“...Jerusalem with its marvelous panorama made a tremendous impression upon me. The streets were thronged with Jews, strolling in the moonlight.... [Jerusalem:] My first act will be to cleanse thee. All that is not holy I shall clear away and I shall erect homes for the workers outside the city. And whilst preserving as much as possible of the ancient style of building, I shall build a spacious new city around the Holy Places, airy and well-drained. The Old City with its Holy Places, I would enclose as in a box. All trade and commerce will be removed and only houses of worship and charitable institutions will remain within the walls. And all around on the slopes, grown green through our efforts, the new Jerusalem will arise, entirely beautiful...Things that are holy will remain within the walls, and things that are new will prevail in the surrounding distance.”
Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism, who visited Jerusalem in 1898
Jerusalem is a city like no other – it has fired people’s imaginations in every generation and is revered by adherents of the three monotheistic faiths. Walking her streets are Ethiopian Church clerics and American Jewish students, Arab shopkeepers and ultra-orthodox Jews, schoolchildren from Odessa and their peers from Marseilles and Prague, immigrants born in Milan, São Paulo and Melbourne. Jerusalem’s relatively small municipal expanse is inhabited by a fantastic mosaic of humanity. Jerusalem also boasts an amazing variety of public buildings and private dwellings. The style of each reflects the culture of a particular group of residents and a particular period in the city’s history.
Until 1860 almost all of Jerusalem’s residents lived in the Old City. Its present walls were constructed by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566). Crowded conditions in the Old City led Jerusalemites to look for housing solutions outside the walls, and new neighborhoods were built, beginning in the late nineteenth century under Ottoman Turkish rule.
The map of Jerusalem drawn by Sir Charles William Wilson in 1864 (who directed the 1864-66 survey of Jerusalem) shows only barren hills and a few dirt trails leading to the city within the walls. The only buildings outside the walls are Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the Montefiore Windmill, the Russian Compound and the Monastery of the Cross. But by the beginning of World War I, many neighborhoods had been established, mainly in the area of Mea Shearim along Jaffa Road.
Many of the developers of those years were Jews returning to the land of their fathers; but others also came to build – Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Russians, Italians, Turks, Ethiopians, Armenians and Greeks – Muslims and Christians – all contributed to the urban fabric of Jerusalem.
"Thus the new Jerusalem grows by accessions from every part of the globe," Edwin Sherman Wallace, United States consul in Jerusalem wrote in 1898. "On the streets all sorts and conditions of Jews and Gentiles meet and pass one another; they may be strangers to each other and ignorant of the part they are playing, but I cannot resist the belief that each is doing his part in God’s plan for the rebuilding of the city and its enlargement far beyond the borders it has occupied in the past."
Today, with growing consciousness about the preservation and conservation of old buildings worldwide, Israelis too, are slating many of the early buildings of Jerusalem outside the walls for official preservation. In view of the need for modern urbanization, this task is far from easy.
Following are the stories of some of Jerusalem’s buildings and quarters built between the years 1860 and 1917, and the people who played a role in their creation.
Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe
In 1855, on his fourth visit to Palestine, British-Jewish banker-philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) bought ten acres of land for 1000 pounds sterling from a wealthy Moslem. On this plot of land, in 1860, he established the first Jewish residential quarter outside the walls of the Old City. It was named Mishkenot Sha’ananim – peaceful habitation. The new neighborhood was financed from the estate of the Jewish philanthropist Judah Touro of New Orleans and designed by William A. Smith from Ramsgate in England, the town where Sir Moses lived. Meant to house both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, the two long, narrow buildings, which contained 16 small apartments under an innovative (for Jerusalem) flat roof, had an Ashkenazi synagogue at one end and a Sephardi synagogue at the other. There were also cisterns for drinking water, a ritual bath, public cooking ovens and a wind-driven flour mill where some of the residents earned a living. The windmill has now been converted into a museum in which Montefiore’s horse-drawn carriage is exhibited.
Despite the neighborhood’s name (taken from Isaiah 32:18): "And my people shall abide in a peaceful habitation and in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places," the dwellings, situated opposite Mount Zion above the Hinnom Valley, were far from safe. For protection, iron bars were placed on doors and windows, and the gates leading to the quarter were locked every night. The first occupants had to be paid by Sir Moses to move in. But in 1866, after an epidemic broke out in the Old City but not in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the buildings became fully occupied.
Mishkenot Sha’ananim, today part of the residential quarter named Yemin Moshe after Sir Moses, serves as the municipality’s official guest house with a restaurant. Adjacent to it is the renowned Music Center where famous musicians hold masterclasses for gifted young Israelis. Here cellist Pablo Casals gave his last concert, two weeks before his death.
The Schneller Complex
As so many places in Jerusalem, the Schneller complex is named for the man who built it. A German Lutheran missionary, Father Johann Ludwig Schneller (1820-96) bought land from the Arab villagers of Lifta in 1856, and brought skilled laborers from Bethlehem and Bet Jalla to construct eight buildings, which were completed in stages between 1856 and 1903. The architecture is a blend of German and Middle Eastern styles, with massive iron gates which were locked at night. Most of the buildings have suffered neglect; today only some remain in their original form.
The Lutheran Church and Father Schneller hoped that the complex would serve the local population and alleviate its suffering. He established a school for the blind, an orphanage and workshops where the youngsters could learn a trade. He himself directed the entire enterprise. The workshops manufactured bricks and roof tiles, as well as window grills, gates, railings and manhole covers. One building served as the church, and several others served as housing for the staff.
During World War I, the Schneller Compound was turned into an army camp by the Turks. Today it serves as a medical installation for the Israel Defense Forces. Eight of the old buildings have been earmarked for preservation.
The Russian Compound
The monumental Russian Compound was built between 1860 and 1864 to serve the many Russian pilgrims, who were at that time more numerous than the pilgrims from any other country. Before World War I, the average annual number of Russian pilgrims was about 14,000 – some even made the entire pilgrimage from Russia on foot! All the building materials for the compound, as well as the furniture for the seven buildings, were brought from Russia by a Russian shipping line established for that purpose, which also brought shiploads of pilgrims. The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, based in St. Petersburg, was the initiator and backer of the huge undertaking, and Russian architect Martin Ivanovich Eppinger was responsible for its design and building. Spread over 18.5 acres and clearly influenced by Byzantine architecture, the compound consisted of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the residence of the Russian Orthodox religious mission, a consulate, a hospital and separate hostels for men and women, with 2,000 beds. Sometimes tents had to be erected to accommodate the crowds!
The Sergei Imperial Hospice, named after Grand Duke Sergei, brother to Czar Alexander III, and then President of the Provoslavic Palestine Association, occupied nine acres of land and was completed in 1889; its 25 luxuriously furnished rooms were intended as lodgings for aristocrats. In 1870, the newspaper "Havatzelet" commented about the hospice: "The new hostel for the Russians, this huge and splendid building, is made entirely out of hewn stone and is one of the most marvelous buildings in our city"; and describes the cathedral as, "a fabulous structure standing on a lofty site."
Before World War I, the large courtyards contained stables, storerooms, chicken coops, wells and a laundry. During the British Mandate period, the buildings housed government offices, such as the Public Works Department and the Immigration Office. The Russian Mission remained in one of the buildings until 1967.
The property, except for the cathedral and one building, was purchased by the government of Israel in the 1960s. The Jerusalem municipality was built here; the Ministry of Agriculture, magistrate and district courts, Jerusalem’s police headquarters and a detention facility, as well as the offices of the Society for the Preservation of Nature, are housed in the compound’s buildings. In the former Russian consulate, now part of the municipality complex, the offices of the Jerusalem Development Authority and Moriah (the Jerusalem Development Company) are now located.
The Russian compound presents the largest potential site for development in the center of Jerusalem. Plans include a circular public plaza around the cathedral, a shopping center with underground parking and renovation and redesignation of historic buildings.
Nahlaot is the popular term for a number of small residential quarters in the heart of the city, constructed between the 1860s and the beginning of the twentieth century. One of these, the Ashkenazi quarter of Mazkeret Moshe, is among the many places named for Sir Moses Montefiore. Another, the Sephardi neighborhood of Mazkeret Ohel, where the former president Yitzhak Navon grew up, served as an inspiration for his play, Bustan Sephardi.
Nahlat Shiva, the first of the Nahlaot group, was begun in 1869 and named for its seven founders. It is graced by picturesque narrow side streets, open courtyards, and many synagogues.
By the 1970s, Nahlat Shiva, now in the center of modern Jerusalem, was in disrepair and entrepreneurs were eager to construct high-rise buildings there. But a growing awareness of the value of old buildings and public outcry prevented its destruction. A major restoration and face-lifting project has since given the area a new, special atmosphere. Solomon Street (named after one of the seven founders) is now a pedestrian mall, with restaurants, art galleries and many shops where artists and craftsman offer their wares.
Some houses reflect the personalities of the people who lived in them. One such residence is Ticho House, named after Dr. Abraham Ticho (1883-1960), an ophthalmologist who in 1912 emigrated from Vienna together with his wife Anna, a renowned artist. He opened an eye clinic near the Old City, where Jewish and Arab patients, mainly sufferers from the very widespread trachoma, waited in line every day to be treated, often free of charge. Dr. Ticho became a legend in his lifetime throughout the Middle East.
In 1924, the doctor and his wife decided to change neighborhoods. They moved to a house situated between Jaffa Road and the Street of the Prophets, built in 1864 by Aga Rashid Nashashibi who sold it five years later to antique dealer Moses Shapira (known for allegedly selling fake artifacts to the British Museum). The design of the building is typically Arab: a central hall with rooms leading off it, massive stone walls and a domed roof. A terraced garden, with fruit trees, vegetables and flowers, graced the grounds.
The house also served as Dr. Ticho’s clinic, where he treated local residents as well as patients from across the nearby border from the 1920s until his death in 1960. His wife Anna became famous for her drawings of the hills of Jerusalem which were exhibited locally and abroad.
Today Ticho House, with its beautiful garden, is part of the Israel Museum. On display are Anna Ticho’s paintings and the doctor’s collection of Hanukkah lamps. Ticho House, with its library, garden and cafe-restaurant, has also become a venue for concerts by new immigrants and for story-telling events.
The German Colony
The German Colony was established by members of the Templer sect, which was founded in Germany in 1858. They came to Palestine in the late nineteenth century to escape religious persecution and to put their religious beliefs into practice: that establishing colonies in the Holy Land would realize the visions of the prophets. Other Templers built settlements in Haifa, Jaffa and the Galilee.
In 1873, Arabs sold the Templers a large area situated in the biblical Rephaim Valley, southwest of the Old City. There they built a colony similar to villages in southern Germany: one- and two-story houses with green shutters, red tile roofs and fenced-in gardens. Middle Eastern elements were added and Jerusalem stone was used as the building material.
The neighborhood has two major streets, Emek Rephaim and Bethlehem, and small interconnecting roads. The first house, No. 6 Emek Rephaim, was built in 1873 by the miller Matthäus Frank (1846-1923). The house boasted a steam-powered mill, a vineyard, two cisterns and even a swimming pool enjoyed by the neighborhood youngsters. A year later, Friedrich Eberle built his house at No. 10 Emek Rephaim. The entrance bore an inscription "Der Herr liebe die Thore Zions über alle Wohnungen Jakobs." (The Lord loves the gates of Zion above all of the dwelling places of Jacob, Psalms 87:2.) The house at No. 7 was a restaurant, while another house was inhabited by architect Sandler. In 1883 the Gemeindehaus (community center) at No. 1 Emek Rephaim began to serve the residents as both a prayer house and a meeting place. Later on, this building became an Armenian church, little used since 1967 (with the reunification of Jerusalem, all Armenians can once more worship at the Armenian cathedral in the Old City).
The founder of the Templer sect, Christoff Hoffman, is buried in the cemetery located at No. 39 Emek Rephaim, which contains 250 old German graves as well as new graves of non-Jews.
In 1894, German nuns built the Convent of the Borromean Sisters on Bethlehem Road, later adding a hospice, a school and an old age home.
The German residents of the German colony became carpenters, blacksmiths, builders and gardeners as well as farmers. Many of them were Nazi sympathizers during World War II, and they were interned by the British and were later repatriated in Germany or deported to Australia. In 1948 new immigrants became the residents of the German Colony.
In the last 15 years the area has developed enormously. shops of all kinds, restaurants and coffee shops, a movie theater showing classical films, a repertory theater and a night club at the Khan Theater are enjoyed by Jerusalemites and visitors in this bustling neighborhood. The only traces of its one-time pastoral atmosphere are on canvas – captured by German artist Gustav Bauernfeind who had made his home in the German Colony in those early days.
A contiguous block of settlement, with each set of houses built around a communal courtyard, is what characterized the Mea Shearim quarter, a neighborhood located outside the Old City walls. Its name – hundredfold – stems from the biblical portion read during the week in December 1873 when the Mea Shearim Society was established: "Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year a hundredfold, and the Lord blessed him" (Genesis 26:12).
Conrad Schick, a German missionary, planned Mea Shearim in 1846. Joseph Rivlin, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Jerusalem, was one of its founding fathers; and a Christian Arab from Bethlehem, who employed both Jewish and non-Jewish workers, was the construction contractor.
When the first ten houses were built, the Society issued the following statement: "...the Lord gave some of the members of our Society the will to serve as pioneers and example to their brethren, and they had in fact taken their lives into their hands... These volunteers indeed suffered great hardships in the early days, for they were as famished souls in the virgin desert, being forced to walk to the Old City for every basic need. And the Lord put joy in their hearts... and the wailing of foxes, and wild animals around them at night stirred their hearts as the strains of beautiful melodies."
In Mea Shearim, the quarter’s gates were locked every evening and opened every morning. By October 1880, some 100 dwellings were ready for occupancy and lots for ownership of houses – in perpetuity – were drawn at a festive gathering. Four years later, 150 homes were ready; 300 by the turn of the century. A flour mill, the Berman bakery, and cowsheds were built – replacing Conrad Schick’s plan for the creation of an open green area in each courtyard. But it was the first quarter in Jerusalem to have street lights. Today, Mea Shearim remains an insulated neighborhood with an ultra-orthodox population, and its synagogues, schools and shops cater to the needs of this community.
Conrad Schick, born in Germany in 1822, came to Jerusalem in 1846 as a Protestant missionary. His colorful career included planning many buildings and neighborhoods in Jerusalem, introducing new techniques of design and construction; excavating with the Palestine Exploration Society; and working as a city engineer in the Turkish-administered municipality of Jerusalem. At one point, he built a model of the Second Temple, sold it for 800 gold pieces and began to realize a private dream: a home for himself and his family. It was completed in 1889.
He named his home Tabor House. Located at No. 58 Street of the Prophets, a large beautiful building, with traces of old and new, western and eastern styles, within a walled courtyard. Schick took its name from Psalm 89:12: "The north and the south, Thou has created them; Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name." Palm leaves with the carved Greek letters Alpha and Omega, symbolizing the beginning and the end, decorate the facade of his house. When Conrad Schick died in Jerusalem in 1901, he was mourned by Jews, Moslems and Christians alike.
The house was bought in 1951 by Swedish Protestants, who established in it the Swedish Theological Seminary for religious instruction and for studies of the Land of Israel.
The Bukharan Quarter
The origins of the Bukharan Quarter were quite different from those of Jerusalem’s other early residential neighborhoods. To begin with, it was fully planned. Then, in contrast to the poorer Jews from Eastern Europe whose building aspirations were financed mainly by Jews from abroad, wealthy Jews from Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent built mansions for themselves, some of them "summer homes."
The first immigrants from these cities - in what is today Uzbekistan - arrived in Jerusalem in the 1870s and 1880s. They bought the land for their houses and employed Conrad Schick to plan the quarter. The 1891 Code of Ordinances of the Hovevei Zion Association of the Jewish communities of Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent stated that: "...the streets and marketplaces [are to be] built as in important European cities, and the arrangement and style of building should follow European practice, that the quarter become a proud part of Jerusalem."
And so it was: the quarter was built with wide streets (three times the width of the broadest thoroughfares in Jerusalem at the time), spacious family homes and large courtyards. German, Italian and Muslim influences marked the houses: there were neo-Gothic windows, European tiled roofs, New-Moorish arches and Italian marble. Jewish motifs such as the Star of David and Hebrew letters decorated the facades. The buildings were mostly asymmetrical, commensurate with the residents’ belief that perfection belongs to God alone.
Construction of the quarter stretched from 1891 to the early 1950s; altogether, some 200 houses were built. During World War I, the Turkish army requisitioned a number of buildings and cut down all the trees in the area. After the Russian Revolution, these Jerusalemites were suddenly cut off from their relatives abroad, who had been running their businesses and sending them funds. Many residents, in financial straits, had to let parts of their homes.
At the war’s end, some of Jerusalem’s leaders made their home in this neighborhood: Itzhak Ben-Zvi (later Israel’s second President); Moshe Sharett (later Israel’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister); and historian Jacob Klausner.
The most elegant house in the quarter is Beit Yehudayoff, known as Ha’armon (The Palace), erected in 1907. The facade is reminiscent of the 17th century Capitolina Museum in Rome, its walls marble-faced. In this splendid house, the Messiah was to be greeted on his arrival. So far, its stones have witnessed more mundane events. During World War I the Turkish army used the building as its headquarters, and, upon the British victory, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish community of Jerusalem held a festive reception there for British General Allenby. Today the building, as others in the quarter, is somewhat run-down; it houses two religious schools for girls.
The Railroad station
"An iron monster spitting sparks of fire" – that is how a turn-of-the-century Jerusalemite described the strange phenomenon – the new railroad. The first – and only – railway station in Jerusalem was opened on September 26, 1892. At the time, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the man instrumental in the revival of the Hebrew language, coined a new word – "rakevet" – for train. Located near the German Colony, the railway station signaled the beginning of a new era. Its inauguration was an important occasion, taking place in the presence of the Turkish pasha, the governor of Jerusalem, VIPs from Constantinople and the European consuls in Jerusalem. There was great excitement: A Turkish band played, sheep were slaughtered and their blood sprinkled on the rails for good luck. A rabbi exclaimed that he could hear the Messiah approaching.
The railroad line from Jaffa to Jerusalem was constructed under concession by a French company. Its gauge was narrow (only one meter instead of the customary 1.43 meters), yet it shortened traveling time between the two cities from three days to three hours!
In 1920, the British converted the narrow gauge to the standard 1.43 m, and in 1923 undertook major renovations which enabled the transportation of goods in addition to passengers.
The Jerusalem railway station – a building in the baroque style – was built by the Turkish authorities in the early 1890s. It still stands unchanged. "The station is anachronistic and has lost its original purpose," says Ulrich Plessner, an architect whose plans include bringing part of the rails underground and developing the neighborhood. An additional idea, says Nili Hod, Coordinator of the Committee on the Preservation of Sites at the Jerusalem Municipality, is to turn it into a railroad museum.
Sha’arei Tzedek (Gates of Righteousness)
At the turn of the century, the population of Jerusalem was plagued with malaria, malnutrition, diphtheria, and other diseases, and a Middle Eastern streak of fatalism. Concerned by the situation, German Jews formed a Central Committee for the Construction of a Jewish Hospital in Jerusalem, and in 1890 sent 26-year-old Cologne-born Dr. Moritz (Moshe) Wallach to Jerusalem. The inauguration of Sha’arei Tzedek hospital on January 27, 1902 was a splendid affair, graced by such dignitaries as Jawad Pasha, Turkish governor of Jerusalem, German consul Dr. Schmidt, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Salant and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Haham Bashi Eliashar. The rabbis recited prayers for the sultan and the kaiser.
For 45 years the hospital was not only Dr. Wallach’s place of work, but also his home. In fact, because of the good doctor’s total identification with the place and its patients, the hospital was called simply "Wallach." Another devoted member of the hospital’s team was Schwester Selma, a tiny person and the hospital’s only graduate nurse, trained at the Heinrich Heine Hospital in Hamburg. Like Dr. Wallach, she lived in the hospital, to be more readily available. Dubbed by Time Magazine "something of an angel," Schwester Selma served the hospital as head nurse for 48 years.
The hospital stood on Jaffa Road, on a two-and-a-half acre plot. It was a 20-minute donkey ride away from the Old City, where most Jerusalemites lived. The sick arrived on carts, camels and donkeys, not only from the Old City, but also from other parts of the country.
During World War I, when there was an acute shortage of milk, a cowshed housing 40 cows was built on the hospital premises. And, in 1917, British Major General Shea, commanding the 60th Division, accepted the surrender of the Turkish army in the hospital gardens.
Over the years, Sha’arei Tzedek kept its doors open to rich and poor, Jews and non-Jews treating outbreaks of scarlet fever, meningitis and typhoid despite Arab riots and massacres. During the War of Independence, when Jerusalem was besieged and cut off from the rest of the country, Sha’arei Tzedek took in and cared for 60-80 new patients every day. On the first day of the Six-Day War in 1967, 150 casualties were treated by its doctors and its underground operating theater remained in constant use. The hospital received three direct hits, but miraculously no one was hurt.
By 1978 Sha’arei Tzedek’s facilities had become inadequate and the hospital moved to larger premises in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood, equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The hospital, which had boasted 21 beds in 1902, now had 525; and many more patients could now receive medical attention.
The original Sha’arei Tzedek building on Jaffa Road stood empty for almost 20 years, suffering neglect and vandalism. With awareness of its architectural and historic value, it is slated for preservation and is currently being restored. While the new facade is expected to be almost identical to the original, the interior will be redesigned to fit its new function as the home of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
The Laeml School
Like so many other Jewish institutions in nineteenth-century Jerusalem, the Laeml School began its life in the Old City. Named for philanthropist Simon von Laeml of Vienna, one of the few Austrian Jews to bear a title, and financed by a fund established by his daughter Elisa Herz, the school opened its doors in 1853. In 1903 it moved to a plot of land to the northwest of the Old City, bought by Ezra, a welfare organization of German Jews.
The large two-story neo-classic building (at the corner of Yeshayahu and David Yellin Streets) has both European and oriental elements and is surrounded by a high stone wall. It was designed by German architect Theodor Sandler. A clock with Hebrew letters as numbers adorned the building.
The school was a trendsetter not only because it was situated outside the walls of the city. It also aroused the ire of the city’s traditionalists, since secular as well as religious subjects were taught, in both Hebrew and German; and girls as well as boys attended the school.
Originally meant for girls of Sephardi families, the Laeml School later merged with a co-ed school for Ashkenazi orphans and was run by Ephraim Cohn-Reiss, a Jerusalem-born educator. Once it stood – alone – on top of a hill. Somewhat naively and certainly in vain in view of the expansion the city was experiencing, Cohn-Reiss expressed the wish that his school would remain far from the crowds. "I hope that the school will not become surrounded by houses, and that the noise of the marketplace will not penetrate, for two Jewish quarters have suddenly gone up by the school."
Until World War I, the German and Austrian governments, through their respective consuls in Jerusalem, helped support the school. It was later taken over by the World Zionist Organization and now serves as an educational institution for ultra-orthodox boys. Above the entrance one can still see the original biblical scene which symbolizes the realization of the dream of return to the land of the fathers.
The Sundial Building
Rabbi Shmuel Levi, a Russian Jew living in the United States and active on behalf of immigrants in Jerusalem, built this unusual building, standing on Jaffa Road near the Machane Yehuda Market. In 1908, with money collected in the United States, he built the three-story house; the first two floors served as a hostel for 50 people, while the Tiferet Zion Synagogue occupied the top floor. A wooden porch faced east; from here one could see the sunrise in order to determine the time for morning prayers.
An unusual feature of the building is a sundial on its facade, built by Moshe Shapira, a self-taught astronomer who had made a study of the science according to the writings of Maimonides and the Vilna Gaon. The semicircular sundial is five meters in diameter; above it, for cloudy days, were two mechanical clocks. Shapira also built three sundials on the third floor balcony of the building. The time on the clocks was set by Jerusalem time and not, as was customary in those days, by Cairo time.
Ravaged by fire in 1941, the Sundial Building was partially restored by the municipality in 1980.
Arab Building in Jerusalem
Natural Arab construction was characterized by the fact that it blended harmoniously into the landscape, by its arches and domes and different finishes of stone. Leaving fertile valleys for agricultural development, houses were generally built on the slopes and the hilltops. Certain dictates of Muslim law determine some features: windows were placed in a way that occupants (especially women) cannot be seen by neighbors, and a wall common to two buildings is the property of the owner of the house which stands on higher ground.
Like their Jewish neighbors, Arabs of the Old City began building and moving beyond the walls during the second half of the 19th century. Both Jews and Moslems made the move to the new parts in order to improve their living conditions. While Jewish neighborhoods were invariably composed of a number of homes huddled closely together and around public buildings, Moslem dwellings were free-standing houses for immediate and extended families. Arabs built no public buildings outside the walls.
Affluent Moslem families – the Husseini, Nashashibi, Nusseibeh and Dajani families – were the first Arabs to build outside Jerusalem’s walls. While the exteriors of their houses were plain, the interiors were often opulent.
One such house was built from 1865-1876 by Rabah al-Husseini at 26 Nablus Road, in the Sheikh Jerah Quarter; he lived there with his four wives and his servants until his death in the 1890s. Built in the European neo-classical style with many Middle Eastern embellishments, the building is insulated with one-meter-thick walls, and boasts a gilded dome, marble floors and decorated wooden ceilings. In 1894 it became the home of Horatio and Anna Spafford, who had come to Jerusalem some three years earlier. With the aim of doing humanitarian work, they had formed a commune with some American friends, and were later joined by a group from Sweden. Recently arrived Jewish immigrants from Yemen were among the beneficiaries of their humanitarian work. When they finally settled in the house built by al-Husseini, they established a souvenir shop, along with a farm. They also opened a photo shop near Jaffa Gate which became well known after two of the group accompanied the Jerusalem tour of Kaiser Wilhelm II and photodocumented it.
Today the building is the American Colony Hotel; with its lovely patio and its famous weekend buffet lunches, it is a popular place, particularly with journalists.
Similarly, a number of houses built by the Nashashibis on Ethiopia Street boast large rooms, high ceilings, stylized windows with colored glass and elaborate wooden ceilings. One of these buildings is occupied today by Jerusalem artist Jacob Pins. Built at the turn of the century by the Husseinis, the complex on Shivtei Yisrael (Tribes of Israel) Street houses Lifeline to the Old.
Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry