1909: Letter, dated May 14, from Gertrude Bell
Friday May 14. [14 May 1909] I spent 2 days at Hassana. On the first I climbed up into the hills and saw a very ancient fortress on a crag - Assyrian I suspect for there was an Assyrian stele below it. My guides were the Prot priest, Kas Mattai, and his brother Shim'an. They insisted on my wearing the local shoes of felt and wool; I put them on and found them most delightful, only the sharp rocks wore through the felt soles almost at once and my feet are not accustomed to stones and thorns, so I gave up rashikeh and returned to my boots. I walked through the oak woods on the mountain sides all the morning with Kas Mattai and it was so wonderfully beautiful that I determined to have another day of it and go to a summit. The temptation of getting for one day out of the heat was too strong. So yesterday we set off at 4 and climbed through the oak woods for 2 hours and then we came out onto the mountain tops where the snow was still lying in great wreaths and the high mountain flowers were in bloom. There were few of the real alpines - perhaps I wasn't high enough up for them - but the great beauty was the bulbs. Pale blue hyacinths and pale blue scillas, and a new asphodel (new to me I mean) and at the very top the scarlet tulips were still all in bloom just below the - but I forgot to tell you what it was I came out to see - I wasn't just taking the air in the mountains, I went up to look at - the Ark. There is a large body of opinion in favour of this having been the place where it alighted and I also belong to this school of thought partly because, you see, I have seen the Ark there and partly because, since the Flood legends are Babylonian, it's far more likely that they chose for their mountain the first high mountain that they knew (which is this Judi Dagh) rather than a place far away in remote Armenia. We got up to the Ark about 9 - it was a most wonderful place from which you could see the whole world, though I must confess there isn't much of the Ark left. We stayed there many hours, lunched and slept and looked at the view and breathed the delicious cold air. And at last reluctantly we came down and walked back for a long way over the tops of the hills. And here we had a little adventure. We met some Kurdish shepherds who had brought their flocks up to the top of Judi Dagh in order to avoid paying the sheep tax; and they took us for soldiers and we had to explain the true situation amidst rifle shots. I don't think they were aimed at us, but just any where to let us know that the rifles were there. I was standing on a snow patch at the time and it occurred to me that I must make an admirable mark if anyone had a wish for a little fancy practice, so I withdrew into the grey stones and awaited developments. But none followed; as soon as we had explained that we were simple people like themselves, they became quite friendly. By a stroke of good luck, I had left my soldier in the woods with the donkey which had carried the lunch, otherwise there might have been trouble. Today I rode through the foothills to another village in a deep valley - no words can describe the beauty of these valleys. They are a wilderness of olive, pomegranate, mulberry, fig and almond, with vines trailing over all and corn growing beneath. In the hottest part of the day I toiled 2 hours up hill and saw some more Assyrian stele. This must be about the frontier of the Assyrian empire I should think, and tonight I have come to the eastern frontier of the Roman. At Jezireh ibn Omar [Cizre] on the Tigris, where I am camping, there is the remains of a Roman bridge, but I fancy they held very little of the country further east.
Here I shall post this letter. Ever your affectionate daughter Gertrude.
1900-1999 A.D. Assyrian History Archives