The Land of Israel and its capital city, Jerusalem, boast the longest unbroken succession of maps of any country in the world. Through a choice selection of maps, this exhibition presents the cartographic history of the city which King David established as his capital 3000 years ago. The exhibition comprises maps and views of both the city itself and the land of which it constitutes the heart and soul.
Jerusalem holds a special place in world cartography. Although the most ancient schematic maps known originated In Mesopotamia, the oldest detailed map in existence is the Madaba mosaic dating from the 6th century CE. Its representation of "The Holy City of Jerusalem" is the earliest clear and detailed city map ever found - not surprisingly, as Jerusalem was already then sacred to both Judaism and Christianity. Islam, too, was later to recognize the sanctity of Jerusalem - third after Mecca and Medina.
Naming it at first Bayt al-Maqdas, (equivalent to Hebrew Bet haMiqdash, the Temple), the Arabs later renamed the city al-Quds, the holy one. However, the holiness of both country and city is reflected in the early maps of the first two religions only. Indeed, it was the mediaeval Christian mapmakers who introduced the theme of the Holy Land and the Holy City into their maps, many of which were more symbolic and ideological than geographical in character.
Most of the early maps of the Holy Land and Jerusalem were produced by cartographers who never visited the country, mainly for religious purposes, often portraying such incongruous details as European-style architecture, with imagination playing an important part. The majority present an oblique "bird's eye" perspective. The vertical view, which is today the standard for all topographic maps, was systematically introduced into the cartography of Jerusalem only in the 19th century.
Hebrew cartography focused on the Land of Israel and, like its Christian counterpart, served mostly religious purposes. In interpreting religious laws relating to the Land of Israel, rabbis often included diagram-like illustrations of the country in their responsa to Jewish diaspora communities.
The visitor is encouraged not only to view each map as a whole, but to try and decipher some of the place names recorded. These, together with the general graphic-geographic layout, provide an interesting insight into the cartographer's subjective attitude towards and knowledge of the area, as well as supplying objective information on the geography, culture and history of the region.
Jerusalem is a source of fascination for scholar and layman alike - and so is the story of its maps.
Following is a selection of the exhibition produced by the Public Affairs Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the "Jerusalem 3000" celebrations.