Графични страници
PDF файл

indeed, we could be glad of having a specimen of them submitted to some of our modern tests; for should both these wonderful, massive and ancient structures prove to contain such materials, artificial and alike, the coincidence would prove not merely curious, but extremely interesting, and historically important.'

A recollection of this question induced me to pursue my examinations with more scrutiny, but it only left me still more in doubt. That they were not stone, I was disposed to believe, from the characteristics which distinguished it from all other kinds that I had seen; but that they should be an artificial composition, seemed as difficult to suppose, from the want of an apparent motive for so making them, as their size was comparatively small; more particularly when I remembered that the obelisks at Luxor, the colossal Memnon at Thebes, and the column of Pompey at Alexandria, were positively and indisputably single granite blocks, hewn from the mountains beyond the cataracts, and transported down the Nile; unless, indeed, these dubious masses were the fragments of a ruder and an earlier age.

I tried every possible method to detach a piece of one of these blocks, to take with me as a specimen, but in vain; nor were we more successful in our search after some small pieces that might have been scattered round, although we sought for them in every direction.

It would be hazarding too much to say that these were the remains of antediluvian works; but I should be deficient in candor, if I did not confess that the rude irregularity of form and size in the masses themselves, the want of order in their arrangement, their present appearance, and the evident proofs one meets at every step, of the surrounding plain having been once covered by the sea, very forcibly impressed me with such an opinion on the spot. The whole of the country here looks like a ruin of nature; trees and bushes overwhelmed with sand, their tops only visible in several places, and every where the surface scattered over with broken shells and marine productions : while underneath, at the distance of a few feet, is a fine bed of earth.

Our present route through this desert was infinitely more interesting than that by which we journeyed from Cairo to Suez, and every step we took, convinced me that we trod on a soil once teeming with fertility. In some places the sand had grown into large hills, the round and smooth swellings of which were like the heaving billows that linger when a storm at sea is spent; in others, its surface was rippled by the gale of yesterday, and looked even now like the breezy wavings of a ruffled lake. At a few paces distant, we frequently lost sight of each other in those hollow valleys, like boats boarding, on the ocean, when the ships sink between the waves, and suddenly remount upon the summit of their foam. Trees and bushes were still seen in abundance, some half buried, others completely covered, and a few bared of the earth around their very roots; but, excepting a small black scarabeus, and a lizard, whose body resembled that of the toad, in shape and size, not a living creature was to be seen. Nature herself seemed abandoned by her children. The solitary raven was not even to be found, nor did the twitter of the desert-swallow once disturb this awful and impressive silence.

We travelled on for about four hours in this way, and I felt

myself oppressed with melancholy, amid the reflections which the grandeur of these solitudes inspired, when we entered at length a fertile valley, placed like an island of verdure amid surrounding barrenness, where Nature had retired to an arbor of dalliance, and life and animation seemed restored. It stretched for some length from east to west, was enclosed between high mounds running in that direction, and deriving an additional charm from this powerful contrast, it appeared like a perfect garden of beauty. Here, too, we found a spring of excellent water, about five feet in depth, with several vestiges of former wells, resorted to by the desert Arabs. Gazelles and hares were in abundance; we saw also several flocks of wild ducks; and the chirping of birds in the bushes was like the music of a new creation.

It was impossible to resist the temptation of halting at so charming a spot as this, where we had water, shade, fire-wood, and herbage, all blessings of greater worth to us than crowns or diadems. We alighted, therefore, turned loose the camels and dromedaries to graze, discharged the brackish and now almost putrid water of Suez, to fill our skins afresh, prepared a fire, and feasted on a hasty pilau of boiled rice, with an appetite that kings might envy.

In resuming our journey, we continued along this narrow valley, and reached, in less than half an hour, the ruins at Abou-Keshabe. If the bed in which we had recently been travelling be considered the remains of the westerly part of the ancient canal, its breadth is here nearly double that of the bed leading from Suez to the northward, which might have been the case, since the great work of Darius is only mentioned in general terms to have been broad enough for the admission of two trirèmes abreast, whereas that of Ptolemy has a specific number of feet assigned, with which it precisely corresponds. The direction of this channel also corresponds exactly with the account of Herodotus, who describes it as running from west to east. The embankment on each side is here lined with trees and bushes, half buried in the sand, while the ravine formed by its deserted bed is one wild garden. Appearances certainly inclined me to believe the excavation artificial; and the want of all connecting trace between this branch and that of Suez


be owing to the overwhelming sands which intervene, and which, added to neglect, must have hastened its destruction ; the difference of the soil being as much the cause of the preservation of the one, as of the annihilation of the other.

On ascending the heights of Abou-Keshabe, we saw on every side the remains of an extensive city, certainly not less than five miles in circumference, judging from the dispersion of the fragments in the plain. In the centre were the walls of small and private dwellings, not exceeding ten or twelve feet square, built of unburnt bricks, and laid with cement, in great regularity. Of these confined rooms there were a great number, and, ancient as their situation and arrangement evidently showed them to be, they only offered an additional proof that the humble citizens of antiquity were but poorly lodged, that private opulence was almost unknown, and that while the subjection of the people confined them to poverty, the privi

leged tyrannies of royalty and priesthood exhausted both the public wealth and labor in works sacred either to government or religion.

In the southern part of the ruins, we found a large mass of rosecolored granite detached from any building, and half bidden in the earth. It appeared to be a superficial slab, of about six feet by three, and three inches thick, standing erect, after the manner of a tombstone. On its eastern face were sculptured three figures, nearly the size of life, in the sitting posture of the colossal statues at Thebes, and of those so frequently seen in the recesses of Egyptian mausoleums, with the hands extended on the knees. The central figure bore a warrior's helmet; those on each side were crowned with globes, on one of which was a fine scarabeus, with extended wings. Each of the three figures were bearded, and wore their long hair, or shawl that covered it, falling over the shoulders, and pressing the cars forward, like the Great Sphinx at Gizeh, the hero in the centre having his more highly ornamented than the others. The figures were beautifully drawn, the sculpture bold, and the relief of the fullest kind. As a detached monument, I had seen nothing like it in Egypt ; but both its size and execution proved it to be the remnant of some great work, now rather annihilated than overthrown, since this is the only portion that visibly remains. Among the heaps of the adjacent ruins, we found fragments of coarse glass vessels, little more than semi-transparent, and some pieces of highly-glazed earthenware. Decayed shells, corals, and other marine productions, were abundant, and seemed to suggest that this spot, as well as that of the Serapeum, had been overflowed, either at the time of, or subsequent to, its destruction.

While wandering over the site of this fallen city, there appeared to me great reason for assenting to the opinion of Monsieur Aymé, as quoted by Lord Valentia, who thinks it the remains of the ancient Heroöpolis, as answering to the local situation of the place from whence the Hebrews departed, when they fled from Egypt, mentioned by Josephus, under the same name, (Antiq., lib. 2, cap. 7,) and described as the place where the Patriarch Jacob, on his way down to Egypt, met his son Joseph ; as well as by Moses, under the name of Goshen or Ramesses, where he also says that Joseph went up to meet bis father Israel. That writer describes it as lying between On, or Heliopolis, and the land of Canaan. Strabo mentions it as being near to Arsinoë, and at the top of the gulf to which it gave its name.

And Ptolemy describes it as lying on the confines of Arabia, with the canal of Trajan running through it. With all those descriptions, these remains actually correspond, admitting the Red Sea to have formerly flowed considerably to the north of Suez, and the remains of the canal here to be that implied by Ptolemy as the canal of Trajan, of neither of which facts, those who have visited the spot would doubt.

This chain of thoughtful speculation was, however, soon interrupted by the appearance of some Bedouin shepherds, timid boys, who were returning to their tents with the herds and flucks which they had been feeding in the valley, during the day, and who gave us the Moslem salutation of 'Salam Alaikom !' as they passed. We had

fixed on sleeping here, among the ruins of this ancient city, for the night; but learning from these Arab youths, that their camp,

which they called 'El Arab,' was not far off, I was delighted with the opportunity it offered of visiting it, though all our party, except my. selt, were hostile to this step. Fear was their principal motive of objection, and perseverance the only weapon I could oppose it with : and for a long while it was an equal match of obstinacy, on both sides. Detaining the boys as guides, I explained to them that I was a stranger, under the protection of Phanoose : they then pressingly invited us to accompany them, and as I was determined to have gone alone, rather than be diverted from my purpose, the rest of our party soon followed me.

We reached the Bedouin camp about sun-set, and our reception there was every thing that hospitality could dictate. Our hands were embraced, and the salutations of peace and welcome exchanged a hundred times; but as no one claimed the exclusive privilege of entertaining us, we were taken to a large square, formed by embankments of the soil, heightened by loose bushes, and completely sheltered from the wind, where the elders of the tribe assembled to smoke their evening pipes, recount the tales of the day, and regale such guests as business or accident might bring among them from opposite quarters.

A young kid was immediately killed, and dressed upon the embers of a brush-wood fire ; the milk of goats and camels were laid before us in bowls, coffee was burned and pounded upon the spot,and the tobacco-purse of the venerable old sheik was replenished from his tent for our use. There was, in short, abundance for the hungry, rest for the weary, and security for the apprehensive traveller, to be found beneath the protecting shadow of their encampment, nor could the feasts of the ancient heroes, which Homer so happily describes, have boasted a more unbounded liberality in their provisions, or a more unadulterated hospitality in the rude simplicity of their preparation.

Delighted with a conversation which brought me acquainted with their manners, customs, and opinions, and that too from a source so satisfactory as a large assembly of themselves, in wliich misrepresentations could not have passed unobserved, I was happy in prolonging our interview, and in remaining awake through the greater part of the night, engaged in mutual inquiry and reply.

It would be a task of much pleasure to me to transcribe the substance of their communications ; but as I propose to make the manners and customs of the Arabs, the subject of a separate article, the imperfection of a hasty sketch would be unsatisfactory here, where there is so much to describe, to comment on, to applaud, to condemn, to pity, and to admire, as in the manners of this extraordinary people. I regretted most sincerely, that the voice of duty should call me from them so soon, or I should have probably passed a month or two among them with extreme pleasure.

DESERT OF El Ouadi, FEBRUARY 25. The flocks were driven out to pasture, with the earliest gleams of morning, and as the sun




rose with unusual serenity, it lighted up a picture of interesting novelty. The ground chosen for the encampment of this Bedouin tribe, was a gentle hollow of the plain, as it could scarcely deserve the appellation of a valley; and their tents, to the number of about three hundred, occupied a space of less than two miles in circumfer

No other order was observed in their erection, than that of their being all open to the eastward, to receive the warm and cheering beams of the morning sun ; in summer, when the beats are oppressive, their openings face the north, to enjoy the refreshing coolness of the winds from that quarter. These low and brown habitations, formed of woven goats' hair, differing in shape, size, and manner of arrangement, and rudely supported by rough bouglis of trees, and cord spun from the wool of their own flocks, were barely large enough to enclose their respective families at night, and shelter the infants and infirm in the day. Among the whole number, we met with none that covered ten square feet of ground at the base, though several of them were occupied by the husband, two wives, and fifte or sixteen children, beside a superannuated wife or mother.

The smoke of the morning fires ascending in columns through a calm and unagitated air, the bleating of the lambs, which were carried in the shepherd's arms from tenderness, the skipping of the hardier kids, the shrill crowing of the cock, and the barking playfulness of the faithful dog, the departure of the boys with their respective flocks, and of the girls in groups, with pitchers to the wells, the busy, occupation of the wives in kneading cakes of meal for the hearth,

with the comparative dignity of their grave and bearded lords, presented altogether, so admirable a representation of the patriarchal life, that I found myself transported back, in imagination, to the days of the venerable Abraham, and stood in wonder at the preservation of usages and customs, so unaltered among his descendants, through years and ages, which have destroyed the haughtiest empires, created new successors, and swept away kingdoms, nations, and people, into oblivion !

On returning from our morning ramble through the Bedouin camp, we were invited into almost every tent we passed, and had partaken so largely of the hospitalities of these generous people, that we were literally unable to join in the meal which was prepared for us by the sheik and elders in the embanked circle where we had slept. Three other strangers had arrived among them, on their way from Syria to Egypt, and being from a friendly tribe, had met a reception like our own. As our routes lay together, therefore, when the rude but abundant feast of the morning was over, we exchanged the benedictions of peace with our kind entertainers, and our companions, journeying with the staff and sandals of the earliest days, we set forth upon our way together.

Steering southerly, in order to fall into the line directly west of the ruined city at Abou-Keshabe, we had scarcely crossed that line, before the traces of the ancient canal, the unconnected vestiges of which bad appeared along our track at intervals, became again distinctly visible. Its bed retaining the waters of the few showers which the winter drops upon those plains, and the soil of its channel not having been overwhelmed by the sands of the desert, it was filled

« ПредишнаНапред »