Letters

26 April 1900

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

Thurs 26. [26 April 1900] We got off at 6.30 and rode all up the Wady Sir [Wadi es Sir], a most beautiful green valley full of oaks growing in clusters as though they were in an English park. Corn and water mills and every sign of prosperity showed us that we were reaching the Circassian country. Their first village was Es Sir at the head of the valley, good stone built houses, with verandahs supported by wooden pillars, neat clean courtyards with a couple of figtrees and a few willows growing in them and a tidy well clad population - it was extraordinarily un-Arabic. These people have fled before the Russians and have been settled here by the Sultan. I expect they in their time will drive the careless lazy Arabs out and become a rich colony. From Es Sir we got into a really good road such as carts can go along, Circassian made of course, which led us onto a high plateau covered with cornfields and down into the Zerka [Zarqa] valley, the Jabbok of the Old Testament, at the bottom of which lies Amman ['Amman]. It is a town with a long history. It was the capital of the Ammonites (Rabboth Ammon was its name); David took it and the tribe of Reuben held it. The Romans rebuilt it with great splendour and called it Philadelphia, the Arab invasion destroyed it and now the Circassians have repeopled it and built their neat one storied houses with the stones of citadel and temple. Our camp lies in front of the largest and most perfect theatre I have yet seen - the Circassians live in its great corridors - on one side of it are the ruins of the Odeon, on the other a long row of Corinthian columns which lined the Avenue de l'Opera, so to speak, and in front runs the charming stream, edged with willows. Through the town this stream was arched over by a continuous bridge, parts of which remain, for the valley is narrow and they wanted all the space they could get for their columned streets. Further up, the ruins of the enormous Thermae, walls of what is said to be the Forum built into Circassian houses, and the big outer wall of a Christian basilica. The Acropolis stands high up on the hill opposite to us. On the way up, we passed a charming, richly decorated bit of a mausoleum and the columns of a big temple. They say the foundations of the citadel date from the dark ages, before David, any time you please, but there will soon be little left of the big walls for the Circassians are industriously carrying them down piecemeal to build them into their houses. The whole top of the hill is covered with the ruins of the temples and forts, and there is one lovely little domed building, all arcaded and carved within, which is said to be Persian. It is not unlike the work at Mashetta [Qasr el Mushatta]. We arrived here at 10.30, lunched and rested and have had a very pleasant afternoon examining and photographing all these ruins. The Circassians are most friendly. As we walked along the streets we were constantly offered cups of coffee, which we usually accepted for it was very good. The weather is heavenly - a bright sun and cool air, and we are very happy.



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