The Hijaz Railway
In 1900, the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II (reigned 1876–1909) put out an appeal to Muslims of the world to support the building of a railway connecting Damascus to the holy cities of Medina and Mecca. Built by public subscription and with the advice of German engineers, the line from Damascus reached Medina in 1908. Pilgrims who embarked from Haydarpaşa station in Istanbul could now travel all the way to Medina by rail. This reduced the journey from almost forty days to five. Thousands of pilgrims from Russia, Central Asia, Iran and Iraq also converged on Damascus to take the train. The railway never reached Mecca and during the Arab Revolt (1916–18) against the Ottomans during the First World War, parts of the railway were blown up by Lawrence of Arabia and his Arab allies. Some sections of the railway in Jordan are still in use today.
…we were now in Arabia and as we proceeded the aspect of the country became even wilder. High mountain ranges appeared on either side, and the great pinnacles of rock became twisted and uncanny in appearance. The track wound through gloomy gorges over which huge rocks hung menacingly.
Postcard of Sultan Abdülhamid II (early 1900s, Istanbul)
Sultan Abdülhamid II (ruled 1876 –1909) was the driving force behind the construction of the Hijaz Railway. In addition to carrying Muslim pilgrims to the Holy Cities, the railway was part of a propaganda campaign to assert the sultan’s position as the main political and spiritual authority in the Muslim world. The production of postcards of Sultan Abdülhamid II was part of this propaganda drive. This postcard was owned by the Dutch Orientalist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857 –1936), who probably acquired it during his visit to Istanbul in 1908.
Damascus to Mecca Railway plan (1904-5)
This plan for the projected route of the Hijaz Railway was made by the Ottoman official Hajji Mukhtar Bey during his Hajj. He travelled via the old Damascus to Mecca route so that he could plot the course of the new railway. The final plan was compiled by the Captain of the Artillery ‘Umar Zaki and Lieutenant Hasan Mu‘ayyin in the Printing Works of the Ministry of Marine in Istanbul.