The Railway of Faith
100th Anniversary of the Hejaz Railway
The Hejaz Railway is the Train of Faith, built between 1901 and 1908 thanks to donations from Moslem believers and designed to carry pilgrims to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
On May 2, 1900, Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, declared his wish to build a railway that would enable Moslem pilgrims in Damascus, Syria, to reach the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The railway would run through the Hijaz in the Arabian Peninsula. The sultan intended the railway's construction to be financed exclusively by Islamic sources, unlike other railways built by the Ottoman Empire which were funded by European companies. The cost of the railway was approximately four million pounds sterling, which was contributed by the sultan, the rulers of Egypt and Iran, Morocco and Bukhara, as well as numerous Moslem believers throughout the world.
It was an unprecedented engineering and economic feat, unlike any other in
the history of the empire. The railway from Damascus to Medina was
completed on September 1, 1908, the 33rd anniversary of the sultan's accession to the throne. Traveling time was approximately 72 hours in comparison to the many weeks it took by camel caravan.
The sultan's aspiration to continue the construction of the railway, which would eventually reach Mecca, never materialized. In 1909 Abdul Hamid II was deposed by the revolution of the Young Turks and with his fall the construction of the railway came to an end. In addition to its religious designation, the Train of Belief served the Ottoman regime for transporting military forces to the Medina region. During World War I the railway was damaged several times by the Arab rebels who fought against the Turks under Lawrence of Arabia, thus serving British strategic interests.
The Hejaz Railway had a branch line that passed through the Land of Israel and connected Haifa to the Syrian town of Dara. In the Jewish yishuv it was known as Rakevet Ha'emek, the Valley Train. This branch line greatly contributed to the development of the city of Haifa and the Jewish localities in the Jezreel Valley. The Valley Train came to an end in 1948 during Israel's War of Independence,
but it has remained in the collective memory of the yishuv as a visual icon and a source for poetry and fiction.
The exhibit presents a collection of photographs and postcards from the time the railway was built, which are juxtaposed with contemporary photographs of the same sites, sections of the railway, original maps, films and rare philatelic items taken from the Alexander Collection, such as letters that were sent via the Hejaz Railway and stamped in the carriage that provided postal services to the travelers.
The exhibit is under the auspices of the Turkish Embassy in Israel.
Curator: Sarah Turel
Opens: December 18
Closes: December 31, 2009