l64 PICTURESQUE PALESTINE.
uninjured, and the walls and outlines of the chapel can be distinctly traced. Of the history of
this most remarkable ruin very little is known. Jerome mentions a monastery at Gilgal, and
it is said to have been two miles from the Jordan, which would sufficiently describe this site.
It appears to have been occupied three hundred and fifty years ago by monks of the order of
St. Basil, and was then called the monastery of St. Jerome. From that period we find no
mention of it, nor any record of its being inhabited by a religious order, and it was a ruin
pretty much in its present condition when visited by Seetzen at the beginning of this century.
Jt was probably held by the monks during the Middle Ages as a place of refuge for the Jordan
pilgrims, and became deserted when the caravans were placed under escort and protection.
From Kasr Hajla a ride of three-quarters of an hour brings us on a desolate expanse
of grey salt mud, with occasional sand mounds burrowed by the jerboa, to the mouth of the
Jordan, without a living tree to enliven it, but with many a bare bark-stripped trunk
projecting out of the slime, on the naked boughs of which many kingfishers and an occasional
cormorant perch to watch for their helpless prey, the fishes with which the river teems,
and which incautiously swimming down the stream become stupified as soon as they enter the
brine. In dry weather the grey mud is encrusted with salt and gypsum, and occasional layers
of sulphur and oxide of iron. No wonder that Flora declines to display life on such a soil.
But whenever a little sand-mound has collected, there a few desert shrubs plant their roots and
relieve the monotony. The river itself lies completely out of sight. Never except from some
commanding height can a glimpse be caught of the silvery bead which marks its course until
within two or three miles of its end when its forest fringe ceases. But its course can everywhere be traced by the deep green ribbon of foliage just peering above the upper banks, the
tops of the trees which guard its border. All along this lower plain there are three sets of
terrace banks. The old bed of the river, or rather the upper end of the lake, where the mud
deposits were laid against the slopes of the enclosing mountains, was about sixteen miles wide.
This is the plain on which Jericho, Beth Hogla, and Gilgal stood. Then we have the higher
plain, which even now on rare occasions is flooded. This is covered with shrubs and scant
herbage. Then close to the river's bank we descend fifty-five feet into a dense thicket of
tamarisk, silver poplar, willows, terebinth, and many other trees strange to European eyes,
with a dense and impenetrable undergrowth of reed and all sorts of aquatic brushwood. This
is perforated in all directions by the runs of wild boars, which literally swarm here, while the
branches are vocal with myriads of birds—nightingales, bulbuls, and especially turtle-doves
—which meet here and find abundant food in the herbage of the trefoil, astragalus, and other
characteristic plants of the higher plain. In ancient times beasts more formidable than the
wild boar had their lair in these coverts, and when driven out by the periodical swellings of
Jordan the lion and the leopard sought their prey among the flocks of the villagers in the
country above. The leopard still lingers in these thickets, and an observant traveller cannot
explore far without coming on its traces, especially on the east bank. But the lion, though not
extinct in the times of the Crusades, has long been exterminated from the region west of the