6 historical sites in Jerusalem

Taking a look at 'modern history' on offer in the Holy City

Carts used for an artists' market are under a tent set up for winter at the First Station. (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Carts used for an artists' market are under a tent set up for winter at the First Station.
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Jerusalem is like a huge playground for history buffs, as you can see by the large number of heritage sites that exist in the city. As the Passover holiday nears, and the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary, now is the perfect time to visit six unique and important sites that can be found right under our noses.
Beit Yellin
Yehoshua and Sarah Yellin’s house, in Motza just off of Road 1 on the way up to Jerusalem, was the first house built outside the walled Old City. Yehoshua was born in Jerusalem to parents of Lithuanian origin and when life in the Old City became too difficult due to overcrowding and economic hardship, he decided to try his luck outside the city.
The plot of land upon which the house sits was originally purchased by Yellin’s father at the beginning of the 19th century. The story of the house began in 1871, when Yellin and his wife, Sarah, decided to build an inn for traders and pilgrims to stay at on their way to Jerusalem.
Twenty years later, the couple moved into a small house next to the inn. The Yellin family lived on the premises until 1916, and only left due to shelling when World War I broke out. Ten years ago, the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites and the Yellin family decided to restore the building and open its doors to visitors.
The most amazing aspect of Beit Yellin is the authenticity of each wall, floor and window. The structure was not renovated, but is instead preserved in its entirety just as it was found. Visitors can also walk around the complex, enjoy the active orchard and fruit trees and also climb down to view the underground cowshed, which amazingly enough has remained completely intact. Archeological excavations are currently being carried out on-site, and a number of artifacts from the Crusader period have been discovered.
Beit Yellin is located at Motza interchange.
Price (including guided tour): Adults, NIS 17; children, NIS 15.
Beit Agnon
Beit Agnon is a fascinating building, where Israel’s Nobel Prize-winning author, S.Y. Agnon, lived and worked. The house, which was designed according to the Bauhaus style that was all the rage in Tel Aviv, was built in 1931 in the Talpiot neighborhood, and Agnon lived there until his death in 1970. This is the place where he wrote most of his famous works.
As you walk around the house, you can listen to an audio presentation on individual headsets, which describe everything you’ll see in the museum, as well as background on the neighborhood and street. The first room you enter – the parlor – has been authentically reconstructed, and a number of items that belonged to Agnon are displayed there.
In the next room, you can watch a film created by his daughter, Emuna, and then continue on to the impressive library, which includes old books with Agnon’s handwritten notes. You can actually imagine the world from which Agnon drew his inspiration.
The last room you pass through is the Prize Room, where the Nobel Prize he received in 1966 is proudly displayed. At the end of the house, a balcony overlooks the courtyard.
Beit Agnon is located at 16 Klausner Street in the Talpiot neighborhood.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Price: NIS 20.
Montefiore Windmill
The Montefiore Windmill, which serves as a small museum honoring the achievements of British-Jewish banker and philanthropist Moses Montefiore, was originally designed as a flour mill. Built in the Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighborhood in 1857, the mill recently underwent a massive (and expensive) restoration, and was reopened to the public a few months ago.
The view from the windmill is still as priceless as it always was.
The windmill is located on Yemin Moshe Street in the Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighborhood.
Museum of Underground Prisoners
In the Russian Compound sits a museum of Underground Prisoners, in a beautiful building from the end of the 19th century that originally served as a women’s hostel. The British turned it into a prison during the Mandate Period, to which the barred windows still attest.
During the guided tour, you can view restored prison cells as they appeared when prisoners slept there, the bakery where prisoners baked their bread, and workshops where they worked. In one of the cells, the guide shows you where 12 Stern Group and Irgun prisoners dug a tunnel right under the noses of the guards, and escaped.
At the end of the tour, a movie is shown describing the battles that took place between the Jews and the British.
The museum is located at 1 Mishol Hagvura Street in the Russian Compound. Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Price: NIS 10 to NIS 15.
The Old Yishuv Court Museum
Another building that should not be missed is the Old Yishuv Court Museum in the Old City. You can reach the museum from the Jaffa Gate, as you traverse the narrow streets on your way down to the Cardo.
The museum introduces visitors to the traditional lives of the Jews who came to live in the Old City from all over the world in the late 19th century. During the tour, the guides’ descriptions of the many objects and artifacts and preserved rooms will make you feel like you’ve actually gone back in time.
The museum is located on Or Hahayim Street in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Friday, until 1 p.m. Price: Adults, NIS 18; maximum per family, NIS 40.
The First Station
It’d be a pity to leave Jerusalem before you’ve visited a historical site that recently underwent an incredible makeover: The First Station. It is located on Bethlehem Road and is one of the few public structures left in the area from the Ottoman period. The station, which was inaugurated in 1892, was in operation until 1998. A year ago, the new complex opened following an intensive conservation process, during which the building was renovated and the tracks were repaved.
The entire complex is covered by a huge tent to protect it from the capital’s cold winter winds. Some items in the complex are still currently being preserved and if you visit on a weekday, you’ll be able to view an old British railway carriage being renovated.
In addition to the impressive building, the complex is also home to a culinary center which includes cafes, restaurants and bars.
Special markets are held on certain days during which homemade treats can be purchased, and traveling exhibitions are often on show.
There’s also a souvenir shop on the premises, as well as a tourist center whose staff can offer you ideas on how to spend the rest of your day in the city.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.