Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Appendix VII.

Notes on My Journey by A. Sprenger.

IN the map to a former edition of the Pilgrimage, Captain Burton’s route from Madina to Meccah is wrongly laid down, owing to a typographical error of the text, “From Wady Laymun to Meccah S.E. 45°;” (see vol. ii. p. 155, ante), whereas the road runs S.W. 45°, or, as Hamdany expresses himself in the commentary on the Qacyda Rod., “Between west and south; and therefore the setting sun shines at the evening prayer (your face being turned towards Meccah) on your right temple.” The account of the eastern route from Madina to Meccah by so experienced a traveller as Captain Burton is an important contribution to our geographical knowledge of Arabia. It leads over the lower terrace of Nejd, the country which Muslim writers consider as the home of the genuine Arabs and the scene of Arabic chivalry. As by this mistake the results of my friend’s pilgrimage, which, though pious as he unquestionably is, he did not undertake from purely religious motives, have been in a great measure marred, I called in 1871 his attention to it. At the same time I submitted to him a sketch of a map in which his own and Burckhardt’s routes are protracted, and a few notes culled from Arabic geographers, with the intention of showing how much light his investigations throw on early geography if illustrated by a corrected map; and how they fail to fulfil this object if the mistake is not cleared up. The enterprising traveller approved of both the notes and the map, and expressed it as his opinion that it might be useful to append them to the new edition. I therefore thought proper to recast them, and to present them herewith to the reader.

At Sufayna, Burton found the Baghdad Caravan. The regular Baghdad-Meccah Road, of which we have two itineraries, the one reproduced by Hamdany and the other by Ibn Khordadbeh, Qodama, and others, keeps to the left of Sufayna, and runs parallel with the Eastern Madina-Meccah Road to within one stage of Meccah. We find only one passage in Arabic geographers from which we learn that the Baghdadlies, as long as a thousand years ago, used under certain circumstances to take the way of Sufayna. Yacut, vol. iii. p. 403, says “Sufayna ([Arabic] Cufayna), a place in the caliya (Highland) within the territory of the Solaymites, lies on the road of Zobayda. The pilgrims make a roundabout, and take this road, if they suffer from want of water. The pass of Sufayna, by which they have to descend, is very difficult.” The ridges over which the road leads are called al-Sitar, and are described by Yacut, vol. iii. p. 38, as a range of red hills, flanking Sufayna, with defiles which serve as passes. Burton, vol. ii. p. 128, describes them as low hills of red sandstone and bright porphyry. Zobayda, whose name the partly improved, partly newly opened Hajj-Road from Baghdad to Meccah bore, was the wife of Caliph Harun, and it appears from Burton, pp. 134 and 136, that the improvements made by this spirited woman — as the wells near Ghadir, and the Birkat (Tank)— are now ascribed to her weak, fantastical, and contemptible husband.

Burton’s description of the plain covered with huge boulders and detached rocks (p. 131) puts us in mind of the Felsenmeer in the Odenwald. Yacut, vol. iii. p. 370, describes the two most gigantic of these rock-pillars, which are too far to the left of Burton’s road than that he could have seen them: “Below Sufayna in a desert plain there rise two pillars so high that nobody, unless he be a bird, can mount them; the one is called cAmud (column) of al-Ban, after the place al-Ban, and the other cAmud of al-Safh. They are both on the right-hand side of the (regular) road from Baghdad to Meccah, one mile from Ofayciya (a station on the regular road which answers to Sufayna).” Such desolate, fantastic scenery is not rare in Arabia nor close to the western coast of the Red Sea. The Fiumara, from which Burton (p. 138) emerged at six A.M., Sept. 9, was crossed by Burckhardt at Kholayc, and is a more important feature of the country than the two travellers were aware of. There are only five or six Wadies which break through the chain of mountains that runs parallel with the Red Sea, and of these, proceeding from south to north, Wady Nakhla (Wady Laymun) is the first, and this Fiumara the second. Early geographers call it Wady Amaj, or after a place of some importance situated in its lower course, Wady Saya. Hamdany, p. 294, says: “Amaj and Ghoran are two Wadies which commence in the Harra (volcanic region) of the Beni Solaym, and reach the sea.” The descriptions of this Wady compiled by Yacut, vol. iii. pp. 26 and 839, are more ample. According to one, it contains seventy springs: according to another, it is a Wady which you overlook if you stand on the Sharat (the mountain now called Jebel Cobh). In its upper course it runs between the two Hamiya, which is the name of two black volcanic regions. It contains several villages of note, and there lead roads to it from various parts of the country. In its uppermost part lies the village of Faric with date-groves, cultivated fields and gardens, producing plantains, pomegranates, and grapes, and in its lower course, close to Saya, the rich and populous village Mahaya. The whole Wady is one of the Acradh (oasis-like districts) of Madina, and is administered by a Lieutenant of the Governor of that city. Yacut makes the remark to this description: “I do not know whether this valley is still in the same condition, or whether it has altered.” Though we know much less of it than Yacut, we may safely assert that the cultivation has vanished and the condition has altered.

At Zariba ([Arabic], Dhariba) Burton and his party put on the Ihram (pilgrim-garb). If the Baghdadlies follow the regular road they perform this ceremony at Dzat-Irq, which lies somewhat lower down than Dhariba, to the South-east of it, and therefore the rain-water which falls in Dhariba flows in the shape of a torrent to Dzat-Irq, and is thence carried off by the Northern Nakhla. Above the station of Dzat-Irq there rise ridges called Irq; up these ridges the regular Baghdad Road ascends to the high-plateau, and they are therefore considered by early geographers as the western limit of Nejd. Omara apud Yacut, vol. iv. p. 746, says: “All the country in which the water flows in an Easterly (North-easterly) direction, beginning from Dzat-Irq as far as Babylonia, is called Nejd; and the country which slopes Westwards, from Dzat-Irq to Tihama (the coast), is called Hijaz.” The remarks of Arabic geographers on the Western watershed, and those of Burton, vol. ii. pp. 142 and 154, illustrate and complete each other most satisfactorily. It appears from Yacut that the Fiumara in which Burton’s party was attacked by robbers takes its rise at Ghomayr close to Dzat-Irq, that there were numerous date-groves in it, and that it falls at Bostan Ibn camir into the Nakhla, wherefore it is called the Northern Nakhla. The Southern Nakhla, also called simply Nakhla, a term which is sometimes reserved for the trunk formed by the junction of the Southern and Northern Nakhla from Bostan Ibn camir downwards, is on account of its history one of the most interesting spots in all Arabia; I therefore make no apology for entering on its geography. In our days it is called Wady Laymun, and Burckhardt, vol. i. p. 158, says of it: “Zeyme is a half-ruined castle, at the eastern extremity of Wady Lymoun, with copious springs of running water. Wady Lymoun is a fertile valley, which extends for several hours (towards West) in the direction of Wady Fatme (anciently called Batn Marr, or Marr-Tzahran, which is, in fact, a continuation of Wady Nakhla). It has many date-plantations, and formerly the ground was cultivated; but this, I believe, has ceased since the Wahabi invasion: its fruit-gardens, too, have been ruined. This (he means the village Laymun, compare Burton, vol. ii. p. 147) is the last stage of the Eastern-Syrian Hadj route. To the South-east or East-south-east of Wady Lymoun is another fertile valley, called Wady Medyk, where some sherifs are settled, and where Sherif Ghaleb possessed landed property.1” In the commentary on the Qacyda Rod., Wady Nakhla, as far as the road to Meccah runs through it, is described as follows: From the ridges with whose declivity the Western watershed begins, you descend into Wady Baubat; it is flanked on the left side by the Sarat mountains, on which Tayif stands, and contains Qarn-almanazil (once the capital of the Minaeans, the great trading nation of antiquity). Three or four miles below Qarn is Masjid Ibrahym, and here the valley assumes the name of Wady Nakhla. At no great distance from the Masjid there rise on the left-hand side of the Wady two high peaks called Jebel Yasum and Jebel Kafw. Both were the refuge of numerous monkeys, who used to invade the neighbouring vineyards. As you go down Wady Nakhla the first place of importance you meet is al-Zayma. Close to it was a garden which, during the reign of Moqtadir, belonged to the Hashimite Prince Abd Allah, and was in a most flourishing condition. It produced an abundance of henna, plantains, and vegetables of every description, and yielded a revenue of five thousand Dinar-mithqals (about £2,860) annually. A canal from Wady (the river) Nakhla feeds a fountain which jets forth in the midst of the garden, and lower down a tank. In the garden stood a fort (which in a dilapidated condition is extant to this day, and spoken of by Burckhardt). It was built of huge stones, guarded for the defence of the property by the Banu Sa’d, and tenanted by the servants and followers of the proprietor. Below al-Zayma is Sabuha, a post-station where a relay of horses was kept for the transport of Government Despatches. To give an idea of the distances, I may mention that the post-stages were twelve Arabic miles asunder, which on this road are rather larger than an English geographical mile. The first station from Meccah was Moshash, the second Sabuha, and the third was at the foot of the hill Yasum. The author of the commentary from which I derive this information leaves Wady Nakhla soon after Sabuha, and turns his steps towards the holy city. He mentions “the steep rocky Pass” up which Burton toiled with difficulty, and calls it Orayk. Though he enters into many details, he takes no notice of the hill-girt plain called Sola. This name occurs however in an Arabic verse, apud Yacut, vol. ii. p. 968: “In summer our pasture-grounds are in the country of Nakhla, within the districts of al-Zayma and Sola.”

In W[a]dy Fatima, Burckhardt found a perennial rivulet, coming from the Eastward, about three feet broad and two feet deep. It is certain that Wady Fat?ima, formerly called Wady Marr, is a continuation of Wady Nakhla, and Yacut considers in one passage Nakhla as a subdivision of Marr, and in another Marr as part of Wady Nakhla; but we do not know whether the rivulet, which at al-Zayma seems to be of considerable size, disappears under the sand in order to come forth again in W[a]dy Marr, or whether it forms an uninterrupted stream. In ancient times the regular Baghdad-Meccah Road did not run down from Dzat-Irq by the Northern Nakhla which Burton followed, but it crossed this Wady near its Northern end and struck over to the Southern Nakhla as far as Qarn almarazil, which for a long time was the second station from Meccah, instead of Dzat-cIrq.

1 Medyq is Burton’s El-Mazik, the spelling in Arabic being [Arabic] Madhyq. Burckhardt’s account leads us to think that the village now called Madhyq, or Wady Laymun, lies on the left bank of the Fiumara, and is identical with Bostan Ibn ’Amir, which is described by Yacut as situated in the fork between the Northern and Southern Nakhlas, and which in ancient times had, like the village Wady Laymun, the name of the valley of which it was the chief place, viz., Batn Nakhla. Burton gives no information of the position of the village, but he says: “On the right bank of the Fiumara stood the Meccan Sharif’s state pavilion.” Unless the pavilion is separated from the village by the Fiumara there is a discrepancy between the two accounts, which leads me to suspect that “right” is an oversight for “left.” Anciently [Arabic] was pronounced Nakhlat, and, if we suppress the guttural, as the Greeks and Romans sometimes did, Nalat. Strabo, p. 782, in his narrative of the retreat of Aelius Gallus, mentions a place which he calls Mal?tha, and of which he says it stood on the bank of a river — a position which few towns in Arabia have. The context leaves no doubt that he means Batn Nakhla, and that Maltha is a mistake for Naltha.


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