Traveling in the Holy Land

Nineteenth-century travel through biblical lands took many forms—from once-in-a-lifetime package tours to vicarious journeys of the imagination. Travelers' reactions were a combination of wonder, delight, and disappointment.

Jaffa from the Sea / Bonfils
Jaffa from the Sea, Félix Bonfils (French, 1831–1885), 1867–70. Albumen silver print, 8 5/8 x 11 1/16 in. (21.9 x 28.1 cm). The J. Paul Getty Museum, 84.XM.1021.27

Encountering a New World

Excerpts from Journal of a Tour in the Holy Land in May and June, 1840 by Lady Francis Egerton (London, 1841)

The Ride from Jaffa to Ramla on the Way to Jerusalem

Wednesday April 29th

The ride to Ramla of three and a half hours was delightful; the way lies through an avenue of cactus, or prickly pear, interspersed with occasional fine sycamores of the most brilliant green, then opening into a plain of undulating grass, occasionally dotted with olives and other trees, here and there a picturesque well, and villages looking like heaps of walls, and which one should never recognize as villages unless informed of the fact. The whole scene, Arabs, camels, vegetation, and aspects of the country, is so totally unlike anything I have ever thought on before, much less seen, that I, and we all, are enchanted. (p. 9)

Saturday May 9th

We contrived to strike our tents and start from Jericho this morning at six o'clock, taking a hasty breakfast of rice-milk in the open air with our loins girded. The loading of the mules, and the striking of tents, taking down the bedsteads, cooking, washing up the utensils, and packing them into the canteen, is always so tedious an operation, that it is very difficult to get off as early as would be desirable. It is necessary to be up and dressed at least two hours before the time appointed for departure. We travelled over the same ground as on Thursday, but with much less fatigue, the hour being earlier, and the climate growing cooler at every step. We rested half an hour at a fountain just below Bethany, called the fountain of the Apostles; a well of bad water that filled our horses' mouths with leeches, which afterwards tormented them sadly. Our Blessed Saviour more than one has trodden the path we have come today, and perhaps, like us, has rested at this fountain. As we rode along by Bethany and the mount of Olives, his image, his raising of Lazarus, his apostrophe to Jerusalem, as he went down towards it from Lazarus' and from Simon's house, were in my mind. It is very delightful to be in a country which constantly suggest such subjects of thought to one. (pp. 41–42)

Lady Egerton's List of Travel Necessities

For the benefit of future travelers, it may be well to enumerate as many of the necessary articles as I can remember, which it is desirable to take into Syria.

Tents, according to the number of travellers—those with walls preferable to others.
A canteen, containing knives, forks, spoons, dishes, plates, cups, and saucers, tea-pot, tea-kettle, salt-cellar.
Basins, and tubs for washing.
Leathern bottles for carrying water, to be got at Alexandria, and most eastern towns.
Corks for bottles—very necessary—and stout corkscrews.
Candlesticks, and a provision of wax candles—those that are to be had in the East being peculiarly bad, and almost useless.
Turkish lanterns to be hung up in the tent—these are absolutely necessary, and to be had in Jerusalem.
A large provision of mats and carpets, to be placed in the tents.
A kitchen apparatus, large coffee-pot, &etc.
Iron portable bedsteads, and mosquito nets, quite indispensable, on account of the damp and the insects.
A portable table for the drawing room tent, another for the cook, campstools according to the number of travelers. A Dover armchair is a great comfort, when one comes in tired from the day's ride.
Spades, to level the ground for the tents, with hooks, to cut way weeds, etc.
An umbrella, covered with white calico, the best preservative from the sun.
Broad-brimmed straw hats.
Saddle-bags, (Eastern ones are the best) to carry upon your horse, very convenient.
Green or blue spectacles, as the glare of the white rocks is injurious to the eyes.
Provisions.—Portable soup, made in cakes, and at home. Sea biscuit; pasta such as maccaroni. Sago and arrowroot for puddings. Provisions are very scanty indeed; tough fowls and rice being almost the only things one can get, and, now and then, a sheep. No vegetables scarcely—no butter to be got. Apricot jam or marmalade would be desirable as a substitute for butter.
Cheese from England.
Plenty of tea.
Books which we found useful:—

The Bible (the best guide in these countries).
Robinson's Tour in Syria and Palestine.
Lord Lyndsay's Letters.
Miles's Scripture Geography.
Dictionary of the Bible.
To which I would add, Wilde's Narrative.

(pp. 137–138)

Camping in the Holy Land

Excerpt from John Franklin Swift, Going to Jericho (New York, A. Roman, 1868). John Franklin Swift was among the group on "Quaker City," the tour group which Mark Twain chronicled in Innocents Abroad.

When we returned to bed it was evidently the settled opinion of every one of the party that of all modes of life that had ever been thought of, tent life was the one that was best calculated to produce perfect happiness. And further, that of the different circumstances under which tent life could be followed, that of tent life in the Holy Land came nearest to absolute perfection. The dinner was good, the beds were soft, the air balmy, and all nature seemed to join in a general design to make us comfortable and happy. (p. 211)

Jaffa: The Port Where Noah Launched His Ark

Excerpts from Frank S. DeHass, Buried Cities Recovered or Travels and Explorations in Bible Lands (D.D. Bradley, Garretson & Co. Philadelphia and Wm. Garretson & Co., San Francisco, 1883)

Jaffa, or ancient Joppa, the port of Jerusalem, and oldest sea-port in the world, the very same from which Jonah embarked on his eventful voyage, and where, it is said, Noah launched his ark upon the shoreless deep, is one of the most dangerous harbors to enter, and, when the weather is stormy, to land is almost impossible.

We had been favored with pleasant weather and a pleasant passage over the Mediterranean, and were promising ourselves a pleasant landing the next morning at Jaffa, when about midnight, the last night we were out, all at once there arose a fearful storm, and as we approached the port in the early morn the wind was blowing a gale, and the waves threatened to engulf the little boats that ventured out to take the passengers ashore. Many on board were pilgrims on their way to the holy places, and it was frightful to see the poor wretches swung out over the sides of the ship by ropes tied round their waists, and, after dangling in the air till the proper moment, dropped into the boats below, the sea being too rough to land them in the usual way. Finally, it came our turn to quit the ship. How this was accomplished we shall leave for some one else to relate. The great difficulty was in getting into the small boat, which one moment would rise level with the steamer's deck, and the next sink with the receding waters until lost to view under the sides of the ship. With fear and trembling we waited our opportunity, and, as the little boat rose on the swell of the sea, made the leap; it seemed like leaping into the jaws of death, but a gracious Providence ordered it otherwise. Though now safely in the boat, we were still a mile from shore. I shall never forget that ride. The storm raged with increasing violence. I thought of Jonah's adventure on this same coast, of Paul's shipwreck in this same sea, and of Andromeda chained to the rocks over which the waves were now dashing, threatening us with the same fate. One billow broke over us, and when my wife exclaimed, "We are lost! we are lost!" I thought for a moment we were gone. Another wave like it would certainly swamp us; and it is coming; we see it foaming crest on our starboard; it is also seen at the same moment by the helmsman. "Hard-a-port!" he shouts to the six swarthy men at the oars. The wave strikes us harmlessly, and, lifting us like a feather on its heaving bosom bears us safely to the shore.

Jaffa contains a population of perhaps fifteen thousand, notwithstanding it has been destroyed and rebuilt a dozen times. The last scene in it bloody history was enacted by Napoleon I. in 1799, when he cruelly put to death its garrison of four thousand Albanians, after stipulating, as a condition of surrender, that their lives should be spared; and then poisoned his own soldiers who were too sick to follow him in his retreat from Syria, after his repulse at Acre. The site of Simon's house, "the tanner" with whom Peter was stopping when he raised Tabitha to life, and where he had his vision of the Gospel dispensation, is still, with good authority, pointed out "by the sea-side."

Petra: More Like an Apparition Than Any Thing Real

Excerpts from Frank S. DeHass, Buried Cities Recovered or Travels and Explorations in Bible Lands (D.D. Bradley, Garretson & Co. Philadelphia and Wm. Garretson & Co., San Francisco, 1883)

This city is mentioned by Pliny, Strabo, Josephus, and others; but about the sixth century of our era it disappeared from history, and for twelve hundred years its very site was unknown, and only within the present century recovered by Burckhardt. It is situated in a wild, rugged region, almost inaccessible, with many deep ravines, the rocks appearing to have been rent asunder by earthquakes, and standing two or three hundred feet high, almost perpendicular, and in places not more than ten or twenty feet apart, so that the city was surrounded with natural walls, strong gates closing the narrow defiles through which access only could be had.

In entering the city by the chasm of the Sik, which is over a mile long, you first pass many beautiful tombs with niches cut in the face of the cliff for statues and inscribed tablets, then under a picturesque arch spanning the ravine, supported by two Corinthian columns, called the Gate-way; when suddenly El Kuzneh, the Treasury, rises like a vision before you. The entire edifice, which is one hundred feet front by one hundred and fifty high, (except two columns of the portico, one of which has fallen,) is cut out of the rose-tinted rock, looking more like an apparition than any thing real.

This is the gem of Petra's monuments, and yet nothing is known of its history or object. It is called the Treasury, from a legend that it was built by a certain king as a depository for his valuables, and the Arabs believe that the inaccessible urn high up on its pediment still contains much gold and many rare jewels.

There are other edifices in Petra much larger than the Treasury. The amphitheater has an arena one hundred and twenty feet in diameter, with thirty-three tiers of seats and many private boxes, capable of seating an audience of three thousand or more all cut out of the living rock. Another monument, known as Ed Deir, the Convent, measuring one hundred and fifty feet front and two hundred and forty high, its facade ornamented with two rows of eight Corinthian columns one above the other, the lower tier of columns fifty feet high and seven feet in diameter, is a vast monolith—the entire edifice being hewn out of one massive block of stone. But no description of ours can do justice to these unique remains of a past civilization. They must be seen to be appreciated.

In the present desolate condition of Petra we see how literally the judgments of God denounced against it have been executed. "O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rocks, that holdest the height of the hill, though thou shouldst make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the Lord. Edom shall be a desolation; every one that goeth by it shall be astonished;no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man dwell in it." Its ancient inhabitants have all been cut off, and so far as known, not an Edomite to-day is to be found in all the world.