|Obtained from here|
Last New Year's Day, Thoul's Paradise enjoyed its first guest post. Your humble host thought he might start a tradition of guest posts at the start of each year. For today's post, I asked James Hutchings to supply commentary on a topic of his choosing. He asked if it needed to be exclusive and I replied that it did not.
Zerzura, or the City of Little Birds, is a city supposed to exist in the Sahara. It may have been first mentioned in Herodotus, who describes it as dedicated to Dionysus. Despite this association with the god of wine and revelry, the inhabitants of the city are supposed to be ascetic and stoic in character. Some sources say that the city was founded by Roman legionaries. Other sources claim that the founders were knights returning from the Crusades. The Kitab al Kanuz, or Book of Hidden Treasures, states that the city is guarded by black giants, who prevent anyone from entering or leaving.
In 1481, a camel driver named Hamid Keila reported to the emir of Benghazi (now in Libya), that he had gotten lost in the desert, after the rest of his party was killed in a sandstorm. Keila stated that he was found by a group of fair men, who wore straight swords rather than scimitars. They took him to a city of white marble, filled with palms, springs, and pools. The main entrance to the city was crowned by a carving of a strange bird. The inhabitants of Zerzura, who called themselves 'El Suri', spoke a form of Arabic.
The emir asked Keila how he had come to Benghazi. The latter became uncomfortable with the questioning, and said that he had escaped one night. The emir asked why it was necessary for him to escape from a city where he had been treated kindly. Receiving no satisfactory answer, the emir had Keila searched by his guards, who found that he carried a large ruby set in a gold ring. Keila could not explain how he came by the ruby. Deciding that he must have stolen the ruby from Zerzura, the emir had Keila taken to the desert and his hands cut off.
The emir later mounted an expedition to search for Zerzura, but was unable to find it.
The repeated failure of expeditions over many centuries to find the city suggests to me that it does not lie in our world at all. It seems to me that Zerzura is most likely a distorted account of the City of the Amazons. The martial nature of the Amazons could explain the association with Romans or crusaders. The 'black giants' may refer to the Amazons' god, Daba, who guards the city in a metaphorical sense. Herodotus seems more likely to be referring to another isolated settlement, that of the Mountain of the Father of Wine.