CHAPTER XIX. MOSUL AND NINEVEH.
The night of the 30th of June, the last of our journey, was one of the most wearisome: we travelled eleven hours. About half-way, we came to the river Hasar, called Gaumil by the Greeks, and made remarkable by the passage of Alexander the Great. It was broad, but not deep, and we therefore rode through. The chain of mountains still continued at the side at some considerable distance, and here and there rose low, sterile hills, or head-lands. The total absence of trees in this part of Mesopotamia is striking: during the last five days I did not see a single one. It is, therefore, easy to imagine that there are many people here who have never seen such a thing. There were spaces of twenty miles in extent, upon which not a single branch was to be seen. However, it is fortunate that there is no scarcity of water; every day we came once or twice to rivers of various sizes.
The town of Mosul did not become visible until we were within about five miles. It is situated upon a slight elevation in a very extensive valley, on the west bank of the Tigris, which is already much narrower here than near Baghdad. We arrived about 7 o'clock in the morning.
I was fresh and active, although during these fifteen days I had only twice had a hot meal - the ink-coloured lamb soup at Kerku and Ervil; although I had been obliged to remain day and night in the same clothes, and had not even an opportunity of once changing my linen, not to say anything of the terrific heat, the continual riding, and other fatigues.
I first dismounted at the caravansary, and then procured a guide to the English Vice-consul, Mr. Rassam, who had already prepared a room for me, as he had been previously informed of my coming by a letter from Major Rawlinson, at Baghdad.
I first visited the town, which, however, does not present any very remarkable features. It is surrounded by fortified works, and contains 25,000 inhabitants, among which there are scarcely twelve Europeans. The bazaars are extensive, but not in the least degree handsome; between them lie several coffee-stalls and some chans. I found the entrances to all the houses narrow, low, and furnished with strong gates. These gates are relics of former times, when the people were always in danger from the attacks of enemies. In the interiors, there are very beautiful court-yards, and lofty, airy rooms, with handsome entrances and bow-windows. The doors and window-frames, the stairs and walls of the ground-floor rooms, are generally made of marble; though the marble which is used for these purposes is not very fine, yet it still looks better than brick walls. The quarry lies close to the town.
Here also the hot part of the day is passed in the sardabs. The heat is most terrible in the month of July, when the burning simoom not unfrequently sweeps over the town. During my short stay at Mosul, several people died very suddenly; these deaths were ascribed to the heat. Even the sardabs do not shelter people from continual perspiration, as the temperature rises as high as 97 degrees 25' Fah.
The birds also suffer much from the heat: they open their beaks wide, and stretch their wings out far from their bodies.
The inhabitants suffer severely in their eyes; but the Aleppo boils are not so common as in Baghdad, and strangers are not subject to them.
I found the heat very oppressive, but in other respects was very well, especially as regards my appetite: I believe that I could have eaten every hour of the day. Probably this was in consequence of the hard diet which I had been obliged to endure on my journey.
The principal thing worth seeing at Mosul is the palace, about half a mile from the town. It consists of several buildings and gardens, surrounded with walls which it is possible to see over, as they lie lower than the town. It presents a very good appearance from a distance, but loses on nearer approach. In the gardens stand beautiful groups of trees, which are the more valuable as they are the only ones in the whole neighbourhood.
During my stay at Mosul, a large number of Turkish troops marched through. The Pasha rode out a short distance to receive them, and then returned to the town at the head of the foot regiments. The cavalry remained behind, and encamped in tents along the banks of the Tigris. I found these troops incomparably better clothed and equipped than those which I had seen, in 1842, at Constantinople. Their uniform consisted of white trousers, blue cloth spencers, with red facings, good shoes, and fez.
As soon as I was in some degree recovered from the fatigue of my late journey, I requested my amiable host to furnish me with a servant who should conduct me to the ruins of Nineveh; but instead of a servant, the sister of Mrs. Rassam and a Mr. Ross accompanied me. One morning we visited the nearest ruins on the other side of the Tigris, at the village Nebbi Yunus opposite the town; and, on another day, those called Tel-Nimroud, which are situated at a greater distance, about eighteen miles down the river.
According to Strabo, Nineveh was still larger than Babylon. He represents it as having been the largest city in the world. The journey round it occupied three days. The walls were a hundred feet high, broad enough for three chariots abreast, and defended by fifteen hundred towers. The same authority states that the Assyrian king Ninus was the founder, about 2,200 years before the birth of Christ.
The whole is now covered with earth, and it is only when the peasants are ploughing, that fragments of brick or marble are here and there turned up. Long ranges of mounds, more or less high, extending over the immeasurable plain on the left bank of the Tigris, are known to cover the remains of this town.