THE DAWN OF A CENTURY OF DISCOVERY

The greatest drawback to this city is its want of fresh water, which is brought from small wells two miles distant. Without gardens, vegetables, or date-trees, Jeddah, in spite of its population of twelve or fifteen thousand (a number which is doubled in the pilgrimage season) presents a strange appearance. The population is the reverse of autochthonous; it is composed of natives of Hadramaut and Yemen, Indians from Surat and Bombay, and Malays who come as pilgrims and settle in the town. Burckhardt introduces many anecdotes of interest into his account of the manners, mode of living, price of commodities, and number of traders in the place.

Merchant of Jeddah
Merchant of Jeddah.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)

Speaking of the singular customs of the natives of Jeddah, he says:—"It is the almost universal custom for everybody to swallow a cup full of ghee or melted butter in the morning. After this they take coffee, which they regard as a strong tonic; and they are so accustomed to this habit from their earliest years, that they feel greatly inconvenienced if they discontinue it. The higher classes are satisfied with drinking the cup of butter, but the lower classes add another half cup, which they draw up through the nostrils, imagining that they thus prevent bad air entering the body by those apertures."

The traveller left Jeddah for Tayf on the 24th of August. The road winds over mountains and across valleys of romantic beauty and luxuriant verdure. Burckhardt was taken for an English spy at Tayf, and, although he was well received by the Pasha, he had no liberty, and could not carry on his observations.

Tayf, it appears, is famous for the beauty of its gardens; roses and grapes are sent from it into all the districts of Hedjaz. This town had a considerable trade, and was very prosperous before it was plundered by the Wahabees.

Shores and boats of the Red Sea
Shores and boats of the Red Sea.

The surveillance to which he was subjected hastened Burckhardt's departure, and upon the 7th of September he started for Mecca. Well versed in the study of the Koran, and acquainted with all the practices of Islamism, he was prepared to act the part of a pilgrim. His first care was to dress himself in accordance with the law prescribed for the faithful who enter Mecca—in the "ihram," or pieces of cloth without seam, one covering the loins, the other thrown over the neck and shoulders. The pilgrim's first duty is to proceed to the temple, without waiting even to procure a lodging. This Burckhardt did not fail to do, observing at the same time the rites and ceremonies prescribed in such cases, of which he gives many interesting particulars; we cannot, however, dwell upon them here.

"Mecca," says Burckhardt, "may be called a pretty town. As a rule, the streets are wider than in most Eastern cities. The houses are lofty and built of stone; and its numerous windows, opening upon the street, give it a more cheerful and European aspect than the cities of Egypt or Syria, whose dwellings generally have few windows on the outside. Every house has a terrace built of stone, and sloping in such a way as to allow water to run down the gutters into the street. Low walls with parapets conceal these terraces; for, as everywhere else in the East, it is not thought right for a man to appear there; he would be accused of spying upon the women, who spend much of their time upon the terrace of the house, engaged in domestic work, drying corn, hanging out linen, &c."

The only public place in the city is the large court of the Grand Mosque. Trees are rare; not a garden enlivens the view, and the scene depends for animation upon the well-stocked shops which abound during the pilgrimage. With the exception of four or five large houses belonging to the administration, two colleges, which have since been converted into warehouses for corn, and the mosque with the few buildings and colleges connected with it, Mecca can boast of no public buildings, and cannot compete in this respect with other cities in the East of the same size.

The streets are unpaved; and as drains are unknown, water collects in puddles, and the accumulation of mud is inconceivable. For a water supply the natives trust to heaven, catching the rain in cisterns, for that obtained from the wells is so foul that it is impossible to drink it.

In the centre of the town, where the valley widens a little, the mosque known as Beithóu'llah, or El Haram, is situated. This edifice owes its fame to the Kaaba which is enclosed in it, for other Eastern towns can boast of mosques equally large and more beautiful. El Haram is situated in an oblong space, surrounded on the eastern side by a quadruple colonnade, and by a triple one on the other. The columns are connected by pointed arches, upon each four stand little domes constructed of mortar and whitened outside. Some of these columns are of white marble, granite, or porphyry, but the greater part are of the common stone found among the mountains of Mecca.

The Kaaba has been so often ruined and restored that no trace of a remote antiquity remains. It was in existence before this mosque was built.