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The Dominican Fathers
 
Father Lagrange of the Ecole d'Etudes Bibliques

Account of the trips taken by the Dominican Fathers of the French Ecole d'Etudes Bibliques (School of Biblical Studies) in Jerusalem on their way to the Nabataean sites of Petra or of Medain Saleh, or after WWI in Transjordan generally.

Collected and translated by Dr Geraldine Chatelard, Institut français du Proche-Orient, Amman

References:
RB = Revue Biblique (the scientific organ of the Ecole d'Etudes Bibliques, still published today) Mission I and Mission II = refer to two volumes of Mission archéologiques en Arabie (Archaeological Missions in Arabia), undertaken in the spring on 1907, 1909 and 1910. Republished in Cairo in 1997 by IFAO (French Institute of Oriental Studies)

 
Spring 1907
[The Darb el-Hajj] is a very well-marked caravan road also offering, from time to time, some reference points. They are the qalaah, in the old days stores as much as strongholds, established more or less regularly from stage to stage across the vast solitude. In the days of the pilgrims, provisions were accumulated there and water was prepared long in advance to supply people and camels. There is generally a well with a water-lifting device in the middle of the qalaah. Where the underground water table was insufficient, immense reservoirs were dug into which the flow of a wadi was directed on the days of winter rain. In many places, such as Qalaat Zizeh, Qatraneh etc. these reservoirs that have long been in bad condition have just been repaired and water points have been put in nearby for the locomotive. In this way the new engineers profit as much as possible from the work of their predecessors. (Mission I, pp 32-33)
 
1909
On Monday 15th of February 1909, at half past eleven at night, we took the train from the station in Amman to Maan, where we arrived the following day at five o'clock in the evening. It was at the time of the Hajj, that is to say the big pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, when all the equipment was put to use for the transportation of devout pilgrims. Several trains went by each day, either going up or down. We travelled on the post train, that is to say the train for regular passengers, which leaves Damascus three times a week. At the back there is a first class carriage for the officers and effendis, all the other cars are open and already loaded with merchandise. We heave our baggage and ourselves onto a goods wagon where five or six Tunisians have already set up home in the midst of a load of planks. Our mode of transport might lack some comfort, but, if not for the terrible smoke and black rain that flooded our carriage near the tender, we would not have too much too complain about. After all, it is neither commonplace nor without interest to cross the desert on the upper deck. (Mission II, pp3-4)

23 March 1907
Maan railway-station is one of the most important on the Hedjaz railway. The director of works, Meissner Pasha, has established his residence there, and depots for materials and coal, even workshops for repairing the machines, have been built there. Its importance will grow when the project to make a branch line to Aqaba is implemented, which will connect Damascus directly with the Red Sea and allow rapid communication with Yemen, without passing through the Suez Canal. A dozen buildings of dressed stone, covered by red tiles bearing the stamp of Marseille, stand in the most absolute solitude near the little spring of Ain Kalbi. That place, which until recently was frequented only by a few nomads who briefly pitched their tents there, has become the abode of working people, employees, labourers and soldiers. There is even a hotel for the convenience of all these people and for travellers going to Petra by rail. (Mission, I, p. 33)
 
Spring 1909
55 kilometres south of Maan, Qalaat el-Aqaba - that is not to be confused with the place of the same name on the Red Sea - enjoyed a certain fame because of its position. Regardless of the administrative divisions, that have changed a lot, from the point of view of the physical landscape, it was the last post in the lands of esh-Sham [Syria]. There, the Syrian pilgrims camped for the last time in their own country, and prepared themselves to confront a desert longer and more terrible than the one they had already crossed. Indeed, its entrance was not reassuring. Having wandered some time in the hills with restricted views on all sides, they would fall into the Batn el-Ghul, the 'belly of the demon'. That is the name given to what is indeed a demonic pass by which one descends to a lower level that marks the beginning of the Hedjaz. The engineers had to build a railway through this precipice. They managed by means of detours and cuttings, but the slope is still considerable and we descend with alarming speed which inspires legitimate fear. There have already been some derailments. Luckily the train drivers learn little by little and the passenger becomes absorbed by the beauty of the countryside. We travel amidst variegated sandstones of all colours, but dominated by yellow with black of a steely grey tint. The spectacle is splendid and the wildness of the place adds to its charm. (Mission II, pp51-42)
 
At last we arrive at the railway station of Wadi Retem without problem. The soldiers at this post and others in the vicinity of Batn el-Ghul spend their leisure time grinding up pieces of different coloured sandstone and putting the multicoloured sand into bottles, which they mix into thousands of bizarre designs with the help of a piece of wire. These curiosities are then sold to the engineers and passing officers, or sent to Damascus where collectors are more numerous. (Mission II, p52)
 
Spring 1909
The railway-stations between Maan and Tabuk are usually small houses for the work teams, with the entrance opening away from the rails, and a gallery along the front. Almost wherever there is water, wind powered pumps have been installed. A few of these machines come from America, but the majority of them are of German origin. (Misssion, II, p. 4-5)
 
Easter 1924
About ten of Emir Abdullah's soldiers occupy the station of el-Fedein, whose official name is el-Mafraq (el-Fedein is the name given by the bedouins to the ancient station of the Darb el-Hajj, where next to the old [Aramaic] ruins are an Arab castle and a now abandoned pool). Partially filled trenches on the hillocks beside the station and the water supply, the windowless and roofless buildings, the ruined reservoir and the skeletons of several railway wagons lying near the tracks remind the traveller of the Great War. There is still water in the birkeh [reservoir] to which many herds of the Beni Hassan come to drink. (RB, 1925, p113)
 
April 1928
El-Qatraneh comprises a railway-station, a few mud brick structures with a stock of benzine, a pool and a relatively recent small fort which Ibrahim Pasha had armed with three small canons. Its status as the station for Kerak, situated 45 kilometres to the west, gives it some importance, especially since a real road, edged with drainage ditches and kilometre markers connects Kerak with the railway. In the old days, guides estimated 7 hours 50 minutes walk between Qatraneh and Kerak; today the journey is usually done in 1 hour 20 minutes. (RB, 1928, p598)
 
 
 
 
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