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IV. DOG RIVER.
January 27th. SAFELY back, and welcome! How have you enjoyed this first excursion in the East ?
Perfectly. It has been a day of unmingled pleasure; company agreeable, air soft and bland, horses lively, and the path through the mulberry orchards, and around the sandy Bay of St. George, quite delightful. Then the scenery
at Dog River, what can surpass it? I was so enchanted with the grand, wild gorge, that I could scarcely tear myself away to examine the remains of antiquity for which the spot is celebrated ; but I did look at them all, and at some with a feeling of awe and reverence quite new in my experience.
It is an assemblage of ancient mementoes to be found no where else in a single group, so far as I know. That old road, climbing the rocky pass, along which the Phoenician, Egyptian, Persian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Frank, Turk, and Arab have marched their countless hosts for four thou
sand years, have much to tell the student of man's past history, could we but break the seal, and read the long roll of revelations. Those faintly-cut emblems of Sesostris, those stern, cold soldiers of Chaldea, those inscriptions in Persian, Greek, Latin, and Arabic, each embodies a history of itself, or rather tells of one written elsewhere, which we long to possess. I have drawings of these figures, and copies of the inscriptions, which you may study at your leisure. They, of course, imply much more than they directly reveal.
I was told that a large part of the river issues from a cave some six miles above the sea. Have you ever visited the
Several times; and it is worth the ride. The scenery, also, around the sources of the river, high up under Sūnnîn, is very romantic. As this is the Lycus of the ancients, with a history and a myth of its own, we may spend a few more moments upon it without growing weary of the subject. No one who has eyes, or deserves to have them, will pass up the river from its mouth without stopping again and again to admire the gray cliffs towering up to the sky on either side. The aqueduct will also attract attention, clinging to the perpendicular rock, and dressed out in drooping festoons of ivy, and other creepers, whose every twig and leaf sparkle with big drops of brightest crystal. Where the river turns to the south, the ravine becomes too narrow, wild, and rocky for any but a goat-path, and the road leads thence over the steep shoulder of the mountain for an hour and a half. It then descends by a very slippery track to the river, in the immediate vicinity of the caves. There are three of them, and all in the cliffs on the north side of the ravine. Out of the first rushes a large part of the river, but without a boat it can not be explored. A few rods farther up the valley is the second cave. It runs under the mountain in a straight line for eighty paces, and then descends into an abyss of water. Several smaller aisles lead in different directions down to the same abyss. On the west side of the main entrance is a parallel passage of about the same dimensions as the other, with which it communicates by a large doorway. This second tunnel leads round to the west, and unites with the lower cave at its mouth. Strike or jump on the floor, and you are startled by a dull hollow sound beneath, and feel inclined to walk softly over such unknown depths.
About forty rods higher up the ravine is the third and largest cave. The entrance to this is concealed by huge rocks, and a stranger might pass within a few feet of it without suspecting its existence. Creep carefully over the rocks, let yourself down some ten feet, and you find a wide, low opening. Soon the passage becomes high enough to walk erect, and turns round toward the west. You must now
61 light your torches, for the interior is utterly dark. A sort of gallery, or corridor, runs round three sides of this immense room. Descending to the lower part, you again come to the river, which crosses the cave, and disappears at the northwest corner with a loud noise. At the northeast, where it enters the room, there is a pool of water, clear and smooth as a mirror, and deliciously cool. How far it extends under the mountains I had no means of ascertaining. I fired a gun up it; the echoes were loud and oft-repeated. This cave abounds in stalagmites and stalactites, some of which are of enormous size, reaching from the roof to the floor, and are grooved like fluted columns. They also hang like long wax candles from the roof of the interior pool. I longed for a boat, not only to gather them, but also to explore the mysteries of those dark and watery labyrinths. There is much said in the Bible about caves; and ecclesiastical tradition has located many of the events recorded in the New Testament in these subterraneous abodes. We shall have abundant opportunities to examine them hereafter.
The river above the caves comes from two yast fountains, which burst out directly under the snow of Sūnnîn-intensely cold-icy, in fact, even in summer, and clear as though running liquid diamonds. They, with their young rivers, bear names rather poetical-agreeable, at least, to Arab taste. The northern is the Fountain of Honey (Niba el ’Asil); the southern is the Fountain of Milk (Niba el Lebn). Over the deep ravine of the latter stream, and not far from its birth, nature has thrown, or has left, a gigantic arch, which to this day is the bridge for the public highway, the highest in the land, creeping cautiously along the very uppermost shelf of Lebanon. I have visited it several times, but have mislaid my measurements, and must give you those of a friend. The arch is ninety feet thick; the span one hundred and fifty-seven; the breadth from eighty to one hundred and forty; and the height on the lower side nearly two hundred feet. These figures may be rather large; but, without any exaggeration, it is a grand and impressive natural curiosity.