The pagan temple in Uppsala

The Swedes have a very famous temple called Uppsala, situated not far from the cities of Sigtuna and Björkö. In this temple, entirely decked out in gold, the people worship the statues of three gods in such a wise that the mightiest of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber; Wotan and Frikko have places on either side. The significance of these gods is as follows: Thor, they say, presides over the air, and governs the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops. The other, Wotan – that is, the Furious – carries on war, and imparts to man strength against his enemies. The third is Frikko, who bestows peace and pleasure on mortals. His statue they fashion with an immense phallus. But Wotan they chisel armed, as we represent Mars. Thor, with his scepter, resembles Jove. The people also worship heroes made gods, whom they endow with immortality because of their remarkable exploits, as one can read in the Vita of Saint Ansgar they did in the case of king Eric.

For all their gods there are appointed priests to offer sacrifices for the people. If plague and famine threaten, a libation is poured to the idol Thor; if war, to Wotan; if marriages are to be celebrated, to Frikko. It is also customary to celebrate in Uppsala, at nine-year intervals, a general feast of all the provinces of Sweden. From attendance at this festival no one is exempted. Kings and people all and singly send their gifts to Uppsala, and, what is more distressing than any kind of punishment, those who have already adopted christianity redeem themselves though these ceremonies.

The sacrifice is of this nature: of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads, with the blood of which it is customary to placate these gods. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the eyes of the heathen that each and every tree in it is believed to be divine because of the death or putrefaction of the victims. Even dogs and horses hand there with men. A christian 72 years old told me that he had seen their bodies suspended promiscuously. Furthermore, the incantations chanted in the ritual of a sacrifice of this kind are manifold and unseemly; therefore it is better to keep silence about them.

Posted in Europe, Northern Europe | Leave a comment

Magicians among the Lapps

Their (of the Lapps) intolerable ungodliness will hardly seem credible nor how much devilish superstition they exercise in the art of magic. For some of them are revered as soothsayers by the foolish multitude because whenever asked they can employ an unclean spirit, which they call a gandus, and make many predictions for many people which later come to pass. By marvellous means they can also draw to themselves objects of desire from distant parts and although far off themselves miraculously bring hidden treasures to light.

Once when some Christians were among the Lapps on a trading trip, they were sitting at table when their hostess suddenly collapsed and died. The Christians were sorely grieved but the Lapps, who were not at all sorrowful, told them that she was not dead but had been snatched away by the gandi of rivals and that they themselves would soon retrieve her.

Then a wizard spread out a cloth under which he made himself ready for unholy magic incantations and with hands extended lifted up a small vessel like a sieve, which was covered with images of whales and reindeer with harness and little skis, even a little boat with oars. The devilish gandus would use these means of transport over heights of snow, across slopes of mountains and through depths of lakes. After dancing there for a very long time to endow this equipment with magic power, he at last fell to the ground, as black as an Ethiopian and foaming at the mouth like a madman, then his belly burst and finally with a great cry he gave up the ghost.

Then they consulted another man, one highly skilled in the magic art, as to what should be done about the two of them. He went through the same motions but with a different outcome, for the hostess rose up unharmed. And he told them that the dead wizard had perished in the following way: his gandus, in the shape of a whale, was rushing at speed through a certain lake when by evil chance it met an enemy gandus in the shape of sharpened stakes, and these stakes, hidden in the depths of that same lake, pierced its belly, as was evident from the dead wizard in the house.

Posted in Europe, Northern Europe | Leave a comment

the Lapps

Bordering the length of Norway is a vast wasteland, separating it from the pagan peoples. This waste is lived in by Lapps and by the wild animals whose flesh they eat half-raw and whose skins they wear.

They are indeed most skilful hunters, solitary rovers and nomadic. For homes they use huts of hide which they carry about on their shoulders as they move with their wives and children, travelling faster than a bird over snow-fields and mountain slopes by means
of smooth wooden slats attached under their feet (a device they call ondros) and drawn by reindeer. For where they lodge is uncertain since at any given time it is the supply of game which decides their hunting grounds.There is no limit to the number of wild animals there: bears, wolves, lynxes, foxes, sables, otters, badgers and beavers.

Posted in Europe, Northern Europe | Leave a comment

Sailing the unknown northern seas

The deepest stretch of northern sea is found there (*), with a Charybdis and Scylla and whirlpools from which there is no escape; and there are frozen headlands which 3 send headlong into the sea immense icebergs, which are increased in bulk by the water spewed on them by the flooding waves and solidified by the frost of winter. Traders making for Greenland often and unwillingly must set their course among them and so run the risk of shipwreck. There are also great whales of diverse kind there, shattering the strongest ships and swallowing down the sailors they overwhelm. One-eyed horse-whales with spreading manes are found there, most ferocious beasts ploughing the depths of the sea. The pistrix is among them and the hafstrambr, a monster of great size but without tail or head, looking like a tree-trunk as it leaps up and down and portending perils to mariners when it appears. The hafgufa and the hafrkitti occur there, the biggest of all sea-monsters, and countless more of this sort.

(*) the headland Vegistafr, marking the boundary of the Norwegian Kingdom towards the Bjarmas (Beormas). Probably today’s Cape Svyatoy Nos in modern Russia

Posted in Europe, Northern Europe | Leave a comment

Abundance of sea fauna

Although the interior of Turdetania (1) is so productive, it will be found that the seaboard vies with it in its goodly products from the sea.

For the various kinds of oysters as well as mussels are in general surpassing, both in their number and in their size, along the whole of the exterior sea; but especially so here, inasmuch as the flood-tides and the ebb-tides have increased power here, and these tides, it is reasonable to suppose, are, on account of the exercise they give, responsible both for the number and the size of them.

So it is, in the same way, with respect to all the cetaceans; narwhals, “phalaenae” and spouting-whales; when these spout, the distant observer seems to see a cloud-like pillar. And further, the conger-eels become monsters, far exceeding in size those of Our Sea; and so do the lampreys and several other edible fish of the kind.

And at Carteia, it is said, there are shells of trumpet-fish and purple-fish which hold ten cotylae (2), and in the regions farther out to sea the lamprey and the conger-eel weigh even more than eighty minae (3), the sea-polypus a talent (4), the cuttle-fish are two cubits long — and other things in like proportion. Again, large numbers of plump, fat tunny-fish congregate hither from the other coast, namely, that outside the Pillars.

(1) Modern Andalusia

(2) about 2.5 litres

(3) about 36 kg

(4) about 27 kg




Posted in Europe, Mediterranean Europe | Leave a comment

Fauna in Turdetania

Turdetania (*) also has a great abundance of cattle of all kinds, and of game. But there are scarcely any destructive animals, except the burrowing hares, by some called “peelers”; for they damage both plants and seeds by eating the roots. This pest occurs throughout almost the whole of Iberia, and extends even as far as Massilia, and infests the islands as well.

The inhabitants of the Gymnesian Islands, it is said, once sent an embassy to Rome to ask for a new place of abode, for they were being driven out by these animals, because they could not hold out against them on account of their great numbers.

Now perhaps such a remedy is needed against so great a warfare (which is not always the case, but only when there is some destructive plague like that of snakes or field-mice), but, against the moderate pest, several methods of hunting have been discovered; more than that, they make a point of breeding Libyan ferrets, which they muzzle and send into the holes. The ferrets with their claws drag outside all the rabbits they catch, or else force them to flee into the open, where men, stationed at the hole, catch them as they are driven out.


(*) The Turdetani were an ancient pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula, living in the valley of the Guadalquivir, in what was to become the Roman Province of Hispania Baetica (modern Andalusia, Spain)

Posted in Europe, Mediterranean Europe | Leave a comment

La ville du Caire

La ville du Caire a cinq portes Bab en Nasr (la porte du Secours de Dieu) ; Bab el Foutouh (la porte des Victoires) ; Bab el Qantharah (la porte du Pont) ; Bab ez Zoueilèh (la porte de Zoueilèh), Bab el Khalidj (la porte du Canal). La ville n’est point enfermée dans une enceinte fortifiée, mais les bâtiments et les maisons sont si élevés qu’ils sont plus hauts qu’un rempart, chaque maison, chaque palais peut être considéré comme une citadelle. La plupart des maisons ont cinq ou six étages.

L’eau potable est fournie par le Nil et elle est apportée en ville à dos de chameau par des saqqas (porteurs d’eau). L’eau des puits creusés près du Nil est douce, mais, plus on s’éloigne du fleuve, plus elle devient saumâtre. Le nombre des chameaux qui transportent l’eau dans de grandes outres (ravièh) au Caire et à Misr s’élève, m’a-t-on dit, à cinquante-deux mille. Des porteurs d’eau, ayant sur le dos des vases en cuivre ou de petites outres, circulent dans les rues étroites où les chameaux ne peuvent passer.

Dans l’intérieur de la ville, les maisons sont séparées l’une de l’autre par des vergers et des jardins que l’on arrose avec l’eau des puits. Le palais du sultan renferme des jardins réservés qui sont les plus beaux que l’on puisse voir. L’eau nécessaire à leur entretien est élevée au moyen de roues hydrauliques. On plante également des arbres sur les terrasses et l’on y établit des pavillons.

Les maisons du Caire sont bâties avec tant de soin et de luxe qu’on les dirait construites avec des pierres précieuses et non point avec du plâtre, des briques et des pierres ordinaires. Toutes les maisons sont isolées, de sorte que les arbres de l’une n’empiètent pas sur les murailles de l’autre. Il en résulte que chacun peut démolir et reconstruire sa maison sans que le voisin ait à en souffrir.

Posted in Africa, North Africa | Leave a comment

Le cadeau du Nil

Lorsque le soleil entre dans le signe du Capricorne, les eaux du Nil commencent à gonfler jusqu’à ce qu’elles atteignent une hauteur de vingt ârech au-dessus du niveau qu’elles ont en hiver. La crue se fait progressivement et jour par jour. On a, pour l’apprécier, établi dans la ville de Misr des meqias (nilomètres) et des lieux d’observation.

Un fonctionnaire reçoit par an un traitement de mille dinars pour veiller à leur entretien et pour constater les progrès de la hauteur de l’eau. Dès le premier jour de la crue, il fait parcourir la ville par des crieurs publics qui proclament que le Dieu très haut et très saint a fait croître aujourd’hui le Nil de tant de doigts ; et tous les jours on signale l’augmentation survenue.

Lorsque la hauteur de l’eau a augmenté d’un guez, on bat le tambour en signe de joie et on se livre à des manifestations d’allégresse jusqu’à ce que l’eau ait atteint dix-sept ârech. Ces dix-sept ârech constituent le niveau ordinaire de la crue. S’il y en a moins, on dit que l’inondation est insuffisante. On distribue alors des aumônes, on fait des vœux, on témoigne de la tristesse et du chagrin. Lorsque, au contraire, il y a plus de dix-sept ârech, le peuple fait éclater la satisfaction qu’il éprouve, par des fêtes et des réjouissances. Si la crue du Nil n’atteint pas dix-sept coudées, le sultan ne fait pas payer d’impôt foncier aux cultivateurs.

On a dérivé du Nil un grand nombre de canaux qui vont dans toutes les directions. De ces canaux s’en détachent d’autres plus petits servant à irriguer les villages et les champs qui se trouvent sur leurs bords. L’eau est élevée au moyen de roues hydrauliques dont il est difficile d’évaluer le nombre.

Tous les villages de l’Egypte sont bâtis sur des éminences et sur des terrains élevés, afin d’éviter qu’ils ne soient submergés à l’époque de l’inondation, lorsque le pays est couvert par les eaux. On communique alors d’un village à l’autre au moyen de barques.

On a, d’une extrémité de l’Egypte à l’autre, établi une levée en terre qui longe le Nil et sert de route. Le Trésor verse, tous les ans, entre les mains d’un fonctionnaire qui inspire toute confiance, une somme de dix mille dinars pour faire à cette chaussée les réparations nécessaires.

La population fait ses provisions pour les quatre mois que dure l’inondation et pendant lesquels le pays est submergé. Dans la campagne et dans les villages, on cuit la quantité de pain nécessaire pour cet espace de temps, et on le fait sécher pour qu’il ne puisse pas se gâter.

La crue du Nil se produit régulièrement de la manière suivante : l’eau s’élève pendant quarante jours jusqu’à ce qu’elle ait atteint la hauteur de dix-sept guez ; elle reste stationnaire pendant quarante jours ; puis, elle décroît pendant quarante autres jours, jusqu’à ce qu’elle descende au niveau qu’elle doit conserver pendant l’hiver.

Lorsque les eaux commencent à se retirer, les paysans s’avancent sur le terrain découvert, et à mesure qu’il devient sec, ils y sèment ce qu’ils veulent. Les semailles d’hiver et d’été se font toutes de cette même façon et il n’est point nécessaire de les arroser de nouveau.

Posted in Africa, North Africa | Leave a comment

Buenos Aires in 1889 – a city on horseback

How shall I describe the metropolis of the Argentine, with its one-storied, flat-roofed houses, each with grated windows and centre patio? Some of the poorer inhabitants raise fowls on the roof, which gives the house a barnyard appearance, while the iron-barred windows below strongly suggest a prison. Strange yet attractive dwellings they are, lime-washed in various colors, the favorite shades seeming to be pink and bottle green. Fires are not used except for cooking purposes, and the little smoke they give out is quickly dispersed by the breezes from the sixty-mile-wide river on which the city stands.

The Buenos Ayres of 1889 was a strange place, with its long, narrow streets, its peculiar stores and many-tongued inhabitants. There is the dark-skinned policeman at the corner of each block sitting silently on his horse, or galloping down the cobbled street at the sound of some revolver, which generally tells of a life gone out.

Both postmen and telegraph boys deliver on horseback, but such is the lax custom that everything will do to-morrow. That fatal word is the first the stranger learns — mañana.

This Modern Athens, as the Argentines love to term their city, has a beautiful climate. For perhaps three hundred days out of every year there is a sky above as blue as was ever seen in Naples.

The natives eat only twice a day—at 10.30 a.m., and at 7 p.m.—the common edibles costing but little. I could write much of Buenos Ayres, with its carnicerias, where a leg of mutton may be bought for 20 cts., or a brace of turkeys for 40 cts.; its almacenes, where one may buy a pound of sugar or a yard of cotton, a measure of charcoal (coal is there unknown) or a large sombrero, a package of tobacco (leaves over two feet long) or a pair of white hemp-soled shoes for your feet—all at the same counter. The customer may further obtain a bottle of wine or a bottle of beer (the latter costing four times the price of the former) from the same assistant, who sells at different prices to different customers.

There the value of money is constantly changing, and almost every day prices vary.

Coming again on to the street you hear the deafening noises of the cow horns blown by the streetcar drivers, or the pescador shrilly inviting housekeepers to buy the repulsive-looking red fish, carried over his shoulder, slung on a thick bamboo. Perhaps you meet a beggar on horseback (for there wishes are horses, and beggars do ride), who piteously whines for help.

You meet the water-seller passing down the street with his barrel cart, drawn by three or four horses with tinkling bells, dispensing water to customers at five cents a pail. The poorer classes have no other means of procuring this precious liquid. The water is kept in a corner of the house in large sun-baked jars. A peculiarity of these pots is that they are not made to stand alone, but have to be held up by something.

At early morning and evening the milkman goes his rounds on horseback. The milk he carries in six long, narrow cans, like inverted sugar-loaves, three on each side of his raw-hide saddle, he himself being perched between them on a sheepskin. In some cans he carries pure cream, which the jolting of his horse soon converts into butter. This he lifts out with his hands to any who care to buy. After the addition of a little salt, and the subtraction of a little buttermilk, this manteca is excellent. After serving you he will again mount his horse, but not until his hands have been well wiped on its tail, which almost touches the ground. The other cans of the lechero contain a mixture known to him alone. I never analyzed it, but have remarked a chalky substance in the bottom of my glass. He does not profess to sell pure milk; that you can buy, but, of course, at a higher price, from the pure milk seller.

In the cool of the afternoon he will bring round his cows, with bells on their necks and calves dragging behind. The calves are tied to the mothers’ tails, and wear a muzzle. At a sh-h from the sidewalk he stops them, and, stooping down, fills your pitcher according to your money. The cows, through being born and bred to a life in the streets, are generally miserable-looking beasts. Strange to add, the one milkman shoes his cows and the other leaves his horse unshod. It is not customary in this country for man’s noble friend to wear more than his own natural hoof.

A visit to the blacksmith is entertaining. The smith, by means of a short lasso, deftly trips up the animal, and, with its legs securely lashed, the cow must lie on its back while he shoes its upturned hoofs.

Many and varied are the scenes. One is struck by the number of horses, seven and eight often being yoked to one cart, which even then they sometimes find difficult to draw.

Posted in America, South America | Leave a comment


Nella notte del quattro partiamo a bordo del vapore inglese; passiamo lo stretto di Bab-el-Mandeb, porta del diavolo, rinserrato fra terra ferma asiatica e l’isola di Perim su cui sventola la bandiera inglese, e la mattina del giorno seguente diamo fondo dinanzi Aden. Vi trovate qui un vero labirinto di aguglie i cui detriti hanno costituito un banco lungo il mare. Su questo la città commerciale, detta Steamer-point, su ogni vetta un piccolo forte o qualche antenna che col mezzo di bandiere segnala ogni arrivo e partenza di bastimento; ovunque si guardi tutta roccia nuda e sabbie, non un filo di verdura; d’acqua non se ne parla; e qui si seppe piantare una città, e qui si potè attirare gli sguardi del mondo intero e buona dose di commercio.

A otto chilometri, dopo uno strettissimo passaggio tagliato entro dura roccia per raggiungere una larga vallata posta oltre una catena di alture, sta la città, propriamente detta, che a Steamer Point non sono che ufficii, agenzie, magazzini ed alberghi.

Abbiamo lo spettacolo di un temporale di sabbia, che non saprei meglio descrivere che dicendo di immaginare, invece di pioggia, colonne di fitta e fina sabbia trasportate dal vento, seguite da qualche goccia di vera acqua, cosa che da tre anni non si vedeva in Aden.

I temporali sono rari, ma così torrenziali che per radunare tutta l’acqua che in pochi momenti scorre sui versanti delle montagne, si costrussero delle vasche gigantesche che quasi rinserrano le vallate. Sono lavoro ciclopico che si crede iniziato dai Persiani e ristabilito poi dopo l’occupazione Inglese.

Originali in Aden sono i tipi degli Ebrei dell’Yemen, che vi fanno il commercio delle penne da struzzo e del cambia-valute. Vestono una lunga zimarra, un piccolo calottino in testa e due lunghi ricci che pendono davanti alle orecchie; e i somali che vi fanno generalmente il facchino o il marinaio, quasi nudi, con enormi parrucche di capelli arricciati, che per sgrassare coprono di calce, la quale li riduce giallo-biancastri.

Posted in Asia, Middle East | Leave a comment