500 years ago, a group of weary travelers arrived in Jerusalem. The weeks long journey has finally come to an end. The travelers smile to each other, finally they are in the holy land. The family rejoice, settling into the city and provide for themselves the way they provided for themselves in Egypt; through tattooing. Thus the Razzouk tattoo shop opened in the early 1300s, passing down their craft from generation to generation.
In Egypt, the Christian Copts marked themselves with a tattoo of a cross on their wrists to identify themselves as Christian. They would get those tattoos around the churches there, an artist sitting at a table on a corner. “In the past, they were done by hand which involves a stick, And there would be a needle on it dipped in ink. Then the tattoo will be done by piercing the skin, by doing one dot at a time”, says Wassim Razzouk, the latest descendant of the Razzouk family that have been creating tattoos for the past 700 years, told Jerusalem24. The family arrived in Jerusalem in the 1300s on pilgrimage from Egypt. Settling in the Holy Land they continued to give tattoos to their clientele. “Towards the end of their pilgrimage they would use the technique of tattooing to mark themselves with a cross and the date of their pilgrimage,” Razzouk told Jerusalem24, “that would be the certificate of their pilgrimage” he continued.
Pilgrims are not the only form of clientele that approach the Razzouk tattoo shop. Tattoo enthusiasts and collectors also request tattoos. Razzouk says that these people sometimes get religious tattoos but for no religious reason only for the collectability of it. These people arrive at the shop from all over the world, Razzouk has been expanding the business through the internet. Relying on social media and their website. He told Jerusalem24 that “They understand the history and the heritage of the family. A lot of times they choose designs from the stamps“. These stamps he says were brought with them from Egypt, used as primitive stencils since the family’s beginnings in this art form.
Wassim Razzouk wasn’t always this passionate about the family business. To him, the work was a very traditional thing being done in the family. “They all had black ink, sometimes you can see the clients bleeding and needles” He told Jerusalem24, He jokingly continued “the work that they did was for older pilgrims, I guess that wasn’t cool enough for me”. He also cited the economic challenges. The business used to peak during the pilgrimage seasons, which was limited from March to May. Making it a difficult job to sustain a family, or to have income all year round. The rest of the year, the Razzouk family would go to their other jobs. Anton, Wassim’s father, would return to his souvenir shop. His grandfather Jacob Razzouk was a carpenter. They would work these jobs until the pilgrims return the following year.
Something changed Wassim later in his life. When he was 33 years old, he one day decided to search his family name. “I remember there was only Yahoo at that time not Google. I researched the name of my family, which is “Razzouk”. I found out there was something written, an old article; a few articles actually about that on the internet.” He told Jerusalem24 as the tone of his voice changed. That day 15 years ago he thought that it was something “serious” to find your family history online. He did more research online about his family heritage. All this culminated in his decision to be part of his family heritage.
Wassim returned to the family shop in the streets in the Old City of Jerusalem. His plan was to “re-launch it in a way that is more modern, more sterile and more up to the standards of the times”. The Razzouk Tattoo Shop is now a successful business. Their clientele are no longer exclusively pilgrims, but also includes tourists, tattoo enthusiasts and even locals who want to get a tattoo at the 500 year old shop. He has worked hard to expand the Razzouks’ legacy. From building a website, to incorporating new tattoos into the designs they provide. Making sure that they not only preserve his ancestor’s heritage, but build upon it for the future.
When asked about the future, Wassim mentioned his sons with pride. His 17 year old, a high school student, has been helping out in the shop for the past 3 to 4 years. His 19 year old who has also spent years learning the family trade, is in university while also working on how to expand the family business and make it bigger. Proud that this 700 year old legacy will live on with them. The shop also has ambassadors from all over the world. These artists arrive in the shop, experiencing the energy and the clientele. When they feel that these “trainees” are ready they give them a certificate and replicas of the old stamps to take back home. “they can display them in their shop or use them on a client. These are special tattoos, because a lot of people that cannot come to the holy land” he explained. Spreading awareness and word of his families’ history all around the world. “Not to forget that both of my sons are into tattooing, which is a step into the future”, Razzouk continues “this will continue, and I don’t see that this will ever stop”.