The last time someone blasted through the Old City walls was in 1898, and it’s
going to stay that way, architect David Sherki told The Jerusalem Post while
clarifying his plans for the proposed construction in the Old
Sherki’s firm is building a parking garage in the Old City, and it
will have a new entrance, but not a break in the walls. Instead, the architect
proposes to create a tunnel underneath the southern wall between the Zion and
The tunnel is part of a larger plan that includes new public
parks, dozens of apartments and a 600-space parking area
Sherki’s company, Jerusalem Building Workshop, was in the
media recently amid reports that it was planning to break through the Old City’s
walls in order to build the new garage.
Sherki called the reports “simply
The proposed plan, which already has the initial approval from
the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee, will be one of the most
drastic architectural changes to the make-up of the Jewish Quarter, and will
turn the current Jewish Quarter parking lot into a residential area.
see [the current parking lot] and it’s not built up. It’s totally empty compared
with the rest of the Jewish Quarter,” explained Sherki, in his airy office on
King George Street.
“The goal of the project is to fill in the empty
spaces and give more cohesiveness to the Old City from the urban
standpoint. The parking garage is a by-product.”
In 1898, Ottoman
authorities knocked down part of the wall near Jaffa Gate to allow Germany’s
Kaiser Wilhelm II to pass through with his imperial entourage. Today, vehicles
use the opening as one of the main entrances into the Old City.
1967, the current parking lot was an archeological dig, so researchers already
have a clear picture of what they’ll find when they tear up the asphalt. Because
of this, they’ve been able to design an underground parking garage that moves
with the contours of the expected archeological finds, which will be two levels
at some points and four levels at other points.
“We're not dogmatic – if
it happens that we find more archeological sites, then we’ll have less spaces,”
Sherki said with a shrug. “Our goal is 600, but if we end up with 500, no
problem. The conditions of the area will dictate what’s
Building an underground parking garage in an area as
archeologically rich as the Old City may seem like a recipe for disaster, but
Sherki insists that other ancient cities around the world are doing the same
“Now the trend is that ancient cities like Toledo, Rome, and Paris
are putting in underground parking garages, in cooperation with UNESCO,” Sherki
“They're dealing with these problems and finding that you need to
put parking even in historical places.
“There are people that say, ‘We
don’t need parking here.’ But everyone understands that you can’t solve a
problem by erasing it. We have to figure out how to take care of it.
are in favor, of course, of strengthening public transportation as much as
possible, and of diluting the traffic that’s left as much as possible. We’re
looking for ways to cause the least amount of private traffic. That’s the
On June 6, the municipality banned private cars, except for
vehicles belonging to Old City residents or transporting the disabled, from
entering the Old City between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Disabled rights activists
and the citizen groups like Movement for Jerusalem and its Residents have
complained bitterly about the restriction, and are appealing to the
Transportation Ministry to repeal the ban.
The cars cause more than just
traffic, Sherki notes. They also cause damage to the buildings, especially Zion
Gate, where larger cars often scrape the walls.
Sherki admitted that it
would be impossible not to lose some archeology in the course of construction,
and said it took many years for the Israel Antiquities Authority to agree with
the plan because of the potential archeological losses. But he believes that
because they have a good idea of what exists underneath, the construction will
minimize the destruction of archeological ruins.
At its deepest point, if
no significant archeological discoveries are made, the parking garage will reach
a depth of about nine meters, allowing for four levels of parking. But with as
little as five meters, a depth Sherki is certain they can reach without
disturbing any ruins, they can have a double-tiered parking garage.
preferable to dig at a spot where there’s ruins from the Second Temple Period,
of which there’s such an abundance,” he said.
“There’s two kinds of
archeology,” Sherki explained.
“There's archeology that’s oneof- a-kind
and archeology that’s not one-of-a-kind.
“For example, if I find a mikveh
from the Second Temple period, there’s like 300 other ones that we know about.
That’s not saying that it’s not important and it’s not exciting, but it’s saying
that it’s well known what it looks like and what it means
historically. It doesn’t give us anything more if we find
“But it does mean something if we find something unknown, like a
Roman Street [which recently happened near Jaffa Gate while upgrading sewage
pipes] or a monument of some sort. That’s a totally different story. Our
strategy needs to take this into consideration.”
Sherki’s plan is not
connected to the renovations at the Western Wall Plaza announced at the
beginning of the week, which also call for an underground entrance, additional
parking, and areas for a visitor center and auditorium.
designed by Gavriel Kertesz, got the initial approval from the municipality on
On Wednesday, Tourism Ministry director-general Noaz Bar-Nir and
Jerusalem Municipality director-general Yair Maayan took a tour of the Old City
to examine ways to improve tourism infrastructure in the city’s biggest tourism
attraction. The municipality is coordinating a variety of aggressive renovation
projects in the Old City as part of the mayor’s vision to increase tourism from
three million visitors a year to 10 million by 2020.
While the parking
garage will certainly help alleviate some of the difficulties faced by tourists,
Sherki is also passionate about what will come on top of the parking garage –
public parks and apartment buildings.
His firm has presented three
different plans to the municipality, which are still under discussion. One plan
calls for a large park and a massive residential unit, a second plan calls for a
series of smaller parks with buildings placed in a density similar to the rest
of the Jewish Quarter, and the third attempts to strike a balance between the
Any construction – whether for the parking garage, tunnel,
or residential units – is years away. First, all the plans must pass through a
complicated and lengthy approval process from both the municipality and Interior
Ministry, including multiple periods for public comment.
“Of course we're
getting responses from the residents, Muslims, UNESCO,” said
“Look at what happened when we rebuilt the Hurva synagogue and we
had Arab riots. It went all the way to the United Nations. Of course you’re
going to have strong reactions to anything you do in the Old City, that’s
Despite the obstacles, Sherki dismissed the notion that his
project poses an insurmountable challenge.
“It’s [about] perspective,” he
said. “Our perspective is that we design in the real world.
We're not in
a vacuum, saying ‘this is what we want.’ In the Old City, you do the design