THE DAWN OF A CENTURY OF DISCOVERY
Seetzen gladly availed himself of this opportunity; and it was well he did so, for he was thus enabled to study the Lake of Tiberias and also the Wady Zemmâk at his leisure, not, however, without risk of being robbed and murdered by his guide. Finally he reached Tiberias, called by the Arabs Tabaria, where he found Yusuf, who had been waiting for him for several days.
"The town of Tiberias," says Seetzen, "is situated upon the lake of the same name. Upon the land side it is surrounded by a good wall of cut basalt rock, but nevertheless, it scarcely deserves to be called a town. No trace of its earlier splendour remains, but the ruins of the more ancient city, which extended to the Thermæ, a league to the eastward, are recognizable.
"The famous Djezar-Pasha caused a bath to be erected above the principal spring. If these baths were in Europe, they would rival all those now existing. The valley in which the lake is situated, is so sheltered, and so warm, that dates, lemon-trees, oranges, and indigo, flourish there, whilst on the high ground surrounding it, the products of more temperate climates might be grown."
South-west of the lake are the remains of the ancient city of Tarichæa. There, between two mountain chains, lies the beautiful plain of El Ghor, poorly cultivated, and overrun by Arab hordes. No incident of moment marked Seetzen's journey to Decapolis, during which he was obliged to dress as a mendicant, to escape the rapacity of the native tribes.
"Over my shirt" he relates, "I wore an old kambas, or dressing-gown, and above that a woman's ragged chemise; my head was covered with rags, and my feet with old sandals. I was protected from cold and wet by an old ragged 'abbaje,' which I wore across my shoulders, and a stick cut from a tree served me as a staff; my guide, who was a Greek Christian, was dressed much in the same style; and together we scoured the country for some ten days, often hindered in our journey by chilling rains, which wetted us to the skin. For my part, I travelled an entire day in the mud with bare feet, because I could not wear my sandals upon sodden ground."
Draa which he reached a little farther on, presented but a mass of desert ruins; and no trace of the monuments which rendered it famous in earlier days, were visible. El-Botthin, the next district, contains hundreds of caverns, hewn in the rocks, which were occupied by the ancient inhabitants. It was much the same at Seetzen's visit. That Mkês was formerly a rich and important city, is proved by its many ruined tombs and monuments. Seetzen identified it with Gadara, one of the minor towns of the Decapolis. Some leagues beyond are the ruins of Abil or Abila. Seetzen's guide, Aoser, refused to go there, being afraid of the Arabs. The traveller was, therefore, obliged to go alone.
"This town," he says, "is entirely in ruins and abandoned. Not a single building remains; but its ancient splendour is sufficiently proved by ruins. Traces of the old fortifications remain, and also many pillars and arches of marble, basalt, and granite. Beyond the walls, I found a great number of pillars; two of them were of an extraordinary size. Hence I concluded that a large temple had formerly existed there."
On leaving El-Botthin, Seetzen entered the district of Edschlun, and speedily discovered the important ruins of Dscherrasch, which may be compared with those of Palmyra and Baalbek.
"It is difficult to conjecture," says Seetzen, "how this town, which was formerly so celebrated, has hitherto escaped the attention of antiquarians. It is situated in an open plain, which is fertile, and watered by a river. Several tombs, with fine bas-reliefs arrested my attention before I entered it; upon one of them, I remarked a Greek inscription. The walls, which were of cut marble, are entirely crumbled away, but their length over three quarters of a league, is still discernible. No private house has been preserved, but I remarked several public buildings of fine architectural design. I found two magnificent amphitheatres constructed of solid marble, the columns, niches, &c., in good condition, a few palaces, and three temples; one of the latter having a peristyle of twelve large Corinthian pillars, of which eleven were still erect. In one of these temples I found a fallen column of the finest polished Egyptian granite. Beside these, I found one of the city gates, formed of three arches, and ornamented with pilasters, in good preservation. The finest of the remains is a street adorned throughout its length with Corinthian columns on either side, and terminating in a semicircle, which was surrounded by sixty Ionic columns, all of the choicest marble. This street was crossed by another, and at the junction of the two, large pedestals of wrought stone occupied each angle, probably in former times these bore statues. Much of the pavement was constructed of hewn stone. Altogether I counted nearly two hundred columns, still in a fair state of preservation; but the number of these is far exceeded by those which have fallen into decay, for I saw only half the extent of the town, and in all probability the other half beyond this was also rich in remarkable relics."
From Seetzen's description, Dscherrasch would appear to be identical with the ancient Gerasa, a town which up to that time had been erroneously placed on the maps.