Razzouk Tattoo: Probably the Oldest Tattoo Shop in the World
Razzouk Tattoo in Jerusalem has been in business for centuries.
Razzouk Tattoo in Jerusalem is a family-operated business that's been around for hundreds of years. According to their website, their practice started when Wassim Razzouk's — the current owner of the shop — great grandfather, Yacoub, virtually introduced tattooing to what was then Palestine, bringing the art form from Egypt via a series of wooden blocks with traditional Christian designs on them. These time-honored designs are still used for tattoos by Wassim to this very day.
The use of these wooden blocks is one of the most fascinating aspects of what Razzouk Tattoo has done over the years. In an age in which many tattoo artists are now designing on touch screens, artists who cling to older creative techniques are becoming increasingly rare. Culturally significant practices in the arts could be lost if it were not for steadfast practitioners of tradition like the Razzouk family.
Over the long years, the family has made a name for itself in the region, starting out by marking Coptic Christians with religious iconography. The longevity of this shop is utterly astounding, but it is more than just a successful enterprise; it's a living relic.
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In the Razzouk family tree, tattooing has been handed down from father to son, and on the shop's website, Wassim even expresses his desire to teach his male children the art form so that the practice can last for generations to come.
As one can see in the tattoos, crosses and other Christian symbols are the images most commonly chosen by Razzouk's clientele today. Most people visit their parlor for deeply personal and spiritual reasons, coming specifically to be marked with Christian iconography to memorialize their pilgrimage to the sacred city. There is an interesting historical precedent for this religious tattoo ritual as Copts — an ethno-religious group from Egypt and the Middle East — visited Wassim's ancestors to have these very same designs inked on their bodies.
For the Coptic population, these tattoos act almost as certificates or stamps of completion for the sacred right of passage of their pilgrimages. Interestingly, in the past, these images also served as passwords that allowed individuals entrance into certain Churches and other places of worship, which were essentially safe spaces for early Christians.
Because of the cultural connotations behind these religious markings, the work that the Razzouk family does is important in terms of the preservation of Jerusalem's rich history. In a video interview with KLKY below, Wassim says, "You can not only call us 'old school.' You can call us 'ancient school.'" Check it out to hear just how much continuing the family business means to him.
If you found this tiny pilgrimage into the world of religiously-inspired tattoos captivating, you can see more of the work that Razzouk Tattoo produces on their website, which not only displays their art work but also gives a detailed historical account of their history as well as information about how their methods of tattooing have evolved from their origins. Historically speaking, this is one of the most interesting tattoo shops in the world, so if you're on your way to Jerusalem, consider getting tattooed there as a testament to your own spiritual journey.