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Up Against the Wall: Jerusalem Hangs Tough

February 2, 2012 By:
Deborah Rubin Fields, Jewish Exponent Feature
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The Light Rail mural: Insider joke?

Since we began by talking about the Western Wall, let's continue with a site that is within walking distance of it -- at 12 Hebron Rd., the Jerusalem House of Quality.Since we began by talking about the Western Wall, let's continue with a site that is within walking distance of it -- at 12 Hebron Rd., the Jerusalem House of Quality.

No doubt you've heard of Jerusalem's Western Wall. While not trying to minimize the major historic and religious significance of this great wall and icon, it is not, as they say, the only game in town.

Though less well-known than the Western Wall, the following walls are each historically and/ or artistically significant.

Since we began by talking about the Western Wall, let's continue with a site that is within walking distance of it -- at 12 Hebron Rd., the Jerusalem House of Quality.

The wall consists of David Ohanessian's (noted for his ceramic tiles at Jerusalem's Rockefeller Museum) beautifully laid Armenian tiles. Today, the Armenian tiles you purchase often use an array of mostly primary colors. But this tile composition is largely in the blue/green range.Since we began by talking about the Western Wall, let's continue with a site that is within walking distance of it -- at 12 Hebron Rd., the Jerusalem House of Quality.Today, this stunning ceramic wall is part of an indoor courtyard for art studios and shops. But back in 1927, British architect Clifford Holiday designed the building as a clinic for the St. John Hospital (now the Mount Zion Hotel), which was then located across the street. Back then, an underground tunnel connected the two structures.

How did distant Armenia connect with Jerusalem? First of all, Armenians for years have made religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Moreover, over the centuries, Armenian artisans have been commissioned to decorate a number of important Jerusalem structures.

For instance, back during the 16th century, Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent brought Turkish Armenian craftsmen (from Iznik) to Jerusalem to paint and lay glazed tiles for the Dome of the Rock.

After the Ottomans were ousted from Palestine, the British invited a group of Armenian craftsmen in 1919 to renovate the Dome of the Rock.

The British also had something to do with another wall, this one located in Jerusalem's Central Post Office at 23 Jaffa Rd. Back in the mid-1930s, the British commissioned the construction the post office, which was completed in 1938.

When the British pulled out of Palestine 10 years later, Etzel fighters captured the area. In 1972, Shimon Peres, then minister of communications (now Israel's president) asked Avraham Ofek to make a wall mural in the main hall of the Central Post Office.

Ofek had studied wall drawing in the right place -- in Florence, Italy. Like Michelangelo who also had spent much time in Florence, Ofek became an expert in fresco artwork.

For the post office wall, Ofek (who emigrated from Bulgaria to pre-state Israel in 1935) focused on the theme of the return to Zion and the subsequent pioneer movement. The painting -- 27.50 meters by 4.50 meters -- took eight months to complete.

So important are Ofek's paintings that the Council for the Preservation of Historical Sites in Israel is appealing to the government to protect all of Ofek's public art projects.

On to the nearby Tabor House, a building designed by the famous (and deeply devout Protestant) German architect Conrad Schick, between the years 1882 and 1889. Originally used as Schick's private home, today it is a Swedish theological institute.

According to David Kroyanker, author of Jerusalem: A Guide to Neighborhoods and Buildings, an Architectural View, the wall resembles a German fortress from the Middle Ages. If you look up at this building, located at 58 Street of the Prophets, you will also see a window modeled to look like a small sentry's post.

Now, walk slowly west on the Street of the Prophets. Soon you arrive at 66, where the Lycée Française (French School) has classes, 1st through 12th grade. This school was originally built in the late 1800s as part of a multipurpose complex that included an orphanage, a church and the French Catholic convent Saint Joseph de l'Apparition.

Continue to the corner, crossing Strauss Street. On the far side of the street, turn left heading toward the downtown area. At the busy corner in which King George, Strauss and Jaffa intersect, look up to see what was for 10 years considered "visionary."

In 2001, the French art group CitéCréation painted a long building wall depicting the Jerusalem light rail system. Since the Light Rail only began running at the end of 2011, for a long time Jerusalemites considered this painting a bit of a sad joke.

Walk along King George until you come to Ben Yehuda Street. Turn right at the corner, going away from the shopping district. Even though you are going straight, note that the street name changes to Bezalel.

Continue uphill for three blocks until the Gerard Behar Theatre is opposite you (its address is 11 Bezalel St.). In 1976, Gavriel Cohen painted an 18 meters-wide mural in 92 days on the building's outer wall.

Humorously, this huge painting is called "Around the World in 92 Days."

I do not want to spoil the fun of seeing this lovely mural. I will just say that when you see the painting, you will understand its play on the title of Jules Verne's famous adventure story.

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