Between the sea and Neveh Tzedek stands the old Jaffa railway station, a cluster
of buildings and iron track that for 60 years were hidden from public view.
Decaying and abandoned in a closed compound, their important role in the history
of pre-State Israel was almost forgotten.
First opened in 1892, Jaffa
station was the busy terminus of the first railroad in the Middle East. From
here, thousands of tourists, pilgrims and businesspeople – and thousands of tons
of freight – were transported from Jaffa Port to Jerusalem, and later as far as
Now this important site has been given a new lease of
In a joint venture between the Tel Aviv Municipality, city-owned
urban planning company Ezra v’Bitzaron, and private investors the Vitania Group
and Florentine A.M. Assets, over NIS 100 million have been invested to rescue
Jaffa station from oblivion.
“This is an important historic site, with an
important legacy from the Templer era,” Ezra v’Bitzaron CEO Eli Ginsburg told
Metro. “We wanted to preserve it in the very best way possible.”
total, 22 historic buildings, including the station itself, have been lovingly
and painstakingly restored. The result is Hatahana – The Station – a combination
of historical site and upmarket entertainment complex that opened its doors to
the public this year.
After 60 years of neglect, restoring the station
complex was no easy task. “Since it was abandoned in 1948, the site had turned
into a jungle,” comments Ginsburg.
Responsible for the lengthy and
meticulous restoration process were Jaffa-based architects Eyal Ziv and Amnon
“With historic buildings like these, we have to use materials
identical to the originals,” says Ziv. “It took seven years of research to
gather all the information we needed.”
The original Jaffa station and
railroad also took years to build. British financier, banker and philanthropist
Sir Moses Montefiore first advanced the idea of a rail connection between Jaffa
and Jerusalem in 1857. Montefiore believed a railway was an essential step in
developing the country’s industry, but was unable to raise the necessary capital
to build it.
In 1888, Jewish entrepreneurs Joseph Navon and Joseph
Amzalak successfully petitioned the Turkish Sultan for a license to construct a
Like Montefiore, Navon and Amzalak were unable to raise the
required capital. So they sold the license to a group of Parisian businessmen,
whose company, Le Société du Chemin de Fer Ottoman de Jaffa à Jérusalem et
Prolongement, constructed 86 kilometers of track between Jaffa and
The new railway, which opened in 1892, was Eretz Israel’s
largest ever civil engineering project. Half of Jaffa turned out to watch the
test-run of the first locomotive, and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, reviver of the Hebrew
language, coined a new Hebrew word – rakevet
finally arrived in Eretz Israel.
It took up to four hours to travel from
Jaffa to Jerusalem (compared to two days by road); pilgrims, tourists and locals
alike flocked to ride the train. As well as passengers, the train transported
freight: By 1913, 43,000 tons annually were passing through Jaffa station, a
sign of the rapid development of regional industry and foreign trade.
Jaffa station was a
large, bustling industrial and passenger complex that straddled the border
between Jewish Neveh Tzedek and the Arab Manshiya neighborhood.
are three types of building in Hatahana,” describes Eyal Ziv. “The
station buildings, Arab houses that were part of Manshiya, and several German
Templer buildings.” These Templer buildings were a hugely important part of
Jaffa station, says Ziv.
In 1900, Templer Hugo Wieland purchased plots of
land next to the station. “Wieland built a factory for floor tiles and cement
works,” explains Ziv. “He also built a large family home next to it, and later a
Wieland’s villa was luxurious. Its beautiful lounge
boasted a painted ceiling, wall murals, a coal fireplace and decorative tile
flooring. A carefully tended private garden surrounded the villa.
Wieland buildings have been restored to their former glory. “We used the
same materials as Wieland,” adds Ziv.
The factory remained in operation
until the late 1930s, modernizing and transforming the concrete construction
products industry. Instead of importing materials from abroad, cement
bricks – known as Wieland stone – were made locally. They were transported by
rail all over the region.
French ownership of the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway
came to an end under the British Mandate. The British created a new company,
Palestine Railways, to manage the route, but Jaffa station’s importance as a
passenger and freight depot was already in decline.
In the 1930s, in the
wake of violent Arab riots, including in Manshiya, activity moved away from
Jaffa to the new station at Beit Hadar in Tel Aviv.
Jaffa station was
finally abandoned in 1948.
According to Eyal Ziv, the issue of what
exactly should be done with the 5,500-square-meter complex was carefully
Instead of creating a museum on the site, its developers decided
that Jaffa station should become a living, public area once again – this time,
an elegant entertainment complex.
“We wanted to create something modern,
which at the same time preserved the past and reflected the period these
buildings are from,” says Ziv. “Rather than a big mall, with chain fashion shops
and cafes of the sort you can see all over Tel Aviv, we decided on small
boutique stores, coffee shops, restaurants, galleries.”
aspect of Hatahana is to form a connection between two parts of the city – Tel
Aviv and Jaffa.
“Since the area was closed in 1948, it was like a hole
between Tel Aviv and Jaffa,” Ziv explains. “We wanted to link the old Manshiya
neighborhood with Eilat Street (in south Tel Aviv) and Jerusalem Boulevard (in
The Hatahana project is an integral part of the wider
renovations and restorations around south Tel Aviv and Jaffa, including the
revival of Old Jaffa, Jaffa Port and Neveh Tzedek, and the construction of a new
park and promenade in Jaffa.
Hatahana opened just a few months ago, and
is already a popular Tel Aviv attraction. “It’s incredibly successful, with over
30,000 visitors every weekend,” remarks Ginsburg proudly.
attractions include Cafe Hatahana for coffee and cake on the former train
platform, the Vicky Christina bar for delicious sangria in the shade of an
ancient ficus tree, and the chic Shushka Shvili for delicate tapas and a
wonderful view from the roof of the Red House, an atmospheric Arab building.
There are fashion, art, antique and jewelry boutiques, a large art bookstore,
and an organic food market every Friday.
Yet Hatahana’s magic comes
mostly from its unique atmosphere as a historic site: Strolling around the
complex or standing on the station platform, it’s easy to imagine being
transported back to a time of steam trains, pilgrims and pioneers.
wanted to create a place where people can walk around,” says Ziv, “We want them
to enjoy their city’s history and culture on foot, the way people do in Europe.”