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THE TRAVELLER IN DAMASCUS.
Samaracand, with all the arts of which he robbed the city of Damascus.
Damascus is a true oriental city. The aspect of its streets certainly does not meet the expectation excited by its romantic appearance as viewed from a distance; they are narrow and irregular, and flanked with ugly dead walls; but broad streets are no luxury in a warm climate: those of Damascus are seldom of a width more than sufficient to allow two laden camels to pass each other without crushing the pedestrians, and many are of much narrower dimensions. They are the most noiseless possible: there are no wheeled carriages rolling along them; and the occasional step of a Christian's ass, a camel, or a mule, or more rarely of a horse, does not much disturb the mysterious stillness in which the city appears wrapped, until you approach the bazaars, and other places of busy resort.
The city contains a great many fine mosques, and, it is said, not less than five hundred private dwellings that might rank as palaces; but the interior magnificence of the houses adds nothing to the beauty of the streets, to which they present no more than dull mud walls, with one or two ill-made lattice windows at a considerable height. The houses are sometimes constructed on arches that hang across the streets, making it quite dark. Wooden rafters, too, when the arch has not been turned, are visible frequently from below, and render the way still more gloomy.
All great eastern towns are difficult to thread, but few in so great a degree as Damascus, from the perplexing
intricacy of the narrow streets, and of the many winding bazaar. Sometimes you are pinned up in a corner by a long string of camels, that fill the whole breadth of the way; and sometimes you are run down and covered with filth by a whole line of donkeys, that trot heedlessly on with noiseless tread over the sandy soil. However leisurely these animals may move, when the road is open and plain before them, they are all possessed with an insane propensity for rushing forwards whenever the passage is narrowed by any casual obstruction; and when there happens to be several of them together on these occasions, a race ensues, which ends perhaps in two or three of them becoming fast wedged together, and then their kicking and pushing only make their case the more desperate.
The streets have a large barrier at each end, which is always closed at sunset, or very soon after, as a protection against thieves, but a very small bribe will open the barrier at any hour of the night, for there is always a gatekeeper at hand. These impediments to a free circulation through the streets by night are not felt as an inconvenience by the orientals. The shops are all closed at the approach of dusk, and every true believer goes home to his own house, which he does not quit till the following morning.
The eastern gate, now walled up, is memorable as the place where the Apostle was let down by the wall in a