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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 Shaizar

35.2613234, 36.5594382

Sat 18. [18 March 1905] Off at 7.15 with 2 soldiers, Hajj Mahmud and
Kasim. We rode over the uplands of corn, all cultivated land. Passed
a village with lots of beehive roofs. Before we came to Kala'at es
Seijar we saw in the distance a village called El Herde. It is Xian,
owned by Murshid Pasha. It used to be all Greek and at peace till
one came with tracts and converted some 60 of the inhabitants to the
English church since when they have never ceased quarrelling. Hajj
Mahmud travelled once with a Japanese who cd talk no language
known to him. They communicated by signs the only words the Jap
spoke being No no! when he didn't want anything. Mahmud thought
this was French. He slept in the khans, drank tea with milk and eat a
little bread, going without food cheerfully. He wrote half way into the
night and had maps. He furnished me with some interesting details
about the Samawily[?] and the Nosairiyeh. The former are
undoubtedly of the sect of the Khojahs - Mahmud thought their head in
India was a woman but in the house of Murshid Beg they told me that
the Agha Khan's photograph was in every Samawileh house. They
send him yearly tribute by a messenger who goes from Damascus
[Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)]. They worship woman. All female
children born on the 27th of Rajab are incarnations of the divinity.
They are set apart, do no work and are not allowed to marry. Also
their family are treated as Shuyukh. They [Arabic characters] which is
carefully preserved and prayed to. Also they [line of Arabic]. This is
true to a certain extent of every woman, but in particular of these girls.
The hair and nails of these girls are never cut. At the time of the
[Arabic] the girl is clothed in an immense petticoat yards long and
wide, covered with gold and silver ornaments and seated in the
middle of the room while they all adore her. I wonder what dim roots
of Astarte worship or older this all comes from. The girl is called the
[Arabic]. They read the books of Islam but they also have books of
their own. Mahmud saw one. It was all in praise of the [Arabic],
describing every part of her with eulogy. Of the Nosairiyeh he knew
little except that they were unacquainted with [Arabic]. They have
books of their own. Their women are given no religion at all for the
reason that they might talk and reveal the secrets. There are [Arabic].
They have a great feast day in Kanem[?] el Awwal about the time of
our Xmas. Mahmud happened to be in the Nosairiyeh mts
[Nusayriyah, Jabal al] once at that time with 5 or 6 khayyal. They
were invited by the sheikh to put up at his house. Next morning they
woke and found not a man there, no one to bring them water or food.
They questioned the women who knew nothing. Mahmud went to the
house of the Sheikh ud Din and there found a great gathering of
[Arabic] seated round on the floor. In the middle was a large bowl of
wine and an empty jug by it. The Sheikh ud Din was conversing with
the jug. He put questions to it which Mahmud cd not hear and it
answered with a gurgling sound. Magic no doubt said Mahmud.
When they saw him they were very angry and began to hustle and
beat him. He defended himself as best he cd calling out that he was
the dakhil of the sheikh. The Sheikh held up his hand and ordered
them off. They obeyed at once. The Sheikh then kissed Mahmud's
hands and feet, begged his forgiveness, gave him money and
entreated him not to repeat what he had seen. Mahmud though it
wiser to hold his tongue. He has travelled with the Germans and with
Americans and knows where all the carved stones are. "If you wish to
see a stone with a horse and a man on it" he said to the Americans "I
can show it to you." This was a Muddik and he found it. In 4 hours we
came to Seijar. We had crossed by the way the Sarut by a bridge -
the water is sometimes very deep here, over the bridge. All the ride
we had not seen the 'Asy ['Asi (Orontes)], now we rode down from the
high plateau and came upon the river where it emerges from a narrow
rocky gorge. Kala'at Seijar stands upon the extreme end of one of the
bluffs which form this gorge. It has been divided by a deep cutting
from the rest of the bluff to the S. Almost all that remains is Arab
though there are some bits of foundations built of big stones which
may be earlier. In the river there are the remains of a Naoura
acqueduct [sic], and near it a great mass of masonry which was either
a more ancient Na'ura or a bridge - I rather think the latter for there is a
curious cutting away of the rock on the other side. On this masonry
there is a big stone which is moulded and has been the top of a door -
classic I think. Inside there are many bits of capital and base - one
clearly classic, Ionic but much defaced. Good bases too. Also rough
capitals of a later date. The outer gate is newer than the inner which is
set askew within it. There are Arab inscriptions on both. In a line with
the new gate runs up a road which has been vaulted. The old gate
also led into a vaulted passage which runs almost parallel with the
second and is mostly preserved but a good deal blocked up with
rubbish. The vaulting of small stones, very rough. There must have
been at least one and perhaps more passages going down to the
river for I saw the traces of them within and without the castle. The
castle hill is long and narrow and covered with modern building. At
the S end of it is a great burj with an Arab inscription high up - I shd say
of the later building. The view into the deep 'Asy valley and across
the corn plain to the Nosairieh hills very fine. Many caves in the rocks,
but[?] I think natural. On the rocks on the opposite side of the valley I
found a most curious cutting, like a water channel but partly artificial I
shd say running deep into the hill. The middle part of the castle hill is
a little raised and here is the house of the Sheikh, Ahmad Seijari. I
had a letter to him from Brazy[?] but when I got here I found he was at
Hamah. His brother, 'Abdul Kadir and one of his sons was here
however. They have had 2 years of trouble with the govt. Below the
castle is a village of the Smatieh[?] Arabs who live in houses in the
winter and in tents in the summer. A quarter of the village belongs to
the Killani. The Seijari who have been lords of the castle for 300
years quarrelled with them, they say the Arabs stole from them. One
of the sons killed 2 of the Arabs - they say in self defence. The govt
interfered, ruined the Seijari houses outside the castle, carried off
camels and cattle, killed the eldest Seijari son and carried off 2 others
to prison at Hamah where they now languish. Moreover they ordered
the Seijari not to leave the castle and they have not come out of it for a
year and more, nor may the Arabs enter. Their land runs a long way
out to the W and an hour's journey towards Muddik. Sheikh Ahmad is
allowed to live in his house in Hamah. When I called the women were
frightened by the sight of Mahmud, declared that 'Abdul Kadir was not
there so I left the letter and went away. Presently came a messenger
saying it was all a mistake and would I come back. So I went after
tea, found 'Abdul Kadir, his son, and the son of Ahmad, an old woman
whom I take to be Ahmad's wife(?) and a number of very beautiful
young women dressed in Bedouin clothes but wearing a lot of
charming gold ornaments on their heads. They made me welcome
and told their tale. I did not stay very long for there were so many
fleas about. Two of the young women walked with me to the gate and
stood in the beautiful Arab auh[?] waving farewell to me. It was all
very pretty and attractive. 2 months ago the Seijari asked the govt to
send some soldiers to protect them, which the govt accordingly did
and they are now encamped on the grass by the castle. Below the
castle to the S and W are traces of the town of Larissa, a Mazar of
Nebi Eyyub a little way off, and the ruins of a Khan which contains
some fine stone building evidently classic. The 'Asy is a big river
here and swollen by the rains. There is a bridge of 10 arches with a
mill on it. I camped beyond it with the bridge and castle in front of me
under a big tree. Near by is a grove of apricots white with bloom and
under the rocks beyond, a delicious mass of grass and flowers on
which I slept for an hour in the afternoon. Red ranunculus. Warm
night. Dined and wrote out of doors under the moon. 2 great na'oura.
The Seijari women are unveiled but they are never allowed by their
husbands to go even to Hamah. They are all of this place. Haji
Mahmud told me a long tale illustrative of Circassian ingratitude. He
met a man on the road from Tripoli [Trablous] to whom he gave the
salute and asked him why he was walking. The man said his horse
had been stolen so Mahmud made him walk in front of him. Presently
he asked something of a man in a field drew his sword and
proceeded to beat him. Mahmud asked why. The Circassian said he
had asked him for something to eat and had not received it. Mahmud
gave him to eat of all he had. Presently they came to a stream.
Mahmud got off to drink holding his mare. He looked up and saw the
Circassian preparing to mount on the other side. So he knocked him
down and left him. The man complained to the govt at Hama
[Hamah] Mahmud explained and was let off.

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