Friday, September 18, 2009

On Those "Blue-Velvet Hills"

In a previous blog post, "Go On, Have Your Heartstrings Plucked", I quoted Raja Shehadeh who wrote of The Blue Velvet Hills of his youth and I spotted this line:

On top of the highest hill in the distance stood the village of Ras Karkar with its centuries-old citadel that dominated the area during Ottoman times. I had been following the worrying developments of extensive settlement-building elsewhere in the West Bank and wondered how long it would be before these hills came under the merciless blades of the Israeli bulldozers

At the time, I looked for something I thought I had once seen but to little avail. But I did point to what was bothering me:

that citadel of Ras Karkar? Ever heard of the Crusaders?

Well, I finally found an electronic copy of James Finn's "Byeways in Palestine" published in 1867 and at another site I located this bit:

On arriving at the "Ras," after a tedious and very wearisome journey,--difficult as the place is of access,--I found it to fall far below those promises. There are no springs near it. The only water is brought up by the women from the one which we had passed far below. Only within the castle (which was begun while building forty-four years before) some old wells, with good masonry stones, were discovered. These are now put into good order, and kept full, probably in readiness at any time against a siege by the faction of Abu Gosh. Many battles and sieges take place in these remote places that the Pasha of Jerusalem never hears of.

Although of modern origin, much of the earliest part of the castle is already falling to decay--such as gates, steps, etc. It was a melancholy spectacle to walk about the place, reminding one of some small middle-aged castles that I have seen in Scotland, burnt or destroyed during old times of civil warfare; or resembling my recollection, after many long years, of Scott's description of the Baron Bradwardine's castle in its later period. And the same melancholy associations recurred yesterday at Mejdal Yaba.

The people assured us that the tortuous and rocky road that we had taken from Ras el 'Ain was the best and nearest that we could have taken.


a) the area of 'Palestine' was desolate;

b) the 'citadel' was a centuries-old Crusader fortress only recently renovated in the Ottoman period.

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