Nils Mattsson Kiöping at Mocha in Yemen

Here’s another chapter of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I’ve introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 14: Yemen, Mocha
Mecha in Streto BabelMandel is a little town, not fortified at all, there is only a small fort on a hill south of the town with a few cannon. And although small, the town is nevertheless very populous, particularly in the season when the Persians and Mughals come with their vessels loaded with all sorts of valuable goods, and call there. Then they travel over land to Muhammad’s tomb, and then the many people cannot find housing in the town but put up their beds outside. Then the town looks three or four times as large as it is in itself.

And although it is not large, I have never in any town in the entire Orient seen such riches as here, particularly gold. Because there is a building here, at least as large as the New Academy in Uppsala, where from sunrise to sunset nothing is weighed but gold, minted gold in and bullion out again, indeed, such large pieces as may weigh more than half a skeppund [More than 68 kg]. There is also great trade here in precious stones, pearls, gold and silver cloth, vast amounts of corals of every colour, agate work such as jugs, bottles and bowls, summing up, everything a household may need of dishes and plates can be bought here in fine agate stone, and coloured both red and black.

This town is also very pleasant, both from its convenience as a harbour and from the sailing, as the richest traders of India congregate here who bring along all kinds of rare goods. Then the town is beautifully built, many houses are glazed all over the outside and there are many churches with high towers. The Sultan or Governor lives in an extraordinarily beautiful house, and the round structure where he always stays is covered on the outside with fine gold.

There are also Jews here in great numbers, and many Christians also live here. In particular there is a Franciscan Friary in which there are four friars. Armenians also come here to trade. The English and Dutch also have their houses here where people live all year around and buy and sell.

It is also a fertile place with all kinds of fruit and edible goods, but firewood and water are very expensive here. Drinking wine is strictly forbidden for them, but nevertheless there are wonderful grapes here. No Christian or Jew can appear drunk in the streets during the daytime if he wants to keep his life.

And as there is an awful heat here as well as elsewhere in Babylonia and Persia when the sun is in Cancer, because these countries are right under the Tropic of Cancer, they have very thick walls in their houses. They also build a hollow tower in the middle of the roofs, on which, when the heat begins to come, they hang woolen blankets, and so the wind turns down it into the houses, because from seven o’clock in the morning until four in the afternoon it is impossible for people to get anything done outdoors, for the great heat.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

8 thoughts on “Nils Mattsson Kiöping at Mocha in Yemen”

  1. The description of the blankets-in-the-tower does not seem quite right to me, because (1) it is not clear to me that this arrangement would actually deflect the wind as described and (2) even if it did, this is probably not a good thing, because when the temperature exceeds 37 degrees, a frequent occurrence in that part of the world, wind will actually heat you up instead of cooling you off.

    I suspect that he is describing a version of a swamp cooler: the blankets are wet when they are hung up, and as the water evaporates it lowers the temperature of the air, which in this case would then sink down into the house. It is an effective low-tech method of air conditioning in hot arid climates (in humid climates like the eastern US or coastal China, it does not work so well). One of my uncles was born at the beginning of one of the hottest summers of the 20th century in the central US. Family lore has my grandmother hanging up wet sheets and blankets to provide exactly the sort of cooling that I think was actually happening here.

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  2. “wind will actually heat you up instead of cooling you off” – It will aid evaporation of sweat by continually moving dry air over your skin. If there is no wind, the layer of air next to your skin gets more damp and evaporation is reduced. Windy is always better than still when it is hot, even if it is not a cool wind. Before the advent of air-conditioning in cars, we always drove with the windows down for this reason.

    Plus, what Sean is describing is catching the wind at higher altitude, away from the ground, where it might well be cooler than the air at ground level.

    This reasoning applies to hot dry climates. But even in HK, which is hot and very humid in summer, a stirring of breeze always feels better than stillness, even though it is a warm, damp breeze. One of the reasons we bought the place to live that we did is because it catches all of the summer breezes blowing down the river. What we didn’t factor in is that it also catches all of the howling cold winds blowing up the river in winter.

    Of course, wet blankets would be better, if they could afford the water.

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  3. I love the way Nils Mattsson Kiöping mixes some pretty wild “traveller’s tales” in with his personal observations. You are never really sure whether he’s telling the truth, but it’s always entertaining 🙂

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      1. Speaking of Swedish literature, is there an English translation of your “Arkeologi är choklad” book available online? I downloaded a copy years ago and tried to translate it, but Google Translate etc are pretty hopeless at decent sized books.

        Liked by 1 person

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