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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell

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Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 entry, paper
Syria ยป Al-Safa

33.036111, 37.198056

Wed 22. [22 February 1905] A beautiful clear dawn. The air felt clean
and cold like a delicious bath. We were off at 7, the good Mikhail
made me tea and boiled an egg for me. We took one of the Arabs,
'Awad, on a camel to show us the way. We rode for 2 hours over the
stones till we got to a low line of hills S of the Safah [Safa] hills. These
we crossed and skirted round the lava bed of the Safa. There was a
good deal of open yellow ground with nothing growing on it. We
made a good pace here. There were bare gray [sic] butm trees
growing on the lava from place to place. The Arabs kept talking of a
stone called el Abla and when we got there we looked at it. It has I
think the groove of a well rope on it, pretty deep and by it there is a big
heap of stones built up. Some one, probably Arabs looking for
Khazneh, has pulled down the top stones and made a square
opening. It is evidently built and I suppose the core of the mounds -
for there are many of them - was carefully made and the stones piled
up round them afterwards for a road mark. They are quite close
together, 2 or 3 in a quarter of a mile. Next we came to some black
rocks on which were inscriptions in Nabathaean, Greek Cufic and a
script I don't know, Murray says Sinaetic. Also awsam - I saw the
Sukhur wasm [vertical line with circle at top] or [vertical line with circles
at the top and bottom]. So everyone who passed has recorded
himself according to his manner. After 4 hours' riding we got to the E
limit of the Safa and had the yellow plain of the Ruhbe in front of us.
There was a wonderful mirage. The yellow sandlike clay led down to
a great misty sea and far away the small volcanoes stuck out of it like
islands and were reflected in the water. We met an Arab riding
Marduf on a camel with his wife. There were roughly built little towers
all along the edge of the lava, like watch towers, the stones just piled
on one another not fitted. Then we saw the white Mazar and the grey
tower of Kala'at el Beida. After about 5 hours' riding we reached the
Mazar. It is venerated by Druze and Muslim alike; its special day was
about 10 days ago but no one came this year, said Ghishghash.
Generally the Ghiath sow a little corn on the Ruhbe but this year there
is none for want of rain they said. There are a few carved stones from
the Kala'a built into the Mazar which I take to be not very old. It is a
Hauran building with stone roofing beams. There was a ghadir near
the lava at the Khirbeh - the Arabs always call it the Khirbeh - and
water in it. The Khirbeh is some 100 yards or 200 inside the lava. The
outer wall is very fine dressed masonry with round towers at the
corners and in the middle of the N and W walls - S too I think. The
middle of the wall seems to be a sort of mortar. The main gate is on
the E side. It has a fine carved jamb. I photographed all the bits of
carving - there are entrelacs, vine, animals. The keep itself must be
later, built out of old materials. The work is poor. Lots of bits of frieze
built into it. No inscriptions. Ghiath flavoured our lunch with wild onion
which was very good. There seem to have been little rooms all round
inside the wall. A few 100 yards to the NE is a biggish building which I
went to see. Quite rough work of lavastone not the grey stone of the
kala'a No decoration. There were many others further along the
edge of the lava to the N. So we rode back taking 43/4 hours. We
got in after sunset but before dark. A keen strong wind and clouds.
The tent had been turned round - not a difficult business as the back
wall fits onto either side at pleasure. They gave us only Shirak this
evening but I had tea and biscuits and we all shared a chicken and a
half. I established myself as was right, near the Sabah and had a
very comfortable bed but the fleas were worse than ever. Didn't
sleep till after midnight, a bright moonlight night. My horse made awful
fusses and I had to get up and see what he was doing. The Druze
mares stood looking into the tent quite peacefully. Very cold before
dawn and I had caught cold a little chiefly owing to the fact that one
begins by being so baked by the fire when they are making coffee.
There are many marah in the valley we were in - the stones cleared
away for the tents and the camels. They are old old towers of the
'Anaza who used to camp here before the Druzes came to the Jebel
[Duruz, Jabal ad]. Now they never come so far W, except to raid.
Wonderful views today of Hermon [Sheikh, Jebel esh] and Anti
Lebanus [Sharqi, Jebel esh (Anti-Lebanon)], snow covered.

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