Letters

21 May 1900

From/To: Gertrude Bell to unknown

Mon 21. [21 May 1900] It was most delicious to have a long night in bed; I got up feeling extremely brisk and spent the whole morning exploring Palmyra [Tadmur]. The wind had fortunately dropped a little. The Mudir had sent me a soldier, who knew the ruins, as guide. His name is Ahmed - not to be confounded with Ahmed the Karyateiny - a good guide and an agreeable person. His father and grandfather lived in Plevna and emigrated here to escape from the Russians. His native language is Turkish, but he talks Arabic almost equally well. He knows all the country from here to Baghdad, but he had never been further west than Palmyra. He accompanied Dr R. [Rosen] on his Baghdad journey from Der [Dayr az Zawr], on the Euphrates, onwards. Dr R. is well remembered here - not many travellers come who talk Arabic as well as he. They call him Reeshan. I explored with Ahmed all the Temple of the Sun, climbing up on the mud roofs to photograph the walls and columns. It consists of an immense enclosure inside which were 3 rows of columns and inside them, the temple with a row of columns all round it - peripteral, to be pedantic. The cella is almost perfect and has been converted into a mosque. Of the temple columns only 7 remain; they are enormous and can be seen from outside above the enclosing walls. The entablature also remains very elaborately carved, but the capitals were of brass, which has been stripped off, leaving only a thin stone core, which makes them look like someone without a face, poor dears! I then explored all the temples and colonnades by myself, and photographed them. Besides all that stands, the ground is covered with bits of columns, bits of frieze or entablature, all the work being delicate and fanciful far beyond any of the Hauran places I have been seeing. It must, however, have been overloaded with ornament. Every column has a bracket sticking out of it to support a statue - this is of course, frankly bad and destroys the effect of the colonnades to a considerable extent. After lunch it was pretty hot, so I sat in my tent till past three and then climbed with Ahmed to the very top of the medieval castle at the NW end of the town. It stands perched up on a high conical hill and is surrounded by a deep moat, the bridge over which is broken and you have to do a very pretty bit of rock climbing and force your way in by a narrow window. Ahmed took off his shoes, but I retained even my gloves! It was an extraordinary view - the Mother of Columns at our feet (so the Arabs call Palmyra then the great Sun temple with its ring[?] of gardens, and the desert to the horizon, sand and salt and dust shadows and cloud shadows and no sign of life. On the hills round us were perched the great tower tombs, which I am going to examine tomorrow. I finished my day delightfully by bathing in the big sulphur spring. It comes out of a cave, a full grown stream of absolutely clear, pale green water, warmish, a pure joy to bathe in. The cave runs under the ground, no one knows how far. I explored it a little way, swimming up the stream, but it was black dark and very stuffy owing to the warmth of the water so I swam back. Sunset here ought to be numbered among the wonders of the world. The columns and temple walls turn yellow and then gold and then deep orange and the desert behind flushes pink and fades away into a dim mystery in the dusk. I found a big snake among the rocks on the castle hill. Ahmed was delighted saying that it brought good to find a snake. It didn't bring any good to the snake! Ahmed chased it out of the hole into which it had retired, crying "Wilt thou come forth, oh accursed! dog and son of a dog, come forth!" We left a corpse upon the castle hill.



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