Tourists, Travellers, and Hotels in Nineteenth-Century Jerusalem

Palestine exploration Fund annuals, Volume 11


Tourists, Travellers, and Hotels in Nineteenth-Century Jerusalem: Palestine exploration Fund annuals, Volume 11

edited by Shimon Gibson, Yoni Shapira and Rupert L. Chapman III
(Leeds, UK: Maney Publishing, 2013), 304 pp., $78 (hardcover)
Reviewed by Nitza Rosovsky

Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt at the dawn of the 19th century rekindled Europe’s interest in the East. The Scientific and Artistic Commission that followed the emperor continued to publish the multivolume Description de L’Egypt long after Napoleon’s defeat, capturing the popular imagination. At the same time, as the Enlightenment began to make way for Romanticism, there was a rebellion against logic and science and a longing to return to a simple belief in God. The desire to reexamine the Bible brought a growing number of visitors to the Holy Land, especially after steam replaced sail on the Mediterranean in the late 1840s, making for safer travel.

There were no hotels in Jerusalem, or elsewhere in the country, during the first decades of the 19th century. Pilgrims and other visitors stayed in religious establishments or hired a dragoman—a guide cum translator—and slept in tents. By the late 1840s, however, as the number of travelers increased, several hotels opened in Jerusalem including the Mediterranean Hotel, considered the best in the city. Between 1849 and 1897 the hotel’s location changed three times. Its first and third locations were known; Tourists, Travellers and Hotels in Nineteenth-Century Jerusalem grew out of the attempt to identify its second location.

The Mediterranean Hotel was of special interest to two of the book’s authors involved with the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), which was established in Britian in 1865 “for the study of the Levant”: Rupert L. Chapman III is the executive secretary of the PEF; Shimon Gibson spent several years researching and cataloging the photographic archives of the PEF, then published Jerusalem in Original Photographs, 1850–1920.

Many of the scholars and investigators who came to Jerusalem under the auspices of the PEF had stayed in the Mediterranean Hotel and mentioned it in letters and diaries. (BAR readers are probably familiar with the names of Charles Warren, author of Underground Jerusalem, and Claude Condor who led the Survey of Western Palestine and published Tent Work in Palestine.) Joined by Yoni Shapira, an Israeli guide and expert on important cultural monuments, the authors eventually identified a building not far from Damascus Gate, by the Austrian Hospice, where the hotel functioned between 1866 and 1869/70.

While searching for the site, the authors gathered an enormous amount of information: the history of the Mediterranean Hotel in its three different locations; the distinguished guests who stayed there such as Mark Twain and Herman Melville. They disentangle the history of other hotels in the Old City, including their locations, owners and dates of operation. They discuss Freemasonry in Jerusalem, list early guidebooks to the city, include an extensive architectural appraisal of the Mediterranean Hotel in its second location and compile an impressive bibliography with more than 600 titles.

But best of all, the book contains some 350 illustrations: maps, drawings, letters and mostly photographs of the city from a wide variety of sources. For anyone interested in 19th-century Jerusalem, the photographs alone make this book a treasure trove.

Born in Jerusalem, historian Nitza Rosovsky has written and lectured on archaeology, photography and travel. She served as curator for exhibits of the Semitic Museum at Harvard and cofounded and codirected the Art/Asia Gallery. Her books include Jerusalem Walks, The Museums of Israel (coauthored with Joy Ungerleider-Mayerson) and In the Land of Israel: My Family 1809–1949. She is editor of City of the Great King: Jerusalem from David to the Present.

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