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Museums in Jerusalem: Botanical Gardens of the Hebrew University

The development of botanical research and teaching in Israel is closely associated with the development of settlement in this country. In 1926, a first lot of land was purchased on Mt. Scopus, with the support of the Montague Lamport family, for the purpose of establishing the Botanical Garden of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Professor Alexander Eig, Head of the Botany Department of the Hebrew University, prepared a plan for the Garden, based on representation of the main flora of the land of Israel from Mt. Lebanon to the desert.

Planting began in 1931, and the period until the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1948 saw unhindered development of the Botanical Garden. With the division of Jerusalem at the end of the war, the connection with the University campus and, consequently, the garden on Mt. Scopus was discontinued. In 1954, the erection of a new University campus was started on the Giv'at Ram Hill in West Jerusalem, and it was decided to create a new Botanical Garden. It became located between the administration building in the north and the National Library in the south and adjacent to the buildings of the Botany Department. The teachers of the Botany Department, Prof. M. Zahary, Prof. M. Even-Ari and Prof. A. Fahn, were involved in the planning of the Garden, which was led by L. Halperin, an American landscape architect, and the Israeli garden planners S. Oren, Y. Segal and D. Seidenberg. The Giv'at Ram Botanical Garden was planned in accordance with landscape considerations and by employing botanical classifications. The maximum number of species was about 800.

The unique trees of the garden include a collection of Coniferae; among these are the conspicuous Sequoia Sempervirens and Sequoiadendron giganteum, which now rise above the surrounding buildings. The development needs of the Hebrew University, at that time the country's only university, coupled with the special needs of the Garden, led to the decision to move the Garden to a new, separate site, close to the southeastern corner of the University campus. Planting in the desolate rocky soil began in 1962; the first plantation was a grove of conifers from North America.

In the mid-sixties, the economic crisis, the recession and the decision to restore the Mt. Scopus campus prevented the University from dedicating means and efforts to development of the Garden. The difficulties prevailed until 1975; only with the establishment of the Society of Friends of the Botanical Gardens, under the leadership of Nehama Ben Ze'ev, the situation changed.

At a meeting held in the office of Abraham Herman, President of the Hebrew University, with the participation of Teddy Kollek, Mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Rivlin, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish National Fund, Nehama Ben Ze'ev and Prof. A. Fahn, representing the Botanical Department, it was decided to make the Botanical Garden a joint project of the University, the City of Jerusalem and the Jewish National Fund. This was done to divide the burden of development and maintenance among the three bodies. Also, a scientific board was appointed to guide the scientific activity and the development of the Garden. The architect S. Aharonson was entrusted with planning of the Garden. The first step was the development of an area of approx. 16 thousand square meters for plants from Southwest and Central Asia, donated by Irene and Hyman Kreitman; an additional part was developed in 1979 for plants from the Mediterranean basin.

The great efforts made and the rate of development of the Garden led the founding bodies to decide in 1981 on the establishment of the Garden Association. This was carried out jointly by the six bodies that founded the Garden in its new form: The Hebrew University, the City of Jerusalem, the Jewish National Fund, the Jerusalem Fund, the CG Fund and the Society of Friends of the Botanic Gardens. An executive board and a manager were appointed for the Association. This was a turning point, which led to accelerated development of the Garden and, accordingly, to increased investments.

In 1985, the Garden was opened to the public; in the summer of 1986, the tropical greenhouse, donated by F. Dvorsky, was inaugurated. Planting on the South African lot began in 1989, and in 1990 the development of a compound, close to the Cohen Family Lake and including the Hank Greenspan Entrance Piazza, the Dvorsky Visitors' Center and a restaurant, was started.

In 1994, it was decided to effect administrative separation of the Botanical Garden from the Hebrew University and to form a self-administered association; for the first time, a general manager was appointed for the Garden and dedicated subcommittees were established within the executive board. Since October 1996, the Garden is managed by the Botanical Garden Association and constitutes an independent legal entity. The proximity to the University enables the Botanical Garden to maintain research and teaching relations with scientists and lecturers in the various departments of the Hebrew University. Its location in the area of National City, next to the Knesset and along the “avenue of museums,” reflects the values it endeavors to impart to the culture of plants and to the Israeli culture.

The Botanical Gardens are located at Burla Street in Jerusalem.
Hours of admission are Sunday through Thursday, 10am-2pm and 10am-4pm in the Winter months.
There is an entrance fee.
Phone number: 972-2-6794012

Source: The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens