Hidden gems in the holy city — Part II

The capital’s forgotten corners are so plentiful that ‘In Jerusalem’ is offering a second set of highlights.

Armenian mural in Jerusalem (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Armenian mural in Jerusalem
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
 Imagine that you are an artist, famous all over the world, and that you sell your works for incredibly high sums. Then imagine that you spend months preparing an original creation as a gift for the enjoyment of the residents of the city that you love. You present it to the mayor, who sticks it on a wall along one of the city’s most rundown, nondescript, least traveled byways. True, there are plans to renovate the street, but wouldn’t you be just a tiny bit disappointed? Visitors to the fabulous mural produced by worldrenowned Armenian artist Marie Balian, situated on a whitewashed exterior wall at 14 Coresh Street, are few and far between. Yet it is one of the most splendid features of the city and one of Jerusalem’s dozens of outof- the-way or unusual highlights that Israelis call pinot, or corners. Recently, we offered 11 different corners for your perusal. Here are another 11 fascinating places to visit:
ARMENIAN MURAL: In 1918, the first British military governor of Jerusalem brought two Armenian families – the Balians and the Karkashians – to Jerusalem from Turkey to renovate the ceramic tiles at the Dome of the Rock. Four years later, they established the first Armenian pottery in Jerusalem. The two families eventually parted ways amicably, with the Balians remaining on Nablus Road (where you can watch the process of tile-making in their workshop). Marie, who is well into her 90s, was born in Turkey.
During the Turkish genocide of Armenians, her family fled to France, where she met a scion of the Balian family, and the two fell in love. Marie’s masterpieces are exhibited all over the world, from the Eretz Israel Museum of Tel Aviv to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. Her work on Coresh Street is called A Glimpse of Paradise and is one of the largest pieces of ceramic art in the city.
The stupendous mural is six meters tall and four meters wide. Containing close to 1,000 tiles, it was created in a unique method that involved sketching in charcoal on the tiles, designing and painting them and then burning them in an oven. Afterwards, each tile was fit into the whole picture.
Do go and take a look, to view earth and heaven separated by a palm tree. Enjoy the peacock, the deer eating leaves from the lemon tree, cypress trees waving in the wind and fish jumping out of the water. The pictures is especially serene for the lack of people in the mural.
AZULAI ORCHARD: We discovered this charming little site by chance. Situated below Hansen House near the corner of Klein Street, it features a small landscaped garden and memorial bench set inside an untouched, wilder landscape. Lior Azulai was one of eight people killed by a suicide bomber on February 22, 2004. The 18-year-old was on his way to school when the attack took place in a bus outside Liberty Bell Park. Lior is remembered by his teachers and fellow students as one of the most sociable and funniest pupils in his class. A talented soccer player, he was majoring in Bible studies and communication.
JASON’S TOMB: Situated between two lovely Rehavia villas, Jason’s Tomb is more than 2,000 years old. The elaborate tomb was discovered during the neighborhood’s construction in the 1930s and was restored with stones found at the site. It features two gates divided by a Greek-style pillar and, with its pyramid-shaped top, strongly resembles Zechariah’s Tomb in the Kidron Valley.
A lament to the departed Jason – possibly the Hellenized high priest during the Greek rule of Judea, who held that office for three years – is inscribed on one of the walls. Also pictured in the cave are several warships, leading experts (and Wikipedia) to think that Jason might have been a merchant, ship owner or naval officer. Possibly, say some experts, this proves that priests (kohanim) served in the Jewish armed forces.
Location: across from 15 Alfasi Street.
THREE HEIGHTS OBSERVATION BALCONY: Hidden away below the main street running through Givat Hamivtar, a wonderful overlook is dedicated to attorney Ettore Di Segni. I couldn’t find out any information about him, except for what is written on the sign: Di Segni fulfilled a lifelong dream and immigrated to Israel during the golden years of his life. He died in 1997. The balcony itself, erected by and beautifully maintained through the Jerusalem Municipality, offers an unusual view of Ramat Shlomo, Mevaseret and the Judean Hills. Location: down a flight of steps between 21 and 23 Sheshet Hayamim Street.
TOLERANCE MONUMENT: “Two halves of a broken column stand divided but still linked on the ruins of a nameless and ageless temple. An olive tree grows in the middle of the split column and, with its leaves, seeks to encompass and shade both halves.” This is the explanation of a stunning monument to tolerance, located on Alar Street west of the United Nations Headquarters.
Full of bright green grass and sculptures, the project was conceived and funded by Polish businessman Aleksander Gudzowaty. Beautifully done, on a hill that divides the East Talpiot neighborhood from the Arab village of Jebl Mukaber, it provides visitors with a wonderful view and wheelchair accessible paths.
Tolerance Monument
(photo credit:
1) On April 20, the Jerusalem Foundation inaugurated the MICHA Multidisciplinary Early Childhood Center for hearing impaired children and their families.
Located at 10 Hamefaked Street, the new center replaces a clubhouse for the blind built in 1976 and a later one that catered specifically to hearing impaired Arab children. Adjacent to the original clubhouse, the foundation designed a garden containing highly scented flowers and shrubs and specially designed walkways. Because of its proximity to the clubhouse, it is still known to veteran Jerusalemites as the Garden of the Blind.
While the new structure was constructed over part of the Garden of the Blind, a small portion of this tranquil site remains. It is located right next to the center and includes a plaque dedicated to 17 fallen soldiers of the Jerusalem Battalion: Abu Tor was the scene of fierce fighting during the Six Day War. A special overlook was constructed on the roof of the new center, making it the city’s newest “corner.”
Open to the public all day long, it offers a 180 degree panoramic view from Silwan on the east and as far as the King David Hotel to the west. Access is by ramp from Ein Rogel Street, which is parallel to, and above, Hamefaked Street.
2) The Abu Tor Observation Point, located on Hamefaked Street, stands directly across from the Garden of the Blind. While not as panoramic as the rooftop view, it offers a closer and truly fantastic look at Mount Zion, Silwan and the Mount of Olives. It also features pergolas, benches and a map identifying the landmarks that you can view from the site.
SHVIL HAMA’AYAN (in English “Orchard Spring Trail”): Hidden in plain view, right in the center of Ein Kerem and next to important Christian pilgrimage sites, Orchard Spring Trail is lush with foliage and as green and peaceful as can be (except on Saturdays). The valley, watered by the spring across today’s road, was used over the millennia for growing vegetables.
After villagers left Ein Kerem in 1948, it was shamefully neglected. Over the years, garbage accumulated in the valley, and the dense foliage transformed it into an impassable jungle. Benaya Zuckerman, an 18-year-old who lived in Ein Kerem, was killed in the same terrorist attack that took the life of Lior Azulai (see above) in 2004.
In Zuckerman’s memory, restoration began on the wadi that is called Orchard Spring or, in Hebrew, Bustan Hama’ayan. With help from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, area residents repaired agricultural terraces, planted flowers and fruit trees and prepared a marvelous family trail.
You can sit on benches, enjoy the scenery and listen to church bells early in the morning or evening. Best yet, take the trail which, after about 30 minutes, brings you to the Beit Zayit Reservoir (unfortunately all dried up, so come back in early spring). From Ein Kerem Street, follow Hama’ayan Street, and you will find the entrance to the trail/orchard on your right.
SHOMERA: From the War of Independence in 1948 to the 1967 Six Day War, Mount Scopus held a dubious special status as a demilitarized zone. During those 19 long years, the mountain’s ultra-modern Hadassah Hospital lay idle and desolate; its historic Hebrew University was neglected and bare. Israeli “policemen” (actually soldiers of the army’s 247 Unit called the Mountain Guardians) guarded this lonely enclave.
On May 26, 1958, Jordanians who had infiltrated into Isawiya – an almost empty area in Israeli territory – fired at and wounded a number of Israelis on patrol in the mountain’s botanical gardens. The Jordanians refused to stop shooting long enough for the wounded to be taken to hospital.
In the late afternoon there was a short break in hostilities. Waving a white flag, the Canadian chairman of the Jordanian-Israeli Cease-fire Committee, Lt.- Col. George Flint, bravely climbed the hill to rescue the wounded. Moments later, he was cut down by Jordanian bullets.
Inside today’s gardens there is a very unusual monument to Flint and the four Israelis who died during that unprovoked attack. It consists of a two-story shomera – a modern replica of the biblical watchtower described in Isaiah that also served as a temporary storehouse for crops reaped by Israelite farmers in the Judean Hills.
Among the gardens’ other non-floral attractions are an observation deck that offers a spectacular view of the Judean Desert and the 2,000-year-old tomb of Nikanor, an Alexandrian Jew who donated huge bronze doors for King Herod’s temple. The gardens are wheelchair accessible and entrance is free, but you must go in through the university when it is open.
JERUSALEM BIRD OBSERVATORY: Are you dying for a little peace and quiet? No problem – just head for the tranquility of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. During the day, the Visitors’ Center is open, and you can view nature photos, watch wildlife movies and ask questions. In the early morning, you might see birds getting ringed before being sent back into the wild. At night, porcupines, hedgehogs and – we saw one at dusk – rabbits hang out in the fields and gardens. Entrance to the JBO is from Rothschild Street, across from the back of the Supreme Court.
Jerusalem Bird Observatory
(photo credit:
PEACE BELL: Large bells called Bonsho are found in Buddhist temples throughout Japan. Used to summon monks to prayer, they are devoid of clappers and are struck from outside. For some reason, they have become symbols of peace and, indeed, a large Bonsho was presented to Jerusalem in 1996 to represent an everlasting harmony. It stands near the top of Sacher Park, not too far below the rear of the Supreme Court.
Take a look, by following a wonderful wheelchair-accessible path next to the Kraft Stadium on Yosef Burg Street (not the path to Yad Labanim). Once there, you will see inscriptions engraved on the bell that contain the word “peace” in Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese and English. Also written on the bell is the quote “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. They shall prosper that love thee as well.” From the bell there is a gorgeous view of lower portions of Sacher Park, the Nahlaot areas and Bezalel Street.
In April 1948, a portion of the valley where the park stands today was prepared as a landing strip so that our almost nonexistent fleet of planes could bring supplies to besieged Jerusalem. Standing at the bell, gaze diagonally to the right across Ben-Zvi Boulevard and, next to a red gabled roof, you will see a white, squarish structure jutting out over the houses. This, in 1948, was the control tower.