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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter XXXIX

Innocents Abroad

Chapter XXXIX

We inquired, and learned that the lions of Smyrna consisted of the ruins
of the ancient citadel, whose broken and prodigious battlements frown
upon the city from a lofty hill just in the edge of the town--the Mount
Pagus of Scripture, they call it; the site of that one of the Seven
Apocalyptic Churches of Asia which was located here in the first century
of the Christian era; and the grave and the place of martyrdom of the
venerable Polycarp, who suffered in Smyrna for his religion some eighteen
hundred years ago.

We took little donkeys and started. We saw Polycarp's tomb, and then
hurried on.

The "Seven Churches"--thus they abbreviate it--came next on the list. We
rode there--about a mile and a half in the sweltering sun--and visited a
little Greek church which they said was built upon the ancient site; and
we paid a small fee, and the holy attendant gave each of us a little wax
candle as a remembrancer of the place, and I put mine in my hat and the
sun melted it and the grease all ran down the back of my neck; and so now
I have not any thing left but the wick, and it is a sorry and a wilted-
looking wick at that.

Several of us argued as well as we could that the "church" mentioned in
the Bible meant a party of Christians, and not a building; that the Bible
spoke of them as being very poor--so poor, I thought, and so subject to
persecution (as per Polycarp's martyrdom) that in the first place they
probably could not have afforded a church edifice, and in the second
would not have dared to build it in the open light of day if they could;
and finally, that if they had had the privilege of building it, common
judgment would have suggested that they build it somewhere near the town.
But the elders of the ship's family ruled us down and scouted our
evidences. However, retribution came to them afterward. They found that
they had been led astray and had gone to the wrong place; they discovered
that the accepted site is in the city.

Riding through the town, we could see marks of the six Smyrnas that have
existed here and been burned up by fire or knocked down by earthquakes.
The hills and the rocks are rent asunder in places, excavations expose
great blocks of building-stone that have lain buried for ages, and all
the mean houses and walls of modern Smyrna along the way are spotted
white with broken pillars, capitals and fragments of sculptured marble
that once adorned the lordly palaces that were the glory of the city in
the olden time.

The ascent of the hill of the citadel is very steep, and we proceeded
rather slowly. But there were matters of interest about us. In one
place, five hundred feet above the sea, the perpendicular bank on the
upper side of the road was ten or fifteen feet high, and the cut exposed
three veins of oyster shells, just as we have seen quartz veins exposed
in the cutting of a road in Nevada or Montana. The veins were about
eighteen inches thick and two or three feet apart, and they slanted along
downward for a distance of thirty feet or more, and then disappeared
where the cut joined the road. Heaven only knows how far a man might
trace them by "stripping." They were clean, nice oyster shells, large,
and just like any other oyster shells. They were thickly massed
together, and none were scattered above or below the veins. Each one was
a well-defined lead by itself, and without a spur. My first instinct was
to set up the usual--


     "We, the undersigned, claim five claims of two hundred feet each,
     (and one for discovery,) on this ledge or lode of oyster-shells,
     with all its dips, spurs, angles, variations and sinuosities, and
     fifty feet on each side of the same, to work it, etc., etc.,
     according to the mining laws of Smyrna."

They were such perfectly natural-looking leads that I could hardly keep
from "taking them up." Among the oyster-shells were mixed many fragments
of ancient, broken crockery ware. Now how did those masses of oyster-
shells get there? I can not determine. Broken crockery and oyster-
shells are suggestive of restaurants--but then they could have had no
such places away up there on that mountain side in our time, because
nobody has lived up there. A restaurant would not pay in such a stony,
forbidding, desolate place. And besides, there were no champagne corks
among the shells. If there ever was a restaurant there, it must have
been in Smyrna's palmy days, when the hills were covered with palaces.
I could believe in one restaurant, on those terms; but then how about the
three? Did they have restaurants there at three different periods of the
world?--because there are two or three feet of solid earth between the
oyster leads. Evidently, the restaurant solution will not answer.

The hill might have been the bottom of the sea, once, and been lifted up,
with its oyster-beds, by an earthquake--but, then, how about the
crockery? And moreover, how about three oyster beds, one above another,
and thick strata of good honest earth between?

That theory will not do. It is just possible that this hill is Mount
Ararat, and that Noah's Ark rested here, and he ate oysters and threw the
shells overboard. But that will not do, either. There are the three
layers again and the solid earth between--and, besides, there were only
eight in Noah's family, and they could not have eaten all these oysters
in the two or three months they staid on top of that mountain. The
beasts--however, it is simply absurd to suppose he did not know any more
than to feed the beasts on oyster suppers.

It is painful--it is even humiliating--but I am reduced at last to one
slender theory: that the oysters climbed up there of their own accord.
But what object could they have had in view?--what did they want up
there? What could any oyster want to climb a hill for? To climb a hill
must necessarily be fatiguing and annoying exercise for an oyster. The
most natural conclusion would be that the oysters climbed up there to
look at the scenery. Yet when one comes to reflect upon the nature of an
oyster, it seems plain that he does not care for scenery. An oyster has
no taste for such things; he cares nothing for the beautiful. An oyster
is of a retiring disposition, and not lively--not even cheerful above the
average, and never enterprising. But above all, an oyster does not take
any interest in scenery--he scorns it. What have I arrived at now?
Simply at the point I started from, namely, those oyster shells are
there, in regular layers, five hundred feet above the sea, and no man
knows how they got there. I have hunted up the guide-books, and the gist
of what they say is this: "They are there, but how they got there is a

Twenty-five years ago, a multitude of people in America put on their
ascension robes, took a tearful leave of their friends, and made ready to
fly up into heaven at the first blast of the trumpet. But the angel did
not blow it. Miller's resurrection day was a failure. The Millerites
were disgusted. I did not suspect that there were Millers in Asia Minor,
but a gentleman tells me that they had it all set for the world to come
to an end in Smyrna one day about three years ago. There was much
buzzing and preparation for a long time previously, and it culminated in
a wild excitement at the appointed time. A vast number of the populace
ascended the citadel hill early in the morning, to get out of the way of
the general destruction, and many of the infatuated closed up their shops
and retired from all earthly business. But the strange part of it was
that about three in the afternoon, while this gentleman and his friends
were at dinner in the hotel, a terrific storm of rain, accompanied by
thunder and lightning, broke forth and continued with dire fury for two
or three hours. It was a thing unprecedented in Smyrna at that time of
the year, and scared some of the most skeptical. The streets ran rivers
and the hotel floor was flooded with water. The dinner had to be
suspended. When the storm finished and left every body drenched through
and through, and melancholy and half-drowned, the ascensionists came down
from the mountain as dry as so many charity-sermons! They had been
looking down upon the fearful storm going on below, and really believed
that their proposed destruction of the world was proving a grand success.

A railway here in Asia--in the dreamy realm of the Orient--in the fabled
land of the Arabian Nights--is a strange thing to think of. And yet they
have one already, and are building another. The present one is well
built and well conducted, by an English Company, but is not doing an
immense amount of business. The first year it carried a good many
passengers, but its freight list only comprised eight hundred pounds of

It runs almost to the very gates of Ephesus--a town great in all ages of
the world--a city familiar to readers of the Bible, and one which was as
old as the very hills when the disciples of Christ preached in its
streets. It dates back to the shadowy ages of tradition, and was the
birthplace of gods renowned in Grecian mythology. The idea of a
locomotive tearing through such a place as this, and waking the phantoms
of its old days of romance out of their dreams of dead and gone
centuries, is curious enough.

We journey thither tomorrow to see the celebrated ruins.

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