Page images

the temples of Ipsambul, and the Serapeum of Memphis. It is important to notice this, partly as a correction of a popular error, partly as an illustration, negative indeed, but not altogether worthless, of the narrative of the Pentateuch. Whatever other sufferings the Israelites may have undergone, the great sand-drifts which the armies of Cambyses encountered in the desert of Africa are never mentioned, nor could have been mentioned, in their journeyings through the wilderness of Sinai.

4. This brings us to the mountains of the Tûr (as distinct from the Tih), which form, strictly speaking, the

The Mounmountain-land of the Peninsula. This mass of tains of the mountains, rising in their highest points to the Tûr. height of more than 9000 feet, forms the southern tower, if one may use the expression, of that long belt or chain of hills, of which the northern bulwark is the double sange of Lebanon. It is the southern limit of the history of the Israelites. Their boundaries, in the narrower sense, were Dan and Beersheba; in the wider sense Lebanon and Sinai'.

(a) It is with the configuration and aspect of this district that we are now chiefly concerned. The sandy plain which

The Ka'a, parts it from the table-land of the Tîh on the north and the

Shores. has been already noticed. A similar plain, though apparently of gravel rather than of sand, under the name of El-Kâ'a,—“the plain,”-runs along its south-western base, generally reaching the shores of the Gulf of Suez, but at times interrupted by a lower line of hills, which form as it were the outposts of the Sinaitic range itself, and contain the two singular mountains known respectively as the mountains of Nakûs (the Bell), and Mukatteb (the Written.) On their north-western side, and on the whole of the eastern side of the Peninsula, the mountains of the Tûr descend so steeply on the shores of the respective gulfs of the Red Sea, that there is little more than the beach left between the precipitous cliffs and the rising tides.

(6) From these shores or plains the traveller ascends into the mountain triangle of which they form the three sides.

The Passes. It is approached for the most part by rugged passes, leading to the higher land above, from which spring the cliffs

· See Chapter XII


and mountains themselves. These begin in a gradual, but terminate usually in a very steep, ascent-almost a staircase of rock-resembling the “ Puertas” of the Andalusian table-land; that, for example, of Gaucin, on the way from Gibraltar to Ronda; or the Sapphira, on the way from Malaga to Granada. To these steep and rugged defiles is given the name of “Nŭkb," or “’Akaba." It is from one of these—that down which the Egyptian pilgrimage descends, on the eastern branch of the Red Sea-that the gulf and town of 'Akaba derives its name! The others of note are, the Nŭkb Badera, which is the chief entrance to the cluster of Serbâl; the Nůkb Hâwy, to the cluster of Sinai; the Nükb um Rachi, through which the whole range is approached from the “Tih.":

(c) The cluster itself consists (speaking in general and The Moun- popular language) of two formations-sandstone, and

granite or porphyry. These two formations, of which it may be said generally that the first constitutes the northern, and the latter the southern division, play an important part, both in its outward aspect and in its history. To these it owes the depth and variety of colour, which distinguish it from almost all other mountainous scenery. Sandstone and granite alike lend the strong red hue, which, when it extends further eastward, is according to some interpretations, connected with the name of “Edom.” It was long ago described by Diodorus Siculus as of a bright scarlet, and is represented in legendary pictures as of a brilliant crimson. But viewed even in the soberest light, it gives a richness to the whole mountain landscape which is wholly unknown in the grey and brown suits of our northern hills. Sandstone, moreover, when, as in the Wady Mughareh, and on the cliffs which line the shores of the Red Sea, it has become liable to the infirmities of age and the depredations of water, presents us with those still more extraordinary hues, of which the full description must be reserved for the scene of their greatest exemplification in the rocks of Petra“. In these formations, too, we trace the connection of the Sinaitic range with the two adjacent countries, and with the historical purposes to which their materials have been turned. The limestone ranges of the Tih, in their abutment on the Valley of the Nile, furnished the quarries of the Pyramids. The soft surface of these sand stone cliffs in the Wady Mukatteb, offered ready tablets to the writers of the so-called Sinaitic inscriptions and engravings, and to Egyptian sculptors in the Wâdy Mughareh and the valley of Súrábit el-Khâdim, just as the continuation of the same formation, far away to the south-west, reappears in the consecrated quarries of the gorge of Silsilis, whence were hewn the vast materials for the Temples of Thebes; as the same cliffs, far away to the east, lent themselves to the excavations of the Edomites and Nabatæans at Petra, and of ancient Ammon' and Moab in the deep defiles of the Arnon. So, too, the granite mountains, on whose hard blocks were written the Ten Commandments of the Mosaic Law, and whose wild rents and fantastic forms have furnished the basis of so many monastic or Bedouin legends, reappear in Egypt at the First Cataract, in the grotesque rocks that surround the island of Philæ, and in the vast quarries of Syene; and are to be found far off to the east, in Arabia Felix, forming the granite mass' of Ohod, the scene of Mahomet's first victory near Medina.


1 There is another, 'Akaba es-Sham" the Pass of the Syrian Pilgrimage”on the eastern side of the 'Arabah (see Burckhardt's Arabia, ii. 94) which forms the great ascent from the lower level of

Arabia to the higher level of Syria.

2 For the four passes to the Tih ser Stewart, Tent and Khan, p. 167.

3 Rüppell, p. 188.
+ See Part II. xvii.

The mountains, thus flanked by the sandstone formationsbeing themselves the granitic kernel of the whole The Three region-are divided into two, or perhaps three Groups ; groups, each with a central summit. These are (1) the northwestern cluster, which rises above Wady Feirân, and of which the most remarkable mountain-being in some respects also the most remarkable in the whole Peninsula---is Mount Serbâl ; (2) the eastern and central cluster, of which the highest point is Mount St. Catherine ;-—and (3) the south-eastern cluster, which forms as it were the outskirts of the central mass, the highest point of which is Um Shaumer, the most elevated summit of the whole range. Of these points Mount St. Catherine, with most of its adjacent peaks, has been ascended by many travellers; Mount Serbål by a very few, of whom only four have recorded

See Lynch's “ Dead Sea,” p. 368.

2 Burckhardt, ii. 231.


their ascent; Um Shaumer has been ascended by none except Burckhardt, and by him not quite to the summit.

Reserving for the present the more special characteristics of these respective clusters, their general peculiarities may be best

given in common. The colours' have been already Colours; mentioned. Red, with dark green, are the predominant hues; the two are most markedly combined in the long line of Jebel Mûsa, as Pococke, with more than his usual observation, noticed long ago. These colours, especially in the neighbourhood of Serbâl, are diversified by the long streaks of purple which run over them from top to bottom. But it is only in the parts of the sandstone cliffs where the surface has been broken away, as in the caves of the Wâdy Mŭghareh, or on the shores of the two gulfs, that they present the great variety of colour which reaches its highest pitch at Petra.

Another feature, less peculiar, but still highly characteristic, the Confu. is the infinite complication of jagged peaks and varied

ridges. When seen from a distance, as from the hills between Sinai and 'Akaba, this presents as fine an outline of mountain scenery as can be conceived, but the beauty and distinctness of a nearer view is lost in its multiplied and intricate confusion—the cause no doubt, in part, of the numerous mistakes made by travellers in their notice of the several peaks to be seen from this or that particular point. This is the characteristic described by Sir Frederick Henniker, with a slight exaggeration of expression, when he says that the view from Jebel Mûsa (where this particular aspect is seen to the greatest perfection) is as if “ Arabia Petræa were an ocean of lava, which, whilst its waves were running mountains high, had suddenly stood still."

It is an equally striking, and more accurate expression of the the Deso- same traveller, when he speaks of the whole range as lation;

being “ the Alps unclothed.” This—their union of grandeur with desolation—is the point of their scenery abso


[ocr errors]

1 The most accurate description of the colours of the Desert is that given by Dr. Olin. (Travels, i. 372, 390.) Unfortunately, no published views ever attempt it. The three peaks of red granite which overhang the northern side of the Valley

of Chamouni, called from their colour the Aiguilles Rouges, give some notion of the colour and form of Sinai.

Notes during a Visit to Egypt, &c.,

p. 214.

lutely unrivalled. They are the “Alps” of Arabia-but the Alps planted in the Desert, and therefore stripped of all the clothing which goes to make up our notions of Swiss or English mountains; stripped of the variegated drapery of oak, and birch, and pine, and fir, of moss, and grass, and fern; which to landscapes of European hills, are almost as essential as the rocks and peaks themselves. Of all the charms of Switzerland, the one which most impresses a traveller recently returned from the East, is the breadth and depth of its verdure. The very name of “Alp" is strictly applied only to the green pasture-lands enclosed by rocks or glaciers ;-a sight in the European Alps so common, in these Arabian Alps so wholly unknown. The absence of verdure, it need hardly be said, is due to the absence of water-of those perennial streams which are at once the creation and the life of every other mountain district.

And it is this probably, combined with the peculiarity of the atmosphere, that produces the deep stillness and con- and the sequent reverberation of the human voice, which can Silence. never be omitted in any enumeration of the characteristics of Mount Sinai. From the highest point of Râs Súfsâfeh to its lower peak, a distance of about sixty feet, the page of a book, distinctly but not loudly read, was perfectly audible; and every remark of the various groups of travellers descending from the heights of the same point rose clearly to those immediately above them. It was the belief of the Arabs who conducted Niebuhr', that they could make themselves heard across the Gulf of 'Akaba; a belief doubtless exaggerated, yet probably originated or fostered by the great distance to which in those regions the voice can actually be carried. And it is probably from the same cause that so much attention has been excited by the mysterious noises which have from time to time been heard on the summit of Jebel Mûsa, in the neighbourhood of Um Shaumer, and in the mountain of Nâkûs, or the Bell, so called from the legend that the sounds proceed from the bells:

1 Description de l'Arabie, p. 245.

? See the picture and description of this mountain in Wellsted, ii, 24; and a more complete and singularly graphic

account by Captain Newbold, Journal of the R. Asiatic Society, No. xiii. 79.

3 I use the word “bell” for the sake of convenience. But "the sound of the

« EelmineJätka »