Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, 1810
John Lewis Burckhardt
September 22, 1810. - I LEFT Damascus at four o'clock P.M. with a small caravan destined for Tripoli; passed Salehíe, and beyond it a Kubbe,(1) from whence I had, near sun-set, a most beautiful view of the city of Damascus and its surrounding country. From the Kubbe, the road passes along the left side of the valley in which the Barrada runs, over uneven ground, which for the greater part is barren rock. After a ride of two hours and a quarter from Salehíe, we descended to the river's side, and passed the Djissr Dumar;(2) on the other side of which we encamped. It is a well-built bridge, with two arches, at twenty minutes distance from the village Dumar.
September 23. We set off before daylight, crossing the mountains, in one of whose Wadys(3) the Barrada winds along; we crossed it repeatedly, and after two hours arrived at the village Eldjdide, built on the declivity of a hill near the source of one of the numerous rivulets that empty themselves into the Barrada. One hour and three quarters further, we descended into the Wady Barrada, near two villages, built on either side of the river, opposite to each other, called Souk Barrada.(4) The valley of the Barrada, up to Djissr Barrada, is full of fruit trees; and where its breadth permits, Dhourra and wheat are sown. Half an hour further, is Husseine, a small village in the lower part of the valley. Three-quarters of an hour, El Souk; here the Wady begins to be very narrow. A quarter of an hour beyond, turning round a steep rock, the valley presents a very wild and picturesque aspect. To the left, in the mountain, are six chambers cut in the rock; said to be the work of Christians, to whom the greater part of the ancient structures in Syria are ascribed. The river was not fordable here; and it would have taken me at least two hours to reach, by a circuitous route, the opposite mountains. A little way higher up is the Djissr el Souk, at the termination of the Wady; this bridge was built last year, as appears by an Arabic inscription on the rock near it. From the bridge the road leads up the side of the mountain, and enters, after half an hour's ride, upon a plain country. The river has a pretty cascade, near which are the remains of a bridge. The above mentioned plain is about three-quarters of an hour in breadth, and three hours in length; it is called Ard Zebdeni, or the district of Zebdeni; it is watered by the Bartada, one of whose sources is in the midst of it; and by the rivulet called Moiet Zebdeni,(5) whose source is in the mountain, behind the village of the same name. The latter river, which empties itself into the Barrada, has, besides the source in the Ard Zebdeni, another of an equal size near Fidji, in a side branch of the Wady Barrada, half an hour from the village Husseine. The fall of the river is very rapid. We followed the plain of Zebdeni from one end to the other: it is limited on one side by the eastern part of the Anti-Libanus, called here Djebel Zebdeni. Its cultivable ground is waste till near the village of Beroudj, where I saw plantations of mulberry trees, which seemed to be well taken care of. Half an hour from Beroudj is the village of Zebdeni, and between them the ruined Khan Benduk (the bastard Khan). Zebdeni is a considerable village; its inhabitants breed cattle, and the silk-worm, and have some dyeing houses. I had a letter for the Sheikh of Zebdeni from a Damascene; the Sheikh ordered me an Argile(6) and a cup of coffee, but went to supper with his household, without inviting me to join them. This being considered an insult, I left his house and went to sup with the muleteers, with whom I slept upon an open piece of ground before a ruined bath, in the midst of the village. The inhabitants of Zebdeni are three-fourths Turks, and the remainder Greek Catholics; it is a place much frequented by those passing from Damascus to the mountain.
September 24. - Left the village before day-light and crossed the Anti-Libanus, at the foot of which Zebdeni lies. This chain of mountains is, by the inhabitants of the Bekaa and the Belad Baalbec,(7) called Djebel Essharki (or the eastern mountain),(8) in opposition to Djebel el Gharbi, the western mountain, otherwise called Djebel Libnan (Libanus); but that part of it which lies nearer to Zebdeni than to the great valley, is called Djebel Zebdeni. We travelled for the greater part of the morning upon the mountain. Its rock is primitive calcareous, of a fine grain; upon the highest part I found a sandy slate: on the summit and on the eastern side of this part of the Anti-Libanus there are many spots, affording good pasturage, where a tribe of Turkmans sometimes feed their cattle. It abounds also in short oak trees, of which I saw none higher than twelve or fifteen feet. Our road lay N.W. Two hours and a half from Zebdeni we passed a spot with several wells, called Bir Anhaur, or Bekai.(9) The western declivity of the mountain, towards the district of Baalbec, is completely barren, without pasture or trees. After five hours and three quarters riding we descended into the plain, near the half-ruined village of El Kanne, and passed the river of El Kanne, whose source is at three hours distance, in the mountain. It empties itself into the Liettani, in the plain, two hours below Kanne. I here left the caravan and took a guide to Zahle, where I meant to stay a few days. Our way lay W.b.N. across the plain; passed the village El Nahrien Haoush Hale, consisting of miserable mud cottages. The plain is almost totally uncultivated. Passed the Liettani at two hours from El Kanne. Half an hour, on the other side of it, is the village Kerak, at the foot of the Djebel Sannin; it consists of about one hundred and fifty-houses and has some gardens in the plain, which are watered by a branch of the Berdoun, or river of Zahle. Kerak is entirely inhabited by Turks; it belongs to the dominions of the Emir of the Druses, who some years ago took it by force from the Emir of Baalbec. On the southern side of the village is a mosque, and adjoining to it a long building, on the eastern side of which are the ruins of another mosque, with a Kubbe still remaining. The long building contains, under a flat roof, the pretended tomb of Noah; it consists of a tomb-stone above ten feet long, three broad and two high, plastered all over; the direction of its length is S. E. and N.W. The Turks visit the grave, and pretend that Noah is really buried there. At half an hour from Kerak is the town of Zahle, built in an inlet of the mountain, on a steep ascent, surrounded with Kerums (vineyards). The river Berdoun here issues from a narrow valley into the plain and waters the gardens of Zahle.
September 25th. - Took a walk through the town with Sheikh Hadj Farakh. There are eight or nine hundred houses, which daily increase, by fugitives from the oppressions of the Pashas of Damascus and of the neighbouring petty tyrants. Twenty-five years ago there were only two hundred houses at Zahle: it is now one of the principal towns in the territory of the Emir Beshir. It has its markets, which are supplied from Damascus and Beirout, and are visited by the neighbouring Fellahs, and the Arabs El Naim, and El Harb, and El Faddel, part of whom pass the winter months in the Bekaa, and exchange their butter against articles of dress, and tents, and horse and camel furniture. The inhabitants, who may amount to five thousand, are all Catholic Greeks, with the exception only of four or five Turkish families. The Christians have a bishop, five churches and a monastery, the Turks have no mosque. The town belongs to the territory of the Druses, and is under the authority of the Emir Beshir, but a part of it still belongs to the family of Aamara, whose influence, formerly very great in the Mountain, has lately been so much circumscribed by the Emir, that the latter is now absolute master of the town. The Emir receives the Miri, which is commonly the double of its original assessment (in Belad Baalbec it is the triple), and besides the Miri, he makes occasional demands upon the town at large. They had paid him forty-five purses a few weeks before my arrival. So far the Emir Beshir's government resembles perfectly that of the Osmanlys in the eastern part of Syria: but there is one great advantage which the people enjoy under his command - an almost complete exemption from all personal exactions, and the impartiality of justice, which is dealt out in the same manner to the Christian and to the Turk. It is curious, that the peace of so numerous a body should be maintained without any legal power whatsoever. There is neither Sheikh nor governor in the town; disputes are settled by the friends of the respective parties, or if the latter are obstinate, the decision is referred to the tribunal of the Emir Beshir, at Deir el Kammar. The inhabitants, though not rich, are, in general, in independent circumstances; each family occupies one, or at most two rooms. The houses are built of mud; the roofs are supported by one or two wooden posts in the midst of the principal room, over which beams of pine-wood are laid across each other; upon these are branches of oak trees, and then the earth, which farms the flat terrace of the house. In winter the deep snow would soon break through these feeble roofs, did not the inhabitants take care, every morning, to remove the snow that may have fallen during the night. The people gain their subsistence, partly by the cultivation of their vineyards and a few mulberry plantations, or of their fields in the Bekaa, and partly by their shops, by the commerce in Kourdine sheep, and their manufactures. Almost every family weaves cotton cloth, which is used as shirts by the inhabitants and Arabs, and when dyed blue, as Kombazes, or gowns, by the men. There are more than twenty dyeing houses in Zahle, in which indigo only is employed. The Pike(10) of the best of this cotton cloth, a Pike and a half broad, costs fifty paras, (above 1s. 6d. English). The cotton is brought from Belad Safad and Nablous. They likewise fabricate Abbayes, or woollen mantles. There are above one hundred horsemen in the town. In June 1810, when the Emir Beshir joined with his corps the army of Soleiman Pasha, to depose Youssef Pasha, he took from Zahle 400 men, armed with firelocks.
On the west side of the town, in the bottom of the Wady, lies the monastery of Mar Elias, inhabited by a prior and twenty monks. It has extensive grape and mulberry plantations, and on the river side a well cultivated garden, the products of which are sold to the town's people. The prior received me with great arrogance, because I did not stoop to kiss his hands, a mark of respect which the ecclesiastics of this country are accustomed to receive. The river of Zahle, or Berdoun, forms the frontier of the Bekaa, which it separates from the territory belonging to the Emir of Baalbec, called Belad Baalbec; so that whatever is northward from the bridge of the Berdoun, situated in the valley, a quarter of an hour below Zahle, belongs to Belad Baalbec; and whatever is south- ward, to the Bekaa. Since Soleiman Pasha has governed Damascus, the authority of the Emir Beshir has been in some measure extended over the Bekaa, but I could not inform myself of the distinct laws by which it had been regulated. The Pashas of Damascus, and the Emir Beshirs, have for many years been in continual dispute about their rights over the villages of the Bekaa. Following up the Berdoun into the Mountain, are the villages of Atein, Heraike, and another in the vicinity of Zahle.
September 26. - On the night of the 25th to the 26th, was the Aid Essalib, or feast of the Cross, the approach of which was celebrated by repeated discharges of musquets and the lighting of numerous fires, which illuminated all the mountains around the town and the most conspicuous parts of the town itself.
I rode to Andjar, on the eastern side of the Bekaa, in a direction south-east by south, two hours and a half good walking from Zahle. I found several encampments of the Arabs Naim and Faddel in the plain. In one hour and a quarter, passed the Liettani, near an ancient arched bridge; it had very little water: not the sixth part of the plain is cultivated here. The place called Andjar lies near the Anti-Libanus, and consists of a ruined town-wall, inclosing an oblong square of half an hour in circumference; the greater part of the wall is in ruins. It was originally about twelve feet thick, and constructed with small unhewn stones, loosely cemented and covered by larger square stones, equally ill cemented. In the enclosed space are the ruins of habitations, of which the foundations alone remain. In one of these buildings are seen the remains of two columns of white marble, one foot and a quarter in diameter. The whole seems to have been constructed in modern times. Following the Mountain to the southward of these ruins, for twenty minutes, I came to the place where the Moiet Andjar, or river of Andjar, has its source in several springs. This river had, when I saw it, more than triple the volume of water of the Liettani; but though it joins the latter in the Bekaa, near Djissr Temnin, the united stream retains the name Liettani. There are remains of ancient well-built walls round all the springs which constitute the source of the Andjar; one of the springs, in particular, which forms a small but very deep basin, has been lined to the bottom with large stones, and the wall round it has been constructed with large square stones, which have no traces of ever having been cemented together. In the wall of a mill, which has been built very near these springs, I saw a sculptured architrave. These remains appear to be much more ancient than those of Andjar, and are perhaps coeval with the buildings at Baalbec. I was told, by the people of the mill, that the water of the larger spring, in summer time, stops at certain periods and resumes its issue from under the rock, eight or ten times in a day. Further up in the mountain, above the spring, is a large cavern where the people sometimes collect saltpetre; but it is more abundant in a cavern still higher in the mountain.
Following the road northward on the chain of the Anti-Libanus, half an hour from these springs, I met with another copious spring; and a little higher, a third; one hour further, is a fourth, which I did not visit. Near the two former are traces of ancient walls. The waters of all these sources join in Moiet Andjar, and they are all comprised under the appellation of the Springs of Moiet Andjar. They are partly covered with rushes, and are much frequented by water fowls, and wild boars also resort to them in great numbers.
September 27th. - Being disappointed in my object of proceeding to Baalbec, I passed the day in the shop of one of the petty merchants of Zahle, and afterwards supped with him. The sales of the merchants are for the greater part upon credit; even those to the Arabs for the most trifling sums. The common interest of money is 30 per cent.
September 28th. - Set out in the afternoon for Baalbec, with a native of that place, who had been established with his family at Zahle, for several years. Passed the villages of Kerak, Abla, Temnin, Beit [ Shaeme, Haoush el Rafka, Tel Hezin, and arrived, after seven hours, at Baalbec.(11)
The territory of Baalbec extends, as I have before mentioned, down to the Bekaa. On the eastern side it comprises the mountain of the Anti-Libanus, or Djebel Essharki, up to its top; and on the western side, the Libanus likewise, as far as its summits. In the plain it reaches as far as El Kaa, twelve hours from Baalbec and fourteen hours from Homs, where the Anti-Libanus terminates, and where the valley between the two mountains widens considerably, because the Anti-Libanus there takes a more eastern direction. This district is abundantly watered by rivulets; almost every village has its spring, all of which descend into the valley, where most of them lose themselves, or join the Liettani, whose source is between Zahle and Baalbec, about two hours from the latter place, near a hill called Tel Hushben. The earth is extremely fertile, but is still less cultivated than in the Bekaa. Even so late as twelve years ago, the plain, and a part of the mountain, to the distance of a league and a half round the town, were covered with grape plantations; the oppressions of the governors, their superior flavour, are obliged to import them from Fursul and Zahle. The government of Baalbec has been for many years in the hands of the family of Harfush, the head family of the Metaweli of Syria.(12) In later times, two brothers, Djahdjah and Sultan, have disputed with each other the possession of the government; more than fifteen individuals of their own family have perished in these contests, and they have dispossessed each other by turns, according to the degree of friendship or enmity which the Pashas of Damascus bore to the one or the other. During the reign of Youssef Pasha, Sultan was Emir; as soon as Soleiman was in possession of Damascus, Sultan was obliged to fly, and in August, 1810, his brother Djahdjah returned to his seat, which he had already once occupied. He pays a certain annual sum to the Pasha, and extorts double its amount from the peasant. The Emir Beshir has, since the reign of Soleiman Pasha, likewise acquired a certain influence over Baalbec, and is now entitled to the yearly sum of fifteen purses from this district. The Emir Djahdjah resides at Baalbec, and keeps there about 200 Metaweli horsemen, whom he equips and feeds out of his own purse. He is well remembered by several Europeans, especially English travellers, for his rapacity , and inhospitable behaviour.
The first object which strikes the traveller arriving from the Bekaa, is a temple in the plain, about half an hour's walk from the town, which has received from the natives the appellation of Kubbet Duris. Volney has not described this temple. It is an octagon building supported by eight beautiful granite columns, which are all standing. They are of an order resembling the Doric; the capitals project very little over the shaft, which has no base. Over every two pillars lies one large stone, forming the architrave, over which the cornice is still visible, very little adorned with sculpture. The roof has fallen in. On the N.W. side, between two of the columns, is an insulated niche, of calcareous stone, projecting somewhat beyond the circumference of the octagon, and rising to about two feet below the roof. The granite of the columns is particularly beautiful, the feldspath and quartz being mixed with the hornblende in large masses. The red feldspath predominates. One of the columns is distinguished from the rest by its green quartz. We could not find any traces of inscriptions.
September 29th. - I took lodgings in a small room belonging to the catholic priest, who superintends a parish of twenty-five Christian families. This being near the great temple, I hastened to it in the morning, before any body was apprised of my arrival.
The work of Wood, who accompanied Dawkins to Baalbec in 1751, and the subsequent account of the place given by Volney, who visited Baalbec in 1784, render it unnecessary for me to enter into any description of these ruins. I shall only observe that Volney is incorrect in describing the rock of which the buildings are constructed as granite; it is of the primitive calcareous kind, but harder than the stone of Tedmor. There are, however, many remains of granite columns in different parts of the building.
I observed no Greek inscriptions; there were some few in Latin and in Arabic; and I copied the following Cufic inscription on the side of a stair-case, leading down into some subterranean chambers below the small temple, which the Emir has walled up to prevent a search for hidden treasures.
Having seen, a few months before, the ruins of Tedmor, a comparison between these two renowned remains of antiquity naturally offered itself to my mind. The entire view of the ruins of Palmyra, when seen at a certain distance, is infinitely more striking than those of Baalbec, but there is not any one spot in the ruins of Tedmor so imposing as the interior view of the temple of Baalbec. The temple of the Sun at Tedmor is upon a grander scale than that of Baalbec, but it is choked up with Arab houses, which admit only of a view of the building in detail. The architecture of Baalbec is richer than that of Tedmor.
The walls of the ancient city may still be traced, and include a larger space than the present town ever occupied, even in its most flourishing state. Its circuit may be between three and four miles. On the E. and N. sides the gates of the modern town, formed in the ancient wall, still remain entire, especially the northern gate; it is a narrow arch, and comparatively very small. I suppose it to be of Saracen origin.
The women of Baalbec are esteemed the handsomest of the neighbouring country, and many Damascenes marry Baalbec girls. The air of Belad Baalbec and the Bekaa, however, is far from being healthy. The chain of the Libanus interrupts the course of the westerly winds, which are regular in Syria during the summer months; and the want of these winds renders the climate extremely hot and oppressive.
September 30th. - I again visited the ruins this morning. The Emir had been apprised of my arrival by his secretary, to whom I had a letter of recommendation. He sent the secretary to ask whether I had any presents for him; I answered in the negative, but delivered to him a letter, which the Jew bankers of the Pasha of Damascus had given me for him; these Jews being men of great influence. He contented himself with replying that as I had no presents for him, it was not necessary that I should pay him my respects; but he left me undisturbed in my pursuits, which was all I wanted.
In the afternoon I made a tour in the invirons of Baalbec. At the foot of the Anti-Libanus, a quarter of an hour's walk from the town, to the south is a quarry, where the places are still visible from whence several of the large stones in the south wall of the castle were extracted; one large block is yet remaining, cut on three sides, ready to be transported to the building, but it must be done by other hands than those of the Metaweli. Two other blocks, cut in like manner, are standing upright at a little distance from each other; and near them, in the rock, are two small excavated tombs, with three niches in each, for the dead, in a style of workmanship similar to what I saw to the north of Aleppo, in the Turkman mountains towards Deir Samaan. In the hills, to the S.W. of the town, just behind this quarry, are several tombs, excavated in the rock, like the former, but of larger dimensions. In following the quarry towards the village of Duris, numerous natural caverns are met with in the calcareous rocks; I entered more than a dozen of them, but found no traces of art, except a few seats or steps rudely cut out. These caverns serve at present as winter habitations for the Arabs who pasture their cattle in this district. The principal quarry was a full half hour to the southward of the town.
The mountains above Baalbec are quite uncultivated and barren, except at the Ras el Ain, or sources of the river of Baalbec, where a few trees only remain. This is a delightful place, and is famous amongst the inhabitants of the adjoining districts for the salubrity of its air and water. Near the Ain, are the ruins of a church and mosque.
The ruined town of Baalbec contains about seventy Metaweli families, and twenty-five of Catholic Christians. Amidst its ruins are two handsome mosques, and a fine bath. The Emir lives in a spacious building called the Serai. The inhabitants fabricate white cotton cloth like that of Zahle; they have some dyeing houses, and had, till within a few years, some tanneries. The men are the artizans here, and not the women. The property of the people consists chiefly of cows, of which every house has ten or fifteen, besides goats and sheep. The goats are of a species not common in other parts of Syria; they have very long ears, large horns, and long hair, but not silky like that of the goats of Anatolia. The breed of Baalbec mules is much esteemed, and I have seen some of them worth on the spot £30 to £35. sterling.
(1) Kubbe, a cupola supported by columns or walls; the sepulchre of a reputed saint.
(2) Djissr - Bridge.
(3) Wady - Valley.
(4) Souk (market) is an appellation often added to villages, which have periodical markets.
(5) Moye - Water.
(6) Argile - A Persian pipe, in which the smoke passes through water.
(7) Belad - District, province.
(8) Djebel - Mountain.
(9) Bir - Well.
(10) The Pike is a linear measure, equal to two feet English, when used for goods of home manufacture, and twenty-seven inches for foreign imported commodities.
(11) The following are the names of villages in Belad Baalbec, between Baalbec and Zahle. On the Libanus, or on the declivity near its foot; Kerak, Fursul, Nieha, Nebi Eily, Temnin foka (the upper Temnin) Bidneil, Smustar, Hadad Tareie, Nebi Ershaedi, Kefferdein Saide, Budei, Deir Akhmar, Deir Eliaout, Sulife, Btedai. In the plain; Abla, Temnin tahte (the lower Temnin) Ksarnabé, Beit Shaeme, Gferdebesh, Haoush el Rafka, Haoush el Nebi, Haoush Esseneid, Telhezin (with a copious spring), Medjdeloun, Haoush Barada, Haoush Tel Safie, Tel Wardin, Sergin, Ain, Ouseie, Haoush Mesreie, Bahami, Duris, Yead. On the Anti-Libanus, or near its foot; Briteil, Tallie, Taibe, Khoreibe, El Aoueine, Nebi Shit, Marrabun, Mouze, Kanne, Deir el Ghazal, Reia, Hushmush. All these villages are inhabited by Turks or Metawelis; Abla and Fursul are the only Christian villages. I subjoin the villages in the plain to the N. of Baalbec, belonging to the territory of Baalbec. On the Libanus; Nebba, Essafire, Harbate. On the Plain; Tunin, Shaet, Ras el Haded, Leboue, El Kaa. Anti-Libanus,and at its foot: Nahle, El Ain, Nebi Oteman, Fiki, Erzel, Mukra, El Ras.
(12) The Metaweli are of the sect of Ali, like the Persians; they have more than 200 houses at Damascus, but they conform there to the rites of the orthodox Mohammedans.