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Ancient Maps of Jerusalem

The Jewish National and University Library & The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Reviewed by:
Jack Cheng
Independent Scholar
April 2004

This website contains an amazing collection of 255 maps of Jerusalem. This is an excellent site with which to introduce students to the idea of map-making (cartography) as a form of argument rather than as simple presentation of information. There is not much secondary information and the maps are presented as in a museum catalog, but the images are rich in detail and could be used to look at design, politics, and religion, as well as history. The site is easy to navigate through five main headings: “Introduction,” “Gallery,” “Links,” and lists of maps by “Person” and “Date.”

“Introduction” outlines the history of cartography in Jerusalem in an essay. These maps were made as subjective documents with clear biases and the essay makes this clear. The history of mapmaking naturally reflects a history of the city, and the Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, and later periods are each covered, ending with a bibliography.

There are nine maps in the “Gallery” as of this writing; this section is still under construction. The order of the maps is not explained. They are not by date or even by author (two maps by the same cartographer, Christiaan van Adrichem, are not placed next to each other). The viewing of the individual maps in the Gallery section is valuable—a black square on a thumbnail picture of the map can be dragged around and the detailed area covered is presented in a larger square on the page. However, the larger square is not particularly big and the small viewing window is frustrating. In any case, moving the cursor over the larger image occasionally prompts a label to appear, identifying buildings or places. Again, the technology is impressive, but the functionality is less so. The Gallery presents the maps as if with a magnifying glass. Large scale scans of each map are easily available through other pages.

Many more maps can be found on the pages that list them by “Person” or “Date”—more than 500 maps in all. While viewing the maps by date may seem appealing, cartographers often build on existing maps and browsing the maps by mapmapker can be enlightening. The same basic plan can be seen on maps by Aldrichem, for example, with more or different details added in each one. At some point the map is even oriented differently. The reasons for the changes are not immediately clear, but would certainly be a good jumping off point for a classroom discussion.

Another reason to delve into the maps by Person rather than Date is that the Person index has information about each map—date and publication—whereas the Date index does not list the author of the map until the page for the individual image is found.

The main drawback of the site is the bells and whistles, such as sliding menus and squares that light up when the cursor passes over them, that do not add content or functionality. They also can take a fair amount of time to load, even with a high-speed connection.

Eight secondary sources are available through the “Links” page of the site, but the site itself does not offer much in the way of interpretive or teaching resources. The wealth of information, however, suggests many ways to include this site in classroom activities. For example, students could make their own maps based on one century’s information. The process of editing and prioritizing the material would give them a sense of the work of earlier cartographers. Comparing a student map of the 15th century to one working with the 19th century could lead to discussions of the development of cities, design, and political agendas.

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