CHAPTER XVIII. MESOPOTAMIA, BAGHDAD, AND BABYLON.
BAGHDAD - PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS - CLIMATE - ENTERTAINMENT AT THE ENGLISH RESIDENT'S - HAREM OF THE PASCHA OF BAGHDAD - EXCURSION TO THE RUINS OF CTESIPHON - THE PERSIAN PRINCE, IL-HANY-ALA-CULY-MIRZA - EXCURSION TO THE RUINS OF BABYLON - DEPARTURR FROM BAGHDAD.
Baghdad, the capital of Assyria, was founded during the reign of the Caliph Abu-Jasar-Almansor. A century later, in the reign of Haroun-al-Raschid, the best and most enlightened of all the caliphs, the town was at its highest pitch of prosperity; but at the end of another century, it was destroyed by the Turks. In the sixteenth century it was conquered by the Persians, and continued to be a perpetual source of discord between them and the Turks, although it at length became annexed to the Ottoman Empire. Nadir Schah again endeavoured to wrest it from the Turks in the eighteenth century.
The present population, of about 60,000 souls, consists of about three-fourths Turks, and the remainder of Jews, Persians, Armenians, and Arabs. There are only fifty or sixty Europeans living there.
The town is partly situated on both sides of the Tigris, but chiefly on the east. It is surrounded by fortified walls of brick, with numerous towers at regular intervals; both walls and towers, however, are weak, and even somewhat dangerous, and the cannons upon them are not in good condition.
The first thing that it was necessary for me to provide myself with here, was a large linen wrapper, called isar, a small fez, and a kerchief, which, wound round the fez, forms a little turban; but I did not make use of the thick, stiff mask, made of horse-hair, which covers the face, and under which the wearer is nearly suffocated. It is impossible to imagine a more inconvenient out-door dress for our sex than the one worn here. The isar gathers the dust from the ground, and it requires some dexterity to hold it together in such a way as to envelop the whole body. I pitied the poor women greatly, who were often obliged to carry a child, or some other load, or perhaps even to wash linen in the river. They never came from this work, except dripping with water. Even the smallest girls here are clothed in this way whenever they go out.
In my Oriental dress I could walk about without any covering on my face, perfectly uninterrupted. I first examined the town, but there was not much to see, as there are no remains of the old Caliphate buildings. The houses are of burnt bricks, and are only one story high; the backs are all turned towards the streets, and it is but rarely that a projecting part of the house is seen with narrow latticed windows. Those houses only whose facades are towards the Tigris make an exception to this rule; they have ordinary windows, and are sometimes very handsome. I found the streets rather narrow, and full of dirt and dust. The bridge of boats over the Tigris, which is here 690 feet broad, is the most wretched that I ever saw. The bazaars are very extensive. The old bazaar, a relic of the former town, still shows traces of handsome columns and arabesques, and Chan Osman is distinguished by its beautiful portal and lofty arches. The principal passages are so broad, that there is room for a horseman and two foot passengers, to go through side by side. The merchants and artisans here, as in all eastern countries, live in separate streets and passages. The better shops are to be found in private houses, or in the chans at the bazaars. Miserable coffee- stalls are everywhere numerous.
The palace of the pascha is an extensive building, but neither tasteful nor costly; it is imposing only from a distance. There are but few mosques, and those present nothing costly or artistic, except the inlaid tiles.
To be able to overlook the whole of Baghdad, I mounted, with great difficulty, the exterior of the dome of the Osman Chan, and was truly astounded at the extent and beautiful position of the town. It is impossible to form any idea of an Oriental town by passing through the narrow and uniform streets, no matter how often, as these are all alike, and, one with the other, resemble the passages of a jail. But, from above, I looked down over the whole town, with its innumerable houses, many of which are situated in pretty gardens. I saw thousands and thousands of terraces spread at my feet, and before all, the beautiful river, rolling on through dark orchards and palm groves, to the town, which extends along its banks for five miles.
All the buildings are, as already remarked, constructed of unburnt bricks, of which the greater part are stated to have been brought down the Euphrates, from the ruins of the neighbouring city of Babylon. By a close examination, traces of the old architecture are to be found on the fortifications; the bricks of which they are built are about two feet in diameter, and resemble fine slabs of stone.