Nils Mattsson Kiöping in the Gulf of Suez

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

Chapter 21: Gulf of Suez, “Zerzes”

On the 26th of August we came to a place named Zerzes, which the Catholic priests recognised immediately, saying that it was the spot where Israel’s Children came ashore when they walked dryshod through the Red Sea. They said that there was no better water to be had anywhere in all of Arabia than here. When we saw that no-one would come to us from the land, we launched our little boat with the interpreter and eight musketeers, in addition to crewmen with axes, and rowed ashore. When we arrived we found few people, only a couple of Jews. We soon rowed back to the ship, launched our big boat, with all the empty barrels we had, went ashore and got as much water as we needed from a group of fine wells.

Then we went to view the ancient memorials of that place. There was a Turkish church, and next to it twelve pillars that had sunk to more than one third of their length into the ground. We were told that the Israelites had put them there when they had crossed the Red Sea. The Jews also had a synagogue on the same site and valued it highly. On the same stones were carved in Hebrew characters the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Many Greeks lived there too, all of whom were apostates. Both they and the Jews said that for years no Christian ship had been as far up the Red Sea as ours.

We could also clearly see Sinai and Mount Horeb before us. The priests made an agreement with the Lord Envoy and the Captain that they would take them to a strait or inlet named Bajor, that is, the Straits of St. Catherine* near Mount Sinai, located two days’ travel from the mountain. Their request was granted not only for the sake of the priests, but also to have our charts checked and thus provide all seafarers with newer and more secure information. Also, because everyone wanted very much to see these famous mountains, even though not all were permitted to do so. And the one who was most active in this was our excellent Lord Pelliconie, who was as already mentioned a Catholic, and who was keen to have his confession heard by these Fathers. An additional important justification for the delay was that for six months, wind and currents would keep us from leaving the Red Sea. Then the incessant wind turned around, which by then we expected every day as the sixth month had come, and finally the wind began to toss around. Thus refreshed, and with much-needed water on board, having conferred with the Bailiff we weighed anchor.

On the 30th of August we entered the previously mentioned Baijo, the Straits and Inlet of St. Catherine. Here the Fathers again asked the Envoy and the Captain to do a good deed and accompany them to Mount Sinai where they had their congregation and their brethren.** Meanwhile the weather was beginning to change, and so it was decided that the Envoy and the Captain and some soldiers would travel with them. I was in great favour with these Catholic priests and asked them to recommend me to the Bailiff, so that I could also come along and see such famous and honoured sites. And I got permission to do so. Less than half a mile from the seashore was a little smallholding named Kutziuk, where the monks went to fetch mules for us all.

* The Straits of Tiran at the southern end of the Gulf of Aqaba.
** Saint Catherine’s monastery, founded in the 6th century and continuously active since. Note NMK’s repeated references to a Catholic Carmelite establishment at this Greek Orthodox monastery.

Author: Martin R

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

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