Walk into history

An east Jerusalem street stroll features an elegant 19th-century villa, a striking cathedral, three monuments, a world-renowned pottery workshop and a famous tomb.

Palesinian pottery shop 521 (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Palesinian pottery shop 521
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
During King Herod’s reign (37 BCE to 4 CE) and for decades afterwards, Jerusalem expanded greatly to the north. This left the new neighborhoods unprotected, and in 41 CE, soon after becoming king, Herod’s grandson Agrippa began building a wall that would incorporate them into the city. The design called for such a massive structure that after examining the foundations, Agrippa began to worry. What if Roman Emperor Claudius got a look at the wall and thought Agrippa was planning a revolt? Construction on the wall came to a screeching halt just about the time that Agrippa experienced a sudden demise.
If Agrippa had completed the wall, could it really have held off the Romans? Decide for yourself on this Street Stroll, which also features an elegant 19thcentury villa, a striking cathedral, three monuments, a world-renowned pottery workshop and a famous tomb. If you like, you can end your jaunt at my favorite humous joint in Sheikh Jarrah.
Begin next to the Sa’id and Sa’ad Mosque at the corner of Naomi Kis Street and Nablus Road and cross Naomi Kis over to the yellow (not the green-and-white!) gas station. What remains of Agrippa’s wall is found in front of the station, shaded by olive trees. Josephus called this the Third Wall, and that is how it is known today. Two other walls surrounded other parts of the city at the time – the Old Wall and the Middle Wall.
During the Great Revolt (66-70 CE), Jewish defenders of Jerusalem did their best to finish the wall. Unfortunately, it was not sturdy enough to hold off Roman battering rams.
As you cross the narrow adjacent street to Nablus Road on the other side, you pass a plaza hugging the guard booth of the now-defunct American consulate. The plaza has a monument to the 25 paratroopers of the 28th Battalion who were killed in action along Nablus Road during the Six Day War.
A second memorial wall stands on the opposite side of the plaza. Who would have thought, in those heady days when this monument was erected, that there would be the need for a second, newer wall inscribed with the names of soldiers from the battalion who have fallen in Israel’s wars since 1967?
Now head for No. 14 Nablus Road, across from the empty consulate, and ring the bell outside the Palestinian Pottery. This amazing enterprise belongs to the Balians, descendants of master potter Neshan Balian. The Balian and Karkashian families were brought to Jerusalem in 1917 from Kutahya, Turkey, to renovate the ceramic tiles at the Dome of the Rock. Five years later they established the first Armenian Pottery in Jerusalem. The two families parted ways some decades later, with the Balians remaining on Nablus Road.
You won’t find the Balians’ fabulous designs and handiwork in the Old City marketplace; their creations are sold only at this shop (and on their website, http://armenianceramics.com).
Sitting at the table in the store is Marie Balian, a renowned ceramic tile artist whose works have been exhibited all over the world – from the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. She is currently preparing an exhibit for an institute in Paris.
When you leave, turn right to continue north on Nablus Road. On your left, the east Jerusalem YMCA now includes the elegant Legacy Hotel. Past the British Council and the Nazarene Church, you come to a villa at No. 35. A prayer center is housed in this historic building, constructed in 1890 in what was an early Arab neighborhood outside the walls of the Old City.
The house was sold to a couple from the American Colony in 1904. In 1930, when Swedish consul Lewis Larsson moved in with his family, it became the Swedish Consulate. In May 1947, UNSCOP (United Nations Special Commission on Palestine) came to Jerusalem, and since Sweden was one of the countries on the commission, several meetings were held at this villa.
In 1969 the Baptist Convention in Israel purchased the building and operated it as a center for Christian students. On the top floor, scholars translated the New Testament from Greek into modern Hebrew. The old building was renovated in 2008, and the second story now features an unusual, interactive prayer room.
Cross the street and walk a few dozen meters to one of Jerusalem’s most distinctive landmarks: St. George’s Cathedral, dating back to 1898. The center for the Anglican Church in the Middle East, this classic neo-Gothic edifice and the extraordinarily impressive buildings in the cathedral enclosure would fit easily into a traditional English countryside.
A lone Byzantine pillar stands in the center of a courtyard dominated by vaulted arcades. The column is capped with a cannonball and surmounted by a cross, representing the victory of Christianity over war. Positioned around the courtyard are the bishop’s residence, a delightful guest house, the cathedral and a splendid tower that was completed in 1910. The latter was named for King Edward VII, a genial patron of the arts who died that same year.
Interestingly, the 33-meter-high square tower with its four pointed turrets was purposely not attached to the church. It was planned that way by the architect, who feared the consequences of interdependence should there be an earthquake. The tower’s three bells are sounded for the daily Angelus (a historic call to prayer), as well as on solemn occasions.
A combination of massive stone walls, arches and the warm, dark woodwork in the ceiling and the pulpit contribute to the cathedral’s uplifting ambience. An Austrian organ is housed in a beautifully carved wooden structure at the rear of the church. Anglican congregations from Iraq and the Gulf states contributed a new pulpit to replace the original Irish stand destroyed by a mortar shell during Israel’s War of Independence.
One wall of the church holds the British royal coat of arms which, until 1948, hung in the seat of the British high commissioner at Government House. When the British Mandate ended in 1948, the coat of arms was deposited here, in the last bastion of English domination over mandatory Palestine.