Montefiore’s glory

In the past 4 decades Yemin Moshe has become a center for artists, writers and expatriates attracted by the neighborhood’s unique history and outstanding architectural features.

Yemin Moshe 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Yemin Moshe 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The neighborhood of Yemin Moshe was named after Sir Moses Montefiore, one of the best-known and most influential Jews of the 19th century and one of the pillars of the British financial and commercial establishment.
Besides being one of the richest men in Britain at the time, Montefiore was one of the most generous philanthropists. He donated large sums of money to Jewish causes and was received by the Czar when petitioning him on behalf of the Jews in the Russian Empire. Sir Moses visited Palestine several times during his life and donated money to promote Jewish projects in the Holy Land, among them the purchase of the land where Yemin Moshe stands today.
Yemin Moshe was one the first neighborhoods to be built outside the Old City walls. It offers a commanding view of the walls and of Mount Zion.
The first houses in the neighborhood, a compound of 28 very modest one-and-a-half-room apartments, were built in 1860. Palestine in the first half of the 19th century was a land where brigandage was very common. Living outside the safety of the city walls posed some dangers, and in consequence the Yemin Moshe compound was surrounded by a high wall with a strong gate that was locked at night. This first compound was also known as Mishkenot Sha’ananim, and to this day, both names are used for the neighborhood.
In addition to the initial 28 apartments, the compound had a water cistern with an iron pump imported from the UK, a novelty in Jerusalem at the time. It also had communal oven and a mikve (ritual bath).
Despite the fact that the houses were rented at knockdown prices, the neighborhood initially did not take off. Despite the high wall and strong gates, most people were afraid to live outside the city walls whose gates closed at sunset and were guarded by the Turks.
The quarter was extended in 1866 when a cholera epidemic broke out in the Old City. Some of the people who took up residence in the new neighborhood refused to stay there at night for fear of marauders, but that year saw the “takeoff” of the neighborhood.
The overall security situation in the surrounding areas improved and the fear of living outside the city walls subsided.
Yemin Moshe can be easily identified by the large windmill, also named for Montefiore, that is situated there. Although the windmill seemed like a promising idea at the time, it was never operational because of a lack of strong winds in the area.
Yemin Moshe went through a difficult time during the War of Independence. It was surrounded by enemy forces for months during 1948. Even after the cease-fire with Jordan the area was too near the ceasefire lines for comfort, especially since it was just below the Jordanian Arab Legion’s guns, which were situated on the city walls. In consequence, for the next 19 years until the Six Day War, the neighborhood was completely deserted. In the wake of the 1967 war, Jerusalem was united and historical Yemin Moshe was extensively renovated.
In the past four decades Yemin Moshe has become a center for artists, writers and foreign expatriates attracted by the neighborhood’s unique history and outstanding architectural features. Beautiful gardens, cobbled alleyways breathtaking urban views all add to the attractiveness of this corner of Jerusalem.
The architecture of the neighborhood remains aesthetically much the same as it was at the turn of the century. Very strict building codes are imposed and detailed architectural regulations and permits are required for any renovation work, to preserve the unique historical and architectural character of the neighborhood. Now an upscale neighborhood, the homes in Yemin Moshe are considered some of the most expensive in today’s real-estate market. The population has changed from the poor and pious former residents of the Old City to one of Jerusalem’s wealthiest groups, with a significant percentage of foreign owners who use their residences both as permanent and holiday homes. According to real-estate broker Alyssa Friedland, owner and manger of RE/MAX Vision in Jerusalem, “Buyers in Yemin Moshe are a unique group. They are looking for something special, something extraordinary, a museum piece, a historical piece of Jerusalem. They are willing to pay the price.”
And suffer the inconveniences. Renovating is a nightmare due to the strict enforcement of building regulations. Residents are willing to adapt to the inconveniences of stepped streets with parking areas a distance away from their homes because living in one of the most beautiful historical neighborhoods in Jerusalem is a status symbol and the urban view of the Old City walls is unmatched.
Prices in Yemin Moshe start at $10,000 per sq.m.and can reach as high as $15,000 per sq.m., for the more unusual renovated homes. Since there are only 100 homes in the entire neighborhood, turnover is sparse. And when a property comes onto the market, there is no lack of buyers no matter the price.