Thursday, May 16, 2013

Picture of the Week: Graf Zeppelin Over Jerusalem

Our picture of the week is one of the most surprising images in any of the collections available on and  It was taken on April 11, 1931 and displays a German dirigible floating over Jerusalem.

Several familiar landmarks can be clearly seen in the photograph. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)  The dirigible is hovering over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock can be seen in the background just above the church's dome.  To the right is the tower of the German Lutheran Church, and framing the whole scene in the background is the Mount of Olives.

The photo comes from Volume 2 of the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection which focuses on Jerusalem.  There is another photo of this zeppelin in that collection which shows a clear profile of the airship as it passed by the Citadel of David near Jaffa Gate.

How and why did a zeppelin get here in 1931?  The PowerPoint® notes in the collection provide the following explanation (hyperlinks in the quote were added for the convenience of our readers):
The viewpoint is a rooftop, or perhaps the city wall, in the Christian Quarter, west of the Holy Sepulcher. The photo documents the visit of the German dirigible “Graf Zeppelin” to Jerusalem on April 11, 1931. The famous airship began its journey on April 9th in Friedrichshafen, Germany and it landed at Heliopolis near Cairo at dawn on the 11th. It then set off on a one-day, round-trip excursion to Jerusalem, reaching there at 10 a.m. The airship reportedly hovered for some time, with its engines stopped, about 100 meters above the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and that seems to be exactly what was captured in this photo. That date–April 11, 1931–being Holy Saturday in the Eastern calendar, the dirigible’s passengers were almost certainly viewing the colorful spectacle of the annual “Holy Fire” ceremony being played out in the streets below.  Without touching down in Palestine, the Graf Zeppelin (average speed approx. 60 miles (100 km) per hour) returned to Egypt and landed in Cairo at 4 p.m. the same day.  [Source: web-site of the German Embassy in Cairo,]

This particular zeppelin traveled the world over the course of a decade.  It crossed oceans, traversed hemispheres, made a "round the world" voyage, and even helped explore the Arctic.  With such a colorful career, I guess it couldn't resist squeezing in a quick trip to Jerusalem at some point.

This photograph and over 650 others are available in Volume 2 of the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, and is available here for $25 (with free shipping).  Further information and images of Jerusalem in the 1800s and early 1900s can be found on here, here, and elsewhere.  Further information on the Graf Zeppelin can be found here and here.

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