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Ch. 2: The Coast of Palestine


The Pilgrimage Commences--The Muleteers--The Mules--The Donkey--Journey to Sidon--The Foot of Lebanon--Pictures--The Ruins of Tyre--A Wild Morning--The Tyrian Surges--Climbing the Ladder of Tyre--Panorama of the Bay of Acre--The Plain of Esdraelon--Camp in a Garden--Acre--the Shore of the Bay--Haifa--Mount Carmel and its Monastery--A Deserted Coast--The Ruins of Cæsarea--The Scenery of Palestine--We become Robbers--El Haram--Wrecks--the Harbor and Town of Jaffa.


"Along the line of foam, the jewelled chain,
The largesse of the ever-giving main."

~Richard Henry Stoddard.


Ramleh, April 27, 1852.


We left Beyrout on the morning of the 22d. Our caravan consisted of three horses, three mules, and a donkey, in charge of two men--Dervish, an erect, black-bearded, and most impassive Mussulman, and Mustapha, who is the very picture of patience and good-nature. He was born with a smile on his face, and has never been able to change the expression. They are both masters of their art, and can load a mule with a speed and skill which I would defy any Santa Fé trader to excel. The animals are not less interesting than their masters. Our horses, to be sure, are slow, plodding beasts, with considerable endurance, but little spirit; but the two baggage mules deserve gold medals from the Society for the Promotion of Industry. I can overlook any amount of waywardness in the creatures, in consideration of the steady, persevering energy, the cheerfulness and even enthusiasm with which they perform their duties. They seem to be conscious that they are doing well, and to take a delight in the consciousness. One of them has a band of white shells around his neck, fastened with a tassel and two large blue beads; and you need but look at him to see that he is aware how becoming it is. He thinks it was given to him for good conduct, and is doing his best to merit another. The little donkey is a still more original animal. He is a practical humorist, full of perverse tricks, but all intended for effect, and without a particle of malice. He generally walks behind, running off to one side or the other to crop a mouthful of grass, but no sooner does Dervish attempt to mount him, than he sets off at full gallop, and takes the lead of the caravan. After having performed one of his feats, he turns around with a droll glance at us, as much as to say: "Did you see that?" If we had not been present, most assuredly he would never have done it. I can imagine him, after his return to Beyrout, relating his adventures to a company of fellow-donkeys, who every now and then burst into tremendous brays at some of his irresistible dry sayings.

I persuaded Mr. Harrison to adopt the Oriental costume, which, from five months' wear in Africa, I greatly preferred to the Frank. We therefore rode out of Beyrout as a pair of Syrian Beys, while François, with his belt, sabre, and pistols had much the aspect of a Greek brigand. The road crosses the hill behind the city, between the Forest of Pines and a long tract of red sand-hills next the sea. It was a lovely morning, not too bright and hot, for light, fleecy vapors hung along the sides of Lebanon. Beyond the mulberry orchards, we entered on wild, half-cultivated tracts, covered with a bewildering maze of blossoms. The hill-side and stony shelves of soil overhanging the sea fairly blazed with the brilliant dots of color which were rained upon them. The pink, the broom, the poppy, the speedwell, the lupin, that beautiful variety of the cyclamen, called by the Syrians "deek e-djebel" (cock o' the mountain), and a number of unknown plants dazzled the eye with their profusion, and loaded the air with fragrance as rare as it was unfailing. Here and there, clear, swift rivulets came down from Lebanon, coursing their way between thickets of blooming oleanders. Just before crossing the little river Damoor, François pointed out, on one of the distant heights, the residence of the late Lady Hester Stanhope. During the afternoon we crossed several offshoots of the Lebanon, by paths incredibly steep and stony, and towards evening reached Saïda, the ancient Sidon, where we obtained permission to pitch our tent in a garden. The town is built on a narrow point of land, jutting out from the centre of a bay, or curve in the coast, and contains about five thousand inhabitants. It is a quiet, sleepy sort of a place, and contains nothing of the old Sidon except a few stones and the fragments of a mole, extending into the sea. The fortress in the water, and the Citadel, are remnants of Venitian sway. The clouds gathered after nightfall, and occasionally there was a dash of rain on our tent. But I heard it with the same quiet happiness, as when, in boyhood, sleeping beneath the rafters, I have heard the rain beating all night upon the roof. I breathed the sweet breath of the grasses whereon my carpet was spread, and old Mother Earth, welcoming me back to her bosom, cradled me into calm and refreshing sleep. There is no rest more grateful than that which we take on the turf or the sand, except the rest below it.

We rose in a dark and cloudy morning, and continued our way between fields of barley, completely stained with the bloody hue of the poppy, and meadows turned into golden mosaic by a brilliant yellow daisy. Until noon our road was over a region of alternate meadow land and gentle though stony elevations, making out from Lebanon. We met continually with indications of ancient power and prosperity. The ground was strewn with hewn blocks, and the foundations of buildings remain in many places. Broken sarcophagi lie half-buried in grass, and the gray rocks of the hills are pierced with tombs. The soil, though stony, appeared to be naturally fertile, and the crops of wheat, barley, and lentils were very flourishing. After rounding the promontory which forms the southern boundary of the Gulf of Sidon, we rode for an hour or two over a plain near the sea, and then came down to a valley which ran up among the hills, terminating in a natural amphitheatre. An ancient barrow, or tumulus, nobody knows of whom, stands near the sea. During the day I noticed two charming little pictures. One, a fountain gushing into a broad square basin of masonry, shaded by three branching cypresses. Two Turks sat on its edge, eating their bread and curdled milk, while their horses drank out of the stone trough below. The other, an old Mahommedan, with a green turban and white robe, seated at the foot of a majestic sycamore, over the high bank of a stream that tumbled down its bed of white marble rock to the sea.

The plain back of the narrow, sandy promontory on which the modern Soor is built, is a rich black loam, which a little proper culture would turn into a very garden. It helped me to account for the wealth of ancient Tyre. The approach to the town, along a beach on which the surf broke with a continuous roar, with the wreck of a Greek vessel in the foreground, and a stormy sky behind, was very striking. It was a wild, bleak picture, the white minarets of the town standing out spectrally against the clouds. We rode up the sand-hills, back of the town, and selected a good camping-place among the ruins of Tyre. Near us there was an ancient square building, now used as a cistern, and filled with excellent fresh water. The surf roared tremendously on the rocks, on either hand, and the boom of the more distant breakers came to my ear like the wind in a pine forest. The remains of the ancient sea-wall are still to be traced for the entire circuit of the city, and the heavy surf breaks upon piles of shattered granite columns. Along a sort of mole, protecting an inner harbor on the north side, are great numbers of these columns. I counted fifteen in one group, some of them fine red granite, and some of the marble of Lebanon. The remains of the pharos and the fortresses strengthening the sea-wall, were pointed out by the Syrian who accompanied us as a guide, but his faith was a little stronger than mine. He even showed us the ruins of the jetty built by Alexander, by means of which the ancient city, then insulated by the sea, was taken. The remains of the causeway gradually formed the promontory by which the place is now connected with the main land. These are the principal indications of Tyre above ground, but the guide informed us that the Arabs, in digging among the sand-hills for the stones of the old buildings, which they quarry out and ship to Beyrout, come upon chambers, pillars, arches, and other objects. The Tyrian purple is still furnished by a muscle found upon the coast, but Tyre is now only noted for its tobacco and mill-stones. I saw many of the latter lying in the streets of the town, and an Arab was selling a quantity at auction in the square, as we passed. They are cut out from a species of dark volcanic rock, by the Bedouins of the mountains. There were half a dozen small coasting vessels lying in the road, but the old harbors are entirely destroyed. Isaiah's prophecy is literally fulfilled: "Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in."

On returning from our ramble we passed the house of the Governor, Daood Agha, who was dispensing justice in regard to a lawsuit then before him. He asked us to stop and take coffee, and received us with much grace and dignity. As we rose to leave, a slave brought me a large bunch of choice flowers from his garden.

We set out from Tyre at an early hour, and rode along the beach around the head of the bay to the Ras-el-Abiad, the ancient Promontorium Album. The morning was wild and cloudy, with gleams of sunshine that flashed out over the dark violet gloom of the sea. The surf was magnificent, rolling up in grand billows, which broke and formed again, till the last of the long, falling fringes of snow slid seething up the sand. Something of ancient power was in their shock and roar, and every great wave that plunged and drew back again, called in its solemn bass: "Where are the ships of Tyre? where are the ships of Tyre?" I looked back on the city, which stood advanced far into the sea, her feet bathed in thunderous spray. By and by the clouds cleared away, the sun came out bold and bright, and our road left the beach for a meadowy plain, crossed by fresh streams, and sown with an inexhaustible wealth of flowers. Through thickets of myrtle and mastic, around which the rue and lavender grew in dense clusters, we reached the foot of the mountain, and began ascending the celebrated Ladder of Tyre. The road is so steep as to resemble a staircase, and climbs along the side of the promontory, hanging over precipices of naked white rock, in some places three hundred feet in height. The mountain is a mass of magnesian limestone, with occasional beds of marble. The surf has worn its foot into hollow caverns, into which the sea rushes with a dull, heavy boom, like distant thunder. The sides are covered with thickets of broom, myrtle, arbutus, ilex, mastic and laurel, overgrown with woodbine, and interspersed with patches of sage, lavender, hyssop, wild thyme, and rue. The whole mountain is a heap of balm; a bundle of sweet spices.

Our horses' hoofs clattered up and down the rounds of the ladder, and we looked our last on Tyre, fading away behind the white hem of the breakers, as we turned the point of the promontory. Another cove of the mountain-coast followed, terminated by the Cape of Nakhura, the northern point of the Bay of Acre. We rode along a stony way between fields of wheat and barley, blotted almost out of sight by showers of scarlet poppies and yellow chrysanthemums. There were frequent ruins: fragments of sarcophagi, foundations of houses, and about half way between the two capes, the mounds of Alexandro-Schoenæ. We stopped at a khan, and breakfasted under a magnificent olive tree, while two boys tended our horses to see that they ate only the edges of the wheat field. Below the house were two large cypresses, and on a little tongue of land the ruins of one of those square towers of the corsairs, which line all this coast. The intense blue of the sea, seen close at hand over a broad field of goldening wheat, formed a dazzling and superb contrast of color. Early in the afternoon we climbed the Ras Nakhura, not so bold and grand, though quite as flowery a steep as the Promontorium Album. We had been jogging half an hour over its uneven summit, when the side suddenly fell away below us, and we saw the whole of the great gulf and plain of Acre, backed by the long ridge of Mount Carmel. Behind the sea, which makes a deep indentation in the line of the coast, extended the plain, bounded on the east, at two leagues' distance, by a range of hills covered with luxuriant olive groves, and still higher, by the distant mountains of Galilee. The fortifications of Acre were visible on a slight promontory near the middle of the Gulf. From our feet the line of foamy surf extended for miles along the red sand-beach, till it finally became like a chalk-mark on the edge of the field of blue.

We rode down the mountain and continued our journey over the plain of Esdraelon--a picture of summer luxuriance and bloom. The waves of wheat and barley rolled away from our path to the distant olive orchards; here the water gushed from a stone fountain and flowed into a turf-girdled pool, around which the Syrian women were washing their garments; there, a garden of orange, lemon, fig, and pomegranate trees in blossom, was a spring of sweet odors, which overflowed the whole land. We rode into some of these forests, for they were no less, and finally pitched our tent in one of them, belonging to the palace of the former Abdallah Pasha, within a mile of Acre. The old Saracen aqueduct, which still conveys water to the town, overhung our tent. For an hour before reaching our destination, we had seen it on the left, crossing the hollows on light stone arches. In one place I counted fifty-eight, and in another one hundred and three of these arches, some of which were fifty feet high. Our camp was a charming place: a nest of deep herbage, under two enormous fig-trees, and surrounded by a balmy grove of orange and citron. It was doubly beautiful when the long line of the aqueduct was lit up by the moon, and the orange trees became mounds of ambrosial darkness.

In the morning we rode to Acre, the fortifications of which have been restored on the land-side. A ponderous double gateway of stone admitted us into the city, through what was once, apparently, the court-yard of a fortress. The streets of the town are narrow, terribly rough, and very dirty, but the bazaars are extensive and well stocked. The principal mosque, whose heavy dome is visible at some distance from the city, is surrounded with a garden, enclosed by a pillared corridor, paved with marble. All the houses of the city are built in the most massive style, of hard gray limestone or marble, and this circumstance alone prevented their complete destruction during the English bombardment in 1841. The marks of the shells are everywhere seen, and the upper parts of the lofty buildings are completely riddled with cannon-balls, some of which remain embedded in the stone. We made a rapid tour of the town on horseback, followed by the curious glances of the people, who were in doubt whether to consider us Turks or Franks. There were a dozen vessels in the harbor, which is considered the best in Syria.

The baggage-mules had gone on, so we galloped after them along the hard beach, around the head of the bay. It was a brilliant morning; a delicious south-eastern breeze came to us over the flowery plain of Esdraelon; the sea on our right shone blue, and purple, and violet-green, and black, as the shadows or sunshine crossed it, and only the long lines of roaring foam, for ever changing in form, did not vary in hue. A fisherman stood on the beach in a statuesque attitude, his handsome bare legs bathed in the frothy swells, a bag of fish hanging from his shoulder, and the large square net, with its sinkers of lead in his right hand, ready for a cast. He had good luck, for the waves brought up plenty of large fish, and cast them at our feet, leaving them to struggle back into the treacherous brine. Between Acre and Haifa we passed six or eight wrecks, mostly of small trading vessels. Some were half buried in sand, some so old and mossy that they were fast rotting away, while a few had been recently hurled there. As we rounded the deep curve of the bay, and approached the line of palm-trees girding the foot of Mount Carmel, Haifa, with its wall and Saracenic town in ruin on the hill above, grew more clear and bright in the sun, while Acre dipped into the blue of the Mediterranean. The town of Haifa, the ancient Caiapha, is small, dirty, and beggarly looking; but it has some commerce, sharing the trade of Acre in the productions of Syria. It was Sunday, and all the Consular flags were flying. It was an unexpected delight to find the American colors in this little Syrian town, flying from one of the tallest poles. The people stared at us as we passed, and I noticed among them many bright Frankish faces, with eyes too clear and gray for Syria. O ye kind brothers of the monastery of Carmel! forgive me if I look to you for an explanation of this phenomenon.

We ascended to Mount Carmel. The path led through a grove of carob trees, from which the beans, known in Germany as St. John's bread, are produced. After this we came into an olive grove at the foot of the mountain, from which long fields of wheat, giving forth a ripe summer smell, flowed down to the shore of the bay. The olive trees were of immense size, and I can well believe, as Fra Carlo informed us, that they were probably planted by the Roman colonists, established there by Titus. The gnarled, veteran boles still send forth vigorous and blossoming boughs. There were all manner of lovely lights and shades chequered over the turf and the winding path we rode. At last we reached the foot of an ascent, steeper than the Ladder of Tyre. As our horses slowly climbed to the Convent of St. Elijah, whence we already saw the French flag floating over the shoulder of the mountain, the view opened grandly to the north and east, revealing the bay and plain of Acre, and the coast as far as Ras Nakhura, from which we first saw Mount Carmel the day previous. The two views are very similar in character, one being the obverse of the other. We reached the Convent--Dayr Mar Elias, as the Arabs call it--at noon, just in time to partake of a bountiful dinner, to which the monks had treated themselves. Fra Carlo, the good Franciscan who receives strangers, showed us the building, and the Grotto of Elijah, which is under the altar of the Convent Church, a small but very handsome structure of Italian marble. The sanctity of the Grotto depends on tradition entirely, as there is no mention in the Bible of Elijah having resided on Carmel, though it was from this mountain that he saw the cloud, "like a man's hand," rising from the sea. The Convent, which is quite new--not yet completed, in fact--is a large, massive building, and has the aspect of a fortress.

As we were to sleep at Tantura, five hours distant, we were obliged to make a short visit, in spite of the invitation of the hospitable Fra Carlo to spend the night there. In the afternoon we passed the ruins of Athlit, a town of the Middle Ages, and the Castel Pellegrino of the Crusaders. Our road now followed the beach, nearly the whole distance to Jaffa, and was in many places, for leagues in extent, a solid layer of white, brown, purple and rosy shells, which cracked and rattled under our horses' feet. Tantura is a poor Arab village, and we had some difficulty in procuring provisions. The people lived in small huts of mud and stones, near the sea. The place had a thievish look, and we deemed it best to be careful in the disposal of our baggage for the night.

In the morning we took the coast again, riding over millions of shells. A line of sandy hills, covered with thickets of myrtle and mastic, shut off the view of the plain and meadows between the sea and the hills of Samaria. After three hours' ride we saw the ruins of ancient Cæsarea, near a small promontory. The road turned away from the sea, and took the wild plain behind, which is completely overgrown with camomile, chrysanthemum and wild shrubs. The ruins of the town are visible at a considerable distance along the coast. The principal remains consist of a massive wall, flanked with pyramidal bastions at regular intervals, and with the traces of gateways, draw-bridges and towers. It was formerly surrounded by a deep moat. Within this space, which may be a quarter of a mile square, are a few fragments of buildings, and toward the sea, some high arches and masses of masonry. The plain around abounds with traces of houses, streets, and court-yards. Cæsarea was one of the Roman colonies, but owed its prosperity principally to Herod. St. Paul passed through it on his way from Macedon to Jerusalem, by the very road we were travelling.

During the day the path struck inland over a vast rolling plain, covered with sage, lavender and other sweet-smelling shrubs, and tenanted by herds of gazelles and flocks of large storks. As we advanced further, the landscape became singularly beautiful. It was a broad, shallow valley, swelling away towards the east into low, rolling hills, far back of which rose the blue line of the mountains--the hill-country of Judea. The soil, where it was ploughed, was the richest vegetable loam. Where it lay fallow it was entirely hidden by a bed of grass and camomile. Here and there great herds of sheep and goats browsed on the herbage. There was a quiet pastoral air about the landscape, a soft serenity in its forms and colors, as if the Hebrew patriarchs still made it their abode. The district is famous for robbers, and we kept our arms in readiness, never suffering the baggage to be out of our sight.

Towards evening, as Mr. H. and myself, with François, were riding in advance of the baggage mules, the former with his gun in his hand, I with a pair of pistols thrust through the folds of my shawl, and François with his long Turkish sabre, we came suddenly upon a lonely Englishman, whose companions were somewhere in the rear. He appeared to be struck with terror on seeing us making towards him, and, turning his horse's head, made an attempt to fly. The animal, however, was restive, and, after a few plunges, refused to move. The traveller gave himself up for lost; his arms dropped by his side; he stared wildly at us, with pale face and eyes opened wide with a look of helpless fright. Restraining with difficulty a shout of laughter, I said to him: "Did you leave Jaffa to-day?" but so completely was his ear the fool of his imagination, that he thought I was speaking Arabic, and made a faint attempt to get out the only word or two of that language which he knew. I then repeated, with as much distinctness as I could command: "Did--you--leave--Jaffa--to-day?" He stammered mechanically, through his chattering teeth, "Y-y-yes!" and we immediately dashed off at a gallop through the bushes. When we last saw him, he was standing as we left him, apparently not yet recovered from the shock.

At the little village of El Haram, where we spent the night, I visited the tomb of Sultan Ali ebn-Aleym, who is now revered as a saint. It is enclosed in a mosque, crowning the top of a hill. I was admitted into the court-yard without hesitation, though, from the porter styling me "Effendi," he probably took me for a Turk. At the entrance to the inner court, I took off my slippers and walked to the tomb of the Sultan--a square heap of white marble, in a small marble enclosure. In one of the niches in the wall, near the tomb, there is a very old iron box, with a slit in the top. The porter informed me that it contained a charm, belonging to Sultan Ali, which was of great use in producing rain in times of drouth.

In the morning we sent our baggage by a short road across the country to this place, and then rode down the beach towards Jaffa. The sun came out bright and hot as we paced along the line of spray, our horses' feet sinking above the fetlocks in pink and purple shells, while the droll sea-crabs scampered away from our path, and the blue gelatinous sea-nettles were tossed before us by the surge. Our view was confined to the sand-hills--sometimes covered with a flood of scarlet poppies--on one hand; and to the blue, surf-fringed sea on the other. The terrible coast was still lined with wrecks, and just before reaching the town, we passed a vessel of some two hundred tons, recently cast ashore, with her strong hull still unbroken. We forded the rapid stream of El Anjeh, which comes down from the Plain of Sharon, the water rising to our saddles. The low promontory in front now broke into towers and white domes, and great masses of heavy walls. The aspect of Jaffa is exceedingly picturesque. It is built on a hill, and the land for many miles around it being low and flat, its topmost houses overlook all the fields of Sharon. The old harbor, protected by a reef of rocks, is on the north side of the town, but is now so sanded up that large vessels cannot enter. A number of small craft were lying close to the shore. The port presented a different scene when the ships of Hiram, King of Tyre, came in with the materials for the Temple of Solomon. There is but one gate on the land side, which is rather strongly fortified. Outside of this there is an open space, which we found filled with venders of oranges and vegetables, camel-men and the like, some vociferating in loud dispute, some given up to silence and smoke, under the shade of the sycamores.

We rode under the heavily arched and towered gateway, and entered the bazaar. The street was crowded, and there was such a confusion of camels, donkeys, and men, that we made our way with difficulty along the only practicable street in the city, to the sea-side, where François pointed out a hole in the wall as the veritable spot where Jonah was cast ashore by the whale. This part of the harbor is the receptacle of all the offal of the town; and I do not wonder that the whale's stomach should have turned on approaching it. The sea-street was filled with merchants and traders, and we were obliged to pick our way between bars of iron, skins of oil, heaps of oranges, and piles of building timber. At last we reached the end, and, as there was no other thoroughfare, returned the same way we went, passed out the gate, and took the road to Ramleh and Jerusalem.

But I hear the voice of François, announcing, "Messieurs, le diner est prêt." We are encamped just beside the pool of Ramleh, and the mongrel children of the town are making a great noise in the meadow below it. Our horses are enjoying their barley; and Mustapha stands at the tent-door tying up his sacks. Dogs are barking and donkeys braying all along the borders of the town, whose filth and dilapidation are happily concealed by the fig and olive gardens which surround it. I have not curiosity enough to visit the Greek and Latin Convents embedded in its foul purlieus, but content myself with gazing from my door upon the blue hills of Palestine, which we must cross to-morrow, on our way to Jerusalem.


Bayard Taylor