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June 8th.

At five o’clock in the morning we departed, and bent our course towards the Dead Sea. After a ride of two hours we could see it, apparently at such a short distance, that we thought half an hour at the most would bring us there. But the road wound betwixt the mountains, sometimes ascending, sometimes descending, so that it took us another two hours to reach the shore of the lake. All around us was sand. The rocks seem pulverised; we ride through a labyrinth of monotonous sand-heaps and sand-hills, behind which the robber-tribes of Arabs and Bedouins frequently lurk, making this part of the journey exceedingly unsafe.

Before we reach the shore, we ride across a plain consisting, like the rest, of deep sand, so that the horses sink to the fetlocks at every step. On the whole of our way we had not met with a single human being, with the exception of the horde of Bedouins whom we had found encamped in the river-bed: this was a fortunate circumstance for us, for the people whom the traveller meets during these journeys are generally unable to resist the temptation of seizing upon his goods, so that broken bones are frequently the result of such meetings.

The day was very hot (33 degrees Reaum). We encamped in the hot sand on the shore, under the shelter of our parasols, and made our breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, a piece of bad bread, and some lukewarm water. I tasted the sea-water, and found it much more bitter, salt, and pungent than any I have met with elsewhere. We all dipped our hands into the lake, and afterwards suffered the heat of the air to dry them without having first rinsed them with fresh water; not one of us had to complain that this brought forth an itching or an eruption on our hands, as many travellers have asserted. The temperature of the water was 33 degrees Reaum.; in colour it is a pale green. Near the shore the water is to a certain extent transparent; but as it deepens it seems turbid, and the eye can no longer pierce the surface. We could not even see far across the water, for a light mist seemed to rest upon it, thus preventing us from forming a good estimate of its breadth.

To judge from what we could distinguish, however, the Dead Sea does not appear to be very broad; it may rather be termed an oblong lake, shut in by mountains, than a sea. Not the slightest sign of life can be detected in the water; not a ripple disturbs its sleeping surface. A boat of any kind is of course quite out of the question. Some years since, however, an Englishman made an attempt to navigate this lake; for this purpose he caused a boat to be built, but did not progress far in his undertaking, a sickness came upon him, he was carried to Jerusalem, and died soon after he had made the experiment. It is rather a remarkable fact that, up to the present moment, no Englishman has been found who was sufficiently weary of his life to imitate his countryman’s attempt.

Stunted fragments of drift-wood, most probably driven to shore by tempests, lay scattered every where around. We could, however, discover no fields of salt; neither did we see smoke rising, or find the exhalations from the sea unpleasant. These phenomena are perhaps observed at a different season of the year to that in which I visited the Dead Sea. On the other hand, I saw not only separate birds, but sometimes even flights of twelve or fifteen. Vegetation also existed here to a certain extent. Not far from the shore, I noticed, in a little ravine, a group of eight acicular-leaved trees. On this plain there were also some wild shrubs bearing capers, and a description of tall shrub, not unlike our bramble, bearing a plentiful crop of red berries, very juicy and sweet. We all ate largely of them; and I was the more surprised at finding these plants here, as I had found it uniformly stated that animal and vegetable life was wholly extinct on the shores of the Dead Sea.

Five cities, of which not a trace now remains, once lay in the plain now filled by this sea their names were Sodom, Gomorrah, Adama, Zeboin, and Zona. A feeling of painful emotion, mingled with awe, took possession of my soul as I thought of the past, and saw how the works of proud and mighty nations had vanished away, leaving behind them only a name and a memory. It was a relief to me when we prepared, after an hour’s rest, to quit this scene of dreary desolation.

For about an hour and a half we rode through an enormous waste covered with trailing weeds, towards the verdant banks of the Jordan, which are known from a distance by the beautiful blooming green of the meadows that surround it. We halted in the so-called “Jordan-vale,” where our Saviour was baptised by St. John.

The water of the Jordan is of a dingy clay-colour; its course is very rapid. The breadth of this stream can scarcely exceed twenty-five feet, but its depth is said to be considerable. The moment our Arab companions reached the bank, they flung themselves, heated as they were, into the river. Most of the gentlemen followed their example, but less precipitately. I was fain to be content with washing my face, hands, and feet. We all drank to our hearts’ content, for it was long since we had obtained water so cool and fresh. I filled several tin bottles, which I had brought with me for this purpose from Jerusalem, with water from the Jordan, and had them soldered down on my return to the Holy City. This is the only method with which I am acquainted for conveying water to the farthest countries without its turning putrid.

We halted for a few hours beneath the shady trees, and then pursued our journey across the plain. Suddenly a disturbance arose among our Arab protectors; they spoke very anxiously with one another, and continually pointed to some distant object. On inquiring the reason why they were so disturbed, we were told that they saw robbers. We strained our eyes in vain; even with the help of good spy-glasses we could discover nothing, and already began to suspect our escort of having cried “wolf” without reason, or merely to convince us that we had not taken them with us for nothing. But in about a quarter of an hour we could dimly discern figures emerging, one by one, from the far, far distance. Our Bedouins prepared for the combat, and advised us to take the opposite road while they advanced to encounter the enemy. But all the gentlemen wished to take part in the expedition, and joined the Bedouins, lusting for battle. The whole cavalcade rode off at a rapid pace, leaving Count Berchtold and myself behind. But when our steeds saw their companions galloping off in such fiery style, they scorned to remain idly behind, and without consulting our inclinations in the least, they ran of at a pace which fairly took away our breath. The more we attempted to restrain their headlong course, the more rapidly did they pursue their career, so that there appeared every prospect of our becoming the first, instead of the last, among the company. But when the enemy saw such a determined troop advancing to oppose them, they hurried off without awaiting our onset, and left us masters of the field. So we returned in triumph to our old course; when suddenly a wild boar, with its hopeful family, rushed across our path. Away we all went in chase of the poor animals. Count Wratislaw succeeded in cutting down one of the young ones with his sabre, and it was solemnly delivered up to the cook. No further obstacles opposed themselves to our march, and we reached our resting-place for the night without adventure of any kind.

On this occasion I had an opportunity of seeing how the Arabs can manage their horses, and how they can throw their spears and lances in full career, and pick up the lances as they fly by. The horses, too, appear quite different to when they are travelling at their usual sleepy pace. At first sight these horses look any thing but handsome. They are thin, and generally walk at a slow pace, with their heads hanging down. But when skilful riders mount these creatures, they appear as if transformed. Lifting their small graceful heads with the fiery eyes, they throw out their slender feet with matchless swiftness, and bound away over stock and stone with a step so light and yet so secure that accidents very rarely occur. It is quite a treat to see the Arabs exercise. Those who escorted us good-naturedly went through several of their manoeuvres for our amusement.

From the valley of the Jordan to the “Sultan’s Well,” in the vale of Jericho, is a distance of about six miles. The road winds, from the commencement of the valley, through a beautiful natural park of fig-trees and other fruit-trees. Here, too, was the first spot where the eye was gladdened by the sight of a piece of grass, instead of sand and shingle. Such a change is doubly grateful to one who has been travelling so long through the barren, sandy desert.

The village lying beside the Sultan’s Well looks most deplorable. The inhabitants seem rather to live under than above the ground. I went into a few of these hollows. I do not know how else to designate these little stoneheap-houses. Many of them are entirely destitute of windows, the light finding its way through the hole left for an entrance. The interiors contained only straw-mats and a few dirty mattresses, not stuffed with feathers, but with leaves of trees. All the domestic utensils are comprised in a few trenchers and water-jugs: the poor people were clothed in rags. In one corner some grain and a number of cucumbers were stored up. A few sheep and goats were roaming about in the open air. A field of cucumbers lies in front of every house. Our Bedouins were in high glee at finding this valuable vegetable in such abundance. We encamped beside the well, under the vault of heaven.

From the appearance of the valley in its present state, it is easy to conclude, in spite of the poverty of the inhabitants and the air of desolation spread over the farther landscape, that it must once have been very blooming and fertile.

On the right, the naked mountains extend in the direction of the Dead Sea; on the left rises the hill on which Moses completed his earthly career, and from which his great spirit fled to a better world. On the face of the mountain three caves are visible, and in the centre one we were told the Saviour had dwelt during his preparation in the wilderness before undertaking his mission of a teacher. High above these caves towers the summit of the rock from which Satan promised to give our Lord the sovereignty of all the earth if He would fall down and worship him.

Baron Wrede, Mr. Bartlett, and myself were desirous of seeing the interior of one of these caves, and started with this intention; but no sooner did one of our Bedouins perceive what we were about, than he came running up in hot haste to assure us that the whole neighbourhood was unsafe. We therefore turned back, the more willingly as the twilight, or rather sunset, was already approaching.

Twilight in these latitudes is of very short duration. At sunrise the shades of night are changed into the blaze of day as suddenly as the daylight vanishes into night.

Our supper consisted of rather a smoky pilau, which we nevertheless relished exceedingly; for people who have eaten nothing throughout the day but a couple of hard-boiled eggs are seldom fastidious about their fare at night. Besides, we had now beautiful fresh water from the spring, and cucumbers in abundance, though without vinegar or oil. But to what purpose would the unnatural mixture have been? Whoever wishes to travel should first strive to disencumber himself of what is artificial, and then he will get on capitally. The ground was our bed, and the dark blue ether, with its myriads of stars, our canopy. On this journey we had not taken a tent with us.

The aspect of the heavens is most beautiful here in Syria. By day the whole firmament is of a clear azure not a cloud sullies its perfect brightness; and at night it seems spangled with a far greater number of stars than in our northern climes.

Count Zichy ordered the servants to call us betimes in the morning, in order that we might set out before sunrise. For once the servants obeyed; in fact they more than obeyed, for they roused us before midnight, and we began our march. So long as we kept to the plain, all went well; but whenever we were obliged to climb a mountain, one horse after another began to stumble and to stagger, so that we were in continual danger of falling. Under these circumstances it was unanimously resolved that we should halt beneath the next declivity, and there await the coming daylight.

June 9th.

At four o’clock the reveille was beaten for the second time. We had now slept for three hours in the immediate neighbourhood of the Dead Sea, a circumstance of which we were not aware until daybreak: not one of our party had noticed any noxious exhalation arising from the water; still less had we been seized with headache or nausea, an effect stated by several travellers to be produced by the smell of the Dead Sea.

Our journey homewards now progressed rapidly, though for three or four hours we were obliged to travel over most formidable mountain-roads and through crooked ravines. In one of the valleys we again came upon a Bedouin’s camp. We rode up to the tents and asked for a draught of water, instead of which these people very kindly gave us some dishes of excellent buttermilk. In all my life I never partook of any thing with so keen a relish as that with which I drank this cooling beverage after my fatiguing ride in the burning heat. Count Zichy offered our entertainers some money, but they would not take it. The chief stepped forward and shook several of us by the hand in token of friendship; for from the moment when a stranger has broken bread with Bedouins or Arabs, or has applied to them for protection, he is not only safe among their tribe, but they would defend him with life and limb from the attacks of his enemies. Still it is not advisable to meet them on the open plain; so contradictory are their manners and customs.

We were now advancing with great strides towards a more animated, if not a more picturesque landscape, and frequently met and overtook small caravans. One of these had been attacked the previous evening; the poor Arabs had offered a brave resistance, and had beaten off the foe; but one of them was lying half dead upon his camel, with a ghastly shot-wound in his head.

Nimble long-eared goats were diligently searching among the rocks for their scanty food, and a few grottoes or huts of stone announced to us the proximity of a little town or village. Right thankful were we to emerge safely from these fearful deserts into a less sterile and more populous region.

We passed through Bethany, and I visited the cave in which it is said that Lazarus slumbered before he came forth alive at the voice of the Redeemer. Then we journeyed on to Jerusalem by the same road on which the Saviour travelled when the Jewish people shewed their attachment and respect, for the last time, by strewing olive and palm branches in his way. How soon was this scene of holy rejoicing changed to the ghastly spectacle of the Redeemer’s torture and death!

Towards two o’clock in the afternoon we arrived safely at Jerusalem, and were greeted with a hearty welcome by our kind hosts.

A few days after my return from the foregoing excursion, I left Jerusalem for ever. A calm and peaceful feeling of happiness filled my breast; and ever shall I be thankful to the Almighty that He has vouchsafed me to behold these realms. Is this happiness dearly purchased by the dangers, fatigues, and privations attendant upon it? Surely not. And what, indeed, are all the ills that chequer our existence here below to the woes endured by the blessed Founder of our religion! The remembrance of these holy places, and of Him who lived and suffered here, shall surely strengthen and console me wherever I may be and whatever I may be called upon to endure.

From Jerusalem to Beyrout.

My gentleman-protectors wished to journey from Jerusalem to Beyrout by land, and intended taking a circuitous route, by way of Nazareth, Galilee, Canaan, etc., in order to visit as many of these places as possible, which are fraught with such interest to us Christians. They were once more kind enough to admit me into their party, and the 11th of June was fixed for our departure.

June 11th.

Quitting Jerusalem at three o’clock in the afternoon, we emerged from the Damascus Gate, and entered a large elevated plateau. Though this region is essentially a stony one, I saw several stubble-fields, and even a few scanty blades of grass.

The view is very extended; at a distance of four miles the walls of Jerusalem were still in view, till at length the road curved round a hill, and the Holy City was for ever hidden from our sight.

On the left of the road, an old church, said to have been erected in the days of Samuel, stands upon a hill.

At six in the evening we reached the little village of Bir, and fixed our halting-place for the night in a neighbouring stubble-field. During my first journey by land (I mean my ride from Joppa to Jerusalem), I had already had a slight foretaste of what is to be endured by the traveller in these regions. Whoever is not very hardy and courageous, and insensible to hunger, thirst, heat, and cold; whoever cannot sleep on the hard ground, or even on stones, passing the cold nights under the open sky, should not pursue his journey farther than from Joppa to Jerusalem: for, as we proceed, the fatigues become greater and less endurable, and the roads are more formidable to encounter; besides this, the food is so bad that we only eat from fear of starvation; and the only water we can get to drink is lukewarm, and offensive from the leathern jars in which it is kept.

We usually rode for six or seven hours at a time without alighting even for a moment, though the thermometer frequently stood at from 30 to 34 degrees Reaumur. Afterwards we rested for an hour at the most; and this halt was often made in the open plain, where not a tree was in sight. Refreshment was out of the question, either for the riders or the poor beasts, and frequently we had not even water to quench our burning thirst. The horses were compelled to labour unceasingly from sunrise until evening, without even receiving a feed during the day’s journey. The Arabian horse is the only one capable of enduring so much hardship. In the evening these poor creatures are relieved of their burdens, but very seldom of the saddle; for the Arabs assert that it is less dangerous for the horse to bear the saddle day and night, than that it should be exposed when heated by the day’s toil to the cold night-air. Bridles, saddles, and stirrups were all in such bad condition that we were in continual danger of falling to the ground, saddle and all. In fact, this misfortune happened to many of our party, but luckily it was never attended with serious results.

June 12th.

The night was very chilly; although we slept in a tent, our thick cloaks scarcely sufficed to shield us from the night-air. In the morning the fog was so dense that we could not see thirty paces before us. Towards eight o’clock it rolled away, and a few hours later the heat of the sun began to distress us greatly. It is scarcely possible to guard too carefully against the effects of the heat; the head should in particular be kept always covered, as carelessness in this respect may bring on coup de soleil. I always wore two pocket handkerchiefs round my head, under my straw hat, and continually used a parasol.

From Bir to Jabrud, where we rested for a few hours, we travelled for six hours through a monotonous and sterile country. We had still a good four hours’ ride before us to Nablus, our resting-place for the night.

The roads here are bad beyond conception, so that at first the stranger despairs of passing them either on foot or on horseback. Frequently the way leads up hill and down dale, over great masses of rock; and I was truly surprised at the strength and agility of our poor horses, which displayed extraordinary sagacity in picking out the little ledges on which they could place their feet safely in climbing from rock to rock. Sometimes we crossed smooth slabs of stone, where the horses were in imminent danger of slipping; at others, the road led us past frightful chasms, the sight of which was sufficient to make me dizzy. I had read many accounts of these roads, and was prepared to find them bad enough; but my expectations were far surpassed by the reality. All that the traveller can do is to trust in Providence, and abandon himself to fate and to the sagacity of his horse.

An hour and a half before we reached the goal of this day’s journey, we passed the grave of the patriarch Jacob. Had our attention not been particularly drawn to this monument, we should have ridden by without noticing it, for a few scattered blocks of stone are all that remain. A little farther on we enter the Samaritan territory, and here is “Jacob’s well,” where our Saviour held converse with the woman of Samaria. The masonry of the well has altogether vanished, but the spring still gushes forth from a rock.

Nablus, the ancient Sichem, the chief town of Samaria, contains four thousand inhabitants, and is reputed to be one of the most ancient towns in Palestine. It is surrounded by a strong wall, and consists of a long and very dirty street. We rode through the town from one end to the other, and past the poor-looking bazaar, where nothing struck me but the sight of some fresh figs, which were at this early season already exposed for sale. Of course we bought the fruit at once; but it had a very bad flavour.

A number of soldiers are seen in all the towns. They are Arnauts, a wild, savage race of men, who appear to be regarded with more dread by the inhabitants than the wandering tribes whose incursions they are intended to repress.

We pitched our tents on a little hill immediately outside the town. Few things are more disagreeable to the traveller than being compelled to bivouac near a town or village in the East. All the inhabitants, both young and old, flock round in order to examine the European caravan, which is a most unusual sight for them, as closely as possible. They frequently even crowd into the tents, and it becomes necessary to expel the intruders almost by main force. Not only are strangers excessively annoyed at being thus made a gazing-stock, but they also run a risk of being plundered.

Our cook had the good fortune to obtain a kid only three or four days old, which was immediately killed and at once boiled with rice. We made a most sumptuous meal, for it was seldom we could get such good fare.

June 13th.

The morning sun found us already on horseback; we rode through the whole of the beautiful valley at the entrance of which Nablus lies. The situation of this town is very charming. The valley is not broad, and does not exceed a mile and a half in length; it is completely surrounded with low hills. The mountain on the right is called Ebal, and that on the left Grissim. The latter is celebrated as being the meeting-place of the twelve tribes of Israel under Joshua; they there consulted upon the means of conquering the land of Canaan.

The whole valley is sufficiently fertile; even the hills are in some instances covered to their summits with olive, fig, lemon, and orange trees. Some little brooks, clear as crystal, bubble through the beautiful plain. We were frequently compelled to ride through the water; but all the streams are at this season of the year so shallow, that our horses’ hoofs were scarcely covered.

After gaining the summit of the neighbouring hill, we turned round with regret to look our last on this valley; seldom has it been my lot to behold a more charming picture of blooming vegetation.

Two hours more brought us to Sebasta, the ancient Samaria, which also lies on a lovely hill, though for beauty of situation it is not to be compared with Nablus. Sebasta is a wretched village. The ruins of the convent built on the place where St. John the Baptist was beheaded were here pointed out to us; but even of the ruins there are few traces left.

Two hours later we reached Djenin, and had now entered the confines of Galilee. Though this province, perhaps, no longer smiles with the rich produce it displayed in the days of old, it still affords a strong contrast to Judaea. Here we again find hedges of the Indian fig-tree, besides palms and large expanses of field; but for flowers and meadows we still search in vain.

The costume of the Samaritan and Galilean women appears as monotonous as it is poor and dirty. They wear only a long dark-blue gown, and the only difference to be observed in their dress is that some muffle their faces and others do not. It would be no loss if all wore veils; for so few pretty women and girls are to be discovered, that they might be searched for, like the honest man of Diogenes, with a lantern. The women have all an ugly brown complexion, their hair is matted, and their busts lack the rounded fullness of the Turkish women. They have a custom of ornamenting both sides of the head, from the crown to the chin, with a row of silver coins; and those women who do not muffle their faces usually wear as head-dress a handkerchief of blue linen.

Djenin is a dirty little town, which we only entered in consequence of having been told that we should behold the place where Queen Jezebel fell from the window and was devoured by dogs. Both window and palace have almost vanished; but dogs, who look even now as though they could relish such royal prey, are seen prowling about the streets. Not only in Constantinople, but in every city of Syria we found these wild dogs; they were, however, nowhere so numerous as in the imperial city.

We halted for an hour or two outside the town, beside a coffee-house, and threw ourselves on the ground beneath the open sky. A kind of hearth made of masonry, on which hot water was continually in readiness, stood close by, and near it some mounds of earth had been thrown up to serve as divans. A ragged boy was busy pounding coffee, while his father, the proprietor of the concern, concocted the cheering beverage, and handed it round to the guests. Straw-mats were spread for our accommodation on the earthen divans, and without being questioned we were immediately served with coffee and argile. In the background stood a large and lofty stable of brickwork, which might have belonged to a great European inn.

After recruiting ourselves here a little, we once more set forth to finish our day’s journey. Immediately after leaving the town, a remarkably fine view opens before us over the great elevated plain Esdralon, to the magnificent range of mountains enclosing this immense plateau. In the far distance they shewed us Mount Carmel, and, somewhat nearer, Mount Tabor. Here, too, the mountains are mostly barren, without, however, being entirely composed of naked masses of rock. Mount Tabor, standing entirely alone and richly clothed with vegetation, has a very fine appearance.

For nearly two hours we rode across the plain of Esdralon, and had thus ample leisure to meditate upon the great events that have occurred here. It is difficult to imagine a grander battlefield, and we can readily believe that in such a plain whole nations may have struggled for victory. From the time of Nabucodonosor to the period of the Crusades, and from the days of the Crusades to those of Napoleon, armies of men from all nations have assembled here to fight for their real or imaginary rights, or for the glory of conquest.

The great and continuous heat had cracked and burst the ground on this plain to such a degree, that we were in continual apprehension lest our horses should catch their feet in one or other of the fissures, and strain or even break them. The soil of the plain seems very good, and is free from stones; it appears, however, generally to lie fallow, being thickly covered with weeds and wild artichokes. The villages are seen in the far distance near the mountains. This plain forms part of Canaan.

We pitched our camp for the night beside a little cistern, near the wretched village of Lagun; and thus slept, for the third night consecutively, on the hard earth.

June 14th.

To-day we rode for an hour across the plain of Esdralon, and once more suffered dreadfully from the stings of the minute gnats which had annoyed us so much on our journey from Joppa to Ramla. These plagues did not leave us until we had partly ascended the mountains skirting the plain, from the summit of which we could see Nazareth, prettily built on a hill at the entrance of a fruitful valley. In the background rises the beautiful Mount Tabor.

From the time we first see Nazareth until we reach the town is a ride of an hour and a half; thus the journey from Lagun to Nazareth occupies four hours and a half, and the entire distance from Jerusalem twenty-six or twenty-seven hours.