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'Along the way stood an honor guard composed of members of the British Army, with triangular red flags hanging from their bayonets," Elizabeth Ann Finn, wife of British consul James Finn, wrote in her diary in 1862. "All of Jerusalem's populace came out to greet His Majesty. As we passed the city gate, the tower gun fired a salute.... It was suggested that the prince set up camp closer to the city, and the Pasha suggested to camp by a large pine tree to the north-east of the city. What the Pasha didn't know was that this was the same tree that was planted by Godfrey of Bouillon when the city was conquered by the Crusaders."
Prince Edward, the son of Queen Victoria who later became King Edward VII, was in Jerusalem for a visit, and Elizabeth Ann Finn's photographs from the time were compiled and archived in an album of great significance. As it turns out, the album contains the very first private photographs ever taken in the Holy Land. This remarkable collection came to the hands of Yad Ben Tzvi and headlines their new display of antique photographs from the early days of Eretz Israel.
In a curious coincidence, the current Prince Edward, son of the Queen of England, made a rare visit to Israel a week ago.
The album was taken at a turbulent time in the history of Eretz Israel. The Russians and the British were fighting the Crimean War, and repercussions of those battles were keenly felt in the small community then living here. You won't find many battle scenes in this album, though - the technology of the time made photography outside of the studio nearly impossible. But you can see a picture of Prince Edward standing by the aformentioned tree.
The album is the earliest of the Yad Ben Tzvi Photo Archive's new exhibit, The Realm of Memory and Longing, which documents Jerusalem home photos from 1850-1950. Seeing photos from the different time periods side by side gives the viewer an appreciation for the swift and dramatic change that the city underwent over the course of a century.
None of the photographs are from professional photographers. They all come from amateurs, capturing the scenes of their lives and the spirit of the world around them. The photos were kept hidden away in drawers for decades and now serve as a postcard from a distant time, an invitation to imagine life as it was here generations ago.
From scenic agricultural photos to portraits showing the fashions of the time, from the poorest laborers to the wealthy notable families of Jerusalem, from Mandate guards to a doctor who cared for the city's sick - the world of Jerusalem is preserved here, unassuming and real. Leave your mind open, and dive in to a place very close, but a time so very far away.
Yad Ben Tzvi is located at 12 Abarbanel St. in Jerusalem and can be reached at (02) 539-8833.