May 19, 2012

Water, Flora and Fragments, 1871 | Walking Through Egypt

Water, Flora and Fragments, 1871 
Samuel Manning

Prospects of Sinai
The route southward from Ayun Mousa [the well of Moses near the Red Sea] leads along the shore over gravely plains many miles broad, which slope upward from the sea to the mountains of the Tih. After heavy rains the tenacious marl is pitted with numerous pools of water, and is sprinkled with the aromatic shrubs which constitute the flora of the desert, but the scorching sun soon dries up the pools, and the short-lived plants wither into dust. Several wells of bitter water are passed, each of which has been fixed upon as Marah, according to the view taken of the place of passage [of the Israelites across the Red Sea]. About fifty miles south of Ayun Mousa the Wady Gjarandel is reached. The entrance into the valley, or wady, is not much over eighty feet wide, and on either side grey-looking cliffs of gritstone rise with ragged faces to a considerable height. But that which adds so great a charm to the scene is an actual stream of water, rippling along, silvery and bright, garnished on each bank with luxuriant plants that thrive and flourish in the wet sand. Forget-me-nots peep out from amidst the sedgy grass reeds and mint that tower above the water; while some kind of brook plant, like a tangled mat, spreads itself over the sandy edges of the rivulet, and sends its long arms, tufted with rootlets at every joint, out into the running water.

Here the vegetation takes quite a different character. The spiny acacia, the ‘sumt’ of the Arabs, probably the tree of the ‘burning bush’ and the shittim wood of the tabernacle, grows plentifully; but, spiny though it be, it has to bear its burden of climbing plants, being generally quite hidden beneath their twisting, ropelike branches. Conspicuous amongst the larger plants is the rete, or wild broom, handsome alike in growth and foliage. It is probably the shrub beneath which Elijah slept in his wanderings.

Date-palms of strangely stunted stature are scattered along the sandy banks; one might readily mistake them for giant yuccas at a hasty glance, so much do they resemble those plants in their mode of growth. These may truly be called ‘wild palms’: dwarfed and unaltered by man’s hand. Was this memorable place where “there were twelve wells of water and threescore and ten palm trees” the veritable Elim of the Exodus? Many travellers believe this wady to be the place.

Striking eastward up the Wady we soon reach the traces of mines worked by the ancient Egyptians. Hieroglyphic tablets are found in considerable numbers, one of which contains the name of Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, and some are said to be even earlier. At Sarabet el Chadam, which seems to have been the capital of the mining district, are some remarkable ruins, consisting of a temple, the remains of houses, and perhaps a necropolis. Fragments of columns, blocks of stone, pieces of rude sculpture, and mounds of broken pottery lie scattered about in perplexing confusion.

Many travelers tried to identify the landmarks of the Bible and to visit those places where Moses had stood. On this journey, the Monastery of St. Catherine is often an important destination.

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