1902 Encyclopedia > Bussorah (Basra)


BUSSORAH, BASSORA, BALSORA, or BASRA, a celebrated city of Asia, in the government of Baghdad, situated in 47° 34' E. long., 30° 32' N. lat., on the western banks of the Shatt-el-Arab. It is about 70 miles from the mouth of that noble stream, which is navigable to the city for ships of 500 tons burden after passing the bar at its mouth; this, however, they can only conveniently do at spring-tides. Bussorah is surrounded by walls, which are kept in a tolerable state of repair. They have five gates, and are at the lowest computation about seven miles in circuit. Two canals, cut from the river, surround the town on either side, and uniting beyond it on the western side, form a complete ditch to the fortifications. The houses are meanly built, partly of sun-dried and partly of burnt bricks, with flat roofs surrounded by a parapet; and the bazaars, though stocked with the richest merchandise, are miserable structures, not arched as in Baghdad and the Persian towns, but covered with mats laid on rafters of date trees, which hardly afford protection from the scorching rays of the sun. The streets are irregular, narrow, and unpaved, and the town itself is disgustingly filthy. Of the vast area within the walls, the greater proportion is occupied with gardens and plantations of palm trees, intersected by a number of little canals, cleansed twice daily by the ebb and flow of the tide, which rises here about 9 feet. The largest of these canals, which approaches the old English factory and the palace of the governor, situated about two miles from the river, is continually crowded with small vessels. The town has scarcely any public buildings that deserve notice. It has khans and coffee-houses without number, a wretched hummam (or bath), and upwards of forty mosques, of which one only is worthy of the name ; and this, with the palace of the governor, and the old English factory, which are all contiguous to one another, are the only decent buildings in the place. The old English factory, which was established at Bussorah by the East India Company, about the middle of the last century, ceased to exist with the expiration of the trading privileges of the company. The budding has now passed into private hands, and the British vice-consul, who protects our trading interests, resides at the modern village of Maghil, which has been built in a healthy position on the right bank of the river a few miles from the Turkish town. The population of Bussorah is a heterogeneous mixture of all the nations in the East, and consists of Turks, Arabs, Indians, Persians, Armenians, Jacobites, and Jews. The Arabs constitute the principal class ; and the Turks, though they are masters of the town, are almost the least numerous.

Bussorah is a great emporium of Indian commerce. Six or eight English ships arrive in the course of a year from India ; but the chief part of the traffic is carried on in Arabian bottoms; and the merchants of Muscat possess some of the finest vessels that navigate the Indian seas. From various parts of Hindustan Bussorah receives silk, muslin, linen, white and blue cloths for the clothing of the Arabians, gold and silver stuffs, various metals, sandal-wood, and indigo; pearls from Bahrein, and coffee from Mocha; shawls, fruit, and the precious metals from Persia; spices from Java; and European commodities, which are scarce and dear, from different parts. The trade with the interior is conducted by means of caravans to Aleppo and Baghdad, whence the goods are conveyed to Constantinople. The returns are made in Indian goods, bullion, pearls, dates, copper, raw silk, gall-nuts; and the horses, whieh are very strong and beautiful, are exported in large numbers by the English.
The situation of the town is unhealthy, owing to the inundations of the river, from which noxious exhalations arise; and strangers are commonly attacked by fever after a short residence. The adjoining country is fertile, produc-ing, besides rice, wheat, barley, and dates of different species, a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as apricots, apples, figs, olives, pomegranates, and grapes ; and cabbages, broccoli, lettuce, onions, pease, beans, and truffles, in vast quantities. There are whole fields of roses, which the inhabitants cultivate for the purpose of making attar. The liquorice plant also grows amidst the palm groves on the borders of the river.

The city of Bussorah was originally founded by Omar, 636 A.D., on a canal eight miles S.W. from its present site, where the town of Zobeir now stands; and its situation was so favourable for commerce that in a few years it became a large and flourishing city. The canal, however, soon became useless, and the city was abandoned. The present city was conquered by the Turks in 1668, and since that period has been the scene of many revolutions. It was taken in 1777 after a siege of eight months, by the Persians under Sadick Khan. In about a year it fell again into the hands of the Turks, who were again deprived of it by the sheikh of the Montefik Arabs. The town was in the October following recovered by Soliman Pasha, who encountered the sheikh on the banks of the Euphrates, and put him to flight; and it has since remained in the hands of the Turks.

Under the government of the Turks Bussorah has dwindled down to a mere second-rate town, the permanent population at present (1876) being certainly under 10,000. In the river there is perhaps a greater show of activity just now than in past times, as the Turks employ a considerable naval force in the Persian Gulf to support their land operations against the Arabs, and the Bussorah roads form the headquarters of the squadron, while two or three Turkish steamers also ply upon the river, and have their depots upon its bank. There are two steamers also belonging to the Tigris and Euphrates Navigation Company (besides a war steamer maintained by the British Government in virtue of a special firman), which convey merchandise and passengers between Baghdad and Bussorah; and, lastly, the vessels of the British India Steam Navigation Company visit Bussorah every week from Bombay and Bushire ; but as the trade fostered by these means is entirely one of transit, it confers little benefit on the town or its inhabi-tants. The village of Maghil, however, on the banks of the Euphrates, at the distance of three or four miles from Bussorah, where the wharves and store-house of the European companies are situated, is becoming a considerable place, and may be expected ultimately to supersede the Turkish town. The terminus of the Constantinople line of telegraph, which furnishes an alternative means of communication between England and India, is at Fao, near the mouth of the Euphrates, and at the distance of about 60 miles below Bussorah. A good deal of attention has of late years been directed to Bussorah in connection with the proposal for a railway to unite the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf, either by way of the Tigris or Euphrates valley. In no case, however, would it be desirable to establish the terminus of such a railway at Bussorah, where the climate would prove most destructive to European life. The most eligible site for the terminus would be either at Kowait on the sea-coast, 50 miles south of Bussorah, or at the Bersian town of Mohamreh, where the Kanin Biver disembogues into the Euphrates. Quite recently the Turkish Govern-ment has decided to dissociate the Bussorah district, with its dependencies, from Baghdad, and to attach it to the newly-created province of Arabia, the headquarters of the pashalic being established at El Hassa; but such an arrangement is not likely to be permanent. (H. C. B.)

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