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The Greek Colony of Jerusalem

At the beginning of the 20th century, in 1902, the establishment of the Greek Colony began at the initiative of the Jerusalem Greek patriarch. He was looking for a solution to the density of residences in the Christian quarter. 


 The Greek Colony Jerusalem - One of the Oldest and Most Intriguing Neighborhoods in the City


Greek Colony Jerusalem


Next to the famous German colony, we can find its modest sister, but not less intriguing and prestigious - this is the Greek colony, whose first houses were built by wealthy Greek families at the beginning of the 20th century.


The Greek Colony was established between 1902 and 1940, on the initiative of Apthymos - the head of the Greek Patriarchate at the time - who was looking for a solution for his congregation to the residential density in those days in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem Olc City.


The area he purchased in the south of the city was an area of fruit tree orchards. The gardeners were displaced, and the neighborhood was planned as a network of parallel and perpendicular streets. A community home was established in the center of the neighborhood, and the houses were built on plots of land of half to a dunam and were named after the Greek families who purchased them. The main street - which corresponds to Emek Refaim Street in the German Templar Colony - was called Epthymius in those days - today Yehoshua Ben Nun Street.


About twenty-five houses can be seen on the Jerusalem map from 1927, and 40 houses are already visible on the 1947 map. Thanks to their education in foreign languages and their employment in "white collar" jobs at the French college next to the new gate and the Greek school in the Christian quarter, the majority of the 400 residents of the Greek Colony were employed in clerical work for the British Mandate administration. Additionally, they received specialized instruction in the club complex on Efthimios Street, beginning with kindergarten and the first grades.


Only a small percentage of the Greek colony's homes were luxurious; most were constructed as one- or two-story homes in a simple, rustic style. Most Orthodox Greek tenants (along with a few Arab and Armenian Christian families) did not construct a church in the community; instead, they used to pray at the nearby Saint-Simon monastery.


British officials and military officers lived in several houses on rent. The uniqueness of the colony was its rural-picturesque nature with narrow alleys, stone walls built around the houses with tiled roofs, climbing vegetation, greenery, and thick pine trees.


With the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1948, and especially after it, many residents of the Greek Colony found themselves in Jordanian Jerusalem and were absorbed into the monasteries of the Old City. With the end of the war, and their inability to return to their homes in the colony, many of them emigrated to Greece, Cyprus, and the United States. 


The settlement became an Israeli neighborhood, and new immigrants were housed in houses. The new tenants did not maintain the cultivation in which the colony excelled, they added improvised additions on the balconies and behind the houses - and the beautiful gardens began to wither. Only 12 Greek families remained in the neighborhood, and only after the unification of the city in 1967 and the renewal of contact with their brothers in Jerusalem's Old City, the activity in the Greek club was resumed.


The Greek Colony was primarily secular until the 1970s when religious institutions such as yeshivas and synagogues were built there. As a result, the neighborhood transformed into a residential area inhabited by a mix of traditional, ultra-orthodox, and secular families. By the time the conservation policy was developed, a few single-family homes had been torn down and replaced with conventional apartment buildings. Over time, the neighborhood's distinct and well-organized architectural style came to the attention of city planners. The gardens were tended again, and their rustic charm was maintained. The Greek colony's renown grew and it once again became a sought-after neighborhood as awareness of the need to preserve the homes grew.


The area of the original Greek colony was only 115 dunams - and today, with additions of buildings in the streets bordering it, it covers about 180 dunams. Its population is about 1,800 people, and the number of members of the Greek community is only about 50. There are still about 30 original one-story and two-story houses, justifying its name as a "Greek colony". Various cultural and social performances are held in the club building, mainly on Christian holidays such as Easter, Christmas, and Greece's Independence Day. 


The boundaries of the Greek Colony are not exact, hence the discrepancy in the data regarding its area. It is customary to demarcate within its boundaries the houses between Rachel Imeno Street in the north, Emek Refaim Street in the east, Elazar Modai Street in the southwest, and Yotam Street in the northwest.


Most of the original houses are built along Ben Nun Street. It is pleasant to walk through the settlement and see the simple buildings, as well as the luxury houses built by the Greeks of the first generation. 


You can still feel the pastoral atmosphere of the neighborhood and see the date of construction on some of the houses ( above the lintel or on the stylish iron gates). Most impressive is the visit to the community club (8 Yehoshua Ben Nun Street), above the main entrance stamped the year of its foundation - 1902. On its walls, there are dedication tables in memory of people who were associated with the community, including two martyrs of Kassela, who served in the Greek Navy during World War II. 


The gathering hall is used for cultural performances and singing together. In the corners of the club compound, there is a one-story building with tiled roofs. On the north side of the club's garden, there is a paved dance floor, and next to it is a preserved building, which was formerly used by the Greek community orchestra. At the corner of Yehoshua ben Nun and Yoav streets, a small building with closed iron doors has been preserved and looks exactly like 40 years ago.


A tour of the settlement should begin in a one-story house, at 3 Rachel Imeno St. (corner of Yehoshua ben Nun). In this 100-year-old house lived Dr. Photius Epklides, who ran the Turkish Municipal Hospital at 86 Jaffa Street (now the District Health Office). Epklides died in the typhus epidemic, which struck Jerusalem in 1916. The house with its carved furniture passed into the hands of the Greek community. The community decided to restore it to turn it into a small museum. The work of conservation was entrusted to the community architect Elias Messines. An authentic Greek home is furnished with furniture and kitchenware, a Greek art gallery, and a doctor's library. A visit to the location is an experience in and of itself. The home captures the founders of the Greek Colony's architectural style and way of life.




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