by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 53 | Contents | Chapter 55

The Holy Land and the Bible
A Book of Scripture Illustrations gathered in Palestine

Cunningham Geikie D.D.

With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
Special Edition


Site of Sarepta—The LeontesTyre of To-day—Remnants of AntiquityThe Ancient Industries

The bed of the Zaherany, which supplies Sidon with its water, is bright with a thick fringe of oleanders, which relieves the monotony of the road now that the gardens of Sidon are passed. The memorable site of Sarepta lies only a short way farther on, and is reached through a pleasant and comparatively fertile neighbourhood. The ruins are scattered over the plain, at intervals, for more than a mile: one group is on the coast, and may be the remains of the ancient harbour. These lie on a tongue of land which forms a small bay and pleasantly varies the monotony of the otherwise unbroken coast-line. Sarepta was famous for its wine in the early Christian centuries, but it got its name in the Hebrew Bible—Zarpath—from its being in still older days a chief centre of the glass-works of Phoenicia—the word meaning "melting-houses." It belonged to the territory of Sidon (1 Kings 17:9; Luke 4:26), and must have been a large place, if we may judge from the number of rock-tombs at the foot of the hills. Its supreme interest, however, to all Bible readers lies in its connection with the great Prophet Elijah. A place is still shown at the old harbour where a Christian church once stood, on the alleged site of the widow's house in which the prophet lived. But no value is to be attached to such a localisation, though the spot is still called "the Grave of Elijah," in the belief that he finally died here. There is no end to such traditions, spun in dreamy brains.

The great river Leontes, known at this point as the Kasimieh, but along all the rest of the course as the Litany, pours into the sea about half-way between Sarepta and Tyre. Its course, including its many windings, is in all about 120 miles, in passing over which it descends fully 4,000 feet, from its highest source in Lebanon. It rises close to the source of the Orontes, in the broad plain of Hollow Syria, near Baalbek—its farthest, not its highest, permanent source being there. We crossed it, as may be remembered, at Shtora, on the way to Beirout, and from that point it flows south-west, through the Lebanon mountains, fighting, most of the way, through a narrow chasm worn by its waters in the course of ages. Leaping from point to point, "it boils, it wheels, it foams, it thunders" on, at one place making its way through a tunnel, cut by it in a rock more than ninety feet thick, so as to form a natural bridge. At some places it is hardly more than six feet wide, but the depth is unknown. At others it rushes down in furious madness 600 or even 800 feet beneath your standing-place, till, at last, flowing almost at a right angle with its original course, it bursts from the grip of the hills and seeks rest in the ocean, to which it makes its way with many windings, between banks thick with rich overhanging green.

Tyre is at present a small and wretched place, with the pretence of a bazaar, in which beans, tobacco, dates, and lemons, are the chief articles for sale. A collection of miserable houses, of one or two storeys, with filthy lanes for streets, forms all that now calls itself Tyre. It lies on what was once the famous island-site of the ancient city. Alexander the Great, however, unable to reach it otherwise, built a mole to connect it with the mainland, stones and rubbish being thrown into the strait between it and the shore till a broad road rose above the waters; and this has been so widened by the sand, in the course of ages, that it is now about half a mile across. There were originally two islands, connected, in Phoenician times, by a mound; so that it is hard to restore the ancient topography, now that mainland and islands are run into one. Along the sea face the rocks are rugged and picturesque, rising, towards the south, thirty or forty feet above the sea, and cut out at many points by the ancient population, with great patience and ingenuity, into a series of small harbours, landing-places for boats, shallow docks, and salt-pans. The whole length of the site, including all its parts, is only about 1,200 yards from north to south, and about a third less from east to west, so that the Tyrians must have been wonderfully crowded if the city on the mainland did not give room enough for comfort; for the island was, doubtless, in great part covered with tall warehouses, landing-wharves, sailors' barracks, and all the other accessories of a huge commerce.

It is impossible, now, to trace the docks in which the great Tarshish ships lay safe from the winds, for the sea and man have long since removed nearly all remains of the past; but there are still two small bays, one on the north and the other on the south, which were part of the harbourage. Along the whole sea face, to the west, and indeed everywhere, are seen fragments of fortifications dating from the time of the Crusaders; and pillars of granite and syenite taken by them from ancient temples or public buildings, for binding the wall, now lie, sometimes in numbers, on the sand and the rocks. At low water, moreover, remains of ancient concrete pavement are to be seen, full of bits of pottery, smoothing the roughness of the lodge, and enabling boats to land safely. There are still some remains of a mole, and at the very north of the island a stone nearly seventeen feet long, and six and a half feet thick, still shows the splendour of the sea-wall of Old Tyre thousands of years ago. The harbours are now entirely sanded up. Even small boats cannot enter, but must anchor outside, half-naked men carrying the cargo out on their heads, through the shallows.

The site of Tyre may be compared to a short-stemmed key with the wards turned to the north; the barrel broadening out cone-like towards the straight general line of the coast. Remains of the wall built along the edges of the key-head still remain, showing that it once ran round the whole extent, looking down on the sea-edge, over the waves which beat ceaselessly, twenty to thirty feet below, on the countless rocks that fringe the shore. Between this old fortification and the modern town lies an open space on the south side, used as a quarry, but it is also, in part, ploughed and sown; in part used as a cemetery. At the south-east corner of the wall, close to the point from which an ancient mole ran out at an acute angle from the shore, stand the ruins of a Crusading castle, now in a garden. Not far from these are the remains of the Christian cathedral, in which the mailed warriors of Europe worshipped our Lord, apparently on the site of the once famous Temple of Melcarth, the patron god of Tyre.

Of the ancient industries of Tyre—the glass factories and dye works, once so noted—the only traces remaining are fragments of glass, which have become consolidated into a hard mass with the sand of the rocky slopes, and thick layers of crushed shells of the murex, which, having yielded the famous purple, were cast out near the town. The ruins of the cathedral are, in fact, the most striking feature of the place; for a mass of architecture so huge, raised by our fellow-Christians in such a distant spot, fills the mind with wonder. The choir, with its side-chambers, is still to be seen, and even the remains of a winding stair, by which, apparently, access was gained to the cathedral tower. The walls of the church are from fifteen to thirty feet thick, and two huge granite pillars still remaining show that its interior decorations must have been magnificent. They remain where they are, in fact, only because they are too heavy for the Turk to remove them.


Chapter 53 | Contents | Chapter 55


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