The lovely Greek Colony (HaMoshava Yevanit) neighborhood of Jerusalem has a wonderful charm of yesteryear about it, but like many Jerusalem neighborhoods, it is in an ongoing process of gentrification. These old neighborhoods, just outside the Walls of the Old City, and among the first to be settled, are slowly losing some of their historic allure as new apartment buildings are being built, and older ones renovated.
Copious numbers of beautiful blue iron gates and blue shuttered windows can be seen throughout the neighborhood, and reflect one of the architectural signatures of the Greek Colony. I decided to photograph as many as I could, warmed by the visual charm of these lovely accents.
The History of the Greek Colony
Sandwiched between the larger neighborhoods of Old Katamon and the German Colony, the Greek Colony was settled in the early 1900's by wealthy members of the Greek Orthodox community, who had been living in the Christian quarter of the Old City, but whose living conditions had become tense and overcrowded.
At one time, the Greeks living here in HaMoshava Yevanit numbered around 7,000, but most fled the area during Israel's War of Independence. After 1948, immigrants from Morocco and Yemen were brought to the empty buildings and new but inexpensive apartment buildings were built to accommodate them.
Many stately mansions remained however, as well as some of the charming one and two family homes that were built of stone. All were adorned with the blue iron gates and fences and blue window shutters. Not only the older mansion and smaller family homes but also apartment buildings, beit knesset, and garages boasted the blue. They remain to this day, a hallmark of the neighborhood.
Israeli Tourism website: "The prominent expert on Jerusalem's architecture, David Kroyanker, describes the building in his books as "the most special house in the Greek Colony" and as one "exceptional in beauty and splendor". In 2003, after its [earlier] renovation, the building was awarded first place in the category of "buildings for preservation" in a competition held by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Fund.
Private Homes and Gardens
I recently took a walking Garden Tour of the Greek Colony, led by Chanoch Ne'eman. Probably all the plants of Israel can be found behind the walls of these private homes. Of course we can see the magnificent Cypress trees, the tall overpowering Jerusalem pine trees - mostly outside of, and between, houses. But hanging over the edges of the stone walls and blue gates, are rimonim (pomegranate), mulberry, lemon, sheshek (loquat), olives, wisteria, figs, fragrant jasmine and more. It is so lovely and peaceful, and so Yerushalaymi.
Is it Still Greek?
Is HaMoshava Yevanit still Greek? When asked if there were still Greeks living in Greek colony, Anistas Damianos, chairman of a committee with the still present Greek Community Center on Yehoshua ben Nun, laughingly stated that they still had a minyan (quorum of 10 men for Jewish prayer). ref: Haaretz.
The Greek Community Center is a attractive complex of 5 buildings, beautifully maintained and offering several Greek related activities. On a pleasant summer evening the sounds of Greek dancing and song can be heard throughout the neighborhood as it emanates from the Community Center. Greek language classes are taught there. Shabbat morning coffee gatherings, and many more things still take place here. It is said that many well to do Greek Jewish families still divide their time between the Greek Colony of Jerusalem and Athens, with the Community Center being a point of contact.
The one building that is NOT embellished with blue gates or shutters, is the Greek Consulate, a handsome structure, which technically sits on the edge of Katamon, and on the seam between the Greek Colony and Old Katamon.