Letters

3 June 1900

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

[3 June 1900] Baalbek. Sun. June 3 Dearest Father. We have had a most prosperous and agreeable journey here. We left Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] at 7 on Friday and rode up the beautiful Barada valley, following the line of the railway. The Anti Lebanus [Sharqi, JeBell esh (Anti-Lebanon)] country has a cachet of its own. The valleys, near the streams, are lined with the deepest thickest vegetation, poplars vines and corn and every sort of fruit tree; the villages well built, clean, prosperous - and above them rise the bare bare hills crowned with a ridge of rock and with no vestige of green on them. We lunched at a charming place called Suk Wady Barada and stayed there 2 hours waiting for our mules. The valley had narrowed into a deep gorge between cliffs, there was a Roman road cut right through the rock and an acqueduct [sic] - it was a great Roman town, I Bellieve, Abila its name. From here, after winding up the gorge; we got out onto a plain set in the midst of the Anti Lebanus; the Barada flowing through the midst of it, and at the end the big groves and corn fields of Zebedani [Az Zabadani]. Here we camped (we arrived at 4) under an oak tree by the edge of a spring - a most charming place. Apples and mulberry trees (for silk worms) grew all round us, and the hedges were full of honeysuckle and the pink wild rose. The beautiful white briar of Damascus was not out yet here. The prosperity of it all! the well dressed, handsome people, civilized and pleasant, the water and the flowers - well, you must come out of the desert to realize how nice it was. The world was scented with a thing they called zezafun, grey leaved like an olive and with tiny yellow flowers; Sorbier, my dictionary translates it. Next day, we sent our mules by a longer and smoother way and ourselves rode with Hannah straight over the mountains. We did not know the way, but with my map and the occasional peasant, we managed to find it without difficulty. It was charming to be riding through a mountain country, to lunch by the edge of a rushing mountain stream but the best moment of all was when we climbed onto the top of a shoulder and saw the whole great Lebanon [Liban, JeBell]range, snow capped, before us and the wide Beka'a [Beqa'a, El] valley at our feet. We rode down to a place called Ras el Ain, where Lutticke [LÃ…tticke] had advised us to camp, and instantly fell in love with it. A ruined mosque, a great tank of clearest water which flows out of the rock, groves of willows and lawns of grass, the ideal camping ground. We got in at 3, having left at 6 and as our mules had not yet arrived, Charlotte and I walked down an avenue into Baalbek, established ourselves on the hotel balcony, with the temple in front of us, and had an excellen tea. To us, a little missionary lady, Mrs Warren, whom I had met on the ship coming out; she brought us the good news of the surrender of Pretoria. The Acropolis apart, Baalbek is, I think, the finest group of ruins I have seen. We walked round the outside last night and went all over the inside this morning. The giant columns of the Temple of the Sun, with a poplar grove at their feet, the snows[?] of Lebanon behind, and the lovely Temple of Jupiter half buried in waving poplars are looking at me as I write to you - well, not Athens [Athinai], but very exquisite. When you get nearer to them they fall off considerably in detail; you miss the Greek simplicity, though the ornamentation is very good of its kind, better than Palmyra [Tadmur], I think. In the inside of the Temple of Jupiter, in one of the big niches, the Emperor has put the abominable marble tablet commemorating his visit. The Turks had put it outside, but he wouldn't have that and cut one of the niches to make room for it. Isn't he a Vandal! There is a wonderful bit of old wall running round the Temple of the Sun. The stones are 63 and 64 ft long, enormous. They say they are part of the original Temple of the Sun, Phoenician work. We are going half up the Lebanon tomorrow and over to the Cedars next day. It looks very stormy up on the hills; I do hope we shall have good weather there. Charlotte says she always brings bad weather; otherwise she is a most agreeable travelling companion. Hannah fell off his horse yesterday, galloping it down hill over stones, it was his own fault. He is a good deal bruised today but fortunately no worse. Just think how sold we should have been if he had broken his leg or something!



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