Much of The Book of Marvels and Travels is dedicated to discussing routes to Jerusalem, due to the city’s all-important status as the Holy Land and the place from which Christianity originated. As is typical of Medieval European thinking, Mandeville highlights through his narrative Jerusalem’s position as the center of the world, from which all else proceeds, both geographically and theologically. Because there is such a multitude of routes to Jerusalem presented within the narrative, and because Mandeville does not focus much on the practical or experiential aspects of travel itself, it would be a challenge to describe the physical journey to Jerusalem based solely on this text. However, if one was travelling from Western Europe as Mandeville claims to, then according to this text they would first arrive at the port of Jaffa after travelling through the Mediterranean. From there Jerusalem would be a day and a half’s travel over 27 miles of land.
Of the climate, Mandeville writes that it is dry with limited sources of water. Mountains and bodies of water are briefly described, most notably including the Dead Sea and the River Jordan. The former is one of few typical “wonders” in Mandeville’s Jerusalem, defying nature with bitter, still water in which no living thing can die. The latter functions primarily as a description of a holy site, with recollections of Jesus’ baptism and an Old Testament story concerning the river.
In describing the city of Jerusalem, the author of Mandeville provides some information on the landscape as well as historical and political background, but reports primarily in his writing on the holy sites that Pilgrims would go there to see. These include specific churches and temples and various relics kept in the city, as well as the physical locations associated with Biblical stories and places of general significance to the life of Christ. The most prominent examples of such holy sites in the text are the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple of Our Lord. Mandeville does not go into depth in this section on the political conditions in Jerusalem, but does emphatically note that “the sinful ones” (40) — here meaning Muslims — have possessed the city for over half a century, but will not continue to do so for long if God does not will it. This provides a deeper look into the medieval European conception of the Holy Land as a lost possession in the hands of those not faithful to Christ.
It is significant that in Jerusalem the author of Marvels and Travels focuses on specific holy sites pertaining to pilgrimage, because this was a place where one could, in theory, go and literally walk in the steps of Jesus Christ. Mandeville describes the process of the Crucifixion, and points to places throughout the city where Christ reportedly suffered or stopped to rest. If the text as a whole is considered with regard for its entertainment purposes, then an experiential account of destinations in Jerusalem that were typical for pilgrims to visit can be interpreted as a travel guide of sorts. It provides an imagined version of the Holy Land to European audiences who had an interest in the spiritual significance of these sites. This tactic also serves to justify the theme throughout the text of Jerusalem as the center of the world, by driving home the tangible origins of Christianity linked to the city.