Jerusalem
then, and now

Jerusalem
then, and now

street photography
across time

Like all cities, Jerusalem is built on its past, however unlike most cities, its past does not build its present structure only in a physical sense — rather Jerusalem is constantly shaped by the power of the legends and the hopes that billions have laid onto its narrow alleys, and dusty corners.

 

Small, ordinary places are imbued with cosmic significance, and as such they are often preserved from destruction, and also extensively documented throughout the ages in ways that far outstrip the forgotten corners of other historic cities.

 

This tendency presents a unique photographic opportunity. Jerusalem has always been high on the shotlist of pioneering photographers since the earliest days of practical photography in the mid 19th century. The wealth of images that exist from the 170 years since then, combined with the relatively unchanging face of the city’s landscape, means that one can directly compare images from today against photographs that were taken decades, even centuries ago.

 

Conveniently, the Library of Congress maintains an extensive archive of copyright free photography that goes back to the earliest days of the medium. A simple search for Jerusalem yields over 16,000 results. I spent a few hours sifting through these images to select those that were most interesting to me, and that were taken in readily identifiable locations. And then I spent a few days walking around Jerusalem’s Old City replicating the exact perspectives of the shots.

 

There is no particular order or focus to these pictures, as it is highly dependent on what is available in the public record. This is an ongoing project, and I plan to add more images to this photoessay as I discover new images to add.

Damascus Gate

(circa 1920-1933)

In the Middle East, it is common practice to name the gates of walled cities after the next major stop along the trade route towards which the gate faces. This gate, located on the northwest corner of Jerusalem’s old city, was once the point of departure for caravans traveling to Damascus, 136 miles away — about a 10 day journey by foot.

 

The Hebrew name is Nablus Gate (Sha’ar Shechem), after a city that is closer than Damascus, albeit smaller. The common Arabic name is the Gate of the Pillar (Bab il-Amud), which recalls a time when a Roman victory pillar topped with a statue of Emperor Hadrian dominated the public square.

These days it is the primary entrance into the Muslim quarter of the old city, and the area immediately surrounding the entrance has been built up into a sort of public square with stadium seating. Just past the gate and inside the city walls is the Arab bazaar and marketplace, where many of the Arab residents of the Eastern half of the city shop for everyday items or sit in the many restaurants and cafes that line the narrow street that heads down the hill toward the entrances to the Haram esh-Sharif, the Wailing Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

British Soldiers behind Lion’s Gate

April 8, 1920

Soldiers of the British legion pose with Lewis gun in front of Lion’s gate on the East end of the old city. The 1920s was the beginning of the British Mandate in Palestine, when the British administered the region for about 30 years leading up to the formation of the State of Israel. This was also a time when the competing nationalist movements of the Arabs and the Jews rose to prominence, and it was marked by increased tensions between the two groups.

 

This photograph was taken the day after the Nebi Musa Riots, where the British imposed martial law and curfews in the old city in order to quell the violence that had erupted against the Jewish community due to a growing sense of concern and resentment in the Arab community that the British leadership was promoting Jewish interests over those of the Arabs.

 

Naturally, each side viewed and views this tragedy as the fault of the other, and there is plenty of disagreement about the degrees of responsibility that each side bears. You are welcome to read things that were written by people who know more about the history than I do, and form your own opinions. In any case, one undisputed result of this event is that the Jewish community saw the riots as a failure of the British Mandate’s ability to protect them, and set off a shift towards increased self-reliance and independence in matters of security and infrastructure.

This increased focus on self reliance and security was ultimately the foundation for much of the thinking that eventually led to the Jewish community’s preparedness and successes in the 1948 Arab—Israeli war, as well as further conflicts that would follow.

 

Today, Israel is in complete control of the Old City, and it maintains a considerable military presence throughout its winding streets. The situation feels and is calm, however tensions stemming from competing interests, influence, ownership, and identity, continue to plague this hallowed city.

The Arch of Ecce Homo

circa 1890-1900

Although the latest research indicates that the arch was built by the Emperor Hadrian in the 1st century CE, tradition holds that this arch a part of the palace where Pontius Pilate issued his judgement against Jesus before he was crucified.

 

The arch itself stretches above the Via Dolorosa (roughly translates as ‘the way of suffering’), which is believed to be the route Jesus walked when he carried his cross to the location of his Crucifixion. The term ‘Ecce Homo’ is a reference to the speech Pontius Pilate made when he brought a battered Jesus in front of the crowd seeking his execution clothed in a purple robe and a crown of thorns, and said  “behold the man!” (‘ecce homo’ in latin). This arch is believed to be the place where Pontious Pilate stood.

The arch is the first of the fourteen stations of the cross, a series of locations that mark notable moments in the crucifixion story. Religious tourists undertake this walk as an integral part of their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Field Marshal Allenby outside of Jaffa Gate

December 11, 1917

 

Although the initial surrender of the city by the Ottomans to the British had occurred two days prior atop a nondescript hill on the outskirts of the city, General Allenby entered the city via Jaffa gate in order to accept the surrender under more grand ceremonial circumstances.

 

Despite this, he made it a point to dismount his horse before he entered the city in order to show respect to the holy place that he was entering (this image was taken just outside the city walls).

The surrender of Jerusalem to the British was a heavy blow to the Ottoman empire, who had now lost control of numerous Islamic holy sites, including Mecca the year prior during the Arab Revolt of WWI. This shift in regional influence from the Ottomans to the Europeans was a fundamental change to the political structure of the region that over the course of a few decades would result in the current situation.

Searching Jewish Rabbi for Hidden Arms

April 8, 1920

Also taken the day immediately after the Nebi Musa riots of 1920, this image shows British troops checking a rabbi for weapons as he as part of their efforts to prevent further outbreaks of violence within the city walls.

 

The building in the background is the New Imperial Hotel, which is one of the oldest hotels in the city. It was in 1884 on an unused plot of land just inside Jaffa Gate. Workers discovered a pool while building the foundation that is said to be the pool where Bathsheba bathed while King David looked on — according to longstanding traditions, a nearby tower is thought to be King David’s private dwelling.

Today Jaffa gate is the main entrance into the Jewish and Armenian quarters. Located on the South end of the city, it is also known as Bab el-Khalil in Arabic which translates to ‘Gate of the Friend,’ which is a reference to the next major city towards which the gate points: Hebron.

 

Hebron is considered to be the burial site for Abraham, who was commonly referred to as the friend of God. This name has come to describe the entire city of Hebron, as well as the gate in Jerusalem that points towards it.

 

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