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Women from Silwan

Women from Silwan, photographed by French photographer Felix Bonfils, ca. 1890


Two women from Silwan are pictured by the iconic French photographer Felix Bonfils just outside the Old City’s walls. At that time, Silwan was a largely Muslim farming village outside Jerusalem. Balancing on their heads are containers filled with labneh, a Levantine strained yogurt cheese that constitutes a main component of the traditional Palestinian breakfast.

This photo is one of many taken by Bonfils in Palestine and neighboring countries during the late 19th century. Operating between 1867 and 1885, Bonfils was active across the Middle East and founded Maison Bonfils, a family-run photographic studio renowned for its picturesque landscapes and commercial portraits of local individuals. Despite incorporating Orientalist elements to cater to a growing European fascination with the “Orient,” Bonfils’s extensive catalog, comprising tens of thousands of photographs and negatives, played a pivotal role in visually documenting the history of the region.