The day was hazy and sultry, but the panoramic view from Mount Tabor was still very fine. The great Plain of Esdraelon lay below us like a vast mosaic of green and brown—jasper and verd-antique. On the west, Mount Carmel lifted his head above the blue horizon line of the Mediterranean. Turning to the other side, a strip of the Sea of Galilee glimmered deep down among the hills, and the Ghor, or the Valley of the Jordan, stretched like a broad gash through them. Beyond them, the country of Djebel Adjeloun, the ancient Decapolis, which still holds the walls of Gadara and the temples and theatres of Djerash, faded away into vapor, and, still further to the south, the desolate hills of Gilead, the home of Jephthah. Mount Hermon is visible when the atmosphere is clear but we were not able to see it.
From the top of Mount Tabor to Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, is a journey of five hours, through a wild country, with but one single miserable village on the road. At first we rode through lonely dells, grown with oak and brilliant with flowers, especially the large purple mallow, and then over broad, treeless tracts of rolling land, but partially cultivated. The heat was very great; I had no thermometer, but should judge the temperature to have been at least 95 deg. in the shade. From the edge of the upland tract, we looked down on the Sea of Galilee—a beautiful sheet of water sunk among the mountains, and more than 300 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. It lay unruffled in the bottom of the basin, reflecting the peaks of the bare red mountains beyond it. Tiberias was at our very feet, a few palm trees alone relieving the nakedness of its dull walls. After taking a welcome drink at the Fountain of Fig-trees, we descended to the town, which has a desolate and forlorn air. Its walls have been partly thrown down by earthquakes, and never repaired. We found our tents already pitched on the bank above the lake, and under one of the tottering towers.
Not a breath of air was stirring; the red hills smouldered in the heat, and the waters of Genesareth at our feet glimmered with an oily smoothness, unbroken by a ripple. We untwisted our turbans, kicked off our baggy trowsers, and speedily releasing ourselves from the barbarous restraints of dress, dipped into the tepid sea and floated lazily out until we could feel the exquisite coldness of the living springs which sent up their jets from the bottom. I was lying on my back, moving my fins just sufficiently to keep afloat, and gazing dreamily through half-closed eyes on the forlorn palms of Tiberias, when a shrill voice hailed me with: "O Howadji, get out of our way!" There, at the old stone gateway below our tent, stood two Galilean damsels, with heavy earthen jars upon their heads. "Go away yourselves, O maidens!" I answered, "if you want us to come out of the water." "But we must fill our pitchers," one of them replied. "Then fill them at once, and be not afraid; or leave them, and we will fill them for you." Thereupon they put the pitchers down, but remained watching us very complacently while we sank the vessels to the bottom of the lake, and let them fill from the colder and purer tide of the springs. In bringing them back through the water to the gate, the one I propelled before me happened to strike against a stone, and its fair owner, on receiving it, immediately pointed to a crack in the side, which she declared I had made, and went off lamenting. After we had resumed our garments, and were enjoying the pipe of indolence and the coffee of contentment, she returned and made such an outcry, that I was fain to purchase peace by the price of a new pitcher. I passed the first hours of-the night in looking out of my tent-door, as I lay, on the stars sparkling in the bosom of Galilee, like the sheen of Assyrian spears, and the glare of the great fires kindled on the opposite shore.
The next day, we travelled northward along the lake, passing through continuous thickets of oleander, fragrant with its heavy pink blossoms. The thistles were more abundant and beautiful than ever. I noticed, in particular, one with a superb globular flower of a bright blue color, which would make a choice ornament for our gardens at home. At the north-western head of the lake, the mountains fall back and leave a large tract of the richest meadow-land, which narrows away into a deep dell, overhung by high mountain headlands, faced with naked cliffs of red rock. The features of the landscape are magnificent. Up the dell, I saw plainly the Mount of Beatitude, beyond which lies the village of Cana of Galilee. In coming up the meadow, we passed a miserable little village of thatched mud huts, almost hidden by the rank weeds which grew around them. A withered old crone sat at one of the doors, sunning herself. "What is the name of this village?" I asked. "It is Mejdel," was her reply. This was the ancient Magdala, the home of that beautiful but sinful Magdalene, whose repentance has made her one of the brightest of the Saints. The crystal waters of the lake here lave a shore of the cleanest pebbles. The path goes winding through oleanders, nebbuks, patches of hollyhock, anise-seed, fennel, and other spicy plants, while, on the west, great fields of barley stand ripe for the cutting. In some places, the Fellahs, men and women, were at work, reaping and binding the sheaves. After crossing this tract, we came to the hill, at the foot of which was a ruined khan, and on the summit, other undistinguishable ruins, supposed by some to be those of Capernaum. The site of that exalted town, however, is still a matter of discussion.
We journeyed on in a most sweltering atmosphere over the ascending hills, the valley of the Upper Jordan lying deep on our right. In a shallow hollow, under one of the highest peaks, there stands a large deserted khan; over a well of very cold; sweet water, called Bir Youssuf by the Arabs. Somewhere near it, according to tradition, is the field where Joseph was sold by his brethren; and the well is, no doubt, looked upon by many as the identical pit into which he was thrown. A stately Turk of Damascus, with four servants behind him, came riding up as we were resting in the gateway of the khan, and, in answer to my question, informed me that the well was so named from Nebbee Youssuf (the Prophet Joseph), and not from Sultan Joseph Saladin. He took us for his countrymen, accosting me first in Turkish, and, even after I had talked with him some time in bad Arabic, asked me whether I had been making a pilgrimage to the tombs of certain holy Moslem saints, in the neighborhood of Jaffa. He joined company with us, however, and shared his pipe with me, as we continued our journey. We rode for two hours more over hills bare of trees, but covered thick with grass and herbs, and finally lost our way. Francois went ahead, dashing through the fields of barley and lentils, and we reached the path again, as the Waters of Merom came in sight. We then descended into the Valley of the Upper Jordan, and encamped opposite the lake, at Ain el-Mellaha (the Fountain of the Salt-Works), the first source of the sacred river. A stream of water, sufficient to turn half-a-dozen mills, gushes and gurgles up at the foot of the mountain. There are the remains of an ancient dam, by which a large pool was formed for the irrigation of the valley. It still supplies a little Arab mill below the fountain. This is a frontier post, between the jurisdictions of the Pashas of Jerusalem and Damascus, and the mukkairee of the Greek Caloyer, who left us at Tiberias, was obliged to pay a duty of seven and a half piastres on fifteen mats, which he had bought at Jerusalem for one and a half piastres each. The poor man will perhaps make a dozen piastres (about half a dollar) on these mats at Damascus, after carrying them on his mule for more than two hundred miles.
We pitched our tents on the grassy meadow below the mill—a charming spot, with Tell el-Khanzir (the hill of wild boars) just in front, over the Waters of Merom, and the snow-streaked summit of Djebel esh-Shekh—the great Mount Hermon—towering high above the valley. This is the loftiest peak of the Anti-Lebanon, and is 10,000 feet above the sea. The next morning, we rode for three hours before reaching the second spring of the Jordan, at a place which Francois called Tell el-Kadi, but which did not at all answer with the description given me by Dr. Robinson, at Jerusalem. The upper part of the broad valley, whence the Jordan draws his waters, is flat, moist, and but little cultivated. There are immense herds of sheep, goats, and buffaloes wandering over it. The people are a dark Arab tribe, and live in tents and miserable clay huts. Where the valley begins to slope upward towards the hills, they plant wheat, barley, and lentils. The soil is the fattest brown loam, and the harvests are wonderfully rich. I saw many tracts of wheat, from half a mile to a mile in extent, which would average forty bushels to the acre. Yet the ground is never manured, and the Arab plough scratches up but a few inches of the surface. What a paradise might be made of this country, were it in better hands!
The second spring is not quite so large as Ain el-Mellaha but, like it, pours out a strong stream from a single source The pool was filled with women, washing the heavy fleeces of their sheep, and beating the dirt out of their striped camel's hair abas with long poles. We left it, and entered on a slope of stony ground, forming the head of the valley. The view extended southward, to the mountains closing the northern cove of the Sea of Galilee. It was a grand, rich landscape—so rich that its desolation seems forced and unnatural. High on the summit of a mountain to the west, the ruins of a large Crusader fortress looked down upon us. The soil, which slowly climbs upward through a long valley between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, is cut with deep ravines. The path is very difficult to find; and while we were riding forward at random, looking in all directions for our baggage mules, we started up a beautiful gazelle. At last, about noon, hot, hungry, and thirsty, we reached a swift stream, roaring at the bottom of a deep ravine, through a bed of gorgeous foliage. The odor of the wild grape-blossoms, which came up to us, as we rode along the edge, was overpowering in its sweetness. An old bridge of two arches crossed the stream. There was a pile of rocks against the central pier, and there we sat and took breakfast in the shade of the maples, while the cold green waters foamed at our feet. By all the Naiads and Tritons, what a joy there is in beholding a running stream! The rivers of Lebanon are miracles to me, after my knowledge of the Desert. A company of Arabs, seven in all, were gathered under the bridge; and, from a flute which one of them blew, I judged they were taking a pastoral holiday. We kept our pistols beside us; for we did not like their looks. Before leaving, they told us that the country was full of robbers, and advised us to be on the lookout. We rode more carefully, after this, and kept with our baggage on reaching it, An hour after leaving the bridge, we came to a large circular, or rather annular mound, overgrown with knee-deep grass and clumps of oak-trees. A large stream, of a bright blue color, gushed down the north side, and after half embracing the mound swept off across the meadows to the Waters of Merom. There could be no doubt that this was Tell el-Kadi, the site of Dan, the most northern town of ancient Israel. The mound on which it was built is the crater of an extinct volcano. The Hebrew word Dan signifies "judge," and Tell el-Kadi, in Arabic, is "The Hill of the Judge."
The Anti-Lebanon now rose near us, its northern and western slopes green with trees and grass. The first range, perhaps 5,000 feet in height, shut out the snowy head of Hermon; but still the view was sublime in its large and harmonious outlines. Our road was through a country resembling Arcadia—the earth hidden by a dense bed of grass and flowers; thickets of blossoming shrubs; old, old oaks, with the most gnarled of trunks, the most picturesque of boughs, and the glossiest of green leaves; olive-trees of amazing antiquity; and, threading and enlivening all, the clear-cold floods of Lebanon. This was the true haunt of Pan, whose altars are now before me, graven on the marble crags of Hermon. Looking on those altars, and on the landscape, lovely as a Grecian dream, I forget that the lament has long been sung:
"Pan, Pan is dead!"
In another hour, we reached this place, the ancient Caesarea Philippi, now a poor village, embowered in magnificent trees, and washed by glorious waters. There are abundant remains of the old city: fragments of immense walls; broken granite columns; traces of pavements; great blocks of hewn stone; marble pedestals, and the like. In the rock at the foot of the mountain, there are several elegant niches, with Greek inscriptions, besides a large natural grotto. Below them, the water gushes up through the stones, in a hundred streams, forming a flood of considerable size. We have made our camp in an olive grove near the end of the village, beside an immense terebinth tree, which is inclosed in an open court, paved with stone. This is the town-hall of Banias, where the Shekh dispenses justice, and at the same time, the resort of all the idlers of the place. We went up among them, soon after our arrival, and were given seats of honor near the Shekh, who talked with me a long time about America. The people exhibit a very sensible curiosity, desiring to know the extent of our country, the number of inhabitants, the amount of taxation, the price of grain, and other solid information.
The Shekh and the men of the place inform us that the Druses are infesting the road to Damascus. This tribe is in rebellion in Djebel Hauaran, on account of the conscription, and some of them, it appears, have taken refuge in the fastnesses of Hermon, where they are beginning to plunder travellers. While I was talking with the Shekh, a Druse came down from the mountains, and sat for half an hour among the villagers, under the terebinth, and we have just heard that he has gone back the way he came. This fact has given us some anxiety, as he may have been a spy sent down to gather news and, if so, we are almost certain to be waylaid. If we were well armed, we should not fear a dozen, but all our weapons consist of a sword and four pistols. After consulting together, we decided to apply to the Shekh for two armed men, to accompany us. I accordingly went to him again, and exhibited the firman of the Pasha of Jerusalem, which he read, stating that, even without it, he would have felt it his duty to grant our request. This is the graceful way in which the Orientals submit to a peremptory order. He thinks that one man will be sufficient, as we shall probably not meet with any large party.
The day has been, and still is, excessively hot. The atmosphere is sweltering, and all around us, over the thick patches of mallow and wild mustard, the bees are humming with a continuous sultry sound. The Shekh, with a number of lazy villagers, is still seated under the terebinth, in a tent of shade, impervious to the sun. I can hear the rush of the fountains of Banias—the holy springs of Hermon, whence Jordan is born. But what is this? The odor of the velvety weed of Shiraz meets my nostrils; a dark-eyed son of Pan places the narghileh at my feet; and, bubbling more sweetly than the streams of Jordan, the incense most dear to the god dims the crystal censer, and floats from my lips in rhythmic ejaculations. I, too, am in Arcadia!
Crossing the Anti-Lebanon.
The Harmless Guard—Caesarea Philippi—The Valley of the Druses—The Sides of Mount Hermon—An Alarm—Threading a Defile—Distant view of Djebel Hauaran—Another Alarm—Camp at Katana—We Ride into Damascus.
Damascus, May 12, 1852.
We rose early, so as to be ready for a long march. The guard came—a mild-looking Arab—without arms; but on our refusing to take him thus, he brought a Turkish musket, terrible to behold, but quite guiltless of any murderous intent. We gave ourselves up to fate, with true Arab-resignation, and began ascending the Anti-Lebanon. Up and up, by stony paths, under the oaks, beside the streams, and between the wheat-fields, we climbed for two hours, and at last reached a comb or dividing ridge, whence we could look into a valley on the other side, or rather inclosed between the main chain and the offshoot named Djebel Heish, which stretches away towards the south-east. About half-way up the ascent, we passed the ruined acropolis of Caesarea Philippi, crowning the summit of a lower peak. The walls and bastions cover a great extent of ground, and were evidently used as a stronghold in the Middle Ages.
The valley into which we descended lay directly under one of the peaks of Hermon and the rills that watered it were fed from his snow-fields. It was inhabited by Druses, but no men were to be seen, except a few poor husbandmen, ploughing on the mountain-sides. The women, wearing those enormous horns on their heads which distinguish them from the Mohammedan females, were washing at a pool below. We crossed the valley, and slowly ascended the height on the opposite side, taking care to keep with the baggage-mules. Up to this time, we met very few persons; and we forgot the anticipated perils in contemplating the rugged scenery of the Anti-Lebanon. The mountain-sides were brilliant with flowers, and many new and beautiful specimens arrested our attention. The asphodel grew in bunches beside the streams, and the large scarlet anemone outshone even the poppy, whose color here is the quintessence of flame. Five hours after leaving Banias, we reached the highest part of the pass—a dreary volcanic region, covered with fragments of lava. Just at this place, an old Arab met us, and, after scanning us closely, stopped and accosted Dervish. The latter immediately came running ahead, quite excited with the news that the old man had seen a company of about fifty Druses descend from the sides of Mount Hermon, towards the road we were to travel. We immediately ordered the baggage to halt, and Mr. Harrison, Francois, and myself rode on to reconnoitre. Our guard, the valiant man of Banias, whose teeth already chattered with fear, prudently kept with the baggage. We crossed the ridge and watched the stony mountain-sides for some time; but no spear or glittering gun-barrel could we see. The caravan was then set in motion; and we had not proceeded far before we met a second company of Arabs, who informed us that the road was free.
Leaving the heights, we descended cautiously into a ravine with walls of rough volcanic rock on each side. It was a pass where three men might have stood their ground against a hundred; and we did not feel thoroughly convinced of our safety till we had threaded its many windings and emerged upon a narrow valley. A village called Beit Jenn nestled under the rocks; and below it, a grove of poplar-trees shaded the banks of a rapid stream. We had now fairly crossed the Anti-Lebanon. The dazzling snows of Mount Hermon overhung us on the west; and, from the opening of the valley, we looked across a wild, waste country, to the distant range of Djebel Hauaran, the seat of the present rebellion, and one of the most interesting regions of Syria. I regretted more than ever not being able to reach it. The ruins of Bozrah, Ezra, and other ancient cities, would well repay the arduous character of the journey, while the traveller might succeed in getting some insight into the life and habits of that singular people, the Druses. But now, and perhaps for some time to come, there is no chance of entering the Hauaran.
Towards the middle of the afternoon, we reached a large village, which is usually the end of the first day's journey from Banias. Our men wanted to stop here, but we considered that to halt then would be to increase the risk, and decided to push on to Katana, four hours' journey from Damascus. They yielded with a bad grace; and we jogged on over the stony road, crossing the long hills which form the eastern base of the Anti-Lebanon. Before long, another Arab met us with the news that there was an encampment of Druses on the plain between us and Katana. At this, our guard, who had recovered sufficient spirit to ride a few paces in advance, fell back, and the impassive Dervish became greatly agitated. Where there is an uncertain danger, it is always better to go ahead than to turn back; and we did so. But the guard reined up on the top of the first ridge, trembling as he pointed to a distant hill, and cried out: "Aho, aho henak!" (There they are!) There were, in fact, the shadows of some rocks, which bore a faint resemblance to tents. Before sunset, we reached the last declivity of the mountains, and saw far in the dusky plain, the long green belt of the gardens of Damascus, and here and there the indistinct glimmer of a minaret. Katana, our resting-place for the night, lay below us, buried in orchards of olive and orange. We pitched our tents on the banks of a beautiful stream, enjoyed the pipe of tranquillity, after our long march, and soon forgot the Druses, in a slumber that lasted unbroken till dawn.
In the morning we sent back the man of Banias, left the baggage to take care of itself, and rode on to Damascus, as fast as our tired horses could carry us. The plain, at first barren and stony, became enlivened with vineyards and fields of wheat, as we advanced. Arabs were everywhere at work, ploughing and directing the water-courses. The belt of living green, the bower in which the great city, the Queen of the Orient, hides her beauty, drew nearer and nearer, stretching out a crescent of foliage for miles on either hand, that gradually narrowed and received us into its cool and fragrant heart. We sank into a sea of olive, pomegranate, orange, plum, apricot, walnut, and plane trees, and were lost. The sun sparkled in the rolling surface above; but we swam through the green depths, below his reach, and thus, drifted on through miles of shade, entered the city.
Since our arrival, I find that two other parties of travellers, one of which crossed the Anti-Lebanon on the northern side of Mount Hermon, were obliged to take guards, and saw several Druse spies posted on the heights, as they passed. A Russian gentleman travelling from here to Tiberias, was stopped three times on the road, and only escaped being plundered from the fact of his having a Druse dragoman. The disturbances are more serious than I had anticipated. Four regiments left here yesterday, sent to the aid of a company of cavalry, which is surrounded by the rebels in a valley of Dejebel Hauaran, and unable to get out.
Pictures of Damascus.
Damascus from the Anti-Lebanon—Entering the City—A Diorama of Bazaars—An Oriental Hotel—Our Chamber—The Bazaars—Pipes and Coffee—The Rivers of Damascus—Palaces of the Jews—Jewish Ladies—A Christian Gentleman—The Sacred Localities—Damascus Blades—The Sword of Haroun Al-Raschid—An Arrival from Palmyra.
"Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?"—2 Kings, v. 12.
Damascus, Wednesday, May 19, 1852.
Damascus is considered by many travellers as the best remaining type of an Oriental city. Constantinople is semi-European; Cairo is fast becoming so; but Damascus, away from the highways of commerce, seated alone between the Lebanon and the Syrian Desert, still retains, in its outward aspect and in the character of its inhabitants, all the pride and fancy and fanaticism of the times of the Caliphs. With this judgment, in general terms, I agree; but not to its ascendancy, in every respect, over Cairo. True, when you behold Damascus from the Salahiyeh, the last slope of the Anti-Lebanon, it is the realization of all that you have dreamed of Oriental splendor; the world has no picture more dazzling. It is Beauty carried to the Sublime, as I have felt when overlooking some boundless forest of palms within the tropics. From the hill, whose ridges heave behind you until in the south they rise to the snowy head of Mount Hermon, the great Syrian plain stretches away to the Euphrates, broken at distances of ten and fifteen miles, by two detached mountain chains. In a terrible gorge at your side, the river Barrada, the ancient Pharpar, forces its way to the plain, and its waters, divided into twelve different channels, make all between you and those blue island-hills of the desert, one great garden, the boundaries of which your vision can barely distinguish. Its longest diameter cannot be less than twenty miles. You look down on a world of foliage, and fruit, and blossoms, whose hue, by contrast with the barren mountains and the yellow rim of the desert which incloses it, seems brighter than all other gardens in the world. Through its centre, following the course of the river, lies Damascus; a line of white walls, topped with domes and towers and tall minarets, winding away for miles through the green sea. Nothing less than a city of palaces, whose walls are marble and whose doors are ivory and pearl, could keep up the enchantment of that distant view.
We rode for an hour through the gardens before entering the gate. The fruit-trees, of whatever variety—-walnut, olive, apricot, or fig—were the noblest of their kind. Roses and pomegranates in bloom starred the dark foliage, and the scented jasmine overhung the walls. But as we approached the city, the view was obscured by high mud walls on either side of the road, and we only caught glimpses now and then of the fragrant wilderness. The first street we entered was low and mean, the houses of clay. Following this, we came to an uncovered bazaar, with rude shops on either side, protected by mats stretched in front and supported by poles. Here all sorts of common stuns and utensils were sold, and the street was filled with crowds of Fellahs and Desert Arabs. Two large sycamores shaded it, and the Seraglio of the Pasha of Damascus, a plain two-story building, faced the entrance of the main bazaar, which branched off into the city. We turned into this, and after passing through several small bazaars stocked with dried fruits, pipes and pipe-bowls, groceries, and all the primitive wares of the East, reached a large passage, covered with a steep wooden roof, and entirely occupied by venders of silk stuffs. Out of this we passed through another, devoted to saddles and bridles; then another, full of spices, and at last reached the grand bazaar, where all the richest stuffs of Europe and the East were displayed in the shops. We rode slowly along through the cool twilight, crossed here and there by long pencils of white light, falling through apertures in the roof, and illuminating the gay turbans and silk caftans of the lazy merchants. But out of this bazaar, at intervals, opened the grand gate of a khan, giving us a view of its marble court, its fountains, and the dark arches of its storerooms; or the door of a mosque, with its mosaic floor and pillared corridor. The interminable lines of bazaars, with their atmospheres of spice and fruit and fragrant tobacco, the hushed tread of the slippered crowds; the plash of falling fountains and the bubbling of innumerable narghilehs; the picturesque merchants and their customers, no longer in the big trowsers of Egypt, but the long caftans and abas of Syria; the absence of Frank faces and dresses—in all these there was the true spirit of the Orient, and so far, we were charmed with Damascus.
At the hotel in the Soog el-Harab, or Frank quarter, the illusion was not dissipated. It had once been the house of some rich merchant. The court into which we were ushered is paved with marble, with a great stone basin, surrounded with vases of flowering plants, in the centre. Two large lemon trees shade the entrance, and a vine, climbing to the top of the house, makes a leafy arbor over the flat roof. The walls of the house are painted in horizontal bars of blue, white, orange and white—a gay grotesqueness of style which does not offend the eye under an eastern sun. On the southern side of the court is the liwan, an arrangement for which the houses of Damascus are noted. It is a vaulted apartment, twenty feet high, entirely open towards the court, except a fine pointed arch at the top, decorated with encaustic ornaments of the most brilliant colors. In front, a tesselated pavement of marble leads to the doors of the chambers on each side. Beyond this is a raised floor covered with matting, and along the farther end a divan, whose piled cushions are the most tempting trap ever set to catch a lazy man. Although not naturally indolent, I find it impossible to resist the fascination of this lounge. Leaning back, cross-legged, against the cushions, with the inseparable pipe in one's hand, the view of the court, the water-basin, the flowers and lemon trees, the servants and dragomen going back and forth, or smoking their narghilehs in the shade—all framed in the beautiful arched entrance, is so perfectly Oriental, so true a tableau from the times of good old Haroun Al-Raschid, that one is surprised to find how many hours have slipped away while he has been silently enjoying it.
Opposite the liwan is a large room paved with marble, with a handsome fountain in the centre. It is the finest in the hotel, and now occupied by Lord Dalkeith and his friends. Our own room is on the upper floor, and is so rich in decorations that I have not yet finished the study of them. Along the side, looking down on the court, we have a mosaic floor of white, red, black and yellow marble. Above this is raised a second floor, carpeted and furnished in European style. The walls, for a height of ten feet, are covered with wooden panelling, painted with arabesque devices in the gayest colors, and along the top there is a series of Arabic inscriptions in gold. There are a number of niches or open closets in the walls, whose arched tops are adorned with pendent wooden ornaments, resembling stalactites, and at the corners of the room the heavy gilded and painted cornice drops into similar grotesque incrustations. A space of bare white wall intervenes between this cornice and the ceiling, which is formed of slim poplar logs, laid side by side, and so covered with paint and with scales and stripes and network devices in gold and silver, that one would take them to be clothed with the skins of the magic serpents that guard the Valley of Diamonds. My most satisfactory remembrance of Damascus will be this room.
My walks through the city have been almost wholly confined to the bazaars, which are of immense extent. One can walk for many miles, without going beyond the cover of their peaked wooden roofs, and in all this round will find no two precisely alike. One is devoted entirely to soap; another to tobacco, through which you cough and sneeze your way to the bazaar of spices, and delightedly inhale its perfumed air. Then there is the bazaar of sweetmeats; of vegetables; of red slippers; of shawls; of caftans; of bakers and ovens; of wooden ware; of jewelry—-a great stone building, covered with vaulted passages; of Aleppo silks; of Baghdad carpets; of Indian stuffs; of coffee; and so on, through a seemingly endless variety. As I have already remarked, along the line of the bazaars are many khans, the resort of merchants from all parts of Turkey and Persia, and even India. They are large, stately buildings, and some of them have superb gateways of sculptured marble. The interior courts are paved with stone, with fountains in the centre, and many of them are covered with domes resting on massive pillars. The largest has a roof of nine domes, supported by four grand pillars, which inclose a fountain. The mosques, into which no Christian is allowed to enter, are in general inferior to those of Cairo, but their outer courts are always paved with marble, adorned with fountains, and surrounded by light and elegant corridors. The grand mosque is an imposing edifice, and is said to occupy the site of a former Christian church.
Another pleasant feature of the city is its coffee shops, which abound in the bazaars and on the outskirts of the gardens, beside the running streams. Those in the bazaars are spacious rooms with vaulted ceilings, divans running around the four walls, and fountains in the centre. During the afternoon they are nearly always filled with Turks, Armenians and Persians, smoking the narghileh, or water-pipe, which is the universal custom in Damascus. The Persian tobacco, brought here by the caravans from Baghdad, is renowned for this kind of smoking. The most popular coffee-shop is near the citadel, on the banks and over the surface of the Pharpar. It is a rough wooden building, with a roof of straw mats, but the sight and sound of the rushing waters, as they shoot away with arrowy swiftness under your feet, the shade of the trees that line the banks, and the cool breeze that always visits the spot, beguile you into a second pipe ere you are aware. "El ma, wa el khodra, wa el widj el hassan—water, verdure and a beautiful face," says an old Arab proverb, "are three things which delight the heart," and the Syrians avow that all three are to be found in Damascus. Not only on the three Sundays of each week, but every day, in the gardens about the city, you may see whole families (and if Jews or Christians, many groups of families) spending the day in the shade, beside the beautiful waters. There are several gardens fitted up purposely for these picnics, with kiosks, fountains and pleasant seats under the trees. You bring your pipes, your provisions and the like with you, but servants are in attendance to furnish fire and water and coffee, for which, on leaving, you give them a small gratuity. Of all the Damascenes I have yet seen, there is not one but declares his city to be the Garden of the World, the Pearl of the Orient, and thanks God and the Prophet for having permitted him to be born and to live in it. But, except the bazaars, the khans and the baths, of which there are several most luxurious establishments, the city itself is neither so rich nor so purely Saracenic in its architecture as Cairo. The streets are narrow and dirty, and the houses, which are never more than two low stories in height, are built of sun-dried bricks, coated with plaster. I miss the solid piles of stone, the elegant doorways, and, above all, the exquisite hanging balconies of carved wood, which meet one in the old streets of Cairo. Damascus is the representative of all that is gay, brilliant, and picturesque, in Oriental life; but for stately magnificence, Cairo, and, I suspect, Baghdad, is its superior.
We visited the other day the houses of some of the richest Jews and Christians. Old Abou-Ibrahim, the Jewish servant of the hotel, accompanied and introduced us. It is customary for travellers to make these visits, and the families, far from being annoyed, are flattered by it. The exteriors of the houses are mean; but after threading a narrow passage, we emerged into a court, rivalling in profusion of ornament and rich contrast of colors one's early idea of the Palace of Aladdin. The floors and fountains are all of marble mosaic; the arches of the liwan glitter with gold, and the walls bewilder the eye with the intricacy of their adornments. In the first house, we were received by the family in a room of precious marbles, with niches in the walls, resembling grottoes of silver stalactites. The cushions of the divan were of the richest silk, and a chandelier of Bohemian crystal hung from the ceiling. Silver narghilehs were brought to us, and coffee was served in heavy silver zerfs. The lady of the house was a rather corpulent lady of about thirty-five, and wore a semi-European robe of embroidered silk and lace, with full trowsers gathered at the ankles, and yellow slippers. Her black hair was braided, and fastened at the end with golden ornaments, and the light scarf twisted around her head blazed with diamonds. The lids of her large eyes were stained with kohl, and her eyebrows were plucked out and shaved away so as to leave only a thin, arched line, as if drawn with a pencil, above each eye. Her daughter, a girl of fifteen, who bore the genuine Hebrew name of Rachel, had even bigger and blacker eyes than her mother; but her forehead was low, her mouth large, and the expression of her face exceedingly stupid. The father of the family was a middle-aged man, with a well-bred air, and talked with an Oriental politeness which was very refreshing. An English lady, who was of our party, said to him, through me, that if she possessed such a house she should be willing to remain in Damascus. "Why does she leave, then?" he immediately answered: "this is her house, and everything that is in it." Speaking of visiting Jerusalem, he asked me whether it was not a more beautiful city than Damascus. "It is not more beautiful," I said, "but it is more holy," an expression which the whole company received with great satisfaction.
The second house we visited was even larger and richer than the first, but had an air of neglect and decay. The slabs of rich marble were loose and broken, about the edges of the fountains; the rich painting of the wood-work was beginning to fade; and the balustrades leading to the upper chambers were broken off in places. We were ushered into a room, the walls and ceilings of which were composed entirely of gilded arabesque frame-work, set with small mirrors. When new, it must have had a gorgeous effect; but the gold is now tarnished, and the glasses dim. The mistress of the house was seated on the cushions, dividing her time between her pipe and her needle-work. She merely made a slight inclination of her head as we entered, and went on with her occupation. Presently her two daughters and an Abyssinian slave appeared, and took their places on the cushions at her feet, the whole forming a charming group, which I regretted some of my artist friends at home could not see. The mistress was so exceedingly dignified, that she bestowed but few words on us. She seemed to resent our admiration of the slave, who was a most graceful creature; yet her jealousy, it afterwards appeared, had reference to her own husband, for we had scarcely left, when a servant followed to inform the English lady that if she was willing to buy the Abyssinian, the mistress would sell her at once for two thousand piastres.
The last visit we paid was to the dwelling of a Maronite, the richest Christian in Damascus. The house resembled those we had already seen, except that, having been recently built, it was in better condition, and exhibited better taste in the ornaments. No one but the lady was allowed to enter the female apartments, the rest of us being entertained by the proprietor, a man of fifty, and without exception the handsomest and most dignified person of that age I have ever seen. He was a king without a throne, and fascinated me completely by the noble elegance of his manner. In any country but the Orient, I should have pronounced him incapable of an unworthy thought: here, he may be exactly the reverse.
Although Damascus is considered the oldest city in the world, the date of its foundation going beyond tradition, there are very few relics of antiquity in or near it. In the bazaar are three large pillars, supporting half the pediment, which are said to have belonged to the Christian Church of St. John, but, if so, that church must have been originally a Roman temple. Part of the Roman walls and one of the city gates remain; and we saw the spot where, according to tradition, Saul was let down from the wall in a basket. There are two localities pointed out as the scene of his conversion, which, from his own account, occurred near the city. I visited a subterranean chapel claimed by the Latin monks to be the cellar of the house of Ananias, in which the Apostle was concealed. The cellar is, undoubtedly, of great antiquity; but as the whole quarter was for many centuries inhabited wholly by Turks, it would be curious to know how the monks ascertained which was the house of Ananias. As for the "street called Straight," it would be difficult at present to find any in Damascus corresponding to that epithet.
The famous Damascus blades, so renowned in the time of the Crusaders, are made here no longer. The art has been lost for three or four centuries. Yet genuine old swords, of the true steel, are occasionally to be found. They are readily distinguished from modern imitations by their clear and silvery ring when struck, and by the finely watered appearance of the blade, produced by its having been first made of woven wire, and then worked over and over again until it attained the requisite temper. A droll Turk, who is the shekh ed-dellal, or Chief of the Auctioneers, and is nicknamed Abou-Anteeka (the Father of the Antiques), has a large collection of sabres, daggers, pieces of mail, shields, pipes, rings, seals, and other ancient articles. He demands enormous prices, but generally takes about one-third of what he first asks. I have spent several hours in his curiosity shop, bargaining for turquoise rings, carbuncles, Persian amulets, and Circassian daggers. While looking over some old swords the other day, I noticed one of exquisite temper, but with a shorter blade than usual. The point had apparently been snapped off in fight, but owing to the excellence of the sword, or the owner's affection for it, the steel had been carefully shaped into a new point. Abou-Anteeka asked five hundred piastres, and I, who had taken a particular fancy to possess it, offered him two hundred in an indifferent way, and then laid it aside to examine other articles. After his refusal to accept my offer, I said nothing more, and was leaving the shop, when the old fellow called me back, saying: "You have forgotten your sword,"—which I thereupon took at my own price. I have shown it to Mr. Wood, the British Consul, who pronounced it an extremely fine specimen of Damascus steel; and, on reading the inscription enamelled upon the blade, ascertains that it was made in the year of the Hegira, 181, which corresponds to A.D. 798. This was during the Caliphate of Haroun Al-Raschid, and who knows but the sword may have once flashed in the presence of that great and glorious sovereign—nay, been drawn by his own hand! Who knows but that the Milan armor of the Crusaders may have shivered its point, on the field of Askalon! I kiss the veined azure of thy blade, O Sword of Haroun! I hang the crimson cords of thy scabbard upon my shoulder, and thou shalt henceforth clank in silver music at my side, singing to my ear, and mine alone, thy chants of battle, thy rejoicing songs of slaughter!
Yesterday evening, three gentlemen of Lord Dalkeith's party arrived from a trip to Palmyra. The road thither lies through a part of the Syrian Desert belonging to the Aneyzeh tribe, who are now supposed to be in league with the Druses, against the Government. Including this party, only six persons have succeeded in reaching Palmyra within a year, and two of them, Messrs. Noel and Cathcart, were imprisoned four days by the Arabs, and only escaped by the accidental departure of a caravan for Damascus. The present party was obliged to travel almost wholly by night, running the gauntlet of a dozen Arab encampments, and was only allowed a day's stay at Palmyra. They were all disguised as Bedouins, and took nothing with them but the necessary provisions. They made their appearance here last evening, in long, white abas, with the Bedouin keffie bound over their heads, their faces burnt, their eyes inflamed, and their frames feverish with seven days and nights of travel. The shekh who conducted them was not an Aneyzeh, and would have lost his life had they fallen in with any of that tribe.
The Visions of Hasheesh.
"Exulting, trembling, raging, fainting, Possessed beyond the Muse's painting."
During my stay in Damascus, that insatiable curiosity which leads me to prefer the acquisition of all lawful knowledge through the channels of my own personal experience, rather than in less satisfactory and less laborious ways, induced me to make a trial of the celebrated Hasheesh—that remarkable drug which supplies the luxurious Syrian with dreams more alluring and more gorgeous than the Chinese extracts from his darling opium pipe. The use of Hasheesh—which is a preparation of the dried leaves of the cannabis indica—has been familiar to the East for many centuries. During the Crusades, it was frequently used by the Saracen warriors to stimulate them to the work of slaughter, and from the Arabic term of "Hashasheen," or Eaters of Hasheesh, as applied to them, the word "assassin" has been naturally derived. An infusion of the same plant gives to the drink called "bhang," which is in common use throughout India and Malaysia, its peculiar properties. Thus prepared, it is a more fierce and fatal stimulant than the paste of sugar and spices to which the Turk resorts, as the food of his voluptuous evening reveries. While its immediate effects seem to be more potent than those of opium, its habitual use, though attended with ultimate and permanent injury to the system, rarely results in such utter wreck of mind and body as that to which the votaries of the latter drug inevitably condemn themselves.
A previous experience of the effects of hasheesh—which I took once, and in a very mild form, while in Egypt—was so peculiar in its character, that my curiosity, instead of being satisfied, only prompted me the more to throw myself, for once, wholly under its influence. The sensations it then produced were those, physically, of exquisite lightness and airiness—of a wonderfully keen perception of the ludicrous, in the most simple and familiar objects. During the half hour in which it lasted, I was at no time so far under its control, that I could not, with the clearest perception, study the changes through which I passed. I noted, with careful attention, the fine sensations which spread throughout the whole tissue of my nervous fibre, each thrill helping to divest my frame of its earthy and material nature, until my substance appeared to me no grosser than the vapors of the atmosphere, and while sitting in the calm of the Egyptian twilight, I expected to be lifted up and carried away by the first breeze that should ruffle the Nile. While this process was going on, the objects by which I was surrounded assumed a strange and whimsical expression. My pipe, the oars which my boatmen plied, the turban worn by the captain, the water-jars and culinary implements, became in themselves so inexpressibly absurd and comical, that I was provoked into a long fit of laughter. The hallucination died away as gradually as it came, leaving me overcome with a soft and pleasant drowsiness, from which I sank into a deep, refreshing sleep.
My companion and an English gentleman, who, with his wife, was also residing in Antonio's pleasant caravanserai—agreed to join me in the experiment. The dragoman of the latter was deputed to procure a sufficient quantity of the drug. He was a dark Egyptian, speaking only the lingua franca of the East, and asked me, as he took the money and departed on his mission, whether he should get hasheesh "per ridere, a per dormire?" "Oh, per ridere, of course," I answered; "and see that it be strong and fresh." It is customary with the Syrians to take a small portion immediately before the evening meal, as it is thus diffused through the stomach and acts more gradually, as well as more gently, upon the system. As our dinner-hour was at sunset, I proposed taking hasheesh at that time, but my friends, fearing that its operation might be more speedy upon fresh subjects, and thus betray them into some absurdity in the presence of the other travellers, preferred waiting until after the meal. It was then agreed that we should retire to our room, which, as it rose like a tower one story higher than the rest of the building, was in a manner isolated, and would screen us from observation.
We commenced by taking a tea-spoonful each of the mixture which Abdallah had procured. This was about the quantity I had taken in Egypt, and as the effect then had been so slight, I judged that we ran no risk of taking an over-dose. The strength of the drug, however, must have been far greater in this instance, for whereas I could in the former case distinguish no flavor but that of sugar and rose leaves, I now found the taste intensely bitter and repulsive to the palate. We allowed the paste to dissolve slowly on our tongues, and sat some time, quietly waiting the result. But, having been taken upon a full stomach, its operation was hindered, and after the lapse of nearly an hour, we could not detect the least change in our feelings. My friends loudly expressed their conviction of the humbug of hasheesh, but I, unwilling to give up the experiment at this point, proposed that we should take an additional half spoonful, and follow it with a cup of hot tea, which, if there were really any virtue in the preparation, could not fail to call it into action. This was done, though not without some misgivings, as we were all ignorant of the precise quantity which constituted a dose, and the limits within which the drug could be taken with safety. It was now ten o'clock; the streets of Damascus were gradually becoming silent, and the fair city was bathed in the yellow lustre of the Syrian moon. Only in the marble court-yard below us, a few dragomen and mukkairee lingered under the lemon-trees, and beside the fountain in the centre.
I was seated alone, nearly in the middle of the room, talking with my friends, who were lounging upon a sofa placed in a sort of alcove, at the farther end, when the same fine nervous thrill, of which I have spoken, suddenly shot through me. But this time it was accompanied with a burning sensation at the pit of the stomach; and, instead of growing upon me with the gradual pace of healthy slumber, and resolving me, as before, into air, it came with the intensity of a pang, and shot throbbing along the nerves to the extremities of my body. The sense of limitation—-of the confinement of our senses within the bounds of our own flesh and blood—instantly fell away. The walls of my frame were burst outward and tumbled into ruin; and, without thinking what form I wore—losing sight even of all idea of form—I felt that I existed throughout a vast extent of space. The blood, pulsed from my heart, sped through uncounted leagues before it reached my extremities; the air drawn into my lungs expanded into seas of limpid ether, and the arch of my skull was broader than the vault of heaven. Within the concave that held my brain, were the fathomless deeps of blue; clouds floated there, and the winds of heaven rolled them together, and there shone the orb of the sun. It was—though I thought not of that at the time—like a revelation of the mystery of omnipresence. It is difficult to describe this sensation, or the rapidity with which it mastered me. In the state of mental exaltation in which I was then plunged, all sensations, as they rose, suggested more or less coherent images. They presented themselves to me in a double form: one physical, and therefore to a certain extent tangible; the other spiritual, and revealing itself in a succession of splendid metaphors. The physical feeling of extended being was accompanied by the image of an exploding meteor, not subsiding into darkness, but continuing to shoot from its centre or nucleus—which corresponded to the burning spot at the pit of my stomach—incessant adumbrations of light that finally lost themselves in the infinity of space. To my mind, even now, this image is still the best illustration of my sensations, as I recall them; but I greatly doubt whether the reader will find it equally clear.
My curiosity was now in a way of being satisfied; the Spirit (demon, shall I not rather say?) of Hasheesh had entire possession of me. I was cast upon the flood of his illusions, and drifted helplessly whithersoever they might choose to bear me. The thrills which ran through my nervous system became more rapid and fierce, accompanied with sensations that steeped my whole being in unutterable rapture. I was encompassed by a sea of light, through which played the pure, harmonious colors that are born of light. While endeavoring, in broken expressions, to describe my feelings to my friends, who sat looking upon me incredulously—not yet having been affected by the drug—I suddenly found myself at the foot of the great Pyramid of Cheops. The tapering courses of yellow limestone gleamed like gold in the sun, and the pile rose so high that it seemed to lean for support upon the blue arch of the sky. I wished to ascend it, and the wish alone placed me immediately upon its apex, lifted thousands of feet above the wheat-fields and palm-groves of Egypt. I cast my eyes downward, and, to my astonishment, saw that it was built, not of limestone, but of huge square plugs of Cavendish tobacco! Words cannot paint the overwhelming sense of the ludicrous which I then experienced. I writhed on my chair in an agony of laughter, which was only relieved by the vision melting away like a dissolving view; till, out of my confusion of indistinct images and fragments of images, another and more wonderful vision arose.
The more vividly I recall the scene which followed, the more carefully I restore its different features, and separate the many threads of sensation which it wove into one gorgeous web, the more I despair of representing its exceeding glory. I was moving over the Desert, not upon the rocking dromedary, but seated in a barque made of mother-of-pearl, and studded with jewels of surpassing lustre. The sand was of grains of gold, and my keel slid through them without jar or sound. The air was radiant with excess of light, though no sun was to be seen. I inhaled the most delicious perfumes; and harmonies, such as Beethoven may have heard in dreams, but never wrote, floated around me. The atmosphere itself was light, odor, music; and each and all sublimated beyond anything the sober senses are capable of receiving. Before me—for a thousand leagues, as it seemed—stretched a vista of rainbows, whose colors gleamed with the splendor of gems—arches of living amethyst, sapphire, emerald, topaz, and ruby. By thousands and tens of thousands, they flew past me, as my dazzling barge sped down the magnificent arcade; yet the vista still stretched as far as ever before me. I revelled in a sensuous elysium, which was perfect, because no sense was left ungratified. But beyond all, my mind was filled with a boundless feeling of triumph. My journey was that of a conqueror—not of a conqueror who subdues his race, either by Love or by Will, for I forgot that Man existed—but one victorious over the grandest as well as the subtlest forces of Nature. The spirits of Light, Color, Odor, Sound, and Motion were my slaves; and, having these, I was master of the universe.
Those who are endowed to any extent with the imaginative faculty, must have at least once in their lives experienced feelings which may give them a clue to the exalted sensuous raptures of my triumphal march. The view of a sublime mountain landscape, the hearing of a grand orchestral symphony, or of a choral upborne by the "full-voiced organ," or even the beauty and luxury of a cloudless summer day, suggests emotions similar in kind, if less intense. They took a warmth and glow from that pure animal joy which degrades not, but spiritualizes and ennobles our material part, and which differs from cold, abstract, intellectual enjoyment, as the flaming diamond of the Orient differs from the icicle of the North. Those finer senses, which occupy a middle ground between our animal and intellectual appetites, were suddenly developed to a pitch beyond what I had ever dreamed, and being thus at one and the same time gratified to the fullest extent of their preternatural capacity, the result was a single harmonious sensation, to describe which human language has no epithet. Mahomet's Paradise, with its palaces of ruby and emerald, its airs of musk and cassia, and its rivers colder than snow and sweeter than honey, would have been a poor and mean terminus for my arcade of rainbows. Yet in the character of this paradise, in the gorgeous fancies of the Arabian Nights, in the glow and luxury of all Oriental poetry, I now recognize more or less of the agency of hasheesh.
The fulness of my rapture expanded the sense of time; and though the whole vision was probably not more than five minutes in passing through my mind, years seemed to have elapsed while I shot under the dazzling myriads of rainbow arches. By and by, the rainbows, the barque of pearl and jewels, and the desert of golden sand, vanished; and, still bathed in light and perfume, I found myself in a land of green and flowery lawns, divided by hills of gently undulating outline. But, although the vegetation was the richest of earth, there were neither streams nor fountains to be seen; and the people who came from the hills, with brilliant garments that shone in the sun, besought me to give them the blessing of water. Their hands were full of branches of the coral honeysuckle, in bloom. These I took; and, breaking off the flowers one by one, set them in the earth. The slender, trumpet-like tubes immediately became shafts of masonry, and sank deep into the earth; the lip of the flower changed into a circular mouth of rose-colored marble, and the people, leaning over its brink, lowered their pitchers to the bottom with cords, and drew them up again, filled to the brim, and dripping with honey.
The most remarkable feature of these illusions was, that at the time when I was most completely under their influence, I knew myself to be seated in the tower of Antonio's hotel in Damascus, knew that I had taken hasheesh, and that the strange, gorgeous and ludicrous fancies which possessed me, were the effect of it. At the very same instant that I looked upon the Valley of the Nile from the pyramid, slid over the Desert, or created my marvellous wells in that beautiful pastoral country, I saw the furniture of my room, its mosaic pavement, the quaint Saracenic niches in the walls, the painted and gilded beams of the ceiling, and the couch in the recess before me, with my two companions watching me. Both sensations were simultaneous, and equally palpable. While I was most given up to the magnificent delusion, I saw its cause and felt its absurdity most clearly. Metaphysicians say that the mind is incapable of performing two operations at the same time, and may attempt to explain this phenomenon by supposing a rapid and incessant vibration of the perceptions between the two states. This explanation, however, is not satisfactory to me; for not more clearly does a skilful musician with the same breath blow two distinct musical notes from a bugle, than I was conscious of two distinct conditions of being in the same moment. Yet, singular as it may seem, neither conflicted with the other. My enjoyment of the visions was complete and absolute, undisturbed by the faintest doubt of their reality, while, in some other chamber of my brain, Reason sat coolly watching them, and heaping the liveliest ridicule on their fantastic features. One set of nerves was thrilled with the bliss of the gods, while another was convulsed with unquenchable laughter at that very bliss. My highest ecstacies could not bear down and silence the weight of my ridicule, which, in its turn, was powerless to prevent me from running into other and more gorgeous absurdities. I was double, not "swan and shadow," but rather, Sphinx-like, human and beast. A true Sphinx, I was a riddle and a mystery to myself.
The drug, which had been retarded in its operation on account of having been taken after a meal, now began to make itself more powerfully felt. The visions were more grotesque than ever, but less agreeable; and there was a painful tension throughout my nervous system—the effect of over-stimulus. I was a mass of transparent jelly, and a confectioner poured me into a twisted mould. I threw my chair aside, and writhed and tortured myself for some time to force my loose substance into the mould. At last, when I had so far succeeded that only one foot remained outside, it was lifted off, and another mould, of still more crooked and intricate shape, substituted. I have no doubt that the contortions through which I went, to accomplish the end of my gelatinous destiny, would have been extremely ludicrous to a spectator, but to me they were painful and disagreeable. The sober half of me went into fits of laughter over them, and through that laughter, my vision shifted into another scene. I had laughed until my eyes overflowed profusely. Every drop that fell, immediately became a large loaf of bread, and tumbled upon the shop-board of a baker in the bazaar at Damascus. The more I laughed, the faster the loaves fell, until such a pile was raised about the baker, that I could hardly see the top of his head. "The man will be suffocated," I cried, "but if he were to die, I cannot stop!"
My perceptions now became more dim and confused. I felt that I was in the grasp of some giant force; and, in the glimmering of my fading reason, grew earnestly alarmed, for the terrible stress under which my frame labored increased every moment. A fierce and furious heat radiated from my stomach throughout my system; my mouth and throat were as dry and hard as if made of brass, and my tongue, it seemed to me, was a bar of rusty iron. I seized a pitcher of water, and drank long and deeply; but I might as well have drunk so much air, for not only did it impart no moisture, but my palate and throat gave me no intelligence of having drunk at all. I stood in the centre of the room, brandishing my arms convulsively, an heaving sighs that seemed to shatter my whole being. "Will no one," I cried in distress, "cast out this devil that has possession of me?" I no longer saw the room nor my friends, but I heard one of them saying, "It must be real; he could not counterfeit such an expression as that. But it don't look much like pleasure." Immediately afterwards there was a scream of the wildest laughter, and my countryman sprang upon the floor, exclaiming, "O, ye gods! I am a locomotive!" This was his ruling hallucination; and, for the space of two or three hours, he continued to pace to and fro with a measured stride, exhaling his breath in violent jets, and when he spoke, dividing his words into syllables, each of which he brought out with a jerk, at the same time turning his hands at his sides, as if they were the cranks of imaginary wheels, The Englishman, as soon as he felt the dose beginning to take effect, prudently retreated to his own room, and what the nature of his visions was, we never learned, for he refused to tell, and, moreover, enjoined the strictest silence on his wife.
By this time it was nearly midnight. I had passed through the Paradise of Hasheesh, and was plunged at once into its fiercest Hell. In my ignorance I had taken what, I have since learned, would have been a sufficient portion for six men, and was now paying a frightful penalty for my curiosity. The excited blood rushed through my frame with a sound like the roaring of mighty waters. It was projected into my eyes until I could no longer see; it beat thickly in my ears, and so throbbed in my heart, that I feared the ribs would give way under its blows. I tore open my vest, placed my hand over the spot, and tried to count the pulsations; but there were two hearts, one beating at the rate of a thousand beats a minute, and the other with a slow, dull motion. My throat, I thought, was filled to the brim with blood, and streams of blood were pouring from my ears. I felt them gushing warm down my cheeks and neck. With a maddened, desperate feeling, I fled from the room, and walked over the flat, terraced roof of the house. My body seemed to shrink and grow rigid as I wrestled with the demon, and my face to become wild, lean and haggard. Some lines which had struck me, years before, in reading Mrs. Browning's "Rhyme of the Duchess May," flashed into my mind:—
"And the horse, in stark despair, with his front hoofs poised in air, On the last verge, rears amain; And he hangs, he rocks between—and his nostrils curdle in— And he shivers, head and hoof, and the flakes of foam fall off; And his face grows fierce and thin."
That picture of animal terror and agony was mine. I was the horse, hanging poised on the verge of the giddy tower, the next moment to be borne sheer down to destruction. Involuntarily, I raised my hand to feel the leanness and sharpness of my face. Oh horror! the flesh had fallen from my bones, and it was a skeleton head that I carried on my shoulders! With one bound I sprang to the parapet, and looked down into the silent courtyard, then filled with the shadows thrown into it by the sinking moon. Shall I cast myself down headlong? was the question I proposed to myself; but though the horror of that skeleton delusion was greater than my fear of death, there was an invisible hand at my breast which pushed me away from the brink.
I made my way back to the room, in a state of the keenest suffering. My companion was still a locomotive, rushing to and fro, and jerking out his syllables with the disjointed accent peculiar to a steam-engine. His mouth had turned to brass, like mine, and he raised the pitcher to his lips in the attempt to moisten it, but before he had taken a mouthful, set the pitcher down again with a yell of laughter, crying out: "How can I take water into my boiler, while I am letting off steam?"
But I was now too far gone to feel the absurdity of this, or his other exclamations. I was sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of unutterable agony and despair. For, although I was not conscious of real pain in any part of my body, the cruel tension to which my nerves had been subjected filled me through and through with a sensation of distress which was far more severe than pain itself. In addition to this, the remnant of will with which I struggled against the demon, became gradually weaker, and I felt that I should soon be powerless in his hands. Every effort to preserve my reason was accompanied by a pang of mortal fear, lest what I now experienced was insanity, and would hold mastery over me for ever. The thought of death, which also haunted me, was far less bitter than this dread. I knew that in the struggle which was going on in my frame, I was borne fearfully near the dark gulf, and the thought that, at such a time, both reason and will were leaving my brain, filled me with an agony, the depth and blackness of which I should vainly attempt to portray. I threw myself on my bed, with the excited blood still roaring wildly in my ears, my heart throbbing with a force that seemed to be rapidly wearing away my life, my throat dry as a pot-sherd, and my stiffened tongue cleaving to the roof of my mouth—resisting no longer, but awaiting my fate with the apathy of despair.
My companion was now approaching the same condition, but as the effect of the drug on him had been less violent, so his stage of suffering was more clamorous. He cried out to me that he was dying, implored me to help him, and reproached me vehemently, because I lay there silent, motionless, and apparently careless of his danger. "Why will he disturb me?" I thought; "he thinks he is dying, but what is death to madness? Let him die; a thousand deaths were more easily borne than the pangs I suffer." While I was sufficiently conscious to hear his exclamations, they only provoked my keen anger; but after a time, my senses became clouded, and I sank into a stupor. As near as I can judge, this must have been three o'clock in the morning, rather more than five hours after the hasheesh began to take effect. I lay thus all the following day and night, in a state of gray, blank oblivion, broken only by a single wandering gleam of consciousness. I recollect hearing Francois' voice. He told me afterwards that I arose, attempted to dress myself, drank two cups of coffee, and then fell back into the same death-like stupor; but of all this, I did not retain the least knowledge. On the morning of the second day, after a sleep of thirty hours, I awoke again to the world, with a system utterly prostrate and unstrung, and a brain clouded with the lingering images of my visions. I knew where I was, and what had happened to me, but all that I saw still remained unreal and shadowy. There was no taste in what I ate, no refreshment in what I drank, and it required a painful effort to comprehend what was said to me and return a coherent answer. Will and Reason had come back, but they still sat unsteadily upon their thrones.
My friend, who was much further advanced in his recovery, accompanied me to the adjoining bath, which I hoped would assist in restoring me. It was with great difficulty that I preserved the outward appearance of consciousness. In spite of myself, a veil now and then fell over my mind, and after wandering for years, as it seemed, in some distant world, I awoke with a shock, to find myself in the steamy halls of the bath, with a brown Syrian polishing my limbs. I suspect that my language must have been rambling and incoherent, and that the menials who had me in charge understood my condition, for as soon as I had stretched myself upon the couch which follows the bath, a glass of very acid sherbet was presented to me, and after drinking it I experienced instant relief. Still the spell was not wholly broken, and for two or three days I continued subject to frequent involuntary fits of absence, which made me insensible, for the time, to all that was passing around me. I walked the streets of Damascus with a strange consciousness that I was in some other place at the same time, and with a constant effort to reunite my divided perceptions.
Previous to the experiment, we had decided on making a bargain with the shekh for the journey to Palmyra. The state, however, in which we now found ourselves, obliged us to relinquish the plan. Perhaps the excitement of a forced march across the desert, and a conflict with the hostile Arabs, which was quite likely to happen, might have assisted us in throwing off the baneful effects of the drug; but all the charm which lay in the name of Palmyra and the romantic interest of the trip, was gone. I was without courage and without energy, and nothing remained for me but to leave Damascus.
Yet, fearful as my rash experiment proved to me, I did not regret having made it. It revealed to me deeps of rapture and of suffering which my natural faculties never could have sounded. It has taught me the majesty of human reason and of human will, even in the weakest, and the awful peril of tampering with that which assails their integrity. I have here faithfully and fully written out my experience, on account of the lesson which it may convey to others. If I have unfortunately failed in my design, and have but awakened that restless curiosity which I have endeavored to forestall, let me beg all who are thereby led to repeat the experiment upon themselves, that they be content to take the portion of hasheesh which is considered sufficient for one man, and not, like me, swallow enough for six.
A Dissertation on Bathing and Bodies.
"No swan-soft woman, rubbed with lucid oils, The gift of an enamored god, more fair."
We shall not set out from Damascus—we shall not leave the Pearl of the Orient to glimmer through the seas of foliage wherein it lies buried—without consecrating a day to the Bath, that material agent of peace and good-will unto men. We have bathed in the Jordan, like Naaman, and been made clean; let us now see whether Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, are better than the waters of Israel.
The Bath is the "peculiar institution" of the East. Coffee has become colonized in France and America; the Pipe is a cosmopolite, and his blue, joyous breath congeals under the Arctic Circle, or melts languidly into the soft airs of the Polynesian Isles; but the Bath, that sensuous elysium which cradled the dreams of Plato, and the visions of Zoroaster, and the solemn meditations of Mahomet, is only to be found under an Oriental sky. The naked natives of the Torrid Zone are amphibious; they do not bathe, they live in the water. The European and Anglo-American wash themselves and think they have bathed; they shudder under cold showers and perform laborious antics with coarse towels. As for the Hydropathist, the Genius of the Bath, whose dwelling is in Damascus, would be convulsed with scornful laughter, could he behold that aqueous Diogenes sitting in his tub, or stretched out in his wet wrappings, like a sodden mummy, in a catacomb of blankets and feather beds. As the rose in the East has a rarer perfume than in other lands, so does the Bath bestow a superior purification and impart a more profound enjoyment.
Listen not unto the lamentations of travellers, who complain of the heat, and the steam, and the dislocations of their joints. They belong to the stiff-necked generation, who resist the processes, whereunto the Oriental yields himself body and soul. He who is bathed in Damascus, must be as clay in the hands of a potter. The Syrians marvel how the Franks can walk, so difficult is it to bend their joints. Moreover, they know the difference between him who comes to the Bath out of a mere idle curiosity, and him who has tasted its delight and holds it in due honor. Only the latter is permitted to know all its mysteries. The former is carelessly hurried through the ordinary forms of bathing, and, if any trace of the cockney remain in him, is quite as likely to be disgusted as pleased. Again, there are many second and third-rate baths, whither cheating dragomen conduct their victims, in consideration of a division of spoils with the bath-keeper. Hence it is, that the Bath has received but partial justice at the hands of tourists in the East. If any one doubts this, let him clothe himself with Oriental passiveness and resignation, go to the Hamman el-Khyateen, at Damascus, or the Bath of Mahmoud Pasha, at Constantinople, and demand that he be perfectly bathed.
Come with me, and I will show you the mysteries of the perfect bath. Here is the entrance, a heavy Saracenic arch, opening upon the crowded bazaar. We descend a few steps to the marble pavement of a lofty octagonal hall, lighted by a dome. There is a jet of sparkling water in the centre, falling into a heavy stone basin. A platform about five feet in height runs around the hall, and on this are ranged a number of narrow couches, with their heads to the wall, like the pallets in a hospital ward. The platform is covered with straw matting, and from the wooden gallery which rises above it are suspended towels, with blue and crimson borders. The master of the bath receives us courteously, and conducts us to one of the vacant couches. We kick off our red slippers below, and mount the steps to the platform. Yonder traveller, in Frank dress, who has just entered, goes up with his boots on, and we know, from that fact, what sort of a bath he will get.
As the work of disrobing proceeds, a dark-eyed boy appears with a napkin, which he holds before us, ready to bind it about the waist, as soon as we regain our primitive form. Another attendant throws a napkin over our shoulders and wraps a third around our head, turban-wise. He then thrusts a pair of wooden clogs upon our feet, and, taking us by the arm, steadies our tottering and clattering steps, as we pass through a low door and a warm ante-chamber into the first hall of the bath. The light, falling dimly through a cluster of bull's-eyes in the domed ceiling, shows, first, a silver thread of water, playing in a steamy atmosphere; next, some dark motionless objects, stretched out on a low central platform of marble. The attendant spreads a linen sheet in one of the vacant places, places a pillow at one end, takes off our clogs, deposits us gently on our back, and leaves us. The pavement is warm beneath us, and the first breath we draw gives us a sense of suffocation. But a bit of burning aloe-wood has just been carried through the hall, and the steam is permeated with fragrance. The dark-eyed boy appears with a narghileh, which he places beside us, offering the amber mouth-piece to our submissive lips. The smoke we inhale has an odor of roses; and as the pipe bubbles with our breathing, we feel that the dews of sweat gather heavily upon us. The attendant now reappears, kneels beside us, and gently kneads us with dexterous hands. Although no anatomist, he knows every muscle and sinew whose suppleness gives ease to the body, and so moulds and manipulates them that we lose the rigidity of our mechanism, and become plastic in his hands. He turns us upon our face, repeats the same process upon the back, and leaves us a little longer to lie there passively, glistening in our own dew.
We are aroused from a reverie about nothing by a dark-brown shape, who replaces the clogs, puts his arm around our waist and leads us into an inner hall, with a steaming tank in the centre. Here he slips us off the brink, and we collapse over head and ears in the fiery fluid. Once—twice—we dip into the delicious heat, and then are led into a marble alcove, and seated flat upon the floor. The attendant stands behind us, and we now perceive that his hands are encased in dark hair-gloves. He pounces upon an arm, which he rubs until, like a serpent, we slough the worn-out skin, and resume our infantile smoothness and fairness. No man can be called clean until he has bathed in the East. Let him walk directly from his accustomed bath and self-friction with towels, to the Hammam el-Khyateen, and the attendant will exclaim, as he shakes out his hair-gloves: "O Frank! it is a long time since you have bathed." The other arm follows, the back, the breast, the legs, until the work is complete, and we know precisely how a horse feels after he has been curried.
Now the attendant turns two cocks at the back of the alcove, and holding a basin alternately under the cold and hot streams, floods us at first with a fiery dash, that sends a delicious warm shiver through every nerve; then, with milder applications, lessening the temperature of the water by semi-tones, until, from the highest key of heat which we can bear, we glide rapturously down the gamut until we reach the lowest bass of coolness. The skin has by this time attained an exquisite sensibility, and answers to these changes of temperature with thrills of the purest physical pleasure. In fact, the whole frame seems purged of its earthy nature and transformed into something of a finer and more delicate texture.
After a pause, the attendant makes his appearance with a large wooden bowl, a piece of soap, and a bunch of palm-fibres. He squats down beside the bowl, and speedily creates a mass of snowy lather, which grows up to a pyramid and topples over the edge. Seizing us by the crown-tuft of hair upon our shaven head, he plants the foamy bunch of fibres full in our face. The world vanishes; sight, hearing, smell, taste (unless we open our mouth), and breathing, are cut off; we have become nebulous. Although our eyes are shut, we seem to see a blank whiteness; and, feeling nothing but a soft fleeciness, we doubt whether we be not the Olympian cloud which visited lo. But the cloud clears away before strangulation begins, and the velvety mass descends upon the body. Twice we are thus "slushed" from head to foot, and made more slippery than the anointed wrestlers of the Greek games. Then the basin comes again into play, and we glide once more musically through the scale of temperature.
The brown sculptor has now nearly completed his task. The figure of clay which entered the bath is transformed into polished marble. He turns the body from side to side, and lifts the limbs to see whether the workmanship is adequate to his conception. His satisfied gaze proclaims his success. A skilful bath-attendant has a certain aesthetic pleasure in his occupation. The bodies he polishes become to some extent his own workmanship, and he feels responsible for their symmetry or deformity. He experiences a degree of triumph in contemplating a beautiful form, which has grown more airily light and beautiful under his hands. He is a great connoisseur of bodies, and could pick you out the finest specimens with as ready an eye as an artist.
I envy those old Greek bathers, into whose hands were delivered Pericles, and Alcibiades, and the perfect models of Phidias. They had daily before their eyes the highest types of Beauty which the world has ever produced; for of all things that are beautiful, the human body is the crown. Now, since the delusion of artists has been overthrown, and we know that Grecian Art is but the simple reflex of Nature—that the old masterpieces of sculpture were no miraculous embodiments of a beau ideal, but copies of living forms—we must admit that in no other age of the world has the physical Man been so perfectly developed. The nearest approach I have ever seen to the symmetry of ancient sculpture was among the Arab tribes of Ethiopia. Our Saxon race can supply the athlete, but not the Apollo.
Oriental life is too full of repose, and the Ottoman race has become too degenerate through indulgence, to exhibit many striking specimens of physical beauty. The face is generally fine, but the body is apt to be lank, and with imperfect muscular development. The best forms I saw in the baths were those of laborers, who, with a good deal of rugged strength, showed some grace and harmony of proportion. It may be received as a general rule, that the physical development of the European is superior to that of the Oriental, with the exception of the Circassians and Georgians, whose beauty well entitles them to the distinction of giving their name to our race.
So far as female beauty is concerned, the Circassian women have no superiors. They have preserved in their mountain home the purity of the Grecian models, and still display the perfect physical loveliness, whose type has descended to us in the Venus de Medici. The Frank who is addicted to wandering about the streets of Oriental cities can hardly fail to be favored with a sight of the faces of these beauties. More than once it has happened to me, in meeting a veiled lady, sailing along in her balloon-like feridjee, that she has allowed the veil to drop by a skilful accident, as she passed, and has startled me with the vision of her beauty, recalling the line of the Persian poet: "Astonishment! is this the dawn of the glorious sun, or is it the full moon?" The Circassian face is a pure oval; the forehead is low and fair, "an excellent thing in woman," and the skin of an ivory whiteness, except the faint pink of the cheeks and the ripe, roseate stain of the lips. The hair is dark, glossy, and luxuriant, exquisitely outlined on the temples; the eyebrows slightly arched, and drawn with a delicate pencil; while lashes like "rays of darkness" shade the large, dark, humid orbs below them. The alabaster of the face, so pure as scarcely to show the blue branching of the veins on the temples, is lighted by those superb eyes—
"Shining eyes, like antique jewels set in Parian statue-stone,"
—whose wells are so dark and deep, that you are cheated into the belief that a glorious soul looks out of them.
Once, by an unforeseen chance, I beheld the Circassian form, in its most perfect development. I was on board an Austrian steamer in the harbor of Smyrna, when the harem of a Turkish pasha came out in a boat to embark for Alexandria. The sea was rather rough, and nearly all the officers of the steamer were ashore. There were six veiled and swaddled women, with a black eunuch as guard, in the boat, which lay tossing for some time at the foot of the gangway ladder, before the frightened passengers could summon courage to step out. At last the youngest of them—a Circassian girl of not more than fifteen or sixteen years of age—ventured upon the ladder, clasping the hand-rail with one hand, while with the other she held together the folds of her cumbrous feridjee. I was standing in the gangway, watching her, when a slight lurch of the steamer caused her to loose her hold of the garment, which, fastened at the neck, was blown back from her shoulders, leaving her body screened but by a single robe of-light, gauzy silk. Through this, the marble whiteness of her skin, the roundness, the glorious symmetry of her form, flashed upon me, as a vision of Aphrodite, seen
"Through leagues of shimmering water, like a star."
It was but a momentary glimpse; yet that moment convinced me that forms of Phidian perfection are still nurtured in the vales of Caucasus.
The necessary disguise of dress hides from us much of the beauty and dignity of Humanity, I have seen men who appeared heroic in the freedom of nakedness, shrink almost into absolute vulgarity, when clothed. The soul not only sits at the windows of the eyes, and hangs upon the gateway of the lips; she speaks as well in the intricate, yet harmonious lines of the body, and the ever-varying play of the limbs. Look at the torso of Ilioneus, the son of Niobe, and see what an agony of terror and supplication cries out from that headless and limbless trunk! Decapitate Laocooen, and his knotted muscles will still express the same dreadful suffering and resistance. None knew this better than the ancient sculptors; and hence it was that we find many of their statues of distinguished men wholly or partly undraped. Such a view of Art would be considered transcendental now-a-days, when our dress, our costumes, and our modes of speech either ignore the existence of our bodies, or treat them with little of that reverence which is their due.
But, while we have been thinking these thoughts, the attendant has been waiting to give us a final plunge into the seething tank. Again we slide down to the eyes in the fluid heat, which wraps us closely about until we tingle with exquisite hot shiverings. Now comes the graceful boy, with clean, cool, lavendered napkins, which he folds around our waist and wraps softly about the head. The pattens are put upon our feet, and the brown arm steadies us gently through the sweating-room and ante-chamber into the outer hall, where we mount to our couch. We sink gently upon the cool linen, and the boy covers us with a perfumed sheet. Then, kneeling beside the couch, he presses the folds of the sheet around us, that it may absorb the lingering moisture and the limpid perspiration shed by the departing heat. As fast as the linen becomes damp, he replaces it with fresh, pressing the folds about us as tenderly as a mother arranges the drapery of her sleeping babe; for we, though of the stature of a man, are now infantile in our helpless happiness. Then he takes our passive hand and warms its palm by the soft friction of his own; after which, moving to the end of the couch, he lifts our feet upon his lap, and repeats the friction upon their soles, until the blood comes back to the surface of the body with a misty glow, like that which steeps the clouds of a summer afternoon.
We have but one more process to undergo, and the attendant already stands at the head of our couch. This is the course of passive gymnastics, which excites so much alarm and resistance in the ignorant Franks. It is only resistance that is dangerous, completely neutralizing the enjoyment of the process. Give yourself with a blind submission into the arms of the brown Fate, and he will lead you to new chambers of delight. He lifts us to a sitting posture, places himself behind us, and folds his arms around our body, alternately tightening and relaxing his clasp, as if to test the elasticity of the ribs. Then seizing one arm, he draws it across the opposite shoulder, until the joint cracks like a percussion-cap. The shoulder-blades, the elbows, the wrists, and the finger-joints are all made to fire off their muffled volleys; and then, placing one knee between our shoulders, and clasping both hands upon our forehead, he draws our head back until we feel a great snap of the vertebral column. Now he descends to the hip-joints, knees, ankles, and feet, forcing each and all to discharge a salvo de joie. The slight languor left from the bath is gone, and an airy, delicate exhilaration, befitting the winged Mercury, takes its place.
The boy, kneeling, presents us with finjan of foamy coffee, followed by a glass of sherbet cooled with the snows of Lebanon. He presently returns with a narghileh, which we smoke by the effortless inhalation of the lungs. Thus we lie in perfect repose, soothed by the fragrant weed, and idly watching the silent Orientals, who are undressing for the bath or reposing like ourselves. Through the arched entrance, we see a picture of the bazaars: a shadowy painting of merchants seated amid their silks and spices, dotted here and there with golden drops and splashes of sunshine, which have trickled through the roof. The scene paints itself upon our eyes, yet wakes no slightest stir of thought. The brain is a becalmed sea, without a ripple on its shores. Mind and body are drowned in delicious rest; and we no longer remember what we are. We only know that there is an Existence somewhere in the air, and that wherever it is, and whatever it may be, it is happy.
More and more dim grows the picture. The colors fade and blend into each other, and finally merge into a bed of rosy clouds, flooded with the radiance of some unseen sun. Gentlier than "tired eyelids upon tired eyes," sleep lies upon our senses: a half-conscious sleep, wherein we know that we behold light and inhale fragrance. As gently, the clouds dissipate into air, and we are born again into the world. The Bath is at an end. We arise and put on our garments, and walk forth into the sunny streets of Damascus. But as we go homewards, we involuntarily look down to see whether we are really treading upon the earth, wondering, perhaps, that we should be content to do so, when it would be so easy to soar above the house-tops.
Baalbec and Lebanon.
Departure from Damascus—The Fountains of the Pharpar—Pass of the Anti-Lebanon—Adventure with the Druses—The Range of Lebanon—The Demon of Hasheesh departs—Impressions of Baalbec—The Temple of the Sun—Titanic Masonry—The Ruined Mosque—Camp on Lebanon—Rascality of the Guide—The Summit of Lebanon—The Sacred Cedars—The Christians of Lebanon—An Afternoon in Eden—Rugged Travel—We Reach the Coast—Return to Beyrout.
"Peor and Baaelim Forsake their temples dim."
"The cedars wave on Lebanon, But Judah's statelier maids are gone."
Beyrout, Thursday, May 27, 1852.
After a stay of eight days in Damascus, we called our men, Dervish and Mustapha, again into requisition, loaded our enthusiastic mules, and mounted our despairing horses. There were two other parties on the way to Baalbec—an English gentleman and lady, and a solitary Englishman, so that our united forces made an imposing caravan. There is always a custom-house examination, not on entering, but on issuing from an Oriental city, but travellers can avoid it by procuring the company of a Consular Janissary as far as the gate. Mr. Wood, the British Consul, lent us one of his officers for the occasion, whom we found waiting, outside of the wall, to receive his private fee for the service. We mounted the long, barren hill west of the plain, and at the summit, near the tomb of a Moslem shekh, turned to take a last long look at the bowery plain, and the minarets of the city, glittering through the blue morning vapor.