Fascinating Rare Century-Old Photos Of Jerusalem

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The ancient and mysterious city of Jerusalem has religious and historical significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Join us as we travel back in time and explore what the ‘City of Gold’ looked like 100 years ago.

Braving The Storm

While the city of Jerusalem typically experiences mild weather, winters can actually get quite cold. Believe it or not, Jerusalem will even see the occasional snow storm! Here we see two British soldiers walking through knee-deep snow in front of the Western Wall.

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What’s In The Cave?

The Tomb of Lazarus, located in the biblical village of Bethany about 1.5 miles east of Jerusalem, is believed to be the site where Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. Today, the cave found on the southeast side of the Mount of Olives is a popular pilgrimage destination for both Christians as well as Muslims. While archeologists have confirmed that the site was once a cemetery, it remains unproven whether or not Lazarus himself was buried in the cave.

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Taking A Load Off

In 1917, General Edmund Allenby led the British to a victory over the Ottomans in the Middle East during World War I. This was just one event that ultimately led to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. From then on, the holy city of Jerusalem was under British rule, and it wasn’t uncommon to see British soldiers walking up and down the narrow corridors of the Old City. In this photo, we see a group of British soldiers taking a break from patrolling the city.

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The Lay Of The Land

In 1881, Anna and Horatio Spafford came to Jerusalem from Chicago and established the American Colony.¬† Their aim was to create a Christian utopian society in the holy land which would help any person in need, regardless of race or religious affiliation. It didn’t take long before Swedish Christians joined and the society expanded their philanthropic work. In 1900, Elijah Meyers of the American Colony began photographing people and events all over the city.¬†This photo was taken between 1900 and 1920 by the American Colony photographers.

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The Unsung Heroes

Jerusalem is a city that stands out thanks to its unique style of architecture. Even today, you’ll notice that stone is one of the most popular building materials in the Old City, with this type of stone even being called ‘Jerusalem stone.’ Given the incredible demand for stone, professional stonecutters, like the men pictured in this photo, never found themselves with a shortage of work. Their backbreaking labor laid the groundwork for a holy city adored by countless people from all over the world.

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Paper Prayers

Jews from all over the world come to Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall, the ancient remains of the Second Jewish Temple. Jewish people will often write their prayers on pieces of paper and place them within the cracks of the limestone. At today’s Western Wall, you’ll find the traditional gender separation barrier, called a ‘mechitzah,’ between men and women. Back when this photo was captured, however, there was nothing separating men from praying alongside women at the holy site.

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A Chamber Of Secrets

The Tomb of Samuel is located nearly a mile north of Jerusalem. It is the purported burial site of Samuel, a prophet in both the Hebrew and Islamic bibles. In the background, we see a mosque underneath which the tomb can be found in a secret chamber. The underground chamber also holds a small synagogue. The rocky hills near the mosque were the perfect destination for shepherds to sit down, drink some water, and take a well-deserved break.

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The Damascus Gate

This photo was captured about 100 years ago just outside the Damascus Gate, one of the primary entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City located on the northwest side of the city. The gate was erected in 1537 while the area was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The Damascus Gate has always been a popular location for merchants and traders. Because the corridor is busy with foot traffic, it’s the ideal place to sell or buy fruits, vegetables, spices, and all kinds of other goods.

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A Bustling Marketplace

Back in the early 20th century, the area surrounding the Tower of David was a prime destination for street vendors, merchants, and traders to pawn off and sell their goods in a public setting. You could find just about anything you would need in this incredibly lively marketplace. If pilgrims weren’t visiting the Old City for religious purposes, they were probably coming to stock up on some items that only the city of Jerusalem could offer them.

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A Flag In The Backdrop

Here we see two men walking towards the Old City. If you look closely, you can see a Turkish flag in the background, a stark reminder of Turkey’s complicated involvement in the intricate history of Jerusalem. In 1831, Wali Muhammed Ali, an Egyptian commander of the Ottoman army, conquered the city, leading to the First Turko-Egyptian War. Then, in 1840, the Turks managed to retake Jerusalem. 1908 saw the Ottoman Empire’s Young Turk Revolution, which eventually led to the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

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The Best Way To Beat The Heat

The Bedouin tribes are groups of nomadic Arab peoples that still exist to this day. Throughout their long and elaborate history, they’ve lived in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, and Iraq. The Bedouins live off the land and earn their livelihood by herding camels and goats. In this photo we see a small group of Bedouins doing their best to stay hydrated (and to keep their donkeys/horses hydrated) in the intense summer heat outside of Jerusalem.

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Working On The Go

As he waits for business on the outskirts of Jerusalem, this itinerant shoemaker does his best to keep his young children entertained. During the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, life was extremely difficult for residents of Jerusalem. If they wanted to keep food on the table for their families, they needed to do whatever it took, even if it meant becoming a shoe salesman who travels from place to place by foot in search of business.

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A Change Of Scenery

This photo was taken at some point between 1898 and 1916 and shows the gap in the Old City Wall near the Jaffa Gate. The gate itself was built in 1538, but in 1898, Ottoman authorities formed the breach in the wall in order to give German emperor Wilhelm II a powerful and triumphant entrance. These days, you can actually still see the same view, but instead of horses, carriages, and camels, the noisy streets are filled with cars and motorcycles.

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Bright And Early

Judging by the lack of foot traffic, this photo of the Damascus Gate must have been captured early in the morning, just after sunrise and before any of the merchants arrived to sell their goods. On a typical day, the marketplace outside of the Old City’s main entrance would be so crowded that it could take several hours just to enter the Old City. Evidently, sheep and their herdsmen had no problems waking up before dawn.

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Hitching A Ride

According to the accounts of the four canonical Gospels, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey. In a city which consists mostly of cobblestone streets, endless stairs, and narrow corridors, it’s no surprise that this method of transportation was still a common practice back in the early 1900s. Some might say that even today, riding a donkey through the Old City is the most practical way to get from point A to point B.

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Stark Contrasts

The landscape of Jerusalem, as well as the rocky terrain surrounding Jerusalem, is truly magnificent. Nowhere else in the world will you find such stark contrasts between a bustling city life and vast rolling hills in such close vicinity to each other. The topography of the land surrounding Jerusalem made it the ideal destination for shepherds looking to herd their livestock, without distancing themselves too far from the necessities and marketplaces found in a major city.

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A Means Of Defense

Thanks to the tremendous amount of daily foot traffic, the Jaffa Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City was the perfect destination for pilgrims and merchants to sell and trade goods, food products, and pottery. The gate was originally designed as a mechanism of defense. Because of the gate’s L-shape, oncoming attacking forces would naturally slow down, giving the defenders a better chance at survival. Today, the street leading to Jaffa Gate is the go-to spot for souvenir shopping in Jerusalem.

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Bird’s-eye View

Looking at 20th century Jerusalem from an aerial view, you can clearly see how much work it took to build the Old City and how much it stands out from its surroundings. The big structure in the center of this photo is the Dome of the Rock, one of the world’s holiest sites for Muslims, located in the heart of the Old City. This magnificent piece of architecture was first built in 691 AD, making it well over 1,000 years old!

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Nomadic Poets

The Bedouin tribesmen depend on their goats and camels as sources of meat, dairy, and wool. Without the luxuries of modern-day technologies, the Bedouins also needed to create their own forms of entertainment. For that reason, the Bedouin culture gained a great appreciation for poetry. If a Bedouin tribe had a poet, they were highly regarded among the Bedouin community. For the Bedouins, poetry is more than just an art form. It is also a way to express information and regulate their society.

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The Tower Of David

The Tower of David, also known as the Jerusalem Citadel, is situated just outside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate entrance and was constructed in order to reinforce a weak spot in the Old City’s wall of defense. While the Citadel is still standing to this day, its immediate surroundings have changed quite a bit since the early 20th century, creating a drastic contrast between a well-preserved ancient world and a modernized western civilization in close proximity.

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The Perfect Desert Beast

In 20th-century Jerusalem, camels were one of the best methods of transportation. Camels store all of their bodies’ fat reserves in their humps. This acts to diminish the insulating effect fat has when it is spread around the body and, in turn, allows camels to better survive in harsh desert climates. Camels also have other physiological adaptations which allow them to go up to 10 days without water. This makes them the perfect animal for coping with the heat of the Middle East.

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The American Colony Arrives

Believed to have been taken in the early 1900s, this photo shows a caravan arriving in Jerusalem while the city was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Locals look on as the unfamiliar vehicle donning an American flag travels down the dirt path and approaches the gates of the Old City. While we don’t have too much information about this photo, we can assume that members of the American Colony had some type of involvement.

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Entering The Old City

This photo shows a group of women walking through a small entrance in the wall of the Old City while carrying baskets filled with pots, pans, and other kitchen supplies used in the 20th century on their heads. While we don’t have a whole lot of background information on this photo, it’s safe to assume that they were on their way to the Old City marketplace, where they could sell or trade their goods with other merchants and traders.

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A Long Journey Ahead

A Bedouin man leads his caravan of camels away from Jerusalem and into the rolling hills of the surrounding terrain. Today, you’ll find a vast network of highways and railroads leading to and from the city, but back in the early 20th century, public transportation was non-existent. Venturing away from Jerusalem required a significant amount of preparation, in addition to patience. The nearest civilization was a long ways away, and traveling via camel didn’t exactly speed things up.

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The Lions’ Gate

There are a total of seven open gates to Jerusalem’s Old City. Pictured in this photo is the Lions’ Gate, situated in the eastern wall. If you look closely, you can see two figures to the left and two to the right of the top of the entrance. While they are commonly mistaken as lions, they are actually meant to be leopards, placed on the wall by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent after the Ottomans defeated the Mamluks in 1517.

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Built For The Elements

The arduous hills of Jerusalem are steep enough to have even the most well-conditioned athlete out of breath by the time they reach the top. Just imagine what it must be like for a 1,000-lb camel lugging 50 pounds or more of supplies up and down the hilly streets of the holy city. Lucky for the Bedouins, these goofy looking creatures are much stronger and tougher than they look, and have adapted surprisingly well to the Middle Eastern elements.

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Banking On Barclays

The Anglo-Egyptian Bank opened their first branch in Jerusalem on April 2, 1918. This was followed shortly by the opening of branches in Jaffa and Haifa. In 1925, the Anglo-Egyptian Bank absorbed into Barclays Bank (Dominion Colonial and Overseas). Today, while Barclays Bank still deals with investment banking in Jerusalem, there no longer exists a physical Barclays Branch in the holy city. In the 1970s, Barclays was taken over by Discount Bank, an operation which has over 10 branches in Jerusalem today.

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Mystical Corridors

The Old City of Jerusalem is home to the holiest sites in the world to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Religious Jews are drawn to the Western Wall and Temple Mount, while Christians come to the Old City to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Muslims pray at the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. People who aren’t religious also flock to Jerusalem to walk the stairs and explore the narrow mystical corridors of the Old City.

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Praying Together

In the early 1900s, Jewish men and women were permitted to pray together at the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites. These days, a barrier exists separating men from women. Even though the physical barrier didn’t exist until the late 1960s, according to the laws of religious Jews, it has always been customary for men and women to pray separate from one another. Back when this photo was taken, however, the Ottomans were in control, and there was no barrier.

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The Test Of Time

A large group of Bedouins and their camels take a break in front of the Damascus Gate at the northwest entrance to the Old City. The Damascus Gate has truly withstood the test of time, standing strong to this day, despite close to half a century of wear and tear. Out of all seven of Jerusalem’s gates to the Old City, the Damascus Gate is the only gate which has managed to preserve the same name it was given in the 10th century.

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