Greeks in Jerusalem

A small, pastoral neighborhood on the edge of an upscale area offers excellent investment opportunities.

Stone houses in Jerusalem (photo credit: Adi Benzaken)
Stone houses in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Adi Benzaken)
The Greek Colony is not one of the capital’s bestknown neighborhoods. Not many people even realize there is such a place in Jerusalem. But it is there, a small, pastoral neighborhood located at the triangle where Katamon, the German Colony and Katamonim meet. It is somewhat run-down, but that is part of its charm – and the reason real-estate investment opportunities abound.
“Although most of the buildings seem run-down and neglected compared to the more well-kept and tidy areas surrounding them, it is an investor’s paradise,” says Raphi Bloch, a Re/Max real-estate agent who specializes in the neighborhood.
The reasons are price and location. Because the area is not considered particularly upmarket, prices are much lower than those of the surrounding areas. With stone façades that have not undergone a sandblast cleaning since they were built in the early decades of the last century, and stairwells unpainted for more than 50 years, the houses there are not much in demand, and the prices reflect that.
Nonetheless, they have potential, and prices will creep up because of the area’s proximity to more prestigious and higher-priced neighborhoods.
Furthermore, many of the buildings are only two or three stories high and therefore have substantial potential for building. A savvy investor who buys property in the area can, with a little patience, make a handsome profit.
THE GREEK Colony was founded in the early 20th century by mostly lower-middle-class Greek Orthodox Christians – small-scale traders, shopkeepers, etc. – who wanted to leave the crowded, unhealthy, walled Old City. Since the Greek Orthodox Church owned the land where the colony is now, it was a natural choice for them. The Greek Orthodox Church still owns much of the land in that area.
Unlike other areas of Jerusalem built at that time, there were few if any single-family homes; instead there were apartment buildings with four to six apartments. Many of the houses built for and by the original inhabitants in those early years had an eclectic Middle Eastern style that is still in evidence.
After the 1948 war, the area lost its petit bourgeois atmosphere. During the war, the original owners left, and Jewish immigrants who had come to this country with barely the clothes on their backs soon moved in. Many of these people or their descendants still reside in apartments they received from the Construction and Housing Ministry in 1948 and 1949.
However, some of these residents are moving out, and a younger generation is moving in – largely young couples who realize they can afford accommodation in this Jerusalem enclave surrounded by middleclass neighborhoods.
After 1948, the ministry built apartment blocks, making the area a blend of the stone houses built in the first half of the century and the concrete houses built in the ’50s.
In 2007, excavations that the Antiquities Authority conducted before the construction of part of the residential area revealed remains of ancient walls.
Based on the analysis, these walls had been used for terraced agriculture. Some of the findings revealed ceramics that could be traced back to the Byzantine and Roman periods.
One of the popular attractions of the area is the Greek Community Center on Bin-Nun Street, built in 1902 to serve the Greek Orthodox Christians’ communal needs. Today it is known as “Lesky,” and locals use it for social gatherings and other events, such as dancing lessons, cultural celebrations and national holidays.
The neighborhood is also the home of the Misgav Ladach maternity hospital. Originally founded in 1854 within the Old City, the hospital later moved to a more spacious and modern establishment in the Greek Colony. Its initial aim was to enable the Jews to be independent of Christian missionary hospitals. Kupat Holim Meuhedet, which now owns and operates Misgav Ladach, renovated the building and reopened it in 2005.
The current real-estate scene can be described as brisk. The neighborhood is relatively central, and most of today’s buyers are young couples and investors. The former want to buy inexpensive housing in an area with good schools, while the latter hope that real-estate values in the area will appreciate.
At present, prices in the Greek Colony are modest compared to prices in the surrounding areas, which can be as much as 15 percent to 20% higher.
An average three-room apartment measuring 60 square meters costs NIS 1.2 million, and an average four-room apartment of 90 sq.m. costs NIS 1.9m. A 130-sq.m., five-room costs NIS 3m. on average, while a penthouse in a restored “old” apartment building can cost NIS 4m. or more.