Jaffa - the Jephet Street

A company cultural activity took us today through the district of Ajami, the Southern area of Jaffo made known recently by the movie that was a candidate to the Oscar prize for the Best Foreign Language Film.  Located one and the other side of the Jephet street, the area offers and interesting perspective of the history of the area, and the origins of its inhabitants.

sheikh Ali's house

We started the (guided) walk near one of the older houses of the area that belonged to an Arab sheik, descendant of the Egyptian settlers brought here by the sultan Muhamad Ali in the period between 1831 and 1840 that Jaffa was under Egyptian rule. About 12000 workers came here to build the area which was until then a dormant harbor, known to connect Jerusalem to the Mediterranean sea. When the Egyptians left the area most of the settlers stayed here, and many of the Palestinians today – Muslims and Christians – are their descendants.

windows

We spent much of the time walking the smaller streets, and admiring the mix of architectural elements – Arabic and European – from different period that gives charm and personality to the city. Many windows have arcades, and they are doubled by circular openings at the top of the rooms that enable the circulation of the air and cool the houses during hot summers.

house gate

Some of the house gates are pretty sophisticated, with sculptured columns and decorative elements.

door

Some other are simpler, and hide the interior of the houses, but they almost never are banal or lack some decorative element.

Terra Santa elementary school

The name of the area means in Arabic – ‘the Persian’ and refers to one of the followers of the prophet. Muslims almost exclusively ruled on the Holy Land between the end of the crusades until 1831, and only with the coming of the Egyptians Christians were allowed to return and practice their faith here. The only exception were the Catholics from the Franciscan order, who kept guard to the Holy places. Their institutions can be seen in Ajami as well – for example the Terra Santa elementary school and high school …

stepdoor of the Franciscan church

… and the beautiful Franciscan school.

1+1+1=1

Ajami is today a mixed area, inhabitted by Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Some of the public schools are mixed, and graffitis like the one above witness that  some of the inhabitants still hold hope that the co-existence will last and turn eventually into real peace.

Garden of the Two

Yet, this is not an easy process. Many places remind a painful recent history, like the Garden of the Two, commemorating the event in 1992 when a terrorist from Gaza stabbed to death a Jewish girl, and then an Arab man who came to her rescue.

Roth's Mansion

One of the former residential areas located on a hill is the Ziona Tagger street (the painter never lived here, though) which was once, in the 19th century the place of many gatherings of the local high society, of social and entertainment events.

house of the Bolivian consul

Houses here are in very various states, some very well maintained, other badly requiring intervention (like the centenary building that once belong to the consul of Bolivia, in a period when many countries tried to set foot in the still Turkish-dominated area), or other simply abandoned.

the Coptic Church and Monastery

The relative liberal policy of the Egyptians and then of the Turks allowed for the settling in Ajami in the 19th century of inhabitants belonging to various Christian denominations, some of them specific to other areas of the Middle East. One example are the Coptic Christians from Egypt settled here by Muhamad Ali, their descendants built the interesting church and the neighboring monastery.

the Maronite church

Maronites came in a few years later, from Lebanon. They built their houses in the north of Ajami, adding the Lebanese style of building to the architectural melting pot of Ajami and Jaffa.

little Beirut - house in Lebanese style

Our tour ended at the outskirts of the Old City of Jaffo. We had made a walk of about two kilometers, parallel to the sea. Little of the beach of Ajami is left, the area is being transformed today as part of a project that will unite all the beaches and from Reading in the North of Tel Aviv to the city Bat Yam in the South into one riviera for the tourists and seal lovers to enjoy.The renewed harbor of Jaffa, and the Andromeda building project are already there, at the point where the history and the present, traditional and modern architecture and ways of life meet.

Jaffa harbor and beach of Ajami