The first Jewish neighbourhood outside the old city walls, Mishkenot Sha'ananim (peaceful habitation) was built by Sir Moses Montefiore in the 1860s in answer to the overcrowding inside the Old City. People were reluctant at first to move here, mainly as it was unprotected and therefore susceptible to raids by Bedouins. But with the building of gates and a cash incentive, people eventually moved across the valley, found as it is directly opposite Mount Zion.
It became a slum in the 1950s due to its proximity to the armistice line with Jordan and the threat of sniper attack, with only the poorest inhabitants remaining. Ironic considering it is now the most valuable real estate in Jerusalem - renovations in the 1970s and the founding of the world famous guest house of the same name and the Jerusalem Music Centre saw to that!
With its views across to the Old City, lying just below the King David Hotel and above Sultan's Pool, the bougainvillea-bedecked cobbled pathways and alleyways are a delightful spot to wander through.
"Mishkenot Sha'ananim" was the first neighborhood to be built outside the Old City walls in the 19th century. This was the late period of Ottoman rule in Jerusalem; the Old City was overcrowded with Jews, Moslems and Christians, and sanitary conditions were bad. It was high time to start building outside the walls, but who would want to live far away from the markets and religious institutes of the city, in an area roamed mainly by robbers and bandits?
Sir Moses Montefiore, the famous Jewish philantropist from London, built "Mishkenot Sha'ananim" in 1860 as the first Jewish neighborhood outside the walls: one long house containing 16 apartments. There were also 2 synagogues, an Ashkenazi and a Sepharadi one, and a Mikve (ritual bath). Residents of the Old City had to be coaxed to move (free of charge!) to the new neighborhood.
This is hard to imagine today, with Jerusalem spreading far in all directions outside the Old City walls. Mishkenot Sha'ananim has a prime location on a hill overlooking the Old City and Mt. Zion, one of the most impressive vistas in Jerusalem. The building today belongs to the Jerusalem Foundation, and houses the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center and an exclusive guest house for special guests of the city of Jerusalem, including writers, musicians and academicians.
Mishkenot Shananim was the first neignorhood , built by sir Montefiore, outside the Jerusalem city walls. It was hard to convince settlers to move from within the safe walls to this neigborhood. The name means "Tranquil Settllement" and was given to help to remove the fear of the settlers. Rent was first lowered, then Montefiore stopped charging rent and finally, people were even paid to move to this place.
When Mishkenot Sha’ananim, which means “tranquil dwellings" (based on Isaiah 32:18) was built in 1860, the neighborhood was anything but.
This long row of housing was the first building outside the protective walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The territory outside the walls was an exposed and dangerous place, and the Jews were not anxious to make the move. But the Jewish Quarter was terribly overcrowded and hygiene was poor. Sir Moses Montefiore, a wealthy British Jew and a “doer,” thought that the time had come for the Jews of Jerusalem to live in healthier surroundings.
Montefiore was the executor of the will of a very rich Jew from New Orleans. Judah Touro died in 1854, leaving $50,000 “for the poor Jews of Jerusalem.” The money was used to buy a plot of land from the Sultan. Here Montefiore built a windmill, as a source of income, and an almshouse containing 16 apartments.
According to the “Rules and Regulations of Mishkenot,” it was to be named for Touro, and the inhabitants were to recite prayers for their benefactor every day. Touro’s name was engraved on the facade (still visible today in a star-shaped inset at the top of the building). But it was the charismatic Montefiore everyone remembers - not Touro, who never set foot in the Holy Land.
Mishkenot was constructed very differently from the homes in the Old City. The rooms all had windows and the roof was flat, at a time when domes were the rule. An iron water pump imported from Montefiore's hometown, Ramsgate, England, created a great sensation, and a huge black iron gate, also from England, was locked at night to keep out marauders.
Gradually, new neighborhoods were built outside the city and Mishkenot was shunted to the sidelines. It became a slum.
In 1973, the complex was renovated. What began as a poorhouse is now a cultural center and a posh guest-house for visiting artists, writers and musicians, hosting celebrities like Saul Bellow, Simone de Beauvoir, Arthur Rubinstein and Marc Chagall.
This windmill was built directly adjacent to the first neighbourhood outside the old city walls and was used to grind flour. Also built by Moses Montifiore as was the adjacent neighbourhood of Yemin Moshe.