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Ancient Drawings of the Holy City

The ‘monk’s map’ was drawn from a panoramic view from the Mount of Olives, where Christian pilgrims arrived from (Photo: National Library of Israel)

Throughout its long history, the Holy City has always captured the hearts of scholars, researchers, and Christian pilgrims. While they may not have known much about Jerusalem’s geography, that didn’t stop them from making maps. One curator, Dr. Milka Levy-Rubin, a staff member at the National Library of Israel, put together a collection of the city’s most ancient maps, showing us the many ways the Holy City has been drawn.

Jerusalem’s centrality in Christianity is immense, according to Dr. Levy-Rubin, particularly in light of the accounts of the last week in Jesus’ life, which all happened in different places across the city. “Jerusalem is the stage of the most important occurrence in Christianity, and this pinnacle is something every good Christian would like to imagine. This is where the maps come in.”

The “monk’s map,” a drawing from circa 1590, is the first map presented by Levy-Rubin and is considered one of the most ancient maps in the library’s collections. Although its illustrator remained anonymous, researchers believe he was a Franciscan monk who lived in Jerusalem.

“It was drawn from the east, a bird’s eye view from the Mount of Olives, the area the pilgrims came from and watched the city. The map was drawn in the Mamluk period, when the city was under Muslim rule and Christians were not allowed to walk around freely. From the 14th century, the Franciscans assumed the position of the ‘guards of the Holy Land’ and took responsibility for the groups of pilgrims, hosting and leading them on closed routes which were agreed upon in advance.

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Landscape photo of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock in the foreground.

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