THE DAWN OF A CENTURY OF DISCOVERY

The traveller crossed Gerka—the Jabok of Jewish history—which forms the northern boundary of the country of the Ammonites, and penetrated into the district of El-Belka, formerly a flourishing country, but which he found uncultivated and barren, with but one small town, Szalt, formerly known as Amathus. Afterwards Seetzen visited Amman, a town which, under the name of Philadelphia, is renowned among the decapolitan cities, and where many antiquities are to be found, Eleal, an ancient city of the Amorites, Madaba, called Madba in the time of Moses, Mount Nebo, Diban, Karrak, the country of the Moabites, and the ruins of Robba, (Rabbath) anciently the royal residence. After much fatigue, he reached the region situated at the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, named Gor-es-Sophia.

The heat was extreme, and great salt-plains, where no watercourses exist, had to be crossed. Upon the 6th of April, Seetzen arrived in Bethlehem, and soon afterwards at Jerusalem, having suffered greatly from thirst, but having passed through most interesting countries, hitherto unvisited by any modern traveller.

 

Jerusalem
Jerusalem.
Map of Egypt, Nubia, and part of Arabia

He had also collected much valuable information respecting the nature of the waters of the Dead Sea, refuted many false notions, corrected mistakes upon the most carefully constructed maps, identified several sites of the ancient Peræa, and established the existence of numberless ruins, which bore witness to the prosperity of all this region under the sway of the Roman Empire. Upon the 25th of June, 1806, Seetzen left Jerusalem, and returned to St. Jean d'Acre by sea.

In an article in the Revùe Germanique for 1858, M. Vinen speaks of his expedition as a veritable journey of discovery. Seetzen, however, was unwilling to leave his discoveries incomplete. Ten months later, he again visited the Dead Sea, and added largely to his observations. From thence he proceeded to Cairo, where he remained for two years, and bought a large portion of the oriental manuscripts which now enrich the library of Gotha. He collected many facts about the interior of the country, choosing instinctively those only which could be amply substantiated.

Seetzen, with his insatiable thirst for discovery, could not remain long in repose, far removed from idleness though it was. In April, 1809, he finally left the capital of Egypt, and directed his course towards Suez and the peninsula of Sinai, which he resolved to explore before proceeding to Arabia. At this time Arabia was a little-known country, frequented only by merchants trading in Mocha coffee-beans. Before Niebuhr's time no scientific expedition for the study of the geography of the country or the manners and customs of the inhabitants had been organized.

This expedition owed its formation to Professor Michälis, who was anxious to obtain information which would throw light on certain passages in the Bible, and its expenses were defrayed by the generosity of King Frederick V. of Denmark. It comprised Von Hannen, the mathematician, Forskaal, the naturalist, a physician named Cramer, Braurenfeind, the painter, and Niebuhr, the engineer, a company of learned and scientific men, who thoroughly fulfilled all expectations founded upon their reputations.

In the course of two years, from 1762 to 1764, they visited Egypt, Mount Sinai, Jeddah, landed at Loheia, and advancing into Arabia Felix, explored the country in accordance with the speciality of each man. But the enterprising travellers succumbed to illness and fatigue, and Niebuhr alone survived to utilize the observations made by himself and his companions. His work on the subject is an inexhaustible treasury, which may be drawn upon in our own day with advantage.

Seetzen, therefore, had much to achieve to eclipse the fame of his predecessor. He omitted no means of doing so. After publicly professing the faith of Islam, he embarked at Suez for Mecca, and hoped to enter that city disguised as a pilgrim. Tor and Jeddah were the places visited by him before he travelled to the holy city of Mecca. He was much impressed by the wealth of the faithful and the peculiar characteristics of that city, which lives for and by the Mahometan cultus. "I was seized," says the traveller, "with an emotion which I have never experienced elsewhere."

It is alike unnecessary to dwell upon this portion of the voyage and upon that relating to the excursion to Medina. Burckhardt's narrative gives a precise and trustworthy account of those holy places, and besides, there remain of Seetzen's works only the extracts published in "Les Annales des Voyages," and in the Correspondence of the Baron de Zach. The Journal of Seetzen's travels was published in German, and in a very incomplete manner, only in 1858.