From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium Paperback – 5 May 1998
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‘Compulsively readable.’ John Julius Norwich, Observer
‘Everything a really good travel book should be: witty, learned and also very funny.’ Eric Newby
‘Any travel writer who is so good at his job as to be brilliant, applauded, loved and needed has to have an unusual list of qualities, and William Dalrymple has them all in aces. Dalrymple’s ear for conversation is as good as Alan Bennett’s. The best and most unexpected book I have read since I forget when.’ Peter Levi
‘A rich stew of history and travel narrative spiced with anecdote, opinion and bon mots…The future of travel literature lies in the hands of gifted authors like Dalrymple who shine their torches into the shadowy hinterland of the human story – the most foreign territory of all.’ Independent
‘Dalrymple stands out as one of our most talented travel writers. Energetic, thoughtful, curious and courageous.’ Sunday Times
‘William Dalrymple has effortlessly assumed the mantle of Robert Byron and Patrick Leigh Fermor.’ Guardian
‘A splendid, effective and impressive book.’ Financial Times
In the spring of 587 AD, two monks set off on an extraordinary journey that would take them in an arc across the entire Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. On the way John Moschos and his pupil Sophronius the Sophist stayed in caves, monasteries and remote hermitages, collecting the wisdom of the stylites and the desert fathers before their world shattered under the great eruption of Islam. More than a thousand years later, using Moschos's writings as his guide, William Dalrymple set off to retrace their footsteps. Despite centuries of isolation, a surprising number of the monasteries and churches visited by the two monks still survive today, surrounded by often hostile populations. Dalrymple's pilgrimage took him through a bloody civil war in eastern Turkey, the ruins of Beirut, the vicious tensions of the West Bank and a fundamentalist uprising in southern Egypt. His book is an elegy to the slowly dying civilization of Eastern Christianity and the peoples that have kept its flame alive.See all Product description
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Following in the footsteps of two 6th century monks, William Dalrymple takes us on his five month pilgrimage from Mt Athos in Greece, through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, to the Great Kharga Oasis in Upper Egypt. He writes vividly about the distinct landscapes and people he encounters along the way and includes many reference points and stories from the historic journey of the monks (John Mochos and Sophronius) that inspired him. These sit easily alongside Dalrymple's own impressions, discussions and reflections and in this way he creates a wonderful sense of camraderie, a feeling of being alongside him as he travels.
An Observer review on the back cover of the book describes it as "compulsively readable" and I could not have said it any better myself. Wonderfully rich and definitely unputdownable.
ironically, given current events, Syria is described as the best of the countries for Christian minorities at the time of the author's travels, but with signs of the still to come islamic revolution in Egypt apparent with hindsight
I enjoyed this book very much. The atmosphere of the middle east, and of the lost world of Byzantium is beautifully evoked, as are the fascinating tales and faiths of the many monks, priests, nuns and lay people the author meets on his travels.
The author's clearly values tolerance, and does not dismiss or mock the beliefs of those he meets, even when those beliefs are rather extreme, allowing them to put their views in their own words.
Recommended - informative and enjoyable travel writing
After a short section on a monastery on Mount Athos, most of the first 100 pages cover Turkey and give very illuminating material on the country's treatment of Kurds, Christians and other minorities throughout the 20th century. After all the discrimination and oppression that is described, Syria (approximately the next 50 pages) seems to have a positively enlightened régime of religious tolerance.
I found the sections on Lebanon and Israel (including the West Bank territories) extremely informative, and - for totally different reasons - neither country comes out well. Israel's policy seems to be that if it uncovers the remains of Christian buildings it either reburies them (leaving no indication of their presence) or removes them to "secure storage" that is generally inaccessible to the general public, whereas if it uncovers the remains of Jewish buildings (or buildings that it believes that it can claim to have been Jewish), it protects them from the weather, provides guards and guides, adds them to maps and tourist guides, and encourages visitors to see the evidence for continuous Jewish occupation over the past 3,000 years. In contrast, evidence of Christian presence is virtually "edited out of history", to use a phrase by Dalrymple.
The author gives good insights into the lives of ordinary people, especially monks (where found) and other Christians, with plenty of anecdotes, and regularly compares the situation in the mid 1990s, when he was there, with that of the Christians who had been there 1,500 years earlier. This includes humour at some points. He definitely does not seem to be promoting any particular political or religious agenda, other than a concern for those who are exploited by others in whatever country he visited.
The one-star ratings (on Amazon.com) from American supporters of either Jewish settlements in the West Bank or from people who appear to be fundamentalist Christians are not surprising, but in my opinion not justified. Why have I only given the book four stars? In my opinion, some sections are too long and would have benefited from editing. But the book contains many "five-star" sections.
Recommended to those seeking an introduction to the Byzantine church or to the position of Christians in the Middle East -- although the situation for the latter must inevitably have changed substantially since Dalrymple's visit to the region.
It details a five month journey around the Middle East following in the footsteps of the Byzantine monk John Moschos, through the Aegean, the Levant, and the Nile Valley. What is the book reveals are the links and threads that bind the three Abrahamic faiths together yet simultaneously lead them to perpetrate the most horrifying atrocities on each other. At the same time there are some fabulous human stories from the faded glories of Alexandria to the tour of Jerusalem in the company of an Armenian Bishop. It should be noted that this book was originally published in 1998 and many recent events in the region from the fall of Mubarak to the horrors of Syria are foreshadowed in this book.