Tag Archives: Francis Bedford

Israel Roundup

Rockefeller Museum

Although few visit, the historic Rockefeller museum in Jerusalem is definitely worth a visit. A blend of western and local eastern architecture, combining historic architecture with modern innovations, the museum was built in 1938, during the Mandate period by the British architect St. Barbe Harrison.

Rockefeller courtyard

Ohanessian tile workIn the main hall is a model of the museum – exit to the courtyard to see the pool, the Armenian mosaics by Ohanessian and the 10 iconic stone reliefs sculpted by Eric Gill representing the major civilizations that left an imprint on this region. Many of the exhibits in the museum are a little dated, walnut wood framed glass cases with dozen of artifacts each, labelling is just a number which you have to cross-reference with a mimeographed book that you can ask for at security. But they have some important pieces: Greekthe Crusader marble sculpted panels from the lintels of the entranceway to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Roman sarcophagi, Umayyad architectural details with their original paint, Crusader capital with goblin from Church of Annunciation, mosaic from an early synagogue, like the one in Jericho also called Peace unto Israel, found in the Druze village of Usifiya.

Having visited the actual site of Hisham’s palace in Jericho and been Romandisappointed at how few of the mosaics and artifacts are on display it was heartening to see the impressive exhibit of sculpture and stucco from Hisham’s palace safe at the museum.

An incredible piece in the courtyard is a Roman wash basin from the 1st century that was found in the Crusader fortress at Montfort – striking how similar it is to the basin that Emperor Augustus sent with Marcus Agrippa as a present for King Herod on display at the Israel museum exhibit on Herod (viewable at https://israel-tourguide.info/2013/02/14/herod-design-realpolitik/).

Wash basin Montfort

There is a very interesting article about architects St. Barbe Harrison and Erich Mendelssohn and their contributions to beautifying Jerusalem. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Jerusalem-the-beautiful-312517

BBC has an article about the Hula painted frog at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22770959

A species of frog that was recently rediscovered after being declared extinct in 1966 has been reclassified as a “living fossil”.

Israel’s Hula painted frog had not been seen for nearly 60 years, but in 2011 one was found lurking in a patch of swampy undergrowth. Tests have revealed that the frog belongs to a group of amphibians that died out 15,000 years ago.


BBC interviewed me for their series, In the Prince’s Footsteps and asked me to take them to the Mar Saba monastery in the Judean desert. We talked about photographer Francis Bedford’s 1862 photograph of the monastery on his travels with Edward, Prince of Wales to the Holy Land. You can read my blog post at Mar Saba and Judean Desert Revisited.

You can hear the interview by clicking on the red button.

I am Gabriel A unique 87 line Hebrew inscription, ink on stone, from the beginning of the Roman period, I am Gabriel, is on display at the Israel museum. Its content is prophetic-apocalyptic, its style literary-religious, and its language reminiscent of the later books of the Prophets. Accompanying it are rare ancient manuscripts, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an. The exhibition traces the changing roles of the angel Gabriel in the three monotheistic religions.

While thinking about the Israel museum plan to spend a day with Herod the Great, legendary builder and King of Judea. Combines an in-depth guided tour of Herodium, Herod’s palace complex in the desert and the site of his tomb with the monumental exhibit “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey”.  https://israel-tourguide.info/herod-the-great-tour/

Jerusalem Botanic Garden is open for free on Fridays & Saturdays in the month of June 2013 for residents of Jerusalem with presentation of your teudat zehut. This is a great opportunity to wander around the garden and discover the lovely, shaded areas of green that are one of the best kept secrets of the City.  http://en.botanic.co.il/Pages/Show/7

Mar Saba and Judean Desert Revisited

I received an email a few weeks ago from Kevin with the BBC in England that he gave me permission to share here.

Dear Shmuel,

I’m producing  a BBC radio series, presented by the British broadcaster John McCarthy. We have been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to make a series of ten 15 minute programmes to follow in the footsteps of Edward Prince of Wales who toured much of the Middle East in 1862.  I’ve been looking at your blog, and saw your excellent entry Photography and Visitors to the Holy Land about his time in Israel.

As you know, he visited Egypt, the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Greece. His journey and the sights along the way were recorded by the photographer Francis Bedford. This was the first time that a royal tour was captured by the still new medium of photography.

As you are clearly interested in this tour, I would very much like to discuss our recording with you, perhaps with a view to interviewing you as a part of the programme.  We will be intending to visit each of these sites, to take a new photograph to match the old one, and to discuss the changes over the intervening 150 years in each location.

Very best and thanks for your time.

Here are another few Bedford photographs.


Tomb of Absalom


In reviewing the photographs taken by Bedford in Israel and talking with Kevin we decided to do Mar Saba, the monastery in the Judean desert.

Jeep tour

So we met up with Raanan, a great jeep driver, who took us off-road across the Judean desert to the overlook of the monastery in the Kidron valley. The desert is very green after the winter rains we had this year. We saw sheep, goats, donkeys and camels grazing on the plants and wildflowers. I took the opportunity to photograph some wildflowers (but that’s for another post).

Our challenge was to try to shoot a photograph that matched the one Bedford took 150 years ago. Bedford’s is a very interesting image because of the angle. Bedford had a good eye and chose to shoot the monastery complex cascading down the cliff, focussing on the channel of the Kidron stream between the two cliffs. Here is my image shot March 18, 2013 with a Nikon D90 digital SLR camera and 18-200mm zoom lens (ISO 200 50 mm f/10 1/320) in black and white and color.



Photography and Visitors to the Holy Land

The Crimean War from 1853-56 was the first reported by daily newspapers and documented by photographs. Hungarian-Romanian photographer de Szathmàri took photos during the war and created albums which he personally offered in 1855 to Napolean III of France and Queen Victoria of England. British photographer, Roger Fenton was sent on assignment to the Crimea for 4 months in 1855 and managed to take over 350 large format photographs.  The Crimean War weakened the Ottoman Turkish empire that had been in power for almost 400 years. European countries recognizing the “sick man on the Bosphorus”, came to visit and stake their claims.

When guiding I point out how the 1860s were pivotal in Jerusalem’s development. In 1860 the British philanthropist Mose Montefiore had Mishkenot Sha’ananim built, the first apartments outside the walls of the Old City. The introduction of steamship travel made it easier to visit foreign countries and with the advent of photography it was possible to bring back images from your travels. One of the earliest such trips was a visit in 1862 to the Holy Land by the 21-year-old Prince of Wales that was documented by the photographer Francis Bedford.

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives, 1862 Francis Bedford

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives, 1862 Francis Bedford

Mark Twain reported on his travels to Europe and the Middle East in 1867 in Innocents Abroad and while in Jerusalem stayed at the Mediterranean Hotel at the same time that the British explorer, Charles Warren was there. The year 1869 marks the opening of the Suez Canal, Thomas Cook escorts his first tour group to Egypt and Palestine and the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph visits the Holy Land, the first crowned head of a Catholic country to visit since the Crusades. In 1873 a group of German Protestants that had already settled at Haifa and founded the German Colony there bought land in Emeq Refaim in Jerusalem to build their colony. Christian Arabs left the Old City and built new homes creating the Greek Colony and Katamon neighborhood. Just before the end of the century, in 1898 the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Augusta Victoria visited the Holy Land; the logistics were arranged by Thomas Cook & Son. The year 1898 is widely accepted as the start of the American Colony Photo Department which documented the Kaiser’s visit, although one of its members had produced photographs earlier.

Let’s go back to February 6, 1862 just eight weeks after his father’s death when Edward, Prince of Wales, and his entourage left England for Egypt. The group crossed Europe to Venice by train, where they joined the royal yacht Osborne for the journey to Alexandria. This was the starting point for the well-planned itinerary that had been chosen by Edward’s father Albert in consultation with a group of scholars and politicians, an extensive tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, part of the process of preparing him to be a model modern constitutional monarch. The group travelled on horseback, camping out in tents. Dr Stanley, spiritual advisor and Dean of Westminster, acted as tour guide because of his extensive knowledge and experience traveling in the East. He would provide a running commentary of both the history and Bible references as they related to the places they visited. Specifically, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Capernaum and Nablus were all names that were particularly significant because of their association with the Bible. The Prince, heir to the throne, would also be guardian of the church so these were places to know about.

April 3, 1862: Our tents were struck at 8.30am and we started at that time (on horseback of course) for Bethlehem, which we reached in about a couple of hours time, stopping on the way at Rachel’s tomb, and it was ascertained for certain that the tomb is on the site of the real one.

April 21, 1862: We lunched under a fig tree at 12 o’clock on the site of where once the city of Capernaum is said to have stood + Mr. Bedford photographed us ‘en groupe’

     – extracts from the Prince’s journal

British photographer Francis Bedford (1815-1894) was invited to make a photographic record of the tour, his most important Royal assignment. Some of the equipment could be taken with him but most had to be sent ahead, to be collected at Alexandria when they arrived. On the tour itself, Bedford would have needed porters to carry all the equipment, a large heavy camera, 10×12 inch glass plate negatives, chemicals, portable darkroom. Many of the materials were fragile and unstable, especially when exposed to extremes of temperature. For each photograph, Bedford had to coat and sensitize the plate, position it in the camera while it was still wet and then expose it. Once the image was captured the plate had to be developed and fixed, while excluding all light; lastly, the plate had to be washed. The photos are remarkable when you consider the conditions and that photography was in its infancy having been invented 21 years earlier.

Valley of Jehosaphat, 1862 Francis Bedford

Valley of Jehosaphat, 1862 Francis Bedford

 Garden of Gethsemane, 1862 Francis Bedford

Garden of Gethsemane, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

For those who can be in Edinburgh, the photographs from the Prince’s visit in 1862 taken by Francis Bedford, which belong to the British Royal Collection, will form part of a new exhibition Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, from March 8, 2013.