The Rockeffeler Library Collection of Sixteenth-Seventeenth Century Books

Leonid Rankov

Books from the two centuries following Guttenberg are represented in the library by early printed books by European travelers’  who published their accounts of the Holy Land. The pilgrims’ views on current events provide us with valuable, first-hand geographical and historical information. The pages of these books are replete with road maps and engravings, remarkably illustrating 

their accounts of sites sanctified by the Christian world. The pilgrims’ memoirs serve both as brief guidebooks and as indexes of names of holy places.           

Ioannes Romberch.1519. Veridica Terre Sancte reginoumque finitimarum ac in eis mirabilium Descriptio…Venice.

This book is the oldest printed European itinerary available in the library. The author is the renowned Dominican priest and writer, one of the distinguished leaders of the struggle against   Luther. In 1520 he was appointed professor of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Cologne. We know of his works in the fields of theology and grammar (e.g., the Congestorium Artificiose Memorie, published in Venice in 1520, which presented original mnemonics, based on resemblance of the images and shapes of letters). The Veridica in our library was published by Ioannis Tacuini in Venice, which the author visited as a preacher, particularly to the German pilgrims. This book is an early example of a printed lexicon of geographical names, relating to biblical subjects.

Michael Aitsinger. 1582. Terra Promissionis topographice atque historice descripta…Koeln.

This book, whose author is an Austrian baron, was published by the famous German publisher Godefridi Kempensis. The book renders a list of the holy sites arranged in colophons. A portrait of the author and a folded map of the Holy Land are included. This is the first figurative map in the library collection, executed in a style typical of sixteenth-century graphic art.

Joanne Cola. 1600. Viaggio da Venettia al Santo Sepolcro, et al Monte Sinai…Venice.

Some interesting depictions of Jerusalem can be found in this fine, compact book of a Venetian traveler and merchant. The same work is sometimes printed under the name Noe Bianco. Our copy of this book was designed in the well-known Venetian publishing house of Daniel Zanetti. The miniature woodcuts illustrating the text show architectural and historical images of Jerusalem - such as Solomon’s Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - reproduced in simplified graphic forms.

The flow of publications by European Christian historians, religious writers and geographers, reflects their great interest in the Holy Land and Jerusalem during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Among these  are the books by Leonhart Rauwolf, a German botanist, who visited the Holy Land in 1575 and left detailed notes describing its natural life; Pierre Bellon, a prominent French physician and the first natural scientist to explore the Holy Land; Bartholomee de Salignac, a German professor and theologian; Christian van Adrichom, a Dutch theologian, who published the first bibliography of writings relating to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. The latter is also the author of the famous work on sacred geography.

Joannes Cotovicus. 1619. Itinerarium Hirosolymitanum et Syriacum…Antwerpen

A composition of special interest is the attractive publication of J. Cotovicus, a Flemish antiquary and the first to describe the archaeological remains of the Holy Land. He was also the first European researcher to identify the Tomb of the Kings in Jerusalem. The book contains valuable maps and drawings, illustrating the text. In this book, one can find drawings of cities, such as Jaffa, Ramle, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, including detailed plans of the Holy Sepulchre, the Temple Mount, the Kidron Valley and Mount Zion.


Bernardo Amico. Trattato delle piante et immagini de Sacri edifizi di Terre Santa. Firenze, 1620.

The precision and thoroughness are distinguishing features of the book by this Franciscan monk.

The famous French artist Jacque Callot produced the plates for this edition with skillful drawings, the finest ornaments, head- and tail-pieces.

Of particular value are the many drawings and plans of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Eugene Roger. La Terra Sainte ou description topographique tres particuliere des saints Lieux, et de La Terra de Promission. Paris,1664.

This publication describes the variety of ethnic groups and religious traditions of different societies in Palestine under Ottoman rule. The author - a seventeenth-century French missionary and Franciscan resident in the Holy Land (1630-1635) - served as the physician of the  Druze leader Fakhr ad-Din. He assembled original images of various religious groups, which were impressively illustrated (e.g., Turks, Druze, Jews and the Greeks). The figures in the etchings pose in characteristic costumes. The chapter “Des Iuifs que habitent en la Terre Sainte”  includes a sketch of Jewish figures performing religious rituals. This book influenced the style of contemporary book art in the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries.

George Sandys. 1673. Relation of Journey. London.

This was one of the most popular pilgrim publications of the seventeenth century. The author, the son of the archbishop of York, was a distinguished poet, philosopher and traveler. Other literary achievements of his were the translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, paraphrases of the Psalms and hymns. His writings influenced contemporary literature and other disciplines, such as

art, archaeology and geography. Sandys is considered to be the first English Egyptologist. In 1610-1612 he made an extended tour of Europe and the Middle East, which he recorded in a diary, later published in four-volumes. The third volume of his book gives detailed accounts of the Holy Land, e.g., of Jerusalem, Emmaus, Bethlehem and Nazareth. The book was first published in 1615 in London, and republished in many editions. It was translated into Dutch in 1653 and into German in 1669. The Rockefeller library has the seventh edition (1673) of this book.


At the end of the seventeenth century two notable pilgrims visited Ottoman Palestine: the brilliant Flemish painter Cornelis de Bruyn and the Englishman, Henry Maundrell, chaplain to the Aleppo Company.


Cornelis de Bruyn. 1700. Voyage au Levant. Delft.

De Bruyn traveled throughout the Holy Land and published a book illustrated by his own engravings and a full-page self-portrait. De Bruyn’s book is distinctive for its accuracy and scrupulousness in his descriptions of sites, people, flora and fauna. The 210 impressive engravings of this fine, large format book expose the reader to the authentic images of the country, its monuments and landscapes. It is a rare pictorial encyclopaedia of the Holy Land.

By the closing decades of the seventeenth century, the pilgrimages to Palestine were made by secular European visitors, whose observations reflected the significant changes in Europe’s relationship with the Middle East. Tourism, as well as geographical and cultural experiences, became the dominating motive for visiting Palestine. “Instead of monks and soldiers, Europe, enlightened, began soon afterwards to send merchants, and consuls, and ambassadors.” - Early travels in Palestine. T. Wright (ed.). London,1848,xxviii.

Henry Maundrell. 1703. A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter A.D. 1697. Oxford.

This compact and informative book is an example of the new, more pragmatic genre of travel memoir, in which  authors writes chronologically about their journeys. Maundrell visited the Holy Land for two months in 1696, when he was the Chaplain of the British Levant Company in Aleppo. His accounts of Biblical sites contain notes on social and cultural life, as well as important geographical information concerning roads and distances. The book includes reprinted engravings of the places he visited. A Journey was extremely popular for more than two centuries after it was first published; it was republished in numerous editions and translated into several European languages. The library owns the two earliest editions of this book, which were published in Oxford in 1703 and 1714 (including the author’s supplement of  “journebanks of Euphrates at Beer, and to country of Mesopotamia”).


The Rockefeler Library of the Israel Antiquities Authority contains more than 200 volumes of old printed books: numismatic catalogues, writings of modern and ancient historians, geographical surveys, theological treaties. But the itineraries written by Western European pilgrims, published during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, constitute a distinguished component of its rare books collection.