Jaffa, history, historic city, town panning, historic preservation
Jaffa from British Mandate to Israeli Independence
07/01/2022
Jaffa, history, historic city, preservation

Jaffa’s Gan Hamidron (Slope Garden) is located on the northern slope of the Old City between the Mifratz Shlomo Promenade on the hill, and the Aliyah Shniya Pier that runs parallel to the sea below Slope Garden (This should not be confused with the large “Park Midron” or “Slope Park” which is located just south of Jaffa on the sea).  The Aliyah Shniya Pier leads south to the port of Jaffa and north to the promenade of Tel Aviv. You can access the garden from the promenade or the pier.  On the other side of Mifratz Shlomo Promenade there is a larger park called Gan Hapsigah (Summit Park), located on the top of the hill of Jaffa (hence its name). This park covers the entire central part of what was the casbah of the Old City. In the top part of Slope Garden there are benches facing the sea and Tel Aviv, and there are several vantage points from which one can take pictures, all of which face towards Tel Aviv. There are also cannons, remnants of the conquest of Napoleon.

Napolean’s Canons

A winding path connects the top and bottom parts of the garden. The garden vegetation is typical of the region and resistant to winds and salt; there are also some ruins of old buildings that existed before this area was demolished by the authorities.  Slope Garden and Summit Park were designed by the city’s chief gardener at the time, Avraham Caravan.

Remnants of a building along the path

Remnants of a building along the path

There are many questions that we can ask about this garden.  When was this area destroyed and by whom? And why? What houses were there before? Who lived or worked in this area? We can also ask whether this area should have been destroyed at all.  Does the garden tell us the story of the site?  We can also ask ourselves questions about Jaffa itself.  Why were large parts of the city destroyed? Was this the right decision? Were decisions about Jaffa taken in accordance with accepted practice regarding the preservation of historic cities? What can be done today to educate the public about Jaffa’s past, its population and the specific area where Slope Garden is located today?

The above questions can be answered by browsing maps, historical photos, historical documents, protocols, and diaries of people who lived in the city before the demolition of the Old City. Archeological excavations can also by conducted, though this would ruin the existing park.

The Slope Park area: The urban, architectural and environmental context.

To assess whether a site is worthy of preservation, it should be evaluated within the historical context, i.e., events that happened, historical figures who lived there etc.

  1. Site classification: Only the ruins of buildings remain. Historical maps and plans of the area from the 19th century, show residential buildings (mainly of Muslims), commercial buildings (such as Freidel’s store and the offices of Disberg & Braisch), the French Post Office and bathhouses. Nearby was the fortress and later,  barracks. The wall passed there, and after the demolition the wall, the small train that ran from the port to the Jaffa – Jerusalem Train station located near the Neve Zedek and Neve Shalom neighborhoods (“Mitcham Hatachana” today) passed below.  The site was also one of the entrances to the Old City from the pier and represents a time in which Jaffa was vibrant and thriving economically. In addition to the above, the site is evidence of a construction style where houses were built on a slope, with a flat roof or with a dome, and railing with holes for ventilation on the roof. It is a type of architecture that was common in the east.
  • General historical context: Slope Garden was once a place with dense construction. These buildings were demolished as a political statement, and this reflects historical events, mainly of war between Jews and Arabs that led to the destruction of the city.
  •  Specific historical events: We do not know of any specific historical event that took place on the site. Residential and commercial buildings on the site were demolished in 1949 immediately after the War of Independence.
  • Authenticity and site integrity: The Slope Park area  was located not far from the entrance to the Old City and the markets; facing the neighborhood was the Saraya  building (government building during Ottoman times) and nearby was a fortress and barracks. There were some important commercial buildings along with residential buildings. Everything is built on a slope using construction methods typical of Jaffa at that time and facing the sea. Today, however, there are no  buildings—only vegetation and paths. The historical and cultural landscape no longer exist; however, there are ruins of buildings set, as statues, amount the natural plants and the view of the sea from the slope.

Old Saraya Building

  • Significance: The Slope Garden area was built in the 19th century, when the Old City was built. The style and construction methods are like those found in other historic cities from that period, (such as Acre), and Jaffa was part of the network of port cities found along the coast. Jaffa was the gateway to the Land of Israel for many pilgrims. It developed as a commercial port city and so many merchants and visitors also passed through it. The Slope Garden area reflects these connections.
  • Classification and rank: Since the buildings were demolished, and the place has changed,  it is difficult to determine a classification or rating for the site. It is an important historical site. If remains of buildings are exposed, buildings can be assessed as far as their architectural value.  The area is important environmentally speaking in that it connects, slope, sea and ruins. 

In conclusion, the Slope Garden area is historically important. On the one hand there are remains of buildings and on the other hand, most of its buildings were demolished. It tells the historical story of a city that once existed and was destroyed as a result of war and historical events.

Recommendations for the preservation and development of Slope Garden.

What has been done cannot be undone; the demolished houses cannot be rebuilt. But there are a few things that can be done to tell the story of Jaffa and this slope.

1. Various maps reveal that certain buildings existed in this area of ​​Slope Garden. In places where houses stood, a sign can be erected with an explanation about the building, for example, the French Post Office offices or the store).

2. A sign can be put up providing information on the ruins found on the site—what the original buildings were used for, etc. 

3. Based on the remains of houses, the original buildings can be restored to give a sense of the historical site, with signage explaining what materials and construction methods were use.  The public should be allowed to enter these buildings.

4. If there is information about a specific building on the site, it can be restored.

5. Historical photographs, maps and old plans must be used to digitally recreate the original neighborhood. A computer can be placed in this garden, similar to those placed in other parks.  

6. All of the above do not require changes to the City Building Plan, as the site would still be an open public space.

A team of researchers should be appointed to go over all the information from maps, diaries of people who lived in Jaffa, travelers’ diaries, travel brochures, charts, historical photographs, historical literature and other texts to try to identify buildings that were destroyed in Jaffa in general and particularly in the area of Slope Park.

8. The nearby museum, located in what was once the Sariya building, can be used for exhibitions on the demolished houses or the above digital exhibit (if it cannot be set up in the field.

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