Ermete Pierotti (1820-1880) was an Italian captain in the Royal Piedmontese Army Engineers Corps. In 1858, he was appointed by Mustapha Surraya, the Ottoman governor of Jerusalem, as the city’s chief architect and engineer. Pierotti was incredibly productive, immediately seizing the opportunities that his new and unique position provided. Among these was uninhibited access to the city’s holy places, including the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, which was entirely off-limits for non-Muslims at the time. His tenacity and work ethic quickly manifested in concrete output, including a finely engraved and highly detailed plan of the Old City and its many architectural gems, published only two years after his initial appointment.
Among his most important assignments was surveying and improving road networks throughout Ottoman Palestine. He traveled throughout the region as an official, gaining insights into local customs and culture that few other Europeans had experienced. In 1864, Pierotti came on more challenging times after publishing a book in London entitled Jerusalem Explored. In it, he forwarded a range of historical theories that were at odds with the established views of Victorian Britain’s class of gentleman scholars. Pierotti assumed that his unbridled access to the monuments would have the same effect in academic circles, but here he was sorely mistaken. The establishment soon launched repeated attacks on his work and character, accusing him of everything from copyright infringements to acts of cowardice and dishonor from his time in the Piedmontese army. Later in life, Pierotti retired to Paris, where he set up a small publishing house, which he ran until he died in 1880.
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