Pictures from a tour in Palestine 100 years ago
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For June – the beginning of the holiday season for some – we return to the Killalloe lantern slide collection (featured in February and now available at this link) to view the contents of another box of photographs; this time some 74 images of a tour in Palestine taken at least 100 years ago.
Like the Indian pictures, we speculate that this collection dates from the early 20th century, probably no later than c. 1912, and certainly no later than 1918, when Turkish rule of Palestine came to an end. We know this because in a couple of images (including the opening one of the arrival of the boat at the landing place) the Turkish flag is flying, while at the shrines within the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – by tradition built over the little cave where Jesus was born – armed Turkish guards are clearly visible keeping watch at these holy sites.
We further speculate that all the images in the Palestine collection were taken by the same photographer, who as yet remains unidentified and judging by the quality of his work (including the set up and composition of his pictures) was either a professional or very skilled amateur.
We may, however, get a glimpse of what he looked like in the picture of the grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where in the cramped space within it a European–looking man is seen posing looking towards the altar in the recess at the top of the former cave attended by Greek Orthodox priests. It is possible that he set up the camera on its stand, just behind a little boy who is kneeling in the foreground and had time to hop into the photograph.
The flimsy cardboard drawer box in which he stored his precious slides belies the wealth of visual information he was able to capture from behind his lens as he travelled to Jerusalem, via the port of Jaffa, to view the holy sites and street scenes in the city and its environs, before exploring several other locations in Palestine, including Bethany, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, the Jordan and the Dead Sea, Shechem (modern–day Nablus) and Nazareth.
Now, probably for the first time since they were processed and shown to the photographer’s fascinated contemporaries following his return home from the pilgrimage, digital technology makes it possible for a worldwide audience to time travel on the journey of an early 20th–century Irish (possibly Church of Ireland) pilgrim.
In the full slide show viewable below not only are the wonders of the holy sites captured, but even more interesting we get rare glimpses of daily life for ordinary people in the streets of Jerusalem and other places throughout the Judean ‘wilderness’, as well as a sense of the nature of travel via steam ship, railway and carriage in Palestine as it was during the last days of Turkish rule.
By the late 19th century, ‘the tour of Palestine’ was an increasingly– fashionable possibility for the adventurous traveller and earnest pilgrim, and a host of guide books were published in response to the growing trend. In tandem with the growing popularity of tourism, photography also developed. In a recent feature article published in the Irish Catholic, Peter Costello highlighted the importance of the guide books produced by the firm of Karl Baedeker in Leipzig – the Lonely Planet of their day – who had first published in German a Guide to Syria and Palestine in 1875 (available on this link). The fifth edition of this was published in English in 1912, coinciding with the likely date of our photographs. Thanks to the cooperation of the Central Catholic Library in Dublin, which holds a copy, we were able to use Baedeker’s descriptive text as the reference point from which to rearrange the random order of the slides and reconstruct accurately the likely itinerary of our photographer’s journey.
This began at Jaffa – over 50km west of Jerusalem on the coast, considered ‘the harbour of Jerusalem and entry point to the Holy Land’. The opening slide is simply labelled by the photographer as ‘boat going through the rocks’, and it shows one of the tender boats that collected passengers from the steam ships to bring them safely to shore at ‘the landing place’ in the inner harbour, shown in the next image. According to ‘Baedeker’, Jaffa was prone to ‘obstruction by breakers’ forcing the packet boats to drop anchor a mile or more from the shore, with the result that ‘the landing is consequently rather unpleasant, and becomes impossible if the sea should be rough’ (in which case the boats would be directed further north to Haifa for safer disembarkation). On this occasion, however as the opening slides show, the sea was relatively calm and arrival at ‘the landing place’ looks smooth.
The steamers generally arrived at Jaffa very early in the morning, according to ‘Baedeker’, giving the traveller time ‘to look around the town’ before taking the 2pm train for the trip down to Jerusalem – then a four–hour train journey stopping at various points along the way. Clearly our photographer did just that, for the next slide shows he has clambered with his camera to the top of the town to a famous landmark – Simon the Tanner’s House (where Peter is said to have been staying when he had his visionary dream of heaven, and where he revived Tabitha) to take an aerial shot of the harbour, with the docked packets beyond the rocks in the background, and the lighthouse (constructed in 1875 to guide ships and fishing boats through the rocks) in the foreground. He also captured an image of Tabitha’s Well, associated with the same dream, lying to the east of Jaffa, before boarding his train. The next shot is of the first–stop on the Jaffa–Jerusalem line, the town of Ramleh, where a passing cavalcade of camels seen in the foreground might have prompted him to take this panoramic view.
The photographer’s arrival at Jerusalem was clearly of some excitement to him. He labeled the slide ‘the first view of Jerusalem’ and by comparing the image with the map of Jerusalem and its environs reproduced here from the ‘Baedeker’ guide, we can see exactly where he was on the Station Road – just before the bend in the road going up to the city from the south.
The train station, completed in 1892 (which had opened up the city’s tourism from that date) was located a couple of miles south west of the walled city, and in the foreground of the arrival image shown above, we can see a group of the infamous dragomen on their donkeys who frequented the Station Road hoping for hire by incoming travellers. ‘Baedeker’ warned readers only to use reputable dragomen, and our photographer appears to have passed through them, probably by carriage, and on to where the Station Road terminated at Jaffa Gate and, as he describes it: ‘the citadel of Zion’.
Then, as now, the hub for excursions, the functional role of this area as the collecting point for carriages and horses at the beginning of the 20th century, to take tourists on trips outside the old walled city, is clearly visible in this shot.
Basing himself in the one of the Christian guest houses or hostels, our photographer may initially have spent several days photographing places in Jerusalem and its immediate environs. Over half of the surviving images in this collection were taken in and around Jerusalem – indicating the city’s primary importance in biblical history, and also in the mind of the touring pilgrim. However, he also took excursions to several other locations, captured in the remaining photographs of the collection, as we will see below.
Starting in Jerusalem then, one can imagine our intrepid traveller, setting up his stand to steady the camera for the several stunning wide angle views of the walls of the city which we have next gathered together.
Views of the city ‘from the north’, ‘looking south’, of Mount Zion – location of the room of the Last Supper and Church of the Dormition, from the tower of the Church of the Resurrection ‘looking towards the Mount of Olives’, of the city ‘from Olivet’ (the Mount of Olives) and of the ‘Mount of Olives from the City Wall’ all provide valuable visual context for the viewer.
He also captured the main gates into the walled city and associated street scenes – including the ‘street of steps’ which is the only colour image in the collection (which has been hand–tinted, evidence of a skilled photographer processing his own work). Also the hustle and bustle of commercial life outside Damascus Gate – an atmospheric feature of this street that continues today. Considerable focus on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (featured in five images) – being the traditional location of crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus – especially the evocative image looking towards it over the rooftops of the city emphasize the Christian focus of the collection as a whole.
We have next grouped images of other holy sites in Jerusalem together. A single image of the then very cramped area referred to as the ‘Jewish Wailing Place’ at the Western Wall, and two of the Dome of the Rock or Mosque of Omar show fleeting deference to the most holy sites of the other Abrahamic faiths. By contrast, it is biblical scenes relevant to Christianity that appear to afford most of our photographer’s attentions – the Ecce Homo arch, over the path that according to tradition Jesus walked carrying his cross on the way to his crucifixion where Pontius Pilate declared ‘behold the man’; the Towers of Antonio and David, as well as the Pool of Bethesda associated in Christian tradition with the healings of Jesus, and Solomon’s Quarries, follow next.
In the immediate environs of the city, our photographer spent further time. To the north, two images of ‘Gordon’s Calvary’, or the Garden Tomb – being the alternative site for Golgotha speculated by General Charles Gordon at the end of the 19th–century, and widely considered and visited from that time as the alternative ‘Protestant’ site for the burial and resurrection of Jesus – may reveal our photographer’s Protestant identity.
To the east, he takes two evocative images in the Garden of Gethsemene, before heading into the Kidron Valley, capturing Absalom’s tower and the pool of Siloam at the village of Siloam, the latter associated in Christian tradition with Jesus healing the blind man. Finally, he captures a view looking back to Jerusalem from ‘Ein Royal’, being Ein Karem associated as the birthplace of St John the Baptist, and ‘Joab’s Well’ located therein.
The next images which have been grouped together are significant because they capture everyday life in the streets and environs of Jerusalem, and reveal the visual aspects that were new to this traveller – camels loaded with sacks, a money changer, a bread seller, the water sack in use, how water was carried from a well, as well as the action shot of ploughing with ox and ass.
The remainder of the collection is taken up by the photographer’s excursions further afield. First was Bethlehem, which would have been reached in a short time by carriage, or in two hours by foot, but given he was carrying his photographic equipment, he may have taken the carriage option. As well as the general view of the little town set in its surrounding olive fields, he also set up the atmospheric shots in the Church of the Nativity, carefully guarded, as we have discussed above, and captured Rachel’s Tomb – a site revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike on the outskirts of the town nearer Jerusalem, believed by some to be the burial place of the biblical matriarch Rachel.
Another excursion was to Bethany, site of the miracle when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and the exterior entrance to Lazarus Tomb is pictured, as well as the house where Mary and Martha are alleged to have lived. Via Bethany, the photographer probably headed on to Jericho, via the iconic landmark called ‘the Good Samaritan Inn’, taking in the Gorge of Brook Cherith (site of the temptation of Jesus) and Elisha’s Fountain, before reaching the Dead Sea, where the camp of his guides may be seen in the foreground, and beyond it to the River Jordan.
Another excursion, perhaps undertaken overnight and labelled by our photographer as the ‘Wilderness of Judea’, it is followed by his encounter of a Bedouin camp, where he captures the scene of ‘natives eating’. These latter images may have been taken en route to his three further excursion points that are also revealed by the collection – to Hebron, located four and a half hours south of Jerusalem by carriage road; to Shechem (modern–day Nablus) located according to ‘Baedeker’ seven hours away by carriage (not including halts which were recommended), and finally the town of Nazareth, a further three hours north by carriage.
At Hebron, the importance of local industrial manufacture was captured by the image labelled ‘native tannery Hebron’, showing the process of laying out cattle or goat skins to dry in the sun. Once dried, the skins would be used for a variety of purposes, principal among them as water carriers which could be closed at the top.
On the way to Shechem – site of the Samaritan monastery, our traveller stopped off at the biblical sites of Jacob’s Well where Jesus met the Woman of Samaria, which is tended in the image by a Greek Orthadox priest, and Joseph’s Tomb, agreed by Jews, Christians and Muslims to be the parcel of ground where the Israelites buried Joseph. Following a general view of the town, the next and final image in the collection is a simple panoramic one of Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus.
After this brief view of Nazareth, the slide show concludes abruptly – the sudden end an indication that there must have been more pictures in the original collection.
The traveller might have returned to Jerusalem, or perhaps he moved west to Haifa to catch his steam packet home, or there again he might have continued his travels by road further north into Syria. No further images survive to tell us of his onward journey, or how his Holy Land journey was completed. We can only speculate and hope that at some future date the photographer and his story might be more fully explained.
All 74 of the slides in the Palestine lantern slide collection measure 80mmx80mm and are in good condition. They were arranged randomly in their original storage box, and to make some geographical sense have been rearranged for the slide show presentation in accordance with itineraries in the ‘Baedeker’ travel guide. Most of the slides were labeled with a brief description by the photographer, making it easy to identify most of the locations. Each label is reproduced here as the relevant caption for each slide, or where no label is present, information given in square brackets supplements the missing text. Additional description information is also provided in square brackets. Although they now comprise only 74 slides, the numbering system still visible on most of the slides would indicate that the surviving images were part of a much larger collection, no longer extant.
To view the “tour of Palestine 100 years ago” slide show click here.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood