Sat 16 December 2017

The Damascus Caravan
An account 1741 is an excellent description of the dangers, the fervor, the organization, and the discomfort to be found on these vast caravans.
" In the month of Shawal the pilgrims assemble in the city of Damascus, and the Pasha of Damascus is always appointed by the edict of the Emperor of Turkey, Meer Haaj, or conductor of the caravan of Makkah. Without a considerable escort it would be impossible to pass the desert; and even when the caravan is strongly guarded and the pilgrims are very numerous, the wild Arabs hang in such a manner upon their march, that if any straggle from the caravan, they are sure to be plundered. Another advantage from the appointment of the Meer Haaj is that by obliging everyone to pay implicit obedience to the regulations for marching and halting, the confusion is prevented, which would otherwise be unavoidable amongst so large a body without a head. The following are some of the regulations for the caravan. Every one has his station assigned him in the line of march, which he must preserve during the whole journey. The people of Iran, and their camels, always form the rear. When the caravan the halts, a particular spot is assigned for every string of camels, and where the master of them is allowed to pitch his tent. No one is allowed to infringe any of these regulations. When the stages are very long the caravan travels day and night; stopping an hour at each of the times of prayer, when the camels are allowed to lie down with their burthens upon their backs; and at midnight they halt in like manner another hour. In order that those at the rear may know at night when the caravan is going to halt, the Meer Haaj lets off a rocket…. The troops of the Meer Haaj guard the caravan on all sides… When the caravan arrives at Musseeret, the third stage from Damascus, they purchase necessaries for passing the desert, which the wild Arabs bring to that place for sale: after having bought what they want, they pursue their match. The stage of this journey are longer than what are travelled in any other country, insomuch that the camels of Syria, which are larger and more powerful than those of any other place, are fatigued almost to death. At the same time, the zeal of the pilgrims who go all the way on foot, keeps up their spirits, and they perform the journey with surprising ease and alacrity.

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