THE PASSIONS OF MEDIEVAL JERUSALEM

161003_r28793rd-930x1200-1474672669Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker:

Jerusalem was among the first conquests of the Arab Caliphate, in 638. It was a polyglot city, in which Christians suffered oppression, when, in 1099, armies of the First Crusade took it and massacred nearly all the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. The lavishly renovated Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the supposed site of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, stood near the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, built on the ruins of the Hebrew Second Temple, which were temporarily converted to a palace and a church, respectively. (The rock enshrined is thought to be the one on which Abraham was to have sacrificed Isaac, and from which, in 621, Muhammad ascended to Heaven during his night journey.) Muslims led by Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, retook the city in 1187, and several subsequent Crusades failed to achieve more than fleeting footholds there. But a regime of general tolerance, instituted by Saladin and continued by Mamluk sultans, prevailed throughout most of the following two centuries, drawing visitors including the Spanish poet Judah al-Harizi, who characterized his days in Jerusalem, in the early thirteenth century, as “carved from rubies, cut from the trees of life, or stolen from the stars of heaven. And each day we would walk about on its graves and its monuments to weep over Sion.”

As a cultural center, the city was more a destination than a fount of creativity. Medieval invention from all points of the compass generated echoes in the area, with such hybrid effects as Christian symbolism engraved on a dagger-scabbard in a fabulously intricate Arab style. The effigy on the tomb of a Crusader knight—French, from the thirteenth century—finds him armed with a Chinese sword. (How he got it, by purchase or in combat, is among the time’s innumerable untold tales.)

more here.

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