Study Unveils Maps of Jerusalem from the 17th and 18th Centuries

Prof. Rehav RubinThe study, undertaken with the assistance of the Israel Science Foundation (ISF), analyzes a group of images drawn in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the monasteries of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem, which are in fact maps that depict Jerusalem and the Holy Land. These maps were drawn in a style typical of ecclesiastic art and are very different from the maps that we know today, which have been widespread in the West since printing began. This group of “maps-icons” has unique characteristics in terms of content, cartographic outlook, and iconography. They were drawn in Jerusalem and sold to pilgrims who took them home as souvenirs from the Holy Land; thus, they were distributed around the world.

One of the maps-icons is held in a museum in the city of Saumur in northwest France. At the top of the map, Greek letters read “The Holy City Jerusalem and Its Environs, 1704.” The bottom of the map shows the Mediterranean Sea from Jaffa (at the left) to Gaza; above is the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea. In the Jordan River, Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist is shown. On the upper left is Mount Tabor, where Jesus' transfiguration took place, and at the right is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Mar Saba monastery in the Judean desert. At the forefront is the Monastery of the Cross. Thus is created a cartographic frame that defines east as up, south as right, and north as left. Within the frame the sacred places and other religious traditions are depicted.

In the center of the icon is a picture of Jerusalem, surrounded by a wall in a zig-zag pattern, with the city’s gates. In the middle of the western wall Jaffa Gate appears; next to it is the town citadel, called “David’s House”; and within the walls are the city’s main monasteries, the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aksa mosque. In the center of the city, on a large scale, a kind of cross-section of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is visible. In the left wing, the rotunda’s dome is visible; beneath it, Jesus' grave, with his figure rising above it, appears. In the foreground, the church’s double entrance is seen; above it, Jesus' anointment on the Stone of the Anointing is found inside the entrance. Above that stands the dome of the Catholicon, the church’s central vestibule, and there the Omphalos, the center of the world, can also be seen. To the right, the chapel of Golgotha is clearly visible with the image of Jesus on the cross.

Above Jerusalem’s eastern wall, a number of sites that are in close proximity to Jerusalem appear (from left to right): Mary’s tomb near Gethsemane; the peak of the Mount of Olives and the place of the ascent; Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemane; the Tomb of Absalom and the Tomb of Zechariah (identified in Christian tradition as the burial place of Jesus' brother James); and behind and above them Bethany; the Siloan drawn as a tunnel with stairs; the al-Eizariya village, which is the place of Lazarus’s home; and En Rogel, which is mentioned in Greek compositions by its Arabic name Be’er Iyov. A detailed article presenting these maps-icons and analyzing their content as published a number of months ago in an international Internet journal that examines maps, cartography, and GIS.

Source: The Department of Geography newsletter, Hebrew University