Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jerusalem in maps

On Sunday at AACI Netanya I was witness to an extraordinary presentation by Benji Tal-or, who comes originally from NW London and who is a talented and enthusiastic speaker, a cartographer and lecturer.  His title of "Jerusalem in maps: from Madaba to 2020" was a kind of introduction for what was to follow. 
Benji set up a semi-circle of beautifully reproduced maps of Jerusalem on 12 screens about 6 foot high by 3 foot wide.  Each of them had at least two maps, including plenty of text and photos.  Then the audience sat around in a  semi-circle in front of the maps while he talked about them and described some of the most famous historic maps.  He claimed that the mosaic map of Madaba, that constitutes only a small portion of an extensive mosaic on the floor of the Church in Madaba, Jordan, is the oldest actual map in the Holy Land, dating from around 550 ce.  It shows a view of Jerusalem as it was in Roman times, with the prominent north-west feature of the Cardo, the main axis that was present in most Roman cities.  The map is annotated in Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern Roman Empire.  The Cardo has been excavated in modern Jerusalem and you can see a small portion of it adjacent to the Jewish quarter, the main part of it having been destroyed to make way for the Arab souk.  He also showed the first aerial map of Jerusalem taken by a German pilot in 1905 for military purposes and also the first accurate maps of Jerusalem prepared by the British Palestine Exploration Society in the early 20th century.
He described several extant medieval maps of Jerusalem that have imaginary features, often representing the Temple of Solomon that was of course destroyed by the Romans.  Many of these maps have a common feature that they are circular and show Jerusalem as the center of the world.  One famous map of 1585 shows Jerusalem at the center of a three-lobed clover leaf map of the world, representing the three then known continents, Europe, Africa and Asia.  Taking off from this theme of Jerusalem as the center of the geographical world (later of course shown to be false by accurate map-making) Benji then went off at a deliberate tangent to describe his dream of creating an actual physical center for all geographical knowledge that could be a cross between a Disneyland and a hitech data collection and referral point. He showed a graphic mock-up of his planned center, to be named "Planeta" that will be located on the highest point in the Jerusalem area, namely Nebi Samuel.  One reason why he chose this location is not only its topographical features, but also the presence of ancient buildings that are sacred to all three monotheistic religions. 
His plan includes a geodesic dome (just like the Epcot Center in Disneyland) and a computer center, where all geographic data will be housed that will be available on the internet.  He gave as an example, if someone wanted to know the layout of the sewers of Melbourne, they could find it quickly there.  He has set up an Amuta (an Israeli non-profit organization) but he realizes that to reach his dream he is going to have to transform this into a money-making scheme and he has an impressive list of academics, educators and others who are interested in this ambitous project.  Now he needs investors and Government permission to bring his dream to realization by 2020. 


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