The Holy Land has been the subject of a relatively large number of maps, chiefly due to its religious importance. Some of the earliest maps reflected ancient traditions of mapping such as that of Ptolemy; others were meant to illustrate the Holy Scriptures. Some maps were printed separately; while others were published as part of atlases, itineraries and travel books. Owners who could afford the expense added coloring to their maps.
Many maps of the Holy Land are oriented to the east (orient=from the Latin word for east), reflecting the view point of European mapmakers looking in the direction of the Holy Land. However, there are a few maps oriented to the south, and to the west and naturally to the north. Many Biblical elements from the Old and New Testament can be traced in the maps, such as the route of the Exodus, the Tabernacle, the division of the Land among the Tribes, Moses and Aaron, the travels of Jesus and the Apostles, and others. Toward the end of the 18th century a new genre of maps emerged, characterized by the diminished use of pictorial elements. These were replaced by symbols such as letters and numbers, for example to mark the Tribes. The legends appear in the margins.
The introduction of surveying at the beginning of the 19th century brought about a significant change in the mapping of the Holy Land. Maps by Jacotin, a cartographer who accompanied Napoleon on his journey to Egypt and Palestine, were the first to be based upon scientific measurements. Later researchers such as Robinson, Kiepert and Van de Velde produced scientific maps, and in 1880, the Palestine Exploration Fund produced more accurate maps, thereby firmly establishing the basis of scientific Holy Land research.
This beautiful collection of ancient maps of the Holy Land is part of a much larger collection that includes ancient maps of the world, early printed atlases and travel books. The entire extraordinary collection was donated by its renowned owner, Eran Laor in 1975 to the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem. The late Mr. Laor is the author of: Maps of the Holy Land, New York, 1986.