Tattooing is an art that the Razzouk family brought with them to Palestine five centuries ago bringing it with them from Egypt. The family came to the Holy Land for pilgrimage but then stayed for trade and for the Tattooing tradition that had existed, and since this art has been in the family for 700 hundred years starting in Egypt, the family started tattooing pilgrims for a living.
Our ancestors used tattoos to mark Christian Copts in Egypt with a small cross on the inside of the wrist to grant them access to churches. Those without it would have difficulty entering the church; therefore, and from a very young age (sometimes even a few months old) Christians would tattoo their children with the cross identifying them as Copts.
Read on to learn more about this stunning history from the current owner of the Razzouk Tattoo shop, Wassim, the 27th generation of the family members that have been practicing this profession and the tradition of offering tattoos to visitors to the Old City of Jerusalem.
“My grandfather, Jacob Razzouk (known also as Hagop or “the tattooist”), was the first tattoo artist in this country to use an electric tattoo machine (which was powered by a car battery) and the first to use color as well. Many artists have learned from him and he has been mentioned in many books and magazines that discuss the history of tattooing (especially religious and Christian tattoos).
He had learned the art from his father who learned it from his father and the ancestors who came from Egypt and brought with them the wooden hand-carved stamps that act as stencils for the religious designs of motifs inspired from the bible such as the crucifixion, the ascension, the Madonna, etc… Pilgrims would stand in line waiting for their turn to be tattooed with either a cross or another design of their choice with the date as certification to their pilgrimage to the Holy Land and as a souvenir. Many Pilgrims would visit another time in a different year and have the date of that year added to the tattoo.
My Father, Anton Razzouk, speaks of a man who had visited Palestine for decades on a yearly basis bringing other pilgrims with him from Egypt every year, and every year he would bring his groups to be tattooed and, of course, get tattooed with the year again, he ended up having tens of tattooed dates on his arms. Another story that my father is proud of is about the fact that his father, Jacob, had tattooed the Emperor of Ethiopia in the 1930’s, he wanted to be tattooed only by the original artist from the original family. One of the interesting recent stories is that my father was contacted by an Armenian American doctor who invited him to the USA to have him put an original tattoo for him (probably cost him more than a hundred tattoos!), but for him, the authenticity and the heritage was all that mattered.
My father (Anton Razzouk) taught me as his father (Yacoub Razzouk) had taught him, and I have decided to carry over the tradition and the heritage, now my two sons are also practicing this profession that will hopefully remain in the family for many centuries to come.”