Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother Florence Bell, written over the course of several days from the 18th of March to the 7th of April, 1909.
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Thursday March 18. Dearest Mother. I spent all yesterday at Hit [(Is)] and Fattuh engaged in negotiations with regard to our desert expedition. An extraordinary number of persons wished to serve us as guides. This was not because they looked forward to spending a week in our company nor yet for the sake of the trip, but because they hoped for unlimited bakhshish. Finally we settled with a sheikh of the Deleim that he should accompany us and provide an escort for £T15 and when all was done he came back and said he could not pluck up courage to go for we should take him among his blood enemies the Beni Hassan. However all turned out for the best, for Fattuh went and saw the Mudir of the town and the Mudir proved to be a man of spirit. For when he had read all my passports and permits and so forth he said it was clear to him that it was his duty to help me, so he promised to give us a soldier to take us to our first castle and to assist us in our further arrangements. Moreover he would send a soldier with my caravan which is to travel by the high road via Baghdad and meet us at KerBella [Karbala]. Mr Gunter and I spent the morning in inspecting pitch springs and examining a couple of ruined sites near Hit. I lunched with him and he dined with me and early this morning we went our several ways. I sent my caravan to Baghdad and with Fattuh, Hussein Onbashi (my soldier) and 3 donkey loads of goods (including provisions and a light tent) we rode across the desert to an oasis called Kebeisa [Kubaysah] which we reached at noon. I am staying with the Mudir who has given me a delightful room on an upper floor with an enclosed roof in front of it on which Fattuh cooks and proposes to sleep. We have engaged a man with a camel to come with us tomorrow and carry water - for there is none where we are going - and all looks promising. This place is a small village with 50000 palm trees watered by a big sulphur spring. There is also a well of more or less sweet water which the people drink, and there is the desert. Friday March 19. [19 March 1909] Yes, there is the desert and that is where we are living tonight. We set off at 6.30, Fattuh and I and Hussein Onbashi and two charming people, Fawas and his nephew mounted on camels and carrying all our belongings. We rode an hour and a half and came to a sulphur spring - not very sulphury - at which we filled our water skins. For there is no water westward of that spring for 4 mortal days. So we rode on over absolutely flat desert till noon and then we came to a rise in the ground like a step 50 ft high; we rode across this plateau for another hour by the side of the dry water course like a seam in the ground and at 1 o'clock we got to Khubbaz. It is a castle, four square, with round angle towers and round bastions in the middle of each wall. Inside, all round the walls runs a single line of barrel vaulted chambers, leaving a square open court in the middle. I worked at it for 4 hours and I have come to the conclusion that it is pre-Mohammadan. There is a peculiar characteristic set of the vaults and arches which I know only in Sassanian buildings of the 4th to 6th centuries. I think this castle is not Sassanian but Arab, an outlying post of the Beni Lakhmid who were princes on the lower Euphrates before the great invasion of Islam. But this is a guess which I hope may be confirmed by the other castles I mean to see. We have brought with us water and a light tent for me, a chair and some rugs. This equipment is all that the soul can desire. Fattuh has cooked us an excellent dinner among the stones and we are now proposing to roll ourselves up in our rugs and sleep. Sat March 20. [20 March 1909] We had a pleasant ride back to Kebeisa [Kubaysah] today. Fawaz lent me his camel for an hour or two - she was a delightful mount. Also the way was diversified by our seeing the largest flock of gazelles I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and so close that Fattuh had a shot at them with my rifle. A very good shot it was. It kicked up the dust in the middle of the herd and one gazelle leapt up into the air so that I thought it was hit. But when we reached the place we found nothing. I spent the afternoon in conversation with the Mudir and in a visit to Fawaz where I found the assembled town. We conversed on the benefits of electricity and other matters, such as the age of the King. Tomorrow we set out in a 4 days' ride across the desert. I have as usual fallen on my feet in the matter of companions. A better man than Fawaz I do not hope to find anywhere; his nephew comes with us too, and we have suborned Hussain Onbashi to accompany by the promise of good bakhshish. So that we go under the protection of the Government. Tomorrow's journey is not as safe as it might be. Last night 8 donkeys were stolen by the Deleim about 2 hours' from here - they had gone out with their owners to collect firewood; and Bellow in the Mudir's yard stands a mare which has just been recaptured from a Deleim thief. Still we are 5 armed people and, as Fattuh says, God is merciful. Saturday March 21. [21 March 1909] We are safely through our first day, praise be to God! We travelled 10 hours across open naked desert and never saw a soul all day. We passed one or two springs, but they were all bitter sulphur water except one deep pool which was sweet enough to drink. At last about half past 4 we came to a place called the Father of Asphalt and there the pitch comes out of the ground from 8 springs and flows all over the empty desert. Here we expected to find Arab tents and indeed from far away I had seen a man through my glasses, but when we got near we could find nothing. So we resolved to cross the pitch beds and were presently engaged in a wilderness of pitch, some hard and some soft, from which it seemed probable that we should never escape. Moreover it was getting late and it was essential that we should find the Arabs. You understand, if you camp near them you are their guest and they will not touch you or yours, but if you are camped alone they will raid you at pleasure. At last Fattuh and I caught sight of some black tent roof outside the pitch beds; we extricated ourselves with difficulty, rode up to the tents, gave the salaam and asked where was the Sheikh and what was his name. His tent was a few minutes further on; we rode slowly up to it so they might not think we were raiders, gave the salaam and were received with open arms. The Sheikh's name is Muhammad el Abdullah and he is one of the chiefs of the Deleim - I have drunk coffee with him and he has drunk tea with me, so that the bonds of friendship are firmly knit. He is a youngish man, a fine handsome creature "This Sheikh" says Fattuh with approbation "is a man." Monday March 22. [22 March 1909] We took with us this morning Sheikh Muhammad 'Abdullah, who was only too pleased to come. I felt it was rather more foolhardy than was necessary to travel another day through the Deleim country without a Deleim guide. Muhammad is a merry fellow, a poet; he sings us his odes as we go along. 1 month or two ago Mr Forbes of the Liquorice Co took a motor in 4 days from Aleppo [Halab] to Baghdad where it broke down and yet remains. Muhammad accompanied him on his last day into Baghdad and composed an ode on the subject. He is also full of the sayings and doings of Mr Forbes as for instance how he shot a rabbit "and called it hèr. Eh Billah!" He also diversified the way by showing us the various places where he had raided and slain his enemies. The Deleim have practically no friends so that the places were many. After 4 hours' ride we came to a sulphur spring near a mud fort which stood on a high tell - I do not doubt that the site is very old. There were some Deleim tents there and some corn. After I had finished photographing and taking a few measurements we sat down by the edge of the corn and lunched, the Arabs providing us with sour milk to drink. We then rode on another 4 hours' across absolutely bare desert; nothing growing but a few thorny plants, nothing to be seen but an enormous lizard - you will scarcely believe me, but it was upon my honour as large as a small fox. I rode it down - it didn't go very fast - but just as I got up to it, it disappeared into its hole which happened to be there at hand. So we came down into a shallow valley where there are tamarisk trees and a few springs; the water comes up into cup like holes which the Arabs dig for it and it is very good and fresh - this is the first sweet water we have seen for 5 days. The valley stretches right across to Syria but there is no water in it but at this place - so say the Arabs. Here we have camped, not a very safe performance as there are no tents near, but the next possible place is 7 or 8 hours on. I don't think it matters much as we have a Deleim sheikh with us - as long as none of his enemies appear! Tuesday March 23 [23 March 1909] Rahhaliyyeh [Rahhaliyah]. We are through! without mishap and without adventure and I am exceedingly glad I took the desert road since all has turned out so well. We started at sunrise this morning and had 7 hours' ride across the most interminable desert I have ever seen. For the first 3 hours it rose gradually, one level above the other, almost imperceptible but just enough to prevent one from seeing more than a quarter of a mile ahead. It was intolerably boring. Nothing grew except solitary thorny and leafless plants of desert scrub - I know all their names now - each plant set many yards away from its neighbour. Yes, there was one other thing, the bitter yellow gourds of the colocynth, strewn upon the ground as if someone had been playing a gigantic game of marbles with them. I had never seen them before and I was enchanted to hear what they were, for they are mentioned over and over again in the great verses of the Age of Ignorance. At last we came to the top of the desert levels and saw the palm gardens of Rahhaliyyeh 4 hours' away. The oasis is surrounded by stagnant water rotting in the sun. At the end of the summer the water marries with the dates and breeds horrible maladies but at this time of year the place is healthy enough though the air is heavy with the smell of the marsh. The mud houses are buried in palm gardens, and a more God forsaken, Hellfire sort of little place it would be difficult to find. Even at this time of year it's sultry hot. I went to the house of the Mudir - we have got back into civilization you see - and drank tea with him while my tent was being pitched in a palm garden. A very delicious camp it makes now that the sun has sunk a little, but I could wish that we did not share it with such armies of flies. There are ruins all about here, none of which are marked in the map. I shall spend the next 2 days visiting them and Heaven send they may prove worth the trouble. A party of men beating on drums and playing on a double flute came and established themselves under the palms while one danced between the sun and shade of the palm fronds. Their faces were the faces of negroes, but dirty yellow, not black. Outside the crumbling mud walls of my garden lies the naked desert. The sun has just set over it with a wonderful lingering glow that comes only in desert places and a new moon hangs low in the sky. It's extraordinarily peaceful and beautiful and all of us have a sense of relief as of people who have come safely out of perilous ways. Wed. March 24. [24 March 1909] Rather a curious incident occurred today. I sent my camels with Fattuh straight into Shetate [Shithathah], 5 hours off, and myself with Hussein Onbashi, Muhammad el Abdullah and a boy from Rahhaliyyeh [Rahhaliyah] rode round about and explored some very curious and interesting ruined sites. The last of these was some way out of the road. We devoted the hours' ride to the Muses, so to speak. Muhammad sang his ode about the motor and I obliged with God save the King which I translated into Arabic for the benefit of the company - they were not much taken with the air but the words pleased them. When we had finished planning the site we sent the boy back - he had a rifle with him - and ourselves went on across the desert, Muhammad singing as usual. Suddenly he stopped and said "There is a horseman riding in haste." We looked up and saw first one horseman and then 2 more galoping [sic] over the desert towards us. Hussein took his riding stick out of the barrel of his rifle where it usually lives. Muhammad slipped a bullet into his Martini and I drew my revolver out of its holster. Then Muhammad and I galoped [sic] on to the top of a little rise and he said to me "Dismount and hold my mare." So I stood with the two mares and Muhammad walked on a little way, the riders coming slowly nearer. Hussein came up and stood beside me. It was a very epitome of the desert, the 3 men riding doubtfully towards us and Muhammad, rifle in hand, going still more doubtfully to meet them - the desert where everyone is an enemy till you know him to be a friend. As soon as they got within shouting distance they gave us the salaam and we knew it was well. They were 3 men from Rahhaliyyeh one of whom was the owner of the rifle the boy had had with him; they had come out to look for the boy and make sure he hadn't stolen the rifle. After we had parted with them Muhammad said to me "Lady, in the day of raids I should not trust my mare, not to the son my uncle, not to my own brother. Lest he should see the foe and mount and ride away. But to you I gave her because I know the heart of the English is strong. They do not flee." Shetate is an enormous oasis with 100000 palms. There is also in the middle of the palm gardens an exceedingly interesting castle which has helped me to understand and place the other things I have seen on the way. For the origin of this one is pretty certain. I walked half an hour through the gardens to it - there was corn growing under the palms and willows by the banks of the irrigation streams and pomegranates coming into blossom. It seemed a paradise after our days of desert. After tea a young man came to call. He is one of Sir W. Willcock's engineers who is making out the levels from the Euphrates to Shetate. He is camped a mile or so away. I was very glad to see him and to hear of the irrigation schemes. Friday 26. [26 March 1909] Khethar [Ukhaydir]. Yesterday I left Shetate [Shithathah] early and I had not got far before I met the young man of last night - his name is Watts - also going to Khethar, so we rode amicably together for 3 hours across the desert and then we came to the most wonderful building I had ever seen. It is an enormous castle, fortress, palace - what you will - 155 metres x 170 metres, the immense outer walls set all along with round towers and about a third of the inside filled with court after court of beautiful rooms vaulted and domed, covered with exquisite plaster decoration, underground chambers, overhead chambers, some built with columns, some set round with niches, in short the most undreamt of example of the finest Sassanian art that ever was. It is not even in the map, it has never been published, I never heard its name before; I hear from the Arabs that a foreigner came here last year and worked at it for a few days, but who he was I don't know. As soon as I saw it I decided that this was the opportunity of a life time. It doesn't matter the least if someone else publishes it before I do, I myself shall learn more of Eastern art of the 6th century by working at it than I should learn from all the books that ever were. I place it at the time of Ctesiphon, but I expect that it was built not for the Sassanians but for the Lakhmid princes. The Arab historians relate that when the Mohammadans first conquered this country in the 7th century they stood in amazement before the Lakhmid palaces; as far as I know this is the only one that remains and it is almost perfect. I lunched with Mr Watts and thought things over; he very kindly undertook to give me the long inner and outer measurements with his surveying instruments and I set out with a measuring tape and a foot rule to plan the whole place. I worked yesterday for 5 hours and today for 8 and I've got nearly the whole thing sketched in; tomorrrow I shall begin to draw it out. For I must tell you I've brought up my whole camp from KerBella [Karbala], 9 hours' away. It happened this way: when I came in to tea yesterday I told Fattuh that I must stop 3 or 4 days. He said that in that case he should ride in to KerBella that night and bring the Caravan out tomorrow. I was very reluctant to let him go, but he insisted upon it and the advantages were obvious. I had no proper materials for doing a big piece of work; moreover I had no table and no bed and we had come to the end of our supply of food. So I took counsel with Mr Watts and we arranged to send in two soldiers with Fattuh, one of his and one of mine, and an Arab guide. The soldiers were green with fear; they declared that to ride across the desert at night was a thing no one had ever done before and they would certainly not get through alive, but partly by pressure and partly by bribes we induced them to consent (the Arabs said there was really no risk) and at 7.30 they set off. I confess I felt some misgivings about the enterprize, but Fattuh is so capable and so plucky that I thought if he did meet with robbers they would probably come off the worst. He was armed with Maurice's rifle which has been invaluable. To end the tale, they got to KerBella at 4 AM, found the caravan, bought the necessary provisions, left at 8 and got in here at 5 - a very fine performance. And I can't describe to you the luxury of a complete camp equipment after 9 days' of sleeping, eating and living on the ground. Khethar is occupied by some Arabs from Jof [Jawf, Al (Al Jauf)], Ibn Rashid's country. They are without doubt the nicest people ever known. The Sheikh Ali, a splendid creature with black hair falling in plaits on either side of his face, put the whole castle at my disposal. He sits all day in the great hall inside the main gate and two or three times a day he sends me bitter black coffee to help me through my work. It is more reviving than words can say. Sometimes he comes trailing out in his long white robes (it is so hot that in the middle of the day he throws off his black cloak) and sits with me for a few minutes while I drink the coffee and listen to tales of Nejd [Najd] related in a rolling speech worthy of the great Arab days. His people live in the halls and courts of the Lakhmid princes; the men take it in turns to hold my measuring tape, carry my camera and so on. In a day they have learnt exactly what it is I want and they are infinitely useful to me for I simply have to walk after them with my sketch book and write down the figures from the tape. The accuracy of the building is astounding. Over distances of from 30 to 40 metres you don't find discrepancies of so much as 10 centimetres in the chambers and passages that balance one another. Monday March 29. [29 March 1909] I've finished the castle and tomorrow we go on to KerBella [Karbala]. I spent Sat. and Sunday in drawing out the plan to scale - today I took my big plan round from room to room, compared, corrected and made notes about construction. Ali and his brother Ma'ash observe that it is clear I must be the daughter of kings or I could not have drawn such a plan and if you were to see it I believe you would begin to feel for the crown upon your head. For I've planned all the 3 storeys and every detail inside and out down to the smallest niche, and the whole thing works out to within 40 centimetres of Mr Watt's observations. It has been an immense pleasure to be busy with building as splendid and as exact as Khethar [Ukhaydir] and to watch all the ingenious schemes of the architects. Some of the most curious are the roofing systems, all contrived, I imagine, in order to keep out the heat. First of all the walls and vaults are very thick; between the parallel barrel vaults, and parallel with them, they ran long vaulted air passages like tubes opening to the outer air with tiny slits of windows; above all, between the top of the main vaults and the sun, there is, as you might say, an air roof, this way [sketch], tiny tunnels covered over with the true flat roof of stone and plaster. The result is that the rooms are always cool and fresh, and you go from court to court down the long passages and never realize the blazing heat outside. Once or twice I have come across secret chambers with no visible door - treasure chambers I suppose. You can see them now because the Arabs have broken holes into them. And often you find, opening out of the living rooms, a long narrow vaulted corridor, unlighted, where you could go and sit when the heats were greatest. The only thing I haven't planned is the underground vaults. Some one else may do that, I can't go scrabbing about in the dark over piles of fallen stones. The Arabs pass barefoot and silent up and down the stairs and passages, gather round hearths scooped out of the floor of queen's chambers, live and starve and die among the ruins of a great luxurious civilization - their own, but long forgotten by them. One night Sheikh Ali asked me if I should like to hear a man sing to the rebaba - the rebaba is a sort of fiddle with a single string. We went into the Great Hall just inside the main door, where the Sheikh makes coffee all day long, and there sat down on mats and cushions round the hearth. The fire of thorns sent up a little flickering light; there were two wicks burning in tins of oil set in holes above the low columns, no doubt contrived for that very purpose, for I don't imagine that the men at arms of the Lakhmid princes could see by night any better than we could, when they sat there gossiping over the next expedition against Chosroes at Ctesiphon. The man next me took the rebaba and began playing a long prelude; then he said "I will sing you the song of 'Abd ul Aziz ibn Rashid". So he sang in praise of the last dead prince of the Beni Rashid, a great patron of the arts he was, a leader of raids, rich and powerful, and lately overthrown and killed in battle. At times the Sheikh's brother, Ma'ash, got up and moved round the circle with the coffee cups, or someone bent forward over the embers and lighted his pipe where the fire was brightest. The thin melancholy music rose up into the huge blackness of the vault above, and across the wide opening at the end of the hall, where the wall had fallen away, was spread the deep still night, a sky half full of moon light and half filled with the soft gleam of faint stars. "Balina wa ma tabla en nujum et tawali'u" - I could think of nothing but Lebid's splendid verse: "We wither away but they wane not, the stars that above us rise; the mountains remain after us and the strong towers." Last night my castle gave me a different entertainment. It was a wonderful still night, the immense desert stretching away into infinity under the moon. I had gone to bed early but I was too tired to sleep and I lay and turned over in my mind all the work I had been doing and wondered how much I had left out. Suddenly a rifle shot rang out and a bullet whizzed over us - near enough for us to hear the sound of it. All my men jumped up and I could hear Fattuh putting the muleteers as outposts round the camp. I got up too and put on clothes in a hurry and came out to see the fun. Meantime 3 or 4 more shots had been fired but these came we thought from our own Arabs, Ali and his people, and were directed against the assailants whoever they might be. Presently Ali and some others hurried past us, all armed in some fashion, and Fattuh, all eagerness, ran off with them into the desert. I climbed up onto a heap of ruins to watch them but they soon disappeared into the glimmering moonlight. But a few minutes later we saw shots flash out red in the distance and wondered whether they came from our people or from the others. After about a quarter of an hour Ali and his men returned, singing a wild song as they came, their rifles over their shoulders, their white robes gleaming in the moon, with two or three tiny children clinging to their skirts. They declared that the enemy had been raiders of the Thafi'a, a hostile tribe. 'Ali had seen at sunset from the castle walls men lurking about in the distance and had posted a watch when night fell. Today he sent scouts out to a well 4 or 5 miles away; they have brought back news of a ghazu raiding party of some 30 camels which has scoured the desert and gone off southwards. Perhaps you wonder why they take their babies out to scare robbers: it is not more remarkable than the fact that when my soldiers come measuring the castle with me, nothing will induce them to leave their rifles in the tents. They are quite intolerably inconvenient; the measuring tape is for ever catching round the barrel or getting caught up in the stock, but I can't persuade them to lay the damnable things down for an instant. It has blown a dust storm the whole long day; now to camp or to work in a dust storm are the worst evils known to man. My tents are uninhabitable and I have taken refuge in a remote room of the palace.
Friday Ap 2. [2 April 1909] We left Khethar [Ukhaydir] on Tuesday and rode 7 hours across awful desert, much of it sand. At midday we skirted along the edge of a huge brackish lake - it was not very salt. It was a horrible day; a wind and dust haze everywhere so that the desert loomed all the more terrible through the hot mist. I have told you of the drought this year? There is no grass anywhere and the sheep and goats are all dying, the people with them. No pious pilgrim was ever gladder than I was to see the golden dome of the mosque of Hussein glittering through the haze. KerBella [Karbala] is one of the most sacred cities of Islam. In it lie buried Ali's two sons, Hussein and Abbas who were both killed in the battle of KerBella by the first Abbasid Khalif. The Shi'ahs look on Ali as the last of the true Khalifs and venerate his tomb at Nejef [Najaf, An] and that of Hussein at KerBella almost more than the tomb of the Prophet at Medinah [Al Madinah (Medina)]. All pious Persians (the Persians are Shi'ahs you know) try to make the pilgimage once in their lifetime, and after they are dead their bodies made a second pilgrimage for, if their relatives can afford it, they are brought here to be buried. All the Khans are accordingly packed with corpses from Persia awaiting burial and accordingly I elected to put up with our vice consul, a man called Agha Hassan. He is by birth an inhabitant of Peshawar and an English subject; he talks English admirably. He gave me a delightful room, an excellent dinner of Persian rice and sweetmeats and sherbets, and entertained me the while with most interesting tales of all that was going on. I enjoyed myself immensely. No infidel is allowed into the mosques but Mr Hassan sent a kavass with me and we climbed onto the roofs of neighbouring houses and looked down into the tiled courtyards. The minarets and dome of the mosque of Hussain are covered with gold. It is one of the richest shrines in the world, second only to that of Ali at Nejef. Neither of them have ever been pillaged. At KerBella we had bad news of the road. The Hindiyyeh canal [Shatt al Hindiyah] was in flood and we could not go straight to Babylon but must ride a day's journey round to the north and cross the Euphrates above the place where the canal begins. I'll tell you all about the canal some day. All the water that ought to flow through the river bed is now directed into the canal. The river is dry except just now when the waters come down from the north. The Hindiyyeh is above the level of KerBella and every spring when the waters rise the people live in terror lest they should break through the very unstable dykes and destroy the town. Every year as the canal silts up and the level of the water rises, the danger grows. The returning of the water from the Hindiyyeh into the river bed is the first work that Sir W. Willcocks has on hand. Even our road to Museyyib [Musayyib, Al] was partly flooded and we had to skirt a long way round marsh and water. We got into Museyyib early and I was very glad to be into camp by 2.30 for I had a horrible cold in the head, caught lying on the ground in a draughty hall drawing the plan of Khethar for 2 days and wished I were dead. (It's much better today). On Thursday we still had to battle with waters. We rode 2 hours out of our way to get across the irrigation canals and into the Hille [Hillah, Al]-Baghdad road where we were high and dry at last. And so we turned S. and rode to Babylon. I was talking to Fattuh of various adventures and experiences when suddenly I looked up and saw a huge mound. There was no need to ask its name. It was as easily recognisable as if the hanging gardens still grew on its summit - the northernmost mound of Babylon which still retains the famous name, Babil. We went on for another half hour over ground strewn with broken bricks and stones and then turned inward towards the river and went between the high mounds of Nebuchadnezzar's palace till we came to a delicious palm grove by the Euphrates and the house of the German excavators. They received me with open arms. Unfortunately the head man, Professor Koldewey to whom Delitszch had given me a letter, is ill and I can't see him. There are two young men working here, Baddensieg and Wetzel, both of them most kind and agreeable. They have given me a beautiful room in a separate wing of the Expeditionshause and my servants are camped beneath my windows under the palm trees. The pleasure of being out of the heat and dust of a camp (it's not all beer and skittles camping in this weather) and into a nice clean cool house is scarcely less great than that of having 2 intelligent learned people to talk to. And I must tell you: as I scarcely dared to hope and yet half thought, my plan of Khethar is the first that has been made. Thank Heaven I worked at it so carefully and took so many photographs! For the Germans here agree with me that it is by far the most important building of its period that has yet been found. No one knows of it, no one has seen it; the Englishman who went there 2 years ago I have found out to be a young English officer (I know about him) who spent a few hours at Khethar and certainly hadn't an idea of the significance of what he saw. It's the greatest piece of luck that has ever happened to me. I shall publish it in a big monograph all to itself and it will make a flutter in the dovecots. Strzygowski will be off his head with joy over this find: I must write to him about it now. I spent the whole morning going over the diggings with Wetzel - it is certainly the most extraordinary place, I have seldom felt the ancient world come so close. They have dug out the greater part of Nebuchadnezzar's palace. You can see his great hall where Bellshazzar must have held his feast - there is no other possible place. And in the doorway of the hall are the remains of the platform in which Nebuchadnezzar used to sit when it was hot - you remember he is described as sitting in the gate. Behind the hall you see his private rooms and the tiny eme1rgency exit by which the king could escape to the river if his enemies pressed on him. Then there is the splendid procession road running past the palace and through the colossal gate by the temple of the Goddess Ishtar. The gate is all decorated with bulls and griffins in brick relief, processions of them marching round the walls. You toil across an immense stretch of desert that was once a great court and come to the temple of Marduk the guardian god of the city. It is not excavated, but a trial pit has been sunk into it and has revealed the huge unburnt brick walls of the gate. All that hill is covered with Parthian remains, houses with colonnades of brick pillars in front of them, and all the bricks are stolen from the Babylonian ruins. In this part of the world no one, Greek, Parthian or Arab burnt bricks for 1000 years, but each when he wanted to build quarried out Nebuchadnezzar's great square tiles. It was deeply interesting coming to the place just after Khethar. At Babylon I studied the origins of the later castle and learnt that the arts in Mesopotamia were one and continuous. In the evening two tourists arrived from Baghdad, an American called Dr Blunt, and an Englishwoman, a certain Miss Halliwell. I haven't much use for either of them, but I don't see anything of them except at meals. The Turkish commissioner for the diggings here is a certain Badri Beg who greeted me with enthusiasm and said it was he who had drawn out my irade for the Kara Dagh [Kara Dag] 2 years ago. He spends his time cultivating his garden, a tiny corner of the courtyard of the Expeditionhaus, where he raises spindly rose bushes and very excellent radishes - I know they are excellent because he invited me into the garden and culled the choicest of the radishes for me - a good old soul.
Sat Ap 3. [3 April 1909] I spent another peaceful and delightful day at Babylon, photographing the ruins in the morning, studying my Tigris route in the excellent library and riding out in the afternoon to see the remains of the Greek theatre, built, as usual, with Nebuchadnezzars tiles. The very steps of the stair in the Expeditionhaus have his name stamped upon them: I felt it half sacriligious [sic] to step on symbols that meant so much.
Sun. Ap 4. [4 April 1909] And today very regretfully I took my leave and rode off at 6 AM - a long day, we were 10 hours on the march and the baggage 11. Blazing hot too; even I who am fairly sun proof felt it a little. Tonight we are in a little village called Mahmudiyyeh [Mahmudiyah, Al] and I have put up in a Khan, both because we got in late and because a room is cooler than a tent. I dined under the full moon upon the flat roof of the Khan. The more intolerable the days become, the more incredibly perfect are the nights.
Monday Ap 5. [5 April 1909] We rode 4 hours across to the Tigris, a mighty stream now that the waters are beginning to rise, and camped under the ruined mud walls of Seleucia. After Babylon Seleucia was the next capital in Mesopotamia, and after Seleucia Ctesiphon, which I crossed the river to see this afternoon. And after Ctesiphon Baghdad where I go tomorrow. Ctesiphon was deeply interesting because of its relationship to Khethar [Ukhaydir]. I spent a couple of hours looking at the details of construction and they are so exactly similar in both buildings that I feel sure I am right in placing them in the same age, ie the 6th century. You navigate the Tigris in a kind of boat called a kuffa. It is a large round basket covered with pitch. You say a short prayer the first time you step into one - it seems so very unlikely that a basket will ever carry you across a wide swift river. The kuffa travels on the same principle as the moon, spinning on its own axis and so advancing; it's really a very pleasant craft when once you get accustomed to it.
And so tomorrow ends the first party of my journey. We have come through all difficulties successfully; we have followed new roads the whole way and we have reaped a harvest that has surpassed the wildest flights of my imagination. I feel as if I had seen a whole new world and learnt several new chapters of history.
Wed Ap 7. [7 April 1909] Baghdad. We got in yesterday, after a long ride which was made all the longer by the fact that the bridge Bellow Baghdad was broken and we had to ride round an immense bend of the river to get to the bridge that leads straight into the town. I went to the consulate and found that the Ramsays were expecting me and were prepared to put me up. The Consulate is a palace. It stands by the river, has a big garden, a guard of Indian soldiers and a fortress wall all round it. I have two rooms and a bathroom for my lodging. My bedroom has 8 doors in it - that's a great many isn't it! Colonel and Mrs Ramsay are very kind and much interested in modern politics but not in antiquities. I have arrived at a crisis. Sir W. Willcocks and 3 steamers are being held up at Amara ['Amarah, Al] by Arabs. Col. Ramsay is very anxious; there is no news and the Turks are unable to do anything. I daresay you have seen all this in the telegrams. The result is that mails are held up and the latest letter from you is dated Feb 22. I also have a letter from Father posted at Ronambulo and a packet of commercial papers from you enclosing letters. I telegraphed to you on my arrival, Flourishing Diarbekr [Diyarbakir (Amida)] - you understand that means letters are now to be sent to the Consulate at Diarbekr - and am waiting anxiously for a reply from you. It's dreadfully sad about Moll and the measles; please give her my warmest sympathy. The poor babies! I'm very glad to hear good news of Elsa. I have thought about her very often. You will send me the piece about Coquelin I hope. It's rather provoking that nothing is settled yet about your play. I wish I could have met Sven Hedin at dinner, but there it is! It was very kind of the Darwins to ask me. I think of staying here till next Monday. It's most fortunate that I do not want to go south from here; it would have been practically impossible in the present condition of the country. To the north, where I am going, all is peaceful. It is so luxurious to be in a comfortable English house and out of the heat and the glare and the dust. Ever your affectionate daughter Gertrude