Saturday, February 2, 2013

Some New Views from the 18th Century

While trawling through the website of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France ( I came across a collection of engravings that we had no seen before. My first suspicion was that these related to some other Antioch (e.g. ad Cragum) but the inclusion of an internal view of the ramparts of this "Antioch" gave us some confidence that the artist, François-Marie Rosset (1752-1824), was sketching Antioch on the Orontes in these images dating from 1790. He had left France as part of a diplomatic/scientific mission to Syria in June 1781, arriving in Aleppo in September. Presumably the intervening period is when he passed through Antioch.

The interesting thing though was these images did not contain just the same-old, same-old but had three etchings of structures that I had never seen before that definitely looked like it came from the city's antique phase or at least late antique period.
Here they are:

The first three are the novel ones. The second one has a look that might imply that it is at Daphne due to the water springing from the base of the structure. The other two have the look of either an arcaded portico or a ruined basilica/church. Or they could be older than the Christian period or they could be a total fantasy. Another thought strikes me that they could be the Bab Boulos (Beroea Gate) which did have a spring/pond in front of it according to other images. These structures in the Rosset works though do have a more ethereal look than the images of the Beroea gate I have seen previously, as the gate was arched but also fairly massive and solid.  

More information on Rosset and his wanderings (if indeed he ever visited the city) would maybe solve the mystery.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Benjamin of Tudela

Benjamin was a wandering Spanish rabbi in the 12th century who roamed as far as Jerusalem (returning to Spain in 1173 AD) and in the process wrote a sort of travel guide to the sights seen.

Benjamin of Tudela in the Sahara, in the XIIth century. Engraving by Dumouza, XIXst century


He makes a brief mention of Antioch: "Thence it is two days' journey to Antioch the Great, situated on the river Fur (Orontes), which is the river Jabbok, that flows from Mount Lebanon and from the land of Hamath. This is the great city which Antiochus the king built. The city lies by a lofty mountain, which is surrounded by the city-wall. At the top of the mountain is a well, from which a man appointed for that purpose directs the water by means of twenty subterranean passages to the houses of the great men of the city. The other part of the city is surrounded by the river. It is a strongly fortified city, and is under the sway of Prince Boemond Poitevin, surnamed le Baube. Ten Jews dwell here, engaged in glass-making, and at their head are R. Mordecai, R. Chayim, and R. Samuel. From here it is two days' journey to Lega, or Ladikiya, where there are about 100 Jews, at their head being R. Chayim and R. Joseph". 

Footnotes to this text elaborate that by "10 Jews" he actually met heads of families, so the community would have been a multiple of this number.

An interesting thing to note is that seemingly the aqueduct system was still functioning at this time. 

A source for Jewish communities under the Byzantine Empire is here