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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

000 houses in Birjand and its suburbs


As

the city was built in terraces upon undulating ground and two higher hills, it covered a greater area than it at first appeared to do. The streets were very tortuous and narrow, arched over in some places, forming long dark tunnels, many of the dwellings having rooms over them directly above the roadway.

Making a rough guess, there were, I daresay, some 3,500 to 4,000 houses in Birjand and its suburbs, with a population of not over 30,000 souls. These figures, the natives said, were about correct, but no exact statistics existed.

The higher point of Birjand was at its south-east portion, and at the most extreme south-east point of the town at the bottom of the hill was the high, square, fortress-like enclosure with bastions and a high tower, as represented in the illustration. It was in a dilapidated condition, but was, nevertheless, the only structure in Birjand which had a claim to some picturesqueness. It was the old citadel, inhabited at one time by the Amir. The wall of the citadel facing south had a large window with _musharabeah_ woodwork, and a lower building to the side. The adjacent building also had quaint balconies.

A good view of the whole city was obtained from a high, isolated building to the south of the town, in the centre of a large but somewhat untidy fruit garden, an official residence, but now very little used except in cases of emergency to accommodate

passing officials or distinguished people.

There were some Persian military officers staying there and they most kindly showed me all that there was to be seen, after having entertained me to some refreshments. They conveyed me inside the citadel where they proudly showed me a battery of six nine-pounder guns of obsolete Austrian manufacture; an eighteen pounder bronze gun and another gun of a somewhat smaller calibre, both of Persian make. They were very carelessly kept, there being apparently only a ragged boy or two to look after them.

The officer told me that the garrison of Birjand consisted of one thousand men, about one hundred of whom were stationed in Birjand itself, the rest being scattered in the villages around and at one or two posts along the Afghan frontier. For the accuracy of this statement, however, I leave the entire responsibility to the officer.

He was much distressed when I inquired whether the soldiers were ever drilled in artillery practice, and he said it could not be done because they had not sufficient ammunition, but they possessed some gunpowder. He agreed with me that artillery would be of little use if there was no one who knew how to use it, and no ammunition at hand!

Birjand being so near the Afghan frontier and having direct roads to Meshed, Herat, Sabzawar, Anardar, Farah, Lash, Sistan, Beluchistan, Bandar Abbas, Kerman, Yezd, Isfahan, and Teheran, is a place of interest from a strategic point of view. In its present condition it could not possibly offer any resistance. The city and citadel can be commanded from many points on the hills to the north-east and east, and the citadel--even allowing that it were strong enough to make a resistance--could be shelled with the greatest ease at close range from the hill on which now stands the ruined fortress west of the city. This point could be reached in perfect safety and would afford absolute cover under fire from the citadel, but with modern artillery even of moderate calibre would prove fatal to the citadel itself.


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