François-René de Chateaubriand

Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem et de Jérusalem à Paris

(Record of a Journey from Paris to Jerusalem and Back)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved

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Part Three: Rhodes, Jaffa, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea


Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor - John Carne, Thomas Allom, William Henry Bartlett, William C. Stafford (p164, 1861)
The British Library

About two hundred of us passengers were aboard, old and young; men, women, and children. A host of sleeping-mats were visible, ranged along both sides of the deck. Strips of paper, stuck to the bulwarks, indicated the names of the mats’ owners. Each pilgrim hung their staff, their rosary, and a small cross, by their bed. The captain’s cabin was occupied by the priests leading this band of pilgrims. At the entrance to this cabin, two ante-chambers had been constructed. I had the honour of utilising one of these black holes, about six-feet square, with my two servants; a family occupied the other apartment opposite. In this species of republic, each household arranged things as they wished: women nursed their children; men smoked or prepared their dinner; priests chatted together. The sounds of mandolins, violins and zithers were heard on all sides. They sang, danced, laughed and prayed. Everyone was full of joy. They cried: ‘Jerusalem’, at me, pointing southwards, and I answered: ‘Jerusalem!’ Indeed, had it not been for our fears, we would have been the happiest people in the world; but at the least wind, the sailors hauled at the sheets, and the pilgrims shouted: ‘Christos, kyrie, eleison!’ The storm past, we recovered our daring.

I failed, moreover, to note the chaos of which some travellers speak. We were, on the contrary, very decent and orderly. On the first evening of our departure, two priests conducted prayers, which everyone attended with great reverence. The ship was blessed, a ceremony renewed after every storm. The chanting of the Greek Church possesses considerable sweetness, but lacks gravity. I noted something singular: a child would begin the verse of a psalm in a high tone, and sustained it on a single note, while a priest sang the same verse to a different tune, in canon, that is to say commencing the phrase when the child had already passed the middle. They perform an admirable Kyrie eleison: it is simply a single note held by different voices, some bass, others treble, executing andante (slowly) and mezza voce (at half-volume), the octave, fifth and third. The effect of this Kyrie is overwhelming in its sadness and majesty: it is doubtless a remnant of the ancient singing of the primitive Church. I suspect the other psalms belong to this singing style introduced to the Modern Greek liturgy around the fourth century, and of which St. Augustine had good reason to complain.

The day after we left, I was again seized with a quite violent fever: I was forced to remain on my bed. We swiftly crossed the Sea of ​​Marmara (Propontis). We passed the peninsula of Cyzicus (Kapu-Dagh) and the mouth of the Aegospotamos. We rounded the headlands of Sestos and Abydos: Neither Alexander and his army, Xerxes and his fleet, the Athenians and the Spartans, nor Hero and Leander, could overcome the headache that overwhelmed me, but when, on the 21st of September, at six in the morning, I was told that we were about to double the castle of the Dardanelles, the fever was driven off by memories of Troy. I crawled on deck; my first glance took in a high promontory crowned by nine wind-mills: it was Sigeus. At the foot of the promontory I could see two tumuli, the tombs of Achilles and Patroclus. The mouth of the Simois was to the left of the modern castle; farther off, and behind us, towards the Hellespont, the headland of Rhaetaeus appeared, and the tomb of Ajax. In the dip rose the Mount Ida range, whose slopes, as seen from the point where I stood, seemed gentle and harmonious in colour. Tenedos rose in front of the ship’s bows: Est in conspectu Tenedos (Virgil: Aeneid II.21).

I walked about with my eyes on this scene, and my gaze returned, despite myself, to the grave of Achilles. I repeated these verses of the poet:

‘And on a headland thrusting into the wide Hellespont we, the great host of Argive spearmen, heaped a vast flawless mound above them, so it might be seen far out to sea by men who live now and those to come.’

άμφ' αύτοίσι δ' έπειτα μέγαν καί άμύμονα τύμβον

χεύαμεν Ἀργείων ίερός στρατός αίχμητάων

άκτη έπι προύχούση, έπί πλατεί Ἑλλησπόντόω,

ώς κεν τηλεφανής έκ ποντόφιν άνδράσιν είη

τοὶς οί νυν γεγάασι καὶ οί μετόπισθεν έσονται.

(Homer: Odyssey:XXIV:80-84)

The pyramids of the Egyptian Pharaohs are of little consequence, compared with the glory of the mounds of turf that Homer sang, and that Alexander ran around (Plutarch: Alexander 15.8).

At that moment, I felt the remarkable effect of the power of our feelings and the influence of the soul over the body. I had arrived on deck filled with fever: my headache suddenly vanished; I felt my strength revive, and, what is more extraordinary, all my mental faculties. True, twenty-four hours later the fever had returned.

I had nothing with which to reproach myself: I had formed the intention of travelling through Anatolia to the plain of Troy, and you have seen what compelled me to abandon my project; I wanted to reach it by sea, but the captain of our vessel stubbornly refused to land me there, though our agreement obliged him to do so. At the time, these annoyances caused me much grief, but now I console myself. I had made so many errors in Greece, that the same fate perhaps awaited me at Troy. At least I have retained all my illusions regarding the Simois; moreover I have had the good fortune to salute that sacred soil, to have seen the waves that bathe it, and the sun that lights it.

I am surprised that travellers, in speaking of the plain of Troy, almost always fail to mention the Aeneid. Yet Troy has been Virgil’s glory as much as Homer’s. It is a rare destiny for a country to have inspired the fnest verse of two of the world’s greatest poets. As I watched the shores of Troy recede, I sought to recall the verses that so beautifully depict the Greek fleet, emerging from Tenedos, and advancing, per silentia lunae:through the silent moonlight (adapted from Virgil: Aeneid: II: 255), towards those solitary shores passing one after another before my eyes. Once awful cries succeeded to the silence of the night, and flames from Priam’s palace illuminated the sea, where our ship sailed peacefully.

The Muse of Euripides, also capturing that pain, prolonged the scenes of mourning on those tragic shores.

The Chorus Hecuba, see you Andromache there, riding a foreign chariot? Her son, the son of Hector, the young Astyanax, hangs at her breast.

Hecuba O ill-fated woman! Where are they leading you, amidst Hector’s weapons and the spoils of Phrygia? ...

Andromache O grief!

Hecuba My children!

Andromache Ill-fated one!

Hecuba And my children!...

Andromache Hurry, my husband!...

Hecuba Yes, come, scourge of the Greeks! O, first of my children! Grant to Priam in death that to which on earth he was so tenderly united.

The Chorus We have only regrets and tears to shed upon these ruins. Grief yields to grief... Troy suffers the yoke of slavery.

Hecuba So the palace where I gave birth has fallen!

The Chorus O my children! Your land is become a wilderness…

(a free adaptation from Euripides: The Trojan Women)

While I was occupied with Hecuba’s grief, the descendants of the Greeks aboard our vessel looked as though they were still rejoicing at Priam’s death. Two sailors danced on deck, to the sound of tambourine and zither: they performed a kind of pantomime. Sometimes they raised their arms to heaven; sometimes they set one of their hands to their side, extending the other like an orator haranguing a crowd. They then raised that same hand to their breast, forehead, and eyes. All this was interspersed with poses, more or less odd, of a vague character, and quite akin to the contortions of savages. One may read on the subject of Modern Greek dance, the letters of Monsieur Guys and Madame Chénier (See Pierre Augustin Guys: Voyage Littéraire de la Grèce, and Elizabeth Santi-Lomaca Chénier: Lettres Grecques). To the pantomime, succeeded a round-dance, where the line, passing and re-passing various points, recalled the subjects of those bas-reliefs depicting the dances of ancient times. Happily, the shadow of the ship’s sails hid the figures and clothing of the actors to some extent, and I could transform my unkempt sailors into shepherds of Sicily or Arcady.

The wind continuing to blow favourably for us, we swiftly crossed the channel that separates the island of Tenedos from the mainland, and skirted the coast of Anatolia as far as Cape Baba (Bababurnu), formerly Lectum Promontorium. We then sailed west to double, at nightfall, the tip of the island of Lesbos. It was on Lesbos that Sappho and Alcaeus were born, and to which the head of Orpheus floated, repeating Eurydice’s name:

Ah! miseram Eurydicen, anima fugientes, vocabat.

He with ebbing breath, cried out: ‘Ah, poor Eurydice!’

(Virgil:Georgics IV:525-526)

On the morning of the 22nd of September, the north wind rose with extraordinary violence. We had to anchor at Chios, to take on board more pilgrims; but through the captain’s fear and poor seamanship, we were obliged to go and anchor in the harbour of Tchesme (Cesme) on a dangerously rock-strewn bottom, not far from the wreckage of a large Egyptian vessel.

There is something fateful about this port of Asia Minor. The Turkish fleet was burned there in 1770, by Count Orlov (Aleksey Grigoryevich); and the Romans destroyed the galleys of Antiochus there, in 191BC, assuming the Cyssus of the ancients is the modern Tchesme. Monsieur de Choiseul has produced a plan, and depicted a view, of the harbour. The reader may recall that I almost entered Tchesme when bound for Smyrna, on the 1st of September, twenty-one days before my second passage through the archipelago.

Throughout the 22nd and 23rd, we waited for pilgrims from the island of Chios. Jean went ashore, and provided me with an ample supply of Tchesme pomegranates: they have a great reputation in the Levant, although they are inferior to those of Jaffa. But I have mentioned Jean, and that reminds me that I have not yet spoken to the reader of this new interpreter, successor to the excellent Joseph. He was the most mysterious man I ever met: two little eyes sunken in his head and as if hidden by a very prominent nose, two reddish moustaches, a habit of constantly smiling, and something flexible in his bearing, will give an initial idea of ​​the person. When he had something to tell me, he began by advancing alongside, and, after a long detour, almost crept up on me, to whisper in my ear the least secret thing in the world. As soon as I saw him, I would cry: ‘Walk straight and speak loudly’; advice worth giving to many people. Jean had an understanding with the head priests: he told strange things about me; he brought me compliments from pilgrims who remained below decks, and whom I had failed to notice. At mealtimes, he had no appetite, as he was above such vulgar necessities, but as soon as Julien had finished eating, poor Jean went down into the shallop where they kept my provisions, and under the pretext of putting the baskets in order, swallowed pieces of ham, devoured a bird, drank a bottle of wine, all with such rapidity that one could see no movement of his lips. He then returned with a sad visage to ask if I had need of his services. I advised him not to indulge in grief, and to take some food, otherwise he ran the risk of falling ill. The Greek thought I was his dupe, and it gave him so much pleasure I allowed him to believe so. Despite his small faults, Jean was basically a very honest man and deserved the trust his masters placed in him. All in all, I have drawn this portrait, and a few others, to satisfy the tastes of those readers who like to know something of the characters whose lives they are asked to follow. For my own part, if I have shown some talent for this kind of caricature, I work hard to stifle it; everything that makes a mockery of the nature of man seems unworthy of esteem: obviously I exclude from that judgement, a good joke, subtle raillery, the grand irony employed by the oratorical style, or high comedy.

On the night of the 22nd of September, the vessel slipped its anchor, and we thought we would foul the wreckage of the vessel from Alexandria, marooned nearby. The pilgrims from Chios arrived on the 23rd at noon: they were sixteen in number. At ten in the evening we sailed, the night being fine, with a moderate easterly wind, which changed to a northerly at dawn on the 24th.

We passed between Nicaria and Samos. The latter island was famous for its fertility, its tyrants, and above all the birth of Pythagoras. That fine episode in Télémaque (Fénelon, Les Aventures de Télémaque: XIV) has surpassed all that the poets have said regarding Samos. We entered the channel formed by the Sporades, Patmos, Leria, Cos, etc. and the shores of Asia Minor. There the Meander pursued its winding course, there stood Ephesus, Miletus, Halicarnassus, Cnidus: I saluted, for the last time, the homeland of Homer, Herodotus, Hippocrates, Thales, and Aspasia, though I failed to see the temple at Ephesus, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, or the Venus of Cnidus, and without the work of Pococke, Wood, Spon, and de Choiseul, I would not, under its modern inglorious name (Samsun Dagi) have recognized the promontory of Mycale.

On the 25th of September, at six in the morning, we dropped anchor at the port of Rhodes, to take on a pilot for the Syrian coast. I went ashore, and was conducted to the residence of Monsieur Magallon (Charles Magallon), the French Consul: ever the same reception; the same hospitality, the same politeness. Monsieur Magallon was ill; he chose, however, to introduce me to the Turkish commandant, a fine man, who gave me a black goat, and allowed me to wander wherever I wished. I showed him a firman which he placed on his head, declaring that this is how he supported all the friends of the Grand Seigneur.

Rhodes, the Ancient Dodanim, with the Channel Between the Island and Asia Minor

‘Rhodes, the Ancient Dodanim, with the Channel Between the Island and Asia Minor’
Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor - John Carne, Thomas Allom, William Henry Bartlett, William C. Stafford (p507, 1861)
The British Library

I longed to forsake this audience, to at least take a glance at this famous Rhodes, where I would spend only a moment.

Here, for me, commenced that antiquity which formed a transition between Greek antiquity which I was leaving, and Hebrew antiquity whose remains I went to seek. The monuments of the Knights of Rhodes revived my curiosity, somewhat wearied by the ruins of Sparta and Athens. Wise laws regarding trade (one may consult Johanne Leunclavius’s Traité du droit maritime des Grecs et des Romains. That splendid decree of Louis XIV regarding the Navy retains several provisions of the Rhodian laws); a few verses of Pindar (Olympian Ode VII) on the Sun’s marriage with Venus’s daughter (the nymph, Rhodos); comic poets; painters; monuments more grand than beautiful; that, I think, is all that reminds the traveller of ancient Rhodes. The Rhodians were brave: it is somewhat singular that they were rendered famous in warfare for enduring a siege gloriously (305BC), like the knights who were their successors (1522AD). Rhodes, honoured by the presence of Cicero and Pompey, was sullied by the residence of Tiberius (6BC). The Persians seized Rhodes (Chosroes II, in 620AD) in the reign of Pope Honorius I. It was then taken by the generals of the caliphate, in 647AD, and re-taken by Anastasius II, Emperor of the East (715AD). The Venetians settled here in 1203, John II Doukas Vatatzes took it from the Venetians (1232AD). The Turks conquered the Greeks. The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem seized it in 1309. They held it for almost two centuries, and yielded it to Suleiman I (The Magnificent), on the 25th of December, 1522. Regarding Rhodes, one can consult Vincenzo Coronelli, Dapper, Savary, and Monsieur de Choiseul.

At every step Rhodes offered me evidence of our way of life and memories of my homeland. I found a tiny France in the middle of Greece:

Procedo and parvam Trojam simulataque magnis


I walked on, and saw a little Troy, and a copy of the great citadel…

(Virgil:Aeneid III:349-351)

I traversed a long road, still called the Street of the Knights. It is lined with Gothic buildings; the walls of these houses are lined with Gallic emblems and the arms of our ancient families. I noted the royal lilies of France, as fresh as if they had just left the sculptor’s hand. The Turks, who have everywhere mutilated the monuments of Greece, have spared those of chivalry: Christian honour astonished the brave infidel, and Saladin has shown De Coucy respect.

Ruins of Medieval Buildings at the Beginning of the Knight's Street in Rhodes

‘Ruins of Medieval Buildings at the Beginning of the Knight's Street in Rhodes’
Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor - John Carne, Thomas Allom, William Henry Bartlett, William C. Stafford (p381, 1861)
The British Library

At the end of the Street of the Knights, three Gothic arches lead to the palace of the Grand Master. The palace now serves as a prison. A half-ruined monastery, served by two monks, is all that reminds Rhodes of the religion that performed so many miracles there. The priests conducted me to their chapel. A Gothic Virgin, painted on wood, is displayed holding the child in her arms: the arms of the Grand Master D’Aubusson are engraved at the foot of the painting. This curious antiquity was discovered some years ago, by a slave who was attending to the monastery garden. There is a second altar in the chapel dedicated to Saint Louis, whose image is found throughout the East, and whose death-bed I saw at Carthage. I left some alms beside the altar, begging the priests to say a Mass for my safe journeying, as if I had already foreseen the dangers I would run on the coast of Rhodes on my return from Egypt.

The commercial port of Rhodes would be secure enough if the old defensive works were restored. Walls with twin towers flank the harbour. These two towers, according to local tradition, replaced the two rocks that served as the base for the Colossus. It is known that ships did not pass between the legs of this Colossus, and I only mention this so as not to neglect anything.

Quite close to the main harbour is the dock for the galleys and their construction site. They were currently building a thirty gun frigate from pine-trees felled on the island’s mountains, which seemed to me worth noting.

Rhodes, from the Heights Near Sir Sidney Smith's Villa

‘Rhodes, from the Heights Near Sir Sidney Smith's Villa’
Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor - John Carne, Thomas Allom, William Henry Bartlett, William C. Stafford (p136, 1861)
The British Library

The shores of Rhodes, towards Caramania (Doris and Caria), are roughly at sea level, but the island rises in the interior, and a high mountain is clearly prominent, flattened at its peak, mentioned by all the geographers of antiquity. At Linda there are remains of the Temple of Athene. Camira and Ialyssos have disappeared. Rhodes once supplied oil to the whole of Anatolia, and now does not produce enough for its own consumption. It still exports some wheat. The vines yield a very good wine, which resembles those of the Rhone: the vine-stocks may have been brought from the Dauphiné by the knights of that region, especially since they call the wines, as in Cyprus, vins du Commanderie.

Our geographers tell us that in Rhodes they weave velvets and tapestries which are much esteemed: various coarse fabrics, which they use to cover equally coarse furniture, are the only products of Rhodian industry, of that kind. These people, whose colonists long ago founded Naples and Agrigento, today barely occupy a corner of their desert island. An Agha with a hundred degenerate Janissaries is sufficient to control a herd of slaves. It is inconceivable that the Order of Malta has never tried to return to its ancient domain; nothing would have been easier than to seize the island of Rhodes: it would have been a trivial task for the Knights to renew the fortifications, which are still quite sound: they would not have been expelled again, since the Turks, who were the first to employ trench warfare against the towns of Europe, are now the last people in the art of sieges.

I left Monsieur Magallon on the 25th of September at four in the evening, after having left letters with him, which he promised to dispatch to Constantinople, via Carmania. Taking a caique, I re-joined our vessel, which was already under sail with its coastal pilot on board: the pilot was a German who had lived at Rhodes for many years. We set our course for the cape at the tip of Carmania, once the promontory of the Chimaera in Lycia. Rhodes offered in the distance behind us, a length of bluish coastline, under a golden sky. Within that extent two squared-off mountains could be distinguished, which seemed as if carved to be foundations for castles, and resembled in their form the Acropolis of Corinth, or those of Athens and Pergamon.

The 26th was an unfortunate day. We were becalmed alongside the mainland of Asia Minor, nearly opposite Cape Chelidonia, which forms the tip of the Gulf of Satalia (Antalya). I saw on our left the elevated peaks of Mount Cragus (Babadag), and I remembered the verses of poets regarding chilly Lycia. I was unaware that one day I would curse the summits of that Taurus range, which I was pleased to gaze at, and would count them among the famous mountains whose tops I have seen. The currents were very strong, and carried us off, as we realised the next day. The vessel which was in ballast, rolled wearily: the head of the mainmast snapped, and the yard of the second sail of the foremast. For such inexperienced sailors it was a great misfortune.

It is truly an amazing thing to watch the Greeks navigating. The pilot sits, legs crossed; his pipe in his mouth; he grasps the tiller, which, in order to act at the same level as the hand that guides it, scrapes the stern planking. Before the pilot, who is half-reclining, and therefore possesses little leverage, is a compass, of which he knows nothing, and which he fails to consult. At the slightest appearance of danger, French and Italian charts are deployed on the bridge; the whole crew lie flat, the captain at their head; they examine the chart, tracing its lines with their fingers, trying to establish where they are; everyone gives his opinion: they end up by understanding nothing at all of this arcane parchment of the Franks; they re-fold the map; they bring the sails about, or sail downwind: then pipes and rosaries are taken up once more; we recommend our lives to Providence, and await events. There are vessels that veer two or three hundred miles off course, and land in Africa instead of arriving in Syria; but that does not stop the crew dancing at the first ray of sunlight. The ancient Greeks were, in many respects, mo more than delightful credulous children, who passed from sadness to joy with extreme fluidity; the modern Greeks have retained aspects of that character: happy at least in having recourse to levity to combat their misery!

The northerly wind resumed blowing at about eight in the evening, and hopes of swiftly reaching the end of our voyage revived the pilgrims’ spirits. Our German pilot told us that we should see Cape St. Epiphanius, and the island of Cyprus, at daybreak. We thought only of celebrating being alive. All our provisions were carried on deck; we divided into groups; each passed to his neighbour something his neighbour lacked. I adopted the family who had the berth opposite me, next to the captain’s cabin; it consisted of a wife, two children and an old man, the father of the young pilgrim. This old man was performing his third voyage to Jerusalem, he had never seen a Latin pilgrim, and the good man wept for joy, as he gazed at me: So I supped with the family. I have scarcely witnessed a scene more delightful and picturesque. The wind was fresh; the sea; splendid; the night, serene. The moon seemed to sway amidst the masts and rigging of the ship; sometimes it appeared beyond the sails, and the whole ship was illuminated; sometimes it was hidden by the canvas, and the groups of pilgrims were again plunged into darkness. Who could not bless religion, whilst reflecting that these two hundred pilgrims, so happy at this moment, were nevertheless slaves bowed under an odious yoke? They were travelling to the tomb of Jesus Christ to forget the lost glories of their homeland, and find solace from their present evils. What secret sorrows were they not about to set down beside the Saviour’s manger! Each wave that drove the ship towards the holy shore bore one of our troubles.

On the 27th of September, in the morning, much to the surprise of the pilot, we were at sea, and out of sight of land. We were becalmed: there was general consternation. Where were we? Were we north of, or still west of the island of Cyprus? We spent all day in this one debate. Talking of taking bearings, or soundings, would have been like speaking Hebrew to our mariners. When the breeze got up towards evening, there was a further difficulty. What course should we take? The pilot, who believed himself beyond the Gulf of Satalia (Antalya), and off the northern coast of the island of Cyprus, wanted to head south to reach the latter, though it would yield the consequence that if we were still west of the island, we would sail, on that compass bearing, straight towards Egypt. The captain claimed we must wear northwards, to reach the coast of Carmania: that would mean retracing our course, and indeed, in that respect the wind was contrary. I was asked my opinion, because, in difficult situations, the Greeks and Turks always have recourse to the Franks. I advised them to sail east, for an obvious reason: we were west or north of the island of Cyprus: now, in either case, by heading east we would be on a beneficial course. Moreover, if we were west of the island, we could not fail to see land to port or starboard, in a very short time, either Carmania’s Cape Anamur, or Cyprus’s Cape Kormakittis (Korucam Burnu). We would be free to double the eastern tip of the island, and descend along the coast of Syria.

This advice appeared best, and we turned the bows east. On the 28th of September, at five in the morning, to our great joy, we sighted Cape Gata, on the island of Cyprus; it lay north of us, about twenty-five to thirty miles away. Thus, we were south of the island, and on the right course for Jaffa. The current had previously carried us well to the south-west.

At noon, the wind dropped. The calm continued the rest of the day, and lasted until the 29th. We received three new passengers on board, two wagtails and a swallow. I have no idea what could have led the former to leave their haunts; as to the latter, they were on their way to Syria perhaps, and may have come from France. I was tempted to ask them for news of the paternal roof I had left so long ago (See Les Martyrs, XI). I remember, in my childhood, spending hours of indescribably melancholic pleasure, watching the swallows’ flight in autumn; a secret instinct told me that I would, like those birds, become a voyager. They gathered at the end of September, above the reeds of a large pond: there, emitting their cries and executing a thousand evolutions above the water, they seemed to be trying out their wings, and preparing for lengthy pilgrimages. Why, of all the memories of existence, do we ​​prefer those that recall our birthplace? The pleasures of self-love, the illusions of youth, fail to charm our memory: on the contrary, we find in them aridity or bitterness; but the most trivial of circumstances awake in the depths of the heart the emotions of childhood, and always with a new attraction. By the shores of the American lakes, in an unknown wilderness that has little to say to the traveller, in a land that possesses nothing but the grandeur of its solitude, a swallow sufficed for me to retrace scenes from my life’s earliest days, as it now recalled them to me on ​​Syrian waters, in sight of an ancient land, echoing to the voice of the centuries and historical tradition.

The currents thus brought us to the Island of Cyprus. We reached its sandy, low-lying, and seemingly arid shores. Mythology has set its most happy fables there (see Les Martyrs:XVII.)

Ipsa Paphum sublimis abit, sedesque revisit

Laeta suas, ubi templum illi, centumque Sabaeo

Thure calent arae, sertisque recentibus halant.

She herself soars high in the air, to Paphos, and returns to her home

with delight, where her temple and its hundred altars

steam with Sabean incense, fragrant with fresh garlands.

(Virgil: Aeneid I:415)

It is better, as regards the island of Cyprus, to keep to poetry rather than history, unless one takes pleasure in recalling one of the most glaring injustices of the Romans and that shameful expedition led by Cato the Younger (58BC, see Plutarch: Cato the Younger: 36). Yet it is a strange thing to imagine the temples of Amathus and Idalia converted to prisons in the Middle Ages. A French gentleman was king of Paphos (Guy de Lusignan, ruled 1192-1194), and barons dressed in doublets were ensconced in the sanctuaries of Eros and the Graces. One may read the whole history of Cyprus in Olfert Dapper’s Archipel: while the Abbé Mariti (Giovanni Mariti: Viaggi per l’isola di Cipro e per la Soria e Palestina, 1792) has described the revolutions of modern times, and the current status of the island, still important today because of its situation.

The weather was so beautiful, and the air so mild, that all the passengers remained on deck at night. I had disputed possession of a corner of the quarter-deck with two large Greek Orthodox monks who had grudgingly yielded it to me. It was there that I was sleeping on the 30th of September, when I was awakened, at six in the morning, by the sound of loud voices: I opened my eyes, and saw the pilgrims who had been keeping watch at the prow. I asked what the matter was; they cried: Signor, il Carmelo! Carmel! The wind had risen before eight the previous evening, and during the night we had arrived in sight of the coast of Syria. As I had been sleeping fully dressed, I was quick to rise to my feet, while asking about the sacred mountain. Everyone was eager to point it out to me, but I could see nothing, as the sun was rising ahead of us. The moment had something religious and august about it; all the pilgrims, rosary in hand, remained quietly in the same attitude, awaiting the appearance of the Holy Land; the head priest prayed aloud: we listened to the prayer and the sound of the ship’s passage, as a favourable wind drove the vessel swiftly over a shining sea. From time to time a cry rose from the bow as Carmel again became visible. Finally I caught sight of that mountain myself, like a round stain under the sun’s rays. I fell to my knees in the manner of Latins. I felt a different kind of emotion to that which I had felt on first seeing the shores of Greece; but the sight of that cradle of the Israelites, and homeland of Christians, filled me with awe and respect. I was about to reach a land of wonders, the source of the most astonishing poetry, places where, even speaking of mankind alone, the greatest of events occurred, that changed the world forever, I mean the coming of the Messiah; I was about to land on those shores visited by Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond de Saint Gilles, Tancred the Brave, Hugh the Great, Richard the Lion Heart, and that Saint Louis whose virtues were admired by the infidels. An obscure pilgrim, how did I dare to tread a soil consecrated by so many illustrious ones?

Tyre, from the Isthmus

‘Tyre, from the Isthmus’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

As we advanced, and the sun rose in the sky, the land unrolled before us. The furthest point we could see in the distance, to our left, towards the north, was the tip of Tyre; followed by Cape Blanc (Rosh Hanikra), Saint Jean d’Acre (Akko), Mount Carmel with Haifa at its foot; Tantura, the ancient Dor; Château-Pèlerin (Atlit, Castle Pilgrim), and Caesarea, whose ruins were visible. Jaffa ought to have been beneath the very prow of the vessel, but we could not see it yet, then the coast dropped gradually to a last headland in the south, where it seemed to vanish: there the shores of ancient Palestine commence, which join with those of Egypt, and are almost at sea level. The land, which was twenty-five to thirty miles away, seemed generally white, with dark undulations produced by shadows; there were no salient features on that oblique line traced from north to south: not even Mount Carmel projected from the background: everything was uniform and mottled. The overall effect was almost that of the mountains of the Bourbonnais (Allier/Cher), when viewed from the heights of Tarare. A line of white jagged clouds on the horizon followed the line of the land, and seemed to repeat its appearance in the sky.

Mount Carmel Looking Towards the Sea

‘Mount Carmel Looking Towards the Sea’
Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor - John Carne, Thomas Allom, William Henry Bartlett, William C. Stafford (p400, 1861)
The British Library

St. Jean d'Acre, from the Sea

‘St. Jean d'Acre, from the Sea’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

The wind failed us at noon; it rose again at four, but through the pilot’s ignorance, we overshot our destination. We were heading full sail towards Gaza, when the pilgrims realised, by an inspection of the coastline, our German’s error; we had to tack; all this caused lost time, and night fell. However, we were still approaching Jaffa; we could even see the lights of the city, when the wind from the northwest beginning to blow with fresh force, fear seized the captain; he dared not seek the roads at night: suddenly he swept the bows round, and returned to the high seas.

I was leaning over the stern, and watched the land disappear with a real feeling of grief. After half an hour, I saw what looked like the distant reflection of a fire on the summit of a mountain range: the mountains were those of Judea. The moon, which produced the effect with which I had been struck, soon revealed its broad reddened disc over Jerusalem. A beneficial hand seemed to have raised this beacon on the heights of Sion to guide us to the holy city. Unfortunately we did not, like the Magi, follow the helpful star, and its light only served to help us flee the harbour we so longed for.

On the next day, Wednesday, the first of October, at daybreak, we found ourselves floundering offshore, almost opposite Caesarea: we needed to return south along the coast. Fortunately the wind was favourable, though light. In the distance rose the amphitheatre of the mountains of Judea. At the foot of these mountains, a plain sloped to the sea. It showed barely a trace of cultivation, and its only structure was a Gothic castle in ruins, surmounted by a crumbling and abandoned minaret. On the shore, the land ended in yellow cliffs, speckled with black, which overlooked a beach where we saw and heard the waves breaking. Arabs, wandering the coast, followed, with a covetous eye, our ship passing by on the horizon, anticipating the spoils of shipwreck on the same coast where Jesus Christ commanded us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.


Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

At two in the afternoon, we saw Jaffa at last. We had been observed from the city. A boat detached itself from the harbour, and advanced to meet us. I took advantage of this boat to send Jean ashore. I handed him the letter of recommendation that the Custodians of the Holy Land had given me in Constantinople, which was addressed to the priests at Jaffa. I wrote, at the same time, a word to them.

An hour after Jean’s departure, we came to anchor before Jaffa, the city lying to the south-east, and the minaret of the mosque to the east-southeast. I note the compass directions here for an important reason: the vessels of the Latins usually anchor farther offshore; they are then moored above a layer of rocks that may well sever the cables, while the Greek ships, on approaching land, find a less hazardous anchorage, between the basin of Jaffa and the line of rocks.

Jaffa Looking South

‘Jaffa Looking South’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

Jaffa presents itself as no more than a wretched cluster of houses gathered together, and arranged in an amphitheatre, on the slope of a tall hill. The misfortunes that this city has so often experienced have multiplied its ruins. A wall that at its two ends reaches the sea, envelopes it on the landward side, and protects it from attack.

Various caiques soon arrived, from all sides, to transport us pilgrims to shore: the clothing, features, complexion, facial appearance, and language of the owners of these caiques, immediately proclaimed the Arab race, and the proximity of the desert. The disembarkation of the passengers was achieved without fuss, though with a justifiable eagerness. This crowd of men, old men, women, and children on setting foot in the Holy Land uttered no such cries, tears, and lamentations as painters are pleased to depict in creating their imaginary and ridiculous works. They were quite calm; and of all those pilgrims I was certainly not the least moved.

I finally saw a boat coming towards us, in which I made out my Greek servant, accompanied by three monks. They recognized me in my French clothing, and waved their hands, in a kindly manner. They were soon on board. Although these monks were Spanish, and spoke an Italian which was hard to understand, we shook hands like true compatriots. I descended with them into the shallop; we entered the port through a convenient opening in the rocks, dangerous even for a caique. The shore Arabs walked through water up to their waists, in order to carry us on their shoulders. Rather an amusing scene took place: my servant was wearing a white greatcoat; white being the colour of distinction among the Arabs, they decided that my servant was the sheikh. They seized him, and carried him off in triumph despite his protestations while, dressed in my blue coat, I was borne away in obscurity, on the back of a ragged beggar.

We went off to the monks’ hospice, a simple wooden house built beside the harbour and enjoying a fine view of the sea. My hosts initially conducted me to the chapel, which I found well-lit, and where they thanked God for having sent them a brother; they are most touching, these Christian institutions through which the traveller finds friends and succour in the most barbarous of countries; institutions I have mentioned elsewhere, and which are never sufficiently admired.

The three monks who came to find me on board were named John Truylos Penna, Alexandre Roma and Martin Alexano; they comprised the entire hospice, their priest, Dom Juan de la Concepcíon, being absent.

On leaving the chapel, the monks installed me in my cell, where there was a table, bed, ink, paper, water and fresh white linen. One needs to have disembarked from a Greek vessel loaded with two hundred pilgrims, to appreciate the value of all this. At eight in the evening, we went to the refectory. We found two other priests who had come from Rama (Ramla) and were leaving for Constantinople; Father Manuel Sancha and Father Francis Munoz. We sang the Benedicite together, preceded by the De Profundis; a remembrance of how Christianity mingles death with all the events of life to render them more serious, as the ancients mingled it with their banquets to render their pleasures more piquant. I was served poultry, fish, and excellent fruit; pomegranates, watermelons, grapes, and mature dates; at a small, clean and separate table; I drank a discreet amount of Cypriot wine and Levantine coffee. While I filled myself with this excellent fare, the monks ate some fish without salt or oil. They were lively but modest; familiar but polite; no pointless questions, no idle curiosity. All was directed to my trip, on the measures needed for me to complete it in safety, ‘For,’ they told me, ‘we now owe a responsibility to your country with regard to yourself.’ They had already dispatched a message to the sheik of the Arabs of Mount Judea, and another to the pastor of Ramla. ‘We welcome you’, Father Francis Munoz told me, ‘with a heart limpido e bianco.’ It was unnecessary for this Spanish monk to assure me of the sincerity of his feelings; I would have guessed them readily, from the pious frankness of his brow and his gaze.

This reception, so Christian and so charitable, in the land where Christianity and charity had their birth; this apostolic hospitality, in a place where the first apostles preached the Gospel, touched me to the core: I remembered how other missionaries had received me with the same cordiality in the wilds of America. The monks of the Holy Land possess yet more merit, in demonstrating to pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem the charity of Jesus Christ, they have guarded on their behalf the Cross that was planted on those shores. That monk, with his heart limpido e bianco, assured me that he still found the life he had led for fifty years un vero paradiso. Would you like to know what that paradise is like? Daily affronts, the threat of beatings, shackles, death! This monk, on the previous Easter, having washed the altar cloths, water, impregnated with starch, flowed out of the hospice and whitened a stone. A passing Turk, seeing the stone, reported to the cadi that the monks were repairing the building. The cadi, arriving at to the scene, decided that the stone which was black, had become white; and without hearing the monks’ testimony forced them to pay ten bags of coin in reparation. On the very eve of my arrival at Jaffa, the pastor of the hospice had been threatened with the rope by a servant of the Agha, in the presence of the Agha himself. The latter was content to stroke his moustache tranquilly, without deigning to speak a word in favour of the dog. Such is the veritable paradise experienced by the monks who, according to some travellers, are petty sovereigns in the Holy Land, and enjoy the highest honours.

At ten in the evening, my hosts led me down a long corridor to my cell. The waves broke with a crash against the rocks of the harbour: with the window closed, it sounded like a tempest, with the window open, a beautiful sky was visible, a tranquil moon, a calm sea, and the pilgrim ship anchored offshore. The monks smiled at the surprise I experienced at this contrast. I said, in poor Latin: Ecce monachis similitudo mundi; quantumcumque mare fremitum reddat, eis placidae semper undae videntur: omnia tranquillitas serenis animis. Behold, how like this is to the monks of this world; no matter how the sea roars, to them the waves seem always calm: all is tranquil to the tranquil mind.

Sidon, Looking Towards Lebanon

‘Sidon, Looking Towards Lebanon’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

I spent part of the night contemplating the Tyrian Sea that Scripture calls the Great Sea, which bore the fleet of the prophet-king on his way to the cedars of Lebanon and the purple of Sidon; that sea where Leviathan makes the deep to boil (Job:41:31); that sea that the Lord shuts up with doors (Job:38:8); that sea that saw God and fled (Psalms 114:3). Here was neither the savage Ocean of Canada, nor the smiling waves of Greece. To the south lay Egypt, where the Lord had entered on a swift cloud, to dry up the channels of the Nile, and overthrow idols (Isaiah: 19:1-30); north rose the queen of cities, whose merchants were princes (Isaiah 23:8): Ululate, naves maris, quia devastata est fortitudo vestra...Attrita est civitas vanitatis, clausa est omnis domus nullo introeunte...quia haec erunt in medio terrae...quomodo si paucae olivae, quae remanserunt, excutiantur ex olea; et racemi, cum fuerit finita vindemia (Vulgate: Isaiah 23:14 and 24:10,13): ‘Howl, vessels of the sea, because your power is destroyed ...The city of vanity is razed, all its houses are closed and none may enter ... What remains of men in these places shall be left as the handful of olives on the tree after harvest, as grapes hanging from the vine when the harvest is done.’ Here other antiquities are revealed by another poet: Isaiah succeeds to Homer.

Cedars of Lebanon

‘Cedars of Lebanon’
Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor - John Carne, Thomas Allom, William Henry Bartlett, William C. Stafford (p33, 1861)
The British Library

And that is not all, for the sea I gazed at bathed, to my right, the land of Galilee and, on my left, the plain of Ascalon: the former recalled the early traditions of the life of the patriarchs and the Nativity of the Saviour; the latter, memories of the Crusades and the shades of the heroes of the Gerusalemme:

Grande e mirabil cosa era il vedere,

quando quel campo e questo a fronte venne:

come, spiegate in ordine le schiere,

di mover già, già d’assalire accenne:

sparse al vento ondeggiando ir le bandiere,

e ventolar su i gran cimier le penne:

abiti e fregi, imprese, arme e colori

d’oro e di ferro al sol lampi e fulgori.

It was a great, and a wondrous sight,

When, face to face, those armies met:

How in every troop rode every knight

Prepared to fight, catch glory in his net:

Free in the wind waved, those banners bright,

On their helms the quivering plumes were set;

Brave arms and emblems, smiling, in the sun,

Colours of gold and steel, glittering shone.

(Tasso: Gerusalemme Liberata XX:28)


Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

Jean-Baptiste Rousseau has depicted for us the success of that day:

La Palestine, enfin, après tant de ravages,

Vit fuir ses ennemis, comme on voit les nuages

Dans le vague des airs fuir devant l’aquilon;

Et des vents du midi la dévorante haleine

N’a consumé qu’ à peine

Leurs ossements blanchis dans les champs d’Ascalon.

Palestine, at last, after such great devastation,

Saw its foes flee, as clouds are seen to run,

Through wastes of air, the northerly drives on;

While the south wind’s hot devouring breath

Has scarce consumed as yet

Their bones that bleach on the fields of Ascalon.

(J-B Rousseau: Odes III:5, Aux Princes Chrétiens)

It was with regret that I tore myself from the spectacle of that sea which awakens so many memories, but it was necessary to snatch some sleep.

Father Juan de la Concepcíon, the curé of Jaffa and head of the hospice, arrived the next morning, the 2nd of October. I wanted to explore the city, and visit the Agha, who sent me his compliments; the curé deterred me from executing this plan:

‘You do not know these people,’ he said, ‘what you take for politeness is merely malicious curiosity. They only welcome you to find out who you are, whether you are wealthy, whether you can be despoiled. Do you wish to see the Agha? You must first give him presents: he will not fail to give you an escort to Jerusalem, regardless of your wishes; the Agha of Ramla will add to this escort; the Arabs, seeing that a wealthy Frenchman is going on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, will raise the amount of the caffaro levy, or attack you. At the gate of Jerusalem you will find the camp of the Pasha of Damascus, who has come to levy contributions, before leading the caravan to Mecca: your trappings will give umbrage to the Pasha, and expose you to insult. Arriving in Jerusalem, you will be asked for three or four thousand piastres to pay for the escort. The people, informed of your arrival, will lay siege to you, such that if you possessed millions, you could not satisfy their greed. The streets will be blocked to obstruct your passage, and you would not enter the holy places without running the risk of being set upon. Trust me, tomorrow we will disguise ourselves as pilgrims and we will travel to Ramla together; there I will receive a response to my message; if it is favourable, you can leave at night, and you will reach Jerusalem safely, and cheaply.’

The priest supported his reasoning with a thousand examples especially that of a Polish bishop, whose air of excessive wealth had cut short his life, two years previously. I mention this only to show to what degree corruption; greed for gold; anarchy and barbarism have been taken in that country.

So I yielded to the experience of my hosts, and confined myself to the hospice, where I spent a pleasant day in peaceful conversation. I received a visit from Monsieur Contessini, who aspired to the vice-consulate of Jaffa, and the Damiens, father and son, of French origin, formerly living under Djezzar (Cezzar Ahmet Pasha), at Saint-Jean d’Acre. They told me singular tales of recent events in Syria; they spoke of the reputation that the Emperor Napoleon and our armies had won in the desert. Men are more sensitive to the reputation of their country when far from it, than they are at home, and we have seen the French emigrés claim their part in victories that appeared to condemn them to eternal exile (James II, who lost a kingdom, expressed the same sentiment at the battle of La Hogue, in 1692).

I spent five days in Jaffa, on my return from Jerusalem, and I examined it in minute detail; I ought therefore to speak of it at that time; but in order to follow the sequence of my travels, I will set down my observations here; moreover, after a description of the holy places, it is likely that readers would find Jaffa less interesting.

Jaffa was formerly called Joppa, which signifies beautiful or comely, pulchritudo aut decor, as Adrichomius (Christianus Crucius Adrichomius: Theatrum Terrae Sanctae et Biblicarum Historiarum, 1590) said. D’Anville derives the current name from a primitive form, Japho (I know it is pronounced Yafa in Syria, and Monsieur de Volney writes it thus, but I know no Arabic: I have no other authority for altering D’Anville’s orthography which is that of so many other learned writers.) I note that, in the land of the Hebrews, there was another city named Jaffa, which was taken by the Romans; this name may then have been transferred to Joppa. If we are to believe the translators, and even Pliny (V:XIV.69), the origin of this city dates back to antiquity, since Joppa was built before the flood. They say it was at Joppa that Noah entered the ark. After the retreat of the waters, the patriarch gave Shem, his eldest son, as his share, all the dependent territories of the city founded by his third son Japheth. Finally Joppa, according to the traditions of the country, guarded the tomb of the second father of the human race.

According to Pococke, Shaw and perhaps D’Anville, Joppa fell to Ephraim’s share, and formed the western part of this tribe, with Ramla and Lidda. But other authors, among them Adrichomius, and Roger (Eugène Roger: La Terre Sainte, 1664), allocate Joppa to the tribe of Dan. The Greeks extended the setting of their myths to these shores. They said Joppa took its name from a daughter of Aeolus. They located the tale of Perseus and Andromeda in the vicinity of that city. According to Pliny (IX:IV:11), Marcus Aemilius Scaurus brought the bones of the monster created by Poseidon to Rome, from Joppa. Pausanias (IV:35:9) claimed a fountain was to be seen near Joppa where Perseus washed off the blood with which the monster had covered him: hence the fountain acquired a red tinge. Finally, Saint Jerome (Letter CVIII: To Eustochium:8) says that in his time they still showed the rock at Joppa, with the ring to which Andromeda was fastened.

It was Joppa where Hiram’s fleeted landed, laden with cedar for the temple, and from which the prophet Jonah sailed when he fled from the face of the Lord. On five occasions Joppa fell into the hands of the Egyptians, Assyrians and the various peoples who made war against the Jews, before the Romans arrived in Asia Minor. It became one of the eleven toparchies (administrative districts) in which the idol Ascarlen was worshipped. Judas Maccabeus burned this city, whose inhabitants had massacred two hundred Jews (II Maccabees 12:3-7). Saint Peter resurrected Tabitha there (Acts 9: 36-42), and received the men from Caesarea, at the house of Simon the tanner (Acts 10: 5-23). At the beginning of the troubles in Judea, Joppa was destroyed by Cestius (Josephus: The Jewish Wars:2.18.10). Pirates having rebuilt the walls, Vespasian sacked it once more, and garrisoned the citadel (Josephus:3.9.3 427).

We have seen that Joppa existed about two centuries later, at the time of Saint Jerome, who called it Japho. It passed with all of Syria under the Saracen yoke. It is found in the histories of the Crusades. The anonymous eyewitness who began the Dei Gesta per Francos (re-worked by Guibert de Nogent) said that, the crusader army being beneath the walls of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon sent Raymond Pilet, Achard de Mommellou, and Guillaume de Sabran, to guard the Genoese and Pisan ships which had arrived at the port of Jaffa: qui fideliter custodies homines and naves in portu Japhiae. Benjamin of Tudela speaks of it at about at that time under the name Gapha: Quinque abhinc leucis est Gapha, olim Joppa, aliis Joppe dicta, ad mare sita: ubi unus tantum Judaeus, isque lanae inficiendae artifex est: eight miles hence to Gapha, formerly Joppa, otherwise the Joppe of Scripture, on the coast; one Jew only, a dyer by profession, lives here. Saladin re-took Jaffa from the Crusaders, and Richard the Lion Heart took it from Saladin (1192). The Saracens returned and massacred the Christians. But at the time of Saint Louis’ first voyage to the East it was no longer in the power of the infidels; since it was held by Gautier de Brienne, who assumed the title of Count of Japhe, according to the spelling of the Sire de Joinville. ‘And when the Count of Japhe saw that the king was come, he went and put his castle of Japhe in such case, that it resembled a well-defended town. For on every battlement of his castle he had fully five hundred men, every one with a shield and a banner showing his arms. Which thing was very beautiful to behold. For his arms were pure gold, with a cross-patee gules, very richly worked. We camped in the fields all around this castle of Japhe, which was sited at sea-level, on an island. And the king began to enclose and build a fortification all around the castle, from one inlet to the other, on whatever ground was there.’

It was in Jaffa that the Queen, the wife of Saint Louis (Marguerite of Provence), gave birth to a daughter named Blanche (in 1253); Saint Louis had also received the news of the death of his mother (Blanche of Castile, in 1252) in that same city. He had thrown himself on his knees and cried out: ‘I thank my God, that you lent me my dear lady mother, so long as it has pleased your will; and that now, according your pleasure, you have taken her to you once more. It is true that I have loved her above all the creatures of the world, which she well merited; but since you have removed her from me, may your name be eternally blessed.’

Jaffa, under the domination of the Christians, possessed a suffragan bishop of the See of Caesarea. When the knights had been forced to abandon the Holy Land entirely, Jaffa with the rest of Palestine fell under the yoke of the Sultans of Egypt, and then under Turkish rule.

From that epoch, until our own time, we find Joppa or Jaffa mentioned by all voyagers to Jerusalem; but the city we see today has existed for little more than a century, since Monconys (Balthasar de Monconys), who visited Palestine in 1647, found a castle at Jaffa, and three caves carved from the rock. Thévenot says that the monks of the Holy Land built wooden huts in front of the caves, and that the Turks forced the priests to demolish them. That explains a passage in the diary of a Venetian monk. The monk says that on arrived in Jaffa, pilgrims were shut in a cave. De Brèves (François Savary de Brèves), Opdam, Deshayes (Louis Deshayes de Cormenin), Nicole le Huen, Barthélemey de Salignac; Duloir (Le Sieur du Loir: Voyages), Zuallart (Jean Zuallart), Père Roger (Voyage de la Terre Sainte) and Pierre de La Vallé are unanimous on the limited extent and wretchedness of Jaffa.

One can read in Monsieur de Volney (Constantin François de Chassebœuf, Comte de Volney) an account of modern Jaffa, the history of the sieges it suffered during the wars of Daher el-Omar and Ali Bey Al-Kabir, and other details about the excellence of its fruit, the adornment represented by its gardens, etc. I will add a few remarks.

Apart from the two fresh springs at Jaffa, cited by travellers, there are freshwater sources all along the coast, towards Gaza; one only need dig with one’s hands to strike fresh-water, even at the very edge of the waves: I myself, in the company of Monsieur Contessina, experienced that curious phenomenon, which can be replicated from the southern corner of the city as far as a hermitage, visible some distance away on the coast.

Jaffa, already ravaged in Daher’s assaults, has suffered greatly from recent events. The French, commanded by the Emperor, took it by storm in 1799. When our soldiers returned to Egypt, the English, with the help of the Grand Vizier’s troops, built a bastion at the southeast corner of the city. Abu-Marak (or Abou-Marak, the self-styled Pasha of Palestine), a favourite of the Grand Vizier, was appointed commander of the city. Djezzar, (variously Achmed Pasha, Jezzar, or Ahmed al-Jazzar) the Pasha of Acre, the enemy of the Grand Vizier, laid siege to Jaffa after the departure of the Ottoman army. Abu-Marak defended it valiantly for nine months then found an opportunity to escape by sea. The ruins visible to the east of the city are the results of that siege. After the death of Djezzar (1804), Abu-Marak was appointed Pasha of Jeddah, on the Red Sea. The new Pasha set out to cross Palestine; due to one of these uprisings so common in Turkey, he halted at Jaffa, and refused to enter on his pashalik. The Pasha of Acre, Suleiman Pasha, the second successor of Djezzar (the immediate successor of Djezzar was Ismael Pasha, who seized authority at Djezzar’s death), was ordered to attack the rebels and Jaffa was besieged again. After limited resistance, Abu-Marak took refuge with Mahamet Pacha-Adem, then appointed to the pashalik of Damascus.

I hope I will be pardoned the aridity of these details, because of the importance that Jaffa once possessed and that which it has acquired in recent times.

I waited, with impatience, for my moment of departure for Jerusalem. On the 3rd of October, at four in the afternoon, my servants dressed themselves in goat-hair tunics, made in Upper Egypt, such as the Bedouins wear; beneath my coat I had on a robe similar to those of Jean and Julien, and we mounted on small horses. Our packs served us as saddles; and ropes acted as stirrups. The head of the hospice walked in front of us, like an ordinary monk. A half-naked Arab showed us the way, and another Arab followed behind, driving before him a donkey laden with our baggage. We left from the rear of the monastery, and attained the city gate, on the south, through the ruins of houses destroyed in the last siege. At first we rode through gardens, which were once delightful: Père Néret (Charles Néret) and Monsieur de Volney praise them. These gardens have been ravaged by the various armies that have disputed the ruins of Jaffa, but there are still pomegranates, Pharaoh figs (ficus sycomoros), citrus-trees, palm-trees, clumps of prickly-pear (opuntia ficus-indica), and apple trees, which are also seen in the Gaza area, and even at the monastery of Mount Sinai.

Ascent of the Lower Range of Sinai

‘Ascent of the Lower Range of Sinai’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

We advanced into the Plain of Sharon, whose beauty is praised in Scripture (see Les Martyrs XVII). When Père Néret passed by here in April 1713, it was covered with tulips. ‘The variation in their colours,’ he says, ‘forms a pleasant garden.’ The flowers that clothe this renowned landscape in the spring include pink and white roses, narcissi, anemones, white and yellow lilies, stock, and a species of fragrant immortelle. The plain extends along the coast, from Gaza in the south to Mount Carmel in the north. It is bounded on the east by the mountains of Judea and Samaria. It is not level throughout: it forms four plateaux, separated from each other by bands of bare, weathered stone. The soil is thin and coarse, white or reddish in colour, and, though sandy, appears to be extremely fertile. But thanks to the despotic Muslims, the ground on all sides offers only thistles, and dry withered grasses, interspersed with stunted patches of cotton, dura (doura: sorghum vulgare), barley and wheat. Here and there villages appear, always in ruins, with a few clumps of olive trees and sycamores. Halfway from Ramla to Jaffa, is a well, noted by every traveller: the Abbé Mariti (Giovanni Mariti: Viaggi per l’isola di Cipro e per la Soria e Palestina, 1760-68: Vol II: Chapter XVI)) mentions it, in order to have the pleasure of comparing the charity of a celebrated Dervish, who lived there, to the reclusive life of the Christian monk. Near the well a grove of olive trees is visible, planted in a quincunx, whose origin the tradition traces to the time of Godfrey of Bouillon. Rama, or Ramla, is found to be located on a charming site, at the extremity of one of the plateaux or folds of the plain. Before entering, we left the path, to visit a cistern, the work of Constantine’s mother (if we believe the local traditions, Saint Helen must have built all the monuments in Palestine, which is hardly consistent with the great age of the Empress when she made her pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, it is certain, according to the unanimous testimony of Eusebius, Saint Jerome and all ecclesiastical historians that Helen contributed greatly to the restoration of the holy places). One descends it by means of twenty-seven steps; it is thirty-three paces long by thirty wide; it is composed of twenty-four arches, and receives the rainfall through twenty-four openings. From there, through a forest of prickly-pears, we returned to the Tower of the Forty Martyrs, today the minaret of an abandoned mosque (the White Mosque), once the bell-tower of a monastery, of which the delightful ruins remain; the ruins are of covered arcades of a type similar to the Stables of Maecenas at Tibur (Tivoli); they are full of wild figs. One imagines that Joseph, and the Virgin and Child might have halted at such a place during the flight into Egypt: it would certainly prove a delightful setting for a depiction of The Rest of the Holy Family; Claude Lorrain’s genius seems to have divined this very landscape, judging from his admirable version in the Doria Palace in Rome (Galleria Pamphilj, 266).

On the door of the tower is an inscription in Arabic described by Monsieur de Volney: close by is a ruin, described by Muratori (Ludovico Antonio Muratori) and associated with a miracle.

After visiting these ruins, we passed an abandoned mill: Monsieur de Volney mentions it as being the only one he had seen in Syria; there are several others today. We descended to Ramla, and arrived at the hospice of the Monks of the Holy Land. This monastery had been sacked five years ago, and they showed me the tomb of one of the brothers who had perished on that occasion. The monks had finally obtained permission, after a great deal of trouble, to make most urgent repairs to their monastery.

Good news awaited me at Ramla: I found a dragoman there, from the monastery in Jerusalem, whom the Custodian had sent to meet me. The Arab chieftain of whom the fathers had informed me, and who was to serve as my escort, was waiting some distance away in the countryside, since the Agha of Ramla did not allow the Bedouin to enter the city. The tribe, the most powerful in the mountains of Judea, made their residence in the village of Jeremiah (Abu Ghosh); they open and close the Jerusalem road to travellers, at will. The Sheikh of the tribe had died a short time previously; he had left his son Utman under the guardianship of his uncle Abu Ghosh: the latter had two brothers Djiaber and Ibraim Habd-el-Rouman, who both accompanied me on my return.

It was agreed that I would leave in the middle of the night. As the day had not yet ended, we dined on the terraces that form the roof of the monastery. The monasteries of the Holy Land are like fortresses heavy and overwhelming, and not in any way reminiscent of the monasteries of Europe. We enjoyed a delightful view: the houses of Ramla are mud huts, topped by a small dome like that of a mosque or a saint’s tomb; they appear set in a grove of olive, fig and pomegranate-trees, and are surrounded by large prickly-pears which take on strange shapes, their thorny palettes piled one upon another in disorder. From the midst of this confused group of trees and houses, soared the loveliest palm-trees of Idumea. In the courtyard of the monastery, there was one, in particular, that I never tired of admiring: it rose in a column to a height of more than thirty feet, where its gracefully curved branches unfurled, below which its half-ripened dates hung like crystals of coral.

Ramla is the ancient Arimathea, home of that just man who had the glory of burying the Saviour. It was at Lod, also known as Lydda, or Diospolis, a village three miles from Ramla, that Saint Peter worked the miracle of the healing of the paralytic. For the situation of Ramla with regard to trade, one may consult the Memoirs of Baron de Tott (Louis, Baron de Trott) and Monsieur de Volney’s Travels.

We left Ramla on the 4th of October, at midnight. The head priest took us by a circuitous route to the place where Abu Ghosh was waiting, and then returned to his monastery. Our group was composed of the Arab chieftain, the dragoman from Jerusalem, my two servants, and the Bedouin from Jaffa, who was driving a donkey, loaded with baggage. We held to the robes and countenances of poor Latin pilgrims, but we were armed beneath our robes.

After riding for an hour over uneven terrain, we arrived at some huts at the summit of a rocky hill. We crossed one of the ridges of the plain, and after another hour’s ride reached the first undulation of the Judean Mountains. We turned, through a rugged ravine, around an isolated and barren mound. On the top of this hillock a ruined village could be seen, and the scattered stones of an abandoned cemetery: this village bears the name of Latroun, or Latron: the home of the criminal who repented on the cross, and by so doing drew from Christ his last act of mercy (Luke 23:40-43). Three miles further on, we entered the mountains. We followed the dry bed of a stream; the moon, diminished by a half, scarcely illuminated our progress through those depths; wild boars could be heard around us uttering strange wild cries. I understood, given the desolation of these hills, why Jephthah’s daughter wanted to weep among the mountains of Judea (Judges 11:37), and why the prophets went to lament in the high places. When daylight came, we found ourselves in the midst of a labyrinth of conically-shaped mountains, somewhat similar to each other, and linked to each other at the base. The rock which formed the foundation of these mountains pierced the soil. Its bands or parallel ridges were arranged like the levels of a Roman amphitheatre, or like those stepped walls that support the vineyards in the valleys of Savoy (they were once supported in the same manner in Judea).

On each bulge of rock grew clumps of scrub-oak, boxwood, and oleander. In the ravines olive-trees lifted their heads; and there were sometimes whole groves of these trees on the mountain slopes. We heard the calls of various birds, including jays. Arriving at the highest point of the range, we saw behind us (to the south and west) the plain of Sharon as far as Jaffa, and seawards the horizon to Gaza; ahead (to the north and east) opened the valley of Saint-Jeremiah (Abu Ghosh), and in the same direction, on a rocky height, we saw in the distance an old fortress called the Fortress of the Maccabees. It is believed that the author of Lamentations was born in the village which retains his name, in the midst of these mountains (though the local tradition does not stand up to criticism). It is certain that the sadness of the place seems to breathe throughout the hymns of the sorrowful Prophet.

However, on approaching Saint-Jeremiah, I was somewhat consoled by an unexpected sight. Herds of goats with pendant ears, long-tailed sheep, and donkeys, that reminded me by their beauty of form of the onagers of Scripture, were leaving the village at daybreak. Arab women were drying grapes in the vineyards; some had their faces covered with a veil; and bore a vase full of water on their heads, like the daughters of Midian (Exodus 2:16). Plumes of white smoke rose from the hamlet, in the first rays of dawn; you could hear muffled voices, chants, shouts of joy: this scene formed a pleasant contrast with the desolation of the place and the memories of the past night. Our Arab chieftain had received in advance the permission which the tribe grants to travellers, and we passed without hindrance. Suddenly I was struck by these words pronounced distinctly in French: ‘Forward; march!’ I turned my head and saw a troop of little naked Arabs who were drilling, with palm-wood sticks. I do not know if some old memory of childhood torments me; but when I hear mention of French arms, my heart beats; and to see little Bedouins in the mountains of Judea imitating our drill and maintaining the memory of our valour; to hear them utter words that are, so to speak, the watchwords of our armies and the only ones our grenadiers know, would have been enough to touch a man less enamoured of the glory of his country than I am. I was not as startled as Crusoe when he heard his parrot speak (Defoe: Robinson Crusoe: X), but I was no less delighted than that famous voyager. I gave a few medins (silver coins) to the little battalion, saying: ‘Forward; march!’ and so as to neglect nothing, called out: ‘God willing! God willing!’ like the companions of Godfrey and Saint Louis.

From the valley of Jeremiah we descended to that of Elah (the valley of terebinth). It is deeper and narrower than the former. You find vines, and stands of sorghum there. We arrived at the river from which young David took the five stones with which he struck the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17:2, 19). We crossed the river-bed over a stone bridge, the only one you encounter in those desert places: the river still retained a little stagnant water. Nearby, to our left, in a village called Kaloni (Colonia), I noticed among more recent ruins the remains of an ancient building. The Abbé Mariti attributed this monument to unknown monks. For an Italian traveller, the error is startling. If the architecture of this monument is not Hebrew, it is certainly Roman: the self-assurance, the dimensions, and mass of the stones can leave no room for doubt on the matter.

Nablous, Ancient Shechem

‘Nablous, Ancient Shechem’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

After passing the river, you come to the village of Keriet-Lefta at the edge of another dried-up river-bed that looks like a wide dusty track. El-Biré (al-Bireh) is visible in the distance on the summit of a high mountain, on the road to Nablus, Nabolos, or Nabolosa, the Shechem of the Kingdom of Israel and the Neapolis of the Herods. We continued to advance into a wilderness, where a scattering of wild fig trees extended their blackened leaves to the south wind. The earth, which until then had retained some green, was laid bare the mountainsides grew broader, and took on an appearance at once grander and more sterile. Soon all vegetation ceased; even the mosses disappeared. The amphitheatre of mountains was dyed a fiery red. We progressed through this desolate region for an hour, to reach an elevated pass visible in front of us. Reaching this pass, we rode for a further hour over a bare plateau, strewn with loose stones. Suddenly, at the end of this plateau, I saw a line of gothic walls flanked by square towers; behind which rose the spires of various buildings. At the foot of the walls, a camp of Turkish cavalry appeared, in all its eastern pomp. The guide exclaimed: ‘El-Kuds! The Holy City (Jerusalem)!’ and took off at full gallop (Abu Ghosh, though subject to the Grand Seigneur, was afraid of being humiliated and beaten by the Pasha of Damascus, whose camp we could see).

Jerusalem from the Road Leading to Bethany

‘Jerusalem from the Road Leading to Bethany’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

I now understand what historians and travellers have related, as to the deep emotion felt by crusaders and pilgrims alike on first catching sight of Jerusalem (See Robert le Moine: Histoire de la Première Croisade:IX, also Baldric of Dol: Historiae Hierosolymitanae:IV, and Tasso: Gerusalemme Liberata:III.5, 7).

I can assure you that anyone who has, as I had, the patience to read the nigh on two hundred modern accounts of the Holy Land, the Rabbinical compilations, and the passages in the classical writers regarding Judea, still has little idea of that emotion. I halted gazing at Jerusalem, measuring the height of its walls; recalling in a moment episodes of history, from Abraham to Godfrey of Bouillon; thinking how the whole world was altered by the mission of the Son of Man; seeking in vain that temple of which not one stone is left upon another (see Luke:19:44). If I live a thousand years, I shall never forget that desert which seems to breathe again the greatness of Jehovah and the terror of death (our old French Bibles call death the king of terror).

The cries of the dragoman, who told me to close rank since we were entering the camp, roused me from the stupor into which the sight of the holy places had thrown me. We passed amongst the tents; the tents were of black sheep-skin: there were a few pavilions of striped cloth, among them that of the Pasha. The horses, saddled and bridled, were picketed. I was surprised to see four horse-drawn guns; they were well mounted, and the carriage-work looked English to me. Our slender numbers and pilgrims’ robes excited the soldiers’ derision. As we approached the city gate, the Pasha was leaving Jerusalem. I was immediately obliged to remove the handkerchief which I had thrown over my hat, to protect me from the sun, for fear of incurring an embarrassment like that of poor Joseph at Tripolitsa.

We entered Jerusalem through the Pilgrims’ Gate (the Jaffa Gate, Bab el Khalil: the Gate of the Friend). Near to this gate stands the Tower of David, better known as the Tower of the Pisans. We paid the tribute, and followed the street that lay before us: then turning left, between buildings of plaster like prisons that they call houses, we arrived, at twenty-two minutes past noon, at the monastery of the Latin fathers. It had been invaded by the soldiers of Abdallah (Azamzade Abdallah, Pasha of Damascus), to whom was given anything they found to their liking.

One would have to be in the same situation as the Fathers of the Holy Land to understand the pleasure my arrival caused them. They believed themselves rendered safe by the presence of only a single Frenchman. I delivered, to Father Bonaventura da Nola, Father Superior of the monastery, a letter from General Sébastiani. ‘Sir,’ said the Father Superior, ‘Providence brings you here. You have firmans for the journey? Allow us to send them to the Pasha; he will know that a Frenchman has arrived at the monastery; he will believe that we are under the special protection of the Emperor. Last year he forced us to pay him sixty thousand piastres; according to tradition, we only owed him four thousand, and even then simply as a gift. This year he wants to take the same amount from us, and threatens to force us to the last extremity if we refuse. We will be obliged to sell the sacred vessels; for the past four years we have no longer received alms from Europe: if this continues, we will be forced to abandon the Holy Land, and relinquish the tomb of Jesus Christ to the Muslim.’

I was only too happy to render the Father Superior this slight service. However I begged him to let me visit the Jordan, before sending the firman, so as not to add to the difficulties of a trip which is always dangerous: Abdallah could have me assassinated en route, and blame it all on the Arabs.

Father Clément Pères, procurator of the monastery, a highly educated man, with a fine, gracious and pleasant spirit, took me to the room of honour for pilgrims. My luggage was deposited there, and I prepared to leave Jerusalem a few hours after entering it. However, I was more in need of rest than of waging war with the Dead Sea Arabs. I had been travelling by sea and land for a goodly length of time in order to reach the holy places: I had barely attained the purpose of my trip, when I was off again. But I felt obliged to make some sacrifice on behalf of those monks who themselves make perpetual sacrifice of their property and their lives. Besides, I could reconcile the interests of the fathers and my own safety by abandoning a visit to the Jordan, and it was my responsibility alone to set bounds to my curiosity.

While I waited for the moment of departure, the monks began singing in the monastery church. I asked the reason for these songs, and learned that they were celebrating the feast of the patron of the order. Then I remembered that it was the 4th of October, the feast of Saint Francis, the day of my birth and my birthday (Chateaubriand’s actual birthday was on the 4th of September, but he long believed the October date to be correct). I ran to the choir, and offered prayers for the repose of she who had once given birth to me on this day: Paries Liberos in dolore: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children (Genesis 3:16). I consider it a blessing that my first prayer in Jerusalem was not for myself. I contemplated those monks with respect, as they chanted their praise of the Lord, three hundred paces from the tomb of Jesus Christ, I felt moved by the sight of this small but invincible militia, left alone to guard the Holy Sepulchre, which kings have abandoned;

Voilà donc quels vengeurs s’arment pour ta querelle,

Des prêtres, des enfants, ò Sagesse éternal!

See then who arm themselves to champion your cause!

Priests and children, O eternal Wisdom!

(Racine: Athalie: Act III, Scene VII)

The Father Superior sent for a Turk named Ali-Aga to take me to Bethlehem. This Ali-Aga was the son of an Agha of Ramla, who had been beheaded under the tyranny of Djezzar. Ali was born in Jericho, today Er Riha, and described himself as the governor of this village. He was a man of intelligence and courage, in whom I had much to congratulate myself. He started by making my servants and I divest ourselves of our Arab clothing and don French dress: such clothing, once so despised by the Orientals, now inspires respect and fear. French valour has regained possession of the reputation it once held in this country: it was the knights of France who re-established the Kingdom of Jerusalem, just as it is the soldiers of France, who have gathered the latest Idumaean palms. The Turks will show you both the Tower of Baldwin and the Camp of the Emperor: at Calvary, Godfrey de Bouillon’s sword is to be seen, still in its old sheath, seemingly guarding the Holy Sepulchre.

At five in the evening, three fine horses were brought to us. Michel, dragoman to the monastery, joined us; Ali placed himself at our head, and we set off for Bethlehem, where we were to sleep, and obtain an escort of six Arabs. I had read that the Father Superior of Saint-Sauveur was the only Frenchman who had the privilege of riding through Jerusalem, and was a little surprised to find myself galloping along on an Arabian mare; but have since learned that any traveller may do so for money. We left Jerusalem by the Damascus Gate (the Schechem Gate; Bab-al-Amud, the Gate of the Column); then turning left, and crossing the ravines at the foot of Mount Sion (the western hill), we climbed a mountain plateau where we walked for an hour. We left Jerusalem behind us, to the north, having the mountains of Judea to our west, and in the east, beyond the Dead Sea, the mountains of Arabia. We passed the Monastery of Saint Elias (Elijah). One could not fail to notice, under an olive tree on a rock by the roadside, the place where the prophet rested on his way to Jerusalem. Three miles further on, we entered the field of Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15, though the biblical Ramah, modern Er-Ram, is north ofJerusalem), where the tomb of Rachel is to be found. It is a square building topped by a small dome: it enjoys the privileges of a mosque; the Turks and Arabs honour the families of the patriarchs. Christian tradition agrees in placing the tomb of Rachel at this spot: historical criticism is favourable to this view, but despite Thévenot, Monconys, Roger and so many others, I could not identify what they now call the Tomb of Rachel as an ancient monument; it is obviously of Turkish origin and dedicated to one of their saints.

We saw amidst the mountains (since night was falling) the lights of the village of Ramah. The silence around us was profound. It was probably on such a night that the voice of Rachel was suddenly heard: Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus multus; Rachel plorans filios suos, et noluit consolare, quia non sunt: a voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more (Vulgate: Mathhew 2:18). Here the mothers of Astyanax (Andromache: Homer’s Iliad:XXII:477) and of Euryalus (Diomede, the wife of Pallas:Virgil’s Aeneid:IX:482) were vanquished; Homer and Virgil yielded the palm to Jeremiah’s portrait of grief.

We arrived in Bethlehem by a narrow and rugged track. We knocked at the monastery door; alarm was aroused among the monks, as our visit was unexpected and Ali’s turban inspired terror at first; but all was soon made clear.


Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

Bethlehem was named by Abraham (Genesis:48:7), and signifies the House of Bread. It was also called Ephratah (fruitful), after the wife of Caleb, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem (Beit-Lahm, near Haifa) belonging to the tribe of Zebulun. Bethelehem Ephratah belonged to the tribe of Judah. It also bore the name of the City of David; it was the birthplace of that king, and he guarded the flocks there in his childhood. Abesan (Ibzan), seventh judge of Israel, Elimelech, Obed, Jesse and Boaz were born, like David, in Bethlehem, and there we must place Ruth’s wonderful eclogue. Saint Matthias, the apostle, had the good fortune to see the light of day in the town where the Messiah was born.

The first Christians erected an oratory over the manger of the Saviour. Hadrian razed it and planted a grove of Adonis (Tammuz) there (Saint Jerome: Epistle 58, to Paulinus: 3) Saint Helen destroyed the grove, and built a church (the Church of the Nativity) at the same place, whose architecture blends today with other parts added by the Christian princes. Everyone knows that Saint Jerome retired to Bethlehem (388AD). Bethlehem, conquered by the Crusaders, fell, with Jerusalem, under the infidel yoke; but has always been the object of veneration for pilgrims. Holy saints, dedicating themselves to perpetual martyrdom, have guarded it for seven centuries. As for modern Bethlehem, its soil, its produce, its people, we may read Monsieur de Volney. Yet I have not noticed in the valley of Bethlehem the fertility attributed to it: it is true that under Turkish Government the most fertile land becomes desert in a few years.

On the 5th of October, at four in the morning, I began a tour of Bethlehem’s monuments. Although these buildings have often been described, the very subject is so interesting that I cannot refrain from entering into some details.

The monastery in Bethlehem is attached to the church by an enclosed courtyard with high walls. We crossed the courtyard, and a small side-door gave us entry into the church. The church is certainly of great antiquity, and though often damaged and often repaired, it retains the marks of its Greek origin. Its form is that of a cross. The long nave, or, if you wish, the foot of the cross, is adorned with forty-eight columns of the Corinthian order, set in four lines. These columns are two feet six inches in diameter near the base, and eighteen feet high, including base and capital. As the vault of the nave is missing, the columns only bear a wooded plank which serves as the architrave, and takes the place of the whole entablature. An open framework has been constructed on top of the walls, and rises in a dome, to carry a roof that no longer exists, or has never been finished. They claim that the frame is of cedar-wood; but that is an error. The walls are pierced by large windows: they were once adorned with old portraits in mosaic and passages from the Scriptures written in Greek and Latin: traces of these can still be seen. Most of these inscriptions were recorded by Quaresmius (Franciscus Quaresmius). The Abbé Mariti notes, sourly, an error of that religious scholar, regarding a date: even a very clever person can make mistakes, but whoever advises the public of it without consideration, and without politeness, attests less to their knowledge than their vanity.

The remains of the mosaics that can be seen, here and there, and a few paintings on wood, are of interest to the history of art: they generally show figures full face, upright, stiff, motionless and without shading; but the effect is majestic, and their character noble and severe. While examining these paintings, I could not help thinking of the venerable Monsieur D’Agincourt (Jean Baptiste Louis George Seroux D’Agincourt), who has been writing, in Rome, a History of the Art of Pictorial Design in the Middle Ages (we are finally now enjoying our first sight of this excellent work, the fruit of thirty years’ labour, and the most interesting research) and found much to assist him in Bethlehem.

Church of St. Helena, Bethlehem

‘Church of St. Helena, Bethlehem’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

The Armenian sect of Christians is in possession of the nave I have just described. This nave is separated from the other three arms of the cross by a wall, so that the church no longer has unity. When you pass beyond the wall, you find yourself in front of the sanctuary or choir, which occupies the head of the cross. Three steps raise the level of the choir above that of the nave. An altar dedicated to the Magi is visible. On the pavement at the foot of the altar a star is inlaid in marble: tradition claims that this star corresponds to the point in the sky where the miraculous star hung, which acted as a guide to the three kings. What is certain is that the place where the Saviour of the World was born lies directly below the marble star, in the subterranean Crypt of the Nativity. I will discuss this in a moment. The Greeks occupy the shrine of the Magi, as well as the other two naves formed by the two ends of the crossbar of the cross. These last two naves are empty and without altars.

Two winding staircases exterior to the church, each composed of fifteen steps, open out on both sides of the choir, and descend to the subterranean crypt, beneath the choir. This is the site, ever to be revered, of the Saviour’s Nativity. Before entering, the Father Superior placed a candle in my hand, and gave me a short exhortation. This holy grotto is irregular because it occupies the irregular area of the stable and manger. It is thirty-seven and a half feet long, eleven feet three inches wide, and nine feet high. It is carved from the rock: the rock walls are lined with marble, and the stone floor of the cave is also of precious marble. These embellishments are attributed to Saint Helen. The church receives no daylight from outside, and is illuminated by the light of thirty-two lamps donated by various Christian princes. Deep inside the cave, on the east side, is the place where the Virgin bore the Redeemer of Mankind. The site is marked by a slab of white marble inlaid with jasper and surrounded by a circle of silver, in the form of a radiant sun. Round it, one reads these words:



Shrine of the Nativity, Bethlehem

‘Shrine of the Nativity, Bethlehem’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

A marble table, which serves as an altar, leans against the rock, and rises above the place where the Messiah saw the light of day. This altar is lit by three lamps, the most beautiful of which was donated by Louis XIII.

Seven paces away, toward the south, past one of the staircases that ascend to the upper church, you find the manger. You descend to it by two steps, because it is not level with the rest of the cave. It is a low arch, sunk in the rock. A block of white marble, raised a foot above the ground and carved in the form of a crib, marks the very spot where the ruler of heaven was lying on the straw.

‘And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David)

Nazareth, General View

‘Nazareth, General View’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn’. (Luke:2:4)

Two steps away, opposite the manger, is an altar occupying the spot where Mary was sitting when she presented the child of sorrows to the adoration of the Magi.

‘Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

……and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.’ (Matthew:2:1)

Nothing is more pleasant and more devout than this subterranean church. It is enriched with paintings of the Italian and Spanish schools. These paintings represent the mysteries of the place, images of the Virgin and Child after Raphael, of the Annunciation, of the Adoration of the Magi, of the Coming of the Shepherds, and all those miracles imbued with grandeur and innocence. The commonplace ornaments of the crib are of blue satin embroidered with silver. Incense burns incessantly before the birthplace of the Saviour. I heard an organ, which was very well played, accompanying the mass with the sweetest and most tender airs of the finest of the Italian composers. These concerts charm the Christian Arabs who, leaving their camels to graze, come, as the ancient shepherds of Bethlehem did, to worship the King of Kings in his crib. I saw the desert dwellers communing at the altar of the Magi with a degree of fervour, piety, religiosity unknown to Christians in the West. ‘Nowhere in the universe,’ writes Père Néret (Charles Néret: Lettre du Père Néret au P. Fleuriau) ‘inspires more devotion...the constant arrival of caravans from all Christian nations...the public prayers, prostrations...the very richness of the gifts that Christian princes send...all this excites emotions in one’s soul that are felt much more readily than they can be expressed.’

Let me add that an extraordinary contrast renders these things even more striking; for on leaving the cave where you found richness, the arts, the religion of civilized nations, you are transported to a profound solitude, amidst Arab hovels, among half-naked savages, and infidel Muslims. These places are still the very ones where so many wonders occurred, yet this holy ground dares not proclaim its joy outside, and the memories of its glory are enclosed within its breast.

We descended from the Cave of the Nativity to the underground chapel where tradition places the burial of the Innocents. ‘Then Herod……slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, Vox in Rama audita est: in Rama was there a voice heard.’ (Matthew:2:16)

The Chapel of the Innocents leads to the Cave of Saint Jerome; there one sees the tomb of that Doctor of the Church, also that of Saint Eusebius, and the tombs of Saint Paula and Saint Eustochium.

Saint Jerome spent most of his life in this cave. From there he saw the fall of the Roman Empire: it was there that he received those fugitive patricians who, having possessed the palaces of the earth, considered they were now fortunate to share the cell of a hermit. The peace of the holy, contrasted with the troubles of the world, produces a wonderful effect in the letters of that learned interpreter of Scripture.

Saint Paula and Saint Eustochium, her daughter, were two great Roman ladies descended from the Gracchi, and the Scipios. They left the delights of Rome to live and die in Bethlehem, in the practice of religious virtue. Their epitaph, composed by Saint Jerome, is not distinguished enough, yet is already too well known, for me to give it here:

Scipio, quam genuit, etc.

In the Oratory of Saint Jerome a painting can be seen in which the saint displays the facial appearance with which the brushes of the Carraccis and Domenichino imbued him. Another painting offers images of Paula and Eustochium. These two descendants of Scipio are represented dead and lying in the same coffin. Moved by a touching idea, the painter gave the two saints a perfect likeness, the daughter being distinguished from her mother only by her youth and her white veil: the one took longer over life, the other progressed more swiftly, yet they arrived at their destination at the same time.

In the numerous paintings to be viewed at the sacred sites, and which no traveller has described (though the Seigneur de Villamont was struck by the beauty of a Saint Jerome), I sometimes thought I detected the mystical touch and inspired tone of Murillo: it would be quite singular if some unknown masterpiece by a great master was to be seen at the crib or tomb of the Saviour.

We returned to the monastery. I examined the countryside from the heights of a terrace. Bethlehem is built on a hill overlooking a long valley. This valley extends from east to west: the hill to the south is covered with a scattering of olive trees growing in reddish earth, studded with pebbles; the hill to the north bears fig trees in a soil similar to that of the other hill. Here and there, various ruins are apparent, including the remains of a tower called the Tower of Saint Paula. I re-entered the monastery, which owes a portion of its wealth to Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, the successor to Godfrey of Bouillon: it is a veritable fortress, and its walls are so thick, they would easily resist a siege against the Turks.

The Arab escort having arrived, I prepared to leave for the Dead Sea. While dining with the monks, who formed a circle around me, they told me there was a French priest in the monastery. They sent for him: he came with downcast eyes, his hands in his sleeves, walking with a serious air, and gave me a brief and cold salute. I never hear the sound of a French voice abroad, without deep emotion:

ω φίλτατον φώνημα! φευ το χαι λαβείν

πρόαφ&εγμα τοιονδ' ανδρός εν χρόνω μαχρω!

Oh, happiness to hear! After so many years

of dreadful silence, how welcome was that sound!

(Sophocles: Philoctetes: 234-5)

I asked several questions of the monk. He said he was called Father Clement, and was from the neighbourhood of Mayenne; that, finding himself in a monastery in Brittany, he had been deported to Spain, with hundreds of priests like himself; that having received hospitality in a monastery of his order, his superiors had then sent him as a missionary to the Holy Land. I asked him whether he had any desire to revisit his homeland, and whether he wished to write to his family. Here is his response, word for word: ‘Who still remembers me in France? Do I still have brothers and sisters living? I hope to obtain, through the grace of the Saviour’s crib, the strength to die here without bothering anyone, and without dreaming of a country where I am now forgotten.’

Père Clement was obliged to withdraw: my presence had awakened feelings in his heart he was trying to extinguish. Such is human destiny: today a Frenchman bemoans the loss of his country on the same shores where memories once inspired the most beautiful of all songs about love of country;

Super flumina Babylonis, etc.

By the rivers of Babylon, etc.

(Vulgate: Psalm 136, King Jame’s Bible: Psalm 137)

But not all those sons of Aaron, who hung their harps on the willows of Babylon, returned to the city of David; not all those daughters of Judea who cried out, beside the Euphrates:

O rives du Jourdain! ô champs aimés des cieux! etc.

O banks of the Jordan! O beloved fields of heaven! etc.

(Racine: Esther: Act I, Scene 2)

Not all those companions of Esther saw Emmaus or Bethel again: several left their ashes in the fields of their captivity.

At ten in the morning, we mounted our horses, and left Bethlehem. Six Bethlehemite Arabs on foot, armed with daggers and long matchlocks, formed our escort. Three of them rode in front of our horses, and three behind. We had added a donkey to our cavalry, to carry the water and provisions. We took the road from the monastery of Saint Sabbas (Mar Saba), from which we would then descend to the Dead Sea and return via the Jordan.

We first followed the valley of Bethlehem, which lies to the east, as I said. We crossed a ridge of mountains, from which we saw, on the right, a newly planted vineyard, something rare enough in that country for me to remark upon it. We arrived at a cave called the Cave of the Shepherds (Shepherd’s Field). The Arabs call it Bayt-Sahour, the Site of the Night-Watch. It is claimed that Abraham grazed his flock in this place, and the shepherds of Judea were alerted, in this same place, to the Saviour’s birth.

‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ (Luke 2:8-14).

The piety of the faithful has turned the cave into a chapel. It must once have been highly ornate: I noticed three pillars of the Corinthian, and two of the Ionic order. The discovery of the latter was a veritable marvel, because little is found after the age of Helen except the eternal Corinthian.

On leaving the cave and riding further, east by south, we left the Red mountains to enter a chain of whitish mountains. Our horses sank into soft chalky ground, consisting of fragments of limestone rock. The ground was so badly denuded that it lacked even a layer of moss. The only growth we saw was, here and there, a clump of thorny plants as pale as the soil that produces them, seemingly clothed with dust like the trees on our highways during the summer.

Turning one of the flanks of these mountains, we saw two Bedouin encampments; the first consisting of seven tents of black sheep-skin arranged in a rectangle, and open at the eastern end; the other was composed of a dozen tents pitched in a circle. Some mares and camels were wandering nearby.

It was too late to retreat: it was essential to put a good face on it, and traverse the second camp. Everything went well at first. The Arabs touched the hands of the Bethlehemites, and stroked Ali-Aga’s beard. But no sooner had we passed the last tent, than a Bedouin stopped the donkey carrying our food. The Bethlehemites sought to push him away; the Arab summoned his brothers to the rescue. The latter leapt to their horses; armed themselves; and surrounded us. Ali managed to calm the tumult by offering them money. The Bedouins demanded right of passage: apparently they take the desert for a highway; everyone is his own master. This was merely the prelude to a more violent scene.

Three miles farther on, in descending the flank of a mountain, we saw the tops of two tall towers rising from a deep valley. It was the monastery of Saint Sabbas. As we approached, a fresh crowd of Arabs, hidden in the depths of a ravine, threw themselves yelling on our escort. In a moment we saw stones flying, daggers gleaming, muskets being aimed. Ali rushed into the fray: we ran to his aid: he seized the Bedouin chieftain by the beard, dragged him under the belly of his horse, and threatened to crush him if he did not quell the feud. Amidst the tumult, a Greek monk, shouted and gesticulated from the top of a tower, for his part, trying in vain to make peace. We all arrived at the door of Saint-Sabbas. The brothers inside, turned the key, though somewhat tardily, fearful lest amidst the disorder the monastery was pillaged. The Janissary, weary of the delay, fell into a rage directed against the monks and the Arabs. Finally, he drew his sword, and sought to beat the Bedouin chieftain around the head, grasping him by the beard with surprising force, as the monastery door opened. We all rushed pell-mell into a courtyard, and the door closed behind us. The affair grew more serious: we were not in the interior of the monastery; there was another courtyard to negotiate, and the door to this courtyard was shut. We were confined in a narrow space, where we might wound ourselves with our weapons, and where our horses, disturbed by the noise, had become unmanageable. Ali claimed to have diverted a dagger-thrust from an Arab lurking behind me, and showed me his blood-stained hand; but Ali, though a very brave man, loved money, like all Turks. The last door of the monastery opened; the Father Superior appeared; said a few words, and the noise ceased. We then learned the cause of the protest.

The Arabs who had attacked us latterly belonged to a tribe who claimed the sole right to conduct travellers to Saint-Sabbas. The Bethlehemites, who desired their fee for providing the escort, and who had a reputation for courage to support, had refused to yield. The Father Superior of the monastery had promised that I would meet the Bedouins’ claim, and the matter was settled. I did not wish to give them anything, so as to punish them. Ali-Aga suggested to me that if I held to this resolution, we would never reach the Jordan; that these Arabs would summon the other tribes; that we would inevitably be massacred; that for this very reason he had not wanted to kill the chieftain; because once blood had been shed, we would have no choice but to return promptly to Jerusalem.

I doubt that the monasteries of Scetes (the Natron Valley, Egypt, the refuge of the Desert Fathers) were sited in sadder or more desolate locations than the monastery of Saint Sabbas. It is built in the very river-bed of the Kidron, which may be three or four hundred feet deep at this place. The river is dry, and only flows in spring, as a reddish, muddy stream. The church occupies a small mound in the depths of the river-bed. From there the monastery buildings rise in perpendicular flights, and passages dug into the rock, up the side of the ravine, and so reach the mountain ridge, where they end in two square towers. One of these towers is outside the monastery; it once served as a watchtower for keeping an eye on the Arabs. From the heights of these towers the sterile summits of the mountains of Judea can be seen; below, one’s gaze plunges to the dry river-bed of the Kidron, where one can see caves once inhabited by the first anchorites. Blue rock doves (columba livia) nest in the caves today, as if to recall by their moans, their innocence, and their gentleness, the saints who once inhabited these rocks. I must not forget a palm tree growing in a wall on one of the terraces of the monastery; I am convinced all travellers would have noticed it as I did: one must be surrounded by a quite terrible barrenness to feel the value of a single clump of verdure.

As for the historical role of the Monastery of Saint-Sabbas, the reader may refer to Père Néret’s Letter and the Lives of the Desert Fathers. In the monastery, they now display three or four thousand skulls, those of monks massacred by the infidels. The monks allowed me fifteen minutes alone with these relics: they seemed to have guessed that my intention was one day to describe the spiritual situation of those hermits of the Thebaid. But I still cannot recall without painful emotion that one monk wanted to talk politics with me, and tell me the secrets of the Russian court. ‘Alas,’ father, ‘I said, ‘where can you seek peace, if you cannot find it here?’

We left the monastery at three in the afternoon; we ascended the Kidron valley; then, crossing the ravine, we resumed our journey to the east. We could see Jerusalem through an opening in the mountains. I knew only too well what I was seeing; I perceived the place as a heap of shattered stone: the sudden apparition of that city of desolation, in the midst of a desolate solitude, had something fearful about it; she was truly the Queen of the Desert.

We progressed: the mountains appeared ever the same, that is to say white and dusty, without shade, trees, grass or moss. At half past four, we descended from the higher chain of mountains to a less elevated range. We rode for fifty minutes over a fairly level plateau. Finally we reached the last row of mountains bordering the Jordan Valley and the waters of the Dead Sea, on the west. The sun was near setting; we dismounted to rest the horses, and I contemplated the lake, valley, and river, at leisure.

Descent Upon the Valley of the Jordan

‘Descent Upon the Valley of the Jordan’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

When one speaks of a valley, one imagines either a cultivated or and uncultivated valley: if cultivated, it is covered with crops, vineyards, villages, and herds; if uncultivated, it offers grassland or forest; if it is watered by a river, the river has curved stretches; the hills that form this valley have themselves windings whose pleasant prospects attract one’s gaze.

Here, there was nothing like that: imagine two long mountain ranges, running parallel from north to south, without detours, without curves. The eastern chain, called the Arabian Range, is the highest; seen at a distance of twenty-five or thirty miles, it looks like a vast perpendicular wall, similar to the Jura in its shape, and azure colour: no peaks were distinguishable, not the least summit; one saw only slight inflections here and there, as if the hand of the artist who drew that horizontal line on the sky had trembled in various places (All my descriptions of the Dead Sea and the Jordan can be found in Les Martyrs, Book XIX, but as the subject is important, and I have added several features here to these descriptions, I have not avoided repeating them).

The western range belongs to the mountains of Judea. Less elevated and uniform than the eastern range, it also differs in its nature: it displays huge mounds of chalk and sand which imitate the shapes of heaped weapons, curved banners, or the tents of an encampment sited at the edge of a plain. On the Arabian side, on the contrary, are black vertical rocks, whose shadows extend over the waters of the Dead Sea. The smallest bird, flying by, would not find a blade of grass to eat among these rocks; everything proclaims the land of a condemned people, everything seems to breathe the horror and incest from which Ammon and Moab emerged.

The valley enclosed between these two mountain ranges offers soil like that from the bed of a sea that has long ebbed away; salt flats, dried mud, quick-sands furrowed like the waves. Here and there stunted shrubs grow on this land painfully deprived of life; their leaves are covered with the salt that nourishes them; their bark has the taste and smell of smoke. Instead of villages, one sees the ruins of a few towers. In the midst of the valley a discoloured river flows; it drags itself reluctantly towards the tainted lake that swallows it. One can only distinguish its course in the midst of the sand by the willows and reeds that fringe it: Arabs conceal themselves in the reeds, to attack travellers and plunder pilgrims.

Such are those places, made famous by the blessings and curses of Heaven: the river is the Jordan; the lake is the Dead Sea; it seems to sparkle, but the guilty cities it hides in its breast seem to have poisoned its waters. Its solitary depths fail to nourish any living being (I am of that general opinion. We may see perhaps that it is not well-founded); no vessel has ever ridden its waves (Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny speak of rafts which the Arabs use when collecting bitumen. Diodorus describes these rafts: they were made of bundles of interlaced reeds: Diodorus Siculus, XIX:99. Tacitus mentions a ship in Histories:13.6, but he is obviously in error); its shores are devoid of birds, trees, and verdure; and its waters, which are dreadfully bitter, are so sluggish, that the most impetuous winds can barely raise them.

When you travel through Judea, a vast ennui seizes the heart at first; but when, in passing from solitude to solitude, space extends its boundaries before you, little by little boredom disappears; one experiences a secret terror, which, far from depressing the spirits, grants courage and sparks the imagination. Extraordinary views reveal, in every direction, a land wrought by miracle: the burning sun, the mighty eagle, the barren fig tree, all the poetry, all the scenes of Scripture are there. Each name contains a mystery; each cave proclaims the future; each summit resounds with the voice of a prophet. God himself has spoken on these shores: the dried up streams, the shattered rocks, the open tombs, attest to miracles; the desert still seems mute with terror, and seems as if it has not dared to break the silence since it heard the voice of the Eternal One.

We descended the mountain ridge, in order to spend the night beside the Dead Sea, before remounting to visit the Jordan. On entering the valley, our little band gathered together: our Bethlehemites readied their muskets, and rode forward cautiously. We found ourselves on the paths of the desert Arabs, who gather salt from the sea, and wage pitiless war on the traveller. Bedouin morality has begun to deteriorate through too much traffic with the Turks and Europeans. They now prostitute their daughters and their wives, and slaughter travellers, whom they were once content merely to rob.

We rode for two hours, with gun in hand, as if in enemy country. We followed, among the sand dunes, fissures that had formed in mud baked by the sun’s rays. A crust of salt covered the sand, and looked like a field of snow, from which rose a few stunted shrubs. We suddenly arrived at the lake; I say suddenly, because I had imagined we were still some distance away. No sound or coolness announced our nearness to water. The shore, strewn with stones, was burning hot; the surface was motionless and absolutely lifeless against the shore.

It was quite dark: The first thing I did on dismounting was to enter the lake to my knees, and dash water to my mouth. It was impossible to retain it. Its salinity is much higher than that of the sea, and it produces the effect on the lips of a strong solution of alum. My boots were scarcely dry, before they were covered with salt; in less than three hours, our clothes and hands were impregnated with the mineral. Galen (of Pergamum) has noted these effects, and Pococke has confirmed their existence.

The Dead Sea, Looking Towards Moab

‘The Dead Sea, Looking Towards Moab’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

We set up camp at the edge of the lake, and the Bethlehemites lit a fire to prepare coffee. There was no lack of wood, since the shore was littered with branches of tamarind brought there by the Arabs. Besides the salt which they find readily available in this place, they extract further quantities from the water by boiling it. Such is the force of habit; our Bethlehemites had ridden with great caution through the countryside, yet did not fear to light a fire that could very easily betray them. One of them helped the fire to take hold by a singular method: he mounted the pyre and lay across the fire; his tunic was inflated by the smoke; then he rose abruptly: the air sucked up by this species of pump caused the fire to burn brightly. After drinking coffee, my companions slept, and I alone stayed awake with the Arabs.

Towards midnight, I heard a noise from the lake. The Bethlehemites told me that it came from swarms of small fish leaping near the shore. This contradicts the generally accepted opinion that the Dead Sea harbours no life. Pococke, while in Jerusalem, heard that a missionary had seen fish in Lake Asphaltites (the Greek name for the Dead Sea). Hasselquist (Fredric Hasselquist:Voyages and Travels in the Levant) and Maundrell (Henry Maundrell: Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem) discovered shells on the shore. Monsieur Seetzen (Ulrich Jasper Seetzen: Journals), who is still on his travels through Arabia, found neither marine-snails nor mussels in the Dead Sea, though he did find some land-snails on its shores.

Pococke made an analysis of a bottle of water from the Dead Sea. In 1778, Messieurs Lavoisier (Antoine Lavoisier), Macquer (Pierre-Joseph Macquer), and Sage (Balthazar Georges Sage) repeated this analysis; they showed that, per hundredweight, the water contained forty-four pounds six ounces of salt, in total: consisting of six pounds four ounces of common sea-salt, and thirty-eight pounds two ounces of sea salt with an earthy base. Recently Mr. Gordon (Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, 1776-1858, in Palestine in 1804) has recently had the same experiment repeated in London. ‘The specific gravity of the water (Conrad Malte-Brun says in his Annals) is 1.211, while that of fresh water is 1,000: the water is completely transparent. Reagents demonstrate the presence of hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid; there is no alumina; the water is not saturated with salt; it does not change the colour of, say, litmus paper or syrup of violets. It contains in solution the following substances, in the proportions indicated:

Calcium Chloride ... 3.920 %

Magnesium Chloride ... 10.246 %

Sodium Chloride ... 10.360 %

Calcium Sulphate ... 0.054 %

... Total 24.580 %

These foreign substances are therefore about a quarter of the weight in a state of perfect desiccation; but dried at only 180 degrees (Fahrenheit), they comprise 41%. Mr. Gordon, who brought back the bottle of water subjected to analysis, has himself found that one floats in it, without needing to know how to swim.’

I have a tin can filled with water that I myself took from the Dead Sea. I have not yet opened it; but from its weight and sound I imagine that the fluid has slightly decreased. My plan was to try an experiment Pococke proposes, that is to say, placing small marine fish in the sea’s water and seeing if they live; other tasks have prevented my attempting this experiment ant sooner, I trust now it will not be too late.

The moon, rising at two in the morning brought a stiff breeze that failed to refresh the air, but stirred the lake a little. The salt-laden waves soon diminished under their own weight, and scarcely beat against the shore. A mournful sound came from that lake of death, like the muffled cries of people sunk in its waters.

Dawn appeared above the mountains of Arabia facing us. The Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley were dyed a marvellous colour, but so rich an appearance only served to make the desolate nature of the landscape more evident.

That famous lake, which occupies the site of Sodom and Gomorrah, is called the Dead Sea or Salt Sea in the Scriptures, Asphaltites by the Greeks and Romans; Almotenah (Al Buhairah al Muntinah: the Stinking Lake) or Bahar Loth (Bahr-Lut: the Sea of Lot) by the Arabs; and Ula-Degnisi (Olu-Deniz) by the Turks. I do not share the sentiment of those who suppose that the Dead Sea is simply the crater of a volcano. I have seen Vesuvius, Solfatara, Monte Nuovo in the Fucine Lake, Mount Pico in the Azores, Mamelife (Hammam-Lif) vis-à-vis Carthage, and the extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne; I recognised the same features everywhere, that is to say, funnels formed in the mountain slopes, lava, and ash denoting the unmistakable effects of fire. The Dead Sea, on the contrary, is quite a long lake, curved in an arc, enclosed between two mountain ranges that have no similarity in shape between them, and no uniformity of soil. They do not meet at the ends of the lake; they continue, on the one side, to fringe the Jordan Valley, towards the north, as far as Lake Tiberias; and on the other, to spread away southwards, and lose themselves in the sands of Yemen. It is true that one finds bitumen, hot springs, and phosphoric rock in the Arabian mountain chain; but I have seen none in the range opposite. Besides, the presence of thermal waters, sulphur, and asphalt is not enough to prove the prior existence of a volcano. That is as much as to say that, as regards the destruction of the cities, I hold to the explanations of Scripture, without summoning physical phenomena to my aid. Though, by adopting the ideas of Professor Michaelis (Johann David Michaelis) and the scholar Busching (Anton Friedrich Büsching) in his Memoir on the Dead Sea, physical phenomena may still be invoked in the catastrophe of the condemned cities, without hurting the tenets of religion. Sodom was built over an asphalt pit, as is known from the testimonies of Moses (an interpretation of the ‘slime-pits’ in Genesis 11:3, 14:10) and Josephus (Jewish Wars VIII.4), who speak of the bitumen pits of the Vale of Siddim. Lightning lit that gulf; and the cities were plunged into the underground fires. Monsieur Malte-Brun conjectures, with great ingenuity, that Sodom and Gomorrah may themselves have been constructed of bituminous stone which was ignited by the fire from heaven.

Strabo (XVI:2.44) speaks of thirteen cities drowned in Lake Asphaltites; Stephen of Byzantium (Ethnica:I:260) mentions eight; Genesis places five cities in valle Silvestri: in the woodland vale: namely Sodom, Gomorrah, Adama, and Bala or Segor (Vulgate: Genesis:14:8), but only denotes the first two as having been destroyed by the wrath of God; Deuteronomy cites four: Sodom, Gomorrah, Adama and Seboim (Vulgate: Deuteronomy:29:23); The Book of Wisdom claims five without designating them: descendentem ignem in Pentapoli: when the fire came down upon the five cities (Vulgate:Sapientia:10.6).

Jacobus Cerbus notes that seven major rivers fall into the Dead Sea, according to Reland (Adriaan Reland) who concluded that the excess water must leave that sea through underground channels; Sandys (George Sandys: A Relation of a Journey etc.), and various other travellers expressed the same opinion, but it has now been abandoned, following Dr. Edmund Halley’s observations regarding evaporation, observations accepted by Dr. Shaw (Thomas Shaw: Into Syria and the Holy Land), who found however that the Jordan pours six million and ninety thousand tons of water a day into the Dead Sea, without considering the waters of the Arnon, and seven other rivers. Several travellers, among them Troilo (Franz Ferdinand von Troilo: Oriental Travels) and the Chevalier D’Arvieux (Laurent D’Arvieux: Voyage dans la Palestine), claim to have seen ruined walls and palaces in the waters of the Dead Sea. This report seems to have been confirmed by Maundrell (Henry Maundrell: Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem) and Père Nau (Michel Nau: Voyage nouveau de la Terre Saint). The classical writers are more positive on the subject: Josephus, who makes use of a poetic expression, says that one can see the shadows of the ruined cities in the lake (Josephus: Jewish Wars: IV.8.4). Strabo (XVI:2.44) attributes a circuit of sixty stadia to the desolation of Sodom; Tacitus speaks of the ruins (Tacitus: Histories: V:7): I do not know if they still exist, I saw nothing of them; but as the lake rises and ebbs with the seasons, it may perhaps hide or reveal the skeletal remains of those condemned cities.

Other wonders mentioned regarding the Dead Sea vanish under closer examination. We now know that bodies floated or sank in it according to the density of those bodies and the density of its water. Pestilential vapours that rose from it were attributable to a strong smell of brine, to the fumes that announced or followed the emergence of bitumen, and to mists, unhealthy indeed as all mists are. If the Turks ever permitted it, and one were to transport a boat from Jaffa to the Dead Sea, curious discoveries would certainly be made concerning the lake. The ancients knew it better than we do, as witnessed by Aristotle, Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, Pliny, Tacitus, Solinus (Gaius Julius Solinus: Polyhistor), Josephus, Galen, Dioscorides, and Stephen of Byzantium. Moreover the ancient charts also reproduce the shape of the lake in a more satisfactory manner than our modern maps. No one has made a circuit of the lake up to now, except perhaps Daniel the Abbot, from Saint Sabbas (See: The Pilgrimage of the Russian Abbot Daniel of Kiev 1106-1107). Père Nau has preserved the monk’s commentary, in his Travels. We learn from this commentary ‘that the Dead Sea, at its end, is as if divided in two, and there is a path where one may cross, the water being only knee-deep, at least in summer; that the land rises there, and surrounds another small lake, of a fairly oval shape, surrounded by salt flats and salt mounds; that the country round about is populated by numerous Arabs etc.’ Nijenburg (Johannes Aegidius van Egmond van der Nijenburg: Travels) said approximately the same thing, the Abbé Mariti and Monsieur de Volney made use of these documents. When we have the travel journals of Monsieur Seetzen (Ulrich Jasper Seetzen) we may be better informed.

There is hardly any reader who has not heard of the famous tree of Sodom: that tree (calotropis procera) bore an apple pleasing to the eye, but bitter to the taste and filled with ashes. Tacitus, in the fifth book of his History, and Josephus in his Jewish Wars (Josephus: Jewish Wars: IV.8.4), are, I believe, the first two authors who have mentioned this strange fruit of the Dead Sea. Fulcher of Chartres, who was travelling in Palestine around the year 1100, saw the deceptive apple, and compared it to worldly pleasure. Since that time, some travellers, like Ceverius de Vera (Jean or Joannes Ceverius de Vera: Itinerario Hierosolymitano), Baumgarten (Martin Baumgarten zu Breitenbach: Travels), Pietro Della Valle (Viaggi), Troilo, and various missionaries, confirm Fulcher’s comments; others, like Reland, Père Néret, and Maundrell, are inclined to believe that the fruit is simply a poetic symbol of our false hopes, mala mentis gaudia: ill pleasures of the mind (Virgil: Aeneid VI:278); still others, such as Pococke, Shaw, etc., absolutely doubt of its existence.

The botanist Amman (Johann Amman) seems to resolve the problem; he describes the tree, which he says is like a hawthorn. ‘The fruit,’ he says, ‘is a small apple with a beautiful colour, etc.’

Hasselquist (Fredric Hasselquist) arrives on the scene; he disagrees with all of that. The apple of Sodom is not from a tree or a shrub, but is the fruit of the solanum melongena of Linnaeus (eggplant). ‘One finds,’ he said, ‘a quantity of them near Jericho, in the valleys that are close to the Jordan River, in the vicinity of the Dead Sea; it is true that they are sometimes filled with powder. But this only occurs when the fruit is attacked by an insect (tenthredo: sawfly), which converts the whole interior to powder, leaving only the skin entire, without its losing any of its colour.’

After that, who would not consider the matter settled, given the authority of Hasselquist, and the even greater authority of Linnaeus and his Flora Palaestina (1756)? Not at all: Monsieur Seetzen, also a savant, and the most up-to-date of all these travellers, as he is still travelling in Arabia, does not agree with Hasselquist regarding the solanum Sodomaeum. ‘I saw,’ he says, ‘during my stay in Karak (Kerak), at the house of the Greek priest in that city, a sort of cotton-like silk. This cotton, he told me, comes from the plain of Al-Gor, on the eastern shores of the Dead Sea, and grows on a tree like a fig-tree, which bears the name of Aoescha-ez (the Osher plant, calotropis procera); it is found within the fruit which resembles a pomegranate. I consider that these fruits, which have no internal flesh, and are unknown in the rest of Palestine, might well be the famous apples of Sodom.’

I am now somewhat embarrassed, for I believe I too have found the desired fruit: the shrub which bears it grows eight or nine miles from the mouth of the Jordan; it is thorny, and its leaves are thin and slender; it looks much like the shrub described by Amman; its fruit is very similar in colour and shape, to the small Egyptian lemon. When this fruit is not quite ripe, it is swollen with a salty and corrosive sap; when dried, it yields a blackish seed, which might be compared to ashes, and which tastes of bitter pepper. I picked half a dozen of these fruits; I still have four dried specimens, well preserved, which may merit the attention of naturalists.

I spent two whole hours (on the 5th of October) wandering along the Dead Sea shore, despite the Bethlehemites, who urged me to leave that dangerous place. I wanted to see the Jordan River at the point where it empties into the lake, an essential location which has only been reconnoitred by Hasselquist; but the Arabs refused to take me there, because the river makes a detour to the left, about three miles from its mouth, towards the mountains of Arabia. So I had to content myself with riding round the nearest bend of the river to us. We broke camp, and we rode for an hour and a half, with great difficulty, through fine, white sand. We progressed towards a small grove of balsam-trees (balsamodendron opobalsamum) and tamarind (tamarindus indica), which to my great astonishment I saw rising from the midst of the barren soil. Suddenly the Bethlehemites stopped, and pointed out to me, deep in a gully, something I had failed to notice. Without being able to say what it was, I noted a kind of movement of sand over the solid ground. I approached this singular object, and saw a yellow stream that I could barely distinguish from the sand of its two banks. It was deeply incised, and rolled along with a dense and sluggish flow: it was the Jordan.

I have seen the great rivers of America with the pleasure that nature and solitude inspires; I have visited the Tiber with eagerness, and have searched out the Eurotas and Cephisus with a like degree of interest; but I cannot say what I felt at the sight of the Jordan. Not only did the river recall a renowned antiquity, and one of the loveliest names that the finest poetry has confided to the memory of mankind, but its banks still offered me a theatre of miracles belonging to my religion. Judea is the only country on earth that retraces for a traveller the history of both human affairs, and the things of heaven, and gives rise, in the depths of the soul, through this admixture, a feeling and thoughts that no other place can inspire.

The Bethlehemites undressed, and plunged into the Jordan. I dared not imitate them, because of the fever that still troubled me, but I knelt on the bank with my two servants and the dragoman of the monastery. Having forgotten to bring a Bible, we could not recite the passages from the Gospel appropriate to the place where we were; but the dragoman, who knew the rituals, intoned the Ave Maris Stella. We responded to it, like sailors at the end of their journey: the Sire de Joinville was not more skilful at it than us. I then drew water from the river in a leather jug: to me it did not seem as sweet as sugar, as a good missionary has said; I found it, instead, somewhat salty; but though I drank a large quantity, it did me no harm; I think it would be very agreeable if it was purged of the sand it carries.

The Immersion of the Pilgrims in the Jordan

‘The Immersion of the Pilgrims in the Jordan’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

Ali-Aga performed his own ablutions; the Jordan River is sacred to the Turks and Arabs, who uphold several Hebrew and Christian traditions, some derived from Ishmael, whose land the Arabs still inhabit, others introduced to the Turks through the legends of the Koran.

According to D’Anville, the Arabs give the Jordan the name Nahar-el-Arden (Nahr al-Urdun); according to Père Roger, they call it the Nahar-el-Chiria (Nahr al-Shari’a). The Abbé Mariti used for its name the Italian form Scheria, and Monsieur de Volney writes it El-Charia.

Saint Jerome, in his Liber de Situ et Nominibus Locorum Hebraicorum, a kind of translation of the Onamasticon of Eusebius, claims that the name of the Jordan is a combination of the names of two of the sources, Jor and Dan, of that river; but elsewhere he deviates from this opinion; others reject it, on the authority of Josephus, Pliny and Eusebius, who locate the only source of the Jordan at Paneades (Banias, Caesarea Philippi), at the foot of Mount Hermon, in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. La Roque (Jean de La Roque) discusses this question in depth in his Travels through Syria and Egypt; the Abbé Mariti merely reiterates it, while quoting an additional passage from William of Tyre (Historia), to prove that Dan and Paneades were the same city, as we know. It should be noted with Reland (Adriaan Reland: Palaestina Ex Monumentis Veteribus Illustrata) that, contrary to the opinion of Saint Jerome, the name of the sacred river is not Jordan in Hebrew, but Jorden; though, even assuming the first construction, Jordan means the River of Judgement: from Jor, which Saint Jerome translated as ρέεθρον, fluvius, and Dan, which is rendered by judicans, sive judicium: an etymology so appropriate that it renders improbable the idea of the two sources, Jor and Dan; if the local geography left the matter in any doubt.

About six miles from the point where we halted I saw, higher up, along the river, a large grove of trees. I wanted to visit it, because I calculated that it was somewhere there, before Jericho, that the Israelites crossed the river, that manna ceased to fall, that the Hebrews tasted the first fruits of the promised land, that Naaman was cured of leprosy (2 Kings:5:14), and finally that Jesus Christ received his baptism at the hands of Saint John the Baptist. We rode towards the place for some time, but as we approached, we heard men’s voices in the grove. Sadly, the sound of a human voice, which is meant to reassure, and which you should be pleased to hear beside the Jordan, is precisely what alarms you in the desert. The Bethlehemites and the dragoman wished to leave, on the instant. I told them that I had not come so far simply in order to return so soon; that I agreed not to go further, but that I wanted to view the river from where we were.

They agreed, reluctantly, to my wishes, and we returned to the Jordan, which was some distance away on the right, after a detour. I found it possessed the same width and depth as it had three miles lower down, that is to say, it was six or seven feet deep below the banks, and about fifty yards wide.

The guides urged me to leave; even Ali-Aga complained. After taking notes on what seemed to me most important, I yielded to the wishes of our caravan; I saluted the Jordan the last time; I filled a bottle with its water and gathered some reeds from its shore. We set out to reach the village of Ariha (It is remarkable that this name, which means ‘fragrant’, bears some similarity to that of the woman who welcomed the spies from Joshua’s army to Jericho, see Joshua:2:1-7. She was called Rahab), the ancient Jericho, below the mountains of Judea. Hardly had we gone a mile into the valley, when we saw the traces of a host of men and horses in the sand. Ali proposed that we close ranks in order to prevent the Arabs counting our number. ‘If they take us,’ he said, ‘by our formation and dress, for Christian soldiers, they will not dare attack us.’ What great credit that does our armies!

Our suspicions were well-founded. We soon detected, behind us and beside the Jordan, a troop of some thirty Arabs who were studying us. We set our infantry, that is to say our six Bethlehemites, to march ahead of us, and covered their retreat with our cavalry; we placed our luggage in the middle: unfortunately the donkey that carried it was restive and would only advance by dint of blows. The Dragoman’s horse having trodden on a hornets’ nest, the hornets set on him, and poor Michel, run away with by his horse, emitted pitiful cries; Jean, being wholly Greek, put a brave face on it; Ali was as courageous as a Janissary of Mahomet II (Mehmet II). As for Julien, he was never surprised; the world passed before his eyes without his paying any attention; he believed himself still to be in the Rue Saint-Honoré, and said to me with the greatest sang-froid in the world, as he kept his horse to a walk: ‘Monsieur, are there no policemen in this country to reprimand these people?’

After gazing at us for some time, the Arabs made a move towards us; then, to our great surprise, they re-entered the bushes bordering the river. Ali was right: they doubtless took us for Christian soldiers. We arrived without incident in Jericho.


Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

The Abbé Mariti has done a fine job of gathering together the historical facts regarding this famous city (He neglected a few however, such as the gift Antony made to Cleopatra of the territory of Jericho etc., see Josephus: Antiquities: XV:4:1-2); he has also spoken of Jericho’s produce, how to extract oil from the Zacum (Jericho Balsam: balanites aegyptiaca), etc: it is therefore unnecessary to repeat it, other than to make, as so many do, a set of Travels from all the other Travels. We also know that the neighbourhood of Jericho was adorned with a spring whose waters, once bitter, were sweetened by Elisha’s miracle (2 Kings 2:21). This source is located two miles above the town, at the foot of the mountain where Jesus prayed and fasted for forty days. It divides into two branches. On its banks one sees a few fields of sorghum, clumps of acacias, trees that give the balm of Judea (terebinth, not to be confused with the famous balsam trees of Jericho, which no longer exist, and seem to have died out in the seventh century, as Bishop Arculf could not locate them. See the Venerable Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, which quotes Saint Adamnan’s: De locis sanctis), and shrubs that by their leaves resemble lilacs, but whose flowers I have not seen. There are no longer roses or palm-trees at Jericho, and I was unable to dine on the Nicolaus dates which Augustus so liked (named for Nicolaus of Damascus, his ambassador to Herod): these dates, had degenerated greatly by the time of Belon (Pierre Belon, the naturalist). An old acacia shades the source, another tree a little further down leans over the stream that flows from that source, and forms a natural bridge.

I have mentioned that Ali-Aga was born in the village of Ariha (Jericho), and that he was its governor. He conducted me to his dominion, where I could not fail to be well received by his subjects: indeed, they came to pay homage to their sovereign. He wanted me to enter an old hut he called his castle: I declined the honour, preferring to dine on the banks of Elisha’s spring (Ein-al-malcha), now called the King’s Spring. While passing through the village, we saw a young Arab seated alone, dressed as if for a feast, his head adorned with feathers. All who passed by stopped to kiss his cheeks and forehead: I was told he was newly married. We stopped at Elisha’s spring. A lamb was slaughtered, and roasted whole over a large fire at the edge of the water: an Arab toasted sorghum-heads. When the meal was ready, we sat around a round wooden tray, and each tore off part of the victim with their hands.

It is pleasing to recognise in this way of life some trace of the customs of ancient times, and recall the memory of Abraham and Jacob, among the descendants of Ishmael.

The Arabs, wherever I saw them, in Judea, Egypt, and even in Barbary, struck me as tall rather than short. They display a proud bearing. They are well made and slender. They have an oval head, a high arched brow, an aquiline nose, and large almond-shaped eyes, yielding a moist and singularly sweet gaze; nothing about them indicates savagery, so long as their mouths are closed; but as soon as they begin to speak, you hear loud and strongly aspirated speech, you see long teeth of dazzling whiteness, like the jackal or lynx: differing in this manner from the American savage, whose ferocity is in the gaze, and the more human expression of the mouth.

Arab women are taller than the men. Their manner is noble, and in the regularity of their features, the beauty of their form, and the arrangement of their veils, they are somewhat reminiscent of the statues of priestesses or the Muses. This ought to be qualified by one reservation: these beautiful statues are often draped in rags; an air of wretchedness, poverty, and suffering degrades their pure forms, a coppery hue hides the regularity of their features; in a word, to view these women as I have just suggested, one should see them from a distance, and be content to see the whole, and not inspect the detail.

Most Arabs wear a tunic tied at the waist with a belt. Sometimes they remove one sleeve from the tunic, and are then draped in the ancient way; sometimes they cover themselves in a blanket of white wool, which serves as robe, cloak or veil, according to whether they wrap it around themselves, throw it over their shoulders, or use it to cover their heads. They walk barefoot. They are armed with a dagger, a spear, or a musket. Tribes travel in caravans; their camels walk in line. The lead camel is attached by a rope of palm fibre to the neck of a donkey, who acts as guide to the whole troop: the donkey, as head of the train, is free from any burden, and enjoys various privileges; amongst the wealthiest tribes their camels are adorned with fringes, tassels, and feathers.

Mares, according to the nobility of their breed, are treated with more or less honour, but always with the utmost rigor. Horses are never rested in the shade; they are left exposed to the full heat of the sun, all four legs tied to stakes in the ground, in such a way as to render them immobile; their saddles are never removed; often they only drink once, and eat a little barley, in a twenty-four hour period. Such harsh treatment, far from debilitating them, encourages sobriety, patience and speed. I have often admired some Arab horse, tethered amidst burning sand, his straggling mane hanging down, his head bowed between his legs to seek a little shade, casting a sidelong glance from a savage eye at his master. If you loose the bonds from his legs, and spring upon his back, he foameth, he quivereth, he swalloweth the ground, when he heareth the trumpet, he saith: Ha! (Vulgate: Job:39:24: fervens et fremens, sorbet terram, ubi audierit buccinam, dicit: Vah!), and you recognize the horse from the Book of Job.

Everything they say about the Arab passion for tales is true, and I will cite an example: during the night we had just spent on the Dead Sea shore, our Bethlehemites sat around their bonfire their muskets lying on the ground at their side, the horses tied to stakes, forming a second circle beyond. After drinking coffee and speaking a while together, the Arabs fell silent, except for the sheikh. By the light of the fire, I saw his expressive gestures, his black beard, his white teeth, the various flourishes of his robes as his story progressed. His companions listened with rapt attention, all leaning forward, their faces over the fire, sometimes giving a cry of admiration, sometimes repeating, with an emphasis, the gestures of the narrator: a few horses leaning their heads over the group, and looming in the shadows, served to grant this tableau the most picturesque of characters, especially when fringed by the landscape of the Dead Sea and the mountains of Judea.

I had studied the American hordes, on the banks of their lakes, with deep interest; what even more interesting species of savage was I not gazing on here! I had before me descendants of the ancient tribe of mankind; I was watching them living the same existence they had lived since the days of Hagar and Ismael; I was seeing them in the same desert that was assigned them by their God as their portion; moratus est in solitudine, habitavitque in deserto Pharan; he lived in solitude…and dwelt in the wilderness of Pharan (Vulgate: Genesis 21:20-21). I met them in the Jordan Valley; at the foot of the mountains of Samaria; on the roads of Hebron; in the place where the voice of Joshua halted the sun (Joshua:10:13); in the fields of Gomorrah still smouldering from Jehovah’s wrath, that the merciful wonders of Jesus Christ then soothed.


Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

What most distinguishes the Arab peoples from those of the New World is that despite the coarseness of the former we nevertheless feel something delicate in their manners: one feels they were born in that Orient from which has emerged all the arts, all sciences and all religions. Hidden in the far west, in a region divorced from civilisation, the Canadian inhabits valleys shaded by eternal forests, watered by immense rivers; the Arab adrift, so to speak, on the high-ways of the world, between Africa and Asia, wanders in the glowing fields of dawn, in a land without trees or water. Among the tribes of the descendants of Ishmael, masters, servants, domestic animals, freedom must be subject to the law. Among the American hordes, man is always alone in a proud and cruel independence: instead of a woollen blanket, he has a bear-skin; instead of a spear, a bow and arrow; instead of a dagger, a club; he knows nothing of, and would scorn, watermelons, dates, camel milk: for his feasts he requires flesh and blood. He has no fabric made of goat hair to make tents in which to shelter: an elm, fallen into decay, provides the bark for his huts. He has not tamed the horse in order to pursue the gazelle: he takes the moose while pursuing it on foot. He cannot trace his origin to great and civilized nations; one finds no mention of his ancestors’ names in the annals of empire: his forefathers’ contemporaries were ancient oaks which still stand today. Monuments of nature, not history, the tombs of his ancestors rest unknown in uncharted forest. In a word, in the Americas everything proclaims the savage who has not yet reached the state of civilization; amongst the Arabs all proclaims the civilized man fallen once more into a state of savagery.

We left Elisha’s spring on the 6the of October, at three in the afternoon, to return to Jerusalem. On our right we passed Mount Quarantania (Jebel Quarantul), which rises above Jericho, immediately in front of Mount Abarim (Deuteronomy 34:1, Numbers 33:47,48) from which Moses, before dying, saw the Promised Land. On re-entering the mountains of Judea, we saw the remains of a Roman aqueduct. The Abbé Mariti, dogged by his memories of the monks, would like this aqueduct to have belonged to an ancient community, or to have been utilised for irrigating the surrounding land when sugarcane was cultivated on the plains of Jericho. If a swift inspection of the structure was not sufficient to destroy this bizarre idea, one may consult Adrichomius (Christian Kruik van Adrichem: Theatrum Terrae Sanctae); the Historica, Theologica et Moralis Terræ Sanctæ Elucidatio of Quaresmius (Franciscus Quaresmius); and most of the travellers already cited. The path we followed through the mountains was broad, and sometimes paved; perhaps it is an ancient Roman road. We passed a mountain once crowned by an old gothic castle which defended, and secured the road. Beyond this mountain, we descended into a dark deep valley, known in Hebrew as Adummin, or the place of blood (Joshua 15:7). There was a small town there belonging to the tribe of Judah, and it was in this lonely place that the Samaritan rescued the wounded traveller. There we met the cavalry of the Pasha, who was leading an expedition, of which I shall have occasion to speak, to the far side of the Jordan. Fortunately night hid us from the sight of the soldiery. We passed Bahurim where David fleeing from Absalom, was stoned by Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-8). A little further on, we dismounted at the fountain (the Fountain of the Apostles) where Jesus Christ and the Apostles used to rest, when returning from Jericho. We began to climb the slopes of the Mount of Olives; we passed the village of Bethany, where they show you the ruins of Martha’s house, and the tomb of Lazarus. Then we descended the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, and crossed the brook Kidron, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. A track that runs by the southern foot of the Temple rock, and rises to Mount Sion (the western hill, not the Jewish Zion, which is the eastern hill), took us to the Pilgrim Gate, completing the entire circuit the city. It was midnight. Ali-Aga was allowed in. The six Arabs returned to Bethlehem. We returned to the monastery. A thousand sorry rumours had already spread concerning us: they said that we had been killed by Arabs or by the Pasha’s cavalry; I was blamed for having undertaken the journey with so feeble an escort, a thing set down to the reckless nature of the French. Subsequent events proved, however, that if I had not so decided, and so profited from the first hours of my arrival in Jerusalem, I would never have reached the Jordan (I was told that an Englishman dressed as an Arab, had gone two or three times, from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, alone. That is quite credible, and I even believe that there is less risk in so doing than with an escort of ten or twelve men).

Jerusalem in the Mount of Olives

‘Jerusalem in the Mount of Olives’
Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia - David Roberts, George Croly, Louis Haghe (1842 - 1849)
The New York Public Library: Digital Collections

End of Part Three