Earthly Jerusalem, its historical landmarks, religious sites, and fascinating mosaic of customs and cultures, attracts millions of visitors each year. Heavenly Jerusalem, its beauty, holiness, luminosity, and legends, has inspired artists and craftsmen for thousands of years. Their creations often span time and space, like the city itself.
Medieval maps depict Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, as the center of the world. For over six millennia, diverse civilizations, including Canaanites, Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs, dwelt in there. As each culture replaced the last, it built upon existing foundations, layer by layer. So even today, excavations in Jerusalem’s Old City yield archeologically significant discoveries.
Routine road repairs uncover ancient ritual baths, burial caves, and dwelling places. Building excavations unearth treasure troves of pottery, bronze, glass, coins, and jewelry, much dating back to Biblical times.
Sami Taha, an antiquarian, numismatist, and dealer authorized by the Israel Antiquities Authority, is the founder of Biblical Artifacts: Ancient Art of the Holy Land. This lovely gallery, hosted at the prestigious Inbal Hotel, offers a vast selection of quality, affordable antiquities, large and small from Jerusalem and the wider ancient world. Whether seeking a Canaanite scarab, a coin from the First Judaean Revolt against Rome, a Greek bronze horse figurine, or a Byzantine glass juglet, enthusiasts will likely find it here.
Taha, a native of Jerusalem’s Old City, is passionate about the culture, history, and heritage of the region. So in addition to archeological treasures, he offers a variety of related publications by prominent authorities. All can be found at www.biblicalartifacts.com.
NadavArt, a celebrated gallery located in central Jerusalem, gleams with traditional silver tableware, as well as modern silver Judaica, jewelry, and bright, anodized aluminum creations. Each piece, designed by Avi Nadav, is handcrafted on the premises using advanced manufacturing methods combined with traditional enameling, hammering, and polishing techniques.
NadavArt creations suit every pocket. They range from simple salt and pepper sets and napkin rings to sumptuous, hand-carved, regally crowned “Faberge” silver eggs inlaid with amethysts.
Nadav, who trained at Jerusalem’s prestigious Bezelal Academy of Arts and Design, is also a third-generation artisan descended from Yemenite silver smiths. Yemenite Jews were famed for their exceptionally fine filigree work, twisting impossibly-thin, pure silver threads into stunning amulets, beads, bracelets, rings, and necklaces. Nadav, too, has mastered the art of filigree. Many of his ritual wine cups, candlesticks, and silver mezuzahs (small cases traditionally affixed to Jewish doorposts) reflect his rich, artistic heritage. See www.nadavart.com for details
Archie Granot, based near Jerusalem, is famed for his decorative papercuts, which are designs created by cutting sheets of paper artistically. Though this craft, requiring just a paper, pencil, and knife, apparently originated in ancient China, Jewish papercutting developed during the Middle Ages.
By the 17th century, wall-hung papercuts commonly indicated the direction of Jerusalem as needed for prayer, and served as holiday decorations, protective amulets, and calendars. Papercuts also adorned Jewish marriage contracts and commemorated deaths. Most featured traditional symbols like ramping lions, stars of David, and candelabras, along with florals.
Jewish papercuts fell from use during the early 20th century. Then, during the Holocaust, they disappeared entirely. Within the last 50 years, however, both folded, symmetrical work and free-form papercutting has enjoyed a revival.
Granot is best known for innovative, rather than traditional, designs. His works, many featuring multiple layers of cuttings, often display intriguing interplays of color. Moreover, Granot creates three-dimensional reliefs from a two-dimensional medium.
Though his creativity rises from a variety of sources, Granot is particularly inspired by the centrality and beauty of Jerusalem. Thus, many of his pieces bear names like “The Jerusalem Papercut,” “The Destiny of Jerusalem,” and “Window on Jerusalem.” Drawing on Biblical and Talmudic imagery and texts, Granot also creates papercut blessings for the home, personalized marriage and anniversary pieces, and fine art creations. Moreover, he offers exclusive, limited editions, and accepts commissions for special requests. Reach him at www.archiegranot.com.
The Old City of Jerusalem, the heart of Israel, is sacred to three religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Just one square mile in area, it is among the most densely populated – and dynamic — places on earth.
The centrally located Arab Market, a series of wide, descending stone steps, bustles with clattering wooden carts, women peddling cilantro, youngsters hawking sesame rolls, and tourists from around the world. Its shops, tucked in arched stone niches, offer sweets and spices, bells and bangles, rugs and textiles, amulets, as well as countless souvenirs.
Jewish seminary students, wrapped in prayer shawls, hurry toward the Western Wall, while muezzins call Moslems to prayer, and church bells peal from all sides.
Black-frocked priests and pilgrims, some carrying raised crosses, wind their way through the Christian Quarter. Shops, on either side, offer an abundance of rosaries, icons, crosses, anointing oil, and scripture jewelry.
The George Kouz Store, just steps from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, offers beautiful, locally made olive wood products at attractive prices. In addition to religious items, jewelry, and popular camel carvings, Kouz offers an impressive selection of Nativity crèches (topped with stars of Bethlehem) ingeniously carved from olive wood tree trunks and roots.
“This fine craft,” Kouz explains, “has been passed on from father to son for generations. And because olive wood varies in color depending on its quality and source — and each tree has its own personality, no two crèches are alike. Each is a unique work of art.”
To populate his crèches, Kouz offers a variety of mix-and-match, meticulously detailed, olive wood Nativity figures — including shepherds with staffs, flocks of sheep, camels, and donkeys — carved from olive tree branches. He also offers larger, stand-alone, carved figurines, including winged angels, Magis bearing gifts, and the Holy Family. His life-like, three-dimensional, olive wood depiction of the Last Supper, however, is most impressive of all. See these at http://www.georgekouzstore.com.
Since Kouz and his assistant are so personable, visiting with them is a multi-pleasured experience. In addition to discussing life in the Old City (and life in general), we learned that, as members of the ancient Aramaic Orthodox Church, they pray in Aramaic — the language of Jesus.
The Elia Photo Service, also in the Christian Quarter, offers high-quality photographs of regional scenes and characters, recreated from early 19th century, extremely fragile black-and-white glass-plate negatives. These are the life-work of photographer Elia Kahvedjian who, on fleeing the Armenian Genocide (1915-1918), reached Jerusalem’s ancient, walled Armenian Quarter.
Many of Kahvedjian’s photos depict everyday activities, like making yogurt, picking olives, spinning wool, smoking a hubble-bubble, or eating hummus. Others depict water carriers, shepherds, Bedouins, or Jews praying at the Western Wall.
From the 1960s on, Kahvedjian reproduced his photographs on paper back-coated with light-reflecting silver. Each, offering extraordinary sharpness and depth, is a technical, cultural, and artistic masterpiece.
In addition to photographs, this diminutive shop offers Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, a volume that not only memorializes Jerusalem of yesteryear, but also the elder Elia Kahvedjian himself. See www.eliaphoto.com for details.
The Armenian Ceramic Centre, reached through the New Gate, offers bright, hand-painted, glazed tiles, murals, panels, and plates, along with a wide selection of assorted pottery pieces. Its founders, George and Garo Sandrouni, inspired by exquisite, century-old Armenian tiles embellishing select Jerusalem structures, favor classic, repeating floral, arabesque, and geometric motifs. Yet they have also developed a distinctive style of their own, mixing designs from manuscript illuminations with stylizations of grapes, lilies, roses, cypress, and palm trees. By adding animal motifs like gazelles and peacocks, the Sandrounis also re-create the Garden of Eden.
Other specialties include ceramic-inlay backgammon boxes, opulent tiled sinks, and plump pottery pomegranates, symbolizing fertility and righteousness. Their Armenian tiles often feature crosses with traditional floral elements, as well as prayers in that ancient tongue.
As an added treat, visitors can watch the Sandrounis design, produce, and hand-paint their creations here — or in their Armenian Quarter branch. They will also find them at www.sandrouni.com
For many, visiting Jerusalem is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. No wonder so many bring treasures, like Armenian serving platters, authentic antiquities, silver masterpieces, historical photos, olive wood figurines, and artistic papercuts — home.
Melody Amsel-Arieli is an Israeli-American freelance writer whose articles appear in collecting, genealogical, and historical magazines across the US, UK, and Canada. She is the author of Between Galicia and Hungary: The Jews of Stropkov (Avotaynu 2002), and Jewish Lives: Britain 1750-1950 (Pen & Sword 2013). Visit her at www.amselbird.com.
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