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Many of the countries here illustrated were, till about a century since, almost sealed to the traveller's eye by the intolerance of the Turks. A journey to the East was to our ancestors, as "Sadak's waters of life," enchanting to the hope, precious to the soul, but guarded by a thousand dangers, terrors, and hardships. The songs of the wandering minstrels, full of tales of captivity and cruelty, of 'the heat that consumed by day, and the blast by night,' long kept up this impression. And in the castle hall, the harp's loved tones were of the knights who were slain, of the watch-fires gleaming on the dreary shores,—where the armies of Israel triumphed of old, and the mighty were broken.
The Pilgrim alone continued to visit the shrines and ruins of his faith, although he often gave his life for a prey: if he returned in safety, his relics and his legends were a live-long theme. But the good times of wild adventure, of delicious heroism, and suffering for the sake of the Cross—are gone for ever: men weep at the sepulchre of their Lord, and roam night and day the vales and hills of Judah—but they shed their blood no more, and cease to tell of sad separations from all they love, and of bitter and unspeakable sacrifices. It is true, that the wanderer in the East can no longer blend individual glorying or factitious excitements with the way: but his heart and fancy will be ever conscious of emotions, more pure and elevating than those of the crusader, the pilgrim, or the sceptic. Amid the forests of Lebanon, the ruins of the first illustrious churches, the solitudes of Midian or Padan-Aram,—throughout all "the land of the people of the East," he reads the progress of his faith, cherished, like the lonely child of Hagar—in the wilderness, beneath the shadow of the palm, by the fountain's side, till it became even "mightier than the angel, and at the rushing of its wings the nations were afraid."
The increasing facilities of conveyance already bring Palestine and Syria comparatively near to our own homes — and open to the traveller in Asia Minor, a scenery of more perfect and varied beauty than even Italy, Greece, or Spain can present Her former cities are desolate: her fertile valleys untilled: and her rivers and harbours idle; but the despotism that has contributed to this ruinous state is, perhaps, soon to be destroyed: the half-independent and turbulent Pashas will be brought under the power of Ibrahim, and a state of comparative improvement and industry succeed to one of rapine, sloth, and misery. Yet it is strange, that while the spirit of modern discovery has
explored the most remote extremities of the globe, and the political convulsions of Europe forced the traveller into other continents—this extensive and famous territory should have so long remained undescribed, and comparatively unknown. Very valuable and interesting researches have recently been published on this subject; European travel begins to grow hacknied and familiar, and men sigh for some more novel and enterprising path:—many a footstep will soon be turned to this most interesting region—that contains the marches and battle-fields of Alexander and Cyrus; the precious remains of the seats of learning and the arts, of Asiatic refinement and luxury.
Most of the places illustrated in this Work had been visited by the writer, previous to the Egyptian invasion, when the land was in a state of comparative quiet, very favourable to a successful progress. To the Oriental traveller, the pleasures of memory are greater than those of hope: on his devious way, clouds and darkness often gather: the feuds of the chiefs may suddenly forbid all approach to the favourite ruin or city, imprison him in some hamlet or desert, where he is alone with his baffled hope, and despair. Perhaps disease or contagion overtake him, where there is none to help. But when his warfare is over, and his objects attained, when his own hearth and roof-tree receive him—then memory wakes, to "sleep no more." In the murmur of his native wave he fancies he hears the distant rush of the Nile or Euphrates: in the night wind the blast of the desert again passes by: and on the bleak moor that "Rock of ages," that has been his shadow from the heat, again stands before him, desolate yet precious. These feelings may by some be deemed enthusiastic: but no man ever succeeded in an Eastern journey, plucked its roses from its many thorns, and, in spite of fears and sorrows, went on rejoicing in his way—who was not an enthusiast
Once more to retrace this route, although in description only, to depict its features, that change not with the passage of time—is a welcome task. Some of the scenes are less familiar than others, for it is rarely possible that the traveller is permitted to look on all he has most desired to behold: the thirst of novelty and beauty, in temple, landscape, or in the homes of princes, grows with its indulgence; and he is inclined at last to estimate his success, less by what a favouring Providence has granted, than by what it has withheld.
SYRIA, THE HOLY LAND, ASIA MINOR,
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HADGI OR MECCA PILGRIMS ENCAMPED NEAR ANTIOCH,
ON THE BANKS OF THE ORONTES.
The Pilgrimage to Mecca is, perhaps, the highest excitement that life offers to the Mussulman: the lowliest condition, the most advanced age, or immeasurable distance— are no bar to its performance. From the interior of Africa and Hindostan, the shores, isles, and deserts of the East, an annual myriad advances to the tomb of the prophet The march of the caravan, in the freshness of its strength and zeal, ere disease and misery have done their work, is a singular and splendid spectacle: the sacred white camel, gorgeously arrayed and attended, the guards, the banners, the hosts of various nations, complexions, and languages—all pressing on with a lightness of heart, a freedom of step, a face full of the sedate fanaticism of their faith. The more humble and numerous portion of the pilgrims are the most devoted: to worship at the shrine, to wash away their sins, and earn a Hadgi's honour, is their strong and guiding hope—the prospect of traffic and gain also animates the merchants, who, as well as the nobler pilgrims, are provided with servants, comforts, and even luxuries. But this pilgrimage is of admirable use in teaching men their utter helplessness, the vanity of earthly distinctions, "the rich and the poor meet together:" they weep in secret: "the servant is as his master." The hour is sure to arrive, when the caravan, feeble and wasted, the courage lost, the enthusiasm a dream—is seen stealing over the desert, as if the angel of death sadly called them: when the poorer pilgrim, from his burning bed of sand, looks on the great and the luxurious, breathing faintly also; and the harem of the one, and the cottage of the other, flit before the failing eye. Perhaps the night brings the breeze or cloud, and they struggle on their way, till the water, fountain, or stream, is near: and its low sound is caught by every ear with an acuteness that misery only can give. Again all distinctions are forgotten, of sex, rank, and circumstance: the prince and the peasant kneel side by side, or prostrate, like Gideon's troop, drink insatiably, blessing the prophet, and each other.— The writer was once present at a scene of this kind, in a party, where one of the domestics, in his suffering, poured reproaches on his master: the rest were silent and dejected: they had walked from sun-rise till noon over a soil utterly parched, and in an intolerable heat, no cloud in the sky, no moisture on the earth: the hills of white sand on the left seemed to glare on us like spectres: at last we reached a rapid and shallow stream, on whose opposite bank was a stone tower, where a few soldiers kept their lonely look-out against the Arabs. Too impatient to drink in the usual way, the party threw themselves on the shore, and, plunging their faces in the wave, drank long and insatiably.
The track of the great caravan, during an unfortunate season, is at intervals strewed with victims: the first are the old and the sickly: wasted by the cold as well as the fiery blasts, the bodies rest on the sands, without corruption, such is the excessive purity of the air: to those who have friends and property, a miserable honour is shewn.
"Just before we reached the wells in this desert," says an Arabian traveller, "we passed by the tomb of a distinguished person, who died on this spot His companions having enclosed the naked corpse within low walls of loose stones, had covered it over with a large block. The dryness of the air had preserved the corpse in the most perfect state. Looking at it through the interstices of the stones which enveloped it, it appeared to me a more perfect mummy than any I had seen in Egypt The mouth was wide open, and our guide related that the man had died for want of water, though so near the wells."
The caravan in the Vignette presents a picture of ease, and even luxury, in strange contrast to the usual hardships of the way: the Orontes, on whose banks the pilgrims are seated, glides deliriously and coldly by,—how different from the fountains, scanty and far between, which were long their only trust! It is possible, however, by fortunate arrangements, to visit the tomb of Mecca without serious calamity,—save some inroads on the health and beauty of the ladies, who actually went in this caravan, with an enterprise, and perhaps religious zeal, not very usual among Oriental women. Rarely, indeed, do the latter venture their round forms and exquisitely clear and colourless complexions, to the simoom's deadly sweep: to go forth from the harem, into which the light falls through richly stained glass—to be by night the inmate of a tent during weeks and months, and the prey of the sun and wind by day: can the thickest veils, the most skilful precautions, prevent mischief to the eyes, the cheeks, the hair; the limbs will grow attenuated, and the spirits, unused to such stern excitement, languid and broken.
The conductor of this small caravan, to whom the ladies belonged, was a noble Turk, a native of Constantinople, whence he had proceeded through the rich provinces of Asia Minor to Damascus, thence by slow journeys through the deserts to the Red Sea, and there embarked for Jidda, which is six days' journey from Mecca. They were now on their return; their consciences pacified, their imaginations bewildered, their memories stored. The trials of the way o'erpast, they were resting among the ruins of Antioch, musing, perhaps, on the tales of peril and change, to tell to the calm and luxurious circles of Constantinople—for which they were shortly to sail.
The Turkish nobleman and two of his friends were seated on a rich carpet, each smoking the hookah, and sipping coffee: the baggage scattered on the ground, the horses and camels grazing, some tents open: groups of pilgrims were conversing, 01 sauntering about the shores. The tents of the women, closely curtained, were pitched in the rear, no less than six being occupied by the harem and its numerous attendants. The inmates had travelled across the deserts in houdas, a covered or open divan, placed on the back of the camel, and either rudely or luxuriously furnished. The writer met, one day, in the deserts east of the Red Sea, a Turkish gentleman of Cairo, returning, quite alone, from Mecca: he was seated in a houdah; his solitary camel, seen from afar, the rider reclining as on a sopha, musing indolently, had a droll appearance in so desolate a scene: the little clouds of smoke that rose at intervals from his pipe into the pure air, told of his progress accurately: it was by no means unlike the slow movement of a small steam-carriage over the sands, save that no sound came forth: the Arab guide, walking at the head of the camel, was as silent as his master: even his melancholy song was hushed. But the Ottoman ladies, who had walked nine times round the adored Tomb, kissed the black and miraculous stone of the Caaba, and drank of the well Zemzem—will be marked and envied beings for the rest of their lives: in the divans, the baths, the promenades of the city—the words of the fair Hadges will be received as oracles: and companies will hang as greedily upon them, and even more so, than their lords on those of the Arab story-tellers, for they will have the charm of truth. No gainsaying or scepticism can be feared from other ladies, who have never strayed from the banks of the Bosphorus, or heard more awful sounds than the murmur of its waves, or their own fountains.
The Mahometans, from the tomb of their prophet—halting on the ruins of Antioch, presented a mournful comment on the decline of the power and glory of this world, as well as on that of the pure and earliest church of God. The two greatest of the Apostles preached, Ignatius taught, and offered himself as a martyr in Antioch : and great was the prosperity and the joy, during many ages, of its Christian people.
And now—the lofty minarets of the mosques were seen above the broken walls of the ancient city: there are some remains of a church, said to be that of Chrysostom: there are tombs also, beneath the shade of the trees, but they do not contain the ashes of the early Christians: the stone shaft carved, and turban, shew them to be the sepulchres of the Turks. The valley of the Orontes is very partially cultivated, save in the immediate vicinity of the river: the range of Mount Amanus, the Amana of Scripture, rises boldly beyond: far to the right, at a few hours' distance, is the pass in this mountain, through which Darius marched his mighty army from the plains of Assyria to the coasts of Cilicia, a few days before the battle of Issus.
To the course of the Orontes new interest is now imparted by the enterprise of Colonel Chesney, who begins his overland communication with India at Suadeah, where this ancient river falls into the sea. From this first footstep on the lonely shore, covered with the ruins of Seleucia, what a career of industry, intelligence, and prosperity may be expected to arise! Steam navigation and rail-roads will traverse the silent plains and the famous but forsaken rivers : not Cleopatra in her bark of purple and gold on the Cydnus, excited more surprise than will follow the first steam-boat on the Orontes,—the herald