This "Red Sea in the Land of Edom" (1 Kings ix. 26) is still, as Wellsted entitles it, "a vast and solitary Gulf." It bears a quaint resemblance to that eastern fork of the northern Adriatic, the Quarnero, whose name expresses its terrible storms; while the Suez branch shows the longer stretch of the Triestine bifurcation. Yamm Elath or Eloth, as the Hebrews called El-'Akabah, has, by the upheaval of the land, lost more of its fair proportions than its western sister. It was at one time the embouchure of the Jordan, extending up the Wady el-'Arabah to the Asphaltite Lake (Dead Sea), before the former became, so to speak, a hill and the latter a hole. This view dates from olden times. "Si suppone," says Cornelius à Lapide, (119) "che sia un sollevamento che accadde, mentre un abbassamento formava il Mar Morto; e che il Giordano si gettasse nel Golfo Elanitico (Yamm Ailath), ciò é nel Mar Rosso, prima della destruzione di Sodoma." For the latter date we have only to read, "When a movement of depression sank the lower Jordan Valley, and its present reservoirs, the Tiberias Lake and the Dead Sea, to their actual level." There is nothing marvellous nor unique in the feature, as it appears to those suffering from that strange malady, "Holy Land on the Brain." The Oxus and the Caspian show an identical formation, only the sinking has been on a smaller scale.
Wellsted was unfortunate, both in his weather and in his craft. To encounter a "sea of breakers" and "northerly gales with a high and dangerous swell" in a wretched "bugalá" (i.e. Sambúk), and in that perfect tub, the Palinurus, was somewhat like tempting Providence,--if such operation be possible. No wonder that "in this Gulf, in a course of only ninety miles, the nautical mishaps were numerous and varied." The surveyor, however, neglected a matter of the highest interest and importance, namely, to ascertain whether there be any difference of level between the heads of the Suez and the 'Akabah waters. The vicinity of continuous maritime chains, varying from six to nearly nine thousand feet, suggests an amount of attraction (theoretically) sufficient to cause a sensible difference of plane. It would be well worth while to run two lines of survey, one from El-'Akabah to Suez, and the other down the eastern flank of the Sinaitic Peninsula.
The Mukhbir, like the Palinurus, promised a certain amount of excitement. Her boiler, I have said, was honeycombed; it was easy to thrust one's fist through it. Mr. David Duguid, the engineer, who on one occasion worked thirty-six hours at a stretch, had applied for sixty new tubes, and he wanted one hundred and fifty: we began with two hundred and forty; we lost, when in the Gulf, from three to nine per diem, a total of seventy five; and the work of the engine-room and the ship's carpenters consisted in plugging fractures with stays, plates, and wedges. Presently the steam-gauge (manomètre) gave way, making it impossible to register pressure; the combustion chamber showed a rent of eighteen inches long by one wide, the result of too rapid cooling; and, lastly, the donkey-engine struck work. Under these happy circumstances bursting was not to be expected; breaking down was, a regular collapse which would have left us like a log upon the stormy waves. A new boiler might have cost, perhaps, £900, and the want of one daily endangered a good ship which could not be replaced for £9000. I therefore determined upon a "Safer Khoriyyah," that is, steaming by day and anchoring at night in some snug bay. It was also agreed, nem. con., to tow the Sambúk El-Musahhil, in order that, should accidents happen, it might in turn act tug to the steamer; or even, at a pinch, serve us as a lifeboat.
Nothing becomes Makná better than the view on leaving it. A varied and attractive picture this, with the turquoise-blue of the deep water, the purple and leek-green tints of the shoaly and sandy little port, and the tawny shore dotted by six distinct palm-tufts. They are outliers of the main line, yon flood of verdure, climbing up and streaming down from the high, dry, and barren banks of arenaceous drift, heaped up and filmed over by the wind, and, lastly, surging through its narrow "Gate," with the clifflets of conglomerate forming the old coast. Add the bluff headland of the Ras el-Tárah to the north of the harbour, and behind it the Rughámat Makná, the greenish-yellow, flat-backed "horse" of Madyan, which, shimmering in the sunset with a pearly lustre, forms the best of landmarks. Finish to the south of the Wady with the quaint chopping outlines of the Jebel el-Fahísát, resembling from afar a huge alligator lying on the water; with the similar but lower forms to the north of the valley, both reflected in the Jibál el-Hamrá (the Red Hills), whose curtains of green-black trap are broken by sheets of dull dead-white plaster. Cap the whole with the mighty double quoin of gypseous Jebel el-Kharaj, buttressing the eastern flank of its valley, and with the low, dark metal-revetted hills of the Kalb el-Nakhlah, a copy of the Fahísát. Throw in the background, slowly rising as you recede from the shore, a curtain of plutonic peaks and buttresses, cones, quoins, cupolas, parrot-beaks; with every trick of shape, from the lumpy Zahd to the buttressed and pinnacled 'Urnub; with every shade of mountain-tint between lapis-lazuli and plum-purple. Dome the whole with that marvellous transparent sky, the ocean of the air, that spreads loveliness over the rugged cheek of the Desert; and you have a picture which, though distinctly Arabian, you can hardly expect to see in Arabia.
From the offing, also, we note how the later formations, granite and syenite, seamed with a network, and often topped by cones, of porphyritic trap, have upthrust, pierced, and isolated the older Secondaries. We traced this huge deposit of sulphates and carbonates of lime from the southern Wady Hamz, through the islets at the mouth of the Birkat 'Akabah, all along the shore of North Midian. Here it crosses diagonally the northern third of the 'Akabah Gulf, and forms the north-eastern base of the Sinaitic Peninsula; whilst eastward it stretches inland as far as Magháir Shu'ayb. The general disposition suggests that before the upheaval of the Gháts, the Jibál el-Tihámah, this vast gypseous sheet was a plain and plateau covering the whole country, till a movement of depression, caused by the upheaval of the igneous mountains, sank in it the Gulf of 'Akabah. At present the surface is here flat, there hilly like huge billows breaking mostly to the north, and reaching an altitude of twelve hundred feet above the surface. Hence the lines stretching north-south, the Fahísát, the Red Hills, and the Kalb el-Nakhlah, look like so many volcanic island-reefs floating in a sea of greenish-yellow Secondaries.
Like the old Irish post-horse, the difficulty and danger of our "kettle" consisted in starting it: two tubes at once burst, and a new hole yawned in the boiler; moreover, our anchor had been thrown out in a depth of seventy-three feet. Enfin! At nine a.m. (February 3rd) we stood straight for the Sinaitic shore, distant thirteen miles (direct geographical), and in three hours we made the Sharm, Marsá or Minat el-Dahab-- the "Golden Anchorage, Cove, or Port." (120) Another hour was spent in steaming southwards to the Dock-harbour, wrongly so called in the charts; the pilots, and the many Sambúks that take refuge in it, know the place only as Mínát Ginái (Jinái). The northern baylet, preferred when southerly winds blow, is simply the embouchure of the Wady Dahab ("Fiumara of Gold"). The name is properly applied to the sub-maritime section of the valley draining the eastern flanks of the so-called Mount Sinai. This great watercourse breaks through the Gháts which, always fringing similar peninsulas, peak to the south. It reaches the Gulf at a shallow sag marked by a line of palms, the centre of three: they are fed by their several Nullahs, and are watered with the brackish produce of sundry wells. The statio malefida is defended to the north by a short sandspit and a submerged reef; and southwards by a projection of sandstone conglomerate. The latter, running from north-east to south-west, subtends this part of the coast, and serves to build up the land; after a few years the débris swept down by the watercourses will warp up the shallows, dividing shore from outlier. Such, in fact, seems to be the general origin of these sandspits; beginning as coralline reefs, they have been covered with conglomerates, and converted into terra firma by the rubbish shot out by the Wady-mouths.
The southern port, "Ginái," is formed by a bend in the reef which sweeps round from east to south-west like a scorpion's tail. The natural sea-wall, at once dangerous and safety-giving, protects, to the south and south-east, diabolitos of black rock visible only at high tide: inshore the sickle-shaped breakwater runs by east to south-west, becoming a "sandy hook," and enclosing a basin whose depth ranges from seven to twelve fathoms. Its approach from the south is clean; and the western opening is protected by the tall screen of coast cliffs, the Jebel el-Ginái, whose deep-black porphyritic gorge seemingly prolongs that of Midianite Tayyib Ism. This is a section of the Jibál el-Samghi, the coast-range which extends as far north as the Wady Wati'r. The Dock-port, so useful when the terrible norther blows, has an admirable landmark, visible even from Sináfir Island, and conspicuous at the entrance of the Gulf. Where the sandy slopes of South-Eastern Sinai-land end, appears a large white blot, apparently supporting a block, built, like a bastion, upon a tall hill of porphyritic trap. We called this remnant of material harder than the rest, Burj el-Dahab--"the Tower Hill of Dahab." I have been minute in describing the Golden Harbour: scant justice has been done to it by the Hydrographic Chart, and it will prove valuable when the Makna' mines are opened. Ahmed Kaptán vainly attempted soundings--he was too ill to work. Wellsted's identification of the site with Ezion-geber (ii. ix.), and the reef with the rock-ledge which wrecked Jehosaphat's fleet, has one great objection--no ruins are known to exist near it. (121)
The formation of this part of Sinai, as far as we can see from the shore, reflects, in wilder forms and more abrupt lines, the opposite coast of Midian: there is, however, the important difference that the Secondaries and the quartz-veins, there so important, are here wanting. The skeletons of mountain and hill appear as if prolonged under water. The ruddy syenite is dyked and veined by the familiar network of green-black porphyritic trap; the filons are disposed in parallels striking north-south, with a little easting; the dip is westerly (about 35 degrees mag.), and the thickness extends to hundreds of feet, often forming a foundation for the upper cliff. The subaerial parts are the same warty and pimply growth which appears on the other side. Nothing could be more wearisome to the Alpine climber than such a country: he would scale the peaks and ridges for fifty feet, to descend thirty on the other side; and the frequent Wadys, ankle-deep in loose sand, generally end in steep stony couloirs. The watercourses, whose broad mouths are scattered with thin green, contain pebbles and rolled quartzes, including fine specimens of the crystallized variety.
We landed, after an hour's row in the gig, at the central or main line of palms; and on the banks of Wady Dahab, here a full mile wide, we found the works of man, like those of Nature, a copy of Makná. The date trees and clumps are hedge-closed; two scatters of 'Ushash (tabernacles) show round towers of rough stone, broken and patched with palm-frond; and, further north of the Golden Valley, a few old Arab graves have been weathered into mere heaps of large stones. These are the Kubur el-Nasárá ("Nazarene's Graves") of Burckhardt, (122) a name apparently forgotten by the present generation. We vainly sought and asked after ruins: of old, however, "Dí'zahab" might have served to disembark cargo which, by taking the land-route northwards, as the Christian pilgrims still do from El-Nuwaybi', would avoid the dangerous headwaters of El-'Akabah. Nor could we believe with Pococke (123) that the place derived its name from the mica shining like gold; his theory is stultified by the fact that mica is by no means a prominent feature, even had the Ancients been so ignorant as to be deceived by it.
The people were by no means communicative. An elderly man, with a red turban and sword by side, hurried away from us when we addressed him, leaving his middle-aged wife to follow with a babe on shoulder and a boy in hand: she also refused to speak, waving her hand by way of reply to every question. At last a semi-civilized being, acquainted with the Convent of St. Catherine, Selím bin Husayn, of the Muzaynah tribe, satisfied our curiosity in view of tobacco, and offered a rudely stuffed ibex-head for a shilling. In the evening our fishermen visited the reef, which supplied admirable rock-cod, a bream (?) called Sultan el-Bahr, and Marján (a Sciæna); but they neglected the fine Sirinjah ("sponges"), which here grow two feet long. The night was dark and painfully still, showing nought but the youngest of moons, and the gloomiest silhouettes of spectral mountains.
We set out at seven a.m. on the next day, when an Azyab or south-easterly wind was promised by the damp air, the slaty sea, and the gloomy nimbi on the hill-tops. A small party landed after two hours' steaming, in search of quartz, which proved to be chloritic sandstones and limestones. In the broad valley they found a few Muzayni families, with their camels, sheep, and goats. These unfortunates had no tents, sleeping under the trees; they were desperate beggars, and, although half-starved, they asked a napoleon for a kid, declaring that such was its price at the quarantine station of Tor. Here the errors of the Hydrographic Chart, which have been copied literally by the latest and best popular books such as Professor Palmer's "Desert of the Exodus," began to excite our astonishment. For instance, Ras Kusayr ("the Short One") becomes Ras Arser--what a name for a headland! A good survey will presently become a sine quâ non. Unfortunately Ahmed Kaptán was suffering so much that I could not ask him to make solar observations; while the rest of us had other matters in hand. It was a great disappointment, where so much useful work remains to be done.
Hereabouts the sterile horrors of the hideous Sinaitic shore seem to reach their climax. The mountains become huge rubbish-heaps, without even colour to clothe their indecently nude forms; and each strives with its neighbour for the prize of repulsiveness. The valleys are mere dust-shunts that shoot out their rubbish, stones, gravel, and sand, in a solid flow, like discharges of lava. And, as Jebel Mazhafah, on the opposite coast, is the apex of the visible eastern Gháts, so beyond this point the Sinaitic sea-chain of mountains begins to decline into mere hills, while longer sand-points project seawards. Such is the near, the real aspect of what, viewed from Makná, appears a scene in fairy-land, decked and dight in heavenly hues of blue and purple and rosy light--"Where the bald blear skull of the Desert
After a run of six hours and thirty minutes (= thirty miles), we cast anchor off Wásit: there was nothing to see ashore, save some wretched Muzaynah, two males and three females, helpmates meet for them, living like savages on fish and shell-molluscs; drinking brackish water, and sleeping in the "bush," rather than take the trouble to repair the huts. They have no sheep, but a few camels; and, by way of boats, they use catamarans composed of two palm-trunks: their home-made hooks resemble the schoolboy's crooked pin. Yet these starvelings would not fetch specimens of the white stuff, distant, perhaps, two direct miles of cross-cut, seen near Nuwaybi', and still visible. They also refused, without preliminary "bakhshísh," to show or even to tell where certain ruins, concerning which they spoke or romanced, are found in their hills. And yet there are theologians who would raise Poverty, the most demoralizing of all conditions, to the rank of an "ecclesiastical virtue."
At 6 30 a.m. on the next day, the Mukhbir stood eastwards to avoid the northern reef. Presently we passed the "Upper Nuwaybi'," a creeklet to the north-west of Wásit, with a straggling line of palms fed by the huge Wady Muzayríj. From this point to the 'Akabah head all the coast is clean of man. The Jibál el-Samghi now become the Sinaitic Jibál el-Shafah ("Lip Mountains"), the latter stretching northwards to the Hajj-road, and forming the western wall of the 'Arabah valley, whose name they assume (Jibál el-'Arabah). The scene abruptly shifts. A mottle of clouds sheds moving shadows over the hill-crests, and relieves them from the appalling monotony of yesterday. Brilliant rainbow hues, red, green, mauve, purple, yellow and white clays, gleam in the lowlands, and form dwarf bluffs; while inland, peering above the granites, the syenites, and the porphyries of the coast, pale quoins and naked cones again show the familiar Secondary formation of Midianitish Makná. We were not surprised to hear that sulphur had been found in the gypsum of these eastern Gháts of Sinai, when a Jebel el-Kibí't, approached by the Wady Suwayr, was pointed out to us. The natural deduction is that the brimstone formation is, like the turquoise, the copper, and the manganese, a continuation of the beds that gave a name to Mafka-land; while the metalliferous strata round, in horseshoe-form, the head of El-'Akabah, and run down the Arabian shore, till they become parallel with those subtending the seaboard of Africa.
The view of the eastern or Midianite coast was even more varied and suggestive. Far inland, and tinged light-blue by distance, rose the sharp, jagged, and sawlike crests of El-Sharaf, under which the Hajj-caravan wends its weary way, thus escaping the mountains which dip perpendicularly into the sea. Then come the broad and sandy slopes, here and there streaked with dark ridges, spanned by the Sultáni or Sultan's high-road, and stretching from the Gulf to the inner heights. The latter are no longer a double parallel chain: they bend from south-south-east to north-north-west, and become the Jibál el-Shará', anciently "Mount Seir;" in fact, the eastern retaining-wall of the great Wady 'Arabah. Evidently they are primary, but a white and purple patch, visible from afar, suggested a Secondary remnant. Several of the peaks, especially the blue block El-Yitm, appeared to be of great height; we all remarked its towering stature and trifid headpiece, apparently upwards of five thousand feet high, before we had heard the tale attached to it. Abreast of us and on the shore, lie the large inlet and little islet El-Humayzah: the surveyors have abominably corrupted it to "Omeider." North of it a palm grove, lining the mouth of a broad Wady which snakes high up among the sands and stones, denotes the Hajj-station, El-Hakl (Hagul), backed by tall arenaceous buttresses.
After six hours (= twenty-two knots and a half), we anchored in the deep channel, about three-quarters of a kilometre wide, that separates the Sinaitic mainland from the northern one of the only two islands known in the 'Akabah Gulf, a scrap of rock crowned with picturesque grey ruins. The Jezírat Fara'ún of the maps, the Isle of Pharaoh, concerning whom traditions are still current, it is known to the 'Akabites only as Jebel el-Kala'h or "Fort-hill:" hence El-Graa in Laborde, and Jezírat El-Qreieh in Arconati. (124) Burckhardt alone mentions that the ruins are known as El-Dayr--"the Convent." This human lair is encircled by barrier-reefs of coralline, broad to the south-west and large in scattered places: eastward they form a shallow wall-like ledge, beyond which blue water at once begins. The island-formation is that of the opposite coasts, Midian and Sinai, grey granite dyked with decaying porphyritic trap, and everywhere veined with white and various-coloured quartzes. The shape is a long oval of about three hundred and twenty by one hundred and fifty-two metres; a saddleback with two stony heads, the higher to the north, rising a hundred feet or so above sea-level. Pommel and cantle are connected by a low seat, a few yards of isthmus; and the three divisions, all strongly marked, bear buildings. The profile from east and west shows four groups: to the extreme north a tower, backed by the castle donjon, on the knob of granite here and there scarped; the works upon the thread of isthmus; and the walls and bastions crowning the southern knob, which, being lower, is even more elaborately cut to a perpendicular.
We landed upon the eastern side of the islet rock, where the trunk of a broken mole is covered in rear by a ruined work. Here, being most liable to attack, the fortifications are strongest; whereas on the west side only a single wall, now strewn on the ground, with square Burj at intervals, defends the little boat-harbour. The latter appears at present in the shape of a fish-pond, measuring sixty by forty metres; sunk below sea-level, fed by percolation, and exceedingly salt. To the east of this water, black cineraceous earth shows where the smith had been at work: we applied the quarrymen to sift it, without other results but bits of glass, copper, and iron nails.
The pier leads to a covered way, enabling the garrison safely to circulate round the base of the islet. Behind it a path, much broken and cumbered by débris of the walls, winds up the southern face of the northern hill, which supports the body of the place: it meets another track from the west, and a small work defends their junction. Below it, outside the walls, we found a well sunk about eight feet in the granite, and cemented with fine lime, the red plaster in places remaining. Above this pit a Mihráb, or prayer-niche, fronting Meccah-wards (more exactly 175 degrees mag.) shows the now ruinous mosque: the Bedawi declare that it was built by a "Pasha." Higher again, upon a terreplein, are lines of tanks laid out with all that lavishness of labour which distinguishes similar works in Syria: it is, however, difficult to assign any date to these constructions. The cisterns were explored by Mr. Clarke and Lieutenant Amir, who dug into and planned them. They descended by ropes, although there are two flights of steps to the west and the south-west. The tanks are built up from the base with blocks one foot nine inches long: seven inches deep of rubbish were cleared away before reaching the floor, composed of black stones bedded in layers of cement above and below, and resting upon the ground-rock. The diggings yielded only big pieces of salt fallen from the walls, and a broken handmill of basalt. The sides are supported by pilasters of cut stone, and the crown by four pillars in a double row: the dividing arches, according to the plan, are not symmetrical. Hard by, measuring twelve metres by twelve, is the quarry whence the stone was taken; and near it stands the normal Egyptian pigeon-tower, with its nest-niches.
The donjon or body is defended by an enceinte, opening northwards upon a large yard, where, doubtless, the garrison mustered, and whence a flight of steps leads to the wicket. The inside of the works shows the roofless party-walls still standing; and the ground is scattered over with the remains of many different races: there are drums of columns and fragments of marble pillars, but no sign of an inscription. Even in the upper ramparts two epochs are distinctly traceable, the mediæval and the modern. The lower ashlar, mostly yellow grit, is cut and carefully cemented; the upper part is generally of rough dry stone, the plutonic formations of the islet heaped up with scanty care. The embrasures are framed with decaying palm-trunks; the loop-holes belong partly to the age of archery; and nothing can be ruder than the battlements placed close together, as if to be manned by bowmen, while in not a few places there are the remains of matting between the courses. At the highest part we found another carefully cemented Sehrij, or underground cistern, with two sharp-topped arches divided by a tall column, Saracenic certainly and not Doric: (125) above it a circular aperture, arched round with the finest bricks, serves to lighten the superstructure. It communicates to the north with a Hammám, whose plan is easily traced by the double flues and earthenware tubes, well made and mortared together. Here we found inscribed on the plaster, "Arona Linant 22 Mars 1846."
The southern knob of the islet supports similar but inferior constructions, still more ruinous withal: its quarry is on the lower slopes, and its granitic base has also been scarped seawards. Two stout walls, twelve feet thick below and six above, crossing the length of the rock from north to south, here meet in a Burj which shows signs of fine tiles on an upper floor; whilst a third wall forms a southern spine bisecting the tail of the "Jezírat." The castle is much more dilapidated than when sketched by Ruppell, the first Frank who visited El-'Akabah, in 1826. His illustration (p. 214) of Ruinen auf der Insel Emrag shows a single compact building in good preservation, the towers being round, when all are square; and it is garnished with the impossible foreground and background of his epoch; the former, enlivened with a Noah's-Ark camel, being placed quite close, when it is distant some ten miles. In the German naturalist's time, the now desolate island was occupied by die Emradi, a tribe which he suspected to be Jewish, and of which he told the queerest tales: I presume they are the 'Imrám-Huwaytát of El-Hakl and the Hismá. Wellsted's short description (II. ix) is still correct as in 1838.
The castle is evidently European, built during the days when the Crusaders held El-'Akabah; but it probably rests upon Roman ruins; and the latter, perhaps, upon Egyptian remains of far older date. It protected one section of the oldest overland route, when the islet formed the key of the Gulf-head. It subsequently became an eyrie whence its robber knights and barons--including possibly "John, the Christian ruler of 'Akabah" (A.D. 630), and, long after him, madcap Rainald de Chatillon (A.D. 1182)--could live comfortably and sally out to plunder merchants and pilgrims. The Saracenic buildings may date, as the popular superstition has it, from the reign of Saláh el-Dín (Saladin) who, in A.D. 1167, cleared his country of the Infidel invader by carrying ships on camel-back from Cairo. Later generations of thieves, pirates, and fishermen naturally made it their refuge and abode. I hardly anticipate for it great things in the immediate future, although it has been proposed for a coal-depôt.
After a day given to tube-tinkering with tompions, stays, plugs, plates, and wedges, to the distraction of the ship's carpenter and blacksmith, steam was coaxed up; and, at 9.15 a.m. (February 7th), we ran northwards through the deep narrow channel, rounding the upper end of the Pharaohnic islet. Here the encircling wall is defended by two square Burj, to the north-east and to the northwest, flanking what is probably the main entrance. On the Sinaitic mainland to port, the broad mouth of the Wady el-Masri leads to the Nakb, the rocky Pass which, so much dreaded till repaired by Abba's Pasha, is popularly said to be described in El-'Akabah--"the Steep." The Bedawin, however, declare that the locale is so called because the Gulf here "heels" (Ya'kkab el-Bahr), that is, comes to an end. At the head of the sea, the confused mass of the Sinaitic mountains range themselves in line to the west, fronting its sister wall, the grand block El-Shará' (Seir); while in the middle lies the southern section of the "Ghor," the noble and memorious Wady el-'Akabah, supposed to have given a name to Arabia. (126) The surface-water still rolls down it after rains; and the mirage veiling the valley-sole prolongs the Gulf-waters far to the north, their bed in the old geologic ages. The view was charming to us; for the first time since leaving Suez we saw the contrast of perpendicular and horizontal, of height and flat. Nothing could be more refreshing, more gladdening to the eye, after niente che montagne, as the poor Italian described the Morea, than the soft sweeps and the level lines of the hollow plain: it was enjoyable as a heavy shower after an Egyptian summer. On the next day also, the play of light and shade, and the hide and seek of sun-ray and water-cloud, gave the view a cachet of its own. I am sorry to see that scientific geologist, Mr. John Milne, F.G.S., (127) proposing to cut through the two to five hundred feet of elevation which separate the Gulf from the Dead Sea, some thirteen hundred feet below water level. Does he reflect that he simply proposes to obliterate the whole lower Jordan? to bury Tiberias and its lake about eight hundred feet under the waves? in fact, to overwhelm half the Holy Land in a brand-new nineteenth-century deluge, the Deluge of Milne ?
All were delighted at having reached our northernmost point, without another visit from El-Ayli'. After one hour and thirty-five minutes (= seven miles) the Mukhbir anchored, in twelve fathoms of water, a couple of hundred yards off the fort and its dependent group of brown-grey mud buildings, half concealed by the luxuriant palms. The roads are safe enough: here the north wind has not yet gained impetus; the south-easter is bluffed off by a long point; and in only the strongest Gharbí ("westers") ships must run for refuge under the cliffs of Sinai.
This is not the place to enter into the history of Elath, Ailat, Ailah, Ælana, 'Akabah, or 'Akabat-Aylah: Robinson (i. 250-254) and a host of others give ample and reliable details. Suffice it to say that the site is mentioned in the Wanderings (Deut. ii. 8), which must not be confounded with the Exodus. It is subsequently connected with the gold-fleet (I Kings ix. 26, etc.); and, conquered by Rezin, king of Syria (B.C. 740), it was permanently lost to the Jews (2 Kings xvi. 6). Under the Romans, this great station upon the "Overland" between the southernmost Nabathæan port, Leukè Kóme, and Petra, the western capital, was a Præsidium held by the Tenth Legion; and a highway connected it with Gaza (Ghazzah), measuring one hundred and twenty direct miles, when the Isthmus of Suez numbers only ninety-five. In Christian times it had a prince and a bishop; and, under Mohammed and the early Moslems, it preserved an importance which lasted till the days of the Crusaders. El-Makrízi describes its ruins, and here places the northern frontier of the Hejaz: in his day "Madyan" was thus a section of the Tihámat el-Hejaz, the maritime region of the Moslems' Holy Land.
A group of camels had gathered on the shore; and inland lay a mob of pilgrims, the Hajj el-Magháribah, numbering some three thousand North-West Africans; an equally large division had already preceded them to Suez. Letters from Egypt assured us that cholera had broken out at Meccah and Jeddah, killing in both places ninety-eight per diem. Here the pilgrims swore by their Allah that all were, and ever had been, in perfect health; it is every man's business to ignore the truth, to hide the sick, and to bury the dead out of sight. Hard swearing, however, did not prevent the Hajj undergoing a long quarantine before entering Suez. The English journals had reported another disaster: "Now that the Sultán's power is collapsing, the most powerful Bedaween tribes are rising because their subsidies are withheld. For weeks the great pilgrim-traffic of autumn (? add the other three seasons) was arrested by them; and even between Medina and Mecca the road is unsafe." Of this I could hear nothing.
We awaited, on board, the departure of the pauper and infected "Mogrebbins:" when the place was clear we fired a gun, and, after an answer of three, I received the visits of the fort officials. They were civility itself; they immensely admired our two "splendid buttons" of poor iron; and they privily remarked, with much penetration, that the colour was that of brass: they were, in truth, far wiser than we had been. With them came Mohammed ibn Jád (not Iját) el-'Alawí (of the 'Alawlyyin-Huwaytát), who styles himself "Shaykh of El-'Akabah:" he is remarkable for frank countenance, pleasant manners, and exceeding greed. He was gorgeously arrayed in an overall ('Abáyah) of red silk and gold thread (Gasab), covering a similar cloak of black wool: besides which, a long-sleeved Egyptian caftán, striped stuff of silk and wool, invested his cotton Kamís and Libás ("bag-breeches"). To his A'kál or "fillet" of white fleecy wool hung a talisman; his Khuff ("riding-boots") were of red morocco, and his sword-scabbard was covered with the same material. The Arab ever loves scarlet, and all varieties of the sanguine hue are as dear to him as to the British soldier.
We held sundry long confabs with Shaykh Mohammed, who seemed to know the neighbourhood unusually well. He declared that there were ruins but no trees at 'Ayn el-Ghadya'n, distant one day's march up the Wady el-'Arabah, and lying near the western wall. This is the place first identified by Robinson, who says nothing about the remains, with Ezion-geber, while Dean Stanley ("Sinai," etc., p. 85) opines that we have no means of fixing the position of the "Giant's shoulder-blade." (128) Josephus ("Antiq.," viii. 6, 4) places it near Ælana; and the present distance from the sea, like that of Heroopolis (Shaykh el-Ajrúd?) from Suez, may show the rise of the Wady el-'Arabah within historic times. The Shaykh assured us that "Marú" was to be found everywhere among the hills east of El-'Akabah, and Mr. Milne (Beke, p. 405) brought from the very summit of the "true Mount Sinai" (Jebel el-Yitm) a "fine piece of quartz, the same kind of stone as the Brazilian pebbles of which they make the best spectacles." We carried off a specimen of native copper from the Sinaitic Jebel and Wady Raddádí, some six hours to the north-west of the fort: it is found strewed upon the ground but not in veins (?). The stone looked so new that we concluded it to be the work of later generations; and the traces of smelting furnaces at old Elath confirmed the idea.
Shaykh Mohammed, who boasted that his tribe could mount five hundred horses--by which understand five--offered his safeguard to the Hismá, three easy marches, without pass or climax, up the Wady Yitm to the east, and behind the range El-Shará'. He made the region begin northwards at one day south of El-Ma'án, the fort lying to the east-south-east of Petra; and he confirmed the accounts of Mabrúk, the guide, who was never tired of expatiating upon its merits. The fountains flow in winter, in summer the wells are never dry; the people, especially the Huwaytát, are kind and hospitable; sheep are cheap as dirt. At Jebel Saur a Maghrabi magician raised a Kidr Dahab ("golden pot"); but, his incense failing at the critical moment, it sank before yielding its treasures.
Pointing north-eastwards to the majestic pile in the Shara'' or Seir Mountains, the Jebel el-Yitm, (129) a corruption of El-Yatim, the Shaykh told us a tale that greatly interested us. It appears, I have said, a remarkable formation from whose group of terminal domes and pinnacles the tomb of Aaron on Mount Hor is, (130) they say, visible; and it is certainly the highest visible peak of the grand wall that forms the right bank of the Wady Yitm. Thus it is but one of a long range; and the Bedawin visit it, to make sacrifice, according to universal custom, at the tomb of a certain Shaykh Bákir. Here, some years ago, came an old man and a young man in a steamer (Erin) belonging to his Highness the Khediv: the former told the Arabs that in his books the height was called the Jebel el-Núr ("Mountain of Light"), a title which apparently he had first applied to the Jebel el-Lauz; and the latter climbed to the mountain-top. After that they went their way.
I quite agree with my lamented friend, Dr. Beke, that it is an enormous blunder to transfer Midian, the "East Country," to the west of El-'Arabah, and to place it south of the South Country (El-Negeb, Gen. xx. I). I own that it is ridiculous to make the Lawgiver lead his fugitives into a veritable cul-de-sac, then a centre of Egyptian conquest. Evidently we have still to find the "true Mount Sinai," if at least it be not a myth, pure and simple. The profound Egyptologist, Dr. Heinrich Brugsch-Bey, observes that the vulgar official site lies to the south of and far from the line taken by the Beni Israil, and that the papyri show no route leading to it; whilst many have remarked that the Sinai of the Exodus is described as a single isolated mountain or hill, not as one projection from a range of heights. (131) I would also suggest that the best proof of how empirical is the actual identification, will be found in the fact that the Jews--except only the Rev. Jos. Wolff (1821)--have never visited, nor made pilgrimages to, what ought to be one of their holiest of holy places. This crucial point has been utterly neglected by the officers of the Ordnance Survey of Sinai. It is evident that Jebel Serbal dates only from the early days of Koptic Christianity; that Jebel Musá, its Greek rival, rose after the visions of Helena in the fourth century; whilst the building of the convent by Justinian belongs to A.D. 527. Ras Sufsafah, its rival to the north, is an affair of yesterday, and may be called the invention of Robinson; and Jebel Katerina, to the south, is the property of Ruppell. Thus the oft-quoted legends of the Sinaitic Arabs are mere monkish traditions, adopted by Ishmaelitic ignorance. The great Lawgiver probably led his horde of fugitive slaves over the plains of El-Negeb and El-Tih, north of the so-called Sinaitic mountain-blocks, marching in small divisions like those of a modern Bedawi tribe; and we know from the latest surveys that the land, now alternately a fiery or frozen wilderness, was once well supplied with wood and water. The "true Mount Sinai" is probably some unimportant elevation in the Desert named by moderns after the Wanderings.
Dr. Beke, I am persuaded, is right in denying that Mount Sinai occupies the site at present assigned to it; but I cannot believe that he has found it in the Jebel el-Yitm, near El-'Akabah. His "Mount Bárghir" is evidently a corruption of the "Wali" on the summit, Shaykh Bákir--a common Arab name. His "Mountain of Light" is a term wholly unknown to the Arabs, except so far as they would assign the term to any saintly place. The "sounds heard in the mountain like the firing of a cannon," is a legend applied to two other neighbouring places. All the Bedawin still sacrifice at the tombs of their Santons: at the little white building which covers the reputed tomb of Aaron, sheep are slaughtered and boiled in a huge black cauldron. The "pile of large rounded boulders" bearing "cut Sinaitic inscriptions" (p. 423) are clearly Wusúm: these tribal-marks, which the highly imaginative M. de Saulcy calls "planetary signs," are found throughout Midian. The name of the Wady is, I have said, not El-Ithem, but El-Yitm, a very different word. Lastly, the "Mountain Eretówa," or "Ertówa" (p. 404), is probably a corruption of El-Taur (El-Hismá), the "inaccessible wall" of the plateau, which Dr. Beke calls Jebel Hismá. My old friend, with his usual candour and straightforwardness, honestly admitted that he had been "egregiously mistaken with respect to the volcanic character of (the true) 'Mount Sinai."' But without the eruption, the "fire and smoke theory," what becomes of his whole argument? (132) Save for the death of my friend, I should have greatly enjoyed the comical side of his subject; the horror and disgust with which he, one of the greatest of geographical innovators, regards a younger rival theory, the exodist innovation of Dr. Heinrich Brugsch-Bey. The latter is the first who has rescued the "March of the Children of Israel" from the condition of mere guesswork described by the Rev. Mr. Holland.
Under the guidance of our new acquaintances, we rowed to the site of Elath, which evidently extended all round the Gulf-head from north-east to north-west. Linant and Laborde ("Voyage de l'Arabie Petrée," etc., Paris, 1830) confine it to the western shore, near the mouth of the Wady el-'Arabah, and make Ezion-geber to face it as suggested by the writings of the Hebrews. Disembarking at the northern palm-clump, we inspected El-Dár, the old halting-place of the pilgrim-caravan before New 'Akabah was founded. The only ruins (133) are large blocks under the clearest water, and off a beach of the softest sand, which would make the fortune of a bathing-place in Europe. Further eastward lies an enclosed date-orchard called El-Hammám: the two pits in it are said to be wells, but I suspect the treasure-seeker. Inland and to the north rise the mounds and tumuli, the sole remains of ancient Elath, once the port of Petra, which is distant only two dromedary marches. During rain-floods the site is an island: to the west flows the surface-water of the Wady el-'Arabah, and eastward the drainage of the Wady Yitm has dug a well-defined bed. A line of larger heaps to the north shows where, according to the people, ran the city wall: finding it thickly strewed with scoriae, old and new, I decided that this was the Siyághah or "smiths' quarter." Between it and the sea the surface is scattered with glass, shards, and slag: I inquired in vain for "written stones," and for the petroleum reported to exist in the neighbourhood.
Shaykh Mohammed declared that of old a chain stretched from the Pharaohnic island-castle to the Jebel el-Burayj or Kasr el-Bedawi on the Midianite shore: this chain is a lieu commun of Eastern legends. The "Bedawi's Castle" is mentioned by Robinson and Burckhardt ("Syria," p. 510), as lying one hour south of El-'Akabah. Moreover, the Wady Yitm, whose upper bed shows two ruins, was closed, at the narrow above the mouth, by a fortified wall of stone and lime, thus cutting off all intercourse with the interior. The Bedawin declare it to be the work of King Hadíd (Iron), who thus kept out the Bení Hilál of El-Nejd. We were shown large earth-dams, thrown across the embouchure of the torrent to prevent the floods injuring the palm-groves of New 'Akabah. These may date from ancient days, when the old city here extended its south-eastern suburb; as usual, they have become a cemetery, modern and Moslem; and on the summit of the largest the holy Shaykh el-Girmí (Jirmí) still names his ruined tomb.
Walking round the eastern bay, where the ubiquitous black sand striped the yellow shore, we observed that the tide here rises only one foot, (134) whereas at Suez it may reach a metre and a half to seven feet. According to the chart, the springs attain four feet at "Omeider" (El-Humayzah), some nineteen direct knots to the south; and in the Sharm Yáhárr we found them about one metre. Presently we entered, by wooden doors with locks and keys, the carefully kept palm-groves, walled with pisé and dry stone. Wells were being sunk; and a depth of nine to ten feet gave tolerably sweet water. Striking the broad northern trail which leads to the Wady Yitm and to the upper El-'Arabah, still a favourite camping-ground of the tribes, (135) we reached the modern settlement, which has something of the aspect of a townlet, not composed, like El-Muwaylah, of a single house. The women fled at our approach, as we threaded the alleys formed by the mud tenements.
The fort (136) is usually supposed to have been built by Sulta'n Selim I., in A.D. 1517, or three years before his death, after he had subdued the military aristocracy of the Mamlúks, who had ruled Egypt for three centuries. Much smaller than that of El-Muwaylah, it is the normal affair: an enceinte once striped red and white; curtains flanked by four Burj, all circular, except the new polygon to the north-west; and a huge, gloomy main-gateway fronting north, and flanked by two bastions. On the proper right side is a circle of stone bearing, without date, the name of "Sultán Selim Khan el-Fátih," who first laid out the pilgrim-route along the Red Sea shore. Inside the dark cool porch a large inscription bears the name "El-Ashraf Kansúr (sic) (137) El-Ghori," the last but one of the Circassian Mamlúk kings of Egypt, who was defeated and slain by the Turkish conqueror near Aleppo in A.D. 1501. Above it stand two stone shields dated A.H. 992 (= A.D. 1583--1584). In the southern wall of the courtyard is the mosque, fronted by a large deep well dug, they say, during the building of the fort: it still supplies the whole Hajj-caravan with warmish sweet water. On the ground lies a good brass gun with Arabic inscription and numerals; and the towers, commanding the little kitchen-gardens outside the fort-wall, are armed with old iron carronades. The garrison, consisting of half a dozen gunners and a few Ba'sh-Buzuks, looks pale, bloodless, and unwholesome: the heats of summer are almost unsupportable; and 'Akabah has the name of a "little hell." Moreover, they eat, drink, smoke, sleep, chat, quarrel, and never take exercise: the officers complained sadly that I had made them walk perhaps a mile round the bay-head. And yet they have, within two days of sharp ride, that finest of sanitaria, the Hismá, which extends as far north and south as they please to go.
I at once made arrangements for a dromedary-post to Suez, and wrote officially to Prince Husayn Pasha, requesting that his Highness would exchange the Mukhbir for a steamer less likely to drown herself. Moreover, the delay at Magháir Shu'ayb had exhausted our resources; and the Expedition required a month's additional rations for men and mules. The application was, it will appear, granted in the most gracious manner, with as little delay as possible; and my wife, who had reached Cairo, saw that the execution of the order was not put off till the end of March. Messrs. Voltéra Brothers were also requested to forward another instalment of necessaries and comforts; and they were as punctual and satisfactory as before. For this postal service, and by way of propitiatory present, Shaykh Mohammed received ten dollars, of which probably two were disbursed. We therefore parted fast friends, he giving me an especial invitation to his home in the Hismá, and I accepting it with the firm intention of visiting him as soon as possible.
Meanwhile Mr. Clarke and Ali Marie were busy with buying up such stores as El-'Akabah contains; and the officers of the fort, who stayed with us to the last, were profuse in kind expressions and in little gifts which, as usual, cost us double their worth. In these lands one must expect to be "done" as surely as in Italy. What the process will be, no one knows till it discloses itself; but all experts feel that it is in preparation.
NOTE ON THE SUPPLIES TO BE BOUGHT AT EL-'AKABAH.
The following is a list of the stores with their prices. It must be borne in mind that the Hajj-caravan was passing at the time we visited El-'Akabah.
A large sheep cost half a napoleon; the same was the price of a small sheep, with a kid.
Fowls (seventy-one bought), thirteen pence each; pigeons, sixpence a head.
Eggs (sixty), two for threepence.
Tobacco (8 lbs.), coarse and uncut, but welcome to the Bedawin, one shilling per pound.
Samn ("liquefied butter" for the kitchen) also one shilling per pound. This article is always dear in Arabia, but much cheaper than in Egypt.
Pomegranates (fifty), four shillings a hundred.
Onions (one kanta'r or cwt.), one sovereign.
Thin-skinned Syrian raisins, fivepence per pound.
Dried figs, twopence halfpenny per pound.
Matches (sixteen boxes), three halfpence per box.
A small quantity of grain may be bought. Lentils (Revalenta Arabica) are to be had in any quantity, and they make an admirable travelling soup. Unfortunately it is supposed to be a food for Fellahs, and the cook shirks it--the same is the case with junk, salt pork, and pease-pudding on board an English cruiser. Sour limes are not yet in season; they will be plentiful in April. A little garden stuff may be had for salads. The list of deficiencies is great; including bread and beef, potatoes, 'Ráki, and all forms of "diffusable stimulants."
Here, as at Cairo, the piastre is of two kinds, metallic (debased silver) and non-metallic. Government pays in the former, which is called Ságh ("coin"); and the same is the term throughout Egypt. The value fluctuates, but 97-1/2 may be assumed = one sovereign (English), and one hundred to the Egyptian "lira." The second kind, used for small purchases, is not quite half the value of the former (205:100); in North-Western Arabia it is called Abyas ("white"), and Tarífá ("tariff"); the latter term in Cairo always signifying the Ságh or metallic. The dodges of the Shroffs, or "money-changers," make housekeeping throughout Egypt a study of arithmetic. They cannot change the value of gold, but they "rush" the silver as they please; and thus the "dollar-sinko" (i.e. the five-franc piece), formerly fetching 19.10, has been reduced to 18.30. The Khurdah, or "copper-piastre," was once worth a piastre; now this "coin of the realm" has been so debased, that it has gradually declined through 195 to 500 and even 650 for the sovereign. Moreover, not being a legal tender, it is almost useless in the market.
As regards the money to be carried by such expeditions, anything current in Egypt will do. The Bedawin prefer sovereigns when offered five-franc pieces, and vice versa. The Egyptian sovereign of 100 piastres (metallic) or 250 "current" must not be confounded with the Turkish = 87.30 (curr. 175.20 to 180). The napoleon averages 77.6 (curr. 160); the dollar varies according to its kind; the shilling is 3.35 (curr. 10), and the franc 3.35 (curr. 8). It is necessary to lay in a large quantity of small change by way of "bakhshísh," such as ten and twenty parah bits (40 = 1 piastre).