Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

AN EXCURSION TO DAMASCUS AND BA'ALBEK.

PART SECOXD.

Now call unto me all the prophets of Ba'al, all his servants, and all his priests; let Done be wanting: for I have a great sacrifice to do to Ba'al. And all the worshippers of Ba'al came, and the house of Ba'al was full from one end to another. And Jehu said to the captains and the guard: Go in and slay them; let none come forth! And they smote them with the edge of the sword, and cast them out, and brought forth the images from the house of Ba'al and burned them, and brake down the temple, and made it a draughtrhouse to this day.—2 Kings X. 19-27.

The distance between Damascus and Ba'albek is eighteen hours, or forty-five miles, and is generally accomplished in Avo days. The road winds through the .-alleys and plateaus of Jebel-Zebdany, he northern part of the Anti-Lebanon, a :ountry more fertile and interesting than hat through which the traveller passes on he caravan route by Demas. The morning >f the 24th of May was cool and agreeable. V'e left the Italian hotel at an early hour, nd following the road through the subrbs and gardens, we, on the height of Saihieh, took our last farewell of the happy lain of Damascus. The ascent above alahieh is rough and deeply furrowed irough the limestone rock. On our left as the pass of Rabah, through which tc foaming Burrada forces its passage iwards the Ghutah. A frightful precipice, veral hundred feet high, here overhangs e glen, to which we descended by a ciritous road ; and in an hour we arrived at e large village of Dummar, where we ossed the river on a stone bridge. The undance of water which is led oft0 rough the gardens by numberless chanIs, the rich, loamy soil, and the deep lenture of the valley, protected on the rth and west by ridges of the Anti-Leban, give a tropical luxuriance to the rotation. Immense plantains, poplars, 1 fig, walnut, and chestnut trees, inliiced with vines, overhang the banks of

river, and continue for miles to form a lse and beautiful grove along the road, t instead of following the sinuosities of Jy-Burrada, we once more crossed the .-am, »nd ascended to the barren and ary table-land el-Jedid. The wind blew bly down from the snow-topped Mount -moD, and we again experienced one of oi~ IX- N0< ni- NBW Series. 16

those astonishing transitions in temperature from the Egyptian heat of the valley, to the Alpine chilliness of the plateau. We were surrounded by distant mountains. North-west the high ruddy peaks of NebyAbel gradually rose on our sight, as we in four hours approached the village el-Huseiniyeh, lying on the steep offset of the mountain, in an elevated position above the valley of the Burrada. On its opposite bank, amidst groves of fruit-trees, appeared the convent el-Kanun and several villages. This place is celebrated in Arab tradition. Cain, say the Arabs, having slain his brother, at the altar of Kashioun, in the Ghutah, north of Damascus, where the first parents then dwelt, took the corpse on his shoulders, and not knowing what to do with his brother, whose profound sleep did not yield to his exertions to awaken him, he wandered lamenting along the banks of the river. There he saw a raven scraping, with his beak, a hole in the earth, in which he buried one of his own species; and this suggested to Cain the idea, that the rigid sleep of his brother required a different couch from usual. He then dug a grave on the mountain as a resting-place for the dead. A monument on the top of the mountain was supposed to be the tomb of Abel.

After an hour's delay at the mill of elHuseiniyeh, we continued our route between the mountain and the steep bank of the river, and soon arrived at the highly romantic pass of Suk-Wady-Burrada. In the very mouth of the defile are situated two villages in an elevated position above the river, which runs between them. The houses on both sides stand grouped on terraces descending rapidly to the channel of the boiling and foaming river below. Through a dark and narrow street, the only passage, we turned to the left and arrived at the strait of the pass Suk-Burrada, where an arched stone bridge crosses over to the left bank. Bare and cleft rocks of an immense altitude inclosed us on all sides, and only a navrow path on the river side, where a few resolute men might stop a whole army, led northward through the defile to the open plain of Zebdany. On the precipitous flanks of the mountains are many sepulchral chambers excavated in the rock, which seem inaccessible without the application of ropes and scaling ladders. The portals of these sepulchres or Troglodytic dwellings are ornamented with columns and mutilated statues in relief. Near the bridge is a staircase cut in the rock, and many fragments of columns and square blocks are scattered about. This appears to have been the necropolis or cemetery of the ancient city of Abila, which in antiquity defended the pass of the Chrysorrhoas. It was the residence of the tetrarchs or princes of Abilene, a principality extending over the Anti-Lebanon, and the north-eastern parts of Palestine, together with the Auranitis (Hauran) and the plain of Damascus. Herod the Great afterwards took possession of the southern districts of Abilene, while Lysanias, the tetrarch, was circumscribed to the northern part of the Anti-Lebanon. Abila was a strong fortress in a nearly impregnable position.* Interesting ruins of the castle, of an ancient temple, and other large structures, are still to be seen on the summit of the mountain above the pass, and have, no doubt, given rise to the Arabian name and tradition of Neby-Abel.

It was a pleasant afternoon. The deep shadows of the barren, reddish-brown precipices in the depth of the defile, and the brilliantly illuminated heights, rearing their peaks in strange and fantastic forms against the azure sky above, rendered the Suk-Burrada the most sombre and wildlooking, but at the same time the most picturesque spot wc had yet seen in the whole range of the Anti-Lebanon; and we would have been glad to stop in the village, if we had not expected to find still

* St. Luke iii. 1; Joseph Antiq. Jud. xx. 7; xvii. 11; xix. 5. The city was called Abila of Lytanias, to distinguish it from another of the same name, -■nuated on the banks of the Hieromax in Persea.

better quarters among the hospitable Christians of the pretty little town of Zebdany further on in the plain.

We now arrived at the northern opening of the pass; the mountains at once receded, and a verdant, well-cultivated plain extended before us. Here the Btirradi, flowing in a broad and quiet bed from the upper plain, forms a beautiful waterfall, and rushes chafing and roaring into the deep, rocky channel of the glen.

We now left the muleteers with the luggage behind, and pressed on at full spew on a broad, level road, which appeared to be in as good a condition as any on th* continent of Europe. It runs among fields of maize, dhurra, and wheat, inclosed with hedges of briar-roses, hawthorn, or sycamores, often interspersed with poplars aaJ fruit-trees. This sight is so rare in the East, and so contrary to the usages of .'indolent inhabitants, that I almost fancied myself transported back to the ruiil scenery of England or Germany. Th* landscape became more and more cheerful and animated; herds of cattle and sh«p were grazing on the banks of the Bumdi. Mudaya, Ba'a-ain, and other hamlets wa< here and there situated on the dstsi heights of Jebel-Zebdany. Nowhere z the Anti-Lebanon does the traveller mewith so much industry and prosperity *■■ in this happy plain, which forms, as s were, an oasis of verdure among it* bwi. and desert regions. The inhat: :Ls ;. their fields by oxen; they stable tLcir <•* tie during winter, and irrigate their «-" chards by artificial ditches, which th r across the fields with much labor and-. pense. The gardens now thioBjB to forest, and beneath a canopy of pear ~ walnut trees, we entered es-Zebdany, » principal town of the plain. It has a •- lightful situation on the banks of ttase*river Zebdany, which a few miles be** unites with the Burrada. Our Araba i us that there was no caravan-serai p village. Since the destruction of 1 there is but little communication Damascus and the northern coast by the valley of Zebdany. \\\stopped at the house of the Tall, a kind-looking old man. wit white beard floating over his received us with tbe courteon* ba-bik, lln wadjes!''—Welcome to

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

tlemen !—and presently offered us a small, dark, but clean room, opening on the court md garden in the rear of the house. Our irivers soon came up with the sumpters, mil all was now bustle and activity in the juiet house of the old sheik. According :o my custom, I ordered my own tent to )e pitched beneath the peach-trees in the warden, because I always preferred to spend he cool and fragrant nights d la belle etoile. The sheik's house stood near the bank of he rivulet, which winds through the vilage, and is led off through the gardens iround. In front of the house the stream bnns a small cove, overhung by immense tnotty and far-spreading plantains, where i wooden platform, covered with carpets nd cushions in the Oriental style, has been aised in the river on piles fixed in its bed. "his is a charming place, where the worthy heik would often pass the sultry hours of he day, smoking his nargile's, and enjoyag the refreshing coolness and pleasant Qiirmurs of the brook. Here, too, we eceived the visits of the well-dressed and wxl-natured villagers, who were as inquiitive as the Maronites of Mount Lebanon, iut less ignorant and troublesome.

Heby-Tall was an intelligent and talkaive man. He told me that his family for lany years had ruled this village, contain5g six hundred souls, and some other disricts of the plain. He bitterly complained f the exactions of the Turkish Governor f Damascus, though he appeared to have uffered still more during the military ocapation of Ibrahim-Pasha, by the continal forays of his troops, quartered in the eighboring plain of Ba'albek. The mornig of the 25 th of May was fresh and >vely. The atmosphere was filled with ic perfume of the small yellow flowers f the oleaster or zizyphia, as the Greeks ill it, which fences the gardens all around le village. The sheik took me to the terice of the house where the silk-worms are ept, the raw silk of which is a principal :>urcc of revenue to the inhabitants of <?bdany. The view over the plain and istant mountain was most delightful, he sun had just risen above the steep nd nigged Kurun-es-Zcbdany, or *'the tmu," and skirting the broad valley on le east, glowed on the huge snowapped crest of the majestic Hermon, wiring high above all the nearer ridges

on the south. On our return, Mustapha had served our excellent breakfast, consisting of coffee, fresh milk, eggs, and hot cakes, beneath the fruit-trees of the garden, while the muleteers were preparing for departure.

Taking leave of our hospitable landlord, we continued our route in a northern direction towards the last ridge of the AntiLebanon and the valley of Ba'albek. We followed the banks of the Zebdany river, which we at the time supposed to be the Burrada; but we learned on the road that this river has its head-source in the western mountains, at a distance of three miles from the village. We then approached the rugged Kurun-es-Zebdany, where a stream forms a fine waterfall, descends foaming and splashing into the valley below, drives several water-mills, and joins its more quiet companion in the plain. la an hour we ascended to the high tableland of el-Sorgheia, and passed another well-built village, surrounded, like Zebdany, by mulberry groves, orchards, and cultivated fields. It lies on the water-shed of the Anti-Lebanon, four thousand feet above the level of the Mediterranean, though according to appearance, several ridges seem to divide it from the plain of Ba'albek. Before us on the north lay the blooming valley of Yafufeh, to which we now descended through a steep and romantic pass. Another copious brook here forms a cascade ; and following the sinuosities of the mountains, it forces its passage through a gap in the western ridge, and discharges itself in the Litany, (Leontes,) near elMerdj, on the caravan route to Beirut. The Wady-Yafufeh soon straitened to a narrow dell, encompassed by precipitous, dark-colored rocks. The river flowed through a thicket of plantains, willows, and poplars, which often blocked up our passage, and forced us in many places to ford the stream. In an hour and a half, we at last emerged from the forest on a small and verdant plain, in front of the last high and rocky barrier of the Anti-Lebanon, overhanging the plain of Ba'albek. This last mountain-belt burst upon us quite unexpectedly, as we had anticipated an easy descent to the Buka'a, but now, to our astonishment, found another barren and rugged ridge before us. The sun was extremely hot in this cul-de-sac, and our horses were so much jaded from the long and toilsome passage through the copsewood, that we encamped beneath the trees at a short distance from the ruinous and abandoned village of Yafufeh. The whole distance from the plateau of Sorgheia down to the Buka'a is uninhabited, and we did not meet a single human being on the road.

In the afternoon we climbed the steep ascent on our right. The path ran in sharp and short turns to a considerable height. The summit was bleak and bare, appeared as if rent by an earthquake, and was strewn over with immense detached rocks, between which a most lovely view opened upon the broad valley of the Buka'a and the more distant Lebanon. Light fleecy clouds were covering the summits of Jebel-Sunnin; yet, far off in the northwest, the huge Jebel-Makmel pierced boldly through the vapors hanging round its flanks, and pointed out to us the direction of our route to the cedar-forest and the city of Tripolis. The nearer offsets of the Anti-Lebanon cut off the prospect towards Ba'albek, but the lower plain, with the silver stripe of the river Litany winding along its verdant fields, was distinctly visible for many miles.

There is a highly remarkable difference in the aspect of these two parallel mountain-ridges. Some of the higher regions of the Anti-Lebanon are covered with forests, while those of Lebanon are totally bare. The general outline of the former is neariy uniform, except on the south, where the gigantic Jebel-es-Sheik, forming in reality the central mass of both ridges, rises high above the loftiest summits of the Lebanon, being elevated more than nine thousand feet above the level of the Mediterranean. Its huge dome is covered with snow during the greater part of the year, and in its chasms this never disappears. This mountain forms the most striking object in the scenery of Syria. It is seen far off on the sea and from Mount Garizim in Samaria, at a distance of more than eighty miles. It appears as an immense giant, stretching forth towards the north both his mighty arms, the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon. The direct breadth of the latter is only one day's journey on the caravan route by Demas, though the more circuitous road along the Burrada to Ba'albek is double that length. The western

slope of the Anti-Lebanon towards tLBuka'a is steep, and in some places preeipitous. The eastern, on the contrary, forss a succession of narrow plateaus, which iy furrowed by fertile valleys, and des-sai gradually down to the plain of Damscithe last terrace, whose numerous streaalose themselves in the desert.

The Lebanon, on the contrary, has qi'; a different physiognomy. Throughout rfull length from north to south, it pitsents a high barrier, terminating in 1 se row and sharp ridge of a grayish la* stone, which on both sides, towards it plain of the Buka'a and the Mediterru« has a very steep descent. All its l*krvalleys are deeper and more narrow tta those of the Anti-Lebanon, and its eni.nating point, Jebel-Makmel, having in * vation of seven thousand feet, is situtx: near its northern boundary, while the Jtk es-Sheik rises on the south ; and the whif ridge of the Anti-Lebanon gradually yes down northward to the sandy plain" Homs, where it disappears altogether.

While contemplating this grand at beautiful landscape from the heights of iiJebel-es-Zebdany, a thunder-storm !* gathered on the opposite heights of Mo'J Lebanon. The thunder began to roll, t: the blue lightning flashed incessant); through the sombre clouds, which had nw gathered in heavy masses around thes»» capped peaks of Jebel-Makmel. Theknspest moved across the valley and threaten every moment to^burst against the pree?itous rocks of the Anti-Lebanon, on wisel we were standing. We therefore hastf* our descent along a zigzag path, coeds* ing us in a quarter of an hourtoKebjSheet, a small village, inhabited by Me» wileh Muslims, situated on the slope oft" mountain, immediately above the pl«" Ba'albek. The thunder-storm had >! reached the side of the mountain; * clap followed another, and the rain beg* to pour down like a deluge, when *f r rived at the door of the Arab "leifc u poor man seemed quite embarrassed st <• sudden appearance, as his house wasotf3 pied by 6ome Turkish officers, who •'" going to Damascus. But all diffi'i' were instantly removed. The Qos** Bimbashis politely offered us their n»* during our short halt, and while the #*■ was raging outside, drenching oar nwi*

nd baggage, we were quite comfortably :• posing on the divans among the arms and ccoutrements of the Turks. The indeitigable Mustapha, in the mean time, preared our dinner; and when the thunderhower had passed over, we, in the refreshig coolness of the evening, continued our escent to the plain. Yet sunset overtook s at two hours' distance from Ba'albek; e therefore took up our quarters for the ight at the village of Bereitan, situated n a spur of the Anti-Lebanon, commandg a beautiful view towards the plain and le opposite range of the Lebanon. This llage is likewise inhabited by Metawileh, hose low, mud-walled houses were clusiring on the steep sides of the hill in such manner, that the flat roofs of one range irmed the street of that above. The vilgers, men, women, and children, came ironging around, and followed us to the leik, who assigned us one of the best ouses in the village. The inquisitiveness of le crowds around became now very troulesome, when a handsome young Arab, lily dressed, and accompanied by some ell-equipped horsemen, came galloping up i us, announcing himself as Sidi-Mahmudh, Ic son of the Emir of Ba'albek. When he iw the despair of Mustapha at not being :>le to pitch the tents and arrange the 1%'gige, owing to the vexatious curiosity ; the idlers around, and the impertinence 'the urchins of the village, even beginning i fling stones at the Frank travellers, he irew himself from his horse, and with his hip soon cleared the avenues. He then olitely told me that the Emir, his father, vited me to see him at the Kula'at—the istle. Taking Mustapha with me, I went > the outskirts of the village, where I >und the Emir sitting on a carpet before i old tower, smoking his nargiles. He as surrounded by four or five handsome nibs, whose glittering arms and splendid ress contrasted most strikingly with the [ualidness and misery of the rest of the habitants. The young warriors wore rge white turbans, light blue jackets, id trousers richly laced with gold; and leir beautiful steeds, as gaudily accoued as their riders, were picketed in the Jjoining court-yard. The present Emir f Ba'albek is Mar-Kandjar, of the old imily of Harfush,_who were the feudal >rds of the Buka'a, and nearly as inde

pendent as the chiefs of Mount Lebanon. Mar-Kandjar is a venerable-looking man, with a flowing white beard and a shrewd countenance. He enjoys the reputation of being a brave warrior. The followers of Ali were defeated and almost annihilated during their bloody feuds with the Druzes of Mount Lebanon, as I mentioned in another place. Their beautiful plain was afterwards ravaged by the army of Ibrahim-Pasha, who had quartered the wild tribes of his Bedouin cavalry in the environs of Ba'albek. At last, in 1840, when the Anglo-Austrian fleet appeared on the coast, and Turkish proclamations called on all the mountaineers to revolt against the Egyptians, Emir Mar-Kandjar again armed the bands of his daring horsemen, who were still dispersed among the villages of the Anti-Lebanon, and uniting with the Druzes and Maronites, attacked the retreating Egyptian army and contributed his part to expel it from the country.

It seemed to me as if those handsome young horsemen, the sons of the Emir, were the last of that enterprising people, who with thousands of warriors had swept the plain and extended their conquests to the coasts of the sea. I wondered that the old Emir offered me coffee, a pipe, and a seat on his divan, which are rather unusual compliments with the fanatic Metawileh, as all travellers assert that they never invite strangers of another belief, nor think it proper even to touch vessels or utensils used by them. But the late war and the continual intermixture with European travellers have done away with many prejudices, and begun essentially to change the manners of the East. MarKandjar bade us welcome to his country, and told me that we might at our leisure and with perfect safety visit the monuments of Ba'albek. He then drew forth from his girdle an English telescope, a present which he had received during the war from his British allies, and requested me to put the glasses in order.

Early next morning, the 26th of May, we departed from Bereitan, and descending to the plain, took a northern direction to Ba'albek. Ridges of swelling hills, the last undulations of the Anti-Lebanon on our right, still for a while cut off our view in front; but on our crossing the last height, the stately temple-ruins in their command

« AnteriorContinuar »