Tag Archives: Old City

Guiding in the Snow

Thursday it started snowing in Jerusalem and I went for a run on a trail behind the Jerusalem Biblical zoo. Took these two photos that I’ve entitled “Green and red in the Snow”.

Pine in snow Red leaves in snow

Friday it snowed most of the day and I guided a group of university students from California in the Old City. Most of the sites in the city were closed. This is a photograph I took from Yemin Moshe of Mount Zion on my way to meet the group at Jaffa gate.

Mount Zion in Snow

Today we returned to the Old City in the morning hoping to visit the Haram el-Sharif but it was closed. Instead we were able to do a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels. Afterwards although the White Fathers compound was closed we did find four churches on our way to the rooftop view at the Austrian Hospice, only to find it closed too.

Then off to Bethlehem in the afternoon. Even with all the snow we had a great couple of days.

Pepperdine University students

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Like this guide. Having grown up in Canada I know snow.

This inscription can be found on the front of the James Farley Post Office in Manhattan, NYC at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street. The inscription was chosen by William Mitchell Kendall of the firm of McKim, Mead & White, the architects who designed the building in 1912. The sentence appears in the works of Herodotus (in Greek) and describes the expedition of the Greeks against the Persians under Cyrus, about 500 BCE. The Persians operated a system of mounted postal couriers, and the sentence describes the fidelity with which their work was done.

The Central Post Office on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem is a Mandatory style building built between 1934 and 1938 to the design of the main architect of the public works department of the British Mandate, Austen St. Barbe Harrison and government architect Percy Harold Winter. Harrison also designed the Rockefeller Museum and the British High Commissioner’s residence in Armon HaNatziv.

I have photos of Jerusalem in the snow from last January here.

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Jerusalem Landmarks, Montefiore to Calatrava

A landmark is an object or feature of a landscape or place that is easily seen and recognized at a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location.

As a photographer one of the things that I often do is look at a scene and choose a feature that is interesting, that stands out in some way. The city of Jerusalem has any number of landmarks, the bell tower of the International YMCA, the old train station or the Rockefeller museum. Leave a comment on what is a Jerusalem landmark for you?

As you approach Jaffa gate, one of the popular entries to the Old City, you’ll see a tower and minaret peering above the walls. Here is a photo of the landmark, a little less usual in that it is covered with a light dusting of snow.

Tower of David

Another striking landmark is the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock. The building goes back to 691 CE Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik and is considered the earliest example of Islamic architecture. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) the mosaics on the exterior of the Dome of the Rock were replaced with ceramic tiles. By 1919 when some tiles needed replacement the British invited three Armenian families who worked in ceramics, Ohannessian, Balian and Karakashian, from the city of Kutahya, Turkey to Jerusalem but the project fell through due to lack of funds (an Armenian told me that the Muslims would not let the Armenian Christians work on the shrine). In 1955, an extensive program of renovation was begun by the Jordanian government, with funds supplied by Arab countries and Turkey. The work included replacement of large numbers of tiles which had become dislodged by heavy rain. In 1965, as part of this restoration, the dome was covered with a gold-colored durable anodized aluminum bronze alloy made in Italy, that replaced the gray colored lead covering. In 1993, the dome was refurbished with 80 kilograms of gold when King Hussein of Jordan sold one of his houses in London and donated $8.2 million to fund it.

Jerusalem Dome of Rock

In the 1850s, several institutions including the Russian Compound, the Bishop Gobat School, and the Schneller Orphanage marked the beginning of permanent settlement outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The public institutions were followed by the development of two philanthropically supported Jewish neighborhoods, Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Mahane Israel.

MMMishkenot Sha’ananim was the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the Old City by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1860 as an almshouse, paid for by the estate of a wealthy Jew from New Orleans, Judah Touro. Nearby is another well-known landmark, Montefiore’s windmill. In 1857 Montefiore imported a windmill from Canterbury, England and erected it on this plot of land to provide Jerusalem’s poor Jews with an inexpensive source of flour.

Montefiore windmill

Many years have passed and now Jerusalem has a light rail system that connects the suburbs with the center. As the light rail crosses the main entrance at the west of the city it passes over an eye-catching suspension bridge built by Spanish architect, sculptor and civil engineer Santiago Calatrava that is probably the newest Jerusalem landmark. Called the Bridge of Strings, the 2600 ton curving bridge, only 340 meters long, will be supported by 66 cables from a single angular pylon 118 meters high.

Calatrava Bridge of Strings

This is how Calatrava described his plans for the bridge.

“Along the pedestrian walkway is a band of pastel blue light, like the blue of the Israeli flag and also the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl),” Calatrava says. “When you see the bridge from far away, it will appear like a modern obelisk. And at the top we would like to put a bronze plate, something that will reflect in the sun like a golden dome.”

From Israel – what to call this?

This week I’m trying something new, a post of some of the interesting things I’ve discovered as a guide this week. If anyone has a good idea what to call this post, leave a comment.

Hansen “Leper” Hospital  The old Hansen “Leper” hospital built by Conrad Schick in 1887 has an interesting exhibit “Behind the Walls” of the history of the place. Plans are underway to turn the hospital into a municipal cultural center, a meeting place for the arts, media and technology.

Jerusalem Train Station  Work continues on the 19th-century abandoned Jerusalem train station to be transformed into a cultural and culinary complex, which developers promise will be open on Shabbat and will serve non-kosher food. “There is something a little kitschy when you try to reconstruct the feeling of the past,” says architect David Kroyanker, but he adds, “The fact is that it attracts people.” from Haaretz

Archaeology Tour  Popular Archaeology is organizing an extraordinary archaeological tour of Israel in April. I’m the guide! Among the highlights will be a visit to the new exhibit at the Israel museum, Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey.
Additional incentive, if you enjoy taking photographs, submit your best ones to win up to $1000. – plenty of photogenic opportunities, for example, the ruins of a Roman temple on night of a full moon and partial eclipse.
More details at http://popular-archaeology.com/page/archaeological-travel-tours

Shroud of Turin  Fascinating exhibit on the Shroud of Turin at Notre Dame across from New Gate. Also an incredible view of the Old City from their wine and cheese bar on the roof.

Almonds BlossomsCherry Blossoms 桜花見  Just past Tu Bishvat, the New Year of Trees and the almond trees are blossoming. Jerusalem Botanical gardens reports that the Japanese cherry trees behind the visitors center are in bloom. While you’re there check out the newly renovated Bonsai section.

Dead Sea Scrolls  Israel Antiquities Authority and Google announced that 5,000 Dead Sea Scroll fragments found in Cave 4 at Qumran have been digitized at high-resolution and are now available on the Internet. These include fragments containing the Ten Commandments and sections of Genesis, that recount the first three days of creation. I learned that there are more than 100 fragments of documents in Greek as well. Check out the excellent website at http://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/

Scrollery room at Rockefeller museumAmazing since for years these fragments were at the Rockefeller museum, only accessible to a few scholars and now they are viewable from the comfort of your home.

Christ Church Exhibit  Not everyone knows about the exhibit at Christ Church that includes some Conrad Schick models, one of Haram al-Sharif (~1:125) and photographs and mementos of Jerusalem’s Old City from the turn of the century. Look closely at this photo to make out part of the sign of VESTER & CO.

In 1904 Bertha Spafford married Frederick Vester, whose father’s curio shop in Jerusalem had recently been bought by the American Colony. Renamed “Fr. Vester & Co., The American Colony Store,” the business greatly expanded its clientele and range of offerings to include photographs and collections of antiquities.

Jerusalem Old City ~1900

Jerusalem Old City ~1900

Four sites in Old City

Most archaeological sites in Israel are part of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority but in the Old City there are a few interesting sites that are run by the East Jerusalem Development Company:

  • Ramparts Walk
  • Roman Plaza
  • Zedekiah’s Cave
  • Davidson Archaeological Park

Together these 4 sites can be the skeleton for a tour of the Old City. Because these sites are under one authority there is a combination ticket that gives you entry to all 4 sites. The current price is 55NIS whereas it would cost 72NIS if you bought  them individually (a saving of 24%) and the ticket is valid for 3 days.

The walls around the Old City were built in 1540 by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman and it is possible to walk on the top of two sections of these walls: 1) from Jaffa Gate around the Christian and Muslim Quarters all the way to Lions Gate (though I would recommend descending at Damascus Gate) and 2) across from Jaffa Gate by the Tower of David Museum around the Armenian and Jewish quarters to Dung Gate.

It’s important when exploring the Old City to go up onto the walls or roofs to get an overview of the city, something you can’t do from the ground. Looking outside the walls lets you see the institutions that were built in the late 1800s by the various European powers as the Ottoman Empire became the sick man on the Bosphorus.

At Damascus Gate you descend back in time to 135CE to the Roman Emperor Hadrian who crushed the Bar Kochba Revolt, destroyed Jerusalem and exiled its Jewish inhabitants. Hadrian rebuilt the city as a Roman city that he called Aelia Capitolina, of which remnants of the city plan exist to this day. The base of the Roman wall and the leftmost arch of three Roman arches can be seen below Damascus Gate. From Damascus Gate going south is El Zeit Street which runs along the route of the Roman Cardo and  El Wad Street that follows the Tyropean valley, above the secondary Cardo. Remains of both Cardos as well as other remains from the time of Hadrian can be visited on your tour.

Not far from Damascus Gate is another site that is called Zedekiah’s Cave or Solomon’s Quarry. This cave was discovered by chance by Dr James Turner Barclay, a physician and missionary who lived in Jerusalem for some years and was interested in biblical scholarship. On a sunny Sunday during the winter of 1854 Dr. Barclay was out walking along the city walls with his son and his faithful dog as he ususally did every Sunday when suddenly the dog vanished as if the earth had swallowed him up. While searching for the dog near the bedrock at the base of the city wall they noticed a deep hole from which they could hear the sound of barking. Excitedly they went home, gathered lanterns, ropes, measuring instruments and other equipment and under cover of darkness returned to the hole – the opening to a man-made cavern that had been created by quarrying stone. This is the largest quarry in the Holy Land, the cave begins at the city’s northern wall and extends under the Muslim Quarter for 230 meters, reaching the Sisters of Zion convent. Barclay is the one who discovered the gate to the Temple Mount that bears his name today (that you can see in the Western wall in the Women’s section of the Kotel plaza).

Following the secondary Cardo to the south of the city will bring you to the Davidson Archaeological Park excavated by Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben Dov from 1968 to 1978 and later in the mid 90s by Ronnie Reich. Perhaps the most impressive sight in Jerusalem is the main Second Temple street, littered with large Herodian stones that the Romans hurled off the top of the wall 15 meters above when they destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70CE. Where the stones under Robinson’s Arch have been cleared away, you can see that the large paving stones are broken and have buckled under the tremendous impact of the arch’s collapse.

In the visitor’s center is a movie of a Jewish pilgrim’s experience coming to the Temple in Jerusalem. The movie uses 3D modelling of the Temple complex based on the archaeological evidence.

Under the street is the main drainage channel for ancient Jerusalem that has been recently opened and that goes as far as the Siloam Pool. Walking through the park you come to the southern steps that lead up to the double and triple gates. Below the steps is Eilat Mazar’s recent excavation of part of a citadel, a 4 chamber entrance gate whose dimensions are almost identical to the palace gate in Megiddo and a building of “royal character” dated to the 9th century BCE.

Photo Walk

I spent 3 hours yesterday afternoon on a photowalk, in this case, walking through the Old City taking photos, one of about 30 photographers. We started at Kikar Tzahal, walked through the Mamilla mall, entered Jaffa gate, followed the main road through the Armenian quarter to the Jewish quarter, down the steps to the Western Wall plaza and back to Jaffa gate via the Arab shuq. The route was chosen by a photographer – I think a guide could have taken people to some places that would have been more interesting to shoot. I was hoping for some photos with a background sky with a pink and blue sunset but the weather just didn’t cooperate yesterday.

In this post I’m sharing what I think are my best 7 photos. It gives you one particular view of Jerusalem on a particular day. A photowalk is an interesting photographic exercise.

The first day that you could ride Jerusalem’s new Light Rail was August 19. I rode it for the first time last week with clients. For the time being it’s free.

One of Jerusalem’s newest and fanciest hotels designed by Israeli architect, Moshe Safdie, as part of the Mamilla project. Across the street is the David Citadel Hotel also designed by Safdie. On the opposite corner the new Waldorf-Astoria is being built which incorporates the original Palace Hotel.

A really incredible flower shop, Aleh Koteret, with Jerusalem being reflected in the window.

The juxtaposition of metal and Jerusalem limestone, old and new.

Crossing through the Armenian quarter, you take an alleyway that turns left and under an arch is a view north to the Christian quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Mosque of Omar (Ibn Khattab). But Jerusalem, even the Old City, is not a living museum, so there are also water tanks, dude shemesh (sun heated water panels) and satellite dishes.

I can only submit one of these photos to the competition. Comment to make your choice.

Hurva Synagogue

In the winter of 1700, charismatic rabbi Judah he-Hasid Segal arrived in Jerusalem from Poland with about 500 followers (some say as many as 1000). You can imagine the reaction, at a time when the entire Jewish population of Jerusalem was about 500 people. They were mystics who were intent on bringing the Messiah and some say believers in the false messiah, Shabbetai Zvi. Within a few days of their arrival the rabbi died, some say he was poisoned. His followers struggled without a leader but managed to build forty dwellings and a small synagogue in the Ashkenazic Compound. Then they began to build a larger synagogue, but between bribes to Ottoman authorities, unexpected construction costs and other financial burdens they exhausted their funds. They took loans from local Arabs to complete the project. When the loans were still outstanding in late 1720, the Arab lenders lost patience and the synagogue was burned down, some say that 40 Torah scrolls were destroyed in the fire. The Ashkenazi Jews were banished from the city and the synagogue was left in ruins and became known as the Hurva, the “Ruin of Rabbi Judah he-Hasid”.

It took almost 100 years, in 1815, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov, leader of the Tzfat Perushim, moved to Jerusalem with a group of followers, disciples of the Vilna Gaon. They wanted to reclaim the Ashkenazic Compound and to rebuild the Hurva synagogue, which had symbolized the expulsion of Ashkenazi Jews from Jerusalem. They believed that the “repairing” of an earlier destruction would have kabbalistic significance and be a prerequisite for bringing the Messiah.

There were a lot of difficulties in getting a firman, permission from the Turkish authorities to rebuild the Hurva. In 1829 Shlomo Zalman Zoref, a Lithuanian-born silversmith tried unsuccessfully but in 1836 he finally got a firman. Some say that it did not include permission for a synagogue in the Ashkenazic Compound but only for dwellings in the area. They managed to build two small synagogues. Although there was an injunction which absolved the Ashkenazim from repaying the debt and the Turkish Statute of Limitations cancelled out the debts of Judah he-Hasid’s followers Arab creditors interfered with the work and Zoref had to appease them with annual bribes. In 1851, Zoref was struck on the head with a sword and three months later died of his wounds.

Only in the early 1850s were the Perushim ready to attempt the building of a larger synagogue on the Hurva’s original site. With the help of the British they finally received a firman from the Ottoman sultan Abdulmejid I in 1854 to rebuild the synagogue according to a plan by his official architect, Assad Effendi. Built in neo-Byzantine style, it was supported by four massive pilasters at each corner over which soared a large dome that stood 24 meters high. The inside of the dome was painted sky-blue and strewn with golden stars. Numerous crystal chandeliers hung from the dome. Frescoes with religious motifs, such as the Star of David, the menorah, Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments, adorned every wall. In the four corners were drawings of four animals in accordance with the verse in Pirkei Avot:

Be strong as the leopard and swift as the eagle, fleet as the deer and brave as the lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.

The Holy Ark had the capacity to house 50 Torah scrolls and was built on two levels. It was flanked by four Corinthian columns surrounded by Baroque woodcuts depicting flowers and birds. The Ark together with its ornamental gates were taken from the Nikolaijewsky Synagogue in Kherson, Russia, which had been used by Russian Jewish conscripts, forced to spend twenty-five years in the Czar’s army. The synagogue was dedicated in 1864 and called Beis Yaakov, in memory of Jacob Mayer de Rothschild but it continued to be referred to as the Hurva. It stood as a beacon above the walls of the Old City along with the dome of the Tiferet Israel synagogue.

On May 25, 1948, during the fighting in the Old City Major Abdullah el Tell, commander of the Jordanian Legion, wrote to Otto Lehner of the Red Cross that unless the Haganah abandoned its positions in the Hurva synagogue and its adjoining courtyard, he would be forced to attack it. Moshe Russnak, commander of the Haganah in the Old City, ignored his request, knowing that if the Hurva fell, the Jewish Quarter would be lost. On May 27, el Tell, after receiving no reply, told his men to “Get the Hurva Synagogue by noon.” Fawzi el-Kutub executed the mission by placing a 200-litre barrel filled with explosives against the synagogue’s northern wall. The explosion resulted in a gaping hole through which the Legionnaires burst through. A short while later, after the Arabs had captured the area, another huge explosion reduced the 84 year old synagogue together with the Etz Chaim Yeshiva to ruins. The Tiferet Israel synagogue was also destroyed.

Following the Six-Day War, plans were sought for a new synagogue to be built on the site, part of the overall rehabilitation of the Jewish Quarter. Leading the campaign to rebuild the Hurva was Zoref’s great-great-grandson, Ya’acov Salomon. He consulted Ram Karmi, one of Israel’s leading young architects, who magnanimously recommended Louis Kahn, a world-renowned architectֿ for the job. Kahn came to Israel to tour the site in the Jewish quarter and made a trip to the nearby Judean desert to visit two isolated Greek Orthodox monasteries, St George’s in Wadi Qelt and Mar Saba in the Kidron. Kahn was deeply moved by the experience and inspired to design a synagogue that he felt expressed the spirit of Jerusalem, its history and religion.

 

Kahn model Hurva Synagogue, from Kent Larson

Kahn model Hurva Synagogue, from Kent Larson

Between 1968 and 1973, Kahn presented three plans for the reconstruction. Each left the ruins of the Hurva in place as a memorial garden, with a new structure on an adjacent lot and a promenade, the “Route of the Prophets”, leading to the Western Wall. Kahn proposed a structure within a structure, the outer one composed of 16 piers covered in Jerusalem stone cut in blocks of the same proportions as the Herodian stones of the Western Wall. In the bases of the four corners of the two-story, 12 meter high structure would be small alcoves for meditation or individual prayer. The inner chamber, made of four inverted concrete pyramids supporting the building’s roof, would be used for larger communal prayer services.

Model of Kahn's Hurva synagogue, from Kent Larson

Model of Kahn’s Hurva synagogue, from Kent Larson

Unfortunately, Kahn died of a heart attack in the men’s washroom at Penn train station in New York City in 1974, a few weeks before he was to return to Jerusalem for consultations on what many regard as his greatest unrealized plan, the reconstruction of the Hurva synagogue. With Kahn’s passing his plans, through a combination of bureaucratic inaction and aesthetic timidity, died with him. Instead, in 2000 it was decided to rebuild the Hurva in its original 19th century Ottoman style.

But Kahn’s plans haven’t been totally forgotten. In the mid-1990s, MIT architecture professor Kent Larson used Kahn’s plans and new modeling software to create dramatic color images of what the Hurva might have looked like, both from inside and out, complete with lighting and shadow. If such tools had existed when Kahn was living, it would have been clearer what a masterpiece we were being offered.

Model of Kahn's Hurva synagogue, from Kent Larson

Model of Kahn’s Hurva synagogue, from Kent Larson

Like the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site it raises broader questions about how to rebuild on a site defined in large part by a history of destruction. For most of its history the site housed a ruin and encapsulates not only the long conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land but also how we, Jews living in Israel, commemorate our past and envision our future.


Contact me about a guided tour like Kahn’s starting with a visit to St George and Mar Saba monasteries in the Judean desert and then an overview of the Old City and the story of the fall of the Jewish quarter, its destruction in 1948 and rebirth after the Six Day War.

Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue

In 1867 a courtyard between Cotton Merchants’ Gate (Bab al-Qattanin) and the Gate of the Chain (Bab al-Silsileh) and less than 80 meters from the Western Wall was purchased from the Muslim Khaladi family* by the Hungarian Jewish community. They founded a kollel, called Shomrei Ha’Chomot (Guardians of the Walls) and a yeshiva known as Or Ha’Meir and studied Torah around the clock in 3 shifts. After a visit by Rabbi Yitzhak Ratsdorfer, a Belz Hassid and diamond merchant in 1891, they built two synagogues, Beit Yitzchak and Ohel Yitzchak, financed by and named for him.

The magnificent synagogue was completed in 1904 and was on a par with the more famous Tiferet Israel and Hurva synagogues in the Jewish quarter. In 1938 because of the Arab riots the site had to be abandoned and the community relocated to Mea She’arim. During the 19 years of Jordanian Legion, the synagogue was looted and vandalized until it was a ruin, the story of more than 50 Jewish religious institutions in the Old City.

The site lay deserted until about 15 years ago, when Moskowitz bought it and financed the synagogue’s reconstruction and a comprehensive archaeological dig. In cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority who did the research to find old photographs and drawings of the site (I saw similar detailed documentation prepared by the IAA for the renovation of a building in Akko that will become the new Effendi Hotel) they reconstructed the building over a 10 year period using remnants of the destroyed building found at the site whenever possible. In the excavation begun in 2004 they found three steps dating back to the Second Temple period going east towards the Western Wall suggesting a monumental staircase leading to Warren’s Gate, the closest entrance to the Holy of Holies (I’ve heard that the synagogue and staircase have been connected to the Western Wall tunnels). Every historical period was represented but a major discovery was a giant public bathhouse from the Mameluke period (14th C), which lies below the entire site. According to IAA archaeologist Yuval Baruch, this is the most complete relic of the Mameluke period ever discovered in Jerusalem.


* Not far from the synagogue, along Bab al-Silsileh street in a 13th C Mameluke building is the Khalidi Library, the largest and finest private Palestinian library, and one of the largest private collections of Islamic manuscripts in the Arab world. Some of these are handwritten, one of a kind manuscripts and even autograph works written by hand by the original author (umm in Arabic). One such umm dated 1201 is a very richly decorated makrumah, or presentation copy, gilded with floral and geometric motives, a personal horoscope and family tree prepared for Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub sultan of Egypt and Syria who defeated the Crusaders.

The library reading room is housed in the turbah, or burial place, of Amir Husam al-Din Barkah Khan and his two sons. Barkah Khan, who died in 1246, was a military chieftain of Khwarizmian origin who fought in Syria and Palestine in the 1230’s and 1240’s. His daughter was married to the formidable Mameluke sultan Baybars (1260-1277), who relentlessly fought the Crusaders. The two pairs of lions at Lion’s Gate are the symbol of Baybars.