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Dancers with sabres and torches, Semobaatte near St. John d'Acre, Syria, 1750~


Egmont, Van & Heyman, John: Travels through part of Europe, Asia Minor...Translated from the Low Dutch. London, Davis & Reymers, 1759, 2 vol.



Having visited every thing worthy notice here, we again set out for St. John d’Acri ; though by a different and much shorter way, namely, along the mountains, which, in most parts, were planted with small oaks. We saw great numbers of partridges here, some of which we killed, together with a deer. In the evening we came to a village called Semobaatte, and repaired to the Sheik’s house, where we were sumptuously entertained, he being one of the richest in the whole country. After our repast he took us with him into the village, that we might have the pleasure of seeing their rejoicings at a wedding. Here we found, in a booth surrounded with vineyards, a multitude of people smoaking and drinking coffee, and attentively viewing two men dancing with naked sabres in their hands ; and it must be owned, that their adroitness and agility were very extraordinary. These were succeeded by two young men, dressed like prostitutes, and two old men in a very ridiculous garb, who attended them like merry-andrews. These youth danced with two lighted torches in their hands ; and, tho’ some of their gestures were not the most decent, they shewed they were very expert in their profession ; and the celerity of their motions, and their adroitness in brandishing their torches, were very singular. At last they came and danced before us, with their indecent gestures, hoping to procure something from us ; continually repeating what others had given them, that the spectators might be liberal in their gifts, from a motive of ambition. The music consisted wholly of drums and flutes, and without any variety in the tunes. The women, according to the custom of the country, sat on a terrase, separate from the men.












Aboukir, Syria, 1805~

Clarke, Edward Daniel: Travels in various countries of Europe, Asia and Africa. London, 1816.


The scene which ensued on board the Braakel, upon the arrival of the French prisoners, baffles every effort of description.


As soon as matters were a little adjusted, and the wounded men taken care of, among whom there were some in such terrible condition that they died upon the following day, a deputation from the prisoners waited upon the Captain, to offer him the use of a band of music every day during dinner, and requesting permission to exhibit a club-d’armes, for fencing every morning, and a comédié every evening. Never was there any thing to equal the gaiety and good-humour of these Frenchmen. All animosity was laid aside ; singing, dancing, and acting, became the order of the day ; even the wounded, when able to come upon deck, shewed some signs of the joy which animated their comrades in the thoughts of returning to France.






Ramlé (Rama), Jaffa, Syria, 1807~


Ali Bey: Travels of Ali Bey in Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and Turkey between the years 1803 and 1807. 2 volumes. London, Longman et al., 1816 (reprinted by Garnet, Reading UK 1993



I continued my journey at nine o'clock the same evening. In traversing the town I found a great many of the inhabitants, men as well as women, assembled in an open place, illuminated by a number of lights and fires, dancing and singing to the sound of instruments. This assemblage of both sexes in a Mussulman town surprised me exceedingly.













Wedding at Aleppo, Syria, 1800-1820


Barker, Edward B. B.: Syria and Egypt under the last five sultans of Turkey. London, Samuel Tinsley, 1876, 2 vol. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


A marriage at Aleppo, in those days, was a very serious and protracted affair. Several weeks of preparation were required; independent of the bride’s trousseau, the items of which were sometimes commissioned in India, there were many kinds of sweetmeats, perfumes etc. to be prepared, which could only be done at home; and some were elaborate, and required time to be got ready; for in the highest class of Aleppo society three hundred persons would certainly be invited, every class by itself. For instance, the consular corps and the first class of European residents would be invited the first day; and next, the high class of Mohammedans and landed proprietors. The third day, the merchants and tradesmen, both Mussulman and Christian. The fourth day, the shopkeepers and Jew brokers, and such people.

The marriage ceremony was always solemnized at the consulate of the respective nationalities by the Bishop and priests of the Greek or Roman Catholic Churches, as the case may have been; and the ecclesiastics would afterwards adjourn to the bridegroom’s house, where they would be feasted at a banquet, by themselves; and after having smoked one or two pipes, and partaken of coffee, they would depart; on which a signal was given for the music and dancing to begin; for before their departure, and indeed from the moment the ceremony was concluded, the big drums and fifes of the gipsy band in the street kept up an unearthly din, and nothing could be heard until that was silenced. Crowds of idlers of course blocking up the avenues to the house, and the Cawasses obliged to be at the doors to maintain order.

A week before the marriage, the bridegroom sends the bride Cashmere shawls, diamonds, pearls, and brocaded Indian stuffs. Two days before the marriage, the bride is taken to the bath, accompanied by all her young friends; and they have a lunch in the bath, composed of boiled “cubbies,” sweetmeats, and fruits; and music by women. A professional woman, called “Maäshta,” comes in the evening and braids her hair in an uneven number of braids, puts black antimony between the eyelids with a silver blunt bodkin called “makhally,” and the black is called “kuhl;” while her hands are stained with “hennay,”- a dark red colour, almost black. Thin leather leaves are cut out by a stamp in imitation of the acacia leaf, and then are laid on, over night, plastered over with the dye, made into a paste with water from a green powder, which, on being wetted, becomes a dark red. When the leather leaves and bandages are taken off in the morning , the parts of the hands which have not come in contact with the dye remain white, and a pretty impression of the leaf is printed on the hand. It was the fashion then to cut the hair straight across the forehead, just as has been done lately in England.

The evening before the marriage day, at about ten o’clock, the female relations of the bride dress her very simply in Indian muslin called “Aghabanee,” empbroidered with vegetable silk; and then she is muffled up, and veiled with a large white veil called “Eezar;” and when they hear the music which announces the arrival of the bridegroom’s party, they place her in a corner of the room, with a rose pink veil, spangled with gold and tinsel leaf, called “Chak-chak,” on her head, turning her face to the wall; and she is always found sobbing when the party arrives, and her young companions, seated around her, try to enliven and console her. [The daughter of Nahoom Hassoun, Mr. Barker’s dragoman, came, sobbing, to kiss her father’s hand before leaving, as is usual; and he said to her, “My dear child, why should you cry? If you so wish it, we will give up this marriage, which is distasteful to you. What say you to that? Shall we, or shall we not? It all depends on you.” She replied, “No, papa; I will cry, and go.”]

The female friends of the bridegroom, who are come to take her, do not take off their veils entirely, but sit down for a short time, and have refreshments, until the bride can be perduaded to leave, which is generally a little after midnight. While the bride is sobbing, a professional hired woman comes and sings a ballad, in which the duties of a submissive daughter-in-law are extolled and inculcated, and some other women join her, and give out a very extraordinary ringing and piercing sound, or cry, by thrilling the tongue with great rapidity against the roof of the mouth at the same time that a piercing cry is emitted: the sound resembles “Lee-lee, lee-lee,” and can be heard at a great distance. The hand is placed before the mouth, to hide the contortions of the muscles of the face, which are anything but pretty.

The procession now begins. First go the musicians and the torch-bearers; then the friends and relations of the bridegroom, each carrying a lighted taper in his or her hand; then the bride, supported on each side by two intimate female friends or relations, but her brothers walk behind her. She makes two steps in advance, and one back; so that a long time elapses before she reaches the bridegroom’s house, about two or three o’clock in the morning. On approaching the house, the female servants sprinkle rose and orange flower water, mixed with musk, on the party arriving, from two silver filigree bottles called “Kom-kom,” which are in every respectable house for such occasions; and also receive it - that is, the procession - with incense burning. The incense pan, called ‘Mabkhara,” is also of silver, covered with filigree silver made in India.

On their arrival, the bride and her party of ladies are introduced into a room apart, where they all go to sleep on low divans, till eight o’clock in the morning, when breakfast is brought in on a large round metal tray, with a variety of cakes and coffee. At eleven o’clock the Bishop and priests come, drink sherbets and coffee, and smoke pipes; and then the bridegroom is no longer to be found, and a great search is made for him. When at last he is discovered hiding, and brought out, a combat arises between the married and unmarried young men, each party pulling him to their side, bewailing his fate. This dispute settled in favour of the former, they carry off their prize, and dress him in another room in new clothes: a cashmere shawl on his head, another round his waist, and a loose cloth cloak over all; and the marriage ceremony begins.

In Mohammedan circles the same ceremonies are gone through, with this difference, that the bride and ladies are never seen at all, and the marriage rite is performed by the writing of a contract by the Mollah, or priest; and it is on that occasion only, when the bridegroom is introduced to see his bride, and passes through the courtyard, which is always full of women, who immediately cover their heads with a handkerchief, - then, but at no other time, can men be present when women are assembled.

After the ceremony is over, and the priests have dined, and that sumptuously, smoked and drank, coffee is handed round, - which is a hint that they are to go; and then the bride is taken by her own relations into a room, where she is dressed in a fine bridal dress, with jewels, and the pink gauze veil is put over her face and head. The bridegroom is then permitted to take off the veil with the point of a sword, when he sees her for the first time in his life; and it sometimes happens that he makes a wry face, and then his mother and aunt come round him, and console him by extolling the virtues of the bride, and telling him that her face is swollen by crying, and that she is worried and fatigued by so much ceremony for three days, and that it will be all right. Every bride has a large long chest, generally of carved oak, such as used to be in old mansions in England.

The music and dancing is kept up till midnight; the bride is placed standing, covered with the pink rose veil, in the corner of the room on the divan; and whenever any guest comes in, she is led by the hand of a newly married lady to kiss the hand of the new comer, walking on pattens a foot high, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and ornaments of silver hanging from them; and the straps are sometimes embroidered with pearls, and gold on velvet where the strap passes over the instep, so that she could not steady herself if she were not supported by some one.

It was always the custom at weddings for the gentlemen to be helped first. We remember having been invited to the marriage of a Christian gentleman called “Azrak” (Blue), when the uncle of the bridegroom objected that the ladies should be helped before the gentlemen, saying, “It has always been the custom in our country that the gentlemen be helped first.” We perceived that the ladies blushed as well as the bride. Generally, however, European customs are prevailing, and the marriages nowadays are sometimes less ceremonious, and are called “Frank marriages.”

The seventh day after the marriage, called “S’bou,” the relations of the bride and other friends, come to visit her; and then the festivities begin all over again. Wine is passed round, with half an apple, pared, stuck on the edge of the glass tumbler; sweetmeats, refreshments, dinners, suppers; so that the feasting would not be over till the fourteenth day, and sometimes a month, - as occurred at Latakia in 1847, when the Governor, a rich landed proprietor, married his son to the daughter of a Pacha of Damascus.









Sword dances at Aleppo, Syria, 1820


Barker, Edward B. B.: Syria and Egypt under the last five sultans of Turkey. London, Samuel Tinsley, 1876, 2 vol. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


In summer time, when the marriages generally take place, the courtyards are illuminated at night with different coloured lamps, and nightingales in cages are hired and placed among the shrubs and trees, which sing at intervals when the music ceases. The dazzling diamonds of the ladies, and the various colours of their dresses, the lights, the singing of the birds, and the trickling of the water falling on the marble basins, make one fancy it to be Fairyland.

The only drawback to this illusion is the vociferations of the Arab musicians, the most noted of whom, Hanna Aächek-Bawsh, puts his right hand on his ear, and leaning his head on that side, sings for hours, at the top of his voice, Arabic poetical pieces from “Antar” and other poems; for the Arab races are eminently poetical. The “Mow-wall” is a recital in song of the best poets, and to those who understand it must be very exciting and agreeable; but to Europeans, who do not understand a word, it is a fearful deafening uproar.

Besides the usual dance, there is sometimes a sword dance, both by men and women, which is very graceful. The sword is held by the blade with a handkerchief wrapped round it. And during the whole time sweetmeats and refreshments are passed round by the attendants, consisting of sherbets composed of syrup of roses, syrup of violets, syrup of cherries, orgeat, lemonade, liqueurs, sugar plums, rahetlahalkoom, etc.; and following them come all sorts of Oriental cakes, differing from those in Europe.

The bride keeps the pink veil on for seven days, which is worn over the head, and not over the face. Besides the marriage feasts, the pastimes and amusements consist of shooting, coursing, and garden parties; these last are peculiarly favoured by the climate, which is fine for whole months during the summer and autumn. The Turks are fond of playing the “Jereed,” which is a game of throwing sticks at one another on horseback, principally to exercise and show off their horses. The sport of shooting is confined to partridge during July and August, and rarely half September, when the birds become too wild. Woodcocks afford good sport in the winter, and quails in the spring and autumn; they are plentiful for a month at a time, during the “passage.” Doves arrive in innumerable “flights” in May, and give excellent practice from their great rapidity of motion. Coursing hares and gazelles takes place during the winter, when the rains soften the hard ground, and the gazelle’s pointed hoofs sink into the soft soil, and the greyhounds, which are of the Persian breeds, then have an advantage over them.

The confinement by being shut up in dull houses walled in all round induces a longing for the fresh air of the gardens, and the whole population, both Mohammedan, Christian, and Israelite, flock to them daily. Picnics are much in vogue, and large parties assemble by invitation, where music (but no dancing), story-telling, smoking, coffee and refreshments are the methods resorted to for killing time, which generally hangs heavy on the hands of Orientals.








The pasha dances a quadrille in Aleppo, Syria, 1836


Barker, Edward B. B.: Syria and Egypt under the last five sultans of Turkey. London, Samuel Tinsley, 1876, 2 vol. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


In the spring of the following year, His Highness was desirous of consolidating his rule by forming a matrimonial connexion between his nephew Ismaeel Bey and one of the leading families in Aleppo, and engaged the daughter of Shereef Bey, grandson of Jellal il Deen Pacha. All his staff officers from every part of Syria were invited, and it was evident that an effort was made to give the marriage all the éclat and splendour possible. The festivities lasted full a week. The castle was illuminated, and fireworks and guns fired at intervals during the evenings. The palace chosen for the receptions was just under the castle, because near the bride’s father’s house. We had the honour of an invitation, and the Sardinian Concul also, but no other European gentlemen. Mr. Barker was at Souedeeyah at the time.

His Highness sat at the head of the dinner table, and the guests numbered thirty general officers. Bordeaux claret of the best quality (“the Pacha’s wine”), drunk in tumblers, was almost the only wine at table, and no one was allowed to leave any in his glass. We were told to ask for other wines if we preferred them, but the Pacha drank no other. The dishes were some Oriental and some by His Highness’s French chef de cuisine Benoit and confectioners. Many toasts and speeches enlivened the party, and from time to time military bands played European airs. After dinner His Highness was told that two English ladies, accompanied by their husbands, who were known to him, had come to see the fireworks on the castle; he went out immediately, and brought one on each arm. After coffee and refreshments, he begged the ladies and gentlemen to dance a quadrille, which they consented to do; but as one of the gentlemen said he had never danced in his life, the Pacha volunteered to dance himself; and so he did, and went through the figures, with some prompting and direction, very creditably, though he had never before danced. The ladies figured in a waltz and then went away to see the fireworks.









The princess of Persia watches a quadrille and waltz at Aleppo, Syria, 1843


Barker, Edward B. B.: Syria and Egypt under the last five sultans of Turkey. London, Samuel Tinsley, 1876, 2 vol. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


In the spring of 1843, two Persian princes, Riza Koolee Mirza khan and Timour Mirza Khan, came to Aleppo, to accompany, on her way to Mecca, their aunt, the Princess Sultana, daughter of the late Shah of Persia, Futteh Ali Shah. They were pensioners of the British Government of India, had been in England, and generally resided at Bagdad.


Barker, p. 2/254

The princess wished much to see an European quadrille and waltz, which, coming from Persia, she had never seen; and her wish was gratified. The princess was extremely affable, pretty, and well instructed in Persian lore, writing poetry with the greatest facility; about twenty-one years of age. Her nephews were much older than she was, and the wife of the eldest was also much older than the princess.








A figurine of a dervish at Betia, near Latakia, Syria, 1844-1846


Barker, Edward B. B.: Syria and Egypt under the last five sultans of Turkey. London, Samuel Tinsley, 1876, 2 vol. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


In the spring he returned to Souedeeyah, and was now entirely absorbed by his gardening occupations; in the summer his family joined him, and went up to Betias, where they usually spent the summer. He had the figure of a Dervish made in Paris, which was placed on the jet of water, and which kept turning round exactly as the Dervishes do. The chief of all the Dervishes of Aleppo, commonly called “The Dada,” came to Betias on a visit to Mr. Barker, and was delighted at the sight of this figure, which was dressed in cloth, and took pains in showing Mr. Barker how the arms should be placed, and other particulars; the fame of the “extraordinary Dervish” being thus spread far and near, people came from afar to see it, and for many years it turned round on the jet during the summer months. The Dada’s name was Abd il Ghunnee Effendee.










Quadrilles on board a British ship moored at Aleppo, Syria, 1847


Barker, Edward B. B.: Syria and Egypt under the last five sultans of Turkey. London, Samuel Tinsley, 1876, 2 vol. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.


In May 1847 Her Majesty’s Consul-General Colonel Rose (now Lord Strathnairn) arrived in the brig-of-war Harlequin, Captain Moore, and after visiting Souedeeyah and Daphne, went on to Aleppo accompanied by Captain Moore. On the 24th, Her Majesty’s birthday, Mr. Barker, with his family, and Dr. and Mrs. Yates, went on board, and were received with much urbanity by the First Lieutenant, Mr. Luckraft, and the other officers, Hudson, Greathead, Campbell, etc., and the sailors hailed them, as they came on board, with “The flag that’s braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze,” sung by all in chorus. The ladies danced quadrilles, and some of the seamen acted harlequin and clown in grotesque dresses, and sang comic songs with a great deal of humour and effect. The day was passed in patriotic sentiment and in friendly intercourse. Mr. Barker and his party had an opportunity, when the grog was served on deck, of seeing the “Boy Jones,” who happened to be on board, - and a very sulky boy he looked.




Convent of Sidonaiia, Syria, 1825


Madox, John: Excursions in the Holy Land, Egypt, Nubia, Syria, &c. London, Richard Bentley, 1934, 2 volumes. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.



Passing the convent of Bardola, we arrived in an hour and a half at that of Sidonaiia. A message was delivered to me that a Turk, a sheik, had arrived from Damascus, and desired to pay me a visit, or would be glad to see me in the Padrone’s room below. I preferred going to him, and, being ushered in in due form, all rising on my entrance, I found fourteen or fifteen persons in the room, including the sheik, two men who appeared to be attendants, and a servant dressed as an Arab. I was seated at the top of the room, and, after smoking and drinking with them for an hour, for the Turk drank plentifully of the wine, a fellow began to play upon a pipe. The company consisted partly of the working people of the village, and they seemed to be in fear of the Turks, who only come as spies, and to extort money from them. They do not sleep in the convent without an order from the Patriarch of Damascus. The sheik ordered music, and two or three of the party got up and danced, as they called it, whilst we continued smoking and singing.





Damascus, Syria, 07/1825


Carne, John: Letters from the East... London, Henry Colburn, 1826, 2 volumes.



Returning to our cottage, by the river side, we found the sheep ready to be served up, cooked in half a dozen different ways, and accompanied by some very good Cyprus wine. The table was spread in the court, and the air was now delightfully cool. The twilight at this season of the year (June) was longer than it is often thought to be in eastern climates, affording us excellent light for nearly three quarters of an hour. Some of our party danced in high glee to a guitar, played by one of the natives, till the lateness of the hour induced us to retire to our rude couch.







Arab dance in Assanieen, near Damascus, Syria, 13/12/1825~


Fuller, John: Narrative of a tour through some parts of the Turkish Empire. London, John Murray, 1830.


It was dark when we arrived at Assanieen, a little village consisting of a few straggling cottages on the side of a steep hill near the banks of the Barrady. We were lodged in a house rather larger than the rest, but consisting of one apartment only, which was to serve both for our horses and ourselves. In one corner was a large chimney, and in front of it the earthen floor was raised about two feet above the level of the other part of the room. Here we spread our mats; and with some cold provisions brought from Damascus, some rice which the cottagers boiled for us, and a bowl of punch, we contrived to pass a very comfortable evening. After supper some of our party amused themselves with singing Arabic songs, to the infinite delight of the villagers, who crowded in to listen. The Frenchmen of the party, too, occasionally gave us a national air, and the wild mountains of Syria echoed to the notes of Henri Quatre and the Marseillois Hymn. An Arab dance concluded the evening's amusements; after which we lay down to sleep, our dumb companions occupying the lower stage of the apartment, each with a sais or groom reposing by his side.




Sabre dance in Antioch, Syria, 1825~


Fuller, John: Narrative of a tour through some parts of the Turkish Empire. London, John Murray, 1830.


During the greater part of the next day the rain kept me in-doors; and when evening came I was glad to seek for amusement in a visit to the wedding party. I found a large assembly, chiefly composed of the Christian inhabitants of the town, but intermixed with a few of the neighbouring Ensyrian peasants. In the middle of the room was an emaciated old man with grey hair and beard, whom I soon discovered to be the family buffoon. The company seemed much amused by his odd sayings and grotesque attitudes; but the most effective part of his wit appeared to consist in the enormous quantity of aqua vitae which he drank, and at every draught there was a general peal of laughter. Nor did the other guests appear less disposed to imitate than to applaud old Simone, as a small glass was handed round at least every quarter of an hour, and I observed very few who ever allowed it to pass. The Christians in the north of Syria are extremely addicted to aqua vitae, partly from taste and partly because their Mahometan neighbours are confined to water only. Drinking they therefore esteem a distinctive mark of their religion, and their zeal and orthodoxy are gauged by the quantity of strong liquors which they are able to swallow.

The other amusements of the evening were singing and dancing, in which several of the company took a part. The most favourite vocal performer was a young Jew from Aleppo, whose appearance was greeted with general acclamation. He had a very fine voice, and was an adept in the art of singing after the Eastern fashion. The applause which his shrill and nasal tones excited was quite enthusiastic, and I never saw so great an effect produced by the performances of Braham or Catalani. The delight of the audience was expressed by every look and gesture; till one by one almost all rose from their seats, stamping their feet and clapping their hands in time; while the youth placing the hollow of his hand behind his ear, poured fourth his harsh notes with all the strength of his lungs.

In the intervals of the singing, dancing was introduced, an exercise of which the inhabitants of Upper Syria are very fond, and in which they excel. Their dances are generally executed by one or two persons only; and some of them (the sabre dance especially, a sort of mock single combat derived probably from the ancient Pyrrhic) are spirited and picturesque. The performances on this occasion, however, were chiefly in that peculiar style which is prevalent throughout the East; and as the evening advanced and the aqua vitae circulated, it was highly diverting to see even “grave and reverend seniors” imitating the attitudes of Egyptian Almehs. The Christians of Antioch it appears do not think that so natural an exercise as dancing can be unbecoming at any age.

During the time that these festivities were going on among the men, the ladies, if we might judge from the frequent cry of joy which proceeded from their apartment, were amusing themselves equally well. About an hour after midnight the party broke up, having passed the evening with the greatest harmony, and without riot or excess. They seemed much pleased by the presence of the stranger-guest, and as a mark of their attention I was escorted to my own lodgings by several of the young men preceded by a drum, a pipe, and a mandoline.



Europeans on the seashore of Latakia, Syria, 1825~


Fuller, John: Narrative of a tour through some parts of the Turkish Empire. London, John Murray, 1830.


On my arrival I found that there was not any vessel likely to sail for Cyprus in less than a fortnight or three weeks; so that I was obliged again to domiciliate myself in the house of Moossy Elias, which, notwithstanding the great civility and attention of my host and his family, was rather a dull abode. I found some resource, however, during this tedious detention, in the society of M. Lanusse the French consul, a very sensible and friendly man. He was now (as the principal Frank inhabitants are accustomed to do in the heats of summer), residing under tents on the seashore, at a few miles from the town, and Ι frequently visited his encampment. The French carry with them, wherever they go, their characteristic fondness for gaiety and amusement; and on the evenings of the jours de fete, when the great heat of the day had declined, M. Lanusse and his family assembled round them their friends from the town, and a number of the neighbouring peasants; a supper, consisting of a variety of rural fare, was spread in the tents, the red Cyprus wine circulated freely, and the greater part of the night was passed in singing, in rustic sports, and in dancing by moonlight on the sands.






The evening of a typical Turk in Antioch, Syria, 1842-1850


Neale, Frederick Arthur: Eight years in Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor, from 1842 to 1850, in 2 volumes. London, Colburn, 1851. Reprinted by Elibron Classics, 2002..



At about two P.M. the Effendi is again visible. He then occupies his time in playing drafts, or reading a Turkish newspaper. At four, he goes once more to the mosque, and thence proceeds to the secluded garden on the banks of the Orontes. Here several other Effendis are sure to meet him, for it is their usual evening rendezvous. Carpets are spread; baskets of cucumbers and bottles of spirit produced; and they drink brandy, and nibble cucumbers, till nigh upon sundown. Sometimes cachouks, or dancing boys, dressed up in gaudy tinsel-work, and musicians, are introduced, for the entertainment of the party. By nightfall, every individual has finished his two - some, more - bottles of strong aqua vitæ, and they return homewards, and dine - and dine heartily. Coffee is then introduced, but nothing stronger - as they never drink spirit or wine after their evening meals. The nine o’clock summons to prayer, resounds from the minaret, and nine minutes after that, the Effendi is fast asleep, and nothing under an earthquake would bring him forth from the harem again, till he rises simultaneously with the sun next day.






Circle dancing by the Christians of Suedia, Syria, 1842-1850


Neale, Frederick Arthur: Eight years in Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor, from 1842 to 1850, in 2 volumes. London, Colburn, 1851. Reprinted by Elibron Classics, 2002..



Such is the every-day life of the peasant at Suedia - Christian and Fellah, with very little variation. The Christians, who are all of the Greek persuasion, observe rigidly their fast days and feast days; and on Easter Mondays, according to their calendar, the young men, or shebs, collect on the lawn before the house of Muxi Elias Abdilmessiah, the chief of the native residents, and the only native gentleman in all Syria in his principles and conduct. Mr. Elias witnesses the feats of strength gone through by these active youths, and awards gifts and prizes to the greatest adepts in the art of wrestling. Meanwhile all the pretty village girls, gaily dressed with wreaths of flowers on their head, assemble opposite to his house, and sing and dance in circles for hours. Hadji Euphdokia, the wife of Mr. Elias, bestows on them sweetmeats and trifling presents. The Europeans residing at Suedia usually assemble at Mr. Elias’s on this occasion, and spend the whole day in his hospitable mansion.




Arabic and European dancing at Aleppo, Syria, 1842-1850


Neale, Frederick Arthur: Eight years in Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor, from 1842 to 1850, in 2 volumes. London, Colburn, 1851. Reprinted by Elibron Classics, 2002..


The soi-disant Europeans are a very gay set, and exceedingly fond of garden parties in fine weather, and réunions and balls in the winter. The garden-parties, or pic-nics, commence a little after sunrise, when the guests and those who give the invitations, assemble at some fixed rendezvous in one of the many public gardens close to Kittab. All kinds of baskets are brought upon donkeys. Some contain the breakfast, others, the uncooked materials for dinner; one the wine; another fruit or sweetmeats; and from a third, the form and purpose of which sadly puzzles a stranger, some young married lady carefully produces a little red baby, wrapped up in swaddling clothes. Coffee is made on the spot; and the operations of the day commence by an onslaught on the breakfast. Much true enjoyment and unalloyed happiness reign at that hour, and right merry and clear is the laugh of many a young Aleppine damsel. When all have done eating, everybody begins to smoke - ladies and all. These latter confine themselves to the narghileh; the men have pipes and cigars. When coffee is introduced, the young mothers have their infants brought to them; and the numerous donkeys, who have till now been waiting patiently, begin to bray discordantly till they obtain their breakfast.


The Arabic music, which is always in attendance, now strikes up. There is generally a wretched attempt, by some melancholy lady, at executing some doleful national air, which is applauded violently. Then some of the men bawl out an impassioned love story, and about mid-day dancing commences. Arabic dancing is a very different affair from what is generally expressed by that term. One might go through its measures and figures on the hottest day in the Torrid Zone, and be none the worse for the exercise, so solemn, so sedate, and so dignified are its movements.


About three P.M. dinner is served, and ample justice done to it by all parties. Gentlemen, who have taken guns with them, then set up a mark, and fire at it valiantly, till a very wrathful old Turk who is at the wrong side of the garden, miraculously escapes being shot through the head, on which a fierce aletercation ensues, and the offenders decamp. In this way the pleasures of the day usually terminate. When they are safe at home, the Aleppine gentlemen propose bastinadoing the Turk who had interrupted their “kaif” or pleasuring, but the women interfere, and the affair is suffered to drop.


When I was at Aleppo, Mr. Werry gave some very pleasant evening-parties in his commodious new house at Kittab. The old ladies, half Aleppine, half Frank, sat in a row, smoking narghilehs, and speculating on matches for their unmarried daughters. The young ones danced and flirted. Even the polka was got up and very well executed. Then we had Arabian music and Arabian songs, and a little Arabian dancing; and English, French, and Italian songs; quadrilles and waltzes. After this, trays of most inviting refreshments were served round with wines and liqueurs, and were sipped by Aleppine ladies, and approved of and sipped again. After a pleasant evening, all parted, well pleased with their entertainment, and with each other.






Women entertaining a harem in Damascus, Syria, 1860


Harvey of Ickwell-Bury, Mrs.: Our cruise in the Claymore, with a visit to Damascus and the Lebanon. London, Chapman & Hall, 1861. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.



The khan had been taken possession of for the day by the Harem of the Pasha and some of the principal Moslem ladies, for an exhibition of dancing-girls; of course therefore the gates were closed and guarded. The prohibition however did not extend to my sister and myself; but how to get through the crowd alone? - for it was evident, from the noise and confusion within, that a considerable number of women were assembled. Fortunately it was remembered that Hassein was only fourteen, very small for his age, and, better still, was black. He grinned with delight, and readily undertook to take us in charge; and very glad we were to have him, for no sooner was the door passed than we were surrounded by two or three hundred women, whose eager curiosity, though by no means rude, would have been rather embarrassing had we been alone. Hassein and the Christian woman to whom the garden belonged, drove them off with very little ceremony. Those who pressed round us appeared to be the slaves and lower class of women; the ladies had better manners, and sat smoking on their divans; they begged we would wait and see the dancing; this however we were unable then to do, but promised to remain on our return. Being detained a few minutes at the outer gate, while the key was sent for, we were quite shocked to see how the black door-keeper drove the women about like a flock of sheep, threatening with his stick those who pressed too near the door; and from the manner in which they shrank back, there could be no doubt that they had felt the weight of his blows.


On returning home in the afternoon, we again committed ourselves to Hassein’s care before encountering the crowd of ladies in the garden. The festivities were now at their height: there was smoking, laughing, tomtom-playing, and even fighting. On the platform the dancing-girls were performing; - girls they can scarcely be called, for they were old women, looking at least sixty, though probably not more than half that age. To make amends, they were very gaily dressed, in yellow petticoats, blue and red jackets, and full trousers of spangled muslin, with head-dresses of the usual handkerchief arranged with natural flowers. Their arms were covered with bracelets; their ears, pierced in many places, were hung with jewels; and to add to their attractions they had nose-rings, or rather little studs fastened into the nose on either side. Their eyebrows, shaved off, were replaced by one thick black line drawn completely across the forehead; and their hair, cut square to the face, hung down straight on each side of their cheeks.


We did not think their dancing more charming than their appearance. It consisted chiefly in movements of the arms, which they waved slowly about, and in undulations of the body accompanied by constant shuffling of the feet. Their efforts nevertheless gave universal satisfaction, judging by the applause that ensued after each dance; and we heard afterwards that they were very celebrated in their way. These dancing-people are a class quite apart; they intermarry among themselves, and are in general rather looked down upon.


The orchestra consisted of two tomtoms and a sort of fiddle, making most discordant music. Our appearance excited as much curiosity as it did in the morning; and as he looked at the hundreds of faces around us, we thought we had never seen so much ugliness before. Those who go to the East with the idea of finding great beauty among the women, will be sadly disappointed, for the sort of beauty which finds favour in Oriental eyes is generally quite opposed to European ideas: still, however, Circassians and Georgians of unquestionable loveliness may sometimes be seen. On the present occasion there could not be two opinions as to the frightfulness of the features before us; every description of ugly nose and mouth was there; and even the freshness of youth was lost by the streak of black supplying the place of eyebrows, and the unsparing use of red and white paint. The only handsome woman was a black slave, whose tall and slight figure had the grace so often found among the Nubians. To judge from a fight we saw going on, the older women seemed very tyrannical to the younger: an old fury had seized a girl of sixteen or seventeen, and was striking at her quite with savage violence, shrieking at the same time with all the force of her lungs.





Bedwins at the plain of Abilin, near Acra, Syria, 1860~

Farley, J. Lewis: Egypt, Cyprus and Asiatic Turkey. London, Trübner, 1878.

I have seldom beheld a more animated or picturesque scene than that which presented itslef as we suddenly halted on the hill overlooking the village of Abilîn. The dark tents of the Hawâras dotted the hill sides, and stretched far away into the plain beyond. Crowds of handsome, though rather wild-looking men  - some reclining under the tents, others sauntering up and down, or placidly smoking their chibouks ; while, apart, on a rich Persian carpet, sat Salihl-Aga, chief of the tribe, surrounded by his principal officers, numerous secretaries, with silver ink-holders stuck like daggers in their scarfs, and several distinguished-looking Arabs, who, I subsequently learned, were relatives and guests.


After breakfast, native musicians and dancers – the latter being dressed as women - appeared upon the scene. The performance, although novel and graceful, was rather sensuous, and I was not sorry when Salihl-Aga gave the signal to mount our horses, and proceed to the more stirring business of the day.




Couple dance by two ladies, Aleppo, Syria, 10/06/1862


Taylor, Bayard: The lands of the Saracen. Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily, and Spain. 1863.



At a ball given by Mr. Very, the English Consul, which we attended, all the Christian beauties of Aleppo were present. There was a fine display of diamonds, many of the ladies wearing several thousand dollars' worth on their heads. The peculiar etiquette of the place was again illustrated on this occasion. The custom is, that the music must be heard for at least one hour before the guests come. The hour appointed was eight, but when we went there, at nine, nobody had arrived. As it was generally supposed that the ball was given on our account, several of the families had servants in the neighborhood to watch our arrival; and, accordingly, we had not been there five minutes before the guests crowded through the door in large numbers.


When the first dance (an Arab dance, performed by two ladies at a time) was proposed, the wives of the French and Spanish Consuls were first led, or rather dragged, out. When a lady is asked to dance, she invariably refuses. She is asked a second and a third time; and if the gentleman does not solicit most earnestly, and use some gentle force in getting her upon the floor, she never forgives him.