Palestinian Arab Houses: Haifa (1860–1930)
With the participation of
Dr. Ron Fuchs
Arch. Waleed Karkabi
Prof. Mahmoud Yazbak
Private and Public Collections
The development of Haifa's urban landscape reflects the historical processes that impacted its design over time. The exhibition sheds light on a chapter of the city's history that is absent from most realms of memory – the portraitof Haifa's Arab societyas mirrored by its architecture. The point of departure for this exhibition was a series of excursions outside the Haifa City Museum, to the surrounding streets of the German Colony. This context gave rise to an examination of the area's architectural forms and rich material culture by two Israeli-Jewish curators, who are not natives of the city.
Like other cities in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, Haifa began to experience rapid growth and economic prosperity in the mid-nineteenth century, following the Industrial Revolution and the reforms introduced by the Ottoman Empire. This process of growth influenced the architectural design of the city's residential buildings. Many of the Arab houses were once distinguished by their impressive design and rich details. Moreover, these buildings carry significant architectural value, and represent a local version of architectural forms that characterize Ottoman modernity throughout the Middle East in the nineteenth century. We hope this exhibition will contribute to the recognition of their importance as part of the city's architectural heritage, and to the conservation of the surviving buildings.
The Historical Framework
In 1761, Haifa was moved from its ancient location, in the vicinity of today's Bat Galim neighborhood, and re-founded in the narrow area between the slopes of the Carmel and the sea. This turning marks the birth of the modern city. Sheikh Dāhir al-Umar, the Bedouin governor of a large province stretching between Acre, Haifa, and Tiberias – positioned the new city within a rectangular area surrounded by walls, which had two gates: A western gate leading to Jaffa Road, and a second gate to the east that led to Acre.
Up until the mid-nineteenth century, Haifa remained within the city walls built by Dāhir al-Umar, and its commercial center lay in the area extending from the Jarina Mosque eastward towards the port and the governor's building (saraya). The Jarina Mosque (known today as the Big Mosque) was at the center of city life ever since its construction in 1775. The open market (Jarina) was later opened across from the mosque. The Muslim Quarter (Al Hara al-Sharqiyya) developed to the east, and the Christian Quarter (Al Hara al-Gharbiyya) developed to the West. Over the years, the Christian population in the Western neighborhood also continued to grow, and the area came to be known after its numerous churches as the "Church neighborhood" (Hārat al-Kanāis).A minority of Ottoman Jews also lived within the city walls, and as this population grew the surrounding neighborhood came to be known as the Jewish Quarter (Hārat al-Yahud).
The nineteenth century was a period of significant change throughout the Ottoman Empire. The impact of the Industrial Revolution in the West, and the reforms implemented by the Ottoman authorities,resulted in wide-ranging economic, social, and cultural changes. Haifa benefited from these changes, and from 1850 onwards its economic prosperity led to its development beyond the old city walls. The European minorities and the local Christian communities that settled in the city, enhanced its cosmopolitan character as a major seaport city. In the late nineteenth century, Haifa became the commercial export center of northern Palestine and the Hauran (southern Syria) due to its active port. Its status as a maritime and inland commercial center was cemented following the 1905 expansion of the Hijazi railway to Daraa and Damascus. The railway's development also encouraged veteran families of traders from other cities in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon to move to Haifa. Farmers from the north of the country similarly immigrated to the city, and became involved in commerce.The population of Haifa, which numbered some 1,000 people in 1800, had grown to about 6,000 by 1880. On the eve of the First World War, the city's population numbered 22,000, and it had become a prosperous commercial city
The city's prosperity was reflected by its building style, decorative architectural elements, and new building typologies. The style characteristic of this new wave of building was rich in details and ornaments, and featured the work of stonemasons, blacksmiths, and metalworkers, as well as fresco painters and wall painters, which created a particular architectural language. The opulent houses that appeared within the walled city, and later outside the walls, represented the changes that took place during the nineteenth century. Those who built these houses were members of a new urban bourgeoisie that rose to prominence following the emergence of new commercial and real-estate opportunities, as well as Ottoman administrative reforms (tanzimat). These bourgeois residents represented a new lifestyle characterized by cultural openness. They made use of imported building materials and accessories, such as: Western furniture, tiles from Marseilles for the construction of slanted roofs, wooden beams from Anatolia, marble from Marmara, glass from Germany and England, wooden furniture, and doors and windows from Beirut.
The building tradition that characterized the last decades of the Ottoman Empire continued to develop during the 1920s under the British Mandate. The invention of new building materials (reinforced concrete) and the absorption of a new architectural style (modernism) ca. 1930 led to the demise of the modern Ottoman architectural tradition. The 1948 war and "Operation Shikmona" – a military operation launched to destroy Haifa's Old City,which took place after the Battle of Haifa–subsequently effaced a significant part of this architectural heritage. As part of the attempt to provide Haifa with a collective urban identity, the historical city was redesigned as a modern Jewish city. The destruction of the historical city disrupted the urban continuum and isolated the Arab neighborhoods from the rest of the city. Over time, ongoing attrition and the further development of the city contributed to this process of destruction.
This style of building continues to be represented by the architectural vestiges remaining in the WadiSalib neighborhood and throughout theOld City, all the way to Shikmona Beach. Later examples of building styles from the late Ottoman period and the early British Mandate can be found in the upper part of Wadi Nisnas on the outskirts of the Hadar neighborhood – on the historical sea line between Western Haifa and the first Jewish neighborhood; a small number of vestiges may also be found in the city's mountaintop neighborhoods.
This exhibition reflects a range of approaches to this complex and layered history, whose surviving buildings and ruins have left their imprint on the urban landscape. The display features exhibits that capture the forms, history, and fate of these residential buildingsby means of actual vestiges, research-based architectural documentation, artworks, and more. In this manner, the exhibition delineates a partial profile of Haifa's Arab society, and reflects the significance of the city's remaining Arab architecture not just as a series of physical vestiges, but as a vital presence that tells stories and creates narratives, impacting the city's residents and being impacted by them, so that its presence and historical importance cannot be ignored.
Keren Ben Hilell and Inbar Dror Lax
For guide tour at the exhibition (hebrew) click here