Monday, July 16, 2012

Another Mystery Photograph, This Time from Jaffa

The Library of Congress caption reads "Jaffa" and that the
picture was taken between "1898-1946"
The American Colony photographers were based in Jerusalem, but they roamed throughout Palestine between the 1890s and 1946.  Their pictures record the history of the land from Metulla to Be'er Sheva, Tel Aviv-Jaffa to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

These Christian photographers captured on glass plates and film the Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael decades prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.

This picture provides an example.  Labelled simply "Jaffa," the photo is dated between "1898 and 1946," the years the American Colony Photo Department was active in the Holy Land.

But there's much more in the photo beyond the two obviously Orthodox Jewish men walking in Jaffa.  We can even narrow down the date of the picture.

The picture could not have been taken during World War I when the Turkish rulers expelled the Jews of Jaffa and hundreds died.

The rail line into the Jaffa Port (Cairo Postcard Trust)
The two men are walking along railroad tracks which appear incongruously to be laid through a Jaffa alleyway.   Actually when the Jaffa-Jerusalem railroad was inaugurated in the 1892 there was a spur that continued from the Jaffa train station down to the Jaffa dock (see adjacent postcard).

But the men are not walking on the rails laid during the Turkish rule.  Those rails were "standard gauge," at least one meter apart, and indeed in the old postcard people are shown walking two abreast.  The rails around Jaffa were ripped out by the Turks during World War I for use elsewhere in the Palestine war effort.  One can surmise that they left the wooden railroad ties.

In the photo above, only one of the Orthodox Jews can walk between the rails.  The line was 60 centimeters wide, a fact that dates the picture to post-December 1917, when, with the port beyond the range of Turkish artillery, the British built a narrow-gauge track along Raziel Street, probably using the wide Turkish ties, to move supplies from the port.  The narrow gauge tracks operated until 1928.


  1. The 600mm gauge line was know as the "Terazina".
    The gauge of the line from Jaffa to Jerusalem was 1.00 m, while the later lines built by the Turks were 1.05m gauge. The term "standard gauge" refers to the 1.43 m (4'8 1/2 inch) lines such as those built by the British from Egypt to Gaza in 1917, and the system used today by most countries, including Israel Railways

  2. Yes, this is not really a mystery at all. The 60cm. gauge British line is often known as 'Little Terezina', presumably due to a link with the word 'Draisine' - it was operated by Motor Rail 4wh Petrol locomotives.
    The other Image I have never seen co,loured before, but it is well known as a b/w iimage - the Turkish government did NOT allow the Jaffa - Jerusalem railway Company to build a metre-gauge link to the port but a temporary Pier - seen here - was constructed to the beach to enable Equipment to be unloaded or floated ashore. Walter Rothschild.