Jaffa, history, historic city, preservation
Jaffa, An Ancient City
jaffa, historic city, preservation

Part 1:  1516-1831

Jaffa under Ottoman rule was not always a good place to be. The Ottomans ruled Eretz Yisrael from 1516-1917; during that time, the residents of Jaffa were predominantly Muslim and Christian, and the Jews were a minority.  In 1917,  the British conquered the region and ruled  until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

In the first years of Ottoman rule, the city developed very slowly, as people were afraid to live in Jaffa because of attacks from pirates. Historical documents reflect this stagnation: in 1575 the German botanist Leonhard Rauwolf described the city as not having even a single house. The Belgian knight Jean Zwellert wrote in 1586 that the city was in ruins, but rebuilding had begun. A painting by  Johannes Kotoyak from 1598 shows the remains of the port and some towers and houses. In 1602, an immigrant from Holland describes two  roofless square towers at the top of the mountain, and fertile land surrounding the city that remains uncultivated as the residents were afraid of pirate attacks. Fifteen years later, an English tourist named Andrew Crook provided a similar account of towers and rifles in place to protect the harbor. He also describes large caves carved out of the stone that serve as storage and shelter.

Things changed when some Franciscan nuns bought some land to provide shelter to pilgrims. They built rooms around the caves, which the Ottomans ordered to destroy as they feared that the nuns were planning to build a fortress. Following the construction of a third tower by the Turks, and the presence of additional guards, residents began to feel it was safe to return to the city. The process was gradual: at first only makeshift shacks were erected for trade. The Franciscans received permission to establish the Latin Hostel in 1654. Nearby, the Armenian and Greek-Orthodox monasteries were built, which also served as inns for pilgrims. This contributed to the development of trade. In 1675, Cornelis de Bruijn, a Dutch painter  visited Jaffa. His painting of Jaffa depicts a mosque and warehouses, as well as the ruins. During the 17th and 18th centuries the city suffered attacks from Bedouin and Arab bandits. In 1726, a German priest described Jaffa as a wall-less city that was more like a village, inhabited by Turks, Greeks, Jews and French Catholics. His drawing of Jaffa still survives. There is another account of cotton export from 1733. 

In 1740, an Armenian builder from Constantinople received a license to repair the existing buildings in Jaffa. He built a ship wharf along the coast from which the main street of the port began (what is known today as Ha’Aliyah Ha’Shniya Street) as well as several warehouses and stone houses that still mark the east side of the street today.  Greek and Armenian guest hotels were also built on the pier. The rest of the houses of the city were makeshift shacks.  The city served pilgrims as the gateway to the Land of Israel.

 From the notes of the Swedish naturalist Hasselquist, who visited the country in 1751, we learn that there were four thousand Christian immigrants, and a similar number of Jewish pilgrims from all over the world. He describes beautiful parks.  Over the next fifteen years, the city grew quickly.  In 1766, a German visitor named Niebuhr counted about four hundred houses and mosques. At that time, due to the growing trade in Jaffa, various countries established consulates there.

In 1765, Uthman Pasha was appointed governor of Damascus and Eretz Yisrael. To raise the funds needed to fight Daher al-Omar, the governor of Acre,  he imposed heavy taxes which led to revolts in Ramla and Gaza. In an attempt to oust him, some of the residents of Jaffa collaborated with the Ali Bey Al-Kabir, governor of Egypt, who tried to conquer Eretz Yisrael,  including Jaffa.  For about eleven years the city suffered from tensions between these two camps. During this time the city went through war and siege.

In 1799, Napoleon conquered Jaffa. The French demolished the city walls, most of its houses and killed most of the residents, including about 4,000 prisoners of war. One Jew, Senor Aharon Azrielli, who remained in the city to guard his stores of grain became Napoleon’s interpreter. Napoleon’s attempts to conquer Acre failed and many of his soldiers, like many local inhabitants at the time, died from malaria.

After Napoleon left Jaffa, civil wars initiated by the various Ottoman governors resulted in fighting and sieges. Suleiman Pasha was appointed governor of Acre, and attacked Jaffa under orders from above. As the governor of Jaffa, Abu Mara refused to accept a position as the Governor of Jeda. So Jaffa was again under siege. Following Abu Mara’s departure, the new governor, Muhammad Abu Nabbut invested much effort in rehabilitating the city. He rebuilt the walls and moat, built the Great Mosque and a large market. He built a beautiful fountain in the city center and Sabil Abu Nabbut, a public fountain to facilitate the journey between Jaffa and Jerusalem. In 1816, he rebuilt the eastern gate of the city. At that time there were about a thousand houses in the city. It had three fortresses, one on the south-west side, one on the north side not far from the sea and one next to the eastern gate.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Saraya building (Turkish royalty house) was erected at the center of the Old City (today it houses the Old Jaffa Museum of Antiquities facing Slope Park. ) In 1811, the Ottoman governor of Jaffa, Mahmoud Abu Nabbut Agha, set up his office there, and the building also served as a detention center until the 1870s when it was moved to another location (In 1897, the Ottoman administration offices were relocated to the new Saraya building in Clock Square). The Damiani family lived in part of the building and they even opened a soap factory there. In Zvi Pembrok’s book on the Cheloushe  family, he mentions that in 1840 the Cheloushe family (the father of Aharon Cheloushe, one of the founders of Neve Tzedek) lived above the factory of Hanna Damiani. Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche writes in his memoirs that he was born in this building.

Abu Nabbut made many efforts to improve the city in 1815. He built new markets, fountains and mosques.  He rebuilt the city walls. Despite this construction, the city remained small within the walled area. There were still  many open areas which were used to grow tobacco. There were about a thousand houses in the city. Accounts from this period describe kurkar stone buildings covered with white plaster with flat or domed roofs. The streets were narrow and winding. The unpaved streets were dirty. Due to the steepness of the hill some of the streets were staggered. 

There were no Jews in the city at that time (except for Senior Azriel who never left). In 1817,  Rabbi Aharon Matalon, a wealthy Jew, immigrated with his family to Jaffa. Jewish pilgrims suffered greatly when they were forced to spend the night upon their arrival in the city, so in 1820 Isaiah Agiman (Ajman), who served as  to the Janissaries’ (Ottoman elite infantry units) treasurer in Constantinople, bought a plot of land in Jaffa and established a synagogue and  a free inn for Jewish pilgrims. He registered the buildings in the name of the Sepharadi community in Jerusalem. Beginning in 1830, Jews from North Africa began to arrive in Jaffa and they established the Sepharadi community in the city. Among them were Rabbi Yehuda Halevi of Ragoza (Dubrovnik today) (who was later appointed rabbi of the community) and the family of Aharon Chelouche who later founded Neve Tzedek. Agiman’s inn was not the first inn for Jews in Jaffa. The first was built in 1758 by Jacob Zonana, who was also an official in the Ottoman government. The Agiman inn was demolished in the 1960s but Zonana’s hostel still exists in Mazal Dagim (Pisces)  Alley and is part of the Ilana Gur Gallery and the Synagogue for Libyan Jews.


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