Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Of the Hill Amara and the Rarities therein
By Samuel Purchas (1577?1626)
From Purchas, His Pilgrimage
THE HILL Amara hath already been often mentioned, and nothing indeed in all Ethiopia more deserveth mention, whether we respect the natural site, or the employment thereof. Somewhat is written thereof by geographers, and historians, especially by Aluarez, whom we have chiefly followed in the former relations of this country, as an eye-witness of the most things reported; but neither they, nor he, have anything but by relation, seeing that he passed two days journey along by the said hill, and that also had almost cost him his life. But John de Baltasar (saith our Friar) lived in the same a long time, and therein served Alexander which was afterwards emperor, and was often by commandment of the same man, when he was emperor, sent thither: out of his relations, Friar a Luys saith he hath borrowed that which here we offer you. And here we offer you no small favour to conduct you into, and about this place, where none may come but an Ethiopian, and that by express licence, under pain of leaving his hands, feet, and eyes behind, in price for his curiosity, and not much less is the danger of such as offer to escape from thence: Aluarez himself being an eye-witness of some such cruel executions inflicted for that offence. This hill is situate as the navel of that Ethiopian body, and centre of their empire, under the equinoctial line, where the sun may take his best view thereof, as not encountring in all his long journey with the like theatre, wherein the graces and muses are actors, no place more graced with natures store, or furnished with such a storehouse of books, the sun himself so in love with the sight, that the first and last thing he vieweth in all those parts is this hill; and where antiquitie consecrated unto him a stately temple: the gods (if ye believe Homer, that they feasted in Ethiopia) could not there, nor in the world find a fitter place for entertainment, all of them contributing their best store (if I may so speak) to the banquet, Bacchus, Juno, Venus, Pomona, Ceres, and the rest, with store of fruits, wholesome air, pleasant aspect and prospect; secured by Mars, lest any sinister accident should interrupt their delights; if his garrisons of soldiers were needful where nature had so strongly fortified before; only Neptune with his ruder sea-deities and Pluto with his black-guard of barking Cerberus, and the rest of that dreadful train (whose unwelcome presence would trouble all that are present) are all, save Charon, who attends on every feast, yea now hath ferried away those supposed deities with himself, perpetually exiled from this place. Once, heaven and earth, nature and industry, have all been corrivals to it, all presenting their best presents, to make it of this so lovely presence, some taking this for the place of our forefathers paradise. And yet though thus admired of others, as a paradise, it is made a prison to some, on whom nature had bestowed the greatest freedom, if their freedom had not been eclipsed with greatness, and though goodly stars, yet by the suns brightness are forced to hide their light, when gross and earthly bodies are seen, their nobleness making them prisoners, that one sun only may shine in that Ethiopian throne.
It is situate in a great plain largely extending itself every way without other hill in the same for the space of thirty leagues, the form thereof round and circular, the height such, that it is a days work to ascend from the foot to the top; round about, the rock is cut so smooth and even, without any unequal swellings, that it seemeth to him that stands beneath, like a high wall, whereon the heaven is as it were propped; and at the top it is over-hanged with rocks, jutting forth of the sides the space of a mile, bearing out like mushrooms, so that it is impossible to ascend it, or by ramming with earth, battering with cannon, scaling or otherwise to win it. It is above twenty leagues in circuit, compassed with a wall on the top, well wrought, that neither man nor beast in chase may fall down. The top is a plain field, only towards the south is a rising hill, beautifying this plain, as it were with a watchtower, not serving alone to the eye, but yielding also a pleasant spring which passeth through all that plain, paying his tributes to every garden that will exact it, and making a lake, whence issueth a river, which having from these tops espied Nilus, never leaves seeking to find him, whom he cannot leave both to seek and find, that by his direction and conveyance he may together with him present himself before the father and great king of waters, the sea. The way up to it is cut out within the rock, not with stairs, but ascending by little and little that one may ride up with ease; it hath also holes cut to let in light and at the foot of this ascending place, a fair gate, with a Corpus du Guarde. Half way up is a fair and spacious hall cut out of the same rock, with three windows very large upwards: the ascent is about the length of a lance and a half: and at the top is a gate with another guard. The air above is wholesome and delectable; and they live there very long, and without sickness. There are no cities on the top, but palaces, standing by themselves, in number four and thirty, spacious, sumptuous, and beautiful, where the princes of the royal blood have their abode with their families. The soldiers that guard the place dwell in tents.
There are two temples, built before the reign of the Queen of Saba, one in honour of the sun, the other of the moon, the most magnificent in all Ethiopia, which by Candace, when she was converted to the Christian faith, were consecrated in the name of the Holy Ghost, and of the Crosse. At that time (they tell) Candace ascending with the eunuch (whose proper name was Indica) to baptize all of the royal blood, which were there kept, Zacharie the eldest of them, was in his baptism named Philip, in remembrance of Philips converting the eunuch, which caused all the emperors to be called by that name, till John the Saint, who would be called John, because he was crowned on St. Johns day: and while they were busy in that holy work of baptising the princes, a dove in fiery form came flying with beams of light, and lighted on the highest temple dedicated to the sun, whereupon it was afterwards consecrated to the Holy Ghost by St. Matthew the Apostle, when he preached in Ethiopia. These two temples were after that given to the monastical knights of the military order of Saint Anthony, by Philip the seventh, with two great and spacious convents built for them. I should lose both you and my self, if I should lead you into their sweet, flourishing, and fruitful gardens, whereof there are store in this plain, curiously made, and plentifully furnished with fruits both of Europe plants there, as pears, pippins, and such like; and of their own, as oranges, citrons, lemons, and the rest; cedars, palm-trees, with other trees, and variety of herbs and flowers, to satisfy the sight, taste, and scent. But I would entertain you, only with rarities, nowhere else to be found: and such is the cubayo tree, pleasant beyond all comparison in taste, and whereunto for the virtue is imputed the health, and long life of the inhabitants; and the balm-tree, whereof there is great store here: and hence it is thought the Queen of Saba carried and gave to Solomon, who planted them in Judæa, from whence they were transplanted at Cairo long after. The plenty of grains and corn there growing, the charms of birds alluring the ear with their warbling notes, and fixing the eyes on their colours, jointly agreeing in beauty, by their disagreeing variety, and other creatures that adorn this paradise, might make me glut you (as sweet meats usually do) with too much store. Let us therefore take view of some other things worthy our admiration in this admired hill, taking the Friar for our guide, whose credit I leave to your censure.