The map, sketched by a German tourist in 1823
The map, sketched by a German tourist in 1823
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Michal Fattal
There it is - Jerusalem, capital of Israel. Photo by Michal Fattal

A map of Jerusalem that was drafted some 190 years ago by a German tourist was recently unearthed by two researchers – one Israeli, the other German – in an archive in Berlin. The map, sketched by hand in 1823, was discovered in the course of a study conducted in tandem by Israeli researchers and scholars at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography, in Leipzig, Germany.

The study, funded by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development, is intended to conduct a profound reappraisal of the cartography of 19th-century Palestine between the years 1830-1880.

The rediscovered map is highly significant. “It was sketched by hand by a German tourist named Westphal, who arrived in Jerusalem for a visit in 1823,” Prof. Chaim Goren, a historical geographer at the Tel Hai Academic College, told Haaretz. Goren is conducting the study together with Prof. Rehav Rubin of the Hebrew University and scholars from the German institute, including Dr. Bruno Schelhaas.

“We know that additional maps were subsequently drafted on the basis of this one and that numerous research studies of the history of Jerusalem, conducted by scholars all over the world, relied on them,” explains Goren.

Maps are an important basis for every research study, Goren notes. In the history of the cartography of Israel, the mapping of Jerusalem holds a special place, given the city’s holiness and meaning to the three major monotheistic religions. “The development of cartography began with imaginary maps that showed the city in the mind’s eye and perspective of the mapmaker. Later, these maps became realistic maps, which are based mainly on compilation – the compiling of material from various sources, such as textual accounts, graphic depictions and so on,” he says.

The more advanced stage is represented by the survey maps, which rely on the execution of measurements by means of various devices. In the 19th century, these devices were primitive and very simple, but during the 20th century they became more sophisticated. It was not until the end of the second decade of the 19th century that the scientific mapping of Jerusalem began. It was based on exact geographic and topographic data, and on trigonometric calculations and measurements.

“The first survey map of Jerusalem known to scholars was drafted in 1818 by the physician and naturalist Franz Wilhelm Sieber. Prof. Yehoshua Ben-Arieh was among the first scholars to write about these maps,” says Goren.

Aside from this initial map, scholars were aware of another map that was sketched in 1823, according to which later maps were drawn. However, the 1823 map has only now come to light.

In the framework of the current research project, Goren met several months ago with Schelhaas at the map archive of the University of Berlin, where hundreds of thousands of maps have only recently been catalogued.

“It took quite a few years to consolidate and catalogue the two map collections, one of which had been in eastern Berlin and the other at the university in western Berlin,” says Goren. “We sat for weeks on end and studied all of the maps that might have been related to Palestine in general and to Jerusalem specifically, when suddenly we found six sketches done by this same Westphal, drafted in his handwriting. They included the Old City, its division into quarters, the important structures, holy sites, etc."

“When you’re sitting in an archive, you just pounce on things like this. You’re looking at thousands of items, and you have to be patient and have to love what you’re doing. In the end, the 1001st item gives you what you were looking for.”

The map is drafted on A5 greaseproof paper. It correctly and precisely reflects the boundaries of the city, the correct outline of the city’s walls and the location of the key structures,” says Goren. “This map constitutes a very important – and until now, unknown – stage in the history of cartographic research of Jerusalem,” he concludes.