1740 - Charles Perry
The Caravan for Mecca leaves Cairo
The stated annual Processions of any Consequence, in this City, are Three only, which very well deserve our Pains to describe: The First is the Departure of the Haznar, or annual Treasure or Tribute, which this Country pays to the Grand Signiore. The Second is the Transportation of the Mahmel, or Covering for the Prophet's Tomb. This is transported in great Pomp and State, from the Apartment in the Castle, where 'tis wrought, to the great Mosque, called Jemel Azah, where 'tis bless'd. The Third and last, which far excells all the rest, is the Departure of the Hadgge, or Caravan for Mecca. Besides these there are others which are accidental, and happen at indeterminate times, once in Two or Three Years perhaps: Of such Sort are the public Entry of a Bashaw, and the Departure of a Bey of the Soldiers, which go to assist the Sultan in his Wars. But since the Departure of the Mecca Caravan so far exceeds all the rest, for Pomp, State, Grandeur, Magnificence and Multitude, that all the rest may be said to be, as it were, comprehended in it; we will therefore pass over all the rest in Silence, and confine ourselves to a Description of this mighty Caravan; in which, for the Satisfaction of our Readers, we will be the more copious.
Nothing can be more surprising than to observe with what State and Magnificence the Turks yet continue to celebrate this annual Solemnity, of sending the Mahmel, or Covering for Mahomet’s Tomb, and other Ornaments, for the Mosque where it is.
This annual Present, from the Sultan to the Manes of their fictitious Prophet, consists of Four Pieces of black Velvet, each about Sixteen Feet long, (not to mention several Bundles of black Crape, Cords, &c.)all curiously wrought, as if emboss'd, with Arabian Characters in Gold, of an immoderate Size, and expressing sundry Sentences out of the Alcaron. But these things are not exposed to View, only when they are transported from the Castle to the great Mosque, to be bless'd: And in that Procession they are spread out at Length, upon long things in the Form of Biers; but at the Departure of the Caravan they are pack'd up, as 'tis to be suppos'd, for Carriage.
This great and mighty Procession was introduc'd, or commenc'd or usher'd in, (which you please) by Six small Field-pieces of Artillery, each on its Carriage, drawn by Two Horses, and attended by Gunners, provided with all Necessaries to load and discharge them. Immediately after these came a long Train of Camels, carrying all sorts of Ammunition, and follow'd by a large Troop of People on Foot. After these came Sixty other Camels, loaded with Belly-timber, and all sorts of Kitchen Furniture. N. B. Each of these Camels had Two Men to wait on him. Then came Sixty led or light Camels: After these came a Troop of Saquers, (Men who conduct the Water-Camels) dress'd in leathern Doublets, and follow'd by a Train of Camels, each carrying an Ox-skin full of Water. Next these came another Company of Saquers, or Water-men, who were follow'd by Forty other Camels richly harness'd ; and another Troop carrying Flambeaux, to beguile the Darkness of the Night.
Each of these Troops, or Companies, is preceded by a Camel, that carries Two Kettle-drums - one large, the other small, and One or Two Men to play upon them. All the different Societies, or People of the different Trades in Cairo, interest or mix themselves in this March: Each Trade or Society has its Drums, and other Instruments of Music - has its Banner or Ensign display'd, by which 'tis known and distinguish'd from the rest. And thus they go on, either chaunting out Hymns or Spiritual Songs, or else making hideous Cries, each according to his Caprice or Capacity: For though but few may be dispos'd and qualified to sing Hymns and Spiritual Songs, yet every one can howl and make a Noise - Now comes a long Train of Camels, carrying each a Pair of Cradles, cover'd with Carpets, in which such as happen to fall sick are dispos'd very commodiously, and as much at their Ease as 'tis possible: And immediately after them follow Twenty Camels, carrying Water for the sole Use of the Sick; which sufficiently specifies the great Care they take of all such as have the Misfortune to be indispos'd during the Time of this most devout Expedition. Next to the Squadron of Invalids, follow'd a Troop of Forty Men with Drums, and Thirty Camels with Kettle-drums, which upon this Occasion were exercis'd, to the deafening of all such as had not the Faculty of hearing very sound and perfect. Now came another long Train of Torches, and after them a Soubachi, mounted upon a stately Horse, very richly harness'd: He was preceded by Two Men, carrying Lances in their Hands, and was follow'd by all his Domestics, in very rich Clothing, having each a Lance and a Sabre; and after them a Company of People on Foot, carrying Ensigns display'd, and several Camels with Drums and Kettle-drums. Next in course came a statly Camel, with Housings embroider'd with Gold: Then follow'd the Emir-Hadgg's Litter, carried by Two stately Mules, sumptuously harness'd; and after them came Twelve others of less State: These were followed by Four stately Camels, each carrying on his Back several small Ensigns of divers Colours, which, waving and playing in the Wind as they pass'd along, were agreeable enough to see. This Part of die Procession was intermix'd with some zealous Brethren, who made a thousand odd Grimaces. Next came several Soubachis, follow'd by their Domestics arm'd with Guns, and after them a great Number of Camels, carrying some Kettle-drums, some Ensigns, others Torches in their iron Sockets, plac'd at the End of Sticks; and others yet carrying Waterlouders. Here came a Troop of People, who acted the Part of mad Men or Fools; these toss'd themselves to-and-fro, very divertly and preposterously, using a thousand ridiculous Grimaces and Gesticulations: Some of these sung, some cry'd, and others howl'd. There were some, again, who clatter'd their Teeth together with such Force and Fury, that they foam'd at the Mouth, and seem'd as if really under the Possession and Influence of the Devil: And as these mad Men (either real or feign'd) were dispos'd amidst the more grave and serious Part of the Procession, so they made a very good Contrast.
This Function is attended by a Detachment from each of die military Odgiacks, amounting in all to about 1000 Men: These march along in great Order, and with great Seriousness, accompany'd by their respective Officers, carrying their Staffs of Command in their Hands. After these comes the Iman or Curate of the Caravan; he is clad in White, and mounted on a Camel neatly harness'd; he is accompanied with a Troop of young Men, mounted in the same manner. Then Forty Janisaries, wearing their Caps of Ceremony, and follow'd by their Sardars, magnificently dress'd, and mounted on stately Horses, and their Domestics the same, march'd before Ten Beys, and their Valets, who carried Pikes in their Hands.
These were followed by a very numerous Cavalcade ; and each Cavalier carried a long Lance, and a small Ensign display'd, with his Bow, Quiver, and Sabre. There are Six Troops of Cavaliers, who march along in the same Order, and are follow'd by 1000 Azaps on Foot: Their Arms are a Gun, Pistol, and Sabre; but the Veterans, who march in the Rear, are distinguish'd by wearing a Leopard's Skin and a Shield, After the Azaps (allowing some Distance between) came 1000 Janisaries, who march'd in very good Order, and were follow'd by another Detachment of Cavalry. Now came another Troop of mad People; many of these were stark naked - carried Serpents in their Hands, which twisted themselves up about their Arms, and made a Thousand Grimaces, tossing their Heads, Hands, and Arms about violently, and rolling their Eyes in a surprising manner. These are commonly called mad Sheiks, or religious Persons, who are deem'd holy and sacred; but they are certainly the most crazy, forlorn Creatures, that 'tis possible to form an Idea of.
The Procession was closed by the Camel which carried the Drapery or Covering for Mahomet’s Tomb. This Piece of Pageantry is carried upon a very stately Camel, which, from the first Time he has the Honour to bear it, is styled sacred, and is ever after exempted from all other Duty; for, if alive and well, he may serve again upon the same Occasion. This Camel is very sinely harness'd and adorn'd, has a large Plume of red Feathers on his Head, has Bells to his Neck and Legs, and wears Housing curiously wrought with Gold. The People press with great Earnestness to touch this sacred Business: Such as can't come to touch it with their Hands, undo the Muslin of their Turbants, and so, keeping one End in their Hands, they sling the other at it; and if they can only touch it that way, their Zeal and Curiosity seem to be pretty well satisfied. You see several Persons, who greedily catch the circumambient Air with their Hands, which they either put carefully into their Bosoms, or else under their Turbants.
The Procession marches in this manner to the Berke il Hadgge, which is about Ten Miles from Cairo, where they lie encamp'd Eight Days, and then rise, and proceed without further Delay (baring Accidents) to the End ot their Journey.
This Pilgrimage, from the Time of their rising from the Berkie, to that of their Return, employs just 100 Days: And as the Turkish Year consists but of Twelve Moons, which are Eleven Days shorter than our Year, so in the Space of Thirty-three Years the Departure or Voyage of the Caravan happens in all the various Seasons of it.
During the first Night after they are encamp'd at the Berkie, there is nothing to be seen or heard of but Bonfires, Feastings and Rejoicings. All the Friends and Relations of die Pilgrims accompany them thither; and it's permitted even to Wives to go and pass the Night with their Husbands. 'Tis indeed a glorious Sight, to see a spacious Plain cover'd perhaps with a Hundred thousand Tents, all adorn'd with a great Number and Variety of Ensigns in the Day-time, and shining with innumerable Lights in die Night-time. Their Tents are so dispos'd as to form long, regular Streets; and the infinite Number of People who are walking in them, the general Acclamations of Joy and Gladness, mix'd with the Sound of Music from all Quarters, and the Feasting and Dancing which reign everywhere, form one of the most agreeable Entertainments in the Universe.
This Caravan is generally suppos'd to consist of above 50,000 Pilgrims, and a greater Number of Camels with other Beasts of Burden. And when such Persons as went thither, whether out of Curiosity, or to accompany their Relations and Friends, leave die Camp, 'tis suppos'd above 50.000 Horsemen return that Day to Cairo, besides an infinite Number of People which disperse themselves into the circumjacent Villages.
A view of the Levant