Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter xxv.

From Adrianople. — Description of the deserts and inhabitants of Servia — Nissa the capital — cruel treatment of the baggage-carriers by the janizaries — some account of Sophia — Philippopolis — fine country about Adrianople.

To Her R. H. The Princess of Wales [The late Queen Caroline.]

Adrianople, April 1. O. S. 1717.

I HAVE now, madam, finished a journey that has not been undertaken by any Christian since the time of the Greek emperors: and I shall not regret all the fatigues I have suffered in it, if it gives me an opportunity of amusing your R. H. by an account of places utterly unknown amongst us; the emperor’s ambassadors, and those few English that have come hither, always going on the Danube to Nicopolis. But the river was now frozen, and Mr W—— was so zealous for the service of his Majesty, that he would not defer his journey to wait for the conveniency of that passage. We crossed the deserts of Servia, almost quite over-grown with wood, through a country naturally fertile. The inhabitants are industrious; but the oppression of the peasants is so great, they are forced to abandon their houses, and neglect their tillage, all they have being a prey to the janizaries, whenever they please to seize upon it. We had a guard of five hundred of them, and I was almost in tears every day, to see their insolencies in the poor villages through which we passed. — After seven days travelling through thick woods, we came to Nissa, once the capital of Servia, situated in a fine plain on the river Nissava, in a very good air, and so fruitful a soil, that the great plenty is hardly credible. I was certainly assured, that the quantity of wine last vintage was so prodigious, that they were forced to dig holes in the earth to put it in, not having vessels enough in the town to hold it. The happiness of this plenty is scarce perceived by the oppressed people. I saw here a new occasion for my compassion. The wretches that had provided twenty waggons for our baggage from Belgrade hither for a certain hire, being all sent back without payment, some of their horses lamed, and others killed, without any satisfaction made for them. The poor fellows came round the house weeping and tearing their hair and beards in a most pitiful manner, without getting any thing but drubs from the insolent soldiers. I cannot express to your R. H. how much I was moved at this scene. I would have paid them the money out of my own pocket, with all my heart; but it Would only have been giving so much to the aga, who would have taken it from them without any remorse. After four days journey from this place over the mountains, we came to Sophia, situated in a large beautiful plain on the river Isca, and surrounded with distant mountains. ’Tis hardly possible to see a more agreeable landscape. The city itself is very large, and extremely populous. Here are hot baths, very famous for their medicinal virtues. — Four days journey from hence we arrived at Philippopolis, after having passed the ridges between the mountains of Haemus and Rhodope, which are always covered with snow. This town is situated on a rising ground near the river Hebrus, and is almost wholly inhabited by Greeks; here are still some ancient Christian churches. They have a bishop; and several Of the richest Greeks live here; but they are forced to conceal their wealth with great care, the appearance of poverty [which includes part of its inconveniencies ] being all their security against feeling it in earnest. The country from hence to Adrianople, is the finest in the world. Vines grow wild on all the hills; and the perpetual spring they enjoy makes every thing gay and flourishing. But this climate, happy as it seems, can never be preferred to England, with all its frosts and snows, while we are blessed with an easy government, under a king, who makes his own happiness consist in the liberty of his people, and chuses rather to be looked upon as their father than their master. — This theme would carry me very far, and I am sensible, I have already tired out your R. H.‘s patience. But my letter is in your hands, and you may make it as short as you please, by throwing it into the fire, when weary of reading it. I am, madam,

With the greatest respect, &c.


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