Ramle – not just a stopover on the way to Jerusalem

The city of Ramle has undergone a significant transformation over the last five years and is now a popular tourist attraction.

The Ramle Market was built by the Mamelukes and renovated by the British. (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
The Ramle Market was built by the Mamelukes and renovated by the British.
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Location: Ramle
Type of outing: Circular
Length: Half a day Season: All year
Level: Easy, appropriate for families
Directions: From Tel Aviv, drive south on Route 44. At Herzl Boulevard, turn left into the shuk parking lot on Shlomo Hamelech Boulevard.
Outdoor fruit and vegetable markets have always been a magnet for tourists. The stall owners’ energy, the intoxicating aromas, and peddlers’ powerful voices calling out their wares and prices make you feel like you’ve entered a foreign country. No matter where you are in the world, visiting the local market lets you catch a glimpse of the area’s delicate dynamics and colorful residents, making it one of the highlights of any trip.
This remains true for Israel’s most popular markets, and the shuk in Ramle, which has received tremendous praise over the last few years, is at the top of the list.
The city of Ramle has undergone a significant transformation over the last five years and is now a popular tourist attraction. Demographically Ramle is a multicultural city, with residents belonging to the three major religions living side by side in harmony. A feeling of good-neighborliness pervades the community, and the shuk is a human mosaic of this phenomenon. You can spend an entire day wandering through its narrow alleyways and past the endless stalls, where you can witness the brotherhood of the young and old merchants. There are also a number of fantastic restaurants in the shuk, so I recommend coming hungry.
But before you lose yourselves in the shuk’s passageways, I recommend spending a few minutes at the Ramle Municipal Museum, which is just next to the shuk.
A visit to the museum is the perfect starting point for getting to know all the important sites in the city – and you’ll even get a helpful map of the city and the shuk. Most people don’t realize that the museum also functions as a memorial to all the soldiers who have fallen in the country’s wars, as well as a gallery for modern and ancient art.
The museum was built in 1922, and the Ramle Municipality has been using the building ever since (you can see the original tiles are still in place). The museum also boasts an Islamic dinar collection, and next to each coin is the date and place it was minted. The coins on display in the museum were part of a treasure discovered in Ramle, proving that in ancient times the city was an important stopover for traders.
But Ramle is more than just a stopping point on the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ramle happens to be the only Muslim city founded in the eighth century by Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik, and just on the other side of the parking lot you can see the Great Mosque. During the Crusader period, Ramle served as an important rest stop on the way to Jerusalem, and the city was (wrongly) connected with Joseph of Arimathea, who donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus after the crucifixion.
From the sound of Joseph of Arimathea’s name, his Christian disciples believed he was from Ramle, so they searched for other biblical connections that would connect him with the city. Later on, followers decided to build a church at the site to commemorate him. With the advent of the Mameluke occupation in 1266, Muslim residents transformed the basilica into what is today the Great Mosque.
They added a minaret for the muezzin; a mihrab, or prayer niche pointing in the direction of Mecca; and a minbar, a pedestal on which the imam stands when speaking at Friday prayers – which still take place every week. But a large niche that formed the apse of the former church and faces east toward Nazareth still exists.
During the early 20th century, Ramle became a focal point of the British Mandate. In fact, you can still see one of the mailboxes that belonged to His Majesty’s Armed Forces. The British forces used to deliver mail to Ramle by flying a zeppelin overhead, which would drop the bag of mail without stopping.
Someone would then locate the bag and distribute each piece of mail. One such mailbox still exists next to the little spice shop on Emile Zola Street. If you’re looking for a fun children’s activity, having them locate this mailbox is a lot of fun. When you find it, look closely and you’ll see King George V’s initials engraved on the box.
If you’re interested in relics from British rule, there are enough in Ramle to keep you busy for an entire day.
For example, there is the “benchmark” in the Pool of Arches, and other such markers measuring the altitude above sea level at various locations, from Jaffa all the way down to the Dead Sea.
If you walk through the shuk toward Terra Santa, the great Franciscan monastery, you’ll see large metal sculptures. This is the studio of Nihad Davit, the first Arab to study at Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim. Davit grew up as a Christian in Ramle, but converted to Islam in order to marry his Muslim sweetheart. Today he creates his metal sculptures, and people can visit his home (by appointment) and hear about his fascinating life – which took him to Europe for a few years and then finally back to his hometown.
Very close to Davit’s gallery is Samir’s Restaurant (7 Kehilat Detroit Street), which is in a building that is 700 years old. The restaurant is run by chef Samir Davit and his son, Galil, and serves authentic local food such as stuffed vegetables and grilled meat. Samir also holds concerts on Thursday evenings, as well as food-making workshops.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
For more information about hours and activities: www.ramla.muni.il. Nihad Davit: 050-570-3700