One of many surprises about Jerusalem was how much there was to see in the “new” town, the area outside the Old City. One such discovery was the Nachlaot district and the neighbouring Machane Yehuda Market. This is a fascinating area, not least for the street art that seems to be around every corner.
The Varying Fortunes of Nachlaot
Until the end of the 19th century everyone in Jerusalem lived within the walled city. Beyond the walls was a wilderness frequented by brigands and wild animals. However the population was expanding, and more homes were needed. One man, Sir Moses Montefiore, decided to move outside the city and establish a new Jewish community. To make the new houses as safe as possible he built them close together, and right by the city walls.
The area that became Nachlaot consisted of several different neighbourhoods, each clustered around a small central courtyard. Many members of the first families who lived here grew up to become eminent citizens; you will see plaques commemorating them as you walk around. But as time went on people started to move into the suburbs and Nachlaot went into decline. Houses were abandoned and drug dealing was rife.
By the 1980s Nachlaot was scheduled for demolition. However students and artists had started to move into the area, and people started to see the potential of the old houses, alleys and courtyards. In 1991 grants were made available and Nachlaot was gradually gentrified, leading to the mixture of improved and unmodernised houses that you see today. But there is still a real community feel to the place, with laundry drying and children playing in the streets. We saw street vendors, people sitting outside their houses, and cats basking in the sun.
The Machane Yehuda Market
Next to Nachlaot is the Machane Yehuda Market, established 100 years ago. For many decades its narrow streets housed stalls that provided essential provisions for the local residents. However, like Nachlaot, it started to decline, especially after terrorist attacks in 1997 and 2002. If it hadn’t been for the determined efforts of a few stallholders it is likely that the market would have closed altogether.
Changes were made to the market, with cafés opening, stalls being renovated and a wider variety of goods sold. Today the Machane Yehuda Market is one of the liveliest areas in Jerusalem. It is particularly crowded on a Friday, when people shop for the Sabbath and meet up for lunch or a drink with friends.
Street Art of Nachlaot and the Machane Yehuda Market
As you walk around Nachlaot and the Machane Yehuda Market you will notice lots of brightly coloured murals. Most of these are the work of one artist, Solomon Souza, who moved to Nachlaot from England as a teenager. In 2015 he started to paint pictures on the shutters of the stalls in the market: so far he has covered around half of the 360 shutters.
You can see the paintings to best effect on a Saturday, when the market is closed and the shutters of the stalls are all pulled down. Some of Souza’s pictures are of famous people; others are biblical scenes or other designs. And some stallholders have requested portraits of older family members, the ones who first owned the stalls.
The overall impression is of a vibrant, colourful community. The area has come a long way since it was threatened with demolition.
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