'Jerusalem Is in Ruins, Tiberias Deserted': Visiting the Land of Israel, 500 Years Ago

In the detailed travelog he kept when journeying to the Land of Israel in 1521, Italian rabbi and scholar Moses Bassola sheds light on Jewish life at the dawn of Ottoman rule

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The route of Moses Bassola's sailing.Credit: DOROT JEWISH DIVISION, THE MIRIAM AND IRA D. WALLACH DIVISION OF ART / NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Moses Bassola’s trip to the Land of Israel, exactly 500 years ago, started out badly. On his way to Safed, where the renowned Italian rabbi and scholar hoped to pray at and lie on the graves of tzaddikim (righteous men) – he ran into a tree and fell off a camel.

“...and I’m on the camel above the burdens, reciting the prayers and preparing to lay tefillin (phylacteries),” Bassola wrote in Hebrew in his travel journal, at the end of 1521. “We passed through a large valley and a big nut tree there, and there were three camels tied one behind the other and I’m on the middle one, when a branch from that tree struck my face and knocked me to the ground, and the back of my neck hit the hard ground.”

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