Coffee Shop in Jerusalem, 1881
This image, titled “A Street Café, Jerusalem – a Bedouin and peasant playing at a game called dameh,” is one of many images from a book by Charles Wilson depicting late nineteenth-century life in Jerusalem. This illustration shows two figures, probably a Bedouin and an Arab, sitting outside a coffee shop and playing a game called in the title “dameh,” which seems to resemble chess. The coffee shop is built within the stone wall and has a wooden wall with a window and door. There is a person inside the shop, probably preparing the refreshments, and a waiter coming out of the shop carrying a tray with hot drinks. Surrounding the players are finjans – water pipes used for smoking tobacco. The player on the left is smoking a very long pipe. The coffee shop is on the right of a narrow alleyway bordered on both sides by thick stone walls. In the alleyway are a few figures and a couple of dogs.
The text surrounding the image describes this as a scene at the market in Jerusalem, where fruit and vegetables were on sale from across the land in such abundance that the entrances were often piled high with produce.
This illustration is from the book Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt “edited by Colonel Wilson, assisted by the most eminent Palestine explorers; with numerous engravings on steel and wood,” which was published in 1881 by the British explorer Charles Wilson. On his travels to Israel to carry out a wide-ranging survey, Wilson was accompanied by two illustrators, Harry Fenn and J.D. Woodward. The book is part of the popular Picturesque series, which had already featured America and Europe. Picturesque Palestine was another successful addition to the series.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Israel was fast becoming an increasingly important location for Britain as a route between Europe and the Indian Ocean. Charles Wilson, a royal engineer, joined the Palestine Exploration Fund and directed the Survey of Western Palestine in an effort to improve British military intelligence of the area. One of his famous discoveries was the subsequently named Wilson’s Arch, an ancient stone arch in the northeast corner of the Western Wall that supported a road from the time of the Second Temple.
The photograph can be used in Jewish History lessons to discuss Palestine in the 1880s, the history of Jerusalem during the Ottoman Empire, and Western interest at the time of its decline.
General History teachers can use this image to compare leisure activities in different times and places.
Sociology teachers can use this image to explore the different communities in Palestine during the Ottoman Era.
When was this illustration created?
What book does this picture appear in?
Who was the author of the book?
The title of the illustration is “A Street Café.”
Describe the café and the space outside it.
How are the people in the picture dressed?
What are the two characters in the foreground doing?
What is happening in the background?
Describe the street next to the coffee shop.
Reading Between the Lines
Take a look at the buildings, the streets, the canopy above the players, and other details.
What does this illustration tell you about the situation in the Old City of Jerusalem at the end of the nineteenth century?
If you hadn't read the title of the illustration, how would you know that this is a scene from the Middle East?
Why do you think the artists decided to illustrate this scene?
Why do you think the editors of the Picturesque series chose to publish a book about Palestine?
What was Charles Wilson’s reason for completing a survey in Palestine?
Compare this scene to a coffee shop in Europe at the same time.
What is similar? What is different?
Compare a coffee shop in Europe today to a coffee shop in Jerusalem.
What does the comparison tell you about the changes in Jerusalem?
Have you visited the Old City of Jerusalem? What is your favourite site?
Is there anywhere in the Old City that looks like the area depicted in this scene? Where is it?
Design a half-day tour for a visitor to the Old City of Jerusalem. Explain why you have included particular locations.
Re-enact the scene in the illustration.
Think about the costumes, the backdrop, and the props that you will need.