Baedeker's Guide to Hebron 1876 - FULL TEXT

A fascinating look at Hebron from the perspective of a European tourist in the 1800s.

21.6.21, 12:34
Palestine and Syria : handbook for travellers
by Karl Baedeker (Firm); Socin, A. (Albert), 1844-1899
Publication date:1876
Publisher: Leipsic : K. Baedeker ; London : Dulau and Co.
Pages 279 - 283
The accommodation obtainable at several Jewish houses is tolerable ; one of these is opposite the entrance to the Haret esh- Shekh. The shekh Hamza also receives travellers. The charges should be fixed beforehand, and also the fee (1 fr.) for a guide through the town, if desired (but unnecessary). For the excursions to Engedi, Masada, etc., see the remark made on p. 283. The Muslims of Hebron are notorious for their fanaticism (see p. 282) , and the traveller should therefore avoid coming into collision with them. The children shout a well-known Arabic curse after 'Franks', of which of course no notice should be taken.

Hebron ('friendship') is a town of hoar antiquity. Mediaeval tradition localised the creation of Adam here ; and at a very early period, owing to a misinterpretation of Joshua xiv. 15, where Arba is spoken of as a great man among the Anakim (giants) , Adam's death was placed here. From the same passage it appears that the ancient name of Hebron was Kirjath Arba ('city of four'). It is difficult to decide whether to follow the interpretation of Josh. xv. 13, which makes Arba the founder of a family, as in our English version , or rather to adopt the signification of 'fourfold town'. This name might be derived from its having four quarters, which, though altered, still exist. Possibly these quarters belonged to four different families , who at first lived in distinct enclosures. At all events the town was always considered very ancient, and Moses records that it was built seven years before Zoan, or Tanis, the capital of lower Egypt (Numbers xiii. 22). Abraham is also stated to have pitched his tent under the oaks of Mamre, the Amorite (Gen. xiii. 18), the place being near Hebron , and opposite the cave of Machpelah.

When Sarah died (Gen. xxiii.) Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite the double cavern of Machpelah as a family burial-place ; and the narrative is no doubt intended to convey the meaning that an interest in the soil of Palestine was thereby secured to Abraham's descendants. Isaac, too was buried here, and Jacob's remains, by his express desire, were afterwards brought from Egypt and placed beside those of his wife Leah. Hebron was destroyed by Joshua (x. 36, 37), and this fertile region was afterwards presented to Caleb and his descendants as a reward for his services as one of the spies of Moses. The town then became an important place belonging to the tribe of Judah, and at the same time a city of refuge and a residence of the Levites (Josh. xx. 7).

David spent a long time in the region of Hebron; and it was not until he could no longer hold out against Saul that he offered his services to Achish, the Philistine king of Gath (1 Sam. xxi. 10). After Saul's death David returned, and for 7 1/2 years ruled over Israel from Hebron. It was at the gates of Hebron that Abner was slain by Joab, and David caused the murderers of Ishbosheth , the son of Saul, to be hanged by the pool of Hebron. Hebron afterwards became the headquarters of the rebellious Absalom, but after that period it is rarely mentioned. It was fortified by Kehoboam, and repeopled after the captivity.

Judas Maccabaeus had to recapture it from the Edomites, and Josephus reckons it as a town of Idumsea. Hebron was next destroyed by the Romans. During the Muslim period Hebron still maintained its importance, partly by its commerce, and partly as a sacred place owing to its connection with Abraham, who was represented by Mohammed as a great prophet. The Arabs call him khalil Allah, or the 'friend of God' (St. James ii. 23), and their name for Hebron is therefore 'the town of the friend of God', or briefly El- Khalil.

The Crusaders also called Hebron the Castellum, or Praesidium ad sanctum Abraham. Godfrey de Bouillon invested the knight Gerard of Avesnes with the place as a feudal fief. In 1167 it became the seat of a Latin bishop, but in 1187 it fell into the hands of Saladin. Since that period it has been occupied by the Muslims.


The modern Hebron lies in the narrow part of a valley descending from the N.W. ; and, unless it he assumed that the ancient city was situated higher up on the slope to the E. , it was one' of the few towns of Palestine that did not stand on a hill. The hill on the S.W. side rises about 3000 ft. above the sea-level. The environs are extremely fertile, and beautifully green in spring. The vine thrives here admirably, and it has therefore been supposed that this is the valley of Eshcol (valley of grapes), whence the spies of Moses brought the large bunch of grapes , the pomegranates , and figs (Numbers xiii. 23, 24). It has, however, lately been shown that the valley of Eshcol more probably lay farther S., near the Tuleilat el-'Inab, or the vine-clad hills around Beersheba, and that tradition had merely selected Hebron as being the most southern part of the mountains of Palestine where grapes thrive. Almond and apricot trees also occur, and the environs are copiously supplied with water.

The present town is divided into several distinct quarters. The N.W. quarter is called Haret ash-Shekh, deriving its name from the beautiful Mosque of the Shekh 'Ali Bakka (d. 670), which probably dates from the Mameluke period, and whose minaret forms the handsomest modern architectural feature in the town. Above this quarter is the aqueduct of the Kashkala spring , near which there are ancient grottoes and rock-tombs. From the spring a path well worn in the limestone of the mountain leads to the top of the hill Hobel er-Riah. The W. quarter is called Haret Bab ez-Zawiyeh, and the S.E. Haret el-Haram, to the S. of which lies Haret el-Musharika. The large building on the hill of Kubb el-Janib , on the S. side, is the Quarantine. The houses are generally spacious and built of stone, many of them having domes as at Jerusalem. The population numbers from 8000 to 10,000 souls, including 500 Jews.

The merchants of Hebron carry on a brisk trade with the Beduins, and often travel about the country with their wares. The chief branches of industry are the manufacture of water-skins from goats' hides, on the N. side of the Haram, and the glass-houses, which are also at the N. end of that quarter. Glass was manufactured here as early as the middle ages, and the principal articles made are lamps and coloured glass rings used by the women as ornaments.

Outside this quarter, in the bed of the valley to the N., is situated a reservoir, 28 yds. in length, 18 yds. in width, and 21 ft. in depth. Farther to the S., at the bottom of the valley, is a still larger basin constructed of hewn stones, square in form, each side being 44 yds. long. These pools are unquestionably ancient, and it was perhaps near one of them that David hanged the murderers of Ishbosheth (see p. 279). Tradition has settled the point in favour of the larger pool. In the town the tomb of Abner and Ishbosheth is shown within the court of a Turkish house, but is not worth visiting.


The most important building at Hebron, and one of unique interest, is the Great Mosque (Haram), which, according to tradition, encloses the cave of Machpelah. It is situated in the lower part of the quarter named after it, and also named Haret el-Kal'a, or castle quarter. The castle is now half in ruins. On the N. side it is over- topped by the adjacent wall of the Haram, which also appears once to have been fortified. The enclosing wall is built of very large blocks, all drafted and hewn smooth. The drafting, however, is not so deep as that of the stones of the Haram at Jerusalem. The walls are strengthened externally by square buttresses, sixteen on each side, and eight at each end. They are without capitals, but a kind of cornice runs round the whole building. Above this old wall, which is 48 — 58 ft. high, the Muslims erected a modern wall and at the corners four minarets, of which two still exist. Between the two N. corners are steps of gentle ascent, leading to the court in the interior. Visitors are conducted as far as the entrance doors, but Muslim fanaticism precludes their nearer approach.

The enclosing walls bear marks of antiquity, but it can hardly be supposed that they belong to the era of Solomon , as the walls of Jerusalem , built by Herod , also contain admirable specimens of drafted stones. A more careful examination of its details will, however, be necessary before the age of the structure can be approximately ascertained.

By a special firman of the sultan, the Prince of Wales was admitted to the mosque in 1862, the Marquis of Bute in 1866, and the Crown-Prince of Prussia in 1869. These distinguished visitors were attended respectively by Stanley, Pierotti, Fergusson, Rosen, and others. Fergusson's account is contained in 'The Holy Sepulchre and the Temple at Jerusalem' (London, 1865). According to that author the tomb was open down to the beginning of the Christian era, its holiness forming its sole protection. The present wall of the Haram was erected in the Herodian period, while tombs and cenotaphs in white stone or marble were also added. A church was probably erected here in the time of Justinian, and other shrines were placed on the upper level, over those which remained below, but none of these structures are now extant. The small building which forms the S. part of the Haram is probably a church of the Crusaders, dating from 1167 — 1187, but has been restored by the Arabs, and is possibly of Arabian origin. The marble incrustation with which the interior is adorned to a height of 6 ft. dates from 1331, when the Mameluke Sultan Mohammed ibn Kelaun erected the building round the court, which now contains the cenotaphs of the patriarchs. Joseph's tomb was fitted up in 1393. The cenotaphs still extant are of stone, and are hung with cloth embroidered with gold and silver. The tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob , and Leah are in separate apartments outside the mosque.

The place of honour in the centre of the mosque is occupied by the tomb of Isaac and Rebecca. Under the pier arch between the tombs of Abraham and Isaac is a circular opening in the floor. It is not yet ascertained whether this is the only entrance to the subterranean cavern, and whether older cenotaphs still exist there. — To the right of the Mihrab of the mosque is a finely carved pulpit, executed in 1091.

The building is surrounded with the dwellings of dervishes, saints, and the guards of the mosque, who derive their maintenance from six villages in the plain of Sharon and Philistia.


In order to visit the traditional Oak of Mamre (1/2 hr.), we quit the town, leave the road to Jerusalem on the right, and ride towards the N.W. on a paved road between vineyard-walls. After 17 min. we come to a well on the right. We then (5 min.) pass through a gate to the right and soon see the oak before us. A gate (8 min.) now leads us into gardens at present belonging to the Russians, where a hospice for Russian pilgrims is being built. The oak which is shown here as the Oak of Abraham was highly revered as far back as the 16th cent., and is unquestionably of great age. Tradition formerly pointed out the grove of Mamre near the present Ramet el-Khalil (see p. 278), but the spot on which we now stand appears to answer the description better (Gen. xxiii. 17, 19). The trunk of the oak is about 32 ft. in circumference below. At a height of 19 ft. it divides into four huge branches, which together form a majestic umbrageous crown, 95 paces in circumference. In the country to the W. of Jordan the oak el-balltit (Quercus ilex pseudococcifera), does not, as beyond Jordan, develop into a large tree, but, as the young shoots are eaten oft by the goats, it usually takes the form of bushes only. A few gigantic trees have, however, owing probably to superstitious veneration, been allowed to grow up unmolested. Under such trees the Israelitish community was in the habit of assembling ; and there too they used to bury their dead.

From the oak a direct road leads to Khirbet en-Nasara (p. 278), and thence to the Jerusalem road (1/2 hr.).

Excursions to the S. End of the Dead Sea are comparatively seldom undertaken, although the traveller obtains there for the first time a distinct idea of the barrenness and desolation of this region. Petra may also be visited from the S. end of the sea. All these excursions, however, require an escort and competent guides, and are therefore somewhat expensive.
When the Beduins of these districts are at war with each other, travelling becomes impossible. The traveller who intends to visit Engedi, Masada, and Jebel Usdum only must negotiate with the tribe of the Ta'amireh; but if he extends his journey to Petra he will require a Jehalin, and afterwards a Huwetat escort. For the journey to Moab an arrangement should be made with the Jehalin (better than the Ta'amireh) , and then with the Beni Sakhr. For the journey to Petra camels are better than horses, but are' not absolutely necessary. The dragoman has to arrange all these contracts with the Beduins , and great caution is therefore necessary in the selection of a dragoman for one of these expeditions. The dragoman of an English party of six persons was paid 44 fr. a day for  each person in 1873, but that charge was somewhat exorbitant.

From Hebron to Engedi (7 — 8 hrs.), an interesting, but fatiguing route. A guide and escort (comp. p. 252) may be procured at Hebron, but the shekh is apt to make extortionate demands, especially if he thinks that the traveller is anxious to make the excursion. The writer was unfortunately unable to take very accurate notes on this part of his tour, and will therefore be grateful for farther information.

For full text of Baedeker's Palestine and Syria : handbook for travellers click here. 
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