Jaffa Rd buildings tell the story of Jerusalem history

INFO ON WHEELS: The colourful Jerusalem information bus

By Lydia Aisenberg

An old truck perched on wooden blocks, three long metal steps leading up to an open for business slot cut out of the side, certainly catches the eye from quite a distance when walking along Jaffa Road in Jerusalem.

Parked opposite the main entrance to the eponymous Mahane Yehuda market one could easily assume the vehicle parked on the pavement was another of the increasingly popular food trucks that seem to be popping up everywhere in Israel.

However, the blue and yellow truck, with a red canvas canopy stretched over the set of side steps and a round table with a few chairs at the side of which, was not peddling food nor beverages but updated information about places to go and people to meet whilst visiting the Golden City.

Written across the lower part of the truck in large white letters a hash tag, #itraveljerusalem, and in large red letters in English appears MEET, under which in smaller letters is ‘the people’.

The Jaffa Road innovative tourist information booth, created by The Jerusalem Development Authority, is one of two in the city promoting sights, sites and culinary experiences, the former of which there are so many dating back thousands of years.

As far as the latter and tastebuds are concerned, scores of eateries, new and old, pubs and wine bars can be found dotted throughout the city.

A rack attached to the outside of the bus offers a number of interesting pamphlets and extremely good, free maps of Jerusalem and surrounding region.

Historically, the main link between Jerusalem and the ancient port of Jaffa 60 or so kilometres away, the highway — paved in 1869 in honour of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef's visit — sets out from the Mediterranean harbour and ends at the aptly named Jaffa Gate leading in to the Old City.

The highway was given another serious overhaul in 1898 in honour of yet another European monarchal visit, this time by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

These days, from the western entrance to the city, the tracks and trams of the Jerusalem Light Rail have transformed the historic road where today private vehicles are banned.

Pedestrians enjoy wide open spaces to stroll between the plethora of smallish businesses on either side of the road as Jaffa Road descends from Machane Yehuda toward the Old City.

Exiting Jerusalem’s Central Bus station at the entrance to the city, the passing electric trams are completely out of sync with the Ottoman architecture of the mostly uninhabited and boarded up buildings on the opposite side of the road.

Most likely, as in other areas on either side of the historical road, new buildings will eventually appear but hopefully part of what is visible today will be incorporated into the new builds.

Unfortunately many ornate and exceptionally eye-catching buildings further down towards the market came under the wrecker's ball before the importance of preserving the past as much as possible in modern times was fully realised and protective laws implemented.

However, many a building with a rich past, built on plots of land only affordable to magnates, moguls and property developers these days, is not only still standing but if one takes time out to read the bright blue and gold plaques affixed to wall or gate, a sense of the greatness of days long gone is evident.

At No 64 Jaffa Road is the 1908- built impressive Mashiah Borochoff House, today a branch of the Mercantile Bank but originally a private home.

Attached to one of the stone pillars of the front gate is a large Jerusalem Blue Heritage sign, with a brief history in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

“A magnificent private residence built in 1908 by the Bukharan merchant Mashiah Borochoff for his family.

“The eclectic style features an arcade with corinthian columns on the façade and a representational gate with sculpted lions.

“The building is part of the Bukharan settlement outside of the Bukharan Quarter.”

Unfortunately, only one of the two original lions is keeping guard at the gate but the building, constructed of white Jerusalem stone with pinkish hues is beautiful, the architecture magnificent and artistic stone work more than impressive.

However, stretching skywards immediately behind the building are a number of cranes and one immediately wonders how long this icon of days long gone will stand its historical ground.

Further down on the other side of the road, two pillared lions are still intact and another blue plaque on the wall alongside telling us that in the past this particular building was the residence of the British Consul.

Today it is used by the Israeli police force.

Here the sign states: “This building was erected in stages during the 19th century and was the residence of the British Consul Noel Temple Moore (served in Jerusalem 1863-1890).

“The pair of lions at the entrance were apparently sculpted by Simcha Janower, a Jerusalem artist of the 19th century. Since the British Mandate period the building has been a police station.”

Directly across the road from the former British Consul’s residence is another historical sign affixed to the side of a rather unattractive building housing shops with small balconies above, also catches the eye.

Here, the text is only in Hebrew and English and tells of Tnuva’s first dairy in the city. In 1927, Tnuva Jerusalem joined the Tnuva cooperative, becoming one of the first three dairies.

These three formed the basis for the largest food cooperative in Israel.

In 1935 the dairy moved to a new location in the Geula area, and in 1964 the modern dairy was established in Romema.

Tnuva marketed dairy products from farms in Jerusalem and the environs and was an integral part of the city, playing an important role in Jerusalem during the riots, the Mandate, the siege and the wars.

Wow, now that’s a blast from the past, especially since a portion of the massive Tnuva company was sold to the Chinese in later years.

On a narrow wall wedged between a clothes shop and money changing business, is yet another blue sign, also in three languages.

This silent guide-on-a-wall sharing information highlights what was the original site of the capital’s main bus station.

The sign also sports an intriguing copy of a black and white photograph taken in the 1950s of rather rickety Egged buses entering and exiting the bus station in its early days.

We are told: “This is the site from which the first Egged Central Bus Station operated in Jerusalem between the years 1933 to 1961.

“From here, Jerusalemites embarked upon their journeys throughout Israel.

“At the time of the siege on Jerusalem, during the War of Independence, the station served as the departure point for the armored convoys to Tel Aviv.” (sic)

Stepping back to take a photograph of the sign, an elderly gentleman asks: “Why are you interested in that sign?”

Satisfied with the explanation, he proceeds to tell me his name is Moshe, a Jerusalemite with roots in the city going back quite some generations and whose father drove one of those buses.

“When my father was driving buses he knew nearly all the passengers personally and my mother used to say that she didn’t need a newspaper because my father brought home all the important news, and local gossip, before the ink was dry on the paper.”

Wanting to hear more, but Moshe’s carer impatient to continue to wherever it was they were headed, gently pulls him along.

“Nobody has time for anything or anybody any more,” he mutters almost inaudible above the tooting of the tram.””

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