May 19, 2012

Across the Red Sea, 1908 | Walking Through Egypt

Across the Red Sea, 1908
Elbert Farman

Red Sea
We were taken across the shallow waters and the Suez Canal in a small native boat, and thence by donkeys. After crossing the Canal, we were in Asia and on the border of a vast desert. East and south, there was an extended view of plains, hills and mountains of sand, gravel, earth and rock, without vegetation, and of a dull monotonous yellow tint. It was the last of November. The long, dry, hot summer parched and burned up all vegetation, and a brisk north wind enveloped us in a continuous cloud of dust.

On our right was the Red Sea, or more correctly speaking that arm of it which is known as the Gulf of Suez. It is only a few miles in width at this point, but deep, and as blue as the sky it reflects. Beyond it, rising from near the water line, are the mountains of Ataka, nearly three thousand feet in height, and wholly destitute of vegetation. On our left was only the desert, bordered by the mountains in the distance. . . .

There were several mud huts occupied by Arabs who irrigated and cultivated a small plot of ground. Most of the mounds with their basins of water were but little above the desert. One of them was remarkable for its size and altitude, rising, according to our estimate, to a height of thirty feet. It was very regular in form and had on its top a basin of shallow water, five or six feet in diameter, whence a very little water ran over the rim and down the sides. Standing on the top, I looked about the country to discover a high point that might be the source of the water that fed the spring, ten to twenty miles to the east. The desert gradually descended westward to the sea, distant one or two miles.

Where Was the Crossing? 1846 
Lord Castlereagh
Our tents were pitched about an hour’s distance from Adjerout, where we found the fires lighted, and the baggage piled up. The fort of Adjerout was a faint object in the distance, and before us rose the range of Gebel Ataka. These were the mountains which the children of Israel looked upon in the hour of their fear and the day of their deliverance. Those brown summits, frowning upon the sandy plains below, saw Judah saved, and the mighty host of Pharaoh, with his chariots and horses, his men of war, and his captains, overwhelmed by the breath of the Lord. At this spot, was continued that series of miracles by which the Almighty proved his own might and power, as well as his affection to his chosen people, and though they had rebelled, and through their long trials never ceased to rebel against him, He led them to the land He had promised, and established them as a mighty people. Writers and travellers are divided in their opinions as to the exact place where the sea was dried up for the passage of the children of Israel, and their various theories are obstinately discussed and maintained. My own opinion coincides with that of Dr. Robinson, that the flying multitudes arrived from Goshen, or what we should now designate as the banks of the Nile, opposite the delta. As the Scriptures declare their flight to have lasted three days, the nearest point they could have attained within that period, was the plain below Gebel Ataka, and this stopped their further progress south, with its precipitous rocks, rising like a barrier near the sea, while on the ground below it they were hemmed in, between the mountains and the waters, by the pursuing Egyptians. The question as to whether they crossed at Ras Ataka, the promontory, or actually at Suez, over the shoals, laid bare by the action of a sudden wind, cannot alter the engrossing interest of this region, for all the land must have borne the traces of their footsteps, when the mighty multitude filled the plain.

May 16 We left our tents at sunrise to find a good point for sketching Gebel Ataka; and when the caravan had moved off, followed slowly on our dromedaries, having the blue sea stretched out before us, washing the base of Gebel Ataka, and the opposite shores of Sinai. Early in the day we passed the fort of Adjerout, which is merely a pile of low ruined walls. Our track shows that death has not confined his visits to the poor animals of the caravan. The tired Hadji, who sinks on this way from Mecca, is covered with a few stones to distinguish him from the carcase of the abandoned camel that lies by him. The hyena, probably, feeds on both.


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