This is a special World War I ‘Railway Edition’ of the map of the upper Levant, originally made in 1893 by Heinrich Kiepert, the era’s foremost authority on the geography of Turkey and the Middle East, to illustrate the travels of the great orientalist Max Freiherr von Oppenheim. The map, focussing on Syria and Lebanon, embraces a great expanse of the Middle East, extending from Iskenderun (Turkey) and Aleppo (Syria), in the north-west, from to Haifa (Israel) and Dera’a (Jordan) in the south-west; and then over as far as Deir ez-Zor, in the east. The map is incredibly accurate and detailed, carefully expressing the region’s complex topography, while labelled virtually every city, town, village, road, caravan trail and archaeological site, most with their names carefully transliterated into German so as to be true as possible to their correct native or traditional pronunciation (a personal hobby of Kiepert). Although the map was first issued 22 years before the present edition, it still remained one of the best and most accurate maps of the region. Accordingly, the publisher Ernst Vohsen posthumously updated Kiepert’s work to showcase the Levant in its critical role in the on-going Great War.
Notably, when the original edition of the map was issued in 1893, there were no completed railways in the Levant; however, a massive infrastructure boom from 1895 to 1911 utterly transformed the situation.
Running roughly west-east along the top of the present edition of the map, from the Amanus Mountians, through Aleppo, to Ras al-Ayn, is a key stretch of the Anatolian-Baghdad Railway, which since 1903 was, with German funding and technical assistance, being built from Konya, Turkey, towards Baghdad, creating one of the world’s most geopolitically charged transport corridors. Known as the Bagdadbahn in German, the line aimed to eventually connect Berlin to the Persian Gulf. As of 1915, the railway was far from complete, as gaps existed in northern Iraq, but also in the Tauris and Amanus (Nur) Mountains, the latter of which is shown here by intermittent lines. The inability to complete the route during the war was a major factor in the Central Powers’ ultimate defeat. That being said, the incomplete line allowed the Ottomans to send troops from Istanbul to Baghdad in only 21 days (weeks shorter than was previously possible), surprising the British in Mesopotamia. The Anatolian-Baghdad Railway would not be completed until 1940.
Damascus was the head of the Hejaz Railway, a grand project which was intended to aid pilgrims on the Hajj and the solidify the Ottoman Sultan’s claim to being the Caliph of Islam. It was intended to be built from Damascus to Mecca; however, the line was only completed as far south as Medina, in 1908. The present map only shows the northern part of the Hejaz Railway, while the southern sections of the line played a key role during the WWI’s Arab Revolt, as from 1916 it was attacked by Lawrence of Arabia and his local allies. Also depicted are the short, but important, Levant lines, including the Beirut-Damascus Railway (completed 1895); the Jezreel Valley Railway (completed in 1905), connecting Haifa with Dera’a (Jordan); and the HomsTripoli Railway (completed in 1911), linking Syria with that venerable Lebanese trading port.
As it turned out, the railway system in the Levant played key role in buttressing the OttomanGerman positions in the region. While most of the Central Powers’ positions collapsed in Mesopotamia, Southern Palestine and in Arabia through 1916 and 1917, they held firm for some time in Northern Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. The Ottomans and Germans were always able to bring in enough troops and supplies to ensure that their positions there were well stocked. The British and their allies had a terrible time making their way north of Jerusalem, and it was only on October 1, 1918, that they finally took Damascus. Therefore, while the railways did not alter the end result of the war, they certainly allowed the Ottoman-German side to stay in the game a lot longer than they would have otherwise.
A Note on the Publication and Rarity
The first edition of the present map was created by Heinrich Kiepert and published in Berlin in 1893 by Dietrich Remer, and subtitled as the ‘Westliches Blatt’ (Western Sheet), was accompanied by the ‘Ostlisches Blatt’ (Eastern Sheet), which continued the projection eastwards into Mesopotamia. The maps used red lines to depict the recent travels of Freiherr Max von Oppenheim throughout the region. The two sheets were initially separately issued as a pair; although they are today perhaps best known for their subsequent inclusion within Oppenheim’s best-seller, Vom Mittelmeer zum persischen Golf durch den Haurän, die syrische Wüste und Mesopotamien (1899 – 1900).
A link to images of the original pairing, courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, can be viewed here:
For the present edition, the ‘Eisenbahn-Nachträge’, of the map the publisher Ernst Vohsen (the successor to Dietrich Reimer) posthumously revised Kiepert’s original map. The map is largely faithful to the 1893 edition, except for the fact that it omits the track of Oppenheim’s travels, and in its place delineates the new railway system.
Importantly, while the 1893 editions of the ‘Westliches Blatt’ and ‘Ostlisches Blatt’ were issued together, conversely, each sheet of the 1915 railway edition was issued separately. This is largely due to the fact that the railway system in the Levant was well developed, while the railways in Mesopotamia were still in an incipient stage. In other words, the ‘Westliches Blatt’ was considered interesting for this purpose, while the ‘Ostlisches Blatt’ was not (indeed it seems that only very few of the 1915 ‘Ostlisches Blatt’ editions were ever issued). Thus, the present map is complete in and of itself.
The 1893 editions of the maps are relatively common; however, the present 1915 railway issue of the ‘Westliches Blatt’ is quite scare. While we can trace around half a dozen institutional examples, we are aware of only a single other example as having appeared on the market in recent times.
Heinrich Kiepert: Foremost Authority on the Geography the Near & Middle East
Heinrich Kiepert (1818 - 1899) was a German geographer and historian of unusual intellect and diversity of interests. Born in Berlin, he grew up in an affluent, culturally sophisticated family, mentored by leading academics and travelling widely. He studied history, geography and philology, with a focus on Greece and the Near East, at the Humboldt University of Berlin under the legendary co-founder of modern geography, Carl Ritter (1779 - 1759). He showed great talent as a cartographer and worked closely with many commercial mapmakers. His first major project was assisting Ritter in the production of his Atlas von Hellas und den hellenischen Kolonien (1840).
Between 1841 and 1848 Kiepert made four trips to Ottoman Europe and Asia Minor, and become a world-renowned expert on Turkey. This led him to produce his own cartographic works concerning the Ottoman Empire, including the Karte des osmanischen Reiches in Asien (1844); the Karte von Klein-Asien (1854); the Specialkarte vom Westlichen Kleinasien (1890-2) and his posthumously-published, monumental Karte von Kleinasien meist nach noch nicht oder in kleinstem Massstabe veroffentlichten Aufnahmen in 24 Blatt (1902-6).
Upon his return from the Near East, Kiepert became the head of the Geographisches Institut in Weimar and, in 1854, was appointed a full professor as the University of Berlin. He maintained a long association with the prominent Berlin map publisher Dietrich Reimer, who was responsible for issuing the present map. Kiepert was a remarkably adept editor of cartographic material, possessing an uncanny ability to select the best and most accurate information out of a variety of conflicting sources, resulting in maps of amazing authority and precision for their time.
Kiepert also produced excellent large-format maps of diverse parts of the world, including of the Russian Empire, Central America, as well as various parts of the Near East, Caucuses and the Mediterranean. Notably, the present map was one of Kiepert’s most highly regarded works. He also produced educational tomes, including, Lehrbuch der alten Geographie (1877); Leitfaden der alten Geographie (1879); and his enlarged atlas of the ancient world, Formae orbis antiqui (1894). Additionally, Kiepert produced many maps for the Baedeker travel guides.
Following his death, in 1899, Heinrich Kiepert’s cartographic work was ably continued by his son, Richard Kiepert (1846 - 1915), a professional geographer, who issued revised editions of his father’s maps.
References: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek: 7310721 / OCLC: 163130661; Library of Congress: G7421.S12 1915 / OCLC: 891695296.