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Chapter 22

An ancient city as big as London--The citadel--Towers--Small
rooms--The walls--Immensity of the city--Sand drifts--Why some
parts are buried and some are not--An extensive wall--Great
length of the city--Evidence that the habitations were
continuous--The so-called Rud-i-Nasru--Its position--A double
outer wall--A protected road--Interesting structures--An immense
graveyard--Tombs--Sand drifts explained--A former gate of the
city--The Chil-pir or tomb of forty saints--Interesting objects
found--Beautiful inscriptions on marble and slate--Marble
columns--Graceful lamps--Exciting digging--A tablet--Heptagonal
tower--A ghastly figure.

As we approached the ruins we could not help being impressed by their grandeur. They were certainly the most imposing I had so far come across in Persia. The high walls and towers of the fort could be seen from a great distance, and for the benefit of my readers a photograph is reproduced in this book to show how the citadel of this great city appeared as one drew near it from the west. The photograph was taken half a mile away from the fortress.

We entered the citadel by a short incline on the northern side of the main fort and found ourselves in a huge court, the sides of which were much blocked towards the wall by sand drifts. Contrary to what has been stated by others, the citadel is not inhabited to-day, nor are there any signs of its having been inhabited probably for a great many years. There is nothing whatever to be seen in the centre of this yard, which is covered with accumulated sand far above its original level, and at the sides, too, of the court, where buildings would have very likely been, everything is smothered in sand up to a great height of the wall. In other places the wall has collapsed altogether.

Remains of small rooms high up near the top of the wall can be seen. The inside of the inner fort enclosed by the highest wall is quadrangular, and has ten towers round it, eight of which are still in wonderful preservation considering their age. Those at the angles of the quadrangle had large, somewhat elongated, windows ending in a point cut into them in two tiers, as may be seen in the illustration. Curiously enough, while the windows were six feet in height, the doors were never more than five feet. There were rooms in all the towers, but all were extremely small. The largest averaged eight feet square. The walls of the towers were of mud bricks with layers of kiln-baked bricks, and were three to four feet deep and of very great strength.

As can be seen by the illustration, a fragment of an archway was to be found on the summit of the wall and there were often signs that a covered passage, such as may be found in other northern forts of this great city, must have been in existence when the place was in all its glory.

As one stood on the highest point of the wall and looked around one got a fair idea of the former immensity of the city. It evidently stretched from south-east to north, forming an obtuse angle at the citadel on which I stood. To the south-east of the fortress, where sheltered from the terrific north winds and from the sand drifts, the ruins were in better preservation and less covered with sand, which here indeed made quite a depression, while the northern aspect now displays a continuous mass of fine sand interrupted only by some of the higher buildings projecting above it.

One could distinguish quite plainly where the wall of the city continued for a long distance to the south-east with occasional towers, but this portion of the wall, as seen in the illustration facing page 208, is now in a sad state of decay and fast being covered with sand. The first three hundred yards of it, which are the best preserved, however, will show what a place of great strength Zaidan must have been. The towers appear to have been enormous, as shown by the base of the nearer one in the foreground of the photograph, and also by the second one, a portion of which still remained standing.

The city boundary made a detour to the south-east at the third tower, all the buildings visible being on the east of the wall and none to the west. The modern village of Zaidan should, of course, be excepted.

There seems to have been a great space intervening between this wall and the nearest habitations, but why that was would now be difficult to ascertain except by digging to a considerable depth. It seems hardly likely that a moat with water should have been constructed on the inside of the fortress, although at first sight one might be led to conclude that this was the case.

The city does not seem to have had a great general breadth, and is mostly remarkable for its enormous length, although at several of the most important points it has indeed considerable width. It extended mostly like a long line, and one could still perceive, as far as the eye could see, partially destroyed domed roofs, fragments of walls, and in some cases entire structures still standing and bearing roofs. The ice-house, which we had passed on the way, stood prominent to the north by north-west and also the pillar, the minar of Mil-i-Zaidan.

Major Sykes makes a very quaint statement in the Geographical Journal for February, 1902. He says: "I have seen it stated by previous travellers" (presumably Sir F. Goldsmid and Bellew) "that the ruins of Zaidan extend for fourteen miles, but the fact is that there were villages lining the Rud-i-Nasru throughout its length (a length of 30 miles according to Major Sykes's maps), and these have been mistaken for suburbs of the capital of Sistan."

It seems to me that Major Sykes has only strengthened the contention of previous travellers and that, whether one calls them suburbs or a continuity of habitations, villages, or by any other name, the fact is that continuous miles of buildings can be traced. The Rud-i-Nasru canal, according to Major Sykes's own maps as given in the Geographical Society's Journal, is over 30 miles in length, and if the 30 miles are lined throughout by villages surely that fact further establishes the continuity of the city.

Personally, however, I have my doubts whether Major Sykes is correct in placing the Rud-i-Nasru to the west of the city in Zaidan's days of glory. There are signs of a canal, but to the east of the city. The Hamun, too, I think, no more stretched across from east to west in the northern portion than it does to-day, but rather formed two separate lakes--the eastern one fed by the surplus water of the Halmund; the western filled by the Farah Rud. The space between is liable to be occasionally flooded by the excess of water in these two lakes, but that is all.

All the evidence goes to show that the great city, under different local names, extended continuously northwards as far as Lash Yuwain, passing between the two marshy lakes. In the next chapter I have brought undoubted evidence pointing to that conclusion, and if any one is still sceptical about it, all he has to do is to go there and see for himself. In such a dry climate the ruins, although gradually being covered over with sand, will remain long enough for any one wishing to spend some time there and to make a thorough study of them.

To the east of the Zaidan fort, about 100 yards and 200 yards respectively, are the remains, still fairly well preserved, of a high double wall, castellated and with loop-holes half-way up the wall. These two walls, where free from sand, stand some 40 feet high, but in most portions the sand has accumulated to a height of 15 to 20 feet.

These parallel walls were somewhat puzzling. They were only a few feet apart and protected a road between them which went from north-west to south-east. Each wall was constructed very strongly of two brick walls filled between with beaten earth. The lower portion of the wall was much corroded by the wind and sand, but the upper part where it had not collapsed, was in good preservation. There were rows of holes at the bottom on the east side, where there appeared to have been extensive stables with mangers for horses. The lower portion of the wall was of kiln-baked bricks, and the upper part in horizontal layers of baked bricks every four feet and mud bricks between.

Of the two parallel walls the eastern one was not castellated, but the western or inner had a castellated summit. There was an outer moat or canal.

Only a comparatively small portion of this double wall stood up to its former height--merely a few hundred feet of it--but traces could be seen that it must have extended for a very long distance. It appeared to be tortuous and not in a straight line, its direction being plainly traceable even in the photograph reproduced in the illustration facing page 208. Only one tower of a quadrangular shape could be seen along this wall, and the apertures in the wall were at regular intervals of four feet. The doorway in these walls appeared to have been next to the quadrangular tower, which was very likely constructed in order to guard the gate.

There were small circular unroofed structures between the fort itself and this double wall, but they appeared more like the upper sections of towers than actual habitations. Though much smaller and lower they bore all the architectural characteristics of the towers of the greater fort, and possessed windows, one above the other, similar to those we had found in the larger towers of the main fort. In the illustration the reader can see for himself. That a considerable portion of this structure is buried is shown by the fact that the upper portion of a window is just visible above the sand in the circular building to the left of the observer. These structures had in the interior some elaborately moulded recesses, and ornamented windows in pointed arches. The circular building had three rooms on the floor still above ground and six small recesses. One window was in most excellent preservation.

Further on, beyond the double wall to the south-east, was a most extensive graveyard, a portion of which had been freed from sand by the natives of the modern village of Zaidan. There were hundreds and hundreds of tombs, some in quite good preservation, as can be seen by the two photographs facing pages 212 and 214.

The photograph facing page 212 shows the eastern portion of the graveyard where some of the tombs were altogether free from sand, and in a splendid state of preservation. They were made of kiln-burnt bricks plastered over with mud, the body, it may be remarked, being enclosed in these rectangular brick cases and entirely above ground. They were mostly single tombs, not compound graves, like some which we shall inspect later on (Mount) Kuh-i-Kwajah. Their measurements were about 7 feet by 4 feet by 3½ feet, and they were extremely simple, except that the upper face was ornamented by a series of superposed rectangles diminishing in size upwards and each of the thickness of one brick, and the last surmounted generally by a prism.

The photograph facing page 214 shows the north-western portion of the graveyard, with the entire eastern aspect of the Zaidan fortress. I took this photograph for the special purpose of proving how high the sand has accumulated over many portions of the graveyard, as well as over a great portion of the city. The particular spot where I took the photograph was somewhat protected from the north, hence the low depression, slightly more free from sand than further back where the sand, as can be seen, was able to settle down to a great height. The upper portions of several graves can be noticed mostly buried in sand, and by the ripples on the sand and the casting of the shadows (the photograph was taken in the afternoon when the sun was west) it can be seen plainly that the sand has accumulated from the north.

Under the immediate lee of the fortress and of the outer walls, similar depressions in the sand were found, and it is owing to these that some portion of the city was still uncovered by sand.

In the photograph facing page 214 it may be noticed that where the lee of the high fortress no longer protects the buildings from the drifting sand, the city gradually disappears, as it were, under fairly high accumulations.

We shall find later, on our journey to the Beluchistan frontier, how these sand accumulations, in their turn, forming themselves into barriers against the sands which came from the north, allowed further southerly portions of the city to escape unburied, which portions can be seen extending in and out of these transverse sand ridges as far south as Kala-i-Fath. North of the Zaidan fortress the sand, finding no high obstacles, has accumulated to a much greater height, only very lofty buildings remaining visible above the surface.

In the photograph facing page 206 this high cushion, as it were, of sand can plainly be seen over the north of the city beyond the tower of the castle; also a portion of the small canal at the foot of the tower, which some will have it was the Rud-i-Nasru.

In the distance towards the south-east, two quadrangular towers could be seen, which the Katkhuda of Zaidan village told us formed part of one of the former gates of the city. These two towers can be seen in the background of the photograph facing page 212.

Some distance beyond the graveyard we came to a section of a tower, heptagonal in form, which had just been dug out to a depth of 4 feet by the natives of the village of Zaidan. The Katkhuda--who could have given points to an Irishman--told us that this was the tomb of the renowned legendary "Forty Saints of Zaidan," and added, that they numbered forty-four! On being asked why it was called the tomb of the forty saints if their number was forty-four, he did not lose his presence of mind, but explained that four had been added afterwards when this sacred spot had already received its legendary name.

For a very long time the Zaidan people had searched for this sacred spot, and they seemed very proud to have discovered it. It is called by them Chil-pir, or the "forty saints." As the tower is not large enough to contain them all, a number of them are said to be buried in the immediate neighbourhood to the south and west of the structure, and the Katkhuda, to prove his words, showed us some three graves, more elaborate than the rest. There were also others that were anxiously searched for, but had not been located yet.

The graves which I was shown were entirely of kiln-burnt bricks, and so was the wall of the tower itself, as can be seen by a portion of it showing in the illustration facing page 218, behind the marble inscription and columns.

Since its discovery the natives had made this into a Ziarat or shrine, and on its western side (towards Mecca) had adorned it with a bundle of sticks, horns, and a number of rags, or pieces of ribbon, white, red or blue. Every Mussulman visiting it leaves an offering of a piece of cloth generally from his coat or turban, if a man, or from the chudder or other feminine wearing apparel if a woman.

The Katkhuda told us that a great many things had been found in digging near here, but the more valuable ones had disappeared, sold to officials or rich people of Sistan. A great many seals, coins, stone weapons, lamps and pottery had been found, the latter often glazed. Innumerable fragments of earthenware were strewn everywhere round about these ruins, some with interesting ornamentations, generally blue on white ground. The "parallel lines" and "heart pattern" were common, while on some fragments of tiles could be seen quotations from the Koran in ancient Arabic. Some pieces of tiles exhibited a very handsome blue glaze, and on some plates the three leaf pattern, almost like a fleur-de-lis, was attempted, in company with the two-leaf and some unidentified flower.

Most interesting of all were the beautiful inscriptions on stone and marble, recently been found in the tomb of the Forty Saints. Some had already been covered again by the sand, but we dug them out afresh and I photographed them. They were in fair preservation. They bore Arabic characters, and were apparently dedicated in most laudatory terms, one to "the Pomp of the country, Sun of righteousness and religion, and the founder of a mosque"; the other commemorated the death of a great Amir. As, however, there appears to be some difficulty in deciphering some of the very ancient characters I will refrain from giving any translation of them for fear of being inaccurate. The photographs given of them facing pages 218, 220, 222, are, however, quite clear enough for any one interested in the matter to decipher them for himself.

These tablets were most artistic and beautifully carved, and one had a most charming ornamentation of two sprays of flowers in each of the two upper corners. The second inscription had much more minute writing on it, and was of a finer design and cut, but was, unfortunately, rather worn. It had evidently been subjected to a long period of friction--apparently by sand. The natives had made a sort of altar with this last inscription and some cylindrical sections of columns carved out of beautiful marble, white or most delicately variegated.

There were also various other large pieces of marble and stone, which had evidently formed part of a very fine and rich building, as well as a very ancient fragment of a red baked earthenware water-pipe. Many of the pieces of marble in the heap contained ornamentations such as successions of the heart pattern, graceful curve scrolls suggesting leaves, and also regular leaf patterns. One stone was absolutely spherical, like a cannon ball, and quite smooth; and some stone implements, such as a conical brown hammer and a pestle, were very interesting.

On the white marble columns stood two charming little oil lamps, of a most graceful shape, in green earthenware, and in digging we were fortunate enough to find a third, which is now in my possession. They can be seen in the illustration (facing page 218), although I fear not at their best, being so small. They were not unlike the old Pompeian lamps in shape, and certainly quite as graceful. The wick used to be lighted at the spout.

Among other fragments was the capital of a pillar, and portions of Koran inscriptions. As we dug excitedly with our hands in the sand we found other inscriptions on slate and on grey-stone, of one of which I took an impression on paper. It seemed much more ancient than the others and had a most beautiful design on it of curves and flowers.

A tablet at the entrance of the tomb of the Forty Saints was not of marble but of slate carved. It bore the following date: [Arabic: 1282] which I believe corresponds to 1282. The heptagonal tower had two entrances, one to the north, the other to the south, but was, unfortunately, getting smothered in sand again.

We became greatly excited on discovering the inscriptions, and pulled up our sleeves and proceeded in due haste to dig again in the sand--a process which, although much dryer, reminded one very forcibly of one's younger days at the seaside. Our efforts were somewhat cooled by a ghastly white marble figure which we dug up, and which had such a sneering expression on its countenance that it set the natives all round shrieking with laughter.

We thought we had better leave off. Moreover, the natives who had accompanied us seemed rather upset at my photographing and digging, and now that I had got what I wanted I did not care to make them feel more uneasy than was necessary. I had exhausted all the photographic plates I had brought out with me, night was coming on fast, and we had twenty miles to ride back. On my last plate I photographed our last find, which is reproduced for the benefit of my readers facing page 218.

This ugly head, with a very elongated and much expanded nose and a vicious mouth full of teeth, had been carved at the end of a piece of marble one and a half feet high. The head, with its oblique eyes, was well polished, but the remainder of the marble beyond the ears, which were just indicated by the artist, was roughly cut and appeared to have been made with the intention of being inserted into a wall, leaving the head to project outside. Its flat forehead, too, would lead to the conclusion that it had been so shaped to act as a support, very likely to some tablet, or moulding of the mosque.

The Katkhuda said that it was a very ancient god, but its age was not easy to ascertain on so short an acquaintance. It certainly seemed very much more ancient than anything else we had found and inspected at Zaidan.