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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)


L E T T E R   X V I I I.


      WHEN we mounted our horses in Damascus and started westward, I realized for the first time that we were on our way homeward. We were then farther away from home than at any time before; but from that day we could sing, literally,--

"We nightly pitch out moving tent
 A days march nearer home;"

and we did sing it very often.

      Instead of following the turnpike to Beirut, we turned from it to the right in order to visit the ruins of Baalbec1 and the cedars of Lebanon, and on our way to the former place we called at the wonderful fountain which forms the principal source of the river Ab'-a-na. It is found on the northern edge of the same narrow gorge in the mountain through which we followed the bank of the river in approaching Damascus, but it is some miles higher up than the point at which we struck the river-bank. We reached it about noon, and spent an hour or two in the dense and delightful shade which surrounds it. It is really a river bursting up in a perpendicular line from the deep bowels of the earth, and flowing off with a volume of water which would entitle it to the name of a river even in America. The current rushes up with such force and from such a depth that the fountain cannot be fathomed. I tried to sink, heavy stones in it; but when I cast in one as large as my head, dashing it down with all my strength, it sank only a few feet ere it was drifted aside and lodged on the verge of the well-like opening. Whether the volume of water is greater or less than that of the spring at Dan we could not determine with accuracy; but the latter is the only other fountain seen in our travels at all comparable to it. The water is very cold, and is as clear as crystal. The fountain was formerly covered by a small building constructed of massive stones, but the arched roof, and many stones from the walls, have now fallen into the river. [560]

      Near by it stands a small heathen temple in which worship was once paid to the gods who were supposed to preside over the fountain, and certainly the people of Damascus, and of the entire oasis in which it stands, owe a vast debt of gratitude on this account; for, were it not for this fountain, that garden of delights would soon be as bare and yellow as the desert sands which now spread around it. The fountain is about 10 miles from Damascus, and is called by the natives el-Fî'jeh.

      Although the spring el-Fî'jeh is the chief source of the Ab'-a-na, supplying two-thirds of its water, it is not the head of the stream. On our way to Baalbec we followed the bed of its upper waters for a few miles, and camped that night at a place called Sûk Wâd'y Bar'ada, where our tents were pitched on a narrow ledge with a precipitous mountain wall behind them, and in front a deep narrow gorge with almost perpendicular sides, through which the stream flows. Among the high rocky hills beyond this gorge, whose perpendicular walls are almost honey-combed with sepulchres, is shown an old tomb called the Tomb of Abel. As he was the second son of Adam and the victim of the first murder, we would have paid him our respects by visiting his tomb, but I was quite unwell that evening, and my companions were a little incredulous as to the fact that Abel's bones were really interred there. I had been slightly ill all the previous day at Damascus, and was now barely able to remain on horseback through a moderate day's ride. I was taking medicine to procure relief.

      On the next day, as we descended the western slope of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, we passed the village of Neby Shêt, or the prophet Seth, so called because it is said to contain the tomb of Seth, the third son of Adam mentioned in the Scriptures. Though we had slighted Abel, we took time to call on Seth. We found him in a stone house, one story high, long, low, and narrow, with a rude plastered dome at one end. Through a door near this dome we were admitted by the keeper, after we had pulled off our boots. We found the tomb more than a hundred feet long, about six feet wide, and four feet high above the stone floor of the coffin-like room. Its top was sloped like the roof of a house, and it was covered by a hanging of dirty and faded calico with broad stripes of yellow, red, and green. I suppose that those who built the tomb and named it after Seth imagined that he was one of the giants that were in the earth in those days,2 and gave his tomb a corresponding length.

      After reaching the foot-hills we turned more to the right, and our [561] journey was void of incidents worthy of mention until we reached the vicinity of Baalbec. In approaching this town we passed the quarry whence the great stones found in its temples were taken, and we stopped to examine the one yet lying in the quarry, which so astonishes all travelers. I was curious to see this famous stone, not only because it is the largest one ever quarried, but because the measurements of its dimensions made by different travelers were quite contradictory. There was no difficulty in recognizing it as soon as we saw it. We rode up to it, dismounted, walked about it, climbed over it, and measured it. Its length is 68 feet 5 inches, and its thickness 14 feet 3 inches. Its width, measured on top, is 13 feet 3 inches at one end, and 17 feet 8 inches at the other. It is this varying width which has led to the contradictory figures above referred to. Travelers have measured, some toward one end and some toward the other, and each has taken but one measurement, not observing,


or suspecting, that the rock is wider at one end than at the other. This immense mass has been detached by cutting away the rock from all around it, and then cutting under it. The under-cut is not completed; it extends only about one-third of the way from end to end. The workmen sat under the rock while making this cut, and they would doubtless have placed props behind them if they had advanced far enough to need them. The reader can form a conception of the [562]

Page 563.      

immensity of its size as a building stone by comparing it with the men who are represented in the cut as standing on it.

      Many have been puzzled to know how the ancients succeeded in moving such stones. It is explained by the carved slabs found in the temples of Nineveh on which are sculptured representations of the entire process. The great rock was placed on a truck by means of levers, a large number of strong ropes were tied to the truck, a smooth track of heavy timbers was laid, and men in sufficient number to move the mass were hitched to the ropes. Every man would represent about 200 pounds of pulling strength, and the weight which could thus be moved was limited only by the number of men and ropes that could be employed. Three stones quarried in the same place with this large one, and but little inferior to it in size, were actually moved to the great temple of Jupiter, in Baalbec, and built into its walls about 20 feet above the ground. They are each about 10 feet thick, and they measure respectively, 63 feet, 63 feet 8 inches, and 64 feet in length. They are the largest stones ever laid in a wall. Many others in the same wall approach that size, and some of them are fitted so nicely that one can scarcely see the joints between them. In one part of the wall I saw a stone which appeared to me to be longer than the longest of those above mentioned, and I was about to dismount in order to measure it, when our guide insisted that it was two stones instead of one. I insisted that it was only one, until he showed me the seam by throwing a stone against it. In the cut on the opposite page the seams are not discernible, though it was taken from a photograph. There are four stones, including the largest three, where there appear to be but two. The most marvelous part of the workmanship is the exactness with which these great masses are fitted. No mortar was used in any part of this wall.

      I will not attempt to fully describe the ruined temples of Baalbec. When I say that the greater of the two temples was 1000 feet long and 400 feet wide, and that although I had read a number of very elaborate descriptions of it I had formed nothing like an adequate conception of its form and appearance, the reader will readily excuse me from the attempt. Indeed, after I had gone through the ruins, reading Baedeker's description and studying his plan as I went, I still failed to understand it in some of its details. A man must visit the spot, ride around the exterior, walk among the ruins, sit down here and there to gaze upon its more impressive features, see the whole by sunlight, by twilight, and by moonlight, and allow his mind leisurely to rebuild it and re-people it, ere he can comprehend it. Our camp was pitched inside the [563] ruins, and as there happened to be a photographer in the town, sent up from Beirût to take some views, we obtained a photograph of our camp, with a portion of the larger temple, and one entire side of the smaller, in the background. From this photograph was made the cut on page 464.

      The chief part of the wall of the larger temple is still standing, from 15 to 20 feet high, and its inner face is ornamented most of the way by recesses with elaborate carvings, one of which is represented in the following cut.

      Work so elaborate, executed in hard limestone, and extending over a building of proportions so immense, is not found in any other


ancient temple. Architects pronounce the work too elaborate for good taste, but this detracts nothing from our conception of the immensity of the labor and expense which it involved.

      The Temple of the Sun, which stands immediately south of the western end of the great temple, and but a few steps from it, it is a much smaller structure, and it is in a far better state of preservation. The [564]

Page 565.      

body of the building is 87 feet long and 73 feet wide, and it is surrounded by a peristyle of 15 columns on each side and 8 at each end. The columns are 46½ feet high, and they stand 10 feet from the wall. They support a very richly carved ceiling, the slabs of which rest on an entablature above the columns and reach across to the wall of the temple. Nearly all the columns on the southern side and western end have fallen, but those on the north are nearly all standing. There is a double row across the front. The front of this temple is the most beautiful part of it, especially its elaborately carved portal or doorway. The door-posts and the architrave are composed of stones of immense size, and are carved in a most beautiful style. The architrave consists of three separate stones, which were originally so nicely joined as to appear only one, but the middle stone, shaken by the earthquake which demolished the large temple and greatly injured this, has dropped down several feet, and was threatening to drop out entirely, when the British consul at Damascus, Mr. Burton, built a wall under it from the ground to hold it in position. The portal, with this supporting wall, is seen in the cut on the opposite page.

      There are other interesting ruins about Baalbec, which we will not pause to describe. The village near the great temple contains a population of several hundred souls, and a very copious spring near by affords an abundance of water for irrigation. Poplar-trees, apricot and other fruit-trees, and garden vegetables of various kinds, grow about the village and the temples with rank luxuriance. The apricots which we ate here were more deliciously flavored than those of Damascus. The town stands in the edge of the plain called the Bekâ'a, which lies between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon or Hermon range of mountains, and though it is in a valley it is 2839 feet above the level of the sea. Immediately across the valley to the west rises the lofty, snow-clad ridge of the Lebanon mountains, while the valley stretches away in beautiful undulations as far as the eye can reach to the north and the south. The spring which flows through the village is the source of the Litâ'ny River, which drains all of the valley south of Baalbec. A mile or more to the north is the watershed of the valley, beyond which it slopes to the north and is drained by the river Orontes, now called the Nahr el As'i. It has two sources, one near the watershed just mentioned, at the foot of the Hermon range, and another nearly opposite, on the other side of the plain. From these points the river flows northward, inclining with the valley a little to the east. About forty miles northeast of Baalbec, in the midst of the valley and on the bank of the river, stands the village of Riblah, a city of military [565] importance in the later period of Old Testament history. Here Pharaoh-Nechoh had his headquarters when he was waging war against the Assyrians, and here he put Jehoahaz, the young king of Judah, into chains, preparatory to taking him as a prisoner to Egypt.3 Here also Nebuchadnezzar had his headquarters when he was conducting the war against Judah which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity of the Jews.4

      We left Baalbec on the morning of June 28th, and started for the Cedars of Lebanon. Our route led us to the northwest across the Bekâ'a, which is here about 10 miles wide. Far out in this plain, about halfway across it, I saw a solitary stone column standing about a mile to the left of our route, and it was an object of such curiosity out there, miles away from any human habitation or any other structure built by human hands, that I turned aside, with one of my companions, to visit it. It is 65 feet high, and its shaft is about 4 feet thick. It stands on a pyramidal pedestal, and it is finished at top with a Corinthian capital. A square space on its northern side, marked by raised lines, once contained an inscription, but the tooth of time has eaten it all away, and now no man knows by whom it was erected or for what purpose. Doubtless it was intended to perpetuate the memory of some great event, perhaps some great battle fought in the plain around it, but all is lost in oblivion, and time has triumphed over the pride of man. Through utter want of any knowledge of its history, it is now called the "Column of Yâ'ât," from a very small village of that name, which is the nearest to it, though several miles distant.

      After crossing the plain we ascended some of the lower spurs of the Lebanon Mountains, and before night pitched our tents on a bench of the principal ridge, with the small village of Ainâ'ta just below us to the east. It was Saturday afternoon, and as we were to remain in camp here until Tuesday morning, making an excursion to the cedars and back on Monday, we were glad to find that the place selected for the camp was one of the most delightful that we had found in all our journey. The tents were shaded by the widespreading branches of several magnificent walnut-trees, an irrigating channel of pure and cold water murmured along its pebbly bed close by them, the view from our tent-doors toward the east included the Lebanon spurs at our feet, the Valley of Bekâ'a beyond, and, still farther, the Hermon Mountains, terminating at the right hand with the snow-streaked summit of Mount Hermon itself. We passed no Sunday in all our tour more delightfully. [566]

Page 567.      

      On Monday morning, leaving our tents at Ainâ'ta, we ascended by laborious climbing to the top of Lebanon, passing masses of snow as hard as ice on the way, and after crossing the crest of the ridge, which is 7703 feet high, we descended into a grand mountain amphitheatre, on the farther side of which, two or three miles distant, we saw the grove of cedars.


      This is one of the few remnants yet existing of the famous groves from which Solomon obtained the timber for his temple, and from which Sargon and other kings of Assyria transported the long beams for the palaces of Nineveh. The cedars are grouped close together, and are about 300 in number. When you first come in sight of them, [567] at a distance of two or three miles, they appear not much larger than ordinary evergreens in a gentleman's yard. But as you approach them they grow upon you, and by the time you have fairly entered the grove you begin to realize their magnitude. None of them is less, I suppose, than 100 years old, and many of them are of an age that cannot be estimated with any approach to exactness. Most of them are from one to three feet in thickness, but there are nine which are so much larger and so nearly of one size that they evidently belong to a very distinct period. We measured seven of these, and found the smallest 20 feet 6 inches in circumference, while the largest was 38 feet 2 inches. These older trees have branches near the ground, and their tops have a low spreading growth, while the trunks of those much younger grow straight and tall. A stone chapel of the Greek Church stands in the midst of the grove, and in a little depression near by is a hut, in which lives a native whose business it is to guard the trees against injury at the hands of travelers.

      On leaving the cedars we avoided the toilsome journey across the mountains to Beirût, which is followed by most of the few travelers who visit this region, and returned to the valley of the Bekâ'a. Following this valley to near its southern extremity, we struck the turnpike again, about halfway between Damascus and Beirût, and followed it to the latter city. We found the turnpike one of the smoothest and best-constructed roads that we have ever seen. It was built some 12 or 14 years ago by a French company, which still owns and operates it. Its length is 75 miles. A stage drawn by six horses, three abreast, passes over it both ways every day, and a smaller stage does the same every night. It is also traversed by 10 or 12 freight-trains, each composed of 12 wagons drawn by three mules each. The three mules are driven tandem, the one at the wheel being in shafts.

      By these trains the imported merchandise of Damascus is brought from Beirût', and her exports are sent to the seashore, while innumerable trains of donkeys, mules, and camels do the carrying-trade for the villages of the adjacent country. We reached Beirût' on the morning of July 3d, and immediately called at the consulate to get letters from home. We found some awaiting us, and we found the consul, Mr. Edgar, a genial, whole-hearted gentleman, of Kentucky birth and education, who takes delight in making all Americans feel at home in his office. He bestowed on us a number of favors during our stay in Beirût'.

      Beirût' is a city of modern growth. It has a population of about 80,000, made up of Syrians, Turks, Ar'abs, and Europeans. It is the [568] chief centre of commerce and enlightenment on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, occupying the position first held by Tyre, then by Antioch, then by Cæsarea, and, in modern times, by Sidon. Much of the business of the place, including all the banking and shipping, is done by Europeans, but Americans have the lead in educational and missionary enterprises. The American Syrian College, under the presidency of Dr. Bliss, has buildings and grounds that have cost more than $200,000. It has about 140 students in its classical department and a good attendance in its medical department. All these students are natives, and nearly all belong to the Greek Church. They are all required to study the Scriptures in Arabic, and many of them learn the English language. It was in this college that Assad, our dragoman, received his knowledge of English and his respectable attainments in the elementary branches of education. Great good must inevitably result from its work. Dr. Bliss kindly showed me through the buildings, and gave me full information in regard to the history, condition, and prospects of the college, all of which are encouraging. In addition to this college, there are several missionary schools for girls, in which the daughters of Mohammedans, as well as native Christians, are received and educated. The light is pushing its way into the deep darkness.

      On arriving at Beirût', we bade farewell to tents, horses, and muleteers. The muleteers, five in number, were a quarrelsome set, often raising an uproar in the camp by their loud contentions, but they performed their part in other respects with a reasonable degree of fidelity. They had a strange notion that our horses would catch cold at night if stripped of the saddles; and consequently, our saddles were never taken off, day or night, except when the horses were to be curried or their sore backs to be bathed. We did our best to convince them that the saddles ought to be taken off us soon as we dismounted; but all of our arguments amounted to nothing. Our way might do for American horses, but these were Syrian horses; and this was the end of the argument.

      Our dragoman's home was in Beirût'. He visited us frequently at our hotel, and when we were about to sail he went with us to our ship. We parted from him with regret. For 82 days he had been our companion, our guide, our interpreter, and the ruler of our camp, and in every capacity he had shown a good degree of competency and fidelity. If he was not always truthful, he was always scrupulously honest in business transactions. I think that any future travelers in Palestine will be fortunate who obtain the services of Assad Smart. He escorts companies up the Nile in the winter, and through Palestine [569] in the spring and fall. His post-office is Beirût' in the summer, and Cairo in the winter.

      In choosing our route from the cedars to Beirût', we missed some splendid mountain scenery and several interesting localities which lay along the route across the mountains. Among these are the celebrated Cave and Falls of Adonis, which figure in Greek mythology as the


scene of the amours of Venus and Adonis. "This is a spot," says Dr. Ridgaway, "of strange wildness and rare beauty. The fountain bursts forth from a dark cave, about 1000 feet below the summit of Mount Sûnnîn. It comes out in a great volume, makes two leaps, rushes several hundred yards through a deep ravine, shaded by walnut- and mulberry-trees, runs under a stone bridge, falls again, then, passing on, [570] makes within a short distance one or two more falls before it reaches its main bed, as it flows toward the Mediterranean. . . . The roar of waters, the dash of spray, the rush of life, the forms of beauty, almost bewitch the senses as with a delicious intoxication."5 The beauty of the place is but feebly represented in the preceding beautiful cut.

      Another very interesting natural curiosity on this route is seen on the upper waters of Dog River, a mountain stream which empties into the northern end of the bay north of Beirût' called St. George's Bay, about six miles from the city. It is a natural bridge across one of the tributaries of this river, high up in the mountains. The bridge has a span of 160 feet, and its height from the surface of the bridge to the water below is 80 feet. The thickness of the mass of rock which forms the arch is about 30 feet, and the floor of the bridge is about 120 feet wide in the narrowest place. It is one of the grandest natural bridges in the world, and it is inadequately represented in the following cut.


      The July days that we spent in Beirût' were very sultry, and, although our hotel was a very airy building, we suffered from heat at night. The city is built on a long, sandy cape reaching out from the foot of the mountain range, and lying at its highest point not more than 50 or 75 feet above the level of the sea. Its climate is so debilitating in summer that all European residents who can retire to the mountains during the hottest months. We were glad to leave the sweltering place and launch out once more into the cooler air of the deep sea. [571]

     1 Pronounced Ball'-bec. [560]
      2 Gen. iv. 3. [561]
      3 2 Kings xxiii. 29-33. [566]
      4 2 Kings xxv. 6; Jer. xxxix. 5. [566]
      5 The Lord's Land, 721. [571]


[LOB 560-571]

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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)

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