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Tel Aviv: UNESCO Designates Tel Aviv as “World Heritage Site”

(July 2003)

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has designated the "White City architecture" of Tel Aviv as one of 24 new World Heritage Sites. UNESCO now recognizes 754 world sites it describes as being of "outstanding universal value."

Tel Aviv is one of the few UNESCO recognitions of a 20th century phenomenon as a world heritage site. "What makes the designation of Tel Aviv so unprecedented," says Minster of Tourism, Benny Elon, is that almost every other UNESCO World Heritage Site is either a natural wonder, or hundreds or thousands of years old. Designating Tel Aviv is one of the few UNESCO recognitions of a twentieth century phenomenon - and it makes us very proud."

Tel Aviv, founded as a garden suburb of the ancient Mediterranean port of Jaffa in 1909, quickly bloomed into the commercial, entertainment and cultural capital of the Land of Israel. Today, while Jerusalem is Israel's capital and has the largest population of any single municipality in Israel, Tel Aviv remains Israel's "New York," heart of Israel's largest urban conglomeration that is home to almost 3 million Israelis.

And it is Tel Aviv's uniqueness as home to more Bauhaus or International Style architecture than any city in the world, that has earned it UNESCO's seal of approval. During the 1920's and 1930's, as German-Jewish architects at the heart of the Bauhaus movement left Germany for what was then Palestine, Tel Aviv - literally overnight - adopted their style as a route to defining the character of the new "Jewish" city burgeoning on the Mediterranean. By the mid-1930's it was the only city on earth being built entirely in the International Style - its simple concrete curves, boxy shapes, small windows set in large walls, glass-brick towers and sweeping terraces all washed with white. Viewed from the air, Tel Aviv appeared as a vision of startling white, hence the appellation, "White City."

"The creation of the city of Tel Aviv is one of the greatest symbols and successes of the Zionist Movement," Elon observed, "so for UNESCO - a body affiliated with the organization that once passed an odious resolution equating Zionism with racisim (the resolution was subsequently overturned) - to recognize the specialness of Tel Aviv, is particularly sweet."


Almost every Bauhaus or International Style building in Tel Aviv is an architectural landmark - a delight for visitors, if sometimes a nightmare for owners. Sixty, 70 and 80 years after they were built, many are in disrepair, but the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality gives generous subsidies to owners performing restorations. Hundreds of "White City" buildings have been restored in recent years, and many are apartment buildings, offices, private houses, restaurants and hotels. One of the loveliest "White City" restorations is that of the former Esther movie-theater in Dizengoff Circle, reborn as the "boutique" Cinema Hotel, that retains the sweeping staircases, tall windows and curving balconies of its former identity, plus dozens of architectural and design details that recall its heritage.

There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Israel: the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem; Masada; the Old City of Akko - and Tel Aviv's "White City."

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs