Back on the rails

A new exhibition in Tel Aviv offers a look at the Hejaz Railway, which was meant to enable Muslims to reach their holy cities.

February 12, 2009 16:18
2 minute read.
Back on the rails

choo choo. (photo credit: Courtesy)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analysis from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief


The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv is hosting "The Railway of Faith," an exhibition marking the centenary of the Hejaz Railway. This railway was initiated by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II to enable Muslim pilgrims to reach the holy cities of Medina and Mecca. In the end, the railway reached only as far as Medina, 400 kilometers short of Mecca, as the First World War put a stop to construction. The Hejaz region, in what is today Saudi Arabia, was part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Donations toward the building of the railway were received from throughout the empire, and construction started in September 1900. Although the actual work was carried out by the German engineer Heinrich Meissner, the financing of the project was entirely Muslim. According to the exhibition's curator, Sarah Turel, David Wolfssohn wanted to donate £500 - a considerable sum in those days - from the Zionist Congress, but the money was refused and went instead to the Syrian Orphanage in Jerusalem. The Hejaz Railway was an entirely inland line, but it had a link to the outside world at Haifa. This port was chosen mainly for topographical reasons, as it was obviously easier to build a line through the flat Jezreel Valley than from Beirut through the Lebanese mountains. This branch line, from Haifa to El-Hama (now Hamat Gader) was known as the "Valley Railway," which had its own folklore and was an important contributor to the development of the city of Haifa and of Jewish settlement in the region in the early part of the 20th century. The Hejaz Railway was said to be the most successful Ottoman project ever undertaken. Work finished on time and with no budget deficit, something almost unimaginable in today's world of railway construction. The exhibition, in the museum's Postal History and Philately Pavilion, focuses only on the Hejaz Railway and not on the Valley Railway branch. Historic photos are juxtaposed with recent pictures of the same places, taken in 1998 by Turkish photographer Mustafa Aksay. There are also old maps showing the railway, and items such as the book of rules and regulations for railway employees (in French). At around the same time as the railway was inaugurated, bringing previously isolated and backward areas into communication with the outside world, mail services in the Middle East took a great leap forward. Many letters were, of course, sent by rail, the fastest means of transport at that time. Journeys that previously took several weeks could now be accomplished in a few days. The exhibition includes several rare postal items from the period, from the Alexander Collection, as well as old postcards showing railway scenes. A 17-minute film on the history of the Hejaz Railway, in English with Hebrew subtitles, is shown continuously. The exhibition is under the auspices of the Turkish Embassy in Israel, and runs until April 20. Eretz Israel Museum, Rehov Haim Levanon 2, Ramat Aviv. Sunday-Wednesday: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.; Thursday: 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m-2 p.m.. (03) 641-5244;

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

El Al
August 16, 2014
The Travel Adviser: For El Al, mission accomplished