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Travels in Syria and the Holy Land by John Burckhardt

Part 10 out of 12

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is all their dinner. They obtain their vegetables from a pleasant garden
adjoining the building, into which there is a subterraneous passage; the
soil is stony, but in this climate, wherever water is in plenty, the
very rocks will produce vegetation. The fruit is of the finest quality;
oranges, lemons, almonds, mulberries, apricots, peaches, pears, apples,
olives, Nebek trees, and a few cypresses overshade the beds in which
melons, beans, lettuces, onions, cucumbers, and all sorts of

[p.550] culinary and sweet-scented herbs are sown. The garden, however,
is very seldom visited by the monks, except by the few whose business it
is to keep it in order; for although surrounded by high walls, it is not
inaccessible to the Bedouins, who for the three last years have been the
sole gatherers of the fruits, leaving the vegetables only for the monks,
who have thus been obliged to repurchase their own fruit from the
pilferers, or to buy it in other parts of the peninsula.

The excellent air of the convent, and the simple fare of the
inhabitants, render diseases rare. Many of the monks are very old men,
in the full possession of their mental and bodily faculties. They have
all taken to some profession, a mode of rendering themselves independent
of Egypt, which was practised here even when the three hundred private
chambers were occupied, which are now empty, though still ready for the
accommodation of pious settlers. Among the twenty-three monks who now
remain, there is a cook, a distiller, a baker, a shoemaker, a tailor, a
carpenter, a smith, a mason, a gardener, a maker of candles, &c. &c.
each of these has his work-shop, in the worn-out and rusty utensils of
which are still to be seen the traces of the former riches and industry
of the establishment. The rooms in which the provisions are kept are
vaulted and built of granite with great solidity; each kind of provision
has its purveyor. The bake-house and distillery are still kept up upon a
large scale. The best bread is of the finest quality; but a second and
third sort is made for the Bedouins who are fed by the convent. In the
distillery they make brandy from dates, which is the only solace these
recluses enjoy, and in this they are permitted to indulge even during
the fasts.

Most of the monks are natives of the Greek islands; in general they do
not remain more than four or five years, when they return to their own
country, proud of having been sufferers among

[p.551] Bedouins; some, however, have been here forty years. A few of
them only understood Arabic; but none of them write or read it. Being of
the lower orders of society, and educated only in convents, they are
extremely ignorant. Few of them read even the modern Greek fluently,
excepting in their prayer-books, and I found but one who had any notion
of the ancient Greek. They have a good library, but it is always shut
up; it contains about fifteen hundred Greek volumes, and seven hundred
Arabic manuscripts; the latter, which I examined volume after volume,
consist entirely of books of prayer, copies of the Gospels, lives of
saints, liturgies, &c.; a thick folio volume of the works of Lokman,
edited, according to the Arab tradition, by Hormus, the ancient king of
Egypt, was the only one worth attention. Its title in Arabic is
[Arabic]. The prior would not permit it to be taken away, but he made me
a present of a fine copy of the Aldine Odyssey and an equally fine one
of the Anthology. In the room anciently the residence of the Archbishop,
which is very elegantly paved with marble, and extremely well furnished,
though at present unoccupied, is preserved a beautiful ancient
manuscript of the Gospels in Greek, which I was told, was given to the
convent by "an emperor called Theodosius." It is written in letters of
gold upon vellum, and ornamented with portraits of the Apostles.

Notwithstanding the ignorance of these monks, they are fond of seeing
strangers in their wilderness; and I met with a more cordial reception
among them than I did in the convents of Libanus, which are in
possession of all the luxuries of life. The monks of Sinai are even
generous; three years ago they furnished a Servian adventurer, who
styled himself a Knes, and pretended to be well known to the Russian
government, with sixty dollars, to pay his

[p.552] journey back to Alexandria, on his informing them of his
destitute circumstances.

At present the convent is seldom visited; a few Greeks from Cairo and
Suez, and the inhabitants of Tor who repair here every summer, and
encamp with their families in the garden, are the only persons who
venture to undertake the journey through the desert. So late as the last
century regular caravans of pilgrims used to come here from Cairo as
well as from Jerusalem; a document preserved by the monks states the
arrival in one day of eight hundred Armenians from Jerusalem; and at
another time of five hundred Copts from Cairo. I believe that from sixty
to eighty is the greatest number of visitors that can now be reckoned in
a year. In the small but neat room which I occupied, and which is
assigned to all strangers whom the prior receives with any marks of
distinction, were the names of some of the latest European travellers
who have visited the convent. The following inscriptions, written upon
pieces of paper stuck against the walls, I thought worth the trouble of

"Le quintidi, 5 Frimaire, l'an 9 de la Republique Francaise, 1800 de
l'ere Chretienne, et 3eme de la conquete de l'Egypte, les Citoyens
Rozieres et Coutelle, Membres de la Commission des Sciences et Arts,
sont venus visiter les lieux saints, les ports de Tor, Ras Mohammed, et
Charms, la mer de Suez et l'Accaba, l'extremite de la presqu'ile, toutes
les chaines de montagnes, et toutes les tribus Arabes entre les deux
golfes." (Seal of the French Republic.)

M. Rozieres made great mineralogical researches in these mountains,

[p.553] but he and his companion did not succeed in visiting all the
chains of mountains or all the tribes of Arabs. They never reached
Akaba, nor traversed the northern ranges of the peninsula, nor visited
the tribes of Tyaha, Heywat and Terabein. The following is the memorial
left by M. Seetzen:

"Le 9 d'Avril, 1807. U.J. Seetzen, nomme Mousa, voyageur Allemand, M.D.
et Assesseur de College de S. Majeste l'Empereur de toutes les Russies
dans la Seigneurie de Jever en Allemagne, est venu visiter le Couvent de
la Sainte Catherine, les Monts d'Horeb, de Moise, et de la Sainte
Catherine, &c. apres avoir parcouru toutes les provinces orientales
anciennes de la Palestine; savoir, Hauranitis, Trachonitis, Gaulonitis,
Paneas, Batanea, Decapolis, Gileaditis, Ammonitis, Amorrhitis et
Moabitis, jusqu'aux frontieres de la Gebelene (Idumaea), et apres avoir
fait deux fois l'entour de la mer morte, et traverse le desert de
l'Arabie Petree, entre la ville d'Hebron et entre le Mont Sinai, par un
chemin jusqu'a ce tems-la inconnu. Apres un sejour de dix jours, il
continuait son voyage pour la ville de Suez."

M. Seetzen has fallen into a mistake in calling the convent by the name
of saint Catherine. It is dedicated to the transfiguration, or as the
Greeks call it, the metamorphosis, and not to saint Catherine, whose
relics only are preserved here. M. Seetzen visited the convent a second
time, previous to his going to Arabia. He came then from Tor, and
stopped only one day.

The visit of two English travellers, Messrs. Galley Knight and
Fazakerly, is also recorded in a few lines dated February 13, 1811. The
same room contained likewise several modern Arabic inscriptions, one of
which says: "To this holy place came one who does not deserve that his
name should be mentioned, so

[p.554] manifold are his sins. He came here with his family. May whoever
reads this, beseech the Almighty to forgive him. June 28, 1796."

The only habitual visitors of the convent are the Bedouins. They have
established the custom that whoever amongst them, whether man, woman, or
child, comes here, is to receive bread for breakfast and supper, which
is lowered down to them from the window, as no Bedouins, except the
servants of the house, are ever admitted within the walls. Fortunately
for the monks, there are no good pasturing places in their immediate
neighbourhood; the Arab encampments are therefore always at some
distance, and visitors are thus not so frequent as might be supposed;
yet scarcely a day passes without their having to furnish bread to
thirty or forty persons. In the last century the Bedouins enjoyed still
greater privileges, and had a right to call for a dish of cooked meat at
breakfast, and for another at supper; the monks could not have given a
stronger proof of their address than by obtaining the abandonment of
this right from men, in whose power they are so completely placed. The
convent of Sinai at Cairo is subject to similar claims; all the Bedouins
of the peninsula who repair to that city on their private business
receive their daily meal, from the monks, who, not having the same
excuses as their brethren of Mount Sinai, are obliged to supply a dish
of cooked meat. The convent has its Ghafeirs, or protectors, twenty-four
in number, among the tribes inhabiting the desert between Syria and the
Red sea; but the more remote of them are entitled only to some annual
presents in clothes and money, while the Towara Ghafeirs are continually
hovering round the walls, to extort as much as they can. Of the Towara
Arabs the tribes of Szowaleha and Aleygat only are considered as
protectors; the Mezeine, who came in later times to the peninsula, have
no claims; and of the Szowaleha tribe, the

[p.555] branches Oulad Said and Owareme are exclusively the protectors,
while the Koreysh and Rahamy are not only excluded from the right of
protection but also from the transport of passengers and loads. Of the
Oulad Said each individual receives an annual gift of a dollar, and the
Ghafeir of this branch of the Szowaleha is the convent's chief man of
business in the desert. If a Sheikh or head man calls at the convent, he
receives, in addition to his bread, some coffee beans, sugar, soap,
sometimes a handkerchief, a little medicine, &c. &c.

Under such circumstances it may easily be conceived that disputes
continually happen. If a Sheikh from the protecting tribes comes to the
convent to demand coffee, sugar, or clothing, and is not well satisfied
with what he receives, he immediately becomes the enemy of the monks,
lays waste some of their gardens, and must at last be gained over by a
present. The independent state of the Bedouins of Sinai had long
prevented the monks from endeavouring to obtain protection from the
government of Egypt, whose power in the peninsula being trifling, they
would only by complaining have exasperated the Bedouins against them;
their differences therefore had hitherto been accommodated by the
mediation of other Sheikhs. It was not till 1816 that they solicited the
protection of Mohammed Ali; this will secure them for the present
against their neighbours; but it will, probably, as I told the monks, be
detrimental to them in the end. Ten or twenty dollars were sufficient to
pacify the fiercest Bedouin, but a Turkish governor will demand a
thousand for any effectual protection.

The Arabs, when discontented, have sometimes seized a monk in the
mountains and given him a severe beating, or have thrown stones or fired
their musquets into the convent from the neighbouring heights; about
twenty years ago a monk was killed by

[p.556] them. The monks, in their turn, have fired occasionally upon the
Bedouins, for they have a well furnished armory, and two small cannon,
but they take great care never to kill any one. And though they dislike
such turbulent neighbours, and describe them to strangers as very
devils, yet they have sense enough to perceive the advantages which they
derive from the better traits in the Bedouin character, such as their
general good faith, and their placability. "If our convent," as they
have observed to me, "had been subject to the revolutions and
oppressions of Egypt or Syria, it would long ago have been abandoned;
but Providence has preserved us by giving us Bedouins for neighbours."

Notwithstanding the greediness of the Bedouins, I have reason to believe
that the expenses of the convent are very moderate. Each monk is
supplied annually with two coarse woollen cloaks, and no splendour is
any where displayed except in the furniture of the great church, and
that of the Archbishop's room. The supplies are drawn from Egypt; but
the communication by caravans with Cairo is far from being regular, and
the Ikonomos assured me that at the time I was there the house did not
contain more than one month's provision.

The yearly consumption of corn is about one hundred and sixty Erdebs, or
two thousand five hundred bushels, which is sufficient to cover all the
demands of the Bedouins, and I believe that L1000. sterling, or 4000
dollars, is the utmost of the annual expenditure. The convent at Cairo
expends perhaps two or three times that sum. The monks complain greatly
of poverty; and the prior assured me that he sometimes has not a
farthing left to pay for the corn that is brought to him, and is obliged
to borrow money from the Bedouins at high interest; but an appearance of
poverty is one of their great protections; and considering

[p.557] the possessions of this convent abroad, and the presents which
it receives from pilgrims, I am much inclined to doubt the prior's

The Bedouins who occupy the peninsula of Mount Sinai are:

I. The Szowaleha [Arabic]. They are the principal tribe, and they boast
of having been the first Bedouins who settled in these mountains, under
their founder Ayd, two of whose sons, they say, emigrated with their
families to the Hedjaz. The Szowaleha are divided into several branches:
1. The Oulad Said [Arabic], whose Sheikh is at present the second Sheikh
of the Towara Arabs. They are not so poor as the other tribes, and
possess the best valleys of the mountains. 2. Korashy [Arabic], or
Koreysh, whose Sheikh, Szaleh Ibn Zoheyr, is at present the great Sheikh
of the Towara, and transacts the public business with the government of
Egypt. The Korashy are descendants of a few families of Beni Koreysh,
who came here as fugitives from the Hedjaz, and settled with the
Szowaleha, with whom they are now intimately intermixed. 3. Owareme
[Arabic], a subdivision of whom are the Beni Mohsen [Arabic]; in one of
the families of which is the hereditary office of Agyd, or the commander
of the Towara in their hostile expeditions. 4. Rahamy [Arabic]. The
Szowaleha inhabit principally the country to the west of the convent,
and their date valleys are, for the greater part, situated on that side.
These valleys are the exclusive property of individuals, but the other
pasturing places of the tribe are common to all its branches, although
the latter usually remain somewhat separated from each other.

II. Aleygat [Arabic]. They are much weaker in number than the Szowaleha,
and encamp usually with the Mezeine, and with them form a counterbalance
to the power of the Szowaleha. A tribe of Aleygat is found in Nubia on
the banks of the Nile about twenty miles north of Derr, where they
occupy the district called Wady


[p.558] el Arab, of which Seboua makes a part.[See Journey towards
Dongola, p. 26.] The Aleygat of Sinai are acquainted with this
settlement of their brethren, and relate that in the time of the
Mamelouks, one of them who had embarked with a Beg at Tor for Cosseir
travelled afterwards towards Ibrim, and when he passed Seboua was
delighted there to find the people of his own tribe. They treated him
well, and presented him with a camel and a slave. I am ignorant by what
chance the Aleygat settled in Nubia.

III. El Mezeine [Arabic], who live principally to the eastward of the
convent towards the gulf of Akaba.

IV. Oulad Soleiman [Arabic], or Beni Selman [Arabic], at present reduced
to a few families only, who are settled at Tor, and in the neighbouring

V. Beni Waszel [Arabic], about fifteen families, who live with the
Mezeine, and are usually found in the neighbourhood of Sherm. They are
said to have come originally from Barbary. Some of their brethren are
also settled in Upper Egypt.

These five tribes are comprised under the appellation Towara, or the
Bedouins of Tor, and form a single body, whenever any foreign tribe of
the northern Bedouins attacks any one of them; but sometimes, though not
often, they have bloody quarrels among themselves. Their history,
according to the reports of the best informed among them, founded upon
tradition, is as follows:

At the period of the Mohammedan conquest, or soon after, the peninsula
of Mount Sinai was inhabited exclusively by the tribe of Oulad Soleiman,
or Beni Selman, together with the monks. The Szowaleha, and Aleygat, the
latter originally from the eastern Syrian desert, were then living on
the borders of Egypt, and in the Sherkieh or eastern district of the
Delta, from whence they were

[p.559] accustomed to make frequent inroads into this territory, in
order to carry off the date-harvest, and other fruits.[Some encampments
of Szowaleha are still found in the Sherkieh.] Whenever the inundation
of the Nile failed, they repaired in great numbers to these mountains,
and pastured their herds in the fertile valleys, the vegetation of which
is much more nutritious for camels and sheep than the luxuriant but
insipid pastures on the banks of the Nile. After long wars the Szowaleha
and Aleygat succeeded in reducing the Oulad Soleiman; many of their
families were exterminated, others fled, and their feeble remains now
live near Tor, where they still pride themselves upon having been the
former lords of this peninsula. The Szowaleha and Aleygat, however, did
not agree, and had frequent disputes among themselves. At that period
there arrived at Sherm four families of the Mezeine, a very potent tribe
in the Hedjaz, east of Medina, where they are still found in large
numbers, forming part of the great tribe of Beni Harb. They were flying
from the effects of blood-revenge, and wishing to settle here, they
applied to the Szowaleha, begging to be permitted to join them in their
pastures. The Szowaleha consented, on condition of their paying a yearly
tribute in sheep, in the same manner as the despised tribe of Heteym, on
the opposite coast of the gulf of Akaba, does to all the surrounding
Arabs. [Arabic]. The high spirited Mezeine however rejected the offer,
as derogatory to their free born condition, and addressed themselves to
the Aleygat, who readily admitted them to their brotherhood and all
their pastures. Long and obstinate wars between the Szowaleha and
Aleygat were the consequence of this compact. The two tribes fought, it
is said, for forty years; and in the greatest and the last battle, which
took place in Wady Barak, the Mezeine decided the contest in favour of
the Aleygat. "So

[p.560] great," says the Bedouin tradition, "was the number of the
Szowaleha killed in this engagement, that the nails of the slain were
seen for many years after, the sport of the winds in the valleys around
the field of battle."[No nation equals the Bedouins in numerical
exaggeration. Ask a Bedouin who belongs to a tribe of three hundred
tents, of the numbers of his brethren, and he will take a handful of
sand, and cast it up in the air, or point to the stars, and tell you
that they are as numberless. Much cross-questioning is therefore
necessary even to arrive at an approximation to the truth.] A compromise
now took place, the Szowaleha and Aleygat divided the fertile valleys of
the country equally, and the Mezeine received one-third of their share
from the latter. The Sheikh of the Szowaleha was, at the same time,
acknowledged as Sheikh of the whole peninsula. At present the Mezeine
are stronger than the Aleygat, and both together are about equal in
number to the Szowaleha.

Besides the Towara tribes, three others inhabit the northern parts of
the peninsula; viz. The Heywat [Arabic], who live towards Akaba; the
Tyaha [Arabic], who extend from the chain of the mountain El Tyh
northwards towards Ghaza and Hebron; and the Terabein [Arabic], who
occupy the north-west part of the peninsula, and extend from thence
towards Ghaza and Hebron. These three tribes are together stronger than
the Towara, with whom they are sometimes at war, and being all derived
from one common stock, the ancient tribe of Beni Attye, they are always
firmly united during hostilities. They have no right to the pasturages
south of Djebel Tyh, but are permitted to encamp sometimes in that
direction, if pasture is abundant. The pastures in their own territory,
along the whole of the northern parts of Djebel Tyh, are said to be
excellent, and to extend from one side of the peninsula to the other.

I believe that the population of the entire peninsula, south of a

[p.561] line from Akaba to Suez, as far as cape Abou Mohammed, does not
exceed four thousand souls. In years of dearth, even this small number
is sometimes at a loss to find pasturage for their cattle.

The Towara are some of the poorest of the Bedouin tribes, which is to be
attributed principally to the scarcity of rain and the consequent want
of pasturage. Their herds are scanty, and they have few camels; neither
of their two Sheikhs, the richest individuals amongst them, possesses
more than eight; few tents have more than two; it often happens that two
or three persons are partners in one camel, and great numbers are
without any. There are no horses even among the Sheikhs, who constantly
ride on camels; but asses are common. Their means of subsistence are
derived from their pastures, the transport trade between Suez and Cairo,
the sale at the latter place of the charcoal which they burn in their
mountains, of the gum arabic which they collect, and of their dates and
other fruits. The produce of this trade is laid out by them at Cairo in
purchasing clothing and provisions, particularly corn, for the supply of
their families; and if any thing remains in hand, they buy with it a few
sheep and goats at Tor or at Sherm, to which latter place they are
brought by the Bedouins of the opposite coast of Arabia.

When Egypt was under the unsettled government of the Mamelouks the
Towara Bedouins, who were then independent, were very formidable, and
often at war with the Begs, as well as with the surrounding tribes. At
present they have lost much of the profits which they derived from their
traffic with Suez, and from the passage of caravans to Cairo; they are
kept in awe by Mohammed Ali, and have taken to more peaceful habits,
which, however, they are quite ready to abandon, on the first appearance
of any change in the government of Egypt. Even now, they pay no duty
whatever to

[p.562] the Pasha, who, on the contrary, makes their chief some annual
presents; but they are obliged to submit to the rate of carriage which
the Pasha chooses to fix for the transport of his goods. They live, of
course, according to their means; the small sum of fifteen or twenty
dollars pays the yearly expenses of many, perhaps of most of their
families, and the daily and almost unvarying food of the greater part of
them is bread, with a little butter or milk, for which salt alone is
substituted when the dry season is set in, and their cattle no longer
yield milk. The Mezeine appeared to me much hardier than the other
tribes, owing probably to their being exposed to greater privations in
the more barren district which they inhabit. They hold more intercourse
with the neighbouring Bedouins to the north than the other Towaras, and
in their language and manners approach more to the great eastern tribes
than to the other Bedouins of the peninsula.

All the tribes of the Towara complain of the sterility of their
wives;[They wish for children because their tribe is strengthened by it.
But Providence seems to have wisely proportioned the fertility of their
women to the barrenness of the country.] and though the Bedouin women in
general are less fruitful than the stationary Arabs, the Towara are even
below the other Bedouins in this respect, three children being a large
family among them.

To the true Bedouin tribes above enumerated are to be added the advenae
called Djebalye [Arabic], or the mountaineers. I have stated that when
Justinian built the convent, he sent a party of slaves, originally from
the shores of the Black sea, as menial servants to the priests. These
people came here with their wives, and were settled by the convent as
guardians of the orchards and date plantations throughout the peninsula.
Subsequently, when the Bedouins deprived the convent of many of its
possessions, these slaves turned

[p.563] Moslems, and adopted the habits of Bedouins. Their descendants
are the present Djebalye, who unanimously confess their descent from the
Christian slaves, whence they are often called by the other Bedouins
"the children of Christians." They are not to be distinguished, however,
in features or manners, from other Bedouins, and they are now considered
a branch of the Towara, although the latter still maintain the
distinction, never giving their daughters in marriage to the Djebalye,
nor taking any of theirs; thus the Djebalye intermarry only among
themselves, and form a separate commmunity of about one hundred and
twenty armed men. They are a very robust and hardy race, and their girls
have the reputation of superior beauty over all others of the peninsula,
a circumstance which often gives rise to unhappy attachments, and
romantic love-tales, when their lovers happen to belong to other tribes.
The Djebalye still remain the servants of the convent; parties of three
attend in it by turns, and are the only Bedouins who are permitted to
enter within the walls; but they are never allowed to sleep in the
house, and pass the night in the garden. They provide fire-wood, collect
dried herbage for the mule which turns the mill, bring milk, eggs, &c.
and receive all the offals of the kitchen. Some of them encamp as
Bedouins in the mountains surrounding the peaks of Moses and St.
Catherine, but the greater part are settled in the gardens belonging to
the convent, in those mountains. They engage to deliver one-half the
fruit to the convent, but as these gardens produce the finest fruit in
the peninsula, they are so beset by Bedouin guests at the time of
gathering, that the convent's share is usually consumed in hospitality.

The Djebalye have formed a strict alliance with the Korashy, that branch
of the Szowaleha which has no claims of protectorship upon the convent,
and by these means they have maintained from

[p.564] ancient times, a certain balance of power against the other
Szowaleha. They have no right to transport pilgrims to the convent, and
are, in general, considered as pseudo-Arabs, although they have become
Bedouins in every respect. They are divided into several smaller tribes,
some of whom have become settlers; thus the Tebna are settled in the
date valley of Feiran, in gardens nominally the property of the convent:
the Bezya in the convent's gardens at Tor; and the Sattla in other
parts, forming a few families, whom the true Bedouins stigmatize with
the opprobrious name of Fellahs, or peasants. The monks told me that in
the last century there still remained several families of Christian
Bedouins who had not embraced Islamism; and that the last individual of
this description, an old woman, died in 1750, and was buried in the
garden of the convent. In this garden is the burial-ground of the monks,
and in several adjoining vaulted chambers their remains are collected
after the bodies have lain two years in the coffins underground. High
piles of hands, shin bones, and sculls are placed separately in the
different corners of these chambers, which the monks are with difficulty
persuaded to open to strangers. In a row of wooden chests are deposited
the bones of the Archbishops of the convent, which are regularly sent
hither, wherever the Archbishops may die. In another small chest are
shewn the sculls and some of the bones of two "Indian princes," who are
said to have been shipwrecked on the coast of Tor, and having repaired
to the convent, to have lived for many years as hermits in two small
adjoining caves upon the mountain of Moses. In order to remain
inseparable in this world, they bound two of their legs together with an
iron chain, part of which, with a small piece of a coat of mail, which
they wore under their cloaks, is still preserved. No one could tell me
their names, nor the period at which they resided here. At the


[p.565] entrance of the charnel houses is the picture of the hoary St.
Onuphrius. He is said to have been an Egyptian prince, and subsequently
one of the first monks of Djebel Mousa, in which capacity he performed
many miracles.

After two days repose in the convent and its delightful garden, I set
out for the holy places around it, a pilgrimage which I had deferred
making immediately on my first arrival, which is the usual practice,
that the Arabs might not confound me with the common run of visitors, to
whom they shew no great respect. The Djebalye enjoy the exclusive right
of being guides to the holy places; my suite therefore consisted of two
of them loaded with provisions, together with my servant and a young
Greek. The latter had been a sailor in the Red sea, and appeared to have
turned monk chiefly for the sake of getting his fill of brandy from the
convent's cellar.

May 20th.--We were in motion before sunrise for the Djebel Mousa or
Mountain of Moses, the road to which begins to ascend immediately behind
the walls of the convent. Regular steps were formerly cut all the way
up, but they are now either entirely destroyed, or so much damaged by
the winter torrents as to be of very little use. After ascending for
about twenty-five minutes, we breathed a short time under a large
impending rock, close by which is a small well of water as cold as ice;
at the end of three quarters of an hour's steep ascent we came to a
small plain, the entrance to which from below is through a stone
gateway, which in former times was probably closed; a little beneath it
stands, amidst the rocks, a small church dedicated to the Virgin. On the
plain is a larger building of rude construction, which bears the name of
the convent of St. Elias; it was lately inhabited, but is now abandoned,
the monks repairing here only at certain times of the year to read mass.
Pilgrims usually halt on this spot, where a tall cypress tree grows by
the side of a stone tank, which receives the winter rains.

[p.566] On a large rock in the plain are several Arabic inscriptions,
engraved by pilgrims three or four hundred years ago; I saw one also in
the Syriac language.

According to the Koran and the Moslem traditions, it was in this part of
the mountain, which is called Djebel Oreb, or Horeb, that Moses
communicated with the Lord. From hence a still steeper ascent of half an
hour, the steps of which are also in ruins, leads to the summit of
Djebel Mousa, where stands the church which forms the principal object
of the pilgrimage; it is built on the very peak of the mountain, the
plane of which is at most sixty paces in circumference. The church,
though strongly built with granite, is now greatly dilapidated by the
unremitted attempts of the Arabs to destroy it; the door, roof, and
walls are greatly injured. Szaleh, the present Sheikh of the Towara,
with his tribe the Korashy, was the principal instrument in the work of
destruction, because, not being entitled to any tribute from the
convent, they are particularly hostile to the monks. Some ruins round
the church indicate that a much larger and more solid building once
stood here, and the rock appears to have been cut perpendicularly with
great labour, to prevent any other approach to it than by the southern
side. The view from this summit must be very grand, but a thick fog
prevented me from seeing even the nearest mountains.

About thirty paces from the church, on a somewhat lower peak, stands a
poor mosque, without any ornaments, held in great veneration by the
Moslems, and the place of their pilgrimage. It is frequently visited by
the Bedouins, who slaughter sheep in honour of Moses; and who make vows
to him and intreat his intercession in heaven in their favour. There is
a feast-day on which the Bedouins come hither in a mass, and offer their
sacrifices. I was told that formerly they never approached the place
without being

[p.567] dressed in the Ihram, or sacred mantle, with which the Moslems
cover their naked bodies on visiting Mekka, and which then consisted
only of a napkin tied round the middle; but this custom has been
abandoned for the last forty years. Foreign Moslem pilgrims often repair
to the spot, and even Mohammed Ali Pasha and his son Tousoun Pasha gave
notice that they intended to visit it, but they did not keep their
promise. Close by the footpath, in the ascent from St. Elias to this
summit, and at a small distance from it, a place is shown in the rock,
which somewhat resembles the print of the fore part of the foot; it is
stated to have been made by Mohammed's foot when he visited the
mountain. We found the adjacent part of the rock sprinkled with blood in
consequence of an accident which happened a few days ago to a Turkish
lady of rank who was on her way from Cairo to Mekka, with her son, and
who had resided for some weeks in the convent, during which she made the
tour of the sacred places, bare footed, although she was old and
decrepid. In attempting to kiss the mark of Mohammed's foot, she fell,
and wounded her head; but not so severely as to prevent her from
pursuing her pilgrimage. Somewhat below the mosque is a fine reservoir
cut very deep in the granite rock, for the reception of rain water.

The Arabs believe that the tables of the commandments are buried beneath
the pavement of the church on Djebel Mousa, and they have made
excavations on every side in the hope of finding them. They more
particularly revere this spot from a belief that the rains which fall in
the peninsula are under the immediate control of Moses; and they are
persuaded that the priests of the convent are in possession of the
Taourat, a book sent down to Moses from heaven, upon the opening and
shutting of which depend the rains of the peninsula. The reputation,
which the monks have thus obtained of having the dispensation of the

[p.568] in their hands has become very troublesome to them, but they
have brought it on by their own measures for enhancing their credit with
the Bedouins. In times of dearth they were accustomed to proceed in a
body to Djebel Mousa, to pray for rain, and they encouraged the belief
that the rain was due to their intercessions. By a natural inference,
the Bedouins have concluded that if the monks could bring rain, they had
it likewise in their power to withhold it, and the consequence is, that
whenever a dearth happens they accuse the monks of malevolence, and
often tumultuously assemble and compel them to repair to the mountain to
pray. Some years since, soon after an occurrence of this kind, it
happened that a violent flood burst over the peninsula, and destroyed
many date trees; a Bedouin, whose camel and sheep had been swept away by
the torrent, went in a fury to the convent, and fired his gun at it, and
when asked the reason, exclaimed; "You have opened the book so much that
we are all drowned!" He was pacified by presents; but on departing he
begged that in future the monks would only half open the Taourat, in
order that the rains might be more moderate.

The supposed influence of the monks is, however, sometimes attended with
more fortunate results: the Sheikh Szaleh had never been father of a
male child, and on being told that Providence had thus punished him for
his enmity to the convent, he two years ago brought a load of butter to
the monks, and entreated them to go to the mountain and pray that his
newly-married wife, who was then pregnant, might be delivered of a son.
The monks complied, and Szaleh soon after became the happy father of a
fine boy; since that period he has been the friend of the convent, and
has even partly repaired the church on Djebel Mousa. This summit was
formerly inhabited by the monks, but, at present they visit it only in
time of festivals.


[p.569] We returned to the convent of St. Elias, and then descended on
the western side of the mountain for half an hour by another decayed
flight of steps, into a valley where is a small convent called El
Erbayn, or the forty; it is in good repair, and is at present inhabited
by a family of Djebalye, who take care of the garden annexed to it,
which affords a pleasing place of rest to those who descend from the
barren mountains above. In its neighbourhood are extensive olive
plantations, but I was told that for the last five summers the locusts
had devoured both the fruit and foliage of these trees, upon which they
alight in preference to all others. This insect is not less dreaded here
than in Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, but the Bedouins of Mount Sinai,
unlike those of Arabia, instead of eating them, hold them in great

We passed the mid-day hours at St. Elias, and towards evening ascended
the mountain opposite to that of Mousa, which forms the western cliff of
this narrow valley. After proceeding about an hour we stopped near a
small well, where we found several huts of Djebalye, and cleared a place
among the rocks, where our party encamped for the night. The well is
called Bir Shonnar [Arabic], from the circumstance of a monk who was
wandering in these mountains, and nearly dying of thirst, having
miraculously discovered it by seeing the bird Shonnar fly up from the
spot; it is closely surrounded by rocks, and is not more than a foot in
diameter and as much in depth. The Bedouins say that it never dries up,
and that its water, even when exposed to the sun, is as cold as ice.
Several trees grow near it, amongst others the Zarour [Arabic], now
almost in full bloom. Its fruit, of the size of a small cherry, with
much of the flavour of a strawberry, is, I believe, not a native of
Egypt, but is very common in Syria. I bought a lamb of the Bedouins,
which we roasted among the rocks, and although there were only two women
and one girl present, and

[p.570] the steep side of the mountain hardly permitted a person to
stand up with firmness, and still less to wheel about, yet the greater
part of the night was spent in the Mesamer, or national song and dance,
to which several other neighbouring Djebalye were attracted. The air was
delightfully cool and pure. While in the lower country, and particularly
on the sea shore, I found the thermometer often at 102 deg.--105 deg., and once
even at 110 deg.; in the convent it never stood higher than 75 deg.. The Semoum
wind never reaches these upper regions. In winter the whole of the upper
Sinai is deeply covered with snow, which chokes up many of the passes,
and often renders the mountains of Moses and St. Catherine inaccessible.
The climate is so different from that of Egypt, that fruits are nearly
two months later in ripening here than at Cairo; apricots, which begin
to be in season there in the last days of April, are not fit to eat in
Sinai till the middle of June.

May 21st.--We left our resting-place before sign-rise, and climbed up a
steep ascent, where there had formerly been steps, which are now
entirely destroyed. This side of Djebel Katerin or Mount St. Catherine,
is noted for its excellent pasturage; herbs sprout up every where
between the rocks, and as many of them are odoriferous, the scent early
in the morning, when the dew falls, is delicious. The Zattar [Arabic],
Ocimum Zatarhendi, was particularly conspicuous, and is esteemed here
the best possible food for sheep. In the month of June, when the herbs
are in blossom, the monks are in the habit of repairing to this and the
surrounding mountains, in order to collect various herbs, which they
dry, and send to the convent at Cairo, from whence they are dispatched
to the archbishop of Sinai at Constantinople, who distributes them to
his friends and dependents; they are supposed to possess many virtues
conducive to health. A botanist would find a rich harvest here, and it
is much to be regretted that two mountains so easy of access,

[p.571] and so rich in vegetation, as Sinai and Libanus, should be still
unexplored by men of science. The pretty red flower of the Noman plant
[Arabic], Euphorbia retusa of Forskal, abounds in al[l] the valleys of
Sinai, and is seen also amongst the most barren granite rocks of the

As we approached the summit of the mountain we saw at a distance a small
flock of mountain goats feeding among the rocks. One of our Arabs left
us, and by a widely circuitous road endeavoured to get to leeward of
them, and near enough to fire at them; he enjoined us to remain in sight
of them, and to sit down in order not to alarm them. He had nearly
reached a favourable spot behind a rock, when the goats suddenly took to
flight. They could not have seen the Arab, but the wind changed, and
thus they smelt him. The chase of the Beden, as the wild goat is called,
resembles that of the chamois of the Alps, and requires as much
enterprise and patience. The Arabs make long circuits to surprise them,
and endeavour to come upon them early in the morning when they feed. The
goats have a leader, who keeps watch, and on any suspicious smell,
sound, or object, makes a noise which is a signal to the flock to make
their escape. They have much decreased of late, if we may believe the
Arabs, who say that, fifty years ago, if a stranger came to a tent and
the owner of it had no sheep to kill, he took his gun and went in search
of a Beden. They are however even now more common than in the Alps, or
in the mountains to the east of the Red sea. I had three or four of them
brought to me at the convent, which I bought at threefourths of a dollar
each. The flesh is excellent, and has nearly the same flavour as that of
the deer. The Bedouins make waterbags of their skins, and rings of their
horns, which they wear on their thumbs. When the Beden is met with in
the plains the

[p.572] dogs of the hunters easily catch him; but they cannot come up
with him among the rocks, where he can make leaps of twenty feet.

The stout Bedouin youths are all hunters, and excellent marksmen; they
hold it a great honour to bring game to their tents, in proof of their
being hardy mountain runners, and good shots; and the epithet Bowardy
yknos es-szeyd [Arabic], "a marksman who hunts the game," is one of the
most flattering that can be bestowed upon them. It appears, from an
ancient picture preserved in the convent, which represents the arrival
of an archbishop from Egypt, as well as from one of the written
documents in the archives, that in the sixteenth century all the Arabs
were armed with bows and arrows as well as with matchlocks; at present
the former are no longer known, but almost every tent has its matchlock,
which the men use with great address, notwithstanding its bad condition.
I believe bows are no longer used as regular weapons by the Bedouins in
any part of Arabia.

After a very slow ascent of two hours we reached the top of Mount St.
Catherine, which, like the mountain of Moses, terminates in a sharp
point; its highest part consists of a single immense block of granite,
whose surface is so smooth, that it is very difficult to ascend it.
Luxuriant vegetation reaches up to this rock, and the side of the
mountain presented a verdure which, had it been of turf instead of
shrubs and herbs, would have completed the resemblance between this
mountain and some of the Alpine summits. There is nothing on the summit
of the rock to attract attention, except a small church or chapel,
hardly high enough within to allow a person to stand upright, and badly
built of loose uncemented stones; the floor is the bare rock, in which,
solid as it is, the body of St. Catherine is believed to have been
miraculously buried by angels, after her martyrdom at Alexandria. I saw
inscribed here

[p.573] the names of several European travellers, and among others that
of the unfortunate M. Boutin, a French officer of engineers, who passed
here in 1811.[M. Boutin came to Egypt from Zante; he first made a
journey to the cataracts of Assouan, and then went to Bosseir, where he
hired a ship for Mokha, but on reaching Yembo, Tousoun Pasha, the son of
Mohammed Ali, would not permit him to proceed, he therefore returned to
Suez, after visiting the convent of Sinai, and its neighbouring
mountains. After his return to Cairo, he went to Siwah, to examine the
remains of the temple of Jupiter Ammon, carrying with him a small boat
built at Cairo, for the purpose of exploring the lake and the island in
it, mentioned by Browne. He experienced great vexations from the
inhabitants of Siwah; and the boat was of no use to him, owing to the
shallowness of the lake, so that after a residence of three days at the
Oasis, where he seems to have made no discoveries, he returned to Cairo
in the company of some Augila merchants. On his way he passed the wood
of petrified date trees discovered by Horneman; his route, I believe,
was to the south of that of Horneman, and nearer the lesser Oasis. I had
the pleasure of seeing him upon his return from Siwah, when I first
arrived at Cairo. He remained two years in Egypt, and then continued his
travels towards Syria, where he met with his death in 1816, in the
mountainous district of the Nosayris, west of Hamah, having imprudently
exposed himself with a great deal of baggage, in company only of his
interpreter and servant, and without any native guide, to the robbers of
that infamous tribe. He was a lover of truth, and a man of observation
and enterprize; the public, therefore, and his own government, have to
regret his death no less than his friends.] From this elevated peak a
very extensive view opened before us, and the direction of the different
surroundings chains of mountains could be distinctly traced. The upper
nucleus of the Sinai, composed almost entirely of granite, forms a rocky
wilderness of all irregular circular shape, intersected by many narrow
valleys, and from thirty to forty miles in diameter. It contains the
highest mountains of the peninsula, whose shaggy and pointed peaks and
steep and shattered sides, render it clearly distinguishable from all
the rest of the country in view. It is upon this highest region of the
peninsula that the fertile valleys are found, which produce fruit trees;
they are principally to the west and south-west of the convent at three
or four hours distant.

[p.574] Water too is always found in plenty in this district, on which
account it is the place of refuge of all the Bedouins when the low
country is parched up. I think it very probable that this upper country
or wilderness is, exclusively, the desert of Sinai so often mentioned in
the account of the wanderings of the Israelites. Mount St. Catherine
appears to stand nearly in the centre of it. To the northward of this
central region, and divided from it by the broad valley called Wady El
Sheikh, and by several minor Wadys, begins a lower range of mountains,
called Zebeir, which extends eastwards, having at one extremity the two
peaks called El Djoze [Arabic], above the plantations of Wady Feiran,
and losing itself to the east in the more open country towards Wady Sal.
Beyond the Zebeir northwards are sandy plains and valleys, which I
crossed, towards the west, at Raml el Moral, and towards the east, about
Hadhra.This part i[s] the most barren and destitute of water of the
whole country. At its eastern extremity it is called El Birka [Arabic].
It borders to the north on the chain of El Tyh, which stretches in a
regular line eastwards, parallel with the Zebeir, beginning at Sarbout
el Djeinel. On reaching, in its eastern course, the somewhat higher
mountain called El Odjme [Arabic], it separates into two; one of its
branches turns off in a right angle northward, and after continuing for
about fifteen miles in that direction, again turns to the east, and
extends parallel with the second and southern branch all across the
peninsula, towards the eastern gulf. The northern branch, which is
called El Dhelel [Arabic], bounds the view from Mount St. Catherine. On
turning to the east, I found that the mountains in this direction,
beyond the high district of Sinai, run in a lower range towards the Wady
Sal, and that the slope of the upper mountains is much less abrupt than
on the opposite side. From Sal, east and north-east, the chains
intersect each other in many irregular masses

[p.575] of inferior height, till they reach the gulf of Akaba, which I
clearly distinguished when the sun was just rising over the mountains of
the Arabian coast. Excepting the short extent from Noweyba to Dahab, the
mountains bordering on the gulf are all of secondary height, but they
rise to a considerable elevation between those two points. The country
between Sherm, Nabk, and the convent, is occupied also by mountains of
minor size, and the valleys, generally, are so narrow, that few of them
can be distinguished from the point where I stood, the whole country, in
that direction, appearing an uninterrupted wilderness of barren
mountains. The highest points on that side appear to be above Wady Kyd,
above the valley of Naszeb, and principally the peaks called Om Kheysyn
[Arabic] and Masaoud [Arabic].

The view to the south was bounded by the high mountain of Om Shomar
[Arabic], which forms a nucleus of itself, apparently unconnected with
the upper Sinai, although bordering close upon it. To the right of this
mountain I could distinguish the sea, in the neighbourhood of Tor, near
which begins a low calcareous chain of mountains, called Djebel Hemam
(i.e. death), not Hamam (or bath), extending along the gulf of Suez, and
separated from the upper Sinai by a broad gravelly plain called El Kaa
[Arabic], across which the road from Tor to Suez passes. This plain
terminates to the W.N.W. of Mount St. Catherine, and nearly in the
direction of Djebel Serbal. Towards the Kaa, the central Sinai mountains
are very abrupt, and leave no secondary intermediate chain between them
and the plain at their feet. The mountain of Serbal, which I afterwards
visited, is separated from the upper Sinai by some valleys, especially
Wady Hebran, and it forms, with several neighbouring mountains, a
separate cluster terminating in peaks, the highest of which appears to
be as high as Mount St. Catherine. It borders on the Wady Feiran and the
chain of Zebeir.

[p.576] I took the following bearings, from the summit of Mount St.
Catherine. These, together with those which I took from the peak of Om
Shomar and from Serbal, and the distances and direction of my different
routes, will serve to construct a map of the peninsula more detailed and
accurate than any that has yet been published.

El Djoze [Arabic], a rock distinguished by two peaks above that part of
Wady Feiran where the date groves are, N.W. b. N.

Sarbout el Djemel [Arabic], the beginning of Djebel Tyh, N.W. 1/4 N.

El Odjme, N. 1/2 E.

El Fereya, a high mountain of the upper Sinai region, N.N.E.

Zelka is in the same direction of N.N.E. It is a well, about one day's
journey from the convent, on the upper route from the convent to Akaba,
which traverses the chain of Tyh. The stations in that road, beyond
Zelka, are, Ayn [Arabic], Hossey [Arabic], and Akaba. The bearing of Ayn
was pointed out to me N.E. b. N.

The mountain over El Hadhra, a well which I passed on my road to Akaba,
N.E. 1/2 E.

Senned, a secondary mountain between the upper Sinai and Hadhra,
bordering upon Wady Sal; extends from E.N.E. to N.E.

Noweyba, E. We could not see the sea shore at Noweyba, but the high
mountains over it were very conspicuous.

Wady Naszeb, on the northern road from Sherm to the convent, extended in
a direction S.E. to E.S.E.

Dahab, on the eastern gulf, E.S.E.

Djebel Masaoud, a high mountain on the borders of the upper Sinai, S.E.
b. E.

Wady Kyd, and the mountain over it, S.E.

The Island of Tyran, S.S.E. 1/2 E.

[p.577] Om Kheysyn [Arabic], a high mountain between Sherm and the
Sinai, S. 1/4 E.

The direction of Sherm was pointed out to me, a little to the eastward
of south.

Djebel Thomman [Arabic], a high peak, belonging to the mountains of Om
Shomar, a little distant from the Sinai, S.

The peak of Om Shomar, S.S.W.

El Koly [Arabic], a high peak of the upper Sinai, S.W. 1/2 S. At its foot
passes the road from the convent to Tor.

The direction of Tor was pointed out to me S.W. The rocks of the upper
Sinai, which constitute the borders of it in that direction, are called
El Sheydek [Arabic].

El Nedhadhyh [Arabic], mountains likewise on the skirts of the upper
Sinai, W. 1/4 S. Madsous [Arabic], another peak of the upper Sinai, W.
1/4 N.

Serbal, N.W. 1/2 W. The well El Morkha, lying near the Birket Faraoun,
in the common road from Tor to Suez, is in the same direction.

Om Dhad [Arabic], N.W. This is the head of a Wady, called Wady Kebryt,
on the outside of the Sinai chain.

Of the upper Sinai, the peaks of Djebel Mousa, of St. Catherine, of Om
Thoman, of Koly, and of Fereya are the highest.

In making the preceding observations I was obliged to take out my
compass and pencil, which greatly surprised the Arabs, who, seeing me in
an Arab dress, and speaking their language, yet having the same pursuits
as the Frank travellers whom they had seen here, were quite at a loss
what to make of me. The suspicion was immediately excited, that I had
ascended this mountain to practise some enchantment, and it was much
increased by my further proceedings. The Bedouins supposed that I had
come to carry off the rain, and my return to Cairo was, in consequence,
much less agreeable than my journey from thence; indeed I might have
been subjected to


[p.578] some unpleasant occurrences had not the faithful Hamd been by my
side, who in the route back was of more service to me than all the
Firmahns of the Pasha could have been.

We returned from Mount St. Catherine to the place where we had passed
the night, and breakfasted with the Djebalye, for which payment was
asked, and readily given. The conveying of pilgrims is one of the few
modes of subsistence which these poor people possess, and at a place
where strangers are continually passing, gratuitous hospitality is not
to be expected from them, though they might be ready to afford it to the
helpless traveller. The two days excursion to the holy places cost me
about forty piastres, or five dollars.

Before mid-day we had again reached the convent El Erbayn, in the garden
of which I passed a most agreeable afternoon. The verdure was so
brilliant and the blossoms of the orange trees diffused so fine a
perfume that I was transported in imagination from the barren cliffs of
the wilderness to the luxurious groves of Antioch. It is surprising that
the Europeans resident at Cairo do not prefer spending the season of the
plague in these pleasant gardens, and this delightful climate, to
remaining close prisoners in the infected city.

We returned in the evening to the convent, by following to the northward
the valley in which the Erbayn stands. This valley is very narrow, and
extremely stony, many large blocks having rolled from the mountains into
it; it is called El Ledja [Arabic], a name given to a similar rocky
district, described by me, in the Haouran. At twenty minutes walk from
the Erbayn we passed a block of granite, said to be the rock out of
which the water issued when struck by the rod of Moses. It lies quite
insulated by the side of the path, which is about ten feet higher than
the lowest bottom of the valley. The rock is about twelve feet in
height, of an irregular shape approaching to a cube. There are some
apertures upon its surface, through which the water is said to have
burst out; they are

[p.579] about twenty in number, and lie nearly in a straight line round
the three sides of the stone. They are for the most part ten or twelve
inches long, two or three inches broad, and from one to two inches deep,
but a few of them are as deep as four inches. Every observer must be
convinced, on the slightest examination, that most of these fissures are
the work of art, but three or four perhaps are natural, and these may
have first drawn the attention of the monks to the stone, and have
induced them to call it the rock of the miraculous supply of water.
Besides the marks of art evident in the holes themselves, the spaces
between them have been chiselled, so as to make it appear as if the
stone had been worn in those parts by the action of the water; though it
cannot be doubted, that if water had flowed from the fissures it must
generally have taken quite a different direction. One traveller saw on
this stone twelve openings, answering to the number of the tribes of
Israel; [Breydenbach.] another [Sicard, Memoires des Missions.]
describes the holes as a foot deep. They were probably told so by the
monks, and believed what they heard rather than what they saw.

About one hundred and fifty paces farther on in the valley lies another
piece of rock, upon which it seems that the work of deception was first
begun, there being four or five apertures cut in it, similar to those on
the other block, but in a less finished state; as it is somewhat smaller
than the former, and lies in a less conspicuous part of the valley,
removed from the public path, the monks probably thought proper in
process of time to assign the miracle to the other. As the rock of Moses
has been described by travellers of the fifteenth century, the deception
must have originated among the monks of an earlier period. As to the
present inhabitants of the convent and of the peninsula, they must be
acquitted of any fraud respecting it, for they conscientiously believe
that it is the very rock from whence the water gushed forth. In this
part of

[p.580] the peninsula the Israelites could not have suffered from
thirst: the upper Sinai is full of wells and springs, the greater part
of which are perennial; and on whichever side the pretended rock of
Moses is approached, copious sources are found within a quarter of an
hour of it. The rock is greatly venerated by the Bedouins, who put grass
into the fissures, as offerings to the memory of Moses, in the same
manner as they place grass upon the tombs of their saints, because grass
is to them the most precious gift of nature, and that upon which their
existence chiefly depends. They also bring hither their female camels,
for they believe that by making the animal couch down before the rock,
while they recite some prayers, and by putting fresh grass into the
fissures of the stone, the camels will become fertile, and yield an
abundance of milk. The superstition is encouraged by the monks, who
rejoice to see the infidel Bedouins venerating the same object with

Those who should attempt to weaken the faith of the monks and their
visitors respecting this rock, would be now almost as blameable as the
original authors of the imposture; for, such is the ignorance of the
oriental Christians, and the impossibility of their obtaining any
salutary instruction under the Turkish government, that were their faith
in such miracles completely shaken, their religion would soon be
entirely overthrown, and they would be left to wander in all the
darkness of Atheism. It is curious to observe the blindness with which
Christians as well as Turks believe in the pretended miracles of those
who are interested in deceiving them. There is hardly a town in Syria or
Egypt, where the Moslems have not a living saint, who works wonders,
which the whole population is ready to attest as eye-witnesses. When I
was at Damascus in 1812, some Christians returned thither from
Jerusalem, where they had been to celebrate Easter. Some striking
miracles said to have been performed by the Pope during his imprisonment
at Savona, and which had been industriously propagated by the

[p.581] Latin priests in Syria, seem to have suggested to them the
design of imitating his Holiness: the returning pilgrims unanimously
declared, that when the Spanish priest of the convent of the Holy
Sepulchre read the mass on Easter Sunday or Monday, upon the Mount of
Olives, the whole assembled congregation saw him rise, while behind the
altar, two or three feet in the air, and support himself in that
position for several minutes, in giving the people his blessing. If any
Christian of Damascus had expressed his doubts of the truth of this
story, the monks of the convent there would have branded him with the
epithet of Framasoun (Freemason), which among the Syrian Christians is
synonymous with Atheist, and he would for ever have lost his character
among his brethren.

A little farther down than the rock above described is shewn the seat of
Moses, where it is said that he often sat; it is a small and apparently
natural excavation in a granite rock, resembling a chair. Near this is
the "petrified pot or kettle of Moses" [Arabic], a name given to a
circular projecting knob in a rock, similar in size and shape to the lid
of a kettle. The Arabs have in vain endeavoured to break this rock,
which they suppose to contain great treasures.

As we proceeded from the rock of the miraculous supply of water along
the valley El Ledja, I saw upon several blocks of granite, whose smooth
sides were turned towards the path, inscriptions similar to those at
Naszeb; the following were the most legible:

1. Upon a small block: [not included]

2. [not included]


3. [not included] There are many effaced lines on this block.

4. Upon a rock near the stone of Moses: [not included]

5. Upon a block close to the above: [not included]

6. [not included]

7. Upon the rock called the Pot: [not included]

8. Upon a large insulated block of granite: [not included]


[p.583] It is to be observed, that none of these inscriptions are found
higher up the valley than the water rock, being all upon blocks on the
way from thence to the convent, which seems to be a strong proof, that
they were inscribed by those persons only who came from the convent or
from Cairo, to visit the rock, and not by pilgrims in their way to the
mountain of Moses or of St. Catherine, who would undoubtedly have left
some record farther up the valley, and more particularly upon the sides
and summits of the mountains themselves: but I could there find no
inscriptions whatever, although I examined the ground closely, and saw
many smooth blocks by the road, very suitable to such inscriptions.

At forty minutes walk from Erbayn, where the valley El Ledja opens into
the broad valley which leads eastwards to the convent, is a fine garden,
with the ruins of a small convent, called El Bostan; water is conducted
into it by a small channel from a spring in the Ledja. It was full of
apricot trees, and roses in full blossom. A few Djebalye live here and
take care of the garden. From hence to the convent is half an hour; in
the way is shewn the head of the golden calf, which the Israelites
worshipped, transmuted into stone. It is somewhat singular that both the
monks and the Bedouins call it the cow's head (Ras el Bakar), and not
the calf's, confounding it, perhaps, with the "red heifer," of which the
Old Testament and the Koran speak. It is a stone half-buried in the
ground, and bears some resemblance to the forehead of a cow. Some
travellers have explained this stone to be the mould in which Aaron cast
the calf, though it is not hollow but projecting; the Arabs and monks
however gravely assured me that it was the "cow's" head itself. Beyond
this object, towards the convent, a hill is pointed out to the left,
called Djebel Haroun, because it is believed to be the spot where Aaron
assembled the seventy elders of Israel. Both this and the cow's head
have evidently received these denominations from


[p.584] the monks and Bedouins, in order that they may multiply the
objects of veneration and curiosity within the pilgrim's tour round the

On my return to the convent I could not help expressing to several of
the monks my surprise at the metamorphosis of a calf into a cow, and of
an idol of gold into stone; but I found that they were too little read
in the books of Moses to understand even this simple question, and I
therefore did not press the subject. I believe there is not a single
individual amongst them, who has read the whole of the Old Testament;
nor do I think that among eastern Christians in general there is one in
a thousand, of those who can read, that has ever taken that trouble.
They content themselves, in general, with their prayer-books, liturgies,
and histories of saints; few of them read the gospels, though more do so
in Syria than in Egypt; the reading of the whole of the scripture is
discountenanced by the clergy; the wealthy seldom have the inclination
to prosecute the study of the Holy writings, and no others are able to
procure a manuscript copy of the Bible, or one printed in the two
establishments in Mount Libanus. The well meant endeavours of the Bible
Society in England to supply them with printed copies of the Scriptures
in Arabic, if not better directed than they have hitherto been, will
produce very little effect in these countries. The cost of such a copy,
trifling as it may seem in England, is a matter of importance to the
poor Christians of the east; the Society has, besides, chosen a version
which is not current in the east, where the Roman translation alone is
acknowledged by the Clergy, who easily make their flocks believe that
the Scriptures have been interpolated by the Protestants. It would,
perhaps, have been better if the Society, in the beginning at least, had
furnished the eastern Christians with cheap copies of the Gospels and
Psalms only, which being the books chiefly in use among them in

[p.585] would have been not only useful to them, but more approved of by
the directors of their consciences, than the entire Scripture. Upon
Mohammedans, it is vain to expect that the reading of the present Arabic
version of the Bible should make the slightest impression. If any of
them were brought to conquer their inherent aversion to the book, they
could not read a page in it without being tired and disgusted with its
style. In the Koran they possess the purest and most elegant composition
in their language, the rhythmical prose of which, exclusive of the
sacred light in which they hold it, is alone sufficient to make a strong
impression upon them. The Arabic of the greater part of the Bible, on
the contrary, and especially that of the Gospels, is in the very worst
style; the books of Moses and the Psalms are somewhat better.
Grammatical rules, it is true, are observed, and chosen terms are
sometimes employed; but the phraseology and whole construction is
generally contrary to the spirit of the language, and so uncouth, harsh,
affected, and full of foreign idioms, that no Musselman scholar would be
tempted to prosecute the study of it, and a few only would thoroughly
understand it. In style and phraseology it differs from the Koran more
than the monkish Latin from the orations of Cicero.

I will not take upon me to declare how far the Roman and the Society's
Arabic translation of the Old Testament are defective, being unable to
read the original Hebrew text; but I can affirm that they both disagree,
in many instances, from the English translation. The Christians of the
East, who will seldom read any book written by a Moslem, and to whom an
accurate knowledge of Arabic and of the best writers in that language
are consequently unknown, are perfectly satisfied with the style of the
Roman version which is in use among them; it is for the sake of perusing
it that they undertake a grammatical study of the Arabic language, and
their priests and

[p.586] learned men usually make it the model of their own style; they
would be unwilling therefore to admit any other translation; and there
is not, at present, either in Syria or in Egypt any Christian priest so
bold and so learned as Bishop Germanus Ferhat of Aleppo, who openly
expressed his dislike of this translation, and had declared his
intention of altering it himself, for which, and other reasons, he was
branded with the epithet of heretic. For Arab Christians, therefore, the
Roman translation will not easily be superseded, and if Mussulmans are
to be tempted to study the Scriptures, they must be clothed in more
agreeable language, than that which has lately been presented to them,
for they are the last people upon whom precepts conveyed in rude
language will have any effect.

In the present state of western Asia, however, the conversion of
Mohammedans is very difficult; I have heard only of one instance during
the last century, and the convert was immediately shipped off to Europe.
On the other hand, should an European power ever obtain a firm footing
in Egypt, it is probable that many years would not elapse before
thousands of Moslems would profess Christianity; not from the dictates
of their conscience or judgment, but from views of worldly interest.

I was cordially greeted on my return to the convent, by the monks and
the fatherly Ikonomos, one of the best-natured churchmen I have met with
in the East. The safe return of pilgrims from the holy mountains is
always a subject of gratulation, so great is their dread of the Arabs. I
rested the following day in the convent, where several Greeks from Tor
and Suez had arrived; being friends of the monks, they were invited in
the evening to the private apartments of the latter, where they were
plied so bountifully with brandy that they all retired tipsy to bed.

Several Bedouins had acquainted me that a thundering noise,


[p.587] like repeated discharges of heavy artillery, is heard at times
in these mountains; and they all affirmed that it came from Om Shomar.
The monks corroborated the story, and even positively asserted that they
had heard the sound about mid-day, five years ago, describing it in the
same manner as the Bedouins. The same noise had been heard in more
remote times, and the Ikonomos, who has lived here forty years, told me
that he remembered to have heard the noise at four or five separate
periods. I enquired whether any shock of an earthquake had ever been
felt on such occasions, but was answered in the negative. Wishing to
ascertain the truth, I prepared to visit the mountain of Om Shomar.

As I had lost much of the confidence of the Bedouins by writing upon the
mountains, and could not intimidate them by shewing a passport from the
Pasha, I kept my intended journey secret, and concerting matters with
Hamd and two Djebalye, I was let down from the window of the convent a
little before midnight on the 23rd of May, and found my guides well
armed and in readiness below. We proceeded by Wady Sebaye, the same road
I had come from Sherm. In this Wady, tradition says, the Israelites
gained the victory over the Amalekites, which was obtained by the
holding up of the hands of Moses (Ex. xvii. 12.), but this battle was
fought in Raphidim, where the water gushed out from the rock, a
situation which appears to have been to the westward of the convent, on
the approach from the gulf of Suez.

I was much disappointed at being able to trace so very few of the
ancient Hebrew names of the Old Testament in the modern names of the
peninsula; but it is evident that, with the exception of Sinai and a few
others, they are all of Arabic derivation.

On a descent from the summit of Wady Sebaye, at an hour and a half from
the convent, we turned to the right from the road to Sherm, and entered
Wady Owasz [Arabic], in a direction


[p.588] S. b. W. I found here a small chain of white and red sand-stone
hills in the midst of granite. The morning was so very cold that we were
obliged to stop and light a fire, round which we sat till sunrise; my
feet and hands were absolutely benumbed, for neither gloves or stockings
are in fashion among Bedouins. We continued in the valley, crossing
several hills, till at four hours and a half we reached Wady Rahaba
[Arabic], in the lower parts of which we had passed a very rainy night
on the 17th. Rahaba is one of the principal valleys on this side of the
peninsula; it is broad, and affords good pasturage. We halted under a
granite rock in the middle of it, close by about a dozen small
buildings, which are called by the Bedouins Makhsen (magazines), and
which serve them as a place of deposit for their provision, clothes,
money, &c. As Bedouins are continually moving about, they find it
inconvenient to carry with them what they do not constantly want; they
therefore leave whatever they have not immediate need of in these
magazines, to which they repair as occasion requires. Almost every
Bedouin in easy circumstances has one of them; I have met with them in
several parts of the mountains, always in clusters of ten or twenty
together. They are at most ten feet high, generally about ten or twelve
feet square, constructed with loose stones, covered with the trunks of
date trees, and closed with a wooden door and lock. These buildings are
altogether so slight, and the doors so insecure, that a stone would be
sufficient to break them open; no watchmen are left to guard them, and
they are in such solitary spots that they might easily be plundered in
the night, without the thief being ever discovered. But such is the good
faith of the Towara towards each other, that robberies of this kind are
almost unheard of; and their Sheikh Szaleh, whose magazine is well known
to contain fine dresses, shawls, and dollars, considers his property as
safe there as it would be in the best


[p.589] secured building in a large town. The Towara are well entitled
to pride themselves on this trait in their character; for I found
nothing similar to it among other Bedouins. The only instance upon
record of a magazine having been plundered among them, is that mentioned
in page 475, for which the robber's own father inflicted the punishment
of death.

We continued our route in a side branch of the Rababa, till at the end
of five hours and a half, we ascended a mountain, and then descended
into a narrow valley, or rather cleft, between the rocks, called Bereika
[Arabic]. The camel which I rode not being able to proceed farther on
account of the rocky road, I left it here in charge of one of the
Djebalye. This part of Sinai was completely parched up, no rain having
fallen in it during the last winter. W.S.W. from hence, on entering a
narrow pass called Wady Zereigye [Arabic], we found the ground moist,
there being a small well, but almost dried up; it would have cost us
some time to dig it up to obtain water, which no longer rose above the
surface, though it still maintained some verdure around it. This defile
was thickly overgrown with fennel, three or four feet high; the Bedouins
eat the stalks raw, and pretend that it cools the blood. Farther down we
came to two copious springs, most picturesquely situated among the
rocks, being overshaded by large wild fig-trees, a great number of which
grow in other parts of this district. We descended the Zereigye by
windings, and at the end of eight hours reached its lowest extremity,
where it joins a narrow valley extending along the foot of Om Shomar,
the almost perpendicular cliffs of which now stood before us. The
country around is the wildest I had yet seen in these mountains; the
devastations of torrents are every where visible, the sides of the
mountains being rent by them in numberless directions; the surface of
the sharp rocks is blackened by the sun; all vegetation is dry and
withered; and the whole

[p.590] scene presents nothing but utter desolation and hopeless

We ascended S.E. in the valley of Shomar, winding round the foot of the
mountain for about an hour, till we reached the well of Romhan [Arabic],
at nine hours from the convent, where we rested. This is a fine spring;
high grass grows in the narrow pass near it, with several date-trees and
a gigantic fig-tree. Just above the well, on the side of the mountain,
are the ruins of a convent, called Deir Antous; it was inhabited in the
beginning of the last century, and according to the monks, it was the
last convent abandoned by them. I found it mentioned in records of the
fifteenth century in the convent; it was then one of the principal
settlements, and caravans of asses laden with corn and other provisions
passed by this place regularly from the convent to Tor, for this is the
nearest road to that harbour, though it is more difficult than the more
western route, which is now usually followed. The convent consisted of a
small solid building, constructed with blocks of granite. I was told
that date plantations are found higher up in the valley of Romhan, and
that the monks formerly had their gardens there, of which some of the
fruit trees still remain.

May 24th.--Early this morning I took Hamd with me to climb the Om Shomar,
while the other man went with his gun in pursuit of some mountain-goats
which he had seen yesterday at sunset upon the summit of a neighbouring
mountain; he was accompanied by another Djebalye, whom we had met by
chance. I had promised them a good reward if they should kill a goat,
for I did not wish to have them near me, when examining the rocks upon
the mountain. It took me an hour and a half to reach the top of Shomar,
and I employed three hours in visiting separately all the surrounding
heights, but I could no where find the slightest traces of a volcano, or
of any volcanic productions, which I have not observed in any part of

[p.591] the upper Sinai. Om Shomar consists of granite, the lower
stratum is red, that at the top is almost white, so as to appear from a
distance like chalk; this arises from the large proportion of white
feldspath in it, and the smallness of the particles of hornblende and
mica. In the middle of the mountain, between the granite rocks, I found
broad strata of brittle black slate, mixed with layers of quartz and
feldspath, and with micaceous schistus. The quartz includes thin strata
of mica of the most brilliant white colour, which is quite dazzling in
the sun, and forms a striking contrast with the blackened surface of the
slate and red granite.

The mountain of Om Shomar rises to a sharp-pointed peak, the highest
summit of which, it is, I believe, impossible to reach; the sides being
almost perpendicular, and the rock so smooth, as to afford no hold to
the foot. I halted at about two hundred feet below it, where a beautiful
view opened upon the sea of Suez, and the neighbourhood of Tor, which
place was distinctly visible; at our feet extended the wide plain El
Kaa. The southern side of this mountain is very abrupt, and there is no
secondary chain, like those on the descent from Sinai to the sea, in
every other direction. I have already mentioned the low chain called
Hemam, which separates the Kaa from the gulf of Suez. In this chain,
about five hours from Tor, northward, is the Djebel Nakous, or mountain
of the Bell. On its side next the sea a mass of very fine sand, which
has collected there, rushes down at times, and occasions a hollow sound,
of which the Bedouins relate many stories; they compare it to the
ringing of bells, and a fable is repeated among them, that the bells
belong to a convent buried under the sands. The wind and weather are not
believed to have any effect upon the sound.

Bearings from Om Shomar.

Tor, W.1.S. The usual road to Tor from the upper Sinai lies through the
valley of El Ghor [Arabic], not far distant to the N.W.


[p.592] of Shomar; to the south of El Ghor extends the chain of Djed el
Aali [Arabic]; and another valley called El Shedek [Arabic], entered
from the Ghor, leads towards the lower plain

Djebel Serbal, N. 1/4 W.

The Djoze, over Feiran, N. 1/2 W.

Om Dhad, N.N.W.

Fera Soweyd [Arabic], a high mountain between Om Shomar and Mount St.
Catherine, N. b. E. It forms one range with the peak of Koly, which
branches of from hence, N.E. b. N.

Mountain of Masaoud, E.

Mountain over Wady Kyd, E. 1/4 S.

We took a breakfast after our return to Romhan, and then descended by
the same way we had come. In re-ascending Wady Zereigye we heard the
report of a gun, and were soon after gratified by seeing our huntsman
arrive at the place where we had left our camel, with a fine mountain
goat. Immediately on killing it he had skinned it, taken out the
entrails, and then put the carcase again into the skin, carrying it on
his back, with the skin of the legs tied across his breast. No butcher
in Europe can surpass a Bedouin in skinning an animal quickly; I have
seen them strip a camel in less than a quarter of an hour; the entrails
are very seldom thrown away; if water is at hand, they are washed, if
not, they are roasted over the fire without washing; the liver and lungs
of all animals are usually eaten raw, and many of the hungry bystanders
are seen swallowing raw pieces of flesh. After a hearty dinner we
descended, by a different path from that we had ascended, into the upper
part of Wady Rahaba, in which we continued N.E. b. E. for two or three
hours, when we halted at a well called Merdoud [Arabic], at a little
distance from several plantations of fruittrees.

My departure from the convent had roused the suspicions of the Bedouins;
they had learnt that I was going to Om Shomar, and


[p.593] two of them set out this morning by different routes, in order
to intercept my return, intending no doubt to excite a quarrel with me
respecting my visits to their mountains, in the hope of extorting money
from me. We met one of them at this well, and he talked as loud and was
as boisterous as if I had killed some of his kindred, or robbed his
tent. After allowing him to vent his rage for half an hour, I began to
speak to him in a very lofty tone, of my own importance at Cairo, and of
my friendship with the Pasha; concluding by telling him, that the next
time he went to Cairo I would have his camel seized by the soldiers.
When he found that he could not intimidate me, he accepted of my
invitation to be our guest for the night, and went in search of a
neighbouring friend of his, who brought us an earthen pot, in which we
cooked the goat.

May 25th.--At one hour below Merdoud we again fell in with Wady Owasz,
and returned by the former road to the convent. The monks were in the
greatest anxiety about me, for the Bedouins who had gone in search of
me, had sworn that they would shoot me; and had even refused a small
present offered to them by the Ikonomos to pacify them, expecting, no
doubt, to obtain much more from myself; but they now returned, and
obliged him to give them what he had offered them, pretending that it
was for his sake only that they had spared my life; nor would the monks
believe me when I assured them that I had been in no danger on this

I passed the following four days in the convent, and in several gardens
and settlements of Djebalye at a little distance from it. I took this
opportunity to look over some of the records of the convent which are
written in Arabic, and I extracted several interesting documents
relative to the state of the Bedouins in former times, and their affrays
with the monks. In one, of the last century, is a


[p.594] list of the Ghafeyrs of the convent, not belonging to the
Towara. These are,

El Rebabein [Arabic], a small tribe belonging to the great Djeheyne
tribe of the Hedjaz; a few families of the Rebabein have settled at
Moeleh on the Arabian coast, and in the small villages in the vicinity
of Tor. They serve as pilots in that part of the Red sea, and protect
the convent's property about Tor.

El Heywat [Arabic], El Syayhe [Arabic], are small tribes living east of
Akaba, among the dwelling-places of the Omran. El Reteymat [Arabic], a
tribe about Ghaza and Hebron. El Omarein, or Omran. El Hokouk [Arabic],
the principal tribe of he Tyaha. El Mesayd [Arabic], a small tribe of
the Sherkieh province of Egypt. El Alowein, a strong tribe north of
Akaba. El Sowareka [Arabic], in the desert between Sinai and Ghaza. El
Terabein. El Howeytat. Oulad el Fokora [Arabic], the principal branch of
the tribe of Wahydat near Ghaza. Individuals of all these tribes are
entitled to small yearly stipends and some clothing, and are bound to
recover the property of the monks, when seized by any persons of their
respective tribes. In one of the manuscripts I found the name of a
Ghafeyr called Shamoul (Samuel), a Hebrew name I had never before met
with among Arabs.

On the 29th, I was visited by Hassan Ibn Amer [Arabic], the Sheikh of
the Oulad Said, who is also one of the two principal Sheiks of the
Towara, and in whose tent I had slept one night in my way to the
convent. He begged me to lend him twenty dollars, which he promised to
repay me at Cairo, as he wished to buy some sheep to be killed on the
following day in honour of the saint Sheikh Szaleh. I told him that I
never lent money to any body, but would willingly have made him a
present of the sum if I had possessed it. He then said in many words,
that if it had not been for his interference, the Bedouins would have
waylaid and

[p.595] killed me in returning from Djebel Katerin. I told him that he
and his tribe would have been responsible to the Pasha of Egypt for such
an act; and in short that I never paid any tribute in the Pasha's
dominions. It ended by my giving him a few pounds of coffeebeans,
wrapped up in a good handkerchief, a few squares of soap, and a loaf of
sugar, to present to his women, and thus we parted good friends. In the
evening his brother came and also received a few trifles. He had brought
a fat sheep to kill in honour of El Khoudher (St. George), a saint of
the first class among Bedouins, and to whose intercession he thought
himself indebted for the recovery of the health of his young wife. In
the convent, adjoining to the outer wall, is a chapel dedicated to St.
George; the Bedouins, who are not permitted to enter the convent,
address their vows and prayers to him on the outside, just below the
chapel. I was invited to partake of the repast prepared by the brother
of Sheikh Hassan, and much against the advice of the monks, I let myself
down the rope from the window, and sat below for several hours with the

I was invited also to the great feast of Sheikh Szaleh, in Wady Szaleh,
which was to take place on the morrow, but as I knew that Szaleh, the
great chief of the Towara, was to be there, and would no doubt press me
hardly by his inquiries why I had come without the Pasha's Firmahn; and
as the Arabs were greatly exasperated against me for my late excursion
to Om Shomar in addition to other causes of displeasure, I thought it
very probable that I might be insulted amongst them, and I therefore
determined to seize the opportunity of this general assembly in Wady
Szaleh to begin my journey to Cairo; by so doing, I should also escape
the disagreeable necessity of having Bedouin guides forced upon me. I
engaged Hamd and his brother with two camels, and left the convent
before dawn on the 30th, after having taken a farewell


[p.596] of the monks, and especially of the worthy Ikonomos, who
presented me at parting with a leopard's skin, which he had lately
bought of the Bedouins; together with several fine specimens of rock
crystals, and a few small pieces of native cinnabar [Arabic]. The
crystals are collected by the Arabs in one of the mountains not far
distant from the convent, but in which of them I did not learn; I have
seen some six inches in length, and one and a half in breadth; the
greater part are of a smoky colour, with pyramidal tops. The cinnabar is
said, by the Bedouins, to be found in great quantities upon Djebel
Sheyger [Arabic], a few hours to the N.E. of Wady Osh, the valley in
which I slept, at an Arab encampment, two nights before I arrived at the
convent from Suez.

May 30th.--We issued from the narrow valley in which the convent stands,
into a broader one, or rather a plain, called El Raha, leaving on our
right the road by which I first reached the convent. We continued in El
Raha N.N.W. for an hour and an half, when we came to an ascent called
Nakb el Raha [Arabic], the top of which we reached in two hours from the
convent. I had chosen this route, which is the most southern from the
convent to Suez, in order to see Wady Feiran, and to ascend from thence
the mountain Serbal, which, with Mount Saint Catherine and Shomar, is
the highest peak in the peninsula. I had mentioned my intention to Hamd,
who it appears communicated it this morning to his brother, for the
latter left us abruptly at Nakb el Raha, saying that he had forgot his
gun, giving his camel in charge to Hamd, and promising to join us lower
down, as his tent was not far distant. Instead, however, of going home,
he ran straight to the Arabs assembled at Sheikh Szaleh, and acquainted
them with my designs. Their chiefs immediately dispatched a messenger to
Feiran to enjoin the people there to prevent me from ascending Serbal;


[p.597] fortunately, I was already on my way to the mountain when the
messenger reached Feiran, and on my return I had only to encounter the
clamorous and now fruitless expostulations of the Arabs at that place.

We began to descend from the top of Nakb el Raha, by a narrow chasm, the
bed of a winter torrent; direction N.W. by N. At the end of two hours
and a quarter we halted near a spring called Kanaytar [Arabic]. Upon
several blocks near it I saw inscriptions in the same character as those
which I had before seen, but they were so much effaced as to be no
longer legible. I believe it was in these parts that Niebuhr copied the
inscriptions given in plate 49 of his Voyage. From the spring the
descent was steep; in many parts I found the road paved, which must have
been a work of considerable labour, and I was told that it had been done
in former times at the expense of the convent. This road is the only one
passable for camels, with the exception of the defile in which is the
seat of Moses, in the way from the upper Sinai towards Suez. At three
hours and three quarters from the convent we reached the foot of this
mountain, which is bordered by a broad, gravelly valley. This is the
boundary of the upper mountains of Sinai on this side; they extended in
an almost perpendicular range on our right towards Wady Szaleh, and on
our left in the direction W.N.W. We now entered Wady Solaf [Arabic],
"the valley of wine," coming from the N. or N.E. which here separates
the upper Sinai range from the lower. At five hours we passed, to our
right, a Wady coming from the north, called Abou Taleb [Arabic], at the
upper extremity of which is the tomb of the saint Abou Taleb, which the
Bedouins often visit, and where there is an annual festival, like that
of Sheikh Szaleh, but less numerously attended. Our road continued
through slightly descending, sandy valleys; at the end of five hours and
a quarter, after having

[p.598] passed several encampments without stopping, we turned N. by W.
where a lateral valley branches off towards the sea shore, and
communicates with the valley of Hebran, which divides the upper Sinai
from the Serbal chain. Wady Hebran contains considerable date-
plantations and gardens, and this valley and Wady Feiran are the most
abundant in water of all the Wadys of the lower country. A route from
the convent to Tor passes through Wady Hebran, which is longer than the
usual one, but easier for beasts of burthen.

At six hours and three quarters we halted in Wady Solaf, as I found
myself somewhat feverish, and in want of repose. We saw great numbers of
red-legged partridges this day; they run with astonishing celerity along
the rocky sides of the mountains, and as the Bedouins do not like to
expend a cartridge upon so small a bird, they are very bold. When we
lighted our fire in the evening, I was startled by the cries of Hamd "to
take care of the venemous animal!" I then saw him kill a reptile like a
spider, to which the Bedouins give the name of Abou Hanakein [Arabic],
or the two-mouthed; hanak meaning, in their dialect, mouth. It was about
four inches and a half in length, of which the body was three inches; it
has five long legs on both sides, covered, like the body, with setae of
a light yellow colour; the head is long and pointed, with large black
eyes; the mouth is armed with two pairs of fangs one above the other,
recurved, and extremely sharp. Hamd told me that it never makes its
appearance but at night, and is principally attracted by fire; indeed I
saw three others during this journey, and always near the evening fire.
The Bedouins entertain the greatest dread of them; they say that their
bite, if not always mortal, produces a great swelling, almost instant
vomiting, and the most excruciating pains. I believe this to be the
Galeode phalangiste,


[p.599] at least it exactly resembles the drawing of that animal, given
by Olivier in his Travels, pl. 42-4.

May 31st.--A good night's rest completely removed my feverish symptoms.
Fatigue and a check of perspiration often produce slight fevers in the
desert, which I generally cured by lying down near the fire, and drawing
my mantle over my head, as the Bedouins always do at night. The
Bedouins, before they go to rest, usually undress themselves entirely,
and lie down quite naked upon a sheep's skin, which they carry for the
purpose; they then cover themselves with every garment which they happen
to have with them. Even in the hottest season they always cover the head
and face when sleeping, not only at night but also during the mid-day

We continued in Wady Solaf, which was entirely parched up, for an hour
and three quarters, and passed to the left a narrower valley called Wady
Keyfa [Arabic], coming from the Serbal mountains. At two hours we passed
Wady Rymm [Arabic], which also comes from the same chain, and joins the
Solaf; from thence we issued, at three hours, into the Wady el Sheik,
the great valley of the western Sinai, which collects the torrents of a
great number of smaller Wadys. There is not the smallest opening into
these mountains, nor the slightest projection from them, that has not
its name; but these names are known only to the Bedouins who are in the
habit of encamping in the neighbourhood, while the more distant Bedouins
are acquainted only with the names of the principal mountains and
valleys. I have already mentioned several times the Wady el Sheikh; I
found it here of the same noble breadth as it is above, and in many
parts it was thickly overgrown with the tamarisk or Tarfa; it is the
only valley in the peninsula where this tree grows, at present, in any
great quantity, though small bushes of it are here and there met with in
other parts. It is from the Tarfa that the manna is obtained, and it is
very strange that the fact should have remained unknown


[p.600] in Europe, till M. Seetzen mentioned it in a brief notice of his
tour to Sinai, published in the Mines de l'Orient. This substance is
called by the Bedouins, Mann [Arabic], and accurately resembles the
description of Manna given in the Scriptures. In the month of June it
drops from the thorns of the tamarisk upon the fallen twigs, leaves, and
thorns which always cover the ground beneath that tree in the natural
state; the manna is collected before sunrise, when it is coagulated, but
it dissolves as soon as the sun shines upon it. The Arabs clean away the
leaves, dirt, &c. which adhere to it, boil it, strain it through a
coarse piece of cloth, and put it into leathern skins; in this way they
preserve it till the following year, and use it as they do honey, to
pour over their unleavened bread, or to dip their bread into. I could
not learn that they ever make it into cakes or loaves. The manna is
found only in years when copious rains have fallen; sometimes it is not
produced at all, as will probably happen this year. I saw none of it
among the Arabs, but I obtained a small piece of last year's produce, in
the convent; where having been kept in the cool shade and moderate
temperature of that place, it had become quite solid, and formed a small
cake; it became soft when kept sometime in the hand; if placed in the
sun for five minutes it dissolved; but when restored to a cool place it
became solid again in a quarter of an hour. In the season, at which the
Arabs gather it, it never acquires that state of hardness which will
allow of its being pounded, as the Israelites are said to have done in
Numbers, xi. 8. Its colour is a dirty yellow, and the piece which I saw
was still mixed with bits of tamarisk leaves: its taste is agreeable,
somewhat aromatic, and as sweet as honey. If eaten in any considerable
quantity it is said to be slightly purgative.

The quantity of manna collected at present, even in seasons when the
most copious rains fall, is very trifling, perhaps not amounting to more
than five or six hundred pounds. It is entirely consumed

[p.601] among the Bedouins, who consider it the greatest dainty which
their country affords. The harvest is usually in June, and lasts for
about six weeks; sometimes it begins in May. There are only particular
parts of the Wady Sheikh that produce the tamarisk; but it is also said
to grow in Wady Naszeb, the fertile valley to the S.E. of the convent,
on the road from thence to Sherm.

In Nubia and in every part of Arabia the tamarisk is one of the most
common trees; on the Euphrates, on the Astaboras, in all the valleys of
the Hedjaz, and the Bedja, it grows in great plenty, but I never heard
of its producing manna except in Mount Sinai; it is true I made no
inquiries on the subject elsewhere, and should not, perhaps, have learnt
the fact here, had I not asked repeated questions respecting the manna,
with a view to an explanation of the Scriptures. The tamarisk abounds
more in juices than any other tree of the desert, for it retains its
vigour when every vegetable production around it is withered, and never
loses its verdure till it dies. It has been remarked by Niebuhr, (who,
with his accustomed candour and veracity says, that during his journey
to Sinai he forgot to enquire after the manna), that in Mesopotamia
manna is produced by several trees of the oak species; a similar fact
was confirmed to me by the son of the Turkish lady, mentioned in a
preceding page, who had passed the greater part of his youth at Erzerum
in Asia Minor; he told me that at Moush, a town three or four days
distant from Erzerum, a substance is collected from the tree which
produces the galls, exactly similar to the manna of the peninsula, in
taste and consistence, and that it is used by the inhabitants instead of
honey. We descended the Wady el Sheikh N.W. by W. Upon several
projecting rocks of the mountain I saw small stone huts, which Hamd told
me were the work of infidels in ancient times; they were


[p.602] probably the cells of the hermits of Sinai. Their construction
is similar to that of the magazines already mentioned, but the stones
although uncemented, are more carefully placed in the walls, and have
thus resisted the force of torrents. Upon the summits of three different
mountains to the right were small ruined towers, originally perhaps,
chapels, dependant on the episcopal see of Feiran. In descending the
valley the mountains on both sides approach so near, that a defile of
only fifteen or twenty feet across is left; beyond this they again
diverge, when a range of the same hills of Tafel, or yellow pipe-clay
are seen, which I observed in the higher parts of this Wady. At the end
of four hours we entered the plantations of Wady Feiran [Arabic],
through a wood of tamarisks, and halted at a small date-garden belonging
to my guide Hamd. Wady Feiran is a continuation of Wady el Sheikh, and
is considered the finest valley in the whole peninsula. From the upper
extremity, where we alighted, an uninterrupted row of gardens and date-
plantations extends downwards for four miles. In almost every garden is
a well, by means of which the grounds are irrigated the whole year
round, exactly in the same manner as those in the Hedjaz above Szafra
and Djedeyde. Among the date-trees are small huts where reside the Tebna
Arabs, a branch of the Djebalye, who serve as gardeners to the Towara
Bedouins, especially to the Szowaleha, who are the owners of the ground;
they take one-third of the fruit for their labour. The owners seldom
visit the place, except in the date harvest, when the valley is filled
with people for a month or six weeks; at that season they erect huts of
palm-branches, and pass their time in conviviality, receiving visits,
and treating their guests with dates. The best species of these is
called Djamya [Arabic], of which the monks send large boxes annually to
Constantinople as presents, after having taken out the stone of the
date, and put an almond in its place. The

[p.603] Nebek (Rhamnus Lotus), the fruit of which is a favourite food of
the Bedouins, grows also in considerable quantity at Wady Feiran. They
grind the dried fruit together with the stone, and preserve the meal,
called by them Bsyse [Arabic], in leathern skins, in the same manner as
the Nubian Bedouins do. It is an excellent provision for journeying in
the desert, for it requires only the addition of butter-milk to make a
most nourishing, agreeable, and refreshing diet.

The Tebna cultivators are very poor; they possess little or no landed
property, and are continually annoyed by visits from the Bedouins, whom
they are under the necessity of receiving with hospitality. Their only
profitable branch of culture is tobacco, of which they raise
considerable quantities; it is of the same species as that grown in the
mountains of Arabia Petraea, about Wady Mousa and Kerek, which retains
its green colour even when dry. It is very strong, and esteemed for this
quality by the Towara Bedouins, who are all great consumers of tobacco,
and who are chiefly supplied with it from Wady Feiran; they either smoke
it, or chew it mixed with natron or with salt. Tobacco has acquired here
such a currency in trade, that the Tebna buy and sell minor articles
among themselves by the Mud or measure of tobacco. The other vegetable
productions of the valley are cucumbers, gourds, melons, hemp for
smoking, onions, a few Badendjans, and a few carob trees. As for apple,
pear, or apricot trees, &c. they grow only in the elevated regions of
the upper Sinai, where in different spots are about thirty or forty
plantations of fruit trees; in a very few places wheat and barley are
sown, but the crops are so thin that they hardly repay the labour of
cultivation, although the cultivator has the full produce without any
deduction. The soil is every where so stony, that it is impossible to
make it produce corn sufficient for even the smallest Arab tribe.


[p.604] The narrowness of the valley of Feiran, which is not more than
an hundred paces across, the high mountains on each side, and the thick
woods of date-trees, render the heat extremely oppressive, and the
unhealthiness of the situation is increased by the badness of the water.
The Tebna are far from being as robust and healthy as their neighbours,
and in spring and summer dangerous fevers reign here. The few among them
who have cattle, live during those seasons under tents in the mountains,
leaving a few persons in care of the trees.

As Mount Serbal forms a very prominent feature in the topography of the
peninsula, I was determined if possible to visit it, and Hamd having
never been at the top of it, I was under the necessity of inquiring for
a guide. None of the Tebna present knew the road, but I found a young
man who guided us to the tent of a Djebalye, which was pitched in the
lower heights of Serbal, and who being a great sportsman, was known to
have often ascended the mountain. Leaving the servant with the camels, I
set out in the evening on foot with Hamd and the guide, carrying nothing
with us but some butter-milk in a small skin, together with some meal,
and ground Nebek, enough to last us for two days. We ascended Wady el
Sheikh for about three quarters of an hour, and then turned to the
right, up a narrow valley called Wady Ertama [Arabic] in the higher part
of which a few date-trees grow. In crossing over a steep ascent at its
upper extremity, I met with several inscriptions on insulated blocks,
consisting only of one line in the usual ancient character; but I did
not copy them, being desirous to conceal from my new guide that I was a
writing man, as it might have induced him to dissuade the Arabs in the
mountains from accompanying me farther up. On the other side of this
ascent we fell in with Wady Rymm, which I have already mentioned, and
found here


[p.605] the ruins of a small village, the houses of which were built
entirely with hewn stone, in a very solid manner. Some remains of the
foundations of a large edifice are traceable; a little lower down in the
valley are some date trees, with a well, which probably was the first
cause of building a village in this deserted spot, for the whole country
round is a wilderness of rocks, and the valley itself is not like those
below, flat and sandy, but covered with large stones which have been
washed down by torrents. From hence an ascent of half an hour brought us
to the Djebalye Arab, who was of the Sattala tribe: he had pitched here
two tents, in one of which lived his own, and in the other his son's
family; he spent the whole day in hunting, while the women and younger
children took care of the cattle, which found good pasturage among the
rocks. It was near sunset when we arrived, and the man was rather
startled at our visit, though he received us kindly, and soon brought us
a plentiful supper. When I asked him if he would show me the way to the
summit of the Serbal, which was now directly before us, he expressed
great astonishment, and no doubt immediately conceived the notion that I
had come to search for treasures, which appears the more probable to
these Bedouins, as they know that the country was formerly inhabited by
rich monks. Prepossessed with this idea, and knowing that nobody then
present was acquainted with the road, except himself, he thought he
might demand a most exorbitant sum from me. He declined making any
immediate bargain, and said that he would settle it the next morning.

June 1st.--We rose before daylight, when the Djebalye made coffee, and
then told me, that he could not think of accompanying me for less than
sixty piastres. As the whole journey was to last only till the evening,
and I knew that for one piastre any of these Bedouins will run about the
mountains on messages for a

[p.606] whole day, I offered him three piastres, but he was inflexible,
and replied, that were it not for his friendship for Hamd, he would not
take less than a hundred piastres. I rose to eight piastres, but on his
smiling, and shrugging up his shoulders at this, I rose, and declared
that we would try our luck alone.

We took our guns and our provision sack, filled our water skin at a
neighbouring well, called Ain Rymm [Arabic], and began ascending the
mountain straight before us. I soon began to wish that I had come to
some terms with the Djebalye; we walked over sharp rocks without any
path, till we came to the almost perpendicular side of the upper Serbal,
which we ascended in a narrow difficult cleft. The day grew excessively
hot, not a breath of wind was stirring, and it took us four hours to
climb up to the lower summit of the mountain, where I arrived completely
exhausted. Here is a small plain with some trees, and the ruins of a
small stone reservoir for water. On several blocks of granite are
inscriptions, but most of them are illegible; I copied the two
following: [not included].

After reposing a little, I ascended the eastern peak, which was to our
left hand, and reached its top in three quarters of an hour, after great
exertions, for the rock is so smooth and slippery, as well as steep,
that even barefooted as I was, I was obliged frequently to crawl

[p.607] upon my belly, to avoid being precipitated below; and had I not
casually met with a few shrubs to grasp, I should probably have been
obliged to abandon my attempt, or have rolled down the cliff. The summit
of the eastern peak consists of one enormous mass of granite, the
smoothness of which is broken only by a few partial fissures, presenting
an appearance not unlike the ice-covered peaks of the Alps. The sides of
the peak, at a few paces below its top, are formed of large insulated
blocks twenty or thirty feet long, which appeared as if just suspended,
in the act of rushing down the steep. Near the top I found steps
regularly formed with large loose stones, which must have been brought
from below, and so judiciously arranged along the declivity, that they
have resisted the devastations of time, and may still serve for
ascending. I was told afterwards that these steps are the continuation
of a regular path from the bottom of the mountain; which is in several
parts cut through the rock with great labour. If we had had the guide,
we should have ascended by this road, which turns along the southern and
eastern side of Serbal. The mountain has in all five peaks; the two
highest are that to the east, which I ascended, and another immediately
west of it; these rise like cones, and are distinguishable from a great
distance, particularly on the road to Cairo.

The eastern peak, which from below looks as sharp as a needle, has a
platform on its summit of about fifty paces in circumference. Here is a
heap of small loose stones, about two feet high, forming a circle about
twelve paces in diameter. Just below the top I found on every granite
block that presented a smooth surface, inscriptions, the far greater
part of which were illegible. I copied the three following, from
different blocks; the characters of the first are a foot long. Upon the
rock from which I copied the third there were a great many others; but
very few were legible.

[p.608] 1. [not included] 2. [not included] 3. [not included]

There are small caverns large enough to shelter a few persons, between
some of the masses of stone. On the sides of these caverns are numerous
inscriptions similar to those given above.

As the eye is very apt to be deceived with regard to the relative
heights of mountains, I will not give any positive opinion as to that of
Mount Serbal; but it appeared to me to be higher than all the peaks,
including Mount St. Catherine, and very little lower than Djebel Mousa.

The fact of so many inscriptions being found upon the rocks near the
summit of this mountain, and also in the valley which

[p.609] leads from its foot to Feiran, as will presently be mentioned;
together with the existence of the road leading up to the peak, afford
strong reasons for presuming that the Serbal was an ancient place of
devotion. It will be recollected that no inscriptions are found either
on the mountain of Moses, or on Mount St. Catherine; and that those
which are found in the Ledja valley at the foot of Djebel Katerin, are
not to be traced above the rock, from which the water is said to have
issued, and appear only to be the work of pilgrims, who visited that
rock. From these circumstances, I am persuaded that Mount Serbal was at
one period the chief place of pilgrimage in the peninsula: and that it
was then considered the mountain where Moses received the tables of the
law; though I am equally convinced, from a perusal of the Scriptures,
that the Israelites encamped in the Upper Sinai, and that either Djebel
Mousa or Mount St. Catherine is the real Horeb. It is not at all
impossible that the proximity of Serbal to Egypt, may at one period have
caused that mountain to be the Horeb of the pilgrims, and that the
establishment of the convent in its present situation, which was
probably chosen from motives of security, may have led to the
transferring of that honour to Djebel Mousa. At present neither the
monks of Mount Sinai nor those of Cairo consider Mount Serbal as the
scene of any of the events of sacred history: nor have the Bedouins any
tradition among them respecting it; but it is possible that if the
Byzantine writers were thoroughly examined, some mention might be found
of this mountain, which I believe was never before visited by any
European traveller.

The heat was so oppressive during the whole day, that I felt it even on
the summit of the mountain; the air was motionless, and a thin mist
pervaded the whole atmosphere, as always occurs in these climates, when
the air is very much heated. I took from the peak the following

[p.610] El Morkha, a well near Birket Faraoun on the road from Tor to
Suez, N.W. b. W.

Wady Feiran, N.W.N.

Sarbout el Djemal, N.N.W.

El Djoze, just over Feiran, N.

Mountain Dhellel, N. b. E.-N.E. b. N.

Wady Akhdar, which I passed on my road from Suez to the convent, N.E.
1/2 E.

Wady el Sheikh, where it appears broadest, and near the place where I
had entered it, in coming from Suez, E.N.E.

Sheikh Abou Taleb, the tomb of a saint mentioned above, E. 1/2 S.

Nakb el Raha, from whence the road from the convent to Feiran begins to
descend from the upper Sinai, E.S.E.

Mount St. Catherine, S.E. 1/2 E.

Om Shomar, S.S.E.

Daghade, [Arabic], a fertile valley in the mountains, issuing into the
plain of Kaa, S.W.

The direction of Deir Sigillye was pointed out to me S. b. E. or S.S.E.
This is a ruined convent on the S.E. side of Serbal, near the road which
leads up to the summit of the mountain. It is said to be well built and
spacious, and there is a copious well near it. It is four or five hours
distant by the shortest road from Feiran, and lies in a very rocky
district, at present uninhabited even by Bedouins.

I found great difficulty in descending. If I had had a plentiful supply
of water, and any of us had known the road, we should have gone down by
the steps; but our water was nearly exhausted, and in this hot season,
even the hardy Bedouin is afraid to trust to the chance only of finding
a path or a spring. I was therefore obliged to return by the same way
which I had ascended


[p.611] and by crawling, rather than walking, we reached the lower
platform of Serbal just about noon, and reposed under the shade of a
rock. Here we finished our stock of milk and of water; and Hamd, who
remembered to have heard once that a well was in this neighbourhood,
went in search of it, but returned after an hour's absence, with the
empty skin. I was afterwards informed, that in a cleft of the rock, not
far from the stone tank, which I have already mentioned, there is a
small source which never dries up. We had yet a long journey to make,
Hamd, therefore, volunteered to set out before me, to fill the skin in
the valley below, and to meet me with it at the foot of the cleft; by
which we had entered the mountain. He departed, leaping down the
mountain like a Gazelle, and after prolonging my siesta I leisurely
followed him, with the other Arab. When we arrived, at the end of two
hours and a half, at the point agreed upon, we found Hamd waiting for us
with the water, which he had brought from a well at least five miles
distant. A slight shower of rain which had fallen, instead of cooling
the air appeared only to have made it hotter.

Instead of pursuing, from our second halting-place, the road by which we
had ascended in the morning from Ain Rymm, we took a more western
direction, to the left of the former, and reached by a less rapid
descent, the Wady Aleyat [Arabic], which leads to the lower parts of
Wady Feiran. After a descent of an hour, we came to a less rocky

At the end of an hour and a half from the foot of Serbal, where Hamd had
waited for us, we reached the well, situated among date-plantations,
where he had filled the skins; its water is very good, much better than
that of Feiran. The date-trees are not very thickly planted; amongst
them I saw several Doum trees, some of which I had already observed in
other parts of the peninsula. This valley is inhabited by Bedouins
during the date-harvest,


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