Volume 3  Number 2
March 1985

In 1697, safely hidden in a bazaar booth, Henry Maundrell observed the departure of the annual caravan from Ottoman Damascus to Mecca:

"After these Horses came the Mahmal. This is a very large Pavilion of black Silk, pitch'd upon the back of a very great Camel, and spreading its Curtains all round about the Beast down to the ground. The Pavillion is adorn'd at top with a Gold Ball, and with Gold Fringes round about. The Camel that carries it wants not also his Ornaments of large Ropes of Beads, Fish-shells, Fox-tails, and other such fantastical finery hang'd upon his Head, Neck and Legs. All this is design'd for the State of the Alcoran, which is placed with great reverence under the Pavillion, where it rides in State both to and from Mecca. The Alcoran is accompanied with a rich new Carpet which the Grand Seigneur [Ottoman ruler] sends every year for the covering of Mahomet's Tomb, having the old one brought back in return for it, which is esteem'd of an inestimable value, after having been so long next Neighbor to the Prophet's rotten bones." (1)

Maundrell commented that the camel like the carpet was subsequently accorded special treatment, never again having to work. This, and the precise use of the carpet in Mecca are hearsay, but not the kingly practice of a "carpet" gift to a sacred place. What is interesting is the obvious public knowledge and religious purpose of the gift, for royal custom could either have led or reinforced general practice.


  1. Maundrell, Henry, A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, at Easter, A. D. 1697, Oxford, 1732?, p. 394.