« הקודםהמשך »
pilgrims hastening toward Jerusalem ; with the wild Arab of the desert seated on his camel, and wrapped in the folds of his voluminous burnoose, looking down with disdain upon the richly caparisoned horse and glittering accoutrements of the modern Egyptian officer.
From hence to Ramlah our way lay through one of the most fertile and extensive plains we had yet beheld in the east. Although not a sixth part of this plain is cultivated, yet where it was tilled, the crops of corn, which were about a foot high, looked most luxuriant. I do not think we passed a dozen head of cattle of any kind, but the monotony of the plain is occasionally relieved by groves and clumps of aged and magnificent olives, which give it quite the appearance of a well laid out English park or demesne. Most of these olives must be centuries old from their great size and proverbial slowness of growth; and are, probably, the lineal descendants of those we read of in David's time, which were so plentiful in the low plains, that Baal-Hanan the Gadite was placed as overseer over them. Numbers of tall white storks paced about through the groves, like so many spectres enjoying their solitary grandeur amid the scenes of other days. The day was delightful; a light breeze refreshing the traveller and the weary pilgrim as they journeyed to the Holy City; the fields were decked with thousands of gay flowers; the scarlet anemone, and a beautiful specimen of small red tulip, * intermingled with the white cistus, the pink flox, and the blue iris, and with crimson and white asters, asphodels, and lilies, forming an enamelled carpet that perfumed the air, and offered a scene replete with everything that could gratify the eye or charm the imagination. This plain of Sharon is about fifteen miles broad, and nearly twice as many long, bordered on the one side by the blue waters of the Levant, and by the rugged hill country of Judea on the other. How writers could have described this “goodly land” as so unfertile as to warrant the assertion of Voltaire, that he would not receive a present of it
* The tulip is a flower of Eastern growth, and highly esteemed; thus, in the Ode of Meshhe, “The edge of the bower is filled with the light of the ahmed, among the plants the fortunate tulip represents its companions."
RECOLLECTIONS ON PASSING THROUGH IT.
from the Sooltan, I know not, as the appearance of this plain would alone refute so gross a misrepresentation.
It was not the appearance of the plain alone that struck so forcibly upon our minds. It was the recollection of where we were
-the holy ground whereon we trod, and the wondrous scenes which the land had witnessed since the creation. To our right lay the plain of Ascalon, where the soldiers of the cross achieved so glorious a victory over the Mooslim, and made doubly impressive by the remembrance of a Saladin and a Cour-de-Lion. How many a proud knight of the flower of European chivalry careered across this plain ; his tall crest waving in the breeze, his shield emblazoned with the bearings of our proudest barons, his arm bound with the scarf of his lady-love, and his heart beating in the cause of holy warfare—where are they now?
“ The knights are dust,
Their swords are rust,
Their flesh have fed the kites and ravens, and their bones have whitened those very fields, once crimsoned with their blood. But those scenes have passed away, and the land looks as smiling as when described by the prophets of old; and the lark that sung above our heads seemed to welcome us to the land of promise. We rode over the lovely rale of Sharon, still producing these roses, * whose beauty and fragrance have been described by Solomon in the sweet strains of Hebrew poetry. Around us was an atmosphere such as can only be perceived and breathed in the East-no palpable sky-no cloud traversing a canopy definite in extent, but an ethereal expanse about and above us—terminating only where the powers of vision fail—and creating the thought that we looked into the regions of boundless space.t
No detached houses, and but two villages, are within view on
* Much has been written and many opinions expressed regarding the rose of Sharon. I agree in opinion with those authors who state, that it is not a rose but a cistus, white or red, with which this vale in particular, and other parts of Judea abound.
† The beauty of the plain of Sharon has not passed altogether unnoticed by modern writers. Dr. Robinson, who visited Palestine in the June following the date of our journey, and viewing it from the tower of Ramlah, says, “ I could liken it to nothing but the great plain of the Rhine by Heidelberg; or better still, to the vast plains of Lombardy as seen from the cathedral of Milan and elsewhere. In the east the frowning mountains of Judah rose abruptly from the tract of hills at their foot; while on the west, in fine contrast, the glittering waves of the Mediterranean Sea associated our thoughts with Europe and distant friends. Towards the south, as far as the eye could reach, the beautiful plain was spread out like a carpet at our feet, variegated with tracts of brown, from which the crops had just been taken, and with fields still rich with the yellow of the ripe corn, or gieen with the springing millet. Immediately below us the eye rested on the immense olive groves of Ramlah and Lydda, and the picturesque towers and minarets and domes of these large villages. In the plain itself are not many villages; but the tract of miles and the mountain side beyond, especially in the north-east, were perfectly studded with them; and as now seen in the reflected beams of the setting sun, they seemed like white villas and hamlets among the dark hills, presenting an appearance of thriftiness and beauty, which certainly would 100 stand a closer examination.”—Biblical Researches in Palestine.
this part of the plain. One of these, Gazoor, or Yazur, and another called Betafafa, (probably that marked in the maps Beil Dejan,) are but a few cottages standing upon low hills; as the few rising grounds on this immense plain would be always made use of for such purposes in a country so long the seat of war. The former was originally fortified, and some of the works still remain standing. It has a pretty mosque, and by the road side a handsomely constructed fountain, containing the clearest water. Beside the fountain is a chained cup for the traveller's use.
After two hours' ride we got a view of Ramlah, marked by its high tower; and a few miles to the left lay Ludd—the scriptural Lydda—the minaret of whose mosque may be seen at a great distance. Ramlah, supposed to be nearly the site of the ancient Arimathea, is about twelve or fourteen miles from Jaffa, or about three hours' ride--distance being measured in this country by hours. It is pleasantly situated, surrounded by thick groves of olives and some palms : fine crops of corn, beans, and most luxuriant tobacco border the suburbs—and the enclosures are divided by the impenetrable nopals. It was the Christian Sabbath, and numbers of the inhabitants were lying in groups
CONVENT OF ST. NICODEMUS.
among the plantations, basking in the sun. The men in their long silk gowns, fur-trimmed cloaks, and dark, wide-spreading turbans; the children, some of whom were exceedingly beautiful, frisking about in the warm sunshine ; and the women, clothed in long white robes with red borders, and black silk face covers, sitting by themselves in little coteries under the shady olives, and the different groups of pilgrims, in the costume of their several nations, resting after their morning's toil—together with the beauty of the surrounding country and its sacred associations, formed a highly picturesque and imposing scene as we entered the town. The women, both here and at Jaffa, cover their faces entirely with a dark-coloured handkerchief-although, if young and pretty, they take particular care to give you, as if by accident, a look at their features in passing.
We were hospitably received at the Frank convent of St. Nicodemus, the brethren of which are now reduced to three Spanish Franciscans. These were Carlists, and appeared very anxious to hear news from their native country. This convent was destroyed by the Turks after Napoleon's invasion, and the body of the only monk found in it was cut in four pieces! It is a large building, and has very good accommodation, perhaps the best in Palestine; but as it was Lent, we had to procure every eatable in the town, though one of the Padres had no objection to assist our servants in cooking.
After our arrival, and while dinner was preparing, we walked to the Martyr's Tower,* situated about a quarter of a mile from the town. We found it attached to a building of great extent, consisting of rows of Gothic arches, like cloisters. On proceeding through the ruins, we found that there was as much of the building under ground as what appeared above the surface, and of a similar construction. This square building itself has
* It has received this name from the traditionary account of a number of the martyrs of Sebasti, in Armenia, being buried under its walls. The Mooslims, however, affirm that St. George is interred beneath it. Mejr ed-Diu, an Arabic historian of 1495, states (and probably this is the truth) that one of the Egyptian Kaleefs built a mosque here in 1310 A.D. with a tall slender tower or minaret attached to it. Some modern writers believe this tower to be that minaret.
much the appearance of one of our old cathedral towers, and the view from the top of it was very splendid. A large marble slab, containing a long Arabic inscription, is placed over the door, but it obviously looks as if it had been inserted at a period subsequent to the original erection of the tower. In the centre of this large enclosure is a small domed structure, resembling a mosque. The whole is now a complete ruin, and is equally neglected by Christian and Mohammadan.
The town, from not being enclosed with a wall, and its suburbs being thickly wooded, with several palm and other large trees growing among the houses, has a rural air, but the streets and bazaars are miserable in the extreme. The principal trade seemed to be in shoes and fruit, two very necessary comforts for the pilgrims, who generally rest here for the night. The fruit, which a bounteous Providence here supplies in rich abundance, forms not only a grateful refreshment, but a considerable portion of the food of those people. In addition to the justly celebrated water melons and pomegranates, grown at Jaffa, we procured some very fine sweet lemons, the only ones I had seen since we left Portugal. In the vicinity of the town are some very large cisterns, which (as every thing here must have a name and legend attached to it) are said to have been constructed by St. Helena. At the time we visited them we had an opportunity of seeing the troops of Ibrahim Basha, who were exercising in the neighbourhood. They were all young Egyptians, and I have seldom seen soldiers who appeared in better health and spirits ; they manœuvred with astonishing exactness and rapidity. Returning to the convent, it was some time before we could gain admittance, as the fathers were at their evening worship in a small adjoining chapel, which does not deserve any particular notice. The only means of access to the convent is by a small, low, and iron-studded door, like that which usually forms the entrance to a dungeon. The walls are of a great height, and all such buildings in Palestine resemble, in external appearance, fortifications, more than places of religious worship. It was, however, necessary that they should be constructed in this manner, in order to protect the harmless, inoffensive inmates from the incursions of the predatory Arabs, whose attacks, up to the period of the Egyptian invasion, were unceasing. Since that period, however, the very name of Ibrahim Basha is sufficient to