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236                      JOURNEYS IN PERSIA           LETTER xzvii

exceeding richness, and acres of dazzling salt. It has
very few boats, and none suited for passenger traffic. Its
waters are so salt that fish cannot live in them.

The antiquarian interests of Urmi consist in the semi-
subterranean Syrian church of Mart-Mariam, said to have
been built by the Magi on their return from Bethlehem!
a tower and mosque of Arab architecture seven centuries
old, and some great mounds outside the walls, from sixty
to one hundred feet in height, composed entirely of ashes,
marking the site of the altars at which the rites of one
of the purest of the ancient faiths were celebrated. As
the birthplace of Zoroaster, and for several subsequent
ages the sacred city of the Fire Worshippers and the
scene of the restoration of the Mithraic rites, Urmi must
always remain interesting.

The Christian population of the city is not very large,
though it is estimated that there are 20,000 Syrian
Christians in the villages of the plain. The city Syrians
are mostly well-to-do people, who have come into Urmi
to practise trades. The best carpenters, as well as the
best photographers and tailors, are Syrians, and though
in times past the Moslems refused to buy from the
Christians on the ground that things made by them are
unclean, the prejudice is passing away.

There is a deputy-governor called the Serperast, whose
duty it is to deal with the Christians. The office seems
to have been instituted for their protection at the instiga-
tion of the British Government, but the Europeans regard it
simply as a means of oppression and extortion, and desire
its abolition. Canon Maclean goes so far as to say, " The
multiplication of judges in Persia means the multiplica-
tion of injustice, and of the number of persons who can
extort money from the unfortunate people." The Ser-
perast depends chiefly for his living and for keeping up a
staff of servants on what he can get out of the Christians