This image, titled “A Street Café, Jerusalem – a Bedouin and peasant playing at a game called dameh,” is one of many images from a book by Charles Wilson depicting late nineteenth-century life in Jerusalem. This illustration shows two figures, probably a Bedouin and an Arab, sitting outside a coffee shop and playing a game called in the title “dameh,” which seems to resemble chess. The coffee shop is built within the stone wall and has a wooden wall with a window and door. There is a person inside the shop, probably preparing the refreshments, and a waiter coming out of the shop carrying a tray with hot drinks. Surrounding the players are finjans – water pipes used for smoking tobacco. The player on the left is smoking a very long pipe. The coffee shop is on the right of a narrow alleyway bordered on both sides by thick stone walls. In the alleyway are a few figures and a couple of dogs. The text surrounding the image describes this as a scene at the market in Jerusalem, where fruit and vegetables were on sale from across the land in such abundance that the entrances were often piled high with produce.
This illustration is from the book Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt edited by Colonel Wilson, assisted by the most eminent Palestine explorers; with numerous engravings on steel and wood,” which was published in 1881 by the British explorer Charles Wilson. On his travels to Israel to carry out a wide-ranging survey, Wilson was accompanied by two illustrators, Harry Fenn and J.D. Woodward. The book is part of the popular Picturesque series, which had already featured America and Europe. Picturesque Palestine was another successful addition to the series.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Israel was fast becoming an increasingly important location for Britain as a route between Europe and the Indian Ocean. Charles Wilson, a royal engineer, joined the Palestine Exploration Fund and directed the Survey of Western Palestine in an effort to improve British military intelligence of the area. One of his famous discoveries was the subsequently named Wilson’s Arch, an ancient stone arch in the northeast corner of the Western Wall that supported a road from the time of the Second Temple.