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FIVE YEARS IN DAMASCUS,
JOURNEY ALONG THE BORDERS OF THE DESERT
TO THE JEBEL HAURÂN.
Objects of the tour – Difficulties — Druze war — A battle — Turkish
legislation - A caravan — Singular mirage -- The valley of the 'Awaj, PHARPAR — Scenery of the desert - A night march and adventure Deserted town of Burák - Remarkable stone houses — Exciting tale of border warfart - Wild scenery of the Lejah, Trachonitis Moonlight ride — Ruined and deserted towns - Roman roadJebel Haurân – Kingdom of BASHAN — Druze hospitality - Ancient houses and inscriptions in Hiyât — A Druze chief - A banquet –
Illustrations of Scripture. From the period of my arrival in Syria, in 1849, it was my desire, whenever opportunity should offer, to visit and explore the interesting district comprehended in the ancient provinces of Batanæa, Auronitis, and Trachonitis. This district is now inhabited by a mixed population of Christians, Druzes, and Muslems. Little is known of their character and habits ; and no attempts have ever been made to communicate to them either secular or religious instruction. One great object I had in view in my proposed visit was to become acquainted with the people, and to ascertain whether schools could be advantageously established in any of the villages. The Haurân
. VOL. II.
being the granary of Damascus, the peasants frequently, and in large numbers, visit the city; I consequently considered that it might open up the way to more important labours if I could induce any of them to receive or purchase books, whether educational or purely religious. To secure the friendship of the leading Druze sheikhs, who are the actual rulers of the Haurân, was also advisable, and indeed essential, before any operations should be commenced.
But while these were the main objects of my proposed visit, I determined to lose no opportunity which my travels might afford me of investigating the topography and antiquities, or elucidating the geography and history, of this interesting region. Whatever might tend to illustrate and explain any passage in the Word of God, I have always considered it my duty carefully to observe and accurately to note; while traversing Bible Lands, therefore, and visiting some of those cities and provinces whose names are among the earliest found in Scripture history, it will not be thought strange that I should linger amid their ruins, and investigate monuments that date back to the age of the patriarchs and prophets. And if these researches should enable me to solve some difficulties in Scripture geography, or to correct errors into which others have fallen, it will not be considered that I go beyond my proper sphere of labour, if I attempt to communicate to the world the results of my investigations.
A perusal of Burckhardt's valuable notes, and of the rough sketches of Buckingham, had given me some idea of the general features of the country, and of the almost innumerable ruins scattered over its surface; while a study of the Sacred Scriptures, of the writings of
Josephus, and of the erudite geography of Reland, had, in some degree, prepared me for profiting by a tour, and for identifying the situation and boundaries of the ancient provinces, and a few of the sites of ancient cities. The researches of the antiquarian in this country are greatly aided by the similarity between the present and the primeval languages. Names of places are thus, in many instances, preserved in their original form, or in some such form as tends to suggest the original. The lists of villages, ruined cities, and towns collected by Dr. Eli Smith, and published in the Appendix to Robinson's Researches in Palestine,' are, in this respect, of vast importance. Some deficiencies in these lists, so far as they refer to the provinces at present under consideration, I have been enabled to fill up from other sources ; and I am glad to learn that we may soon expect a complete list of all the villages in Palestine and the territory of Damascus, from the Beyrout press, under the care and revision of Dr. Smith. These will serve as well to guide the traveller in his wanderings as the antiquarian in his researches.
I had already spent three years in Syria before an opportunity occurred of carrying out my intention with regard to the Haurân. I was hindered in part by the calls of duty, and in part by the disturbed state of the country ;
desire remained strong as ever, and was even increased by a more minute study of those sketches of its history and geography contained in ancient writers. The breaking out of the Druze war, in the autumn of 1852, took away all hope of visiting it for a lengthened period; but the defeat of the Government troops, and the consequent desire for peace on the part of the Sultan, again seemed to open my way. Mr. Wood, the British consul
at Damascus, was requested by the Pasha to act as mediator, after the representatives of some other European nations had volunteered their services and failed. This tended to increase the great influence he had formerly possessed with the Druzes, the dominant party in the Haurân. He arranged a meeting with Sheikh Saîd Jimblât, the most powerful and influential of all the Druze chiefs, and, in company with him, proceeded first to Edhr'a, but afterwards, on account of the scarcity of water there, to Busr el-Harîry. Here the sheikhs of the Haurân all assembled to receive the proposals of the Government, and discuss the terms of peace. It was a stormy scene; and more than once a peace congress was well-nigh changed into a fierce battle. The fanatical Muslems feared, or pretended to fear, treachery on the part of Mr. Wood and Saîd Beg, and once the cry was raised to pull down the house in which they were sitting. The proud Druze chief could ill brook such insults, and haughtily stated that if he had anticipated such insolence he would have brought from his native mountains such a force as would have effectually prevented its recurrence for the future. In fact, it was only the smallness of his retinue - about a hundred and fifty men—that prevented him from taking instantaneous revenge. Still, notwithstanding such threats and insinuations on the spot, and no less dangerous intrigues of disappointed consuls in Damascus, Mr. Wood, with his usual ability, succeeded in opening up communications which have secured a long truce, and promise to effect final reconciliation and peace.
Mr. Wood, on his return to the city, assured me of the practicability of a journey to that province, after the feelings of the people had quieted a little, and the bandits, whom war ever draws toward it, had withdrawn to some other quarter.
In the mean time I had received from Khurshid Pasha (General Guyon) a copy of a map of the Haurân, which had been constructed by a Turkish officer of engineers (Fezzy Beg). He had visited the country before the war, for the purpose of surveying it; but I afterwards found that, though his map contained some new and useful information, it was not constructed with any degree of care or accuracy. A sketch of this, as well as of Burckhardt's map, I took with me on my journey.
Toward the close of January 1853, an American gentleman, Mr. — arrived in Damascus, and expressed his determination to visit the Druzes of the Haurân; and I at once agreed to accompany him. The Rev. Mr. Barnett
. also expressed his desire to join our party. Mr. Wood kindly favoured our proposed journey, and promised us strong letters of recommendation to the five principal Druze sheikhs. The great difficulty now was to get to the Druze district. Ayblood feud existed between the Kurds and the Druzes ; and the former, being irregular troops in the
pay of the Government, were scouring the plain of Damascus, attacking and murdering little parties of Druzes wherever they could find them. The Pasha was either unable or unwilling to prevent these base and cowardly deeds; and thus, when it was the interest of the Government to conciliate the rebels, whom they were unable to subdue, and while they were compelled to supplicate foreign interference and mediation to aid them in their difficulties, they were permitting their own soldiers to perpetrate crimes which could not but excite the Druzes