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the mouth of the Atbara to Alexandria, any very rapid
Port SODÂN ... 84 kilometres from Sawâkin.
... ... 98
... 372 ,
... ... 468 , ATBARA JUNCTION 486 The fare from Atbara Junction to Sawâkin is 307 piastres, first class.
The river Atbara, or Mușrân, the Astaboras of Strabo, which flows into the Nile on the east bank, is at this point about 450 yards wide, and in the rainy season has a depth of water in it which varies from 25 to 30 feet. It brings down the entire drainage of Eastern Abyssinia, and has four tributaries, the Setit, Royân, Salâm and Ankareb rivers ; it carries into the Nile more soil than any other of the Nile tributaries, and the dark brown colour of its waters has gained for it the name of Bahr al-Aswad or “Black River." For more than 150 miles before its junction with the Nile its bed is perfectly dry from the beginning of March to June, and the late Sir Samuel Baker says that “at intervals of a few miles there are pools or ponds of water left in the deep holes below the general average of the river's bed. In these pools, some of which may be a mile in length, are congregated .... crocodiles, hippopotami, fish, and large turtle in extraordinary numbers, until the commencement of the rains in Abyssinia once more sets them at liberty by sending down a fresh volume of water.” The rainy season begins in Abyssinia in May, but the torrents do not fill until the middle of June. From June to September the storms are terrific, and every ravine becomes a raging torrent, and the Atbara becomes a vast river. “Its waters are dense with soil washed down from most fertile lands far from its point of junction with the Nile; masses of bamboo and driftwood, together with large trees and frequently the dead bodies of elephants and buffaloes, are hurled along its muddy waters in wild confusion.” The rains cease about the middle of September, and in a very short time the bed of the Atbara becomes a “sheet of glaring sand,” and the waters of its great tributaries, though perennial streams, are absorbed in its bed and never reach the Nile. The velocity of the Atbara current is so great, and its waters so dense, that in flood it forces the water of the Nile across on to the western bank. The railway is
carried over the Atbara by means of an iron bridge of six spans of 200 feet each, the piers of which are built upon the rock, which was reached at a depth of about 30 feet below the bed of the river. The Battle of the Atbara was fought on April 8, 1898, at a place called Nakhila, about 37 miles from the junction of the river with the Nile, on the right bank. The Dervish force numbered about 14,000 men, and of these about 3,000 were killed and wounded, and 2,000 were made prisoners. The AngloEgyptian loss was 5 officers and 78 men killed, and 475 officers and men wounded ; large numbers of swords, spears, rifles, 100 banners, and 10 guns, fell into the victors' hands, and Mahmûd, the Dervish general, was captured.
Having crossed the Atbara the traveller now enters the country which Strabo (xvii. 2. § 2), calls the Island of Meroë; the name 'island' was probably given to it because it is, generally speaking, bounded by the Atbara, the Nile, and the Blue Nile. Strabo says that its shape is that of a shield, and goes on to mention that it is very mountainous and contains great forests"; but from this statement and the fact that he speaks of the “mines of copper, iron, gold, and various kinds of precious stones," we may conclude that he is referring to the country south of Kharțûm. Of the early history of the country nothing is known, and the statements made by Greek writers about its peoples and their manners and customs must have been derived from the garbled traditions left by ancient Egyptian officials who travelled to the south, and perhaps from merchants who were not well informed, and soldiers who were quartered in Nubia. The name given to the chief city of the Island by the Egyptians is Märkuat
, whence the name Meroë clearly is derived. The last determinative indicates that the town
was built in a mountainous district, and lends support to Lepsius' derivation of the name from a Berber word mérua, or méraui, 'white rocks,' white stones. If this derivation be correct, it would rather point to Napata opposite Gebel Barkal as the original city of Meroë.
A little above the mouth of the Atbara, on the right bank, are the ruins of the once flourishing little town of AdDâmar, which was famous, like Marawî near Gebel Barkal, as a seat of Muḥammadan learning. The modern town has a railway station, and is 392 miles from Halfa. It is now the capital of the Berber Province. From this place to Shendî the east bank is flat and covered with a thick growth of scrub, thorn bushes and halfah grass, which has swallowed up everything, and the strip of cultivable ground is of considerable width; on the west bank the ground is also flat, and the strip is less wide. Here and there ravines, or "khors,' run back from the river, and in flood time these must be filled with water. The whole district bears emphatic testimony to the results of the misgovernment of the Turkish Governors-General, and the rule of the Dervishes, which was, of course, the only possible result of such misgovernment of fanatical, superstitious, and warlike Muḥammadans. When the writer first visited the neighbourhood in 1897-98 there were hardly any people to be seen, no cattle existed, only here and there was a water wheel at work, and only here and there were a few sheep or goats to be seen; the gazelles in the desert were almost as numerous as the sheep. Not a donkey could be obtained for many miles, and the very dogs had been exterminated by the Dervishes. Scores of houses in each village were empty and desolate, and at the sight of them the traveller might wonder what would have been the fate of Egypt at the hands of the Dervishes, whom some described as “ brave men fighting for their independence.” The next stations on the line are Zêdâb (404 miles),
'Alîâb (416 miles), Muḥmiyah or Mutmir (429 miles), and Kabûshiyah (448 miles).
At a distance of about 40 miles from the mouth of the Atbara the district of Bagrâwiyah* is reached, and from this point a visit may be made to four groups of pyramids, commonly called the Pyramids of Meroë, the most distant of which lie about two and a half miles from the river. These pyramids are the tombs of the kings and royal
personages who reigned over the Island of Meroë in the capital city, which seems to have stood near the modern town of Shendî, and are also called the Pyramids of As-sûr. The general arrangement of the largest group (D), which is in the plain, about 14 miles from the river, is illustrated by the above plan; nearly all are in ruins, for the stone casings have been gradually removed by generations of
* Hoskins calls it Bagromeh.