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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cumberbatch, Henry Alfred
Chirol, Valentine
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper
Turkey ยป Izmir

38.423734, 27.142826

Burnabat [Bornova] Smyrna [Izmir]. Tues. Dec 5. Dearest Mother. Here my adventures are beginning to become interesting. I am at present paying a country house visit near Smyrna - but, oh King, you must have the story of the 1002nd day before you come to the 1003rd. I posted a letter to Papa in Athens [Athinai], no sooner was that done that Mr Bell appeared, hotfoot, having just got my note, so I carried him off to the Acropolis. The rain stopped and the sun came out, the Parthenon stood all gold against a purple Hymettus and the Erechtheum puts on a more visionary beauty with every change of season. It was curious to see Greece after the autumn rains - it was green, well, green for Greece. Above the Theatre of Dionysus the slopes of the Acropolis (this is for Papa's benefit) were covered with green weeds and all the Ilyssus valley right away to Salamis was thinly green. Parnes [Parnis] and Pentelikon [Pendelikon] had not changed their brown coats, but they had put on a tiny cap of snow and cloud. I went into the Acropolis museum and saw the divine Archaic head and the Victories - they were lovelier than ever. Most of the scaffolding was off the Parthenon; we climbed up and saw that they had nearly finished the work beneath the frieze. I invited Mr Bell to lunch at the Grande Bretagne and he took me down to the station where we met Mr Macalister to whom I introduced him and with whom he found many friends in common, he being a Cambridge man. He insisted on taking me onto the boat, good soul, and he must have been glad when I was finally off, for I had interrupted his day finely. The Grande Bretagne people send their respects to Papa. We got off at 2.30 and passed Sunium [Sounion] before dark, close under it so that we could see it beautifully. It was cold, with a stormy wind and as soon as we had rounded Cape Colonna we got into a rough sea. The wind increased, by dinner time there was a heavy gale and Mr Macalister, the little agent for Cook, and I alone faced the start and came in at the finish! I really am something of a sailor, for though we had a very bad night, I remained undisturbed. The weather, however, delayed us. At 8 we were only off Chios [Khios] (there was a lot of snow on it and on Mitylene [Mitilini] and it was very cold but sunny) and it was not till midday that we reached. It lies most charmingly at the bottom of the bay, the Turkish town planting its white minarets up to the foot of a Genoese fort on a hill to the right. The mountains behind were sprinkled with snow. The boat stopped out in the bay and we were boarded by troops of Turks, among the first of whom came a kavass from the English Consul (Mr Cumberbatch, Mr Chirol had written to him) to see me through the Custom House, and immediately afterwards Mr Oscar van Lennep, the man we met coming up to C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)], who had heard first from M. Delecourt and then from Mr Huth Jackson - a sort of cousin of his - about my arrival. He asked me my plans and invited me to stay with him and his wife at his house a quarter of an hour by train from Smyrna and after some hesitation, I accepted. We got through the Custom House without any trouble, thanks to the kavass, and I went up to the Consulate to tell Mr Cumberbatch my plans, Mrs C. having invited me to tea. He is a cheery person, he said I was in the best possible hands and invited me to lunch on Thursday before leaving. Mr van L. came to pick me up and we went off together to an hotel where we lunched and thence to his brother's house where I found his wife waiting for me. I don't know what nationality she is, but French is her native tongue and she speaks English with her children - and with me - 3 very nice little girls and a boy. Her sister in law then came in, a pleasant woman speaking a funny French of the Levant, and then the 'other brother', who is an enthusiastic antiquarian. Before he had conversed five minutes, he had filled my lap with coins, gems, Greek earthen ware figures and vases, real and imitation, and embarked upon a very instructive discourse, with illustrations, as to the ease with which even the connoisseur may be deceived in these matters! He is a great authority on coins and produced for me a book of rubbings done by himself - and exquisitely (one of nine volumes) in which he showed me the whole series of coins which had been struck at Ephesus. We left at 3 after having arranged that we should all meet on Thursday morning and see the sights of Smyrna together. I didn't think, as we drove through the town to our station, that the sights promised to be very interesting; it seems squalid - and Levantine. A quarter of an hour, through orange groves, brought us up to Burnabat, a sort of Sommer Frische of Smyrna where the van Ls. have a little house. They live most of the year at their farm at Malkagik, half way between Smyrna and Ephesus. We are going to Ephesus tomorrow to spend the day. We had tea as soon as we arrived and I then retired to wash and rest and write to you. It is a lark, isn't it!

Wed. 6th. [6 December 1899] I have found out the nationality of my hosts - they belong to the Mediterranean race. It speaks no language, though it will chatter with you in half a dozen; it has no native land though it is related by marriage to all Europe and with the citizen of each country it will talk of his compatriots and itself as "we"; it centres round no capital and is loyal to no government though it obeys any. Cheerful, careless, contented, hospitable to a fault, it may well be all, for it is divested of all natural responsibilities, it has little to guard and little to offer but a most liberal share in its own inconceivably hugger mugger existence. Kindness is its distinctive quality, as far as I have sampled it and I hope I may have many opportunities of sampling it further. Today we were up before the lark. It was cold and grey, we breakfasted hastily, the van Lenneps and I, and caught a 7.30 train to Smyrna [Izmir]. There we changed and went on to Ephesus where we arrived at 9.30. Charming country - broad fertile valleys, with a good deal of low lying marshy ground in them, stretching up to delicious hills, some wooded, some very bare, with here and there a Genoese fort on top. We passed over the van Ls' farm and a long stretch of carefully cultivated ground belonging to the Sultan. Ayasoluk is the station for Ephesus. The innkeeper met us, a fat man of a very smiling countenance, we ordered horses to follow us and lunch to await us and set off for the ruins. A long broken aqueduct led up to a conical hill, crowned by a fort which we approached through an arch made of scraps of columns and carved blocks from older buildings. Dis was de Byzantin - I tried not to be interested by it, goaded by memories of Uncle Tom! At the foot of the hill was a very curious Seljuk mosque, in ruins, containing several beautiful columns taken from Artemisium - the fellows of those in St Sophia. The Temple of Diana itself is interesting only to the antiquarian. It has been so much quarried from that nothing but a tumbled mass of stones remains - no ground plan even - and all overgrown with thorn and pampas grass. Here we mounted our ponies, left the ancient and the comparatively modern Asiatic temples behind, and rode on to Ephesus proper. It lies clustered round a little hill facing the sea which is now some 3 miles away - an enormous quantity of ruins many of them Roman, the Pretorium of the Roman governor for instance and a triumphal arch and ruined baths where the brick work speaks for itself. There is a wonderfully well-defined Stadium, however, and as you round the hill you come [to] the recent Austrian excavations and the Greek town develops itself before your eyes. A paved road, the marks of the chariot wheels cut deep into it, leads past the front of the theatre, the columned niche for a fountain stands back from it and opposite the theatre wall lies the pavement of the Agora with a long paved road leading past it to the port - colonnaded it must have been, the bases of the pillars are there, - you went from it up two marble steps, worn by many feet, under an arch into the theatre road. The theatre itself is narrow and very deep; a great part of the Proscenium is standing - it all looks extraordinarily real. Cyclamen were flowering all over the grass grown seats. We went down to the old port which is well defined by marsh. It was this shape [sketch] a long canal leading down to the sea. They have excavated a part of the marble quay - it is curious to think of St Paul landing there, with the shining gorgeous Greek city in front of him, walking up the colonnaded street and the marble steps to the theatre at the end and being hissed off the stage before the piece was finished! Poor Diana of the Ephesians! I wish she had left a little more of her greatness behind for me to see. She has had a bad time of it, poor dear. There is an enormous gymnasium right down by the harbour's edge - a colossal wall which stands up grim and weatherbeaten and, inside, some marble courts[?], newly excavated and all white and fresh. They have replaced two charming doorways, quite simple with a scrap of exquisite beading over the lintels, the truly delicious kind of Greek decoration. We rode back round the other side of the hill where there are many remains of Roman temples and a ruined circular building which tradition reports to be the grave of Luke. He and the Virgin settled down in Ephesus to end their days - portrait painting, we may suppose. Her tomb, also, is visited by the faithful; it is up in the hills. Not the least agreeable part of the day was an excellent lunch which we found waiting for us at the inn, which the fat Kapousa, a god of feasts he is, dealt out to us with a liberal hand. I want to come and stay at his inn with Papa and Uncle Tom some day, and explore Sardis and Magnesia [Manisa] and Priene and all the exciting places round about. Colophon is actually on the van Lenneps' farm. This is a country! We left Ayasoluk at 2 and got back here at 5. We walked across Smyrna from station to station, a dirty squalid town in which you can't get along for the camels. Enormous camels they are, and each string of them with a tiny donkey leading without which they refuse to go at all. We came back from Smyrna by the 5.9, so to speak, with all the business men. I might have been spending the day at Clarence instead of Ephesus! The van Ls knew them all of course and introduced me to them. They called themselves English and American and what not and carried strings of amber beads and we all talked broken English. This evening after dinner the van L. children brought me in all their animals to see - dogs and guinea pigs, you would have enjoyed it thoroughly! I shall post this budget in Smyrna tomorrow morning. We go there at 9.30 and spend the morning in the bazaars and generally sightseeing. I lunch with the Cumberbatches, and my boat leaves at 3. There is an awful possibility ahead. It seems that there is no harbour at Jaffa [Tel Aviv-Yafo (Joppa)], you lie out at sea and land in little boats and if it is rough you can't land at all, in which case I should be carried on to Alexandria and be guaranteed coming back! This is so boring that if there seems any prospect of bad weather, I shall land at Beyrout [Beyrouth Beirut)] and make my way down to Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] either by land, riding, or down the coast to Haifa on a tiny coasting steamer (deadly uncomfortable, I Bellieve) and from thence riding. But I hope for the best and whatever happens, I expect I shall be amused!
I longed for Papa and Uncle Tom today. It was quite unreasonable to be looking at Greek theatres without them.

Well it has been an exciting day. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

I have just upset my water jug - tut tut! I Bellieve you go to London today, but I shall send this home as I'm very doubtful as to how long it will take to reach you.

IIIF Manifest