I96 PICTURESQUE PALESTINE.
the remains of the old pine forest, whence Arculphus describes Jerusalem as having been
supplied with firewood in the seventh century of our era.
A remarkable feature of this mountain region is the manner in which the ancient
inhabitants seized on the most conspicuous peaks and knolls as safe sites for their villages.
As the eye glances along the rugged spurs the towers of the hamlets are seen standing up
against the sky-line, while the flat roofs of the little cabins composing the village are crowded
round the central house of two stories, which is occupied by the sheikh, and has the
appearance of a keep or fortress, in the middle of the village climbing up the steep slopes of
the knoll. Thus, in approaching Jerusalem, Soba on its high rocky ridge is visible from a
great distance (see page 198), and Kastal dominates the broad Valley of Kolonia. Gibeon,
Ramah, and Geba, north of the Holy City, stand in the same way on isolated knolls, and
derive their names from the character of their sites ; and, speaking generally, the villages,
with hardly an exception, are built in situations of great natural strength, and are plainly
visible from any of the more commanding points of view in the district, while the low-lying
hamlets and scattered homesteads of our own country have no counterpart among the
mountains of the Holy Land.
Unlike the rich corn-lands of Philistia and the pastures of Sharon, the King's Mountain
is not a region possessed of a naturally fertile soil. The red earth scarcely covers the hard
rock on the slopes, and only in the bottoms of the ravines and in the dells—called kheldl by
the natives—is it possible to plough and sow corn. Patient labour and knowledge of the
country overcame, however, these difficulties in ancient times, and even at the present day
the cultivation is only curtailed by the scantiness of the population. The bright apple green
of the vines may be seen trailing over the long ridges of stone, and yokes of diminutive
oxen are found dragging the light hand-plough between the boles of the olive-trees which
cover the hillsides round the villages.
The mountain region near Hebron and Jerusalem is specially fitted for the growth of the
grape. A fierce summer sun, frosty nights in winter, a fat though scanty soil, hard rock
reflecting the heat on to the ripening fruit, and in autumn damp mists to swell the juices
of the vine—these are all requisites for vine-culture, and all occur in the Judaean mountains.
Hence, in the vineyards of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Hebron the grapes attain enormous size,
and might be made into excellent wine; while the innumerable rock-cut presses which are
found near the ancient ruins or hidden among the thick copses, near ancient towers rudely
built of large unshapen blocks, attest the former widespread cultivation of the vine throughout
the whole district.
The King's Mountain is a region full of famous places. Bethel, Michmash, Gibeon,
Beth-horon, Emmaus, Bethlehem, Anathoth, and Mizpeh are names familiar to the English
reader as household words ; and there is no other part of Palestine which has witnessed so
many important events of biblical history, or which is so thickly crowded with famous ancient
sites. Not least interesting among these sites are the two little villages now called Beit