Hebron Quarantine in the 1840s


All visitors confined to quarantine in Hebron due to plague outbreak in Egypt.

IMAGE: Quarantine Buildings in Hebron, by L. M. Cubley.

In the mid 1840s, a quarantine center was created in Hebron during the plague outbreak originating in Egypt and affecting other Mediterranean countries. Special living quarters were built just outside the city to house those who would be contagious to others.

The quarantine was referenced by Charles de Pardieu, a French count, who wrote of his experiences in his 1851 book “Excursion en Orient: l’Egypte, le Mont Sinaï, l’Arabie, la Palestine, la Syrie, le Liban.”

In it he describes being confined to the living quarters in October of 1849. There were walls, and separate units to make sure potentially contaminated people were kept socially distant from each other, manned by Turkish soldiers.
De Pardieu describes Hebron as a city in the valley with about 5,000 residents, both Arabs and Jews, with grey block-like houses surmounted with domes set in the middle of the roofs that doubled as balconies. Such buildings can still be seen today.
He described the Tomb of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs, the giant complex built by King Herod the Great to house the Cave of Machpela as “a medieval church” surrounded by walls and accompanied by minarets. “This church, converted into a mosque, contains, it is said, the tombs of the six characters of Genesis mentioned above. The Turks, who have great veneration for the patriarchs, do not let the Christians enter. They have, because of these traditions, given to Hebron the name of El-Khalil (the friend, Abraham the friend of God). It was also in Hebron that David was crowned king of Israel.”
He continues, “this city is now renowned for its glassworks. They make a lot of vases, ornaments, and glass bracelets…” Such is true today, where modern Hebron has become the largest and most industrialized city in the Judea and Samaria regions, with glass, shoes and other manufacturing being produced and exported.
De Pardieu also complained that the Turkish soldiers were “brutes” and kept he and his entourage for longer than expected.
“…to our amazement the director of the quarantaine said… our detention had to be twelve days. We do not go out until November. How is it twelve days?… the health guards had told us seven days. The health guards had been mistaken, the quarantine time was indeed seven days the previous month, but the government decided to bring it to twelve days…”
The quarantine quarters in Hebron were also referenced by L. M. Cubley in her book “The Hills and Plains of Palestine” published in London in 1860.
The author and artist visited the Land of Israel in 1853 and created several paintings and drawings of the scenes she witnessed, including that of the quarantine buildings in Hebron.
“We then crossed the bazaar to the wall of the castle (Kalha), above which is the wall of the mosque Haram Sharif, that encloses the cave of Machpelah,” she states. “Here I took the sketch looking over the Mosque on the a part of the town, Lower Pool, and Jebel Kubbe Janib, on which are situated the Quarantine buildings.”
“We then went by the Turkish burying-ground to the Quarantine buildings, outside of which the Pasha was encamped with his troops. After calling on the Pasha and quarantine Doctor, the latter joined us in our ride to Ayin Jedidi, the supposed well of Abraham, and near which it is probable he lived, as it is on the hill opposite the Mosque, which, there is little doubt, is on the site of the cave of Machpela.”
She goes on to glowingly describe attending Succot services and Shabbat prayers at a local synagogue where she enjoyed the hospitality of the Jewish community.
(Originally published here)
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