Read CHAPTER I. of A Visit to the Holy Land, free online book, by Ida Pfeiffer, on

I had for years cherished the wish to undertake a journey to the Holy Land; years are, indeed, required to familiarise one with the idea of so hazardous an enterprise. When, therefore, my domestic arrangements at length admitted of my absence for at least a year, my chief employment was to prepare myself for this journey. I read many works bearing on the subject, and was moreover fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a gentleman who had travelled in the Holy Land some years before. I was thus enabled to gain much oral information and advice respecting the means of prosecuting my dangerous pilgrimage.

My friends and relations attempted in vain to turn me from my purpose by painting, in the most glowing colours, all the dangers and difficulties which await the traveller in those regions. “Men,” they said, “were obliged gravely to consider if they had physical strength to endure the fatigues of such a journey, and strength of mind bravely to face the dangers of the plague, the climate, the attacks of insects, bad diet, etc. And to think of a woman’s venturing alone, without protection of any kind, into the wide world, across sea and mountain and plain, it was quite preposterous.” This was the opinion of my friends.

I had nothing to advance in opposition to all this but my firm unchanging determination. My trust in Providence gave me calmness and strength to set my house in every respect in order. I made my will, and arranged all my worldly affairs in such a manner that, in the case of my death (an event which I considered more probable than my safe return), my family should find every thing perfectly arranged.

And thus, on the 22d of March 1842, I commenced my journey from Vienna.

At one o’clock in the afternoon I drove to the Kaisermuhlen (Emperor’s Mills), from which place the steamboats start for Pesth. I was joyfully surprised by the presence of several of my relations and friends, who wished to say farewell once more. The parting was certainly most bitter, for the thought involuntarily obtruded itself, “Should we ever meet again in this world?”

Our mournful meditations were in some degree disturbed by a loud dispute on board the vessel. At the request of a gentleman present, one of the passengers was compelled, instead of flying, as he had intended, with bag and baggage to Hungary, to return to Vienna in company of the police. It appeared he owed the gentleman 1300 florins, and had wished to abscond, but was luckily overtaken before the departure of the boat. This affair was hardly concluded when the bell rang, the wheels began to revolve, and too soon, alas, my dear ones were out of sight!

I had but few fellow-passengers. The weather was indeed fine and mild; but the season was not far enough advanced to lure travellers into the wide world, excepting men of business, and those who had cosmopolitan ideas, like myself. Most of those on board were going only to Presburg, or at farthest to Pesth. The captain having mentioned that a woman was on board who intended travelling to Constantinople, I was immediately surrounded by curious gazers. A gentleman who was bound to the same port stepped forward, and offered his services in case I should ever stand in need of them; he afterwards frequently took me under his protection.

The fine mild weather changed to cold and wind as we got fairly out into the great Danube. I wrapped myself in my cloak, and remained on deck, in order to see the scenery between Vienna and Presburg, which, no doubt, appears lovely enough when nature is clad in the garment of spring; but now I only saw leafless trees and fallow ground a dreary picture of winter.

Hainburg with its old castle on a rock, Theben with its remarkable fortress, and farther on the large free city of Presburg, have all a striking appearance.

In three hours’ time we reached Presburg, and landed in the neighbourhood of the Coronation-hill, an artificial mound, on which the king must stand in his royal robes, and brandish his sword towards the four quarters of the heavens, as a token that he is ready to defend his kingdom against all enemies, from whatever direction they may approach. Not far from this hill is situate the handsome inn called the “Two Green Trees,” where the charges are as high, if not higher, than in Vienna. Until we have passed Pesth, passengers going down the river are not allowed to remain on board through the night.

March 23d.

This morning we continued our journey at six o’clock. Immediately below Presburg the Danube divides into two arms, forming the fertile island of Schutt, which is about forty-six miles long and twenty-eight in breadth. Till we reach Gran the scenery is monotonous enough, but here it improves. Beautiful hills and several mountains surround the place, imparting a charm of variety to the landscape.

In the evening, at about seven o’clock, we arrived at Pesth. Unfortunately it was already quite dark. The magnificent houses, or rather palaces, skirting the left bank of the Danube, and the celebrated ancient fortress and town of Ofen on the right, form a splendid spectacle, and invite the traveller to a longer sojourn. As I had passed some days at Pesth several years before, I now only stayed there for one night.

As the traveller must change steamers here, it behoves him to keep a careful eye upon the luggage he has not delivered up at the office in Vienna.

I put up at the “Hunting-horn,” a fine hotel, but ridiculously expensive. A little back room cost me 45 kreutzers (about one shilling and eightpence) for one night.

The whole day I had felt exceedingly unwell. A violent headache, accompanied by nausea and fever, made me fear the approach of a fit of illness which would interrupt my journey. These symptoms were probably a consequence of the painful excitement of parting with my friends, added to the change of air. With some difficulty I gained my modest chamber, and immediately went to bed. My good constitution was luckily proof against the attacks of all enemies, and waking the next morning, on

March 24th,

in tolerable health, I betook myself on board our new steamboat the Galata, of sixty-horse power: this boat did not, however, appear to me so tidy and neat as the Marianna, in which we had proceeded from Vienna to Pesth. Our journey was a rapid one; at ten o’clock in the morning we were already at Feldvar, a place which seems at a distance to be of some magnitude, but which melts away like a soap-bubble on a nearer approach. By two o’clock we had reached Paks; here, as at all other places of note, we stopped for a quarter of an hour. A boat rows off from the shore, bringing and fetching back passengers with such marvellous speed, that you have scarcely finished the sentence you are saying to your neighbour before he has vanished. There is no time even to say farewell.

At about eight o’clock in the evening we reached the market-town of Mohacs, celebrated as the scene of two battles. The fortress here is used as a prison for criminals. We could distinguish nothing either of the fortress or the town. It was already night when we arrived, and at two o’clock in the morning of

March 25th

we weighed anchor. I was assured, however, that I had lost nothing by this haste.

Some hours afterwards, our ship suddenly struck with so severe a shock, that all hastened on deck to see what was the matter. Our steersman, who had most probably been more asleep than awake, had given the ship an unskilful turn, in consequence of which, one of the paddles was entangled with some trunks of trees projecting above the surface of the water. The sailors hurried into the boats, the engine was backed, and after much difficulty we were once more afloat.

Stopping for a few moments at Dalina and Berkara, we passed the beautiful ruin of Count Palffy’s castle at about two o’clock. The castle of Illok, situate on a hill, and belonging to Prince Odescalchi, presents a still more picturesque appearance.

At about four o’clock we landed near the little free town of Neusatz, opposite the celebrated fortress of Peterwardein, the outworks of which extend over a tongue of land stretching far out into the Danube. Of the little free town of Neusatz we could not see much, hidden as it is by hills which at this point confine the bed of the river. The Danube is here crossed by a bridge of boats, and this place also forms the military boundary of Austria. The surrounding landscape appeared sufficiently picturesque; the little town of Karlowitz, lying at a short distance from the shore, among hills covered with vineyards, has a peculiarly good effect. Farther on, however, as far as Semlin, the scenery is rather monotonous. Here the Danube already spreads itself out to a vast breadth, resembling rather a lake than a river.

At nine o’clock at night we reached the city of Semlin, in the vicinity of which we halted. Semlin is a fortified place, situated at the junction of the Save with the Danube; it contains 13,000 inhabitants, and is the last Austrian town on the right bank of the Danube.

On approaching Semlin, a few small cannons were fired off on board our boat. Unfortunately the steward did not receive notice of this event early enough to allow of his opening the windows, consequently one was shattered: this was a serious misfortune for us, as the temperature had sunk to zero, and all the landscape around was covered with snow. Before leaving Vienna, the cabin stove had been banished from its place, as the sun had sent forth its mild beams for a few days, and a continuance of the warm weather was rashly relied on. On the whole, I would not advise any traveller to take a second-class berth on board a steamer belonging to the Viennese company. A greater want of order than we find in these vessels could scarcely be met with. The traveller whose funds will not permit of his paying first-class fare will do better to content himself with a third-class, i.e. a deck-passage, particularly if he purposes journeying no farther than Mohacs. If the weather is fine, it is more agreeable to remain on deck, watching the panorama of the Danube as it glides past. Should the day be unfavourable, the traveller can go, without ceremony, into the second-class cabin, for no one makes a distinction between the second and third-class places. During the daytime, at any rate, it is quite as agreeable to remain on deck as to venture below. Travelling down the river from Pesth, the women are compelled to pass the night in the same cabin with the men; an arrangement as uncomfortable as it is indecorous. I afterwards had some experience of steamers belonging to the Austrian Lloyds, on whose vessels I always found a proper separation of the two sexes, and a due regard for the comfort of second-class passengers.

The cold was so severe, that we would gladly have closed every window, but for the close atmosphere engendered by the number of poor people, mostly Jews, who form the larger portion of passengers on board a Hungarian steamer. When the weather is unfavourable, these men are accustomed to hasten from their third-class places to those of the second class, where their presence renders it immediately desirable to open every outlet for purposes of ventilation. What the traveller has to endure on board these vessels would scarcely be believed. Uncushioned benches serve for seats by day and for beds by night. A separation of the two sexes is nowhere attempted, not even on board the Ferdinand, in which you enter the Black Sea, and are exposed to the merciless attacks of sea-sickness.

Considering the high rate of passage-money demanded on this journey, I really think the traveller might expect better accommodation. The first-class to Constantinople costs 120 florins, the second 85 florins, exclusive of provisions, and without reckoning the hotel expenses at Presburg.

March 26th.

Last night was not a period of rest, but of noise for us travellers.
Not one of us could close his eyes.

Semlin is a place of considerable importance as a commercial town: above 180 cwt. of goods were unloaded here from our vessel; and in exchange we took on board coals, wood, and wares of various descriptions. The damaged wheel, too, had to be repaired; and every thing was done with so much crashing and noise, that we almost imagined the whole steamer was coming to pieces. Added to this, the cold wind drove in continually through the broken pane, and made the place a real purgatory to us. At length, at six o’clock in the morning, we got afloat once more. One advantage, however, resulted from this fortuitous stoppage: we had a very good view of Belgrade, a town of 20,000 inhabitants, situate opposite to Semlin. It is the first Turkish fortified city in Servia.

The aspect of Belgrade is exceedingly beautiful. The fortifications extend upwards on a rock from the Danube in the form of steps. The city itself, with its graceful minarets, lies half a mile farther inland. Here I saw the first mosques and minarets. The mosques, as far as I could observe from the steamer, are built in a circular form, not very high, and surmounted by a cupola flanked by one or two minarets, a kind of high round pillar. The loftiest among these buildings is the palace of Prince Milosch. From this point our voyage becomes very interesting, presenting a rich and varied succession of delightful landscape-views. The river is hemmed in on either side by mountains, until it spreads itself forth free and unrestrained, in the neighbourhood of Pancsova, to a breadth of 800 fathoms.

Pancsova, on the left bank of the Danube, in the territory of Banata, is a military station.

As the stoppages are only for a few moments, little opportunity is afforded of seeing the interior of the towns, or of visiting most of the places at which we touch. At such times all is hurry and confusion; suddenly the bell rings, the planks are withdrawn, and the unlucky stranger who has loitered on board for a few moments is obliged to proceed with us to the next station.

At Neusatz this happened to a servant, in consequence of his carrying his master’s luggage into the cabin instead of merely throwing it down on the deck. The poor man was conveyed on to Semlin, and had to travel on foot for a day and a half to regain his home. A very pleasant journey of two hours from Pancsova brought us to the Turkish fortress Semendria, the situation of which is truly beautiful. The numerous angles of its walls and towers, built in the Moorish style, impart to this place a peculiar charm. As a rule, the Turkish fortresses are remarkable for picturesque effect.

But the villages, particularly those on the Servian shore, had the same poverty-stricken look I had frequently noticed in Galicia. Wretched clay huts, thatched with straw, lay scattered around; and far and wide not a tree or a shrub appeared to rejoice the eye of the traveller or of the sojourner in these parts, under the shade of which the poor peasant might recruit his weary frame, while it would conceal from the eye of the traveller, in some degree, the poverty and nakedness of habitations on which no feeling mind can gaze without emotions of pity.

The left bank of the river belongs to Hungary, and is called the “Banat;” it presents an appearance somewhat less desolate. Much, however, remains to be desired; and the poverty that reigns around is here more to be wondered at, from the fact that this strip of land is so rich in the productions of nature as to have obtained the name of the “Garner of Hungary.”

On the Austrian side of the Danube sentries are posted at every two or three hundred paces an arrangement which has been imitated by the governments on the left bank, and is carried out to the point where the river empties itself into the Black Sea.

It would, however, be erroneous to suppose that these soldiers mount guard in their uniforms. They take up their positions, for a week at a time, in their wretched tattered garments; frequently they are barefoot, and their huts look like stables. I entered some of these huts to view the internal arrangements. They could scarcely have been more simple. In one corner I found a hearth; in another, an apology for a stove, clumsily fashioned out of clay. An unsightly hole in the wall, stopped with paper instead of glass, forms the window; the furniture is comprised in a single wooden bench. Whatever the inhabitant requires in the way of provisions he must bring with him; for this he is allowed by the government to cultivate the land.

Throughout the Russian territory the soldiers at least wear uniform.

Our journey becomes more and more charming. Frequently the mighty river rushes foaming and roaring past the rocks, which seem scarcely to allow it a passage; at other times it glides serenely onwards. At every turn we behold new beauties, and scarcely know on which side to turn our eager eyes. Meanwhile the ship sails swiftly on, gliding majestically through wildly romantic scenery.

At one o’clock in the afternoon we reached Pasiest, where there is nothing to be seen but a large store of coals for the steamers and a few huts. Of the town itself nothing can be distinguished.

A couple of miles below Pasiest we enjoy an imposing spectacle. It is the solitary rock Babakay, rising from the midst of the waters. Together with the beautiful ruin Golumbacz, on the Servian shore, it forms a magnificent view.

March 27th.

How unfortunate it is that all advantages are so seldom found combined! We are now travelling amid glorious scenery, which we hoped should recompense us for the manifold discomforts we have hitherto endured; but the weather is unpropitious. The driving snow sends us all into the cabin. The Danube is so fiercely agitated by the stormy wind, that it rises into waves like a sea. We are suffering lamentably from cold; unable to warm ourselves, we stand gazing ruefully at the place where the stove stood once upon a time.

At four o’clock we reached Drenkova without accident, but completely benumbed: we hurried into the inn built by the steamboat company, where we found capital fare, a warm room, and tolerably comfortable beds. This was the first place we had reached since leaving Pesth at which we could thoroughly warm and refresh ourselves.

At Drenkova itself there is nothing to be seen but the inn just mentioned and a barrack for soldiers. We were here shewn the vessel which was wrecked, with passengers on board, in 1839, in a journey up the Danube. Eight persons who happened to be in the cabin lost their lives, and those only who were on deck were saved.

March 28th.

Early in the morning we embarked on board the Tunte, a vessel furnished with a cabin. The bed of the Danube is here more and more hemmed in by mountains and rocks, so that in some places it is not above eighty fathoms broad, and glides with redoubled swiftness towards its goal, the Pontus Euxinus or Black Sea.

On account of the falls which it is necessary to pass, between Drenkova and Fetislav, the steamer must be changed for a small sailing vessel. The voyage down the stream could indeed be accomplished without danger, but the return would be attended with many difficulties. The steamers, therefore, remain behind at Drenkova, and passengers are conveyed down the river in barks, and upwards (since the accident of 1839) in good commodious carriages.

To-day the cold was quite as severe as it had been yesterday so that but for the politeness of a fellow-passenger, who lent me his bunda (great Hungarian fur), I should have been compelled to remain in the little cabin, and should thus have missed the most interesting points of the Danube. As it was, however, I wrapped myself from head to foot in the fur cloak, took my seat on a bench outside the cabin, and had full leisure to store my memory with a succession of lovely scenery, presenting almost the appearance of a series of lake views, which continued equally picturesque until we had almost reached Alt-Orsova.

A couple of miles below Drenkova, near Islas, the sailors suddenly cried, “The first fall!” I looked up in a fever of expectation. The water was rising in small waves, the stream ran somewhat faster, and a slight rushing sound was to be heard. If I had not been told that the Danube forms a waterfall here, I should certainly never have suspected it to be the case. Between Lenz and Krems I did not find either the rocks or the power of the stream much more formidable. We had, however, a high tide, a circumstance which diminishes both the danger of the journey and the sublimity of the view. The numerous rocky points, peering threateningly forth at low tide, among which the steersman must pick his way with great care, were all hidden from our sight. We glided safely over them, and in about twenty minutes had left the first fall behind us. The two succeeding falls are less considerable.

On the Austro-Wallachian side a road extends over a distance of fourteen to sixteen miles, frequently strengthened with masonry, and at some points hewn out of the solid rock. In the midst of this road, on a high wall of rock, we see the celebrated “Veteran Cave,” one of the most impregnable points on the banks of the Danube. It is surrounded by redoubts, and is admirably calculated to command the passage of the river. This cave is said to be sufficiently spacious to contain 500 men. So far back as the time of the Romans it was already used as a point of defence for the Danube. Some five miles below it we notice the “Trajan’s Tablet,” hewn out of a protruding rock.

On the Turco-Servian side the masses of rock jut out so far into the stream, that no room is left for a footway. Here the famous Trajan’s Road once existed. No traces of this work remain, save that the traveller notices, for fifteen or twenty miles, holes cut here and there in the rock. In these holes strong trunks of trees were fastened; these supported the planks of which the road is said to have been formed.

At eleven in the forenoon we reached Alt-Orsova, the last Austrian town on the military frontier of Banata or Wallachia. We were obliged to remain here for half a day.

The town has rather a pretty effect, being composed mostly of new houses. The house belonging to the steamboat company is particularly remarkable. It is not, however, devoted to the accommodation of travellers, as at Drenkova. Here, as at Presburg and Pesth, each passenger is required to pay for his night’s expenses, an arrangement which I could not help finding somewhat strange, inasmuch as every passenger is made to pay twice; namely, for his place on the steamer and for his room in the inn.

It was Sunday when we arrived, and I saw many people proceeding to church. The peasants are dressed tolerably neatly and well. Both men and women wear long garments of blue cloth. The women have on their heads large handkerchiefs of white linen, which hang down their backs, and on their feet stout boots; the men wear round felt hats, and sandals made of the bark of trees.

March 29th.

After having completely refreshed ourselves at the good inn called the “Golden Stag,” we this morning embarked on a new craft, the Saturnus, which is only covered in overhead, and is open on all sides.

So soon as a traveller has stepped upon this vessel he is looked upon as unclean, and may not go on shore without keeping quarantine: an officer accompanied us as far as Galatz.

Immediately below Alt-Orsova we entirely quit the Austrian territory.

We are now brought nearer every moment to the most dangerous part of the river, the “Iron Gate,” called by the Turks Demir kaju. Half an hour before we reached the spot, the rushing sound of the water announced the perilous proximity. Numerous reefs of rocks here traverse the stream, and the current runs eddying among them.

We passed this dangerous place in about fifteen minutes. Here, at the Iron Gate, the high tide befriended us, as it did at the former falls.

I found these falls, and indeed almost every thing we passed, far below the anticipations I had formed from reading descriptions, frequently of great poetic beauty. I wish to represent every thing as I found it, as it appeared before my eyes; without adornment indeed, but truly.

After passing the Iron Gate we come to a village, in the neighbourhood of which some fragments of the Trajan’s Bridge can be discerned at low water.

The country now becomes flatter, particularly on the left bank, where extend the immense plains of Wallachia, and the eye finds no object on which it can rest. On the right hand rise terrace-like rows of hills and mountains, and the background is bounded by the sharply-defined lines of the Balkan range, rendered celebrated by the passage of the Russians in 1829. The villages, scattered thinly along the banks, become more and more miserable; they rather resemble stables for cattle than human dwellings. The beasts remain in the open fields, though the climate does not appear to be much milder than with us in Austria; for to-day, nearly at the beginning of April, the thermometer stood one degree below zero, and yesterday we had only five degrees of warmth (reckoning by Reaumur).

The expeditious and easy manner in which cattle are here declared to be free from the plague also struck me as remarkable. When the creatures are brought from an infected place to one pronounced healthy, the ship is brought to some forty or fifty paces from the shore, and each animal is thrown into the water and driven towards the bank, where people are waiting to receive it. After this simple operation the beasts are considered free from infectious matter.

Cattle-rearing seems to be here carried on to a considerable extent. Everywhere I noticed large herds of horned beasts and many buffaloes. Numerous flocks of goats and sheep also appear.

On the Saturnus we travelled at the most for two hours, after which we embarked, opposite the fortress of Fetislav, on board the steamer Zriny.

At five o’clock in the evening we passed the fortress of Widdin, opposite which we stopped, in the neighbourhood of the town of Callafat. It was intended merely to land goods here, and then to proceed immediately on our voyage; but the agent was nowhere to be found, and so we poor travellers were made the victims of this carelessness, and compelled to remain here at anchor all night.

March 30th.

As the agent had not yet made his appearance, the captain had no choice but to leave the steward behind to watch over the goods. At half-past six in the morning the engines were at length set in motion, and after a very agreeable passage of six hours we reached Nicopolis.

All the Turkish fortresses on the Danube are situated on the right bank, mostly amid beautiful scenery. The larger towns and villages are surrounded by gardens and trees, which give them a very pleasant appearance. The interior of these towns, however, is said not to be quite so inviting as one would suppose from a distant view, for it is asserted that dirty narrow streets, dilapidated houses, etc., offend the stranger’s sight at every step. We did not land at any of these fortresses or towns; for us the right bank of the river was a forbidden paradise; so we only saw what was beautiful, and escaped being disenchanted.

Rather late in the evening we cast anchor opposite a village of no note.