CELEBRATED TRAVELLERS BETWEEN THE TENTH AND THIRTEENTH CENTURIES.

He gives no account of this important town; and thence he seems to have gone to Karna, to visit the tomb of the prophet Esdras; then he entered Persia and sojourned at Chuzestan, a large town, partly in ruins, which the river Tigris divides into two parts, one rich the other poor, joined by a bridge, over which hangs the coffin of Daniel the prophet. He went to Amaria, which is the boundary of Media, where he says the impostor David-el-roi appeared, the worker of false miracles, who is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, but called among the Jews of that part by the former name. Then he went to Hamadan, where the tombs of Mordecai and Esther are found, and by Dabrestan he reached Ispahan, the capital of the kingdom, a city measuring twelve miles in circumference. At this point the narrative of the traveller becomes somewhat obscure; according to his notes we find him at Shiraz, then at Samarcand, then at the foot of the mountains in Thibet. This seems to have been his farthest point towards the north-east; he must have come back to Nizapur and Chuzestan on the banks of the Tigris; thence after a sea voyage of two days to El-Cachif, an Arabian town on the Persian Gulf, where the pearl fishery is carried on. Then, after another voyage of seven days and crossing the Sea of Oman, he seems to have reached Quilon on the coast of Malabar.

He was at last in India, the kingdom of the worshippers of the Sun and of the descendants of Cush. This country produces pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. Twenty days after leaving Quilon he was among the fire-worshippers in Ceylon, and thence, perhaps, he went to China. He thought this voyage a very perilous one, and says that many vessels are lost on it, giving the following singular expedient for averting the danger. "You should take on board with you several skins of oxen, and, if the wind rises and threatens the vessel with danger, all who wish to escape envelope themselves each in a skin, sew up this skin so as to make it as far as possible water-tight, then throw themselves into the sea, and flocks of the great eagles called griffins, thinking that they are really oxen, will descend and bear them on their wings to some mountain or valley, there to devour their prey. Immediately on reaching land the man will kill the eagle with his knife, and leaving the skin, will walk towards the nearest habitation; many people," he adds, "have been saved by this means."

We find Benjamin of Tudela again at Ceylon, then at the Island of Socotra in the Persian Gulf, and after crossing the Red Sea he arrives in Abyssinia, which he styles "the India that is on terra firma." Thence he goes down the Nile, crosses the country of Assouan, reaches the town of Holvan, and by the Sahara, where the sand swallows up whole caravans, he goes to Zairlah, Kous, Faiouna and Misraim or Cairo.

This last is a large town containing fine squares and shops. It never rains there, but this want is supplied by the overflow of the Nile once a year, which waters the country and renders it very fertile.

Benjamin of Tudela in the Desert of Sahara
Benjamin of Tudela in the Desert of Sahara.

He passed Gizeh on leaving Misraim but does not mention the pyramids, and just names Ain-Schams, Boutig, Zefita, and Damira; he stopped at Alexandria, built by Alexander the Great, a city of great commerce, frequented by merchants from all parts of the world. Its squares and streets are thronged with people, and so long that one cannot see from one end to another. A dike or causeway runs out a mile into the sea, on which a high tower was built by the conqueror, and on the top of it a glass mirror was placed, by which all vessels could be seen while still fifty days' sail away, coming from Greece or the east on their way to make war upon or otherwise harm the town. "This tower," if we may credit the writer, "is still of use as a signal to vessels coming to Alexandria, for it can be seen night or day, a great flaming torch being kept lighted at night, visible 100 miles off!" What are our light-houses when even with the electric light they are only visible thirty miles away? From Damietta, the traveller visited several neighbouring towns, then returning there he embarked on board a vessel and twenty days afterwards landed at Messina. He wished to continue the census that he was making, so by way of Rome and Lucca he went to St. Bernard. He mentions visiting several towns both in Germany and France, where Jews had settled, and according to Chateaubriand's account, Benjamin of Tudela's computation brought the number of Jews to about 768,165.

In conclusion the traveller speaks of Paris, which he seems to have visited; he says, "This great town numbers among its inhabitants some remarkably learned men, who are unequalled for learning by any in the world; they spend all their time studying law, and at the same time are very hospitable to all strangers, but especially to all their Jewish brethren." Such is the account of Benjamin of Tudela's travels; they form an important part of the geographical science of the middle of the twelfth century. As we have used the modern names, it is easy to follow the short account of his route that we have given, on any atlas of the present day.