By July 27, 2008 Read More →

Jerusalem Model Rediscovered, Helen Davis, BAR 13:01, Jan-Feb 1987.

Jerusalem Model RediscoveredReveals minute details of 19th-century Jerusalem

But for the curiosity, lively intelligence and considerable sleuthing of a group of young scholars, a unique and exquisitely detailed model of Jerusalem in the 1870s might still lie moldering in the basement of a museum in Geneva. Today, however, the completely restored 13-foot by 15-foot zinc model, crafted in 1872 by a Hungarian Catholic, Stephan Illes, has been put on display in the Museum of the History of Jerusalem in the Citadel of the Old City and has become an instant attraction for scholars, residents and tourists.

The search for Stephan Illes and his model began five years ago when Rehav Rubin, an instructor of historical geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was researching ancient maps at the National Library in Jerusalem. Among the 300 maps of Jerusalem donated to the library by collector Eran Laor—rated by experts at the British Museum as one of the world’s most complete private collections of Levant and Holy Land maps—Rehav Rubin was struck by a fine black-and white illustration of the city, made around 1872 and identified only as “A Bird’s Eye View of Jerusalem by Stephan Illes.” Delving further into the archive, Rubin discovered that Illes had made a “relief plan,” or model, of the city for the Ottoman Pavilion at the Vienna International Exhibition in 1873. But of the model itself, there was no trace.

The trail was then picked up by a young master’s degree candidate, Hungarian-born Motti Ya’ir, who found an article about the model in Das Heilige Land (The Holy Land), a journal published in the 19th century by German Catholics interested in historical research in Palestine. From the article, written by Professor H. Zschokke, who had spent five years in Jerusalem in the mid-1800s as director of the Austrian Hospice, Motti Ya’ir learned that the Illes model had indeed been exhibited in Vienna in 1873 and that Illes himself had subsequently traveled with it throughout Europe, ending up, as far as Ya’ir could determine, in Geneva in 1878. But of the model itself there was still no trace.

The next breakthrough was a stroke of sheer luck. Describing his hunt for the Illes model in the university cafeteria one day, Motti Ya’ir was overheard by Ariane Littman, a student from Switzerland. She promptly offered to try to trace the model in Geneva. Three weeks later, she was back with good news. Her father, David Littman, a keen amateur historian, had tracked it down to the storehouse of the Palais Wilson, where it had lain for many years.

The Illes model had caused a sensation in Geneva in its day, so much so that several notables of the city—among them, Gustave Moynier, one of the founders of the International Red Cross—had determined to buy it and put it on permanent display for the pleasure of Geneva’s residents. A committee had raised 6,000 francs; an additional 4,000 francs was donated by the Societé Civile de la Rive Gauche, which is today represented by the Maison de la Réformation. For 40 years this private evangelical institution displayed the model in its Geneva headquarters. Then, as public interest waned, the model was packed away and moved from time to time before coming to rest at the Palais Wilson.

David Littman arranged for the Maison de la Réformation to lend the model to the Municipality of Jerusalem for ten years, and in the fall of 1984 the magnificent creation returned to its original home. “The model arrived in eight huge crates,” recalls Renee Sivan, curator of the Museum of the History of Jerusalem in the Citadel (David’s Tower), which itself was built by Herod the Great in the first century B.C. “When we opened the first crate we were greatly disappointed. The model was so badly damaged that we were afraid it was beyond repair. But when we opened the second crate and saw parts of the city with tiny buildings still intact, we were very, very excited.” The model was handed over to the Israel Museum for a long, painstaking restoration that would be completely faithful to the original vision of its creator.

Stephan Illes, born in Pressburg (now Bratislava), the Hungarian sector of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, came to Jerusalem as a young man in 1860 to work as a bookbinder in the Franciscan Monastery of St. Savior. Later, he opened his own bookbinding business and lived in Jerusalem for 12 years. He was very much caught up by the changes that were transforming Jerusalem, even then, from a backwater to a modern city.

“The second half of the 19th century was a hectic time in Jerusalem,” says Rehav Rubin. “The Ottoman Empire was disintegrating and the world powers were frantically trying to step into the breach. The Germans, the English, the Russians, the Austrians, the Americans and the French were very active in the city. Research institutes, churches, monasteries, hospitals and other institutions were being built, the Greek Patriarchate was reinstated, as was the Catholic Patriarchate, and a Protestant bishop was sent to the city.”

Illes was particularly fascinated by the models of Jerusalem made by the famous German architect Conrad Schick, who advised Illes on the creation of his own model. He was also able to draw on the first accurate topographical survey of the city, made in 1864–1865 by Charles Wilson, an officer of the British Royal Engineers. Illes and two assistants took five months to complete the model. It is in eight parts (for easy transportation) and is made of beaten zinc tin attached to a wooden base and scaled at 1-500.

The model depicts Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in the east to the Russian Compound in the west, from the spring of Ein-Rogel in the south to the area of Damascus Gate in the north. Every last detail has been included; the flags on the churches, a cannon atop the Citadel, the new telegraph line which was one of the marvels of the age. The Mount of Olives is almost bare, with only the Chapel of the Ascension foreshadowing the churches and buildings that dot it today. Herod’s Gate and the New Gate had not yet been built in the Old City walls. The moat around the Citadel next to Jaffa Gate had yet to be filled in so that the German Kaiser could ride into the Old City on his visit at the end of the century. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a dome quite different from the present structure. The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer has yet to be built and the adjacent Muristan, today a bustling market, is a vacant lot. In the Jewish Quarter are the newly built Hurva and Tiferet synagogues, which were destroyed while under Jordanian control between 1948 and 1961, and Batei Machse, a housing development built by Dutch and German Jews, is in the process of construction.

Illes left nothing to chance, even providing a color code for the painting of his model- white for roads and paths, red for important roofs, black for metal domes, and almost everything else a rather drab gray-green, precisely the color of Jerusalem in the summer, according to Professor H. Zschokke, writing in Das Heilige Land, “when all the surroundings are gray and the landscape is desolate.”

To Renee Sivan, scholar and lover of Jerusalem, the Illes model is an enchantment. “For just a moment, one can ‘sit’ on the Mount of Olives and look at Jerusalem as it was a hundred years ago, at the brink of modernization, but still a virgin city with all the great archaeological finds yet to be uncovered. It is a fantastic discovery.”

The scholars who tracked down the magnificent model by Stephan Illes have not given up their search. They hope to find out more of the man himself and what became of him and two other models he apparently built—of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period and of Jerusalem in 1880. Somewhere, perhaps, in the basements of European museums, they lie forgotten awaiting rediscovery.

Posted in: Ottoman Period

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