Old Maps of Jerusalem Combine the Sacred With the Realistic

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Map of the Land of Israel with a depiction of Jerusalem, showing the place of the Temple. After the "Vilna Gaon". Manuscript, 19th century.
Map of the Land of Israel with a depiction of Jerusalem, showing the place of the Temple. After the "Vilna Gaon". Manuscript, 19th century.Credit: The Eran Laor Cartographic Collection/ National Library of Israel

The National Library of Israel and Wikimedia have posted 200 historical maps of Jerusalem, some of them rare, on the Internet. The maps are high resolution and free for use.

The project is based on the collection of ancient maps donated to the National Library by Eran Laor, poet, philosopher and Jewish Agency official during the Mandate era. It ranges from hand-drawn and semi-imaginary maps from the 15th century to survey maps of the British Cartographic Service from 1947.

One of the maps in the collection is an orientation map for British soldiers who served in Jerusalem in 1946. Produced during the last phase of the British Mandate, it includes important points for soldiers, such as the army store, military courts and the Allenby Camp, as well as the Rex, Edison, Orion, Tel Or and Zion movie theaters, all of which have disappeared over the years.

The spectacularly colorful map by the Dutch cartographer Christiaan von Adrichem, dating from 1584, combines realistic cartographic knowledge about Jerusalem with an abundance of Christian and biblical traditions. Like many maps of the period, it faces east, with the Temple Mount (including the Temple) occupying a good deal of space. The Holy of Holies is marked by two angels and the four-letter name of God in Hebrew. It also had dozens of precise pictures of biblical events, from the crucifixion of Jesus to Bathsheva at her ablutions.

A history of the world published in 1493 by Schedel Hartmann, a German physician and owner of an extraordinary library for the time, includes a complex and multi-faceted map of Jerusalem combining three periods of the city.

Jerusalem and its suburbs, as it was in the time of Christ, by Adrichem, 1584, printed 1590.Credit: National Library of Israel

The first is Jerusalem at the period of the destruction, with Solomon’s Temple (in the form of the Dome of the Rock) on fire. The second is Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, showing Golgotha, Caiphas’ House, the house of Anna, the mother of John the Baptist, and other sites from Christian tradition. The third is a “realistic” map of Hartmann’s day, including the court of the Turkish sultan and minarets.

Maps from that period were all torn between the imagined, sacred Jerusalem and the real city. In most, both elements are to be found. Angels waft over the Mount of Olives and Jesus walks the streets of the city. In some, the Dome of the Rock can be found and in others, the Temple. In some of the Renaissance-period maps, cartographers copied buildings they knew from Europe and “planted” them in Jerusalem.

A map of Jerusalem published in 1922 by Hachsharat Hayeshuv, a land development company, focused on the Jewish areas of the city. A part of Mount Scopus was marked as the site of the university, which was only constructed three years later. On the other side of the city was the Bonei Bayit neighborhood which in time would become Beit Hakerem. Bonei Bayit was the name of the association that bought the land and built the neighborhood.

The National Library and Wikipedia said that people from all over the world began to use the maps and translate the associated text only hours after they went live on the Internet.

The National Library will soon be providing access to a larger collection belonging to Israeli collector Amir Kahanovich, with 4,000 maps of Jerusalem and Palestine.

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