Biography and family record of Lorenzo Snow/Letter XI
At Athens. Plains of Attica. Hill of Mars. Galilee. Scriptural remi- niscences. Fountain of Dan. Cesarea Philippi. Damascus. An unfor- tunate Architect.
ATHENS, GREECE, APRIL lOrn, 1873. Editor Deseret News :
We are in the city of Athens, surrounded by the ruined temples and crumbling walls of ancient Greece; have stood on the lofty summit of the Acropolis, beside the marble columns of the Parthenon, in the midst of broken pillars and fallen temples, looking down 011 modern Athens, the Plains of Attica, the famous Hill of Mars, and off on the "Flowery Hymettus." We have met the King of Greece on the sidewalk of Athens, cane in hand, and in simple costume, like an ordinary gentleman; have seen the nation's deputies debating in parliament, and have spent an even- ing at tea with our American minister; have sailed on the classical waters of the Mediterranean, up the Archipelago, among its beautiful islands. We
have viewed Constantinople, its numerous mosques with swelling domes and pointed minarets, and promenaded its dark, winding avenues, through its wilderness of bazars, have seen the Sultan all, and a thousand things else, since leaving Palestine. Therefore, it is possible an apology is due for continuing my descriptions of the Holy Land. Syria and Palestine, in many respects, we have found the most interesting of any country we have visited, as regards the character and condition of the people, its natural scenery, its having formed the great theatre, where were displayed, during many centuries, the dealings of God with favored Israel, as well as its being the opening scene of the Gospel dispensation; besides embracing the sites and melancholy ruins of ancient cities so familiar to the Biblical student.
I now return to Galilee. I ascended the mountain above "The Foun- tain of the Fig Tree," to a point overlooking our camp and commanding a view of the Plain of Gennesareth, the Sea of Galilee, and the towering summit of Mount Hermon. Here I employed the passing moments in seri- ous reflections on the associations called forth by the peculiar circum- stances around. A great portion of the Savior's life was spent in the region around the Sea of Galilee. After having been expelled from Naz- areth, His native city, by His own townspeople, He came down from the hilly country of Galilee, and made his home upon these shores, chose His Twelve Apostles, taught the people in their towns and villages and on the seaside, as they flocked around Him in multitudes. He performed His mighty works in the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, which stood on these shores, filled with inhabitants. Eighteen centuries have wrought marvelous and fearful changes in the scenery and condition of this locality. When the Savior and His Apostles were coasting along these shores, addressing anxious multitudes, healing the sick, unstopping the ears of the deaf, giving sight to the blind, and raising the dead, Tiberias, adorned with its numerous palaces and temples, stood in the zenith of its glory, its citizens reveling in splendor and luxury, and its many priests, in imposing costumes, full of studied systematic knowledge of the law and the Prophets, and glowing with pious zeal to entrap and destroy the Apostles and the Savior of the world. Infamy covers the memory of those priests, and not a single building of that magnificent city remains, and nothing is seen but patches -of low decaying walls, a few heaps of hewn stone, and granite columns strewed around. The country about the Sea of Galilee was then densely populated cities and towns occupied its shores, the sum- mite and slopes of the surrounding hills. Bethsaida, Capernaum, Chorazin and many larger cities were teeming with inhabitants and in the height of prosperity. The Plain of Gennesareth, under the finest state of cultiva- tion, appeared like a paradise of gardens, growing luxuriantly the choicest
of fruits. This plain is now overspread with thorns and tall nettles, and everywhere marked by the finger of desolation. Those cities are now left without an inhabitant, and their places covered with heaps of decaying stones and prostrate walls. Capernaum is so nearly annihilated that even the place it occupied is a subject of keenest dispute among travelers; and even now I see before me, in the vicinity of our tents, decaying relics, con- sidered by some to designate the locality of that ancient city.
We left the Sea of Galilee, and continued our route through an improv- ing country, crossed an old Roman road, through fields of grain, beans and lentils, passing several large camps of Bedouins, and for the night pitched our tents at a large fountain, near which a company of Arabs were engaged in digging a sect, to water a rich plain below. This night was characterized by a concert of striking wildness, performed by a great multitude of musi- cal frogs in adjacent marshes,, joined by howling dogs in an Arab camp, mingled with loud responses of the hoarse voices of our pack-mules, com- bined with a hideous chorus of sharp yelping jackals in the neighboring glens.
The next day we passed several long lines of black tents of the Bedou- ins, and numerous herds of cattle feeding in the plains and rich valleys. They were dwarfed, and were degenerated like the inhabitants of the coun- try. We lunched at the "Fountain of Dan," one of the great sources of the Jordan, in the shade of a venerable tree, remarkable for the immense area covered by its branches. On our departure, two Arabs stopped to enjoy their bread and cheese in its cooling shade. While thus occupied they were surprised by a marauding party of Bedouins, who relieved them of all their little conveniences. While sympathizing in their misfortunes, we were somewhat pleased that we had escaped their experience. We camped at Cesarea Philippi, on the bank of a rushing stream, in the midst of a beau- tiful grove. Here is the great fountain which forms the main source of the Jordan, the most celebrated of rivers. From this immense fountain the waters collect, and soon form into a rapid torrent, rushing along with great impetuosity, tumbling over rocks, foaming and scattering its spray in all directions. At this place, that remarkable conversation occurred between Christ and His Apostles, in which Peter affirmed that
Jesus was "the
Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered and said unto him, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven: And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it;" thus securing to every person the privilege of obtaining a like revelation.
The modern village consists of some forty houses massed together with
flat roofs, on which the dirty and filthy inhabitants sleep in the summer season, to prevent being eaten by flies and bedbugs, and bitten by scorpions, which they are too lazy to destroy.
The following morning, leaving Cesarea Philippi, we pass over a well watered country, whose inhabitants possess more energy and enterprise, improving, in a small degree, a few of the natural advantages which sur- round them. We camped at night near what is said to have been "one of the burial places of Nimrod;" and the next day, after an interesting ride of a few hours, on ascending an eminence, a panorama of great beauty and magnificence burst upon our view the city of Damascus, "the Pearl of the East," its wide extended plains, on which are a hundred villages, numer- ous mosques looming up here and there, above the immense, spreading mass of broad, white roofs, their great swelling domes and tapering mina- rets adorned with golden crescents, the great Plain of Damascus, orna- mented with rich fields and beautiful gardens, groves of poplar and walnut, orchards of figs, apricots and pomegranates, and numerous vineyards, sprinkled here and therewith tall, conical cypresses, and now and then a palm lifting its graceful head, stretching east far away till lost beneath the gray horizon northward, till reaching the mountains of Anti-Lebanon, and away south, where it is bounded by the river Pharpar, of Scripture memory. The picturesque appearance of the circling hills and mountains casts an air of singular enchantment around this profoundly magnificent scenery the long bare ridge of Anti-Lebanon, the snow-capped peak of Hermon, dis- tant some forty miles, a multitude of beautiful conical hills, and still beyond, a long ridge of pale blue mountains, the "Hills of Bashan."
Passing along this plain, we entered Damascus, rode through some of its principal streets and camped outside the walls, on the banks of the Abana. Much of the richness and beauty of the Plain of Damascus is owing to the invigorating influences of this stream of Bible celebrity, which flows through it from west to east, and is conducted from its channel, and carried on to the plain. Another mode of irrigation, however, is adopted in places where the Abana cannot be reached. It being rather peculiar, I will describe it: A well is first dug till water is discovered; the slope of the plain is then followed, when another is sunk, forty or fifty yards distant; the two are then connected by a subterranean channel, leav- ing sufficient fall for the water to flow, 'in this manner a long line of wells is constructed, and the stream of water thus secured is at last on a level with the surface, when it is ready to be used. The plain has a great number of these curious aqueducts, several of which extend along from two to three miles underground. Where the waters of one are spreading life and verdure over the surface, another below is gathering- a new supply,
obtaining it, in some measure, from the surplus of the former, which soaks through the soil.
We called on the American Consul, who treated us courteously and assisted us in accomplishing the object of our visit to Damascus. Before we left, he spent an hour under our tent in conversation mutually agree- able. We visited Prince Abd-el-Kader, who, during the invasion of Algiers by the French, fought so valiantly to preserve the freedom of his country. The interview was pleasant and interesting Mocha, in elegant cups, served in Oriental style, illustrated his good feelings and respectful consideration.
Damascus is supposed to be nearly four thousand years old, the oldest city in the world. Some affirm that it was founded by Uz, the son of Aram. At least, it was a noted place in the days of Abraham the steward of his house was mentioned as "Eliezer of Damascus." The city is about four miles in circumference, and contains one hundred and fifty thousand inhab- itants about eighteen thousand of these are Christians, six thousand Jews, and the rest Mohammedans. The Christian population, previous to the massacre of 1860, numbered about thirty-two thousand. During the three days of those bloody and heart rending scenes, it is supposed that nearly three thousand Christians were murdered. Their private dwellings and churches were burned, their property destroyed, and the survivors driven forth from their homes penniless, with no means of support. Women and girls were seized and compelled to suffer the most fearful of all forms of slav- ery. Many of the buildings of these sufferers still lie in ruins. In walking the streets of Damascus, among the staring crowds, I imagined there was dis- cernable, in the sombre countenances of many of the people, similar feel- ings to those which prompted the massacre of 1860, and that they were only waiting an opportunity.
Damascus is noted for the number of its mosques. We gained access to the principal one, partly through the courtesy of our American Consul, and partly through the stimulating influence of a golden Napoleon. On entering we pulled off our boots and put on slippers. In Catholic countries, on entering places of worship, taking off the hat is the invariable requisition, while in Mohammedan jurisdiction the temple of devotion cannot be entered without taking "off the shoes," while the chapeau may remain undisturbed. This ancient structure, the "Grand Harem/' as it is termed, is second only to the Mosque of Omar. The Mosque and square cover an area in length of eleven hundred feet, and eight hundred feet in breadth. It has three styles of architecture, and is of great antiquity. It was originally Pagan, then Syrian Christian, and now Mohammedan. On one side it has a court surrounded by cloisters with arches in front, resting on columns of granite, limestone and marble. It has three minarets the
"Western Minaret/' the "Minaret of the Bride," and the "Minaret of Jesus." According to Mohammedan tradition, when Christ comes to judge the world He will first appear upon this minaret, bearing His name, He will then enter the mosque, and summon to His presence men of every denomi- nation. Under this mosque is a cave containing a casket of gold, in which is said to be the veritable head of John the Baptist. Any doubts we may have cherished of its identity we refrained from expressing, the same as when shown similar curiosities in the more enlightened Christian churches. We ascended one of the minarets, where we had a splendid view of Damas- cus and its environs.
A gentleman who spent several weeks in Damascus, hunting relics and curiosities, related to me the following anecdote concerning the founding of an ancient mosque, which stood in sight of our encampment. The Sultan, wishing to erect a mosque, engaged a distinguished architect, giving him instructions as to the dimension, style and location, fixing the site in the centre of Damascus. The architect, having completed the work, repaired to the Sultan to report his proceedings, and claim his reward. The Sultan enquired if he had followed his directions. He replied that he had built the mosque according to instructions in every particular, that it was beautiful and magnificent, and he felt assured the Sultan would be highly gratified; but he had ventured to depart in one item from his instructions considering that Damascus had a tendency to spread in one particular direction, he had located the mosque a short distance towards that point, from the centre of the city. The Sultan graciously complimented him on his peculiar foresight, dismissed him with flattering expressions, told him to go home, and a commissioner should be sent to examine his work, and if approved, he should be abundantly rewarded. No sooner, however, had he returned, than an order was sent by the Sultan to have him beheaded immediately, and the following inscription engraved upon his tomb, "Let this architect's head be restored when this mosque becomes the centre of Damascus." The gentleman said he read this inscription, in Arabic, on a decaying tomb near the mosque.
The external view of the private dwellings of the people is not inviting. The rough mud walls and projecting upper chambers, supported by decay- ing timbers, have a singularly rickety appearance. The entrance is by a miserable looking doorway through a narrow, winding passage, and not unfrequently through a stable-yard; and around the whole is cast an air of peculiar squalidness. The inside, however, exhibits a better complexion; many are neat and comfortable, and some approach to splendor, and even gorgeousness, have an open court with ornamented pavements, a marble basin in the centre, surrounded with jets d'eau, citron, lemon and orange
564* ' SUPPLEMENT.
trees, and flowering shrubs, affording shade and filling the air with perfume. The apartments are furnished with chairs and sofas, with soft cushions, sometimes covered with embroidered silk and satin, the walls wainscotted, carved and gilded, and the ceiling covered with ornaments.
A fine macadamized road leading over some fifty miles, from Damascus to Beyrout, constructed by a French company, is the only decent road in Syria or Palestine. We passed over this thoroughfare
through an interest-
ing country, possessing natural scenery of peculiar beauty and grandeur, arriving at Beyrout, a seaport on the Mediterranean, in renewed health and vigor, gratified and instructed by our tour through Syria and Palestine.