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PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 1.

CHAPTER I.

FOUNTAIN, DAMASCUS.
FOUNTAIN, DAMASCUS.

The Bible tells us that Solomon built Tadmor in the wilderness. and classic authors inform us that Zenobia had her home there. History, sacred and secular, links the city inseparably with that magnificent King of Israel, unrivalled in wisdom and barbaric splendour, and with that desert queen and peerless woman, whose regal attributes and personal accomplishments were as remarkable as the brilliance of her reign. The city comes on the stage of history in the blaze of glory that surrounded the most wondrous of Oriental kings, and after many centuries of splendid obscurity, quits the stage of history in the meteoric glare that accompanied the most wondrous of Oriental queens. [1]

And yet history, careful to preserve the remembrance of cities of which no vestige remains, has been so reticent about Tadmor, that the wonderful ruins, lately discovered, almost alone perpetuate her glory. Her chronicles are written in stone—in graceful villa and spacious palace, in massive mausoleum and mighty temple, in vistas of airy colonnades and crescents seen through triumphal arches, and in a thousand monuments of genius and taste, battered and hurled about as playthings of time, but con-serving in every feature the blush and freshness of youth.

Like a shrinking beauty, Tadmor sits in solitary grandeur behind her own desert mountains: and those who would see her in her calm retreat must leave the beaten tracks of tourists, and cross "the great and terrible desert."

During ten years, I had seen many tourists arrive at Damascus, eager as devotees to gaze on this queen of ruins ; but owing to the expense, danger, and general hardships of the journey, few of the multitude had been permitted to look upon her beauty. Of these few, fewer still had free leisure to become acquainted with all her charms.

I may consider myself the most fortunate of tourists, in that I twice succeeded in visiting Palmyra under the most favourable circumstances, and without stepping far out of the circle of my professional duties. I shall take my readers by my latest route, through a region seldom explored, and by an easy path, with water at regular intervals. [2]

As my first trip to Palmyra was made in the ordinary prescribed manner. I shall get it out of the way as quickly as possible, and only refer to it again to illustrate or supplement my second. It consisted of long, weary marches, day and night, along the middle of an uninteresting plain, extending in an eastern direction, with mountains like walls running most of the way on either side. I left Damascus on the 20th March, 1872, and reached Palmyra in four days ; but as the road was monotony itself, I came back to Damascus at one stretch, and my mare trotted into Damascus almost as fresh as she had trotted out of Palmyra. This long ride, which was beset with adventures, I shall describe further on.

From the time of my first trip to Palmyra, the people of Karyetein, where I spent a night, never ceased to urge me to establish a school among them, and I had promised to revisit them in the spring of 1874. During that spring the Bedawin plundered the whole eastern borders of Syria. Caravan after caravan with Bagdad merchandise was swept off into the desert. The British Bagdad post, sacred in the most troublous circumstances, had been seven times plundered, the letters had been torn open and strewed over the plain, and the postman, without camel or clothes, left to perish, or find his way as he best could to human habitation. Spearmen, like swarms of locusts from the east, spread over Jebel Kalamoun, and having slain the shepherds, and stripped any men or women who fell in their way, drove before them all the flocks and herds of the region. [3]

Feeble fanaticism held sway in the city, and absolute anarchy reigned in the rural districts ; and so great was the terror of the peasantry, that, though they were actually starving, they could not move from their villages, except in large armed bodies, and even thus they sometimes fell a prey to the Ishmaelites.

In this state of the country, I had almost given up my promised visit, when two daring explorers, the llon-ourable C. F. P. Berkeley and wife, arrived in Damascus. Coolness and courage had carried them safely through Petra and Karak, and all the trans-Jordanic regions, where they were sometimes beset with savage and furious mobs. Their faces were set towards Tadmor, and the prospect of danger only gave a keener zest to the projected tour. A common interest drew us together, and I was able to avail myself of their escort and pleasant society, in return for topographical knowledge, and an acquaintance with the people and their ways. The season was already far advanced for making the journey to Palmyra, and so we resolved to start at once.

SOFFIT ORNAMENT OF TEMPLE CELL DOOR.
SOFFIT ORNAMENT OF TEMPLE CELL DOOR.

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