The Victorian Era saw the emergence of an early modern mindset. Part of this new way of thinking entailed a passionate re-envisioning of the distant past. It was hoped that in the rediscovery of civilizational roots, Christendom might begin to align the aging tenets of faith with the bold new advances of science.
No place on Earth was more the target of such romantic desires than the Biblical land of Palestine. Ruled for centuries by the Ottomans, the Victorian craze for travel had made the Holy Land more accessible to Europeans than it had even been before, and it was within this elated context of exploration and adventure that our seminal map was created.
For almost a decade, from 1872 to 1881, the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) conducted their famously comprehensive Survey of Palestine. The Royal Engineers carried out the majority of the work, and the task was divided into distinct parts from the outset. The Western Palestine survey (1872-1877) was led by Captain Richard Warren Stewart, Lieutenant Claude Conder, and Lieutenant Herbert Kitchener and covered a total area of 6,040 square miles, whereas the smaller Eastern Palestine survey (1880) was led by Conder alone and covered 510 square miles of sparsely populated land in what today is Jordan (incl. Amman and Madaba). In unison, the extensive fieldwork constituted the first fully scientific mapping of the region.
The PEF survey went far beyond the scope of geography. Among their many efforts, the team collected thousands of place names with the aim of identifying locations associated with Biblical, Talmudic, early Christian, or Crusader history.
The principal cartographic outcome was this enormous 26-sheet map, executed at a scale of 1:63,360 (also known as the ‘one-inch map’). This was the most detailed and accurate map ever produced of the region and still represents a pinnacle of Victorian mapping.
The scope of the map stretches from the mouth of the Qasmiyeh River in modern Lebanon to Deir al-Balah in what today constitutes the Gaza Strip. Being the Survey of Western Palestine, the map extends inland to include the Jordan River Valley but little to nothing beyond. The year after this map was published, Captain Conder carried out the ‘Survey of Eastern Palestine,’ which covered 510 square miles that included the then provincial towns of Amman and Madaba.
The map was produced as a photo-zincography by the Ordnance Survey Office in Southampton in 1879. Each of the 26 sheets has been provided with graticules of latitude and longitude, as well as an information key that includes scales, an explanatory legend, and the names of those involved in its making. Individual sheet numbers allow for easy arrangement of the sheets to form a whole.