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For JULY, 1836.
Art. I. Journey through Arabia Petræa to Mount Sinai, and the
excavated City of Petra, the Edom of the Prophecies. By M.
Léon de Laborde. 8vo. pp. xxviii., 331. London, 1836. THE THE ruins of the unique capital of Arabia Petræa, after
having been for many centuries as effectually secluded from European eyes, as the fabulous garden of Irem miraculously concealed in the deserts of Aden, was first explored in 1818, by Captains the Hon. C. L. Irby and Mangles, in company with Mr. Bankes and Mr. Legh. The volume containing an account of their Travels was printed only for private circulation ; but, having been so fortunate as to obtain a copy, we were enabled to give an abstract of its contents, which will be found in the xxist Volume of our Second Series. (Jan. 1824.) Two European travellers only had previously reached either Kerek, the modern representative of the ancient city, or Wady Mousa ; namely, Seetzen, the celebrated German traveller, who visited this part of Arabia Petræa in 1807, but was unable to approach the ruins of the capital; and Burckhardt in 1811, who, travelling in the assumed character of a Mussulman hadji, could only take a hurried glance at these curious remains. The description furnished by Messrs. Irby and Mangles was adapted to stimulate curiosity, rather than to satisfy it. They spent two days among the ruins, but were obliged to leave unexplored some of the most singular monuments. M. Laborde, the son of the well known Count Alexander de Laborde, visited Arabia Petræa in 1828; and the splendid work of which this is a sort of abridgement, was published at Paris in 1830. It is a folio, elegantly printed, containing about seventy illustrations, from his own drawings, in lithograph and wood. A selection from these embellish the present volume, which, at almost every page, presents either
some picturesque landscape or some spirited vignette illustrative of the scenery, natural history, or costume of this interesting region. It is by the pencil only, indeed, that such scenes and objects can be presented to the mind; and if M. Laborde has not added much to our archæological or geographical knowledge by his dissertations, his graphic illustrations are a most valuable accession, explaining and confirming the less distinct accounts furnished by preceding travellers. So extraordinary a spot as Petra, can scarcely be conceived of by means of mere verbal description.
Not having access to the original work, we are unable to ascertain the full extent of the modifications which the Translator has introduced into M. Laborde's narrative, or to judge of the propriety of the course he has adopted in giving it an English dress. For the first two chapters, comprising an account of ancient Idumea, and other introductory matter, the reader is indebted to the English Editor; as well as for the numerous notes scattered through the volume, consisting of extracts from the Letters of Captains Irby and Mangles, and the Travels of Burckhardt and Sir F. Henniker. The details which, in the original, are distributed through a preface, an introduction, an explanation of the plates, and an itinerary of the route from Suez to Akaba, have been woven into a continuous narrative, while some “incidental
dissertations' have been either omitted or abridged. These, it must be confessed, are somewhat free and material alterations, not a little affecting the genuineness of the translation ; and we must certainly think, that a more distinct line ought to have been drawn between the original matter and that which has been grafted upon it. As it is, we scarcely know where the translation begins and ends, although the orthography and modes of expression occasionally betray the French original.
The Journey to Arabia commences with the Author's departure from Suez, Feb. 29, in the fifth chapter. The route he pursued is the same that Niebuhr and Burckhardt have minutely described; but M. Laborde travelled under more advantageous circumstances, and with an eye more susceptible of impressions from picturesque objects. The tombs of Sarbout el Kadem, accidentally discovered by Niebuhr in 1761, but which that Traveller has very inaccurately described, were made by M. Laborde the subject of careful examination. An Egyptian cemetery and ruined temple on the summit of a barren and almost inaccessible mountain, in this secluded situation, affords a curious field for speculation. M. Laborde conjectures that they belonged to a mining establishment The freestone formation in this part abounds with iron and copper; and these strata were worked by the ancients at three different points. Sarbout el Kadem appears to have been the principal station; and the tomb-stones, about fourteen in number, and still exhibiting the traces of hieroglyphics, are supposed to have been those of the Egyptian workmen. Van Egmont and Heyman refer to these curious monuments as the remains of an old city ; but how a city came to be perched in such a situation, they leave unexplained. M. Laborde has hit on the most probable solution.
Our Author halted for two days in the tents of the Arab tribe to which his guides belonged, and then proceeded, by Wady Zackal, towards Akaba, at the head of the Elanitic Gulf. The route, on entering Wady Zackal, is described as being the most singular that the imagination can picture.
· The valley, shut in within a width of about fifty paces by masses of granite of from 1000 to 1200 feet in height, which often rose like perpendicular walls even to their very tops, exhibited the appearance of a Cyclopean street, the ravines branching out from which on each side, seemed to be adjoining streets, all belonging to some ancient and abandoned town.
town. The extraordinary shapes and immensity of the masses accumulated on the right and left were calculated to terrify and almost overwhelm the mind; an effect which was not a little augmented by the enormous fissures that occurred here and there, presenting huge fragments which had tumbled from the summit of the mountain. The silence prevailing all round us was that of the grave: the wind was unheard amidst these almost subterraneous passages ; the sun touched with its golden hue only the most elevated points; and the tranquillity of the place would have been undisturbed, had not every step and every sound of our voices been re-echoed from the steeps on each side as we pursued our way. This curious passage, of which it is difficult to write an intelligible description, leads by a gentle continued declivity to the coast of the Red Sea, amidst the palm-trees of Dahab, which, without any assistance from cultivation, are constantly 'increasing in number, at a point where the sand and the rocks, driven down through the valley by the winter torrents, form a boundary to the
This place I take to be the Midian of Jethro. It is now inhabited only by four poor Arabs, and now and then visited by a few wretched caravans, which come to its well for water.'
Dahab is probably, Burckhardt suggests, the Dizahab or Zahab of Deut. i. 1., where we have five topographical names which it might not be difficult to identify with existing localities. The wilderness referred to is there described as “the plain over against
Suph (or Ziph) between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and “ Hazeroth, and Dizahab." The word Paran seems preserved in that of Wady Faran, one of the principal outlets of Wady el Sheikh towards the sea. But there were several places of this name; and the desert of Paran lay in a different direction, bordering on Judæa. Midian was the name both of a tribe and of a territory, the capital of which some authorities place on the Arnon M. Laborde's conjecture, which would identify the land
of Midian with the little peninsula of Dahab, has nothing to recommend it to attention.
Akaba now presents nothing very remarkable. But the adjacent island of Graia has evidently been a place of some importance in not very remote times. It was the theatre of Christian valour in the time of the Crusades, but has been wholly abandoned since the fourteenth century. Burckhardt was unable to reach Akaba, which is beyond the limits of the Towara Arabs, to whom his guides belonged ; although it was pointed out to him in the distance. As the Ezion-geber of King Solomon, and the Aila of later times, it is a very interesting spot; and the whole tract of country to which it forms the key, but of which we know little from modern travellers, is peculiarly deserving of investigation. Seetzen made his way from Hebron to Akaba across the desert of El Tyh; but no account of this journey has, we believe, been preserved. We are by no means satisfied with M. Laborde's very slight and vague description in this part of his journal. He speaks of visiting the site of the ancient Ælana, or Aila, the ruins of which consist of only a few mounds of earth and rubbish, a
single block of white marble appearing the only remarkable ob‘ject. The name of the modern fortress is taken from the steep acclivity by which the route to Mecca here descends into the plain of the Hedjaz. On leaving Akaba, to pursue his journey to Petra, our Author entered the remarkable valley of Wady Araba, a prolongation of that of the Jordan, and the ancient caravan route from the Red Sea towards Jerusalem. This extensive * valley,' says M. Laborde, “is as barren as the desert. Never"theless, at this time of the year, not yet long after the rainy season, a little verdure remained on the small patches of earth which were formed here and there in the midst of the sand. We ' left on our right, Wady Jetoum.' This last named must be the Wady Ithem of Burckhardt, through which a road leads eastward to Nedjed, and which a King Hadeid is said to have closed with a wall, to prevent the incursions of the wild marauders of the desert. M. Laborde was told this traditional tale, with the addition, or variation, that the said Hadeid was a Christian. The course pursued lay through the bottom of the valley of Araba,
in order to avoid the rocks collected at the mouths of the ra' vines which open into it; and led near a marshy place, where a
groupe of palm-trees and some tokens of former cultivation, with 'an Arabian cemetery *, indicate, our Author supposes, an ancient site, which was probably a halting-place on the road from Aila
* The Arabs, Burckhardt says, have regular burial-grounds in every part of the desert, whither they carry their dead, sometimes from the distance of several days' journey ; so that these cemeteries by no means prove the former existence of a city in the vicinity.