Ancient and contemporary in Beersheba’s Old City

Beersheba’s Old City was built about 120 years ago, when Israel was still ruled by the Ottomans. In fact, Beersheba was the only city built by the Turks during the years they controlled the region.

By MEITAL SHARABI
July 4, 2019 16:00
Ancient and contemporary in Beersheba’s Old City

STREET ART.. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)

 
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If you’ve visited Beersheba in the past few years, you’ve surely noticed that lots of great changes are taking place in regard to tourism. For years Beersheba, the largest city in the Negev, was perceived as a quaint sleepy town, but recently it has undergone a major conceptual change and is now a popular destination among families and couples looking for a new place to vacation.

The most interesting place to visit there is the Old City, which unfortunately had been neglected for decades. Luckily, it has been rejuvenated, and now young people have breathed new life into the area.

But if you haven’t heard much about Beersheba’s Old City, you’re not the only ones. Even if you’ve driven by on your way to Eilat, you probably didn’t notice this pearl hidden just off the side of the road. Nevertheless, all of this is changing now, and sections of the Old City have already undergone a fabulous face-lift. And so, it’s time to hop on a train and spend the day touring around the streets of Beersheba.

Beersheba’s Old City was built about 120 years ago, when Israel was still ruled by the Ottomans. In fact, Beersheba was the only city built by the Turks during the years they controlled the region. The Old City was built in a crisscross shape, which makes getting around extremely simple. The city has undergone great upheaval since its founding, and was even conquered twice – first by the Turks in 1917 and then by Palmah during the War of Independence. The Old City continued to flourish until the mid-1980s, at which time the center of activity began to spread to other parts of the city, which led to the outdoor market becoming practically abandoned.

Only in recent years has the Old City regained its prominence, thanks to festivals such as the Beersheba Fringe Theater Festival, which takes place there every July, and other cultural events. A number of museums and art galleries now line the streets alongside boutique hotels, shops and cafés. There’s even a farmer’s market on Mondays and Fridays.

MEETING WITH children of Azerbaijan’s Tartar region, who suffer from regular Armenian fire. (Credit: courtesy)

IF YOU’D like to join a guided tour on a Friday, you’ll enjoy hearing fascinating anecdotes about the early days of the city. Sponsored by the local municipality, these tours begin at the Be’er Avraham Visitors’ Center, where you’ll hear stories about our forefather Abraham, view an ancient well, and glimpse a wall mosaic that was created jointly by Jewish, Christian and Muslim children. The next stop will be the Sha’ar Lanegev Visitors Center, where visitors will get to experience a marvelous audiovisual display that explains all about the development of the Negev.

Another worthwhile activity in the Old City that shouldn’t be missed is an event organized by local artists that has been taking place on the first Friday of every month for the last three years. Local artists open up their homes and studios to the general public, so if you happen to find yourself walking through the streets of Beersheba, this is an incredible opportunity to become acquainted with local artists and see them working up close in their homes or studios.

One of my favorite places is Asia and Galina’s Gershon 6 Gallery, where you will be impressed by the artwork of this mother-daughter duo, which reaches all corners of Beersheba’s Old City. Asia and her husband made aliyah from Moscow in the 1990s and were immediately mesmerized by Beersheba’s Old City. They loved the old Turkish homes, but it was their daughter who fulfilled their dreams when she renovated a building in the Old City and turned it into an incredible art studio. Nowadays, the mother-daughter team is busy making street art, and their influence in Beersheba has been tremendous.

A visit to Beersheba’s Old City would not be complete, however, without a visit to the museum complex that is home to the Negev Museum of Art and the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Culture. The art museum building was built in 1906 and originally served as the house of the Ottoman governor. The mosque next door now houses the Islamic Museum.

COURTYARD IN the complex housing the Negev Museum of Art and the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Culture. (Credit: MEITAL SHARABI)

The Negev Museum is currently showing an exhibition called “Once Upon a Time in Beersheba,” which explores the history of the desert city and includes posters, photographs, documents and letters that date back to the city’s early years. At the Islamic Museum, visitors can see an exhibition called “Roots and Growth,” which showcases a collection of handwoven rugs.

After a long day, you’ll probably be ready to take a load off your feet and sit down for a nice drink. At 32 Herzl Street you’ll find Brewshop, which was opened a couple of years ago by Gilad Ne’eman, an avid beer lover, when he noticed that there was nowhere in all of Beersheba where the raw materials needed to brew beer could be purchased. Ne’eman immediately decided to rectify the situation. At Brewshop, guests can sit down for an ice-cold beer, view Ne’eman’s extensive collection of beer bottles from around the world, or purchase all the ingredients needed to brew beer at home.

When you get hungry, I recommend dining at an eclectic place called Kebab Emuna, whose story harks back to the late 1960s when a new immigrant named Shimon Emuna decided to open up a small meat grill restaurant on Keren Kayemet Street.
Over the years, the small eatery has expanded and is now an expansive, well-known restaurant that attracts tourists and locals alike. Kebab Emuna offers only the freshest of dishes, and is famous for its signature tiny and tasty kebabs and crisp salads.

Location: 58 Keren Kayemet Street, Beersheba.
Details regarding tours: (08) 646-4978

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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