(11) Arabia - Nejd (cont.) Mountains of Shomer. The Kaseem. Mountain Chain of Toweyk. Central Watershed.
Mountains of Shomer
South of the Nefood begins a series of granite hills, at first cropping up as mere isolated rocks through the sand, then increasing in extent and height till they coalesce and form the two parallel chains of Jebel Aja and Jebel Solma, both of which cross two-thirds of the peninsula from N.N.E. to S.S.W. The highest peak of either does not seem to exceed 4000 feet above the sea-level. Between them and around their base extent broad and well-peopled valleys. The irrigation is wholly artificial and from wells, which here yield an abundant supply. The water is brought up from an average depth of 20 or 30 feet. The climate of this region, though heated by the neighbouring desert, is remarkably healthy, and the air extremely pure.
Passing this mountain-belt, we find a second depression, still following the same general direction, namely, from N.N.E. to S.S.W., wide and fertile, a land of palm-trees, gardens, and wells; the soil is here and there streaked with sand, but no mountains or even rocks of considerable size occur anywhere. Towards the east the level of this region gradually rises upwards to the Toweyk range, by which it is ultimately shut in. westward it slopes downwards, and at last opens out on the Hejaz near Medinah. The general level is low, exceeding 1000 feet above the level of the sea, and the temperature hot; it is altogether the most productive, but at the same time the least healthy region of central Arabia. Water abounds throughout the greater part of its extent, at a level of only a few feet below the ground, and occasionally collects on the surface in perennial pools, none of which are, however, large enough to deserve the name of lakes. The most thickly peopled section of this valley is called Kaseem.
Mountain Chain of Toweyk
North-east of it rises the mountain chain of Toweyk, running almost due south, and keeping at a distance varying from 100 to 200 miles from the Persian Gulf. This constitutes the backbone of the Arab peninsula, which rises up to it first by a rapid ascent from the coast, and then by a succession of more gently graduated plateaus and valleys from the east and west. Thus the wider half of the peninsula itself lies, not, as has been erroneously stated, to the east, but to the west of the principal watershed.
Physical Character of the Central Watershed
The Toweyk or "compilation" chain, so called from the labyrinthine character of its numerous gullies and gorges, is a broad limestone table-land, and at no point exceeds, so far as has been roughly estimated, the limit of 5000 feet in height; it covers an extent of 100 and more miles in width; its upper ledges are clothed with excellent pasturage; and its narrow valleys shelter in their shade rich gardens and plantations, usually irrigated from wells, but occasionally traversed for some short distance by running streams. Except the date-palm, the "ithel" or larch, already described, the "markh," a large-leaved spreading tree, the wood of which is too brittle for constructive purposes, and some varieties of acacia, the plateau produces no trees of considerable size; but of aromatic herbs and bright flowers, among which the red anemone or "shekeek" is conspicuous, this region is wonderfully productive, - so much that Arab writers justly praise the sweet scent no less than the purity and coolness of its breezes. The simoon or poison wind of the low lands and deserts is here unknown; even the sirocco, when it occurs, is comparatively bearable. No signs of volcanic action or hot springs are found within this region, and the mountain strata are ordinarily horizontal; the sides of the plateaus are, however, very abrupt, often forming precipices of 200 to 300 feet in height, cut out in chalky rock. These are due to water action from torrential rains that frequently fall in spring and autumn.
Immediately at the foot of the eastern slope, which is much steeper than the western, lies a slip of desert, separating the highlands from the coast regions of Hassa and Kateef. The northerly part of the Toweyk plateau contains the great province of Sedeyr, the healthiest district in all Arabia: the western slope is occupied by the prov9nce of Woshem, running down to Kaseem. South of Sedeyr is the province of "Ared" or "The Broad;" it includes the highest and widest table-lands of Toweyk. Thence the range trends away, taking the ordinary S.S.W. direction of the alternate elevations and depressions that furrow the Arab peninsula; here, though keeping the same geographical character, it changes its name into that of "Ared, and, like a long limestone wall, stretches almost to Mecca. Parallel to it, on the south, extends the long and barren valley of Dowasir, ending in the district of Kora, Shahrem, and Soley-yel; broken ground,-the passes of which lead to Nejran and Yemen. The upland labyrinth of Aflaj, south of Ared, forms the extreme elbow of this mountain formation. Just below it, and constituting its south-eastern slope, comes Yemamah, a hot but fertile province, with numerous wells and copious irrigation. Further yet to the south rise the fantastic peaks of the Hareek mountains, granite ridges, not over 2000 feet in height, but making up to the eye for their want of elevation by their strange abruptness: they crop out like the mountains of Shomer on the north, from the first sands of the Great Desert, and form an island, as it were, of irrigation and tillage, though both comparatively scant, and scarcely able to maintain themselves against the excessive heat amid the desolation around.
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