The khan, also situate in the midst of the bazaar, is peculiarly fine, and is said to be the best in all the East. The high and boldly-arched portal is covered with marble, and enriched with beautiful sculptures. The interior forms a vast rotunda, surrounded by galleries, divided from each other, and furnished with writing-tables for the use of the merchants. Below in the hall the bales and chests are piled up, and at the side are apartments for travelling dealers. The greater portion of the floor and the walls is covered with marble.
Altogether, marble seems to be much sought after at Damascus. Every thing that passes for beautiful or valuable is either entirely composed of this stone, or at least is inlaid with it. Thus a pretty fountain in a little square near the bazaar is of marble; and a coffee-house opposite the fountain, the largest and most frequented of any in Damascus, is ornamented with a few small marble pillars. But all these buildings, not even excepting the great bathing-house, would be far less praised and looked at if they stood in a better neighbourhood. As the case is, however, they shine forth nobly from among the clay houses of Damascus.
In the afternoon we visited the Grotto of St. Paul, lying immediately outside the town. On the ramparts we were shewn the place where the apostle is said to have leaped from the wall on horseback, reaching the ground in safety, and taking refuge from his enemies in the neighbouring grotto, which is said to have closed behind him by miracle, and not to have opened again until his persecutors had ceased their pursuit. At present, nothing is to be seen of this grotto excepting a small stone archway, like that of a bridge. Tombs of modern date, consisting of vaults covered with large blocks of stone, are very numerous near this grotto.
We paid several more visits, and every where found great pomp of inner arrangement and decoration, varying of course in different houses. We were always served with coffee, sherbet, and argile; and in the houses of the Turks a dreary conversation was carried on through the medium of an interpreter.
Walks and places of amusement there are none. The number of Franks resident here is too small to call for a place of general recreation, and the Turk never feels a want of this kind. The most he does is to saunter slowly from the bath to the coffee-house, and there to kill his time with the help of a pipe and a cup of coffee, staring vacantly on the ground before him. Although the coffee-houses are more frequented than any other buildings in the East, they are often miserable sheds, being all small, and generally built only of wood.
The inhabitants of Damascus wear the usual Oriental garb, but as a rule I thought them better dressed than in any Eastern town. Some of the women are veiled, but others go abroad with their faces uncovered. I saw here some very attractive countenances; and an unusual number of lovely children’s heads looked at me from all sides with an inquisitive smile.