could not persuade M. Lacaze to transfer this vividity of colour to canvas: he had the artist’s normal excuse, “Who would believe it?”
The next morning saw the Expedition afoot at six a.m., determined to make up for a half by the whole day’s work so long intended. The track struck eastward, and issued from the dull hollow, Majrá el-Ruways, by a made road about a mile and a half long, a cornice cut in the stony flanks of a hill whose head projected southwards into the broad Wady Hujayl (“the Little Partridge”). This line seems to drain inland; presently it bends round by the east and feeds the Wady Dámah. Rain must lately have fallen, for the earth is “purfled flowers,” pink, white, and yellow. The latter is the tint prevailing in Midian, often suggesting the careless European wheat-field, in which “shillock” or wild mustard rears its gamboge head above the green. Midian wants not only the charming oleander and the rugged terebinth, typical of the Desert; but also the “blood of Adonis,” the lovely anemone which lights up the Syrian landscape like the fisherman’s scarlet cap in a sea-piece. This stage introduced us to the Hargul (Harjal, Rhazya stricta), whose perfume filled the valley with the clean smell of the henna-bloom, the Eastern privet — Mr. Clarke said “wallflowers.” Our mules ate it greedily, whilst the country animals, they say, refuse it: the flowers, dried and pounded, cure by fumigation “pains in the bones.” Here also we saw for the first time the quaint distaff-shape of the purple red Masrúr (Cynomorium coccineum, Linn.), from which the Bedawi “cook bread.” It is eaten simply peeled and sun-dried, when it has a vegetable taste slightly astringent as if by tannin, something between a potato and a turnip; or its rudely pounded flour is made into balls with soured milk. This styptic, I am told by Mr. R. B. Sharpe, of the British Museum, was long supposed to be peculiar to Malta; hence its pre-Linnaean name (Fungus Melitensis).160 Now it is known to occur through the Mediterranean to India. Let me here warn future collectors of botany in Midian that throughout the land the vegetable kingdom follows the rule of the mineral: every march shows something new; and he who neglects to gather specimens, especially of the smaller flowers, in one valley, will perhaps find none of them in those adjoining.
A denser row of trees lower down the Wady Hujayl led to the water of Amdán (Mídán?), about an hour and a half from our last nighting-place; yesterday it had been reported six hours distant. High towering on our left (north) rose three huge buttresses of the Girágir. In front stood a marvellous background of domes and arches, cones and ninepins, all decayed Hismá, blurred and broken by the morning mist, which could hardly be called a fog; and forming a perspective of a dozen distances. Now they curve from north-east to south-west in a kind of scorpion’s tail, with detached vertebrae torn and wasted by the adjacent plutonic outcrops; and looking from the west they suggest blood-red islets rising above the great gloomy waves of trap and porphyry. This projection will remain in sight until we reach Shuwák; and in places we shall see it backed by the basalts and lavas of the straightlined Harrah.
Presently turning sharp to the right (south-east), we struck across a second divide, far more shallow than the first; and fell into the northern basin of the great Dámah valley, also known as El–Rahabah, “the Open;”— the Rehoboth (“spaces”) of the Hebrews. Like yesterday’s, the loose red sand is Hismá; and it is also scattered with Harrah lava. After a four hours’ ride we halted to enable the caravan to come up. Our Shaykhs were bent upon making twelve miles the average day’s work; and their “little game” was now to delay as much as possible. Here we again found flocks of sheep and goats tended by young girls, who ran away like ostriches, and by old women who did not: on the contrary, Sycorax enjoyed asking the news and wrangling over a kid. The camels throughout this country seem to be always under the charge of men or boys.
Here began our study of the great Wady Da’mah, whose fame as an Arabian Arcadia extends far and wide, and whose possession has caused many a bloody battle. We now see it at its best, in early spring morning, when
“The landscape smiles
Calm in the sun, and silent are the hills
And valleys, and the blue serene of air.”
This notable feature is a Haddúdah (“frontier divider”), which in ancient days separated the ‘Ukbíyyah (“Ukbah-land”) to the north from the Balawi’yyah (“Baliyy-land”) south. The latter still claim it as their northern limit; but the intrusive Egypto–Arabs have pushed their way far beyond this bourne. Its present Huwayti owners, the Sulaymiyyín, the Sulaymát, the Jeráfín, and other tribes, are a less turbulent race than the northerns because they are safe from the bandit Ma’ázah: they are more easily managed, and they do not meet a fair offer with the eternal Yaftah ‘Allah —“Allah opens.”161
The head of the Dámah, a great bay in the Hismá-wall to the east, is now in sight of us; and we shall pass its mouth, which debouches into the sea below Zibá. This tract is equally abundant in herds (camels), flocks, and vegetation: in places a thin forest gathers, and the tree-clumps now form a feature in the scenery. The sole, a broad expanse of loose red arenaceous matter, the washings of the plateau, is fearfully burrowed and honeycombed; it is also subject, like its sister the Sadr, to the frequent assault of “devils,” or sand-pillars. That it is plentifully supplied with water, we learn from the presence of birds. The cries of the caravane, the “knock-kneed” plover of Egypt, yellow-beaked and black-eyed, resounded in the more barren belts. A lovely little sun-bird (Nectarinia oseœ?), which the Frenchmen of course called colibri, with ravishing reflections of green and gold, flashed like a gem thrown from shrub to shrub: this oiseau mouche is found scattered throughout Midian; we saw it even about El–Muwaylah, but I had unfortunately twice forgotten dust-shot. The Egyptian Rakham (percnopter), yellow with black-tipped wings; a carrion-eater, now so rare, and the common brown kite, still so common near civilized Cairo, soared in the sky; while the larger vultures, perching upon the rock-ridges, suggested Bedawi sentinels. The ravens, here as elsewhere, are a plague: flights of them occupy favourite places, and they prey upon the young lambs, hares, and maimed birds.
We advanced another five miles, and crossed to the southern side of the actual torrent-bed, whose banks, strewed with a quantity of dead flood-wood entangling the trees, and whose flaky clays, cracked to the shape of slabs and often curling into tubes of natural pottery, show that at times the Hismá must discharge furious torrents. We camped close to the Dámah at the foot of the Jebel el-Balawi; the water, known as Máyat el-Jebayl (“of the Hillock”), lay ahead in a low rocky snout: it was represented as being distant a full hour, and the mules did not return from it till three had passed; but thirty minutes would have been nearer the truth. The Nile-drinkers turned up their fastidious noses at the supply, but Lieutenant Amir, who had graduated in the rough campaigning-school of the Súdán, pronounced it “regular.”
The nighting-place on the Dámah was as pretty and picturesque as the Majrá was tame and uncouth. While the west was amber clear, long stripes of purpling, crimson, flaming cloud, to the south and the east, set off the castled crags disposed in a semicircle round the Wady-head; and the “buildings” appeared art-like enough to be haunted ground, the domain of the Fata Morgana, a glimpse of the City of Brass built by Shaddaá, son of ‘Ad. When the stars began to glitter sharp and clear, our men fell to singing and dancing; and the boy Husayn Ganinah again distinguished himself by his superior ribaldry. Our work was more respectable and prosaic, firing a mule with a swollen back.
Within a mile or so of us stood some Bedawi tents, which we had passed on the march: they were deserted by the men, here Sulaymát, who drive their camels to the wilds sometimes for a week at a time. An old wife who brought us a goat for sale, and who begged that Husayn, the Básh-Buzúk, might pass the night with her, in order to shoot an especially objectionable wolf, had a long tale to tell of neighbouring ruins. She also reported that near the same place there is a well with steps, into which the Arabs had descended some seven fathoms; presently they found houses occupying the galleries at the bottom, and fled in terror.
Lieutenant Amir was sent to sketch and survey the site next morning; and he was lucky enough to be guided by one Sa’id bin Zayfullah, the Sulaymi, whose prime dated from the palmy days of the great Mohammed Ali Pasha. He acknowledged as his friends the grandfather, and even the father, of our guide Furayj; but the latter he ignored, looking upon him as a mere Walad (“lad”). Moreover, he remembered the birth of Shaykh Mohammed ‘Afnán, chief of the Baliyy, which took place when he himself had already become a hunter of the gazelle.162 According to him, the remains are still known as the Dár (“house”) or Diyár (“houses”) El–Nasárá—“of the Nazarenes,” that is, of the Nabathaeans. The former term is retained here, as in Sinai, by popular tradition; and the latter is clean forgotten throughout Midian.163
Riding down the Wady Dámah to the southwest, Lieutenant Amir came upon a spring in a stone-revetted well near the left bank: this Ayn el-Bada’ is not to be confounded with the Badí’ water, or with the Badá plain, both of which we shall presently visit. A strew of broken quartz around it showed the atelier, and specimens of scattered fragments, glass and pottery, were gathered. The settlement-ruins, which the guide called El–Kantarah, lie further down upon a southern influent of the main line: they are divided into two blocks, one longer than the other. Lieutenant Amir made a careful plan of the remains, and then pushed forward to Shuwák by the direct track, westward of that taken by the caravan. He arrived in camp, none the worse for a well-developed “cropper;” his dromedary had put its foot in a hole, and had fallen with a suddenness generally unknown to the cameline race.
By way of geographical exercitation, we had all drawn our several plans, showing, after Arab statement, the lay of Shaghab and Shuwák, the two ruins which we were about to visit. Nothing could be more ridiculous when the sketch-maps came to be compared. This was owing to the route following the three sides of a long parallelogram; whilst the fourth is based upon the Wady Dámah, causing considerable complication. And, the excursus ended, all were convinced that we had made much southing, when our furthest point was not more than five miles south of Zibá (north lat. 27° 20’).
We quitted the great valley at six a.m. (February 28th), and struck up the Wady Shuwák, an influent that runs northwards to the Dámah’s left bank. On the stony ground above the right side of this Fiumara lay six circles of stones, disposed in a line from north-east to south-west: they may have been ruins of Hufrah (“water-pits”). As we rose the Nullah surface was pied with white flowers, the early growth which here takes the place of primroses. I had some difficulty in persuading our good friend Furayj, who had not seen the country for fifteen years, to engage as guide one of the many Bedawin camel-herds: his course seemed to serpentine like that of an animal grazing — he said it was intended to show the least stony road — and, when he pointed with the wave of the maimed right hand, he described an arc of some 90°. The Sulaymi lad caught the nearest camel, climbed its sides as you would a tree, and, when the animal set off at a lumbering gallop, pressed the soles of his feet to the ribs, with exactly the action of a Simiad; clinging the while, like grim Death, to the hairy hump.
After some six miles we attempted a short cut, a gorge that debouched on the left bank of the Shuwák valley. It showed at once a complete change of formation: the sides were painted with clays of variegated colours, crystallized lime and porphyritic conglomerates, tinted mauve-purple as if by manganese. Further on, the path, striking over broken divides and long tracts of stony ground, became rough riding: it was bordered by the usual monotonous, melancholy hills of reddish and greenish trap, whose slaty and schist-like edges in places stood upright. On the summit of the last Col appeared the ruins of an outwork, a large square and a central heap of boulder-stones. Straight in front rose the block that backs our destination, the Jebel el-Sáni’, or “Mountain of the Maker,” the artificer par excellence, that is, the blacksmith: it is so called from a legendary shoer of horses and mules, who lived there possibly in the days before Sultán Selim. It is remarkable for its twin peaks, sharp-topped blocks, the higher to the east, and called by the Bedawin Naghar and Nughayr. The guides spoke of a furnace near the summit of these remarkable cones; excellent landmarks which we shall keep in sight during several marches. At length, after ten miles of slow work, we saw before us, stretched as upon a map, the broad valley with its pink sands; the Daum-trees, the huge ‘Ushr or “Apple of Sodom,” the fan-palm bush, and the large old Jujubes — here an invariable sign of former civilization — which informed us that there lay fair Shuwák.
The dull gorge introduced us to what was then a novelty in Midian; but we afterwards found it upon the cold heights of the Shárr, where it supplied us with many a dainty dish. This was the Shinnár164 (caccabis), a partridge as large as a pheasant, and flavoured exactly like the emigrant from Phasis.
The coat, the clock! clock! and the nimble running over the rocks, ever the favourite haunt, denote the “perdix.” The head is black, as in the C. melanocephala of Abyssinia, and the legs and feet are red like the smaller “Greek” caccabis that inhabits the Hismá; the male birds have no spurs, and they are but little larger than their mates. There seems to be no difficulty in keeping them; we bought a hen and chicks caged at El–Wijh, but whether they lived or not I neglected to note. Here, too, we learned the reason why the falcons and the hawks (Falco milvus, F. gentilis, etc.) are so fierce and so well-fed. The tyrant of the air raises the partridge or the quail by feinting a swoop, and, as it hurries away screaming aloud, follows it leisurely at a certain distance. Finally, when the quarry reaches the place intended — at least, the design so appears — the falcon stoops and ends the chase. The other birds were ring-doves, turtles, and the little “butcher” impaling, gaily as a “gallant Turk,” its live victim upon a long thorn.
Shuwák, which lies in about north lat. 27° 15’, can be no other than the [Greek] placed by Ptolemy (vi. 7) in north lat. 26° 15’; and, if so, we must add one degree to his latitudes, which are sixty miles too low.165 According to Sprenger (“Alt. Geog.,” p. 25), [Greek] and [Greek] do not fit into any of the Alexandrian’s routes; and were connected only with their ports Rhaunathos (M’jirmah?) and Phoenicon Vicus (Zibá?). But both these cities were large and important centres, both of agriculture and of mining industry, forming crucial stations on the great Nabathæan highway, the overland between Leukè Kóme and Petra. The line was kept up by the Moslems until Sultán Selim’s superseded it; and hence the modern look of the remains which at first astonished us so much. The tradition of the Hajj-passage is distinctly preserved by the Bedawin; and I have little doubt that metal has been worked here as lately, perhaps, as the end of the last century. But by whom, again, deponent ventures not to say, even to guess.
The site of Shuwák is a long island in the broad sandy Wady of the same name, which, as has been remarked, feeds the Dámah. Its thalweg has shifted again and again: the main line now hugs the southern or left bank, under the slopes and folds of the Jebel el-Sáni’; whilst a smaller branch, on the northern side, is subtended by the stony divide last crossed. At the city the lay of the valley is from north-east to south-west, and the altitude is about seventeen hundred feet (aner. 28.28). The head still shows the castellations of the Hismá. Looking down-stream, beyond the tree-dotted bed and the low dark hills that divide this basin from the adjoining Wady to the south, we see the tall grey tops of the Jebel Zigláb (Zijláb) and of the Shahbá-Gámirah — the “ashen-coloured (Peak) of Gámirah”— the latter being the name of a valley. Both look white by the side of the dark red and green rocks; and we shall presently find that they mark the granite region lying south and seaward of the great trap formations. We were not sorry to see it again — our eyes were weary of the gloomy plutonic curtains on either side.
At Shuwák we allowed the camels a day of rest, whilst we planned and sketched, dug into, and described the ruins. A difficulty about drinking-water somewhat delayed us. The modern wells, like those of the Haurán, are rudely revetted pits in a bald and shiny bit of clay-plain below the principal block of ruins: only one in the dozen holds water, and that has been made Wahsh (“foul”) by the torrent sweeping into it heaps of the refuse and manure strewed around. The lower folds of the Sáni’ block also supply rain-pools; but here, again, the Arabs and their camels had left their marks. The only drinkable water lies a very long mile down the southern (left) bank, above the old aqueduct, in a deep and narrow gorge of trap. The perennial spring, still trickling down the rocks, was dammed across, as remnants of cement show us, in more places than one. There are also signs of cut basins, which the barrages above and below once divided into a series of tanks. Up the rough steps of the bed the camel-men drove their beasts; and the name of a Gujráti maker, printed upon a sack of Anglo–Indian canvas, had a curious effect among such Bedawi surroundings.
At last we sank a pit some five feet deep in a re-entering angle of the northern or smaller branch; we lined it with stone down-stream, where the flow made the loose sand fall in, and we obtained an ample and excellent supply. Doubtless it was spoiled, as soon as our backs were turned, by the half-Fellah Jeráfín-Huwaytát, to whom the place belongs. The sea-breeze during the day was high and dust-laden, but we passed a cool delicious night upon the clean sweet sand, which does not stick or cling. At this altitude there is no fear of bugs and fleas — the only dread is Signor “Pediculus.”
We will begin, with our surveyors, at the valley head, and note the ruins as we stroll down. This section, Shuwák proper, is nearly a mile and a half long, and could hardly have lodged less than twenty thousand souls. But that extent by no means represents the whole; our next march will prolong it along the valley for a total of at least four miles. The material is various — boulders of granite and syenite; squares of trap and porphyry; the red sandstones of the Hismá; the basalts of the Harrah; and the rock found in situ, a brown and crumbling grit, modern, and still in process of agglutination. The heaps and piles which denote buildings are divided by mounds and tumuli of loose friable soil, white with salt — miniatures of Babylon, Nineveh, and Troy. On either flanks of the river-holm the periodical torrents have done their worst, cutting up the once regular bank into a succession of clay buttresses. On the right side we find a large fort, half sliced away, but still showing the concrete flooring of a tower. About the centre of the length are the remnants of a round Burj; blocks of buildings, all levelled to the foundations, lie to the north-west, and on the west appear signs of a square. Perhaps the most interesting discovery is that of catacombs, proving a civilization analogous to Magháir Shu’ayb, but ruder, because more distant from the centre. The “caves” are hollowed in a long reef of loose breccia, which, fronting eastward, forms the right bank of the smaller branch. They are now almost obliterated by being turned into sheep-folds; the roofs have fallen in, and only one preserves the traces of two loculi.
The arrangements touching fuel and water in this great metal-working establishment are on a large scale. The biggest of the Afrán (“furnaces”) lies to the north-west, near the right bank of the valley: all are of the ordinary type, originally some five or six feet high, to judge from the bases. They are built of fire-brick, and of the Hismá stone, which faces itself into a natural latex. We dug deep into several of them; but so careful had been the workmen, or perhaps those who afterwards ransacked these places, that not the smallest tear of metal remained: we found only ashes, pottery, and scoriae, as usual black and green, the latter worked sub-aerially; many of them had projections like stalactite. Round the furnaces are strewed carbonate of lime, stained black with iron, like that of Sharmá; and a quantity of the chlorite-enamelled serpentine still used in the Brazil as a flux.
Quartz was absent, and we were at a loss to divine what stone had been worked. At last we observed near the catacombs sundry heaps of pinkish earth, evidently washed out; and our researches in the South Country afterwards suggested that this may have been the remains of the micaceous schist, whose containing quartz was so extensively worked at Umm el-Haráb. Moreover, a short study of Shaghab threw more light on the matter.
Water also had been stored up with prodigious labour. We could easily trace the lines of half a dozen aqueducts, mostly channelled with rough cement, overlying a fine concrete; some of them had grooved stones to divert the stream by means of lashers. The Fiskíyyah or “tanks,” as carefully built, were of all sizes; and the wells, which appeared to be mediaeval, were lined with stones cut in segments of circles: we shall see the same curve in Sultán Selim’s work near Zibá. The greatest feat is an aqueduct which, sanded over in the upper part, subtends the left side of the valley. It is carefully but rudely built, and where it crosses a gully, the “horizontal arch” is formed of projecting stone tiers, without a sign of key. This magnum opus must date from the days when the southern part of the Wady was nearly what it is now.
About a mile and a quarter below our camp, the Wady, which broadens to a mile, shows on the left bank a wall measuring a thousand metres long, apparently ending in a tank of 110 feet each way. Around it are ruined parallelograms of every size, which in ancient times may have been workshops connected with the buildings in the island higher up. The torrents have now washed away the continuation, if ever there was any; and, though the lower remnants are comparatively safe upon their high ledge, the holm is evidently fated to disappear.
I did not learn till too late that a single day’s march southwards from the Wady Shuwák, along the old main line of traffic, leads to the Wady Nejd, upon whose upper course is the plain of Badá; and which, after assuming four different names, falls, as will be seen, into the sea about thirty-five miles north of El–Wijh.
We left Shuwák considerably posed, puzzled, and perplexed by what it had shown us. A little pottery had been picked up, but our diggings had not produced a coin or even a bit of glass. The evidences of immense labour are the more astonishing when compared with the utter absence of what we call civilization. The Greek and Latin inscriptions of the Hauranic cities declare their origin: these, absolutely unalphabetic, refuse a single hint concerning the mysterious race which here lived and worked, and worked so nobly. And, finally, who were the Moslems that succeeded them in a later day, when the Hajj-caravan, some three centuries and a half ago, ceased to march by this road? How is it that the annalists say nothing of them? that not a vestige of tradition remains concerning any race but the Nazarenes?
From Shuwák to the Wady Dámah there are two roads, a direct and an indirect; the latter passing by the ruins of Shaghab. The caravan begged hard to take the former, but was summarily refused. At six a.m. we rode down the Shuwák valley, again noting its huge constructions, and then striking away from it to the left, we passed over a short divide of brown hill, where the narrow Pass was marked only by Bedawi graves. The morning showed a peculiar rainbow, if a bow may be called so when no rain appeared; a perpendicular stripe, brilliant enough, and lasting at least twenty minutes. The cloud behind it had no skirt, no droop in fact, no sign of dissolution; and what made it the stranger was that this “bull’s-eye” lay north of, and not opposite to, but quite near, the rising sun. We shall note another of these exceptional rainbows at El–Badá.166
After marching some seven miles to the south with westing, we saw inform heaps to the left: half an hour afterwards, boulder-encircled pits of a brighter green on the right, the Themáil el-Má (“artificial cisterns”) of the Arabs, announced that we were reaching Shaghab. The caravan punished us by wasting five hours on the way, in order to force a halt; and by camping at the wrong place, when I objected to the delay. It brought with it, however, a fine young Beden (ibex), killed by one of the Bedawin; and we determined to stuff, to bury, and to bake it, Arab fashion, under the superintendence of the Básh-Buzúk Husayn. Unfortunately it was served to us on the next day cold, whereas it should have been eaten at once, piping hot. The meat was dark, with a beefy rather than a gamey flavour, palatable, but by no means remarkable. There were loud regrets that a cuisse de chevreuil had not been marinée; in fact, an infect odour of the Quartier Latin everywhere followed us; and when a guide told us the pattern lie, that we should not reach Umm ‘Amir before the fourth day, the poor “Frogs” croaked, and croaked audibly as dismally. Their last bottle of ordinaire was finished; Gabr, the Kázi, had come into camp, bearing a long official Arabic document from Lieutenant Yusuf, but not a single Journal de Genève; there was no news of a steamer being sent with rations and forage from Suez: briefly, c’était embetant — to use the milder of the two favourite synonyms.
The ruins of Shaghab are built upon a more complicated site than those of Shuwák. The position is charming. The Wady Shaghab, flowing to the south, here spreads out in a broad bulge or basin open to the west. Down-stream we see a “gate” formed by the meeting of two rocky tongue-tips, both showing large works. Beyond these narrows the valley bends to the south-west and feeds the Wady Aznab, which falls into the sea south of the Dámah. The mass of the ruined city lies upon the left bank, where a high and artificial-looking remblai of earth masks an eastern influent, the Wady el-Aslah (Athlah), or “of the Kali-plant.” It drains the mountain of the same name, and the Jebel Zigláb (Zijláb), the cones of pale granite visible from Shuwák; and upon its broad mouth the old settlement stood à cheval. A little north of west rises profiled the great Shárr, no longer a ridge with a coping of four horns, but a tall and portly block, from whose summit spring heads and peaks of airy blue-pink. Slightly east of north the twins Naghar and Nughayr, combining to form the “Mountain of the Maker” (Jebel el-Sáni’), tower in the shape of a huge pyramid. Lastly, a regular ascent, the Majrá el-Wághir, fronts the city, sloping up to the west-north-west, and discloses a view of the Jibál el-Tihámah: this broad incline was, some three centuries ago, the route of the Hajj-caravan.
We walked down the Shaghab valley-bed, whose sides, like those of the Dámah, are chevaux de frise of dead wood. The characteristic rock is a conglomerate of large and small stones, compacted by hard silicious paste, and stained mauve-purple apparently by manganese: we had seen it on the way to Shuwák; and the next day’s march will pave the uplands with it. The wells in the sole are distinctly Arab, triangular mouths formed and kept open by laying down tree-trunks, upon which the drawer of water safely stands. On the right bank up-stream no ruins are perceptible; those on the left are considerable, but not a quarter the size of Shuwák. Here again appear the usual succession of great squares: the largest to the east measures 500 metres along the sides; and there are three others, one of 400 metres by 192. They are subtended by one of many aqueducts, whose walls, two feet thick, showed no signs of brick: it is remarkable for being run underground to pierce a hillock; in fact, the system is rather Greek or subterranean, than Roman or subaerial. Further down are the remains apparently of a fort: heaps of land-shells lie about it; they are very rare in this region, and during our four months’ march we secured only two species.167
Still descending, we found the ancient or mediaeval wells, numbering about a dozen, and in no wise differing from those of Shuwák. At the gorge, where the Wady escapes from view, Lieutenant Amir planned buildings on the lower right bank, and on the left he found a wall about half a mile long, with the remains of a furnace and quartz scattered about it. This stone had reappeared in large quantities, the moment we crossed the divide; the pale grey of the Jebel Zigláb and its neighbours was evidently owing to its presence; and from this point it will be found extending southwards and seawards as far as El–Hejaz. He brought with him a hard white stone much resembling trachyte, and fragments of fine green jasper.
A cursory inspection of Shaghab removed some of the difficulties which had perplexed us at Shuwák and elsewhere. In the North Country signs of metal-working, which was mostly confined to the Wadys, have been generally obliterated; washed away or sanded over. Here the industry revealed itself without mistake. The furnaces were few, but around each one lay heaps of Negro and copper-green quartz, freshly fractured; while broken handmills of basalt and lava, differing from the rubstones and mortars of a softer substance, told their own tale.
At Shaghab, then, the metalliferous “Marú” brought from the adjacent granitic mountains was crushed, and then transported for roasting and washing to Shuwák, where water, the prime necessary in these lands, must have been more abundant. Possibly in early days the two settlements formed one, the single [Greek] of Ptolemy; and the south end would have been the headquarters of the wealthy. Hence the Bedawin always give it precedence — Shaghab wa Shuwák; moreover, we remarked a better style of building in the former; and we picked up glass as well as pottery.
As a turkey buzzard (vulture) is the fittest emblem for murderous Dahome, so I should propose for Midian, now spoiled and wasted by the Wild Man, a broken handmill of basalt upon a pile of spalled Negro quartz.
159 The word is explained in my “Itineraries,” part ii. sect. 3.
160 See Appendix IV. “Botanical Notes.”
161 “Opens,” i.e. the door for a higher price: it is the usual formula of refusing to sell.
162 Chap. XVI.
163 The Saturday Review, in a courteous notice of my first volume (May 25, 1878), has the following remarks:—“The Arabs talk of some (?) Nazarenes, and a ‘King of the Franks,’ having built the stone huts and the tombs in a neighbouring cemetery (‘Aynúnah). But there can be no local tradition worth repeating in this instance.” Here we differ completely; and those will agree with me who know how immutable and, in certain cases, imperishable Arab tradition is. The reviewer, true, speaks of North Midian, where all the tribes, except the Beni ‘Ukbah, are new. Yet legend can survive the destruction and disappearance of a race: witness the folk-traditions of the North–Eastern Italians and the adjacent Slavs. Here, however, in South Midian we have an ancient race, the Baliyy. And what strengthens the Christian legend is that it is known to man, woman, and child throughout the length and breadth of the land.
164 In Sinai “Shinnár” is also applied to a partridge, but I am unable to distinguish the species — caccabis, Desert partridge, (Ammoperdix heyi, the Arab Hajl), or the black partridge (Francolinus vulgaris).
165 Chap. IX. has already noticed Ptolemy’s short measure.
166 Chap. XVII.
167 Helix desertorum (Forsk.) and Helix (sp. incert.)
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06