(4) Arabia - Hejaz. The "Haram" of Mecca. Hejaz - Geology. Hejaz - Vegetation.
Physical Description of the Hejaz
The second geographical district is that of the Hejaz, lying between 20° and 21° N. lat. along the eastern shore of the Red Sea, and extending inland for a distance varying from sixty to a hundred and fifty miles. It consists of a continuation of the Shera mountain range, with a narrow sandy slip of level ground towards the sea, and a hilly plateau on the inland side, broken by bare and fantastic rocks. Its surface is, with few exception, barren; stony to the north, sandy to the east and south; what little irrigation it possesses is wholly from wells, deep sunk and brackish; the spring rains supply a few streams that soon dry up in summer. Along its length lie the great Syrian and Egyptian pilgrim-routes, mere camel tracks, of which the direction is determined by the scanty wells and a few villages. In the neighbourhood of Medinah alone, 25° N. lat., and at the station of Kholeys, a few days journey north of Mecca, is any considerable cultivation to be found, the result of springs; elsewhere all is drought and sterility.
The "Haram" of Mecca
The southernmost extremity of this region, marked off as the "Haram" or Sacred Territory, but in its physical characteristics identical with the rest, contains the town of Mecca. South-east of this tract rises the upland district called "Jebel Kora," or "Mountain of Villages," fertile and copiously watered; celebrated too for the excellence of its fruits and the salubrity of its climate; whereas the Hejaz, particularly along its western or seaward slope, has the reputation of being unhealthy and feverish. Due south of Mecca the mountains rise still higher, up to the precipitous fastnesses of Jebel Aseer, intersected by countless narrow but fertile valleys.
With Hejaz we may be also reckon, topologically speaking, the oases of Jowf and Douma, situated to the north-east, both formed by broad and abrupt depressions in the inland plateau, and surrounded by a wide-spread wilderness of rock and sand. The geological formation of this region is chiefly calcareous and Jurassic, though isolated traces of volcanic outbursts are seen near Medinah and Mecca; some also of the wells in the Hajaz-that of Zemzem, for example, at Mecca-are tepid; and one distinct eruption of lava is stated to have occurred in the neighboruhood of Medinah as recently as the middle of the 13th century.
Of plants there is an endless variety, but insufficiently known, for Arab botany has yet to be investigated. "Samh," a small mesembryanthemum, from the grain of which the Bedouins prepare a sort of porridge that serves them in lieu of bread; "Mesaa," a thorny bush that bears a subacid berry not unlike a currant in a appearance and flavour; "Nebeck," the Rhamnus lotus of botanists; many kinds of euphorbia, absinthium, and the bitter colocynth, used by the Arabs for medicine, grow wild everywhere. The tamarisk or "talh," the southern larch or "Ithel," the chestnust, the sycamore, and several other trees, the wood of which is, however, too porous and brittle for use as timber, are natives of Hejaz; so also is the wild dwarf date-palm, the almond, the pomegranate, and the "gum-arabic" tree, a graceful and delicate acacia. Fine grass, intermingled with various aromatic herbs, springs up in patches between the stones and among the sand; but the want of sufficient rainfall and the dryness of the atmosphere prevent any really profitable vegetation, except in the few oases already mentioned. Taking it as a whole, the Hejaz is, with the exception of the actual and recognized desert alone, the most hopelessly sterile district in the whole Arabian peninsula.
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