« PreviousContinue »
blank as the side of a tent, looked venerable, nothing more, even where we surveyed them from the top of one of the old houses, into which a friendly Arab, after chasing the females of his household into the harem, invited us to take coffee. We accepted the invitation to his roof, and took photographs instead of coffee.
But when we had descended, and were trying to find our way into the mosque, we did think, too, that the door took an unconscionable time to reach ; and when at last we reached it our Arab made signs that the right door was farther yet, but we stopped to peep in, and looked down on a scene that reminded us of El-Azhar, deserted by its students, for there was a long liwan, and three hundred antique columns supporting old stilted Saracenic arches.
We suffered ourselves to be hurried on to the other entrance, the reason being that there was no matting there, and Rosetta, having no tourists, keeps no slippers for Unbelievers in its mosques. We found ourselves in a quaint, small court. One side, opposite the liwân, was formed by an ancient mansion, the other three had uncut brick piers and stilted arches delightfully moresque. In the centre was a ruined fountain, ugly, formless. I wished to take a photograph. Miss Lorimer begged me not to, as she thought the crowd were incensed at the idea ; I persisted, and the crowd helped me. Only once in Egypt has there been any real attempt to stop me-when I was trying to take a snap at the Emir of the Hadj on his return from Mecca. The Holy Carpet was stopped for me to photograph it. Egypt is not fanatical about photographs: it reserves that for its politics, which are to it indistinguishable from religion.
Not content with letting me photograph the courtyard, they conducted me through the liwan, to a shutter three feet from the ground, carefully lifting up the matting, so that it should not be soiled by infidel feet. They unbolted it, and made signs to me to climb through it with my camera, seeming to explain that I had not seen the best half of the mosque. It was rather disconcerting to have the shutter bolted behind me, with Miss Lorimer left on the other side of it. We were
the only Europeans in a city of fifteen thousand Arabs. I did not know that they had begged her to climb through too, so I hurried through my kodaking of that Penelopian web. Before me was another small court, another vast liwân, with side colonnades, and pillars innumerable, more polished, more beautiful. From the court itself, filled up with a tangle of verdure, where serpents should have lurked, I took my photographs quickly, for I thought that Miss Lorimer must be anxious.
A sheikh had now arrived, and conducted me round the edge of the matting to the far side of the liwân, to see the pulpit of carved wood, painted, not important, and three plain mihrabs. The beauty, the dignity, the charm of the mosque lay not in its detail, but in the accumulated effect of so many venerable columns, from the temples of Egypt and Greece and Rome, with their lines mellowed or eaten away by the salt air of the Delta. It was the beauty of decay, the majesty of numbers.
Another of the city mosques had a liwân of many columns and graceful niches, but it was not old. At the southern end of the town, too, there was a little square mosque, whose beauty of outline, and graceful dome and minaret, are worthy of a place on the enchanted plain of the Tombs of the Caliphs at Cairo.
Rosetta is a city of many graces; besides its old mansions, and its undevastated bazar, and its antique mosques, and long quay swarming with Oriental craft; besides the wonderful beauty of its river, it is green and gay with trees and flowers : the garden of the saints' tomb by the railway station is a gem for the photographer. It has sakiyas, with the water-wheels of the Delta, working in its streets, and it has the most beautiful khans I have seen in Egypt.
One is not likely to forget the khans of Rosetta ; unlike those of Cairo and other cities, each stands detached. Some are built of the burnt Rosetta brick, some are of massive masonry. Both kinds have stately portals, with a text from the Koran engraved on a wooden beam or a slab of stone over the door, and generally a rich ornament of brickwork
THE AVENUE OF SPHINXES AND PTOLEMAIC PYLON AT KARXAK. The old man in the foreground is a Mohammedan saint going through his religious exercises. p. 216)
round it. The doors themselves are overlaid with the hard wood arabesques : they open into lofty, vaulted passages. One had four fanwork groins meeting in the centre of its vault, more ambitious than the Damietta fanwork, and executed in stone. Their courtyards are extremely fine, and often very large; they once had cloisters of fine masonry, but only a few arches now remain, though so graceful and so well-built, that they serve to show the splendour of these caravanseries of Rosetta, when it and Damietta were the two great ports of Egypt. One khan had above its cloister a clerestory of charming moresque windows. While I was photographing this, three dromedaries were lying under them, and some boys were making, with lightning rapidity, hencoops out of palm-ribs: their feet were as nimble as their hands.
Few of the khans were more than a storey high, and I saw none used by merchants for their camels. Hardly to be distinguished from the khans, outside, were other buildings used for various kinds of trades, one storey high, but roofed over and with a double row of columns up their centres, carried right across from their doors like a hall of an Egyptian temple.
When we stepped out of the train at Rosetta a few Arabs attached themselves to us-but none was the usual polyglot, who hangs about stations and quays to offer his services to the tourist for whatever he can get, and is very thankful for so very few piastres : Rosetta is too unspoiled for that. They had fine Arab manners, so we did not drive them away, especially since one of them murmured Felookah, and the other, Antika, the two commodities which we happened to want. The antika man showed intelligence ; finding that cloistered khans and colonnaded mansions of mediæval Arabs for some inscrutable reason seemed to interest mehe conducted me to several admirable specimens. The felookah man held grimly on, for three hours or more, for what must have appeared to him mere waste of time. He reaped his reward, for when we had exhausted the city we determined to eat our lunch, and spend the rest of our day at