Fragrance in Travel Literature-Arabian Peninsula




The heart of Arabia, a record of travel and exploration (1922) Vol 1
Philby, H. St. J. B. (Harry St. John Bridger), 1885-1960

As I rose to take my leave they detained me in their
courtly fashion. " Tutaiyyih, ya sahib ; Jmt al tib, ya
walad,'' ^ said my host, and for the first time I saw the
simple mystery of the preparation of incense ; a censer of
coarse Ithil-wood,^ roughly ornamented with strips of tin,
was produced from the cupboard by the hearth ; in it were
placed a few Uve embers from the fire, on the top of which
was thrown a twig of fragrant aloes. A blow or two into
the embers and a slender spiral of smoke ascended from the
censer, which was then passed round from hand to hand,
each recipient holding it for a moment under either flap of
his head-kerchief and under his beard, and finally, before
passing it to his neighbour, placing it under his nose to
inhale its fragrance with an apparently natural but quite
inimitable snort. Three times the incense goes round, being
blown into fresh flame each time it returns to the coffee-
host and, when the rounds are complete, one may rise to go.

The rough country before us was well wooded with acacia
trees and intersected by two main and countless lesser
freshets ; we followed first the 'Amaiza and then the Rajifa
sha'ibs, the latter named after a huge mass of boulders
piled up like some great temple of former times fallen into
ruin ; on our right lay a chain of similar piles known as
Al Jilla. Threading this maze of rocks and torrents, we
came after about three miles suddenly upon the broad
sandy bed of Sail al Saghir, or the lesser Sail, running from
west to east, with a gradual northward tendency. Here
was a springtime profusion of verdant herbs, budding reeds
and purple-flowered thyme, whose fragrance filled the sun-
bathed air. We halted for an hour for a delicious midday
meal of bread and honey and cheese and pomegranates,
after which I basked in the sunshine, reclining on the grassy
bank and smoking a peaceful pipe in the company of
Musaiyis, our guide and Rafiq, the leading Shaikh ot the
Thibata, to whom is all this country of the foot-hills.

At length we reached the tree-lined channel of Sha'ib
Shauki and, being uncertain of the exact position of Ibn
Sa'ud's camp, followed its meandering descent. The rich
vegetation of the valley exhaled sweet odours into the
evening air, and here and there a pool of standing water
was evidence of the recent passage of floods, but a little
way down our progress was checked by a chain of regular
lakelets extending from bank to bank, some twenty or
thirty feet across and fully a hundred yards in length,
with a depth of perhaps a foot or more. We halted to give
our beasts a well-earned drink of the sweet torrent water,
into which they waded knee-deep, and then continued our
march up the slope on the left bank until, on reaching its
summit, we came into full view of a veritable city of canvas,
for far and wide over the depression in front of us stretched
the tents of the Wahhabi camp, in whose midst rose the
great white pavihon which we readily recognised as the
headquarters of Ibn Sa'ud.

The heart of Arabia, a record of travel and exploration (1922) Vol 2
Philby, H. St. J. B. (Harry St. John Bridger), 1885-1960


Abdullah greeted us very warmly and we
were soon at home seated on matting strips in the large
courtyard of the building, conversing with our host and a
few invited guests from the village and imbibing tea —
a luxury in the south — and coffee, and perfuming ourselves
at frequent intervals from a fragrant censer.

This pond, which serves the residents of Hair as a
reservoir through great part of the summer — they say
that it often holds water till the coming of the rain again —
is flushed and filled each year by the Hanifa floods. About
its banks there was a soft fragrance as of early summer,
emanating from the rank weeds below and the thick poplar
clumps above ; there was a noticeable buzz of insect life
as one brushed through close -grown thickets ; and more
than once during the night did I hear the ominous song of
the mosquito.


With star and crescent (1890)
Locher, A

Altogether a visit to an Arabian Ba-
zaar is most interesting to a student of character ; the
scene must be personally witnessed to be fully un-
derstood, for it altogether defies description. !Never-
theless picture to yourself long lines of wooden stalls,
ranged on either side of the passage way, which is left
from three to six feet wide, and is called by courtesy a
street, in which two horses meeting can hardly pass
each other. This passage is crowded with people, from
sunrise to sunset, chatting, laughing, vociferating, push-
ing and squeezing each other ; add to this a deafening
noise, arising from the combined efforts of the copper-
smiths, battering the metal that, they are manufactur-
ing, the clang of the blacksmith's hammer, the batter-
ing of hundreds of shoemaker's hammers, belaboring
the leather, the screaming voices of pedlars, the inces-
sant fighting; of the innumerable masterless curs that
infest the place refusing to stir out of one's path, the
yelling and cursing of the donkey drivers, the mourn-
ful shout of the camel drivers, with the various voices
of buyers, and sellers ; in short a place where every-
body seems intent upon adding to the reigning chaos ;
picture your elf all this, and you have a faint idea of
an Asiatic Bazaar. The atmosphere of the Bazaar it
naturally none of the best, the heat in these crowded
thoroughfares, though they are somewhat protected from
the rays of the broiling sun, by mats, which are
stretched overhead across the street, and which serve
only to darken the narrow and crowded passage, h al-
ways most unpleasant to foreigners ; but Nature, full of
compensation as she always is, mollifies this by the
grateful perfume, emitted from the stalls of the dealers
in the fragant spices, otto of roses, rose oil, etc., etc., of
the Orient.


Presently a slave brought a heavy
silver censer resembling a candelabra, from which ema-
nated a most delicious perfume, and placed it in the
middle of the room. Other slaves placed themselves
one by the side of each European, one by the side of the
Shiek, and one by his intrepreter, waving large fans of
ostrich feathers, gently stirring the perfumed air and
driving awav the innumerable flies. Others again made
their appearance, each bearing a little silver tray, on
which stood five or six tiny gold goblets (looking just
like egg cups), filled with excellent but very strong
coffee, which they served and retired, returning pres-
ently with other trays, on which they offered us little
rose-colored goblets filled with sherbert, a delicious
Persian drink, most nearly resembling an excellent lem-
onade ; wino and spirits of any kind being strictly for-
bidden to true believers by the Koran. Beside sher-
bert they ottered us Halwa from Muscat, the sweet-
meat previously described.

From Carara upwards the river flows almost in a
straight line, which enabled us to see Bagdad, the far-
famed city of the caliphs, Bagdad of the Arabian
Kights, Bagdad, in the glorious times of Ilaroun al
Kaschid, the caliph, perhaps the queen of the cities of
the globe. There she lies sadly altered, it is true, since
the days of that famous ruler, immortalized by history,
song, and romance, still lovely, mysterious, and there-
fore full of interest to the visitor; there she lies, open
like a mammoth book to tell her own story. Extend-
ing far away, over both banks of the river, and beauti-
fully ensconced in a gigantic, luxuriant carpet ot per-
petually green gardens, filled with lovely blossoms of
myriads of evergreen, jasmine bushes, rose bushes,
orange, lemon, peach, and pomegranate trees, and num-
berless other trees, bushes, and shrubs, which emit,
especially at morning and evening, the most delicious
perfumes. The gardens and houses along the river are
overtopped by an endless forest of stately date trees,
the tall and slender trunks of which are almost break-
ing beneath the weight of the sweet golden fruit, while
their noble evergreen crowns cast a delightful shade
over the ground beneath.

Never before did I see the market of any Oriental
city so overstocked with goods of every description as
I had the pleasure of witnessing in Bagdad at that
period. Every imaginable article of manufacture or
produce indigenous to Western Asia, mingled with an
immense variety of European merchandise, could be
seen exhibited at this improptu world's fair. The
finest shawls of Cashmere; the coarsest of Arabian can-
vas; the most dazzling diamond, ruby, emerald and
turquoise jewelry that had ever been produced by
India, Bokhara and Persia, down to the most insignifi-
cant brass or zinc ornament ; from the most beautifully
finished shot-guns of English or French workmanship
down to the unwieldy Afghan blunderbuss and the
original Bedouin match-lock ; from the most delicious
rose oil and other perfumes of the Orient down to the
most horribly smelling fish oil.

These gardens, owing to the scorching hot
climate of this country, have to be irrigated day and
night almost without interruption, hy means of a kind
of draw well, dug from ten to twenty feet deep into the
bank of the river; out of it the water is drawn by a
pair of oxen or horses, which raise it from the bottom
of the well in a huge leather bag, tied to the end of a
rope, running round a wheel fixed above the mouth of
the well, the other end of which is attached to the
animals working the well. The leather bag is so
arranged that as soon as it arrives at the surface of the
earth, it empties itself into a wooden trough, which
conducts the water into the innumerable small ditches,
that run in different directions all through the gardens,
and, by their uninterrupted suppl}^ of water, cause the
vegetation to remain in a wonderfully fresh and luxur-
iant state all the year round, so much so indeed that
these gardens amply repay their owners for the ex-
penses of labor and irrigation, by the astonishing
quantity of dates, grapes, mulberries, figs, oranges,
lemons, pomegranates, peaches, plums, almonds, sugar
melons, water melons, all sorts of vegetables, and the
profusion of flowers of every kind which they produce.
I have myself seen a Persian merchant and distiller of
the fragrant Oriental rose-oil pay 2,000 Persian Kerans
($500 in gold) cash down, to the proprietor of an
ordinary sized garden, for one season's crop of roses
only.

Silently the cavalcade passed by scarcely deigning
to notice us, and was soon lost to view in the cloud of
dust in our rear. Then began for us the arduous
ascent of the steep and rocky mountain, a compara-
tively easy task for the horses that were not burdened
by a rider or other load ; but for those that were, it
was very hard. After about two hours' climbing, we
reached a sort of plateau, or table-land, studded with
stately shade trees, and clusters of wild jessamine, and
other fragrant bushes, on which a few large, gaunt
camels, some sheep, etc., were browsing in charge of a
trio of ragamuffins stretched out at full length under
the shady trees. On this level ground we made a short
halt, only long enough to allow our weary animals to
regain their breath, we, meantime, enjoying the pano-
rama before us.

Shortly after passing the caravan, the road led down
into a deep ravine, and up again on the other side. Then
we passed between several fine villas or country seats,
built in the genuine Oriental style, surrounded by
extensive grounds, encircled by low stone walls, and
studded with fine shade and fruit trees, fragrant bushes,
patches of Indian Corn, etc., strangely and pleasantly
contrasting with the calcined, arid country all around.
Every handful of the fertile soil of these luxuriant
gardens must have been taken there from a considera-
ble distance, and can be kept fertile and rendered pro-
ductive only by constant artificial irrigation; but where
the requisite water is obtained, I am at the loss to
determine, as the nearest water which I could discover
was that of the Alejtpo several hundred yards off, and
at least seventy feet below the level of those villas;
although it is more than probable that the water
requisite for irrigation is brought from the river, car-
ried on the backs of camels, horses and mules in large
tooloochs.


About an hour after crossing the Kara Su, we
reached the hamlet of Bagras, which stands on the
junction of the road to Antioch with that to Aleppo,
and here our caravan entered the narrow, deep and
winding canyon which intersects the two already men-
tioned mountain ranges, Gerzel Dagh and Djehl Tolos,
and through which the road (if such a steep rugged
mountain path can he called so) leads in a northwesterly
direction. Advancing cautiously in Indian file, there
being no room for two horses to walk abreast, we
slowly ascended the steep grade, in an excessively op-
pressive atmosphere; but it was permeated with the
most delicious odors emanating from sweet scented
blossoms of thousands of jessamine, oleander and other
semi-tropical plants, which grew thickly on both sides
of our path.
We finally reached the apex of the mountain pass,
and as each member of the caravan arrived on the sum-
mit of the defile, an involuntary exclamation of rapture
and surprise escaped his parched lips, and even the
panting horses and jaded mules, with their limbs
quivering from exhaustion, pricked up their ears at the
welcome sight before us. Exclamations, such as
"Thank God!" "At last!" freely mingled with the
calm, though not less earnest utterance of " El Bahril
Mashallah !"' " The sea ! God be praised," by twenty
hoarse Arab voices ; for right at our feet, as it were,
the magnificent sheet of water known as the Mediter-
ranean lay in beautiful azure, and extended far, far
away to the western horizon, sparsely sprinkled with
snow white sails, all apparently motionless, a dead
calm seeming to reign over the watery mirror, for not
even along the entire length of the rock bound shore,
deep below us, could we notice the slightest ripple.

Having now furnished a minute description of the
locality of the bazaar, I beg the reader to depict to
himself the same place, permeated with all kinds of
odors from sunrise to sunset, and thronged with a
heterogenous crowd of human beings, young and old,
rich and poor, male and female, arrayed in every im-
aginable variety of Oriental costume, and intermingled
more or less with the variety of specimens of the ani-
mal world before-mentioned, and he will see a true and
singular picture.

These stalls are also well-
filled with beautiful, gaudy-colored embroideries,
brought from the Punjab, the country situated along
the river Indus. Beside these goods they sell caskets,
boxes, paper-knives, etc., made of the peculiar smelling
sandal-wood, beautifully carved, or inlaid with ebony,
ivory and silver of Bombay make, and finding ready
sale here, the strong per ume of the sandal-wood being
very acceptable to the female sex of Arabia.


Memoirs of an Arabian Princess

Ruete, Emilie, 1844-1924; Strachey, Lionel, 1864-1927
Undoubtedly Oriental children look much pret-
tier at this time of their life than European, be-
cause these wear too much white. Though I have
been in Germany for years, I cannot change my
opinion; in fact my own children looked dreadful
to me in their baby clothes. The contrast with
my beautifully apparelled nephews and nieces
was most unfavourable. Perfumes were freely
employed in Zanzibar. The child's bedding,
towels, and all its garments were first scented with
sweet jessamine, and again with amber and musk
just before use, and finally sprinkled with attar of
roses. Only it should be borne in mind that doors
and windows were constantly open nearly the
whole year round, which counteracted whatever
noxious effects this singular custom might other-
wise have entailed.


Musk, amber, attar of roses, rose water, and
other perfumes were presented to us, likewise
saffron (which women mix with various ingredients
to put in their hair), silks of all hues, gold and
silver thread for embroidering, woven gilt buttons,
in short, whatever belonged to an Arabian lady's
toilette. And then, besides, each got a certain
number of silver dollars, according to rank and
age. But an extravagant individual would some-
times spend more, in the course of the twelvemonth,
than she had received, when she would beg father
or husband for an additional sum, although ap-
peals of this kind had to be made under great
secrecy, undue wastefulness being frowned upon,
and moreover certain to bring down a lecture on
the petitioner's head.

A special bridal dress, like the white gown
and tulle veil, is not in vogue; but the lady must
wear new things, from top to toe, the choice
being left to her, and sometimes resulting in the
gayest assortment of colours, which however do
not offend the eye. Then certain perfumes are
made for the occasion riha, for instance, a costly
hair ointment composed of powdered sandal-
wood, musk, saffron, and attar of roses. Aloes-
wood, musk, and amber combined form an agree-
able incense. Baking, confectionery and securing
animals to be slaughtered busy a number of
people also.

But it is not only the noise that keeps the ladies
awake. They are racking their brains how to
outshine one another in the splendours of dress.
The festival endures three days, upon each of
which a new outfit of clothes must be worn
entirely new to the smallest detail, from head to
foot. Perfumes are then employed in such pro-
fusion as to suggest for analogy the quantities
of beer consumed in Berlin at Whitsuntide. Many
an Arabian lady spends five hundred silver dollars
a year on scents, and their odour would probably
overpower one but for the windows and doors being
constantly open.

We women awaited the Sultan's return in his
apartment, all rising as he entered, to step for-
ward and congratulate him, and to imprint a
respectful kiss on his hand. An aristocratic
hand of either sex has a good deal to go through
on a religious holiday; it is washed and perfumed
without end, from dawn to dusk. Equals kiss
each other on the hand ; middle-class persons touch
a superior's inclined head with the lips; a common
woman may only salute the feet.

We had all
believed in the marvellous child, with its capacity
to disclose the unseen, to reveal secrets hidden
from the human eye. But at the time none of us
suspected ventriloquism, because we had up till
then never heard of such a thing. The occult
and the mysterious attract the natives of Zanzibar
irresistibly; the less comprehensible a circum-
stance, the more probable its reality. Every-
body believes in invisible spirits, good and evil.
The room in which a person has died is thoroughly
fumigated with incense for days, and since the
soul of the departed is supposed to be fond of
visiting the erstwhile sick-chamber, that place
is studiously avoided, especially at night, when
no one could be induced to go there at any
price.

On this night the master of the establishment
opens it up for universal hospitality, lasting as
long as two weeks. Friends, acquaintances, even
strangers are welcome, and can eat and drink to
their hearts' content. True, neither wine nor
beer is proffered, and the Abadites (the sect we
belong to) are forbidden to smoke tobacco ; never-
theless, people enjoy themselves thoroughly. They
eat what they please, drink milk of almonds and
lemonade, sing, execute war dances, and listen to
recitations. Eunuchs burn incense the while,
and sprinkle rose-water on the guests.


The Mahometan's day is regulated if that is
not saying too much by his religious devotions.
Five times a day does he bend the knee to God,
and if he properly performs all the contingent
ablutions and changes of raiment in accordance
with scriptural ruling, fully three hours will be
consumed. The rich are awakened between four
and half-past five for the first prayer, after which
they return to bed, but the common people begin
the day's work with their first prayer. In our
establishment, where hundreds of inmates tried
to follow their individual tastes, it was hard to
maintain fixed rules, although the two general
repasts and the devotions compelled a measure
of systematic order. Most of us, then, slept on
again until eight o'clock, when the women and
children were roused by a gentle and agreeable
kneading process, at the hands of a female servant.
A bath of fresh spring water was ready, and like-
wise our wearing apparel, strewn the night before
with jessamine or orange blossoms, and now
scented with amber and musk. Nowhere in the
world is the cold bath used and appreciated more
than in the East. After dressing, which usually
took up an hour, we all went to see our father,
to wish him "good morning," and then to partake
of the first meal. To this we were summoned
by a drum, but as the table was completely set
beforehand, much less time was occupied in eating
than the European method demands.

Upon sitting down, everyone said grace in a
low but distinct tone: " In the name of Allah the
all merciful." After eating the formula was:
"Thanks be to the Lord of the Universe." Our
father was always first to take his seat, and first
to rise. One plate to each individual was not the
custom, all the dishes (except the rice) being
served in a number of little plates standing sym-
metrically along the sefra, so that a couple would
eat from the same plate. There was no drinking
simultaneous with the eating, but afterward
sherbet or sugared water was obtainable. Nor was
conversation usual, excepting when the Sultan
spoke to someone; the rest of the time silence
prevailed a good thing, too. Fruit or flowers
were never to be seen on the sefra. A few minutes
before and after the meal slaves offered basins
and towels, in order that one might wash one's
hands. We chiefly used our fingers when we ate
solids, which came upon the table cut up into
small pieces. For spoons we had employment,
but knives and forks were not brought out unless
to honour European guests. Persons of refine-
ment scented their hands, besides washing them,
to drive away the odour of food.