Movin' on up

These days, Mevaseret Zion is a well-to-do garden suburb, but it started life as an abode for new immigrants.

Mevaseret Zion 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Anglo-Saxon)
Mevaseret Zion 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Anglo-Saxon)
Most large metropolitan centers are surrounded by suburbs that are not included in the boundaries of the city proper. Jerusalem is an exception: It has suburbs, but they don’t surround the city; due to political reasons, most of the suburbs are to the capital’s west.
One of these satellite towns is Mevaseret Zion, known popularly as “Mevaseret.” The town itself – an amalgamation of Mevaseret Yerushalayim and Maoz Zion – has approximately 26,000 inhabitants.
These days, it’s a well-to-do garden suburb, but it started life as an abode for new immigrants who arrived in Israel with only the clothes on their backs.
Maoz Zion was built in 1951 to house immigrants from Iraq and Kurdistan. It was built in the area known as the Castel, the site of a Roman fort and then a Crusader stronghold. One of the most important battles in the 1948 War of Independence was fought to control the Castel.
Mevaseret Yerushalayim was established east of Maoz Zion in 1956. That year, Morocco allowed its Jews to immigrate to Israel, and large numbers of them arrived in the country. Mevaseret Yerushalayim was one of the places they were housed.
The area was chosen to house the new immigrants for two reasons. For one thing, it was a place of great strategic importance, and the newcomers would create an inhabited bloc of land near what was then the frontier with Jordan. Second, the area was close to places of employment; manpower was needed for the fruit orchards in the Arazim Valley and for the nearby quarry.
In 1963, Maoz Zion and Mevaseret Yerushalayim were joined to create one local council.
Built on a ridge 750 meters above sea level, Mevaseret Zion is located astride the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, 10 kilometers from Jerusalem proper. As with most locations of strategic importance, it has been inhabited from time immemorial.
The Romans built a fortress known as Castellum to control the coastal road from the Jaffa seaport to the capital. When the Crusaders conquered the country, they used the foundations of the fortress to build a castle of their own, which they called Castellum Belveer. As happens with these military outposts, which need civilian services, a local village soon sprang up. It was called Colonia, which probably means it had existed since Roman times.
Because of its position overlooking the Jerusalem- Tel Aviv highway, then the only road to the capital and therefore its lifeline, fierce battles took place for control of the Castel. It changed hands many times before finally being conquered by the Palmah in the War of Independence. The exploits of the Palmah fighters are honored to this day, as two flags fly over the ramparts of the old Crusader castle: the Israeli flag and the Palmah’s.
Today, Mevaseret is a very different place from the immigrant communities of the ’50s. In those times, it was essentially a working-class neighborhood distanced from the city when distance was a disadvantage. Now it is a mostly upscale neighborhood with the advantage of being far from the city’s noise and bustle.
Over the years, demand for housing usually outstripped supply, and prices rose accordingly. This year, demand is weak, as it is all over the country, but the potential demand is high.
Mevaseret has the added advantage of different types of dwellings: the old 1950s shikunim, modern apartment buildings of up to five stories, semidetached dwellings and single-family homes.
Mevaseret is a pleasant place to live; located on a hill at 750 to 845 meters above sea level, it has clean mountain air and a view.
“The town has many advantages for families or individuals looking for a home,” its mayor, Arie Shamam, told In Jerusalem. “We have an excellent educational system, the population density is among the lowest in Israel, we are surrounded by national parks, the area is steeped in history, and the town’s location astride the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway makes it accessible to the national road grid and all parts of Israel.”
Barbara Heller, the manager of the Anglo-Saxon realestate agency in Mevaseret, said that “demand for housing in Mevaseret is weak, but this is understandable because the real estate market is weak at this time.”
Yet while demand is weak relative to what it was in previous years, she continued, it is comparatively strong in today’s market.
“Many Jerusalemites are moving to Mevaseret because it has a rural setting,” she said. “Others who live in Jerusalem but work in Tel Aviv prefer Mevaseret because it [offers better access] to Tel Aviv. There is also demand from the medical staff of Hadassah University Medical Center, which is relatively close to Mevaseret.”
The town also has attractive prices compared to upper-class neighborhoods in the capital.
On average, a three-room, 70-square-meter apartment costs NIS 1.5 million, a four-room, 100-sq.m. apartment costs NIS 1.8m., and a five-room garden apartment can cost NIS 2.4m. A penthouse can cost anywhere from NIS 3m. to NIS 3.5m.
A semidetached dwelling can cost up to NIS 3.5m. as well, while a single-family home can cost NIS 5m.
Apartment prices vary according to location and view; the price of semidetached and single-family homes vary with the location, the size of the house and the size of the plot.