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Sir Richard F. Burton – the beauty of the desert

August 17, 2014

“Sometimes I walked with my friend to the citadel, and sat upon a high wall, one of the outworks of Muhammad Ali’s Mosque, enjoying a view which, seen by night, when the summer moon is near the full, has a charm no power of language can embody. Or escaping from ‘stifled Cairo’s filth,’ we passed, through the Gate of Victory, into the wilderness beyond the City of the Dead. Seated upon some mound of ruins, we inhaled the fine air of the Desert, inspiriting as a cordial, when star-light and dew-mists diversified a scene, which, by day, is one broad sea of yellow loam with billows of chalk rock, thinly covered by a film-like spray of sand surging and floating in the fiery wind. There, within a mile of crowded life, all is desolate; the town walls seem crumbling to decay, the hovels are tenantless, and the paths untrodden; behind you lies the Wild, before you, the thousand tomb-stones, ghastly in their whiteness; while beyond them the tall dark forms of the Mamluk Soldans’ towers rise from the low and hollow ground like the spirits of kings guarding ghostly subjects in the Shadowy Realm. Nor less weird than the scene are the sounds! – the hyena’s laugh, the howl of the wild dog, an the screech of the low-flying owl.”

(from Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah [1855], vol. 1)

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