II. Jerusalem and Mapmaking

Mark ye well her ramparts . . . [Psalms 48:14]

Jerusalem occupies an important position in the history of cartography. The Bible tells us that the city was first mapped in response to a divine command to the Prophet Ezekiel: “Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile and lay it before thee, and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem” [Ezekiel 4:1]. The Book of Ezekiel also provided meticulously detailed descriptions that formed the basis of later plans and views of Solomon’s Temple (see object 29). Furthermore, the late Medieval practice of placing Jerusalem at the center of world maps arose from a literal interpretation of Ezekiel 5:5: “This city of Jerusalem I have set in the midst of nations, with other countries round about her” (see objects 25-28). Jerusalem is prominently depicted on many landmarks of early mapmaking, three of which are included in this exhibition. The city appears as “Aelia Capitolina” on a fourth-century Roman road map of the world (object 8). The oldest surviving detailed map (reproduced in object 9), contains a large birds-eye view of “The Holy City of Jerusalem.” A centrally placed image of the walled city of Jerusalem dominates the first modern printed map (object 10).


This is the first printed version of a twelfth- or early thirteenth-century manuscript copied from a now-lost Roman road map compiled in the fourth century. Commonly called the "Peutinger Table," it is the best surviving specimen of Roman cartography and is named after Konrad Peutinger, the sixteenth-century German scholar who preserved it. The manuscript was in the form of a vellum scroll approximately thirteen inches high and more than twenty-two feet long. This is one of four sheets of the engraved version, each sheet containing two parallel map segments; if all of the segments were joined, they would form an elongated map approximately eight inches high and more than thirteen feet long. The map depicts the Roman Empire from Britain to India. As with its modern counterparts, strip road maps and subway diagrams, geographic accuracy is sacrificed to expediency. Topographic features are compressed and distorted, and both orientation and scale are variable. However, roads, cities, distances between landmarks, temples, forts, and spas are depicted with sufficient accuracy to serve the needs of military and civilian travelers. The detail of the lower segment depicts the Holy Land with the Nile Delta at the left. Jerusalem is represented as two buildings located just above the Mount of Olives ("Mons Oliueti") and the Dead Sea ("Lac. Aspaltidis"). An inscription notes that the city was formerly called Hierusalem and is now Helya [Aelia] Capitolina. This remarkable map, in its various forms, has had a useful life of more than fifteen hundred years. It is believed to have continued in use after the fall of the Roman Empire, serving medieval and Renaissance travelers, including pilgrims to the Holy Land. Most recently, it is said to have played a significant role during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. The Israeli chief of operations, Yigael Yadin, was a professional archaeologist who knew that part of the ancient Roman road from Jerusalem to Eilat still existed under the sand of the Negev Desert. Using this route, an Israeli armored column scored a major victory by staging a surprise attack and capturing the strategic city of Eilat.


Flemish, 1527-1598
Antwerp, 1598
Engraving, 39.8 x 51.8 cm (One of four sheets)
Osher Collection


The earliest surviving map of Palestine is a large colored mosaic on the floor of a sixth-century Byzantine church in Madaba, Jordan. Although several sections of the map have been destroyed, the depiction of Jerusalem, seen here, is largely intact. It is presented in a bird's-eye view from the west, with sufficient detail to allow identification of most of the landmarks as they existed in the late sixth century. The wall of the city exhibits several towers and at least three gates, the largest of which, today's Damascus Gate, is at the northern (left) extremity. Immediately within the gate is a plaza containing a column that is believed to have served as a reference marker for surveys during the Byzantine period. The colonnaded avenue extending across the center of the city is the main thoroughfare or Cardo (Latin for "axis"). Following the practice of the time, important structures are enlarged, often crowding out buildings of lesser importance. Churches are distinguished by their red roofs. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is at the lower center, and to its right are David's Gate and Tower. At the top right, the Golden Gate leads to the Temple Mount.


Madaba, Jordan, ca. AD 565
Color reproduction, Jerusalem detail, 22.0 x 31.5 cm
Kyram Collection

[Cedar et tabernacla eius Aras wecha unde baldach in Job]

This 1475 map of the Holy Land is regarded as the first modern printed map because it is not derived from a classical source (Ptolemy), nor is it in the circular schematic format characteristic of medieval maps. However, it retains two attributes of earlier maps: it is "oriented" with east at the top, and Jerusalem is at the center. The geographic information is taken largely from a now lost manuscript map made two centuries earlier by a Dominican pilgrim, Burchard of Mt. Sion. In this bird's-eye view, topographic features are portrayed with reasonable accuracy, and cities and regions are depicted as stylized hills. Jerusalem is dominant, represented as a circular walled city overlooked by the Mount of Olives, with Bethlehem nearby on the right. Egypt and Gaza are in the lower right corner; the port of Jaffa is at the bottom center; the walled city of Acre ("Accon") is to the left of Jerusalem; and Damascus is at the upper left border. Crudely illustrated Biblical scenes include Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea (lower right), Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai (upper right corner), spires of the submerged cities of Sodom and Gomorrah protruding from the Dead Sea (upper right), the Baptism of Jesus (upper center), and the Crucifixion (below Jerusalem). Compass directions are indicated by eight "wind-blowers" at the edges of the map.


German, fl. ca. 1460-1480
[Cedar et tabernacla eius Aras wecha unde baldach in Job]
From: Rudimentum Novitiorum
Lubeck, 1475
Woodcut (two blocks), hand colored, 39.2 x 57.7 cm
Osher Collection