• Issue: Februari 1981
  • Artists: A. Ticho / J. Zaritsky / M. Ardon

The "Jerusalem Talmud" in Kiddushin 49 B, tells that "Ten measures of beauty descended on the world, nine fell on Jerusalem and one on the rest of the earth". As true today as it was so many years ago, Jerusalem's natural and architectural charm was acknowledged throughout the ages, while the Bible, in Psalm 50,2, recalls the city as "Zion, the perfection of beauty".

One of the earliest paintings of the city walls and the Temple appears in the Dura-Europos synagogue dating from 245 CE, and since then, during Byzantine and mediaeval times, through the Renaissance and on to modern days, Jerusalem has been endlessly depicted. Jerusalem's association with the three great monotheistic faiths and its 4500 years of continuous habitation have lent the city a special aura.

According to Genesis 14,1 8 Abraham and the Canaanite king-priest Melchizedek met there four millenia ago, then a thousand years later David conquered the tiny Jebusite stronghold and named it Zion, the City of David. Set upon narrow Mount Ophel, adjoining the spring of Gihon - the only freshwater source in the vicinity - the area of Zion was barely 15 acres. However, its strategic location gave it particular significance, and here David established his capital. He also bought the threshing-floor of Araunah, last king of the Jebusites, "and built there an altar unto the Lord", (II Samuel 24,25), turning Jerusalem into Israel's main cult centre.

Solomon concentrated on the framework of worship, and above David's altar he erected a Temple to the Lord, and encouraged the unifying custom of thrice-annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On Solomon's death in 933 BCE, the Kingdom split into two, Israel in the north, and Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital, in the south. Judah retained its independence until vanquished by Babylon in 587 BCE.

Fifty years passed before Nehemiah, with the blessing of the Persian monarch, led the Return to Zion, and forcefully reiterated Judaism's basic ideals. Alexander the Great's conquest of 333 BCE inaugurated beneficent Greek rule, which gradually deteriorated, igniting the Maccabean revolt which initiated a brilliant era in Jewish history. The Rome-supported Herodian regime was characterized by magnificent constructions, including the rebuilt Temple, part of which still stands. Two revolts against the Romans - in 70 CE and in 132 CE- ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, and its replacement by the Roman Aelia Capitolina.

Under Byzantia, Jerusalem regained her name and importance. Emperor Constantine adopted the Christian faith; the city was restored and shrines constructed, attracting worldwide fame, In 638 Moslem warriors captured the Holy City and built the familiar Dome of the Rock, but, as always under Moslem domination, Jerusalem was only a small town in the extensive Arab world.

Crusader armies stormed the walls in 1099, gaining a bloody victory. Although in possession for less than 90 years, their works included the grandiose reconstruction of the Christian shrines and the inner town with its typical vaulted lanes and covered markets. Regained by Saladin in 1187, three-and-a-half centuries of comparative quiescence passed until Jerusalem, as part of Palestine, was absorbed into the Turkish Empire. Sultan Suleiman revived the city by erecting the ramparts as they are at present, repairing aqueducts and cisterns, and improving local government.

Turkish rule lasted 400 years. During the latter part of this period, Europeans displayed great interest in Jerusalem, in effect starting its modern history. Diplomats, statesmen and pilgrims, together with painters, artists and engravers, streamed into the country. This trend continued with Britain's conquest of Palestine in 1917; with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and after the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. Down the ages Jerusalem has been a constant inspiration to those who draw, paint or sculpture, as if each had heard the biblical command to "Take a tile... and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem." (Ezekiel 4,1)

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Paintings of Jerusalem