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Ch. 18: The Pass of Mount Taurus


We enter the Taurus--Turcomans--Forest Scenery--the Palace of Pan--Khan Mezarluk--Morning among the Mountains--The Gorge of the Cydnus--The Crag of the Fortress--The Cilician Gate--Deserted Forts--A Sublime Landscape--The Gorge of the Sihoon--The Second Gate--Camp in the Defile--Sunrise--Journey up the Sihoon--A Change of Scenery--A Pastoral Valley--Kolü Kushla--A Deserted Khan--A Guest in Ramazan--Flowers--The Plain of Karamania--Barren Hills--The Town of Eregli--The Hadji again.


"Lo! where the pass expands
Its stony jaws, the abrupt mountain breaks,
And seems, with its accumulated crags,
To overhang the world."

~Percy Bysshe Shelley.


Eregli, in Karamania, June 22, 1852.


Striking our tent in the gardens of Tarsus, we again crossed the Cydnus, and took a northern course across the plain. The long line of Taurus rose before us, seemingly divided into four successive ranges, the highest of which was folded in clouds; only the long streaks of snow, filling the ravines, being visible. The outlines of these ranges were very fine, the waving line of the summits cut here and there by precipitous gorges--the gateways of rivers that came down to the plain. In about two hours, we entered the lower hills. They are barren and stony, with a white, chalky soil; but the valleys were filled with myrtle, oleander, and lauristinus in bloom, and lavender grew in great profusion on the hill-sides. The flowers of the oleander gave out a delicate, almond-like fragrance, and grew in such dense clusters as frequently to hide the foliage. I amused myself with finding a derivation of the name of this beautiful plant, which may answer until somebody discovers a better one. Hero, when the corpse of her lover was cast ashore by the waves, buried him under an oleander bush, where she was accustomed to sit daily, and lament over his untimely fate. Now, a foreign horticulturist, happening to pass by when the shrub was in blossom, was much struck with its beauty, and asked Hero what it was called. But she, absorbed in grief, and thinking only of her lover, clasped her hands, and sighed out: "O Leander! O Leander!" which the horticulturist immediately entered in his note-book as the name of the shrub; and by that name it is known, to the present time.

For two or three hours, the scenery was rather tame, the higher summits being obscured with a thunder-cloud. Towards noon, however, we passed the first chain, and saw, across a strip of rolling land intervening, the grand ramparts of the second, looming dark and large under the clouds. A circular watch-tower of white stone, standing on the summit of a promontory at the mouth of a gorge on our right, flashed out boldly against the storm. We stopped under an oak-tree to take breakfast; but there was no water; and two Turks, who were resting while their horses grazed in the meadow, told us we should find a good spring half a mile further. We ascended a long slope, covered with wheat-fields, where numbers of Turcoman reapers were busy at work, passed their black tents, surrounded with droves of sheep and goats, and reached a rude stone fountain of good water, where two companies of these people had stopped to rest, on their way to the mountains. It was the time of noon prayer, and they went through their devotions with great solemnity. We nestled deep in a bed of myrtles, while we breakfasted; for the sky was clouded, and the wind blew cool and fresh from the region of rain above us. Some of the Turcomans asked us for bread, and were very grateful when we gave it to them.

In the afternoon, we came into a higher and wilder region, where the road led through thickets of wild olive, holly, oak, and lauristinus, with occasional groves of pine. What a joy I felt in hearing, once more, the grand song of my favorite tree! Our way was a woodland road; a storm had passed over the region in the morning; the earth was still fresh and moist, and there was an aromatic smell of leaves in the air. We turned westward into the entrance of a deep valley, over which hung a perpendicular cliff of gray and red rock, fashioned by nature so as to resemble a vast fortress, with windows, portals and projecting bastions. François displayed his knowledge of mythology, by declaring it to be the Palace of Pan. While we were carrying out the idea, by making chambers for the Fauns and Nymphs in the basement story of the precipice, the path wound around the shoulder of the mountain, and the glen spread away before us, branching up into loftier ranges, disclosing through its gateway of cliffs, rising out of the steeps of pine forest, a sublime vista of blue mountain peaks, climbing to the topmost snows. It was a magnificent Alpine landscape, more glowing and rich than Switzerland, yet equalling it in all the loftier characteristics of mountain scenery. Another and greater precipice towered over us on the right, and the black eagles which had made their eyries in its niched and caverned vaults, were wheeling around its crest. A branch of the Cydnus foamed along the bottom of the gorge, and soma Turcoman boys were tending their herds on its banks.

Further up the glen, we found a fountain of delicious water, beside the deserted Khan of Mezarluk, and there encamped for the night. Our tent was pitched on the mountain side, near a fountain of the coolest, clearest and sweetest water I have seen in all the East. There was perfect silence among the mountains, and the place was as lonely as it was sublime. The night was cool and fresh; but I could not sleep until towards morning. When I opened my belated eyes, the tall peaks on the opposite side of the glen were girdled below their waists with the flood of a sparkling sunrise. The sky was pure as crystal, except a soft white fleece that veiled the snowy pinnacles of Taurus, folding and unfolding, rising and sinking, as if to make their beauty still more attractive by the partial concealment. The morning air was almost cold, but so pure and bracing--so aromatic with the healthy breath of the pines--that I took it down in the fullest possible draughts.

We rode up the glen, following the course of the Cydnus, through scenery of the wildest and most romantic character. The bases of the mountains were completely enveloped in forests of pine, but their summits rose in precipitous crags, many hundreds of feet in height, hanging above our very heads. Even after the sun was five hours high, their shadows fell upon us from the opposite side of the glen. Mixed with the pine were occasional oaks, an undergrowth of hawthorn in bloom, and shrubs covered with yellow and white flowers. Over these the wild grape threw its rich festoons, filling the air with exquisite fragrance.

Out of this glen, we passed into another, still narrower and wilder. The road was the old Roman way, and in tolerable condition, though it had evidently not been mended for many centuries. In half an hour, the pass opened, disclosing an enormous peak in front of us, crowned with the ruins of an ancient fortress of considerable extent. The position was almost impregnable, the mountain dropping on one side into a precipice five hundred feet in perpendicular height. Under the cliffs of the loftiest ridge, there was a terrace planted with walnut-trees: a charming little hamlet in the wilderness. Wild sycamore-trees, with white trunks and bright green foliage, shaded the foamy twists of the Cydnus, as it plunged down its difficult bed. The pine thrust its roots into the naked precipices, and from their summits hung out over the great abysses below. I thought of OEnone's


--"tall, dark pines, that fringed the craggy ledge
High over the blue gorge, and all between
The snowy peak and snow-white cataract
Fostered the callow eaglet;"


and certainly she had on Mount Ida no more beautiful trees than these.

We had doubled the Crag of the Fortress, when the pass closed before us, shut in by two immense precipices of sheer, barren rock, more than a thousand feet in height. Vast fragments, fallen from above, choked up the entrance, whence the Cydnus, spouting forth in foam, leaped into the defile. The ancient road was completely destroyed, but traces of it were to be seen on the rocks, ten feet above the present bed of the stream, and on the broken masses which had been hurled below. The path wound with difficulty among these wrecks, and then merged into the stream itself, as we entered the gateway. A violent wind blew in our faces as we rode through the strait, which is not ten yards in breadth, while its walls rise to the region of the clouds. In a few minutes we had traversed it, and stood looking back on the enormous gap. There were several Greek tablets cut in the rock above the old road, but so defaced as to be illegible. This is undoubtedly the principal gate of the Taurus, and the pass through which the armies of Cyrus and Alexander entered Cilicia.

Beyond the gate the mountains retreated, and we climbed up a little dell, past two or three Turcoman houses, to the top of a hill, whence opened a view of the principal range, now close at hand. The mountains in front were clothed with dark cedars to their very tops, and the snow-fields behind them seemed dazzlingly bright and near. Our course for several miles now lay through a more open valley, drained by the upper waters of the Cydnus. On two opposing terraces of the mountain chains are two fortresses, built by Ibraham Pasha, but now wholly deserted. They are large and well-constructed works of stone, and surrounded by ruins of stables, ovens, and the rude houses of the soldiery. Passing between these, we ascended to the shelf dividing the waters of the Cydnus and the Sihoon. From the point where the slope descends to the latter river, there opened before me one of the most glorious landscapes I ever beheld. I stood at the extremity of a long hollow or depression between the two ranges of the Taurus--not a valley, for it was divided by deep cloven chasms, hemmed in by steeps overgrown with cedars. On my right rose a sublime chain, soaring far out of the region of trees, and lifting its peaked summits of gray rock into toe sky. Another chain, nearly as lofty, but not so broken, nor with such large, imposing features, overhung me on the left; and far in front, filling up the magnificent vista--filling up all between the lower steeps, crowned with pine, and the round white clouds hanging on the verge of heaven--were the shining snows of the Taurus. Great God, how shall I describe the grandeur of that view! How draw the wonderful outlines of those mountains! How paint the airy hue of violet-gray, the soft white lights, the thousandfold pencillings of mellow shadow, the height, the depth, the far-reaching vastness of the landscape!

In the middle distance, a great blue gorge passed transversely across the two ranges and the region between. This, as I rightly conjectured, was the bed of the Sihoon. Our road led downward through groves of fragrant cedars, and we travelled thus for two hours before reaching the river. Taking a northward course up his banks, we reached the second of the Pylĉ Ciliciĉ before sunset. It is on a grander scale than the first gate, though not so startling and violent in its features. The bare walls on either side fall sheer to the water, and the road, crossing the Sihoon by a lofty bridge of a single arch, is cut along the face of the rock. Near the bridge a subterranean stream, almost as large as the river, bursts forth from the solid heart of the mountain. On either side gigantic masses of rock, with here and there a pine to adorn their sterility, tower to the height of 6,000 feet, in some places almost perpendicular from summit to base. They are worn and broken into all fantastic forms. There are pyramids, towers, bastions, minarets, and long, sharp spires, splintered and jagged as the turrets of an iceberg. I have seen higher mountains, but I have never seen any which looked so high as these. We camped on a narrow plot of ground, in the very heart of the tremendous gorge. A soldier, passing along at dusk, told us that a merchant and his servant were murdered in the same place last winter, and advised us to keep watch. But we slept safely all night, while the stars sparkled over the chasm, and slips of misty cloud hung low on the thousand pinnacles of rock.

When I awoke, the gorge lay in deep shadow; but high up on the western mountain, above the enormous black pyramids that arose from the river, the topmost pinnacles of rock sparkled like molten silver, in the full gush of sunrise. The great mountain, blocking up the gorge behind us, was bathed almost to its foot in the rays, and, seen through such a dark vista, was glorified beyond all other mountains of Earth. The air was piercingly cold and keen, and I could scarcely bear the water of the Sihoon on my sun-inflamed face. There was a little spring not far off, from which we obtained sufficient water to drink, the river being too muddy. The spring was but a thread oozing from the soil; but the Hadji collected it in handfuls, which he emptied into his water-skin, and then brought to us.

The morning light gave a still finer effect to the manifold forms of the mountains than that of the afternoon sun. The soft gray hue of the rocks shone clearly against the cloudless sky, fretted all over with the shadows thrown by their innumerable spires and jutting points, and by the natural arches scooped out under the cliffs. After travelling less than an hour, we passed the riven walls of the mighty gateway, and rode again under the shade of pine forests. The height of the mountains now gradually diminished, and their sides, covered with pine and cedar, became less broken and abrupt. The summits, nevertheless, still retained the same rocky spine, shooting up into tall, single towers, or long lines of even parapets Occasionally, through gaps between, we caught glimpses of the snow-fields, dazzlingly high and white.

After travelling eight or nine miles, we emerged from the pass, and left the Sihoon at a place called Chiftlik Khan--a stone building, with a small fort adjoining, wherein fifteen splendid bronze cannon lay neglected on their broken and rotting carriages. As we crossed the stone bridge over the river, a valley opened suddenly on the left, disclosing the whole range of the Taurus, which we now saw on its northern side, a vast stretch of rocky spires, with sparkling snow-fields between, and long ravines filled with snow, extending far down between the dark blue cliffs and the dark green plumage of the cedars.

Immediately after passing the central chain of the Taurus, the character of the scenery changed. The heights were rounded, the rocky strata only appearing on the higher peaks, and the slopes of loose soil were deeply cut and scarred by the rains of ages. Both in appearance, especially in the scattered growth of trees dotted over the dark red soil, and in their formation, these mountains strongly resemble the middle ranges of the Californian Sierra Nevada. We climbed a long, winding glen, until we had attained a considerable height, when the road reached a dividing ridge, giving us a view of a deep valley, beyond which a chain of barren mountains rose to the height of some five thousand feet. As we descended the rocky path, a little caravan of asses and mules clambered up to meet us, along the brinks of steep gulfs. The narrow strip of bottom land along the stream was planted with rye, now in head, and rolling in silvery waves before the wind.

After our noonday halt, we went over the hills to another stream, which came from the north-west. Its valley was broader and greener than that we had left, and the hills inclosing it had soft and undulating outlines. They were bare of trees, but colored a pale green by their thin clothing of grass and herbs. In this valley the season was so late, owing to its height above the sea, that the early spring-flowers were yet in bloom. Poppies flamed among the wheat, and the banks of the stream were brilliant with patches of a creeping plant, with a bright purple blossom. The asphodel grew in great profusion, and an ivy-leaved shrub, covered with flakes of white bloom, made the air faint with its fragrance. Still further up, we came to orchards of walnut and plum trees, and vineyards There were no houses, but the innabitants, who were mostly Turcomans, live in villages during the winter, and in summer pitch their tents on the mountains where they pasture their flocks. Directly over this quiet pastoral, vale towered the Taurus, and I looked at once on its secluded loveliness and on the wintry heights, whose bleak and sublime heads were mantled in clouds. From no point is there a more imposing view of the whole snowy range. Near the head of the valley we passed a large Turcoman encampment, surrounded with herds of sheep and cattle.

We halted for the evening at a place called Kolü-Kushla---an immense fortress-village, resembling Baïas, and like it, wholly deserted. Near it there is a small town of very neat houses, which is also deserted, the inhabitants having gone into the mountains with their flocks. I walked through the fortress, which is a massive building of stone, about 500 feet square, erected by Sultan Murad as a resting-place for the caravans to Mecca. It has two spacious portals, in which the iron doors are still hanging, connected by a vaulted passage, twenty feet high and forty wide, with bazaars on each side. Side gateways open into large courts, surrounded with arched chambers. There is a mosque entire, with its pulpit and galleries, and the gilded crescent still glittering over its dome. Behind it is a bath, containing an entrance hall and half a dozen chambers, in which the water-pipes and stone tanks still remain. With a little alteration, the building would make a capital Phalanstery, where the Fourierites might try their experiment without contact with Society. There is no field for them equal to Asia Minor--a glorious region, abounding in natural wealth, almost depopulated, and containing a great number of Phalansteries ready built.

We succeeded in getting some eggs, fowls, and milk from an old Turcoman who had charge of the village. A man who rode by on a donkey sold us a bag of yaourt (sour milk-curds), which was delicious, notwithstanding the suspicious appearance of the bag. It was made before the cream had been removed, and was very rich and nourishing. The old Turcoman sat down and watched us while we ate, but would not join us, as these wandering tribes are very strict in keeping Ramazan. When we had reached our dessert--a plate of fine cherries--another white-bearded and dignified gentleman visited us. We handed him the cherries, expecting that he would take a few and politely return the dish: but no such thing. He coolly produced his handkerchief, emptied everything into it, and marched off. He also did not venture to eat, although we pointed to the Taurus, on whose upper snows the last gleam of daylight was just melting away.

We arose this morning in a dark, cloudy dawn. There was a heavy black storm hanging low in the west, and another was gathering its forces along the mountains behind us. A cold wind blew down the valley, and long peals of thunder rolled grandly among the gorges of Taurus. An isolated hill, crowned with a shattered crag which bore a striking resemblance to a ruined fortress, stood out black and sharp against the far, misty, sunlit peaks. As far as the springs were yet undried, the land was covered with flowers. In one place I saw a large square plot of the most brilliant crimson hue, burning amid the green wheat-fields, as if some Tyrian mantle had been flung there. The long, harmonious slopes and rounded summits of the hills were covered with drifts of a beautiful purple clover, and a diminutive variety of the achillea, or yarrow, with glowing yellow blossoms. The leaves had a pleasant aromatic odor, and filled the air with their refreshing breath, as they were crushed under the hoofs of our horses.

We had now reached the highest ridge of the hilly country along the northern base of Taurus, and saw, far and wide before us, the great central plain of Karamania. Two isolated mountains, at forty or fifty miles distance, broke the monotony of the desert-like level: Kara Dagh in the west, and the snow-capped summits of Hassan Dagh in the north-east. Beyond the latter, we tried to catch a glimpse of the famous Mons Argseus, at the base of which is Kaisariyeh, the ancient Cĉsarea of Cappadocia. This mountain, which is 13,000 feet high, is the loftiest peak of Asia Minor. The clouds hung low on the horizon, and the rains were falling, veiling it from our sight.

Our road, for the remainder of the day, was over barren hills, covered with scanty herbage. The sun shone out intensely hot, and the glare of the white soil was exceedingly painful to my eyes. The locality of Eregli was betrayed, some time before we reached it, by its dark-green belt of fruit trees. It stands in the mouth of a narrow valley which winds down from the Taurus, and is watered by a large rapid stream that finally loses itself in the lakes and morasses of the plain. There had been a heavy black thunder-cloud gathering, and as we reached our camping-ground, under some fine walnut-trees near the stream, a sudden blast of cold wind swept over the town, filling the air with dust. We pitched the tent in all haste, expecting a storm, but the rain finally passed to the northward. We then took a walk through the town, which is a forlorn place. A spacious khan, built apparently for the Mecca pilgrims, is in ruins, but the mosque has an exquisite minaret, eighty feet high, and still bearing traces of the devices, in blue tiles, which once covered it. The shops were mostly closed, and in those which were still open the owners lay at full length on their bellies, their faces gaunt with fasting. They seemed annoyed at our troubling them, even with purchases. One would have thought that some fearful pestilence had fallen upon the town. The cobblers only, who somewhat languidly plied their implements, seemed to retain a little life. The few Jews and Armenians smoked their pipes in a tantalizing manner, in the very faces of the poor Mussulmans. We bought an oka of excellent cherries, which we were cruel enough to taste in the streets, before the hungry eyes of the suffering merchants.

This evening the asses belonging to the place were driven in from pasture--four or five hundred in all; and such a show of curious asinine specimens as I never before beheld. A Dervish, who was with us in Quarantine, at Adana, has just arrived. He had lost his teskeré (passport), and on issuing forth purified, was cast into prison. Finally he found some one who knew him, and procured his release. He had come on foot to this place in five days, suffering many privations, having been forty-eight hours without food. He is bound to Konia, on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Hazret Mevlana, the founder of the sect of dancing Dervishes. We gave him food, in return for which he taught me the formula of his prayers. He tells me I should always pronounce the name of Allah when my horse stumbles, or I see a man in danger of his life, as the word has a saving power. Hadji Youssuf, who has just been begging for an advance of twenty piastres to buy grain for his horses, swore "by the pardon of God" that he would sell the lame horse at Konia and get a better one. We have lost all confidence in the old villain's promises, but the poor beasts shall not suffer for his delinquencies.

Our tent is in a charming spot, and, from without, makes a picture to be remembered. The yellow illumination from within strikes on the under sides of the walnut boughs, while the moonlight silvers them from above. Beyond gardens where the nightingales are singing, the tall minaret of Eregli stands revealed in the vapory glow. The night is too sweet and balmy for sleep, and yet I must close my eyes upon it, for the hot plains of Karamania await us to-morrow.


Bayard Taylor