Letters

24 March 1900

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Sat 24. [24 March 1900] GrÃ…sse aus Kerak [Karak]! do you know where to find it on the map? it's quite a big place I assure you. To begin at the beginning - I got up at dawn and bathed in the river which was delicious. We were off about 8 as usual and for an hour and a half climbed up the steep side of the valley. On a little plateau near the river there were many broken columns and further up agreat four square ruin - a Roman guard house. The scarlet tulip was in flower, very lovely. At the top of the gulf there was another big Roman ruin and a tiny modern guardhouse with 2 soldiers in it who brought me coffee. The place was remarkable for possessing 2 trees - terebinths; they are the only trees I have seen for 4 days. We now rode on under the base of a little hill called Shihan which I can see from my windows in Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)]. It is covered with ruins of a Moabite town, supposed to be the capital of King Sihon and therefore very old. I could see the terraced lines of the old vineyards though now over all the wide rolling plains there was nothing but a very few patches of wheat far away - and the Roman road stretching straight as an arrow in front of us, paved and edged with a low double wall, one stone high. There were lots and lots of ruins, villages and towns - what a country it must have been! At 12.30 we reached a place that had been a landmark for miles in that great emptiness - Kasr Rabba, the castle of Rabboth Moab, the Arabs call it. It is not a castle at all, but a Roman temple, the strong stone walls of which are still standing up to some 15 ft high. Inside it is filled up with fallen stones and columns and Corinthian capitals over which the lizards run. White garlic sprouted in clusters out of the cracks in the walls. We lunched here and rested an hour and then on again over the endless plains. In half an hour we came to the ruins of Rabba - Rabboth or Ar Moab, a Roman town built on a Moabite. The ruins cover a big extent of ground and consist of heaps of cut stones and any amount of cisterns and vaults, and one temple more or less standing upright - at least there are two columns standing and a bit of the end wall. We came in by the Roman road and I saw quite clearly the ruined walls protecting the gateway, and the grooved lintel stone. There was a milestone lying a little way off, face upwards, but with the inscription quite effaced. Then came a boring 2 hours, up and down over ridges, which were exactly like the furrows of a gigantic field, and never anything to see but the next furrow nor anything to think of but whether there would be another - and there always was. At length, quite suddenly, there opened Bellow us an enormous valley, splitting in the middle to made place for a steep hill almost as high as the plateau on which we were standing, and the top of the hill was set round with great Crusader forts with acres of mud roofs between - it was Kerak. We went down and down and up and up and at 5 o'clock passed under the northern fort and entered the town. The mules were ages behind so I filled up the time by going to see the English doctor, {Wheeler} Johnson is his name, to whom I had letters. I found him in and friendly; he took me into his house and left me with 2 Arabs while he went off with my people to show them the best place for my camp. While he was gone his wife came in; they have been married 18 months and have a baby which they have called Ruth - obviously. She is quite a nice woman, she was 4 or 5 years teaching in a school in Jerusalem before she married. She gave me tea and Dr Johnson came back and we sat talking for an hour, the great subject of discussion being whether I could get leave from the government to go to Petra which is 3 days from here and most most wonderful. Time will show! at any rate I stay here tomorrow. After tea Dr J. took me down to my camp where we found an official who had come to find out who I was and whither going; we satisfied him and they all went off and left me in peace. My camp is pitched in the north west angle of the town. The steep valley goes straight down Bellow me; I am just under the great n-w fort and beyond it I look right down the valley across the Dead Sea [(Yam Hamelah, Bahret Lut)] to the hills of Judea and Jerusalem. A beautiful clear sunset and the flocks of goats coming home up the rocky paths - these are as yet my chief impressions of Kerak.



Previous page