Along the ancient cobblestones of Jerusalem's St George Street, just beyond the forbidding part of Jaffa Gate, is a family-owned business that has made its mark on visitors for 700 years.
The Razzouk family has been training Christian pilgrims since the year 1300 and, incredibly, they are still strong. In the oldest tattoo shop in the world.
The store is now in the hands of Wassim Razzouk, the 27th generation of artists who made a career using the same tools and techniques that their family first brought to Palestine from Egypt many centuries ago.
Ancient Wonder: The Old City Skyline in Jerusalem
In Coptic and other Eastern Christian traditions, tattoos have already been used as a practical marker of faith.
A small cross placed inside the wrist gave religious pilgrims access to churches and other sacred sites. Girls were covered with Annunciation drawings to increase their chances of having children.
And it was said that the act of tattooing brought one closer to God – a bloodshed that was identified with Christ's sufferings on the cross.
Spending a day in Razzouk Tattoo today is like sitting at the crossroads of the Christian world.
A steady stream of devotees crosses the threshold of the cold, cave-like interior, seeking a permanent reminder of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Within a few hours, on a September afternoon, I saw Wassim and his assistant Chris tattoo a group of three new-faced American college students, the wonderful Miryam, an imposing 85-year-old from Iraq – and a Syriac. Orthodox priest in full robe and hood.
Wassim Razzouk outside his store. The Razzouk family has been tattooing Christian pilgrims since 1300
Inky Man Tattoo Studio: Wassim Razzouk Tattoos a Syrian Orthodox Priest
A selection of tattoo stencils that Razzouk uses. They are hundreds of years old
WHY TEL AVIV IS HIPSTER HEAVEN
Tel Aviv is one of the youngest and most elegant cities in the world. In the picture, one of the cool surfers in town
It is only an hour by bus, but in many ways Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are light years away. Tel Aviv is one of the youngest, most elegant cities in the world – the seaside hipster paradise. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen so many beautiful people in one place at a time. The streets are full of them – running on electric scooters or strolling the boardwalks, bars and cafes. (Think of South Beach in Miami without all the high-shirt boarders …)
This vibrant multicultural city is full of fabulous art and architecture, from the UNESCO World Heritage White City, with its 4,000 Bauhaus buildings, to the brutalist concrete beauty of the Art Museum, where one night I saw the Spellbound, an amazing show. solo of award-winning Palestinian artist Samah Shihadi.
Of course there are some impressive boutique hotels. Loved Poli House, a dream of interior design in an original Bauhaus building that occupies a prime position on the corner, minutes from the beach and close to Carmel Market and street after street of boutiques, record stores and vintage clothing stores. As cocktail hour approaches, the pool and the Poli rooftop bar are one of Tel Aviv's most famous places to see and be seen. And for the next morning? The vegan shakshuka is unbeatable. Hipster heaven indeed …
What makes a Razzouk tattoo so truly special, though, is its unique designs. Of course, Wassim uses the most modern and scrupulously sterile equipment. But he keeps the old family traditions alive with an amazing collection of stencils.
Hand-carved in olive wood, they shine darkly in glass showcases, all over the world like precious antique artifacts in a museum. Far from being locked, however, are the tools he uses every day.
They are hundreds of years old. The oldest is a small Jerusalem cross, recorded as carved 500 years ago. It is still Wassim's most popular design.
Stencils display Christian images ranging from crucifixion to resurrection, through saints of all descriptions and even the severed head of John the Baptist. They are simple but never rude, and need some of the most delicate tattoos to complete.
The pilgrim chooses a stencil, Wassim places it on a block and the design is transferred to the skin and tattooed. Some of the simplest ones only take a few minutes – for a memory that will last a lifetime.
I went to the cross of Jerusalem. In heraldic terms, it is a potent cross between four simple crosses. Carried by the Crusaders, it became the emblem of the Kingdom of Jerusalem from the 1280s. Ten (not too painful) minutes later, it became my permanent reminder of my visit to this oldest business in this older city. (I seem to be in elegant company – when he was Prince of Wales, future King Edward VII got the same tattoo on a visit to the Holy Land in 1862. Like Prince Albert Victor and Prince George before becoming King George V. It's amazing to think that they may even have been marked using the same wooden stamp!)
Even without a tattoo, the ancient city of Jerusalem is simply not a place you will probably forget.
Destroyed and rebuilt countless times, every inch of it has been disputed for millennia and this palpable sense of history hangs on every stone.
(I would recommend Simon Sebag-Montefiori's masterful Jerusalem: biography as a good place to start your research. 3,000 years, 768 pages, a city.)
The Old City walls contain the holiest sites of Judaism and Christianity and the third holiest site in the Islamic world, all cheek to cheek and surrounded by a series of miles of streets, alleys and souks.
Thousands upon thousands of tourists flock to the Old Town every day, and the narrow streets in the relentless heat of the day can seem overwhelming. I discovered that one of the great pleasures was wandering around the Old Town at night.
The Old City Walls contain the holiest sites of Judaism and Christianity and the third holiest site in the Islamic world.
Walk through the bustling street market, cross the Damascus Gate, so it's just you and the locals. Life is lived on the street. Dark darkness broken by soft pools of light, in which children play, old men smoke cigarettes, and families eat. I always carry my camera, but some of the scenes were almost too personal to photograph – like a glimpse of someone else's house.
The Western Wall at night is also a sight. It is beautifully illuminated, and the sight and sound of the faithful sending prayers and songs into the still, dark and eternal desert night is simply unforgettable.
Of course, there is more to Jerusalem than ancient history and religion. The Old Town is just the heart of an extensive modern secular metropolis that houses a population of 1.2 million people. There are malls, a light rail system, restaurants, bars, cafes and boutique hotels that are the same anywhere in the world.
We stayed in beautiful Villa Brown, a super-elegant renovation of a nineteenth-century luxury home on Ha & Neviim Street, with 24 individually designed rooms and suites, an impressive rooftop spa, a tea garden and a very cozy cellar bar. cool, all just a few minutes walk from the walls of the holy city. (Even the Villa Brown room keys were fancy – a real bronze chain with a tassel instead of a disposable plastic card!).
A perfect place to reflect on the joys of this amazing city that, even if tattoos are not for you, guarantees an indelible impression.
. (tagsToTranslate) dailymail (t) travel (t) Palestine (t) Egypt (t) Israel