A tour of British Mandate-era landmarks in JerusalemDuring the Mandate era, the British Empire ruled from Jerusalem, intending to cede power to the Jews and Arabs once they could hash out their differences.
During the Mandate era, the British Empire ruled from Jerusalem, intending to cede power to the Jews and Arabs once they could hash out their differences. The Holy City's signature "Jerusalem stone" aesthetic was codified as the urban development standard at this time, when enclaves of many immigrating communities grew dramatically, the contemporary city's central neighborhoods flourished and landmark public squares and institutes were conceived.
Although the Mandate period was only 30 years long, the British initiated a great boom of building in Jerusalem, mandatory Palestine's capital. The world-famous "look" to the city's buildings - using limestone or dolomite (pictured), known as "Jerusalem stone" - was adapted from a 1918 urban plan and remains Jerusalem's municipal law to this day. The British-planned zone system, which determined the city's commercial districts, and a variety of construction standards per zone, also serves as the basis for contemporary Jerusalem's growth and development.
Many residential neighborhoods outside the walls of the Old City flourished during this period, including Rechavia, the German Colony, Talbiya and Bet Hakerem. Rechavia was designed by post-Bauhaus architect Richard Kaufmann, who sought to provide inpidual structures, each with an adjacent garden, to Jerusalem's growing middle class. The British also built many public structures in Jerusalem - often funded by donations from Jews overseas.
While the Mandate officially began in 1923 and ended with the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948, the arrival of General Edmund Allenby (pictured) in 1917 is arguably the more significant milestone in England's Jerusalem rule. Allenby captured Jerusalem from the collapsing Ottoman Empire three years after the World War One adversaries declared war on the West, and Allenby went on to conduct further military campaigns using the city as his base of operations.
Relations between Zionists and Arabs during the Mandate era ranged from tense to violent, and the British troops and civilians in Palestine were at risk from both sides. The British abided by the Balfour Doctrine of 1917, which allowed Jews to claim Israel as a homeland.
But at the same time, British troops actively prevented Jewish immigration to Palestine beginning in 1939 - this included waves of refugees from Europe in the 1940s - incurring the wrath of some Jewish defense organizations. In the wake of the 1936 Arab riots, the British began erecting "pillbox"-shaped defense points across Israel, with many of these structures visible around Jerusalem today.
Unlike the artifacts from ancient Jerusalem civilizations, Mandate-era buildings are easily seen and still in use all over Jerusalem. Here are suggestions for a self-guided itinerary of Jerusalem, through the lens of the first half of the 20th century.
The Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem dates to centuries before the British marched into town, but a tour of the Mandate era has important stops here.
When General Allenby arrived, he came in through the Jaffa Gate - dismounting his horse out of respect for Jerusalem's holiness - and gave a stirring speech from the Tower of David (pictured) in which he promised to preserve the monuments of monotheism within the city's walls.
When martial law was imposed by the British - followed by the Mandate and its policies - the long period of Ottoman control of Jerusalem abruptly ended. For a glimpse of Jewish life under Turkish rule, check out the well-preserved artifacts housed in the Old Yishuv Court Museum.
Outside of the Old City walls is the American Colony Hotel. Originally an Ottoman pasha's opulent house, in the 1890s the building became the base for a religious community with members from America (pictured) and, later, from Sweden. The American Colony operated soup kitchens, an orphanage and medical clinics for Jerusalem's indigent population for many years before descendents of the original Christian founders converted the building to a hotel.
Worth seeing for its Ottoman architecture and furnishings and carefully documented history (in its archives), you may run into foreign journalists or diplomats if you stop by.
Fanning out from Zion Square, much of contemporary Jerusalem's thriving downtown area was originally built during the Mandate period. Zion Square itself is a central gathering place; the streets leading from it are some of the top commercial locations in the city.
Almost within sight of Zion Square is the Russian Compound (pictured). This area of Jerusalem is named for members of the Russian Orthodox church, who first built in the area in the 1860s. A cathedral, a hospital, a mission and hostels to sleep Easter pilgrims eventually filled the neighborhood.
When the British established Jerusalem as the capital of the Mandate government affairs, they took over the Russian Compound and enlarged it, adding, among other things, a police station and a prison. The Underground Prisoner's Museum reveals the grim conditions for prisoners here, particularly members of Jewish underground paramilitary organizations engaged in anti-British activities.
Nearby, off of Haneviim St., is the Ethiopoian Church (pictured), where Zionist hero Dov Landau hides from the British in an exciting sequence at the heart of Leon Uris's Exodus.
The YMCA building in the central Mamilla area, constructed in the early 1930s and the highest building in the city at that time, provided an eclectic mix of architecture and design elements - Moorish, Byzantine, Gothic and more - as nods to each of Jerusalem's faiths. (Architect Arthur Louis Harmon also designed the Empire State Building in New York City.) Performances and meetings, particularly ones with cross-religious appeal, have taken place here since the beginning.
Across the street from the YMCA is the world-famous and luxurious King David Hotel (pictured), which was founded by the Mosseri Egyptian-Jewish banking clan's Palestine Hotel Company and opened to much fanfare in 1933. Heads of state from Greece, Spain and Ethiopia would find asylum here at this time.
When the local tourism industry began to falter in the years that followed, British authorities repurposed the structure as a military fort, eventually targeted by Etzel forces in a 1946 attack.
Points of interest on Mount Scopus include Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founded in 1925 with money from Jewish intellectuals and Zionists abroad who were interested in establishing a center for higher education in Palestine. Construction of the institution began in 1918, and within three years, the entirety of Scopus was slated to be included in the campus, as conceived in plans by Patrick Geddes of Scotland. In April 1925, British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel, Professor Chaim Weizmann and Lord Arthur Balfour, among others, attended the university's opening ceremony.
Founded in 1938, Hadassah Hospital's Mount Scopus branch was designed to convey "monumental austerity" by German architect Eric Mendelsohn.
A few steps away, the British War Cemetery on Mount Scopus is the final resting place of thousands of British Empire soldiers who lost their lives in the campaign to take Jerusalem from the Turks during the First World War.
As the Mandate's landmarks are spread across Jerusalem, it is recommended to plan for transport prior to beginning this tour. Options range from packages involving hired cars with guides to the extremely practical and affordable Egged 99 line. Both can be booked with instant confirmation on GoJerusalem.com.
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