By the 17th century, the Land of Israel had been revived as a center of Jewish intellectual life, and was home to small if vibrant Jewish communities. But much of what we know about this era, writes Samuel Thrope, comes from the travelogue of the Sufi scholar and holy man Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, who set out from his home in Damascus for Jerusalem in 1690:
Nabulsi crossed into the country via the Golan Heights, passing the snow-capped Mount Hermon. He complained of the cold and the lawlessness of the country, reporting murders, the looting of a mosque, and even a plot to kidnap him near Jenin, which, he said, was foiled by divine intervention.
The travelogue, written in rhymed prose and interspersed with similar verses, includes descriptions about Jerusalem’s Muslim landmarks, including the Mamila cemetery and the Mount of Olives, as well as the city’s Christian sites. Nabulsi and his party also made a side trip to Hebron to see the Tomb of the Patriarchs, venerated as the burial site of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Curiously, in his account of seeing the Dome of the Rock, which follows a long section recounting the powers and virtues of the site, Nabulsi erroneously states that the building was constructed by the Crusaders, rather than, as was also well known at the time, the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik (644-705).
While the travelogue provides fascinating details about Jerusalem and his visit there, Nabulsi’s primary concern lies elsewhere: seeking out and describing spiritual experiences, particularly his encounters with holy men and sacred shrines and tombs. In terms of the latter, for instance, Nabulsi records stopping to pray at the tomb of Samuel, located just north of Jerusalem, before entering the city.