Jerusalem n the 1930’s
Armenian Jerusalem
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. © Copyright 2007 Arthur Hagopia
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian

In the early 17th Century, a world traveller from Poland, who is known to us as Simeon,

made a stopover in Jerusalem, and wrote about it in a book called “The Travel Accounts of

Simeon of Poland.” Jirair Tutunjian, a Vanketsi journalist living in Canada, who has

also travelled extensively, has contributed the following intriguing review on the

rare tome which has been  translated by historian George Bournoutian of Iona

College, NY. 

     Recently,   historian   George   Bournoutian   of   Iona   College   in   N.Y.   visited   Toronto   to   talk   about   the exciting   chapter   of   the   New   Julfa   merchants,   who   travelled   across   Iran, Afghanistan,   Pakistan,   India, Bangladesh,    Burma    (Myanmar),    Thailand,    Hong    Kong,    Singapore,    Dutch    Batavia    and    to    the Philippines before Europeans monopolized the East-West trade.               After   the   speech,   I   bought   from   Mr.   Bournoutian   a   rare   copy   of   "The Travel Accounts   of   Simeon   of Poland."   Mr.   Bournoutian   had   annotated   and   translated   the   book   from   Armenian.   Reflecting   the times,   the   Armenian   Simeon   used   was   replete   with   Turkish,   Kipchak,   Persian,   Arab   words.   Mr. Bournoutian has translated it so that we can understand the polluted Armenian.                As   you   know,   after   the   fall   of   Ani   and   the   Seljuk   invasions,   many   Armenians--starting   with merchants,   migrated   to   the   shores   of   the   Black   Sea,   to   Crimea,   Ukraine,   Bulgaria,   Rumania,   Moldavia, R   u   s   s   i   a     and   to   Poland.   At   one   time   we   had   thriving   communities   in   these   cities   before   we   were   finally assimilated assimilated because of poverty, oppression, racism, and war.                Simeon   of   Poland   (his   parents   were   from   Crimea)   was   born   in   Zamosts,   Poland,   in   1584. A   few   years   younger   than Shakespeare.   He   was   well   educated   and   was   fluent   in   Armenian.   In   his   early   '20s,   he   undertook   a   12-year   journey (partly   pilgrimage)   to   Constantinople, Asia   Minor,   Venice,   Rome   (where   he   met   the   Pope),   Egypt,   Jerusalem, Aleppo, Mush,   etc.   He   kept   a   detailed   diary   of   his   travels.   When   he   returned   to   Poland,   he   got   married   and   joined   the clergy. Nothing is known about him after 1636.                I   thought   you   would   like   to   put   in   your   archives   some   of   the   facts   he   wrote   about   Palestine   and   Jerusalem   of   the early   17th   century.   He   is   occasionally   inaccurate   (an   amateur   reporter   on   the   run),   but   over   all,   his   book   is   an accurate, precious and rare record. He devotes about 60 pages to the Holy Land.      Here are some interesting facts from the book:             "From   Gaza   to   Ramla   took   half   a   day   on   horseback.   Ramla   was   the   main   port.   "From   there   to   Jerusalem   were   two small   crossings.   Those   pilgrims   who   journey   by   sea   also   come   ashore   in   Ramla.   They   gather   in   one   place   and   wait until   the   arrival   of   interpreters   of   the   prelate   (Patriarch)   of   Jerusalem   to   escort   them. There   were   large,   but   empty churches and no yerets. There were a few Greek and five to six Armenian households."                "From   Ramla   to   Jerusalem   the   route   is   covered   only   with   cliffs   and   rocks.   At   the   foot   of   that   mountain,   there was   an   Arab   village,   where   they   collected   a   quarter   [kurus]   from   every   person.   On   top   of   the   mountain   was   the tomb of the Prophet Samuel."                Simeon   describes   his   entry   to   Jerusalem   in   these   words:   "Meanwhile,   the   entire   brotherhood   of   the   Church, bishops,   vardapets,   and   kahanas   put   on   their   robes   and,   with   all   the   parish   priests   carrying   torches   and   lamps, censers,   banners,   incense,   and   candles   come   out   to   greet   the   pilgrims.   All   the   kahanas   and   clergy   are   given chasubles   and   albs   as   they   are   then   enter   the   city,   singing   joyous   sharakans   and   religious   songs.   When   they   come   to the   doors   of   the   church,   the   patriarch   comes   out   and   escorts   them   inside   the   church.   Bowing   to   the   grown   before the   altar,   they   then   kiss   the   right   hand   of   the   patriarch.   He   then   gives   them,   according   to   their   rank,   a   place   to stay:   one   gets   a   separate   room;   another   is   placed   with   two   or   three   others.   They   do   the   same   with   the   beasts   of burden.                "In   [the   Monastery   of]   Surb   Hagop   there   are   365   cells,   built   from   stone   and   lime.   By   the   cathedral,   there   are   also two   small   churches,   that   of   Surb   Toros   and   Surb   Arakel.   The   monastery   has   two   large   stables,   enough   for   1,000 horses, and three gardens and mills that are operated by horses.                "The   houses   have   two   storeys,   with   lower   and   upper   floors.   The   monastery   has   forty   wells;   it   is   surrounded   by   a high   and   wide   stone   wall   with   large   iron   gates,   which   resemble   those   of   a   city.   Beyong   the   gate   is   the   three-storey mansion of the Patriarch. Each street has a different name.                "I   witnessed   great   order   there,   both   in   the   church   and   on   the   outside;   for   there   were   fifteen   abeghas,   two vardapets,   three   bishops,   as   well   as   an   expert   server   of   the   Mass,   who   invariably   conducted   daily   services   in   all   the churches.   There   were   janitors   in   the   monastery   who   sat   during   the   day   [by   the   gates],   locked   the   gates   at   night, and gave the keys to the Baron-Der (Grigor IV, patriarch).                "The   Patriarch   has   to   feed   all   the   pilgrims   for   three   days,   even   if   there   are   1,000   of   them.   On   the   first   day   they give   every   pilgrim   two   large   wax   candles;   one   is   left   in   Surb   Hagob,   the   other   they   take   to   the   Church   of   the   Holy Sepulcher.   Every   man,   depending   on   his   means,   gives   one   or   two   kurus;   some   give   two   or   three   kurus.   After   three days   the   housing   dues,   as   much   as   they   can   afford:   they   take   much   from   the   bishops,   vartabeds,   and   the   wealthy, little   from   the   poor,   much   from   the   rich   and   little   from   the   poor.   Not   only   the   monks   but   even   the   poor   had   to donate   something.   They   then   ask   everyone   what   he   had   promised   or   vowed   to   do:   a   karasnits,   a   Mass   in   memory   of the   dead,   or   an   animal   sacrifice   [which   they   have   to   pay   for];   or   whatever   they   have   promised;   a   cross,   a   chasuble, or something else, has to be donated."                (By   the   way,   in   the   years   preceding   Simeon's   visit   to   Jerusalem,   the   Patriarchate   was   in   deep   financial   trouble. To   pay   the   various   taxes   imposed   by   the   Turks,   the   Patriarch   had   borrowed   40,000   kurus   from   local   merchants   and handed   precious   religious   and   historic   object   as   "raheen."   Finally,   a   dozen   Armenian   merchants,   led   by   an   Aleppo merchant   and   New   Julfa   merchants,   raised   the   money   that   was   due.   The   Patriarch   handed   over   the   money   to   the people who were owed the huge debt. The religious and historic objects were returned).                "To   enter   the   Holy   Sepulcher,   pilgrims   had   to   pay   one   para.   .   .   The   Church   of   Holy   Sepulcher   is   larger   than   Hagia Sophia.   Its   dome   is   covered   with   tin.   They   say   it   was   covered   with   gold   before,   but   the   infidels   removed   it.   .   .   Surb Prkich Monastery Monastery, which was surrounded by a wall and which had sixty new stone rooms."                "The   terrain   surrounding   Jerusalem   is   very   rocky,   with   cliffs,   and   no   water. The   earth   is   not   visible   at   all,   but   the land   is   very   fruitful   and   abundant   with   fruits   and   produce.   The   mountains   and   plains   are   totally   covered   with   olive trees.   The   fruit   is   so   sweet   and   tasty   that   you   cannot   find   similar   fruit   anywhere   else.   There   are   large   and   superb melons   and   watermelons,   very   large   pomegranates,   good   figs   and   quinces,   sweet   and   tasty...There   is   also   a   very large   variety   of   grapes   and   they   are   in   large   clusters.   There   is   great   blessing   and   abundance   here:   white   bread, white   honey,   delightful   butter,   and   according   to   the   saying   of   spies   .   .   .   the   roses   have   an   unbelievable   scent   and rosewater   is   taken   from   land   to   land   as   a   nice   gift   and   donation.   They   have   only   white   wine,   there   is   no   red--it   is cheap   and   strong,   so   that   one   cannot   drink   it   without   diluting   it   with   water...the   tastiest   bread   of   all   is   the   flat bread   baked   on   hop   pebbles.   Milk,   yoghurt,   clotted   cream,   and   butter   are   very   tasty   and   available   throughout   the year,   for   it   is   always   summer   there,   there   is   no   winter. The   animals   give   birth   twice. They   sow   and   harvest   the   crops twice   a   year.   On   holidays   they   serve   lamb,   but   the   meat   of   kid   goat   is   by   far   tastier.   We   were   amazed   by   its   taste. Cucumbers, roses, and barley ripen by Easter; the same is true of other crops."                "There   are   twelve   local Armenian   families   in   holy   Jerusalem. They   are   all   poor   and   are   weavers   and   belt-makers. They   make   collars   and   waist   girdles   for   pilgrims,   as   well   as   linen   for   shrouds.   There   are   twenty   to   thirty   Coptic families. There are also Greeks, but they too are poor..."                "The   other   nations   do   not   have   places   or   a   monastery   like   the Armenians;   their   pilgrims   come   and   stay   in   inns. Meanwhile,   the Armenian   Monastery   of   Surb   Hagob   is   large   and   spacious   it   can   accommodate   even   10,000   souls,   for it resembles a city. Praise the Lord!"                About   the   Dead   Sea:   "There,   we   saw   the   land   of   Sodom,   where   the   stones   burned   like   wood   and   they   cooked food on them. They burned and turned black as charcoal."                About   the   River   Jordan:   "The   river   is   large   and   speedy,   like   the   Khotyn.   The   group   broke   up   by   the   river   and undressed.   Those   who   could   swim   jumped   into   the   river,   others   bathed,   holding   on   to   tree   branches   and   the   shore; others   tied   themselves   to   ropes.   The   old   gathered   the   water   in   cups   or   poured   it   over   their   heads.   Despite   all   of this, two were carried away by the swift waters of the river."                After   the   Patriarch   paid   the   church's   debts,   Patriarch   Grigor   "first   renovated   and   improved   many   Armenian churches    in    the    city    and    its    environs,    twelve    in    number.    In    the    monasteries    of    Surb    Hagop,    Hreshtakapet (Archangel),   and   Surb   P'rkich,   he   built   rooms   for   guest   and   the   sick,   stone   cells   for   the   brothers,   nice   gates   and proportional   refectories,   orchards,   vineyards,   flower   garden,   and   other   buildings.   He   renovated   the   365   cells   in Surb   Hagob   and   its   church.   During   his   time,   the   Armenian   Patriarchate   thrived;   in   fact,   it   became   rich   and magnificent. "                "He   constructed   vaulted   cloisters   and   fenced   them   with   impregnable   walls   with   well-built,   magnificent   towers. They include: Surb Prkich, Surb Hreshtakapet, Surb Toros, Surb Arakel, Surb Sarkis, and others."                There's   a   great   deal   of   other   interesting   information   in   the   book.   Although   the   Jerusalem-Hold   Land   section   is generally   positive,   Simeon   doesn't   hesitate   to   criticize   Armenians   in   other   communities   for   their   lack   of   faith,   for corruption,   for   lack   of   proper   patriotism.   He   has   no   problem   attacking   wayward   clergy,   no   matter   how   high   their position.   (By   the   way,   he   financed   his   12-year   pilgrimage   (1610)   by   copying   holy   books   in   Constantinople,   Jerusalem . . . I believe he was paid per page.                We   owe   a   great   debt   to   Simeon--now   lost   in   history,   together   with   our   communities   of   Eastern   Europe,   and   to   Mr. Bournoutian who has translated the book.