Jerusalem has always been a polyglot city, owing to its spiritual centrality to a huge portion of the world's population, and one of the languages any visitor to Jerusalem is bound to hear wafting from inside a shop or across a cafe is Russian. Modern Jerusalem's Russophones are mostly immigrants, the vast majority of whom arrived in the early 1990s in the wake of the Soviet Union's breakup, but it was not always so; a hundred years ago, the Slavic patter ringing off the Jerusalem stone likely came from the thousands of Russian Orthodox pilgrims who descended upon the city every year, particularly at Easter, and the complex municipal church hierarchy established to serve them.
Construction on the Russian Compound, located well outside the Old City walls north of modern Jaffa Road, began in 1860, and the compound eventually comprised men's and women's hostels, a Russian consulate, an impressive Orthodox cathedral, a mission and a hospital. Ottoman authorities expelled the Russians at the outset of World War I, and after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandatory government took over the Compound and rechristened it as the center of British affairs in Jerusalem, changing its buildings to administrative offices, a police station and, most notoriously, the prison used to hold captured members of the Jewish underground movements (still in existence today as the Underground Prisoners Museum).
After the establishment of the State of Israel, the government restored ownership of the compound to the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, only to buy back every building save the cathedral and one other in 1960. Many of the buildings became home to various arms of the city government, including the police headquarters and the city court, while the heart of the compound gradually became the center of Jerusalem's nightlife throughout the 1990s. By 2006, however, the nightlife district of the compound was entirely empty, shut down by the city in order to repurpose it as an upscale shopping/residential district centered around the new campus of the Bezalel Art school currently under construction.
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