THE CITY OF MOSUL.
” TTE that bath once drunk of the Tigris returneth yet
again until he cornpleteth seven times.” So runs the Arab saying, and he that wrote it was a wise man. There is that magic in its waters to draw a man back again and again to its willow-clad copses where the francolin lies close in the brown cover, and the wild-boar feeds. And of all its children who lie at its breast Mosul holds high rank, descended from that exceeding great city Nineveh, which once lay in its ancient state across the river. Mosul, known as Mespila when the Greeks passed through, is a walled town with gates lying in the plains of Aram Naharaim. Therein to-day shall a man find Jew, Christian, and Moslem, perhaps half a hundred thousand, living and trading at peace with one another; the Arab everywhere, and many Turks of the ruling race, the wretched Armenian, and perhaps a wild Kurd strayed from his native hills, or the devil-respecting Yezidi. A city as of mediaeval Europe with cobble-paved streets barely illumined by a rare oil lamp pendent from the walls ; its houses ashlared with marble and built with overhanging eaves and latticed casements. Yet windows on an outer wall are scarce in an Eastern town, for the folk are jealous of their womeukind, and hence they build blind walls without, and their rooms look upon a centre courtyard. Of nights the streets are patrolled by the Turkish watch, nor will any man of high degree walk these ways after twilight unless heralded by a linkman carrying a lantern. And small wonder, for these ill-paved gutters are full of noisome holes, hazardous for the unwary, and, moreover, in times of rain the midst of them streams headlong with a torrent of foul water on its way to the river. The hucksters Bit in their arched cellar-like niches, as in every Eastern market, with the same socks of .rainbow hue, red shoes, and gaudy trinkets to sell, and the noonday heat is screened from them by festoons of rags and sacking that dangle in tattered stalactites from overhead ties. A man may barely ride without jostling his fellow past these apothecaries. through the staccato clangour of the coppersmiths’ quarter where they are still fashioning the ear-pierced bowls of their .Assyrian forbears. From these the way leads through the reek of the tanners’ yards, near where the hungry dogs congregate, and of a cold morning a score of puppies will cower here, clustered in a shallow pit for very warmth, finishing their shivering sleep. Beyond, the street leads to the Tigris.
A large river, its bed the width of the Thames at Pang- bourne, flows sluggishly by in a brown stream, with swirling eddies bubbling up, just as it was portrayed on the sculptures of the palace walls of Sennacherib. In summer the water abates and sinks low; but in the spring, after the winter freshets from the hills, it rises in a surging tawny flood and spreads almost to the ramparts of Nineveh, a mile away. Then the watchers slack off the moorings of the creaking pontoon bridge, which swings down on the tide, and travellers must needs cross by barge; which those having naught to do may watch at ease from the Blue Posts’ Tavern, which is awash by the toll-booth. On the other side the ferries toil up, laboriously towing and hugging the far bank, until they strike the stream, and then the lumbering boat is swept down and athwart the current until it touches the bay staith. The little wanton boys swim on bladders to and fro, as it has been from ancient days, and those that essay without such help splash over-handed and make shift fairly thus.
Beyond the river lies the long fell of Kouyunjik, with its sister Nebi Yunus, the southern mound. This is all that remains of the King’s houses, a ruin for the owls and the little howling jackals that yelp in the river-scrub; two mounds of earth that rise fifty feet out of the plain amid the plough- lands. Kouyunjik, the largest mound of ancient Nineveh, is three parts of a mile in its greatest length, and is washed on one side by the river Khosr, a little stream that floods rapidly in spate, and dwindles to dry earth in the summer drought. Nebi Yunus, the mound where, as folks tell, Jonah lies, is inhabited by a handful of house-dwellers, who have buried their dead thereon, and its graceful minaret stands silhouetted against the sky in all its green bravery. The ancient city walls, of which these two mounds form a little part, are built of Bun-dried brick above courses of limestone blocks, as Xenophon relates, and mark the precincts of the city, such that a swift horse may encircle them in an hour. But of all
the dwellings of the people that repented no trace remains, save the undulations of the soil beneath the corn, which show where of old they joined house to house.
Until the great heat drives the birds away the Khosr River is the haunt of many wildfowl. The pied kingfisher hovers above its sedges and makes its pounce on unwary minnows; the oyster-catcher utters its cry and darts from bank to bank; and the little wader-birds paddle in its shallows. Blue and green bee-eaters flit round the great mound, and King Solomon’s hoopoe holds court in the ruins. Golden plover, and more rarely peewits, feed in the fields with pigeons and partridges. If the winter has been hard, a stray gull or cormorant flies in ; the curlew whistle on the flats ; coot, snipe, and all kinds of duck may be flushed from the reeds, and even the great white heron found on the upper reaches. The storks and swallows leave for the North during the spring. Of other birds, buzzards, ravens, rooks, hawks, magpies, owls, and larks are everywhere, and in summer and early autumn large flocks of sandgrouse fly whistling overhead. In the winter come rarely the robins, chaffinches, and perhaps the redstart and grey (or green) wagtail, the pied wagtail being more common. The cuckoo may sometimes be heard on the Persian frontier. But four-footed game is rare. The Arab with a greyhound will course hares in the young wheat, and, if snow falls in the winter, flocks of gazelle will be driven down inside the very ramparts of Nineveh by the cold. But the lion and the wild ass that the Assyrian Kings hunted and slew are not to be found now in many days’ long marches.
After the Tigris flood comes the spring, which is as an English summer day. The earth puts on a Maying dress of green wheat and grass, yellow mustard shot with scarlet anemones and poppies, and little blue flowers luxuriant over Jamshyd’s courts. On the ancient mound a little Arab goatherd tends his flocks that browse on the slopes, and the women come down to the stepping-stones at the Khosr ford to draw the daily water. From the Tigris bridge comes the muffled clatter of the washerwomen beating, incessantly beating, the sodden linen from early twilight. But with the hot blasts of summer the flowers fade and the grass withers, and the sun-glare beats down on yellow mounds, yellow walls, and yellow plain all a-shimmer in the heat-mist. There is barely enough water left in the Khosr to feed the little runnels for the fields of °area, those broad stretches of green stalks with yellow flowers, pale as evening primroses ; and as these put forth their pods, the river fails and leaves its course naked and seamed with dry cracks. But the fruit-stalls in the town are a glory of colour, for the melons have come in, great ovoid armfuls, olive streaked with emerald; nor is the trader content to display this only, but must needs slice them crosswise and leave the pink-and-white pulp, blackzfreckled with seeds, to show amid the mass. As the sun goes down over towards Tell Afar, and the moon comes up in the purple of the earth shadow to the south of the Topsy-Turvy Mountains which lie on the circle of the earth, the burghers of the city come forth from their retreats. The women spread out the coverlets on the housetops for the night, and the little porous drinking-pots stand four or five in a row on the roof- wall to cooL The water-man goes jingling down the street with the great half-empty skins swagging and clucking on his horse’s back. From the great green and gold minaret the crier has come forth to remind the Faithful with his sonorous
recitative Seven times, Ya Salam!
Source: THE CITY OF MOSUL