« AnteriorContinuar »
« And so 'twill be when I am gone :
Description of Jerusalem and the surrounding Country.”
LETTERS FROM THE EAST.
ALTHOUGH the size of Jerusalem was not extensive, its very situation, on the brink of rugged hills, encircled by deep and wild valleys, bounded by eminences whose sides were covered with groves and gardens, added to its numerous towers, and temple, must have given it a singular and gloomy magnificence scarcely possessed by any other city in the world.
The most pleasing feature in the scenery around the city is the valley of Jehoshaphat. Passing out of the gate of St. Stephen, you descend the hill to the torrent of the Kěd'ron: a bridge leads over its dry and deep bed : it must have been a very narrow, though, in winter, a rapid stream. On the left is a grotto, handsomely fitted up, and called the tomb of the Virgin Mary, though, it is well known, she neither died nor was buried near Jerusalem. Being surprised, however, on the hills by a long and heavy shower of rain, we were glad to take shelter beneath the doorway of this grotto.
A few steps beyond the Kedron, you come to the garden of Gethsemăně, of all gardens the most interesting and hallowed; but how neglected and decayed! It is surrounded by a kind of low hedge; but the soil is bare ; no verdure grows on it, save six fine venerable olive-trees, which have stood here for many centuries. This spot is at the foot of Olivet, and is beautifully situated: you look up and down the romantic valley; close behind rises the mountain ; before you are the walls of the devoted city.
While lingering here, at evening, and solitary,--for it is not often a footstep passes by,—that night of sorrow and dismay rushes on the imagination, when the Redeemer was betrayed, and forsaken by all, even by the loved disciple. Hence the path winds up the Mount of Olives : it is a beautiful hill: the words of the Psalmist, “the mountains around Jerusalem," must not be literally applied, as none are within
view, save those of Arabia. It is verdant, and covered, in some parts, with olive-trees. From the summit you enjoy an admirable view of the city: it is beneath, and very near; and looks, with its valleys around it, exactly like a panora
Its noble temple of Omar, and large ärča planted with palms; its narrow streets, ruinous places, and towers, are all laid out before you.
On the summit are the remains of a church, built by the Empress Hěl'ěna; and, in a small edifice, containing one large and lofty apartment, is shown the print of the last footstep of Christ, when he took his leave of earth. The fathers should have placed it nearer to Bethany, in order to accord with the account given us in Scripture; but it answers the purpose of drawing crowds of pilgrims to the spot. Descending Olivet to the narrow valley of Jehoshaphat, you soon come to the pillar of Absalom : it has a very antiquet appearance, and is a pleasing object in the valley it is of a yellow stone, adorned with half columns, formed into three stages, and terminates in a cupola.
The tomb of Zacharias, adjoining, is square, with four or five pillars, and is cut out of the rock. Near these is a sort of grotto, hewn out of an elevated part of the rock, with four pillars in front, which is said to have been the apostles' prison at the time they were confined by the rulers. The small and wretched village of Siloa is built on the rugged sides of the hill above; and just here the valleys of Hinnom and Jehoshaphat meet, at the south-east corner of Mount Zion: they are both sprinkled with olive-trees.
Over the ravines of Hinnom, and directly opposite the city, is the Mount of Judgment, or of Evil Counsel ; because there, they say, the rulers took counsel against Christ, and the palace of Caiaphas stood. It is a broad and barren hill, without any of the picturesque beauty of Olivet, though loftier. On its side is pointed out the Aceldama, or field where Judas hung himself: a small and rude edifice stands on it, and it is used as a burying-place.
But the most in'teresting portion of this hill, is where its rocks descend precipitously into the valley of Hinnom, and are mingled with many a straggling olive-tree. All these rocks are hewn into sepulchres of various forms and sizes : no doubt they were the tombs of the ancient Jews, and are in general cut with considerable care and skill. They are often the resting-place of the benighted passenger. Some * Pron. pan-o-ral-ma-a as in father: 7 an-teek'.
#ra-veen'. Cay'-å-phas. 'll pic-tshu-resk'.
of them open into inner apartments, and are provided with small windows or ap'ertures cut in the rock.
In these there is none of the darkness or sadness of the tomb; but in many, so elevated and picturesque is the situation, a traveller may pass hours, with a book in his hand, while valley and bill are beneath and around him. Before the door of one large sepulchre stood a tree on the brink of the rock; the sun was going down on Olivet on the right, and the resting-place of the dead commanded a sweeter scene than any of the abodes of the living.
Many of the tombs have flights of steps leading up to them : it was in one of these that a celebrated traveller would fix the site of the holy sepulchre: it is certainly more picturesque; but why more just, is hard to conceive; since the words of Scripture do not fix the identity of the sacred tomb to any particular spot, and tradition, on so memorable an occasion, could hardly err. The fathers declare, it long since became absolutely necessary to cover the native rock with marble, in order to prevent the pilgrims from destroying it, in their zeal to carry off pieces to their homes;
and on this point their relation may, one would suppose, be believed.
The valley of Hinnom now turns to the west of the city, and extends rather beyond the north wall : here the plain of Jeremiah commences, and is the best wooded tract in the whole neighbourhood. In this direction, but further on, the historian of the siege speaks “of a tower, that afforded a prospect of Arabia at sunrising, and of the utmost limits of the Hebrew possessions at the sea westward.” The former is still enjoyed from the city ;- but the latter could only be had at a much greater distance north, where there is no hill in front.
Above half a mile from the wall, are the tombs of the kings. In the midst of a hollow, rocky, and adorned with, a few trees, is the entrance; you then find a large aparta ment, above fifty feet long, at the side of which a low door, over which is a beautiful frieze, * leads into a seriest of small chambers, in the walls of which are several deep recesses, hewn out of the rock, of the size of the human body. There are six or seven of these low and dark apartments, one or two of which are adorned with vine-leaves and clusters of grapes. Many parts of the stone coffins, beautifully orns
* Pron, freeze.
mented in the Saracenic manner, are strewed* on the floor : it would seem, that some hand of ravage had broken them to pieces, with the view of finding something valuable within. The sepulchres of the judges, so called, are situated in a wild spot about two miles from the city. They bear much resemblance to those of the kings, but are not so handsome or spacious.
Returning to the foot of the Mount of Olives, you proceed up the vale of Jehoshaphat on a line with the plain : it widens as you advance, and is more thickly sprinkled with olives. When arrived at the hill in which it terminates, the appearance of the city and its en'virons is rich and magnificent; and you cannot help thinking, that, were an English party suddenly transported here, they would not believe it was the sad and dreary Jerusalem they were gazing on.
This is the finest point to view it from; for its numerous min'arets and superb mosque are seen to great advantage over the trees of the plain and valley, and the foreground is verdant and cultivated. One or two houses of the Turks stood in this spot, and we had trespassed on the rude garden of one of them, where the shade of a spreading tree invited us to linger over the prospect. For some days there had been heavy falls of rain, yet the bed of the Kedron was still dry, and has been so, most probably, for many centuries.
The climate of the city and country is in general very healthy. The elevated position of the former, and the numerous hills which cover the greater part of Palestine, must conduce greatly to the purity of the air. One seldom sees a country overrun with hills in the manner this is : in general they are not in ranges, but more or less is'olated, and of a picturesque form. Few of them approach to the character of mountains, save Carmel, the Quaranti'na, the shores of the lakes, and those which bound the valley of the Jordan.
To account for the existence of so large a population in the promised lands, the numerous hills must have been entirely cultivated : at present, their appearance, on the sides and summits, is, for the most part, bare and rocky. In old time, they were probably formed into terraces, as is now seen on the few cultivated ones, where the vine, olive, and fig-tree flourish.
Qo' a delightful evening, we rode to the wilderness of St. John. The monastery of that name stands at the entrance: it is a good and spacious building, and its terrace enjoys a fine prospect, in which is the lofty hill of Modin, with the ruins of the palace of the Maccabees on its summit. А small village adjoins the convent, in which are shown the remains of the house of Elizabeth, where the meeting with Mary took place. But few monks reside in the
* Pron. strówed.
convent, which affords excellent accommodations for a traveller.
In the church, a rich altar is erected on the spot where St. John was born, with an inscription over it. The next morning wę visited the wilderness : it is narrow, partially cultivated, and sprinkled with trees; the hills rise rather steep on each side; from that on the right, a small stream flows into the ravine below. The whole appearance of the place is romantic; and the prophet might have resided here, while exercising his ministry, with very little hardship. The neighbourhood still, no doubt, produces excellent honey, which is to be had throughout Palestine.
High up the rocky side of the hill on the left, amidst a profusion of trees, is the cave or grotto of St. John. А fountain gushes out close by. When we talk of wildernesses, mountains, and plains, in Palestine, it is to be understood, that they seldom answer to the size of the same objects in more extensive countries; that they sometimes present but a beautiful miniature of them. It certainly deserved the term, given by the Psalmist to the city, of being a “compaet" country.
The Baptist, in his wild garb, surrounded by an assemblage of various characters, warning them to repentance, in this wild spot, must have presented a fine subject for the painter. In wandering over the country, we feel persuaded, that its very scenery lent wings to the poetical and figurative discourses of its prophets and seers. Sublime and diversified, it is yet so confined and minute as to admit the deepest seclusion in the midst of a numerous population.
The monks in the convent are of the Catholic order, and have the advantage of all their brethren in point of situation and comfort; and yet nothing will induce these Franciscans to keep their habitations clean : the Greek and Armenian monasteries are palaces compared to them. The fathers are, in general, a very ignorant race of men, chiefly from the lowest orders of society. Their tables, except during lent, are spread plentifully, twice a day, with several dishes of meat and wine; and so well do many of them thrive, that they would consider it banishment to be sent home to Europe to their friends.