Tag Archives: photos

Photographs 1900

Walking around in the Arab shuq you might notice that many of the shops have matted black and white photographs from the turn of the century of Jerusalem and Israel for sale. It’s not clear who the photographers are or when the photos were taken but you can learn a lot about how Jerusalem developed at the end of the Ottoman period and transition to the British mandate from these photos. It’s interesting to compare a photograph taken today at the same place with the similar early photo.

If you are walking through the Muslim quarter toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Al Khanka Street you will find the shop Elia’s Photo with black and white photographs going back to the 1920s in the window. On entering you will meet Kevork Kahvedjian a delightful gentleman who I’ve heard speak English, Hebrew and Arabic (he’s Armenian so most likely he speaks that too) who will be happy to talk with you and show you the photographs. Most of the photos on display were taken by his father Elia (reprinted from the original negatives) but some are even earlier that Mr Kahvedjian has collected. There is also a hardcover book of 131 of his father’s photographs, “Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes” (their website lists it at 230 NIS, on Amazon  it’s $200. – it makes a great present or souvenir).

Elijah Meyers founded the American Colony Photo Department in 1898 (though some photos are earlier). Meyers, who emigrated from India, was a Jewish convert to Christianity. 1898 was the year of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Augusta Victoria’s visit, an auspicious start to the photographic enterprise as people were interested in photos of the visit.

Meyers instructed the young Swede Lewis Larsson in photography. Larsson (1881?-1958) was among the original group of Swedish colonists who arrived in Jerusalem in 1896 and became one of the most skillful of the photographers. Not only a keen observer, Larson travelled extensively in the Middle East between 1903 and 1910.

Larson knew what scenes were important to capture visually – he photographed landscapes, scenes of village life, the violent struggles at the end of World War I with the collapse of Ottoman empire. In 1904, Lewis Larsson succeeded Elijah Meyers as head of the Photo Department. Larsson ran the department for the next thirty years, even while he served as Vice Consul and later Swedish Consul for Palestine from 1920 to 1925.

G. Eric Matson (1888-1977) also came to the American Colony from Sweden in 1896 with his family as a young child. He began working in the Photo Department darkroom as a teenager in the early 1900s, although it is uncertain when he actually began taking photographs. Matson married an American, Edith Yantiss who also worked in the darkroom.

Together the Matsons excelled in innovative techniques, such as coloring photographs with oil paint, producing double stereoscopic photographs to create 3-D pictures, taking photographs with infrared film and aerial shots.

In 1934, the original colony disbanded and Matson gained control of the Photo Department with its large collection of photographs. The Matsons continued their photographic work under the American Colony Photo Department name until 1940, when they renamed the business the “Matson Photo Service.” In 1946, in the face of increasing violence in Palestine, the Matsons left Jerusalem for southern California. The staff shipped the bulk of the glass plate negatives to the United States, with the remaining negatives relocated to the basement of the International YMCA for safekeeping (unfortunately when retrieved in 1970 they had sustained water damage). By the early 1950s, with tourism on the decline, the Photo Service’s staff dispersed, forcing the closing of the Jerusalem operation.

Realizing the Collection’s historic value, in 1966 Eric Matson donated the thousands of negatives and 11 albums of contact prints to the Library of Congress who have digitized the images and made them freely available on the Internet at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/matpc/ – a great record of Jerusalem and Palestine during the first 50 years of the 20th century.

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Mosaics at Hirbet Midras

All of the floors recently uncovered in the church at Hirbet Midras have incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved. The mosaics include both intricate geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. The tesserae are fine, 7mm cubes in an assortment of colors enabling the artists to create realistic images. You can click on any of the images to see it in higher resolution.

The apse of the church with a geometric rectangular carpet; the curved part has an image of a rooster and duck in a design of grapevine tendrils and bunches of grapes.

Display of mosaics in the aisle, geometric patterns on either side of a panel with chukar birds.

Close up of the chukar bird panel.

Panel that combines birds, fish and lotus.

Image of a lion attacking what looks like an ibex among grapevines. Interesting to compare it with the image of the lion attacking the deer under the tree from Hisham’s Palace (Khirbet El-Mafjar, 7th century) near Jericho.

Byzantine Church, Hirbet Midras

Amir Ganor is not your usual archaeologist. Although he works for the Israel Antiquities Authority he packs a handgun because his primary responsibility is apprehending thieves who plunder sites for valuable artifacts to sell on the antiquities market. In this case a group of Palestinians were breaking into the complex of tunnels and caves in the Judean Coastal Plain or shefela in the area of Beit Guvrin, specifically Hirbet Midras, looking for coins and other treasure. This led Ganor to the site where a large stone lintel was uncovered.

The same lintel was first uncovered in the 1980s and based on the expert opinion of Prof. Amos Kloner was thought to be from a synagogue since it was almost identical to one found in the north at Hirbet Nevoraya. Ganor requested approval and support from the Antiquities Authority to excavate the area to discover more about the public building. Within a short time very impressive and beautiful floor mosaics were uncovered. Large dressed stones with what look like Byzantine crosses were discovered when the plaster covering them fell off. Combined with the architectural details, an apse, a crypt, mosaic floors, it seems that the building was a church. The church was destroyed by an earthquake some 1,300 years ago and lay mostly covered until the 19th century. The columns and capitals are displayed exactly as they were found, lying parallel on the ground and the northern wall is angled out from the movement of the earthquake.

There are several construction phases, in the last two the building was used as a splendid church. However, in the first phase the excavation shows that the later church was built inside a large public compound from the Second Temple period. The church, in its last phases, was built as a basilica, a central nave and two wide aisles that are delineated by eight marble columns with magnificent capitals which were specially imported (the eight bases can be seen but only 3 capitals and columns remain). The front of the church had a large flagstone courtyard, a narthex, and at the end of the nave is a raised bema or platform (that was added later – you can see that the mosaic floor continues under the bema).

All of the floors in the building were adorned with incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved; these include both geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. Today I went out to the site to photograph the mosaics (before they are covered to protect them until the site can be readied for visitors). You can view them at https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/mosaics-hirbet-midras/

Located behind the bema are two rooms, one paved with a marble floor and the other that led to an underground tomb that was empty.

Beneath the entire building is a subterranean complex in which there are rooms, water installations, traps and store rooms for hiding. Among the artifacts discovered are coins from the time of the Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba uprising (132-135 CE), stone vessels, lamps and various pottery vessels that are characteristic of the Jewish population from the settlement at that time.

Scholars who visited the site during the excavation proposed identifying the crypt as the tomb of the prophet Zechariah. Early Christian sources identified his burial place in the village of Zechariah which was discovered in 415CE. In light of these sources, including the Madaba Map (the building with the apse with the Greek, ΒΕθΖΑΧΑΡ to its left is Bet Zechariah), scholars think the church at Hirbet Midras is a memorial church meant to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah.