National Geographic : 1909 Dec
ARABIA, THE DESERT OF THE SEA BY ARCHIBALD FORDER, OF JERUSALEM With Photographsby the Author T HE great peninsula known in these days as Arabia is one of the oldest known parts of the earth. Long before the sons of Jacob went down into Egypt, the sons of Ishmael had set tled in the land Providence had assigned them. The boundaries of Arabia are outlined as early in the Bible as Genesis xxv. 18. Probably many centuries ago Palestine, Syria, and the Sinaitic Penin sula were important parts of Arabia. Isaiah speaks of it as the "desert of the sea" (xxi. i), and when one considers it a land largely desert, almost entirely sur rounded by water, we conclude that the ancient seer was not far wrong in his designation of the land. Arabia is be tween Egypt and Persia, to put it widely, also between India and Europe. It has a seacoast of about four thousand miles. No land so little attracts the attention of the speculator, hunter, adventurer, or traveler as Arabia, and yet no country presents so large or new a field as the subject of these lines. Many are the obstacles to be faced and overcome ere one can see and learn for oneself what is beyond the mysterious and almost waterless belt of uninviting desert that encircles this little known land, but a few have penetrated the coun try from different points and each has shed some light on the interior. The first and perhaps the most difficult obstacle to contend with is the rigid per sistence of the Turk, who practically controls the entire coastline of Arabia, but who holds little sway inland. Those landing on the coast with the intention of proceeding to the interior are met by smiling officials, who politely request your permission from Constantinople to proceed inland, and, on failing to pro duce that, you are recommended to pro cure the same by telegraphing to your representative in the metropolis of the empire-a costly and usually hopeless procedure. If, however, an entrance is gained, as has been done, troubles of other kinds have to be overcome, such as the diffi culties of transportation, the superstition of the natives and their dislike of the Christian, the latter perhaps the most dangerous if not the most formidable. Arabia is probably one of the oldest of Oriental countries and at different times has played important roles in the making of the world's history, and the probability is that in the revival of the Orient it will yet figure prominently once more. As a whole, the country is about as large as the United States east of the Mississippi River, and has an area of some million square miles. The northwest part of Arabia is famous for its many-hued mountains, rocks, and crags, into and out of which has been hewn many a fine tomb, temple, dwelling, and theater by the Nabathean, Roman, Greek, or Egyptian, all of whom have left their mark behind them. Petra, as it is called today, is compara tively easy of access, either by rail from Maan, on the Mecca Railway, or on horseback from Jerusalem via Moab and Edom. For their own protection the Turkish authorities insist on the traveler having a military escort, which is fur nished at a nominal sum. This insures freedom from annoyance from the law less and wild Bedouin that are located in that section. This interesting portion of Arabia has been previously described in this Magazine,* so it is not necessary to again cover the ground. Steering east from Petra one can soon * Rock City of Petra. Franklin E. Hoskins. NAT. GEOG. MAG., May, 1907.