Friday, February 24, 2012

The Italian Hospital

Judging from this reflection for Weekend Reflections, you might think I had jumped over to Italy to get the shot.

Jerusalem's Italian Hospital is strikingly similar to the Medici family palace in the Piazza della Signioria in Florence (known as the Palazzo Vecchio) or to the town hall in Siena.

Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi built or restored dozens of churches, hospitals, and schools in the Holy Land.
His Italian Hospital was built from 1912 to 1919.

The gates have the Capitoline she-wolf with Romulus and Remus.

And here is the winged lion familiar to Jerusalemites from the statue atop the Generali Building.

The church, with a beautiful octagonal dome, stood at the center of the 100-bed hospital compound.
The church has been deconsecrated and now a huge mezuzah is affixed to the right side of the door (for Monday Doorways).
Enlarge the photo and see remnants of a mosaic above the door.

Today the complex houses offices of Israel's Ministry of Education.

Click on this photo to see the bare rectangles along the walls which once held the emblems of fifty Italian families that are descended from Crusader warriors. .
Unfortunately for the outstanding building, its location (Shivtei Yisrael St. corner of HaNevi'im St.) is right next to Mea Shearim.
The very ultra Orthodox Jews living there pressured the Municipality to remove all crosses and symbols of "irrelevant" history.
During World War I the Ottoman Turks expropriated the hospital from the Italians (who were fighting against them and the Germans) and it suffered damage.
After the war Barluzzi saw to its rebuilding.
During World War II the British seized the building from their enemies, the Italians, and made it the HQ of the Royal Air Force.

To quote Aviva Bar-Am, "Three years later [1948], when the British began pulling out of Palestine, both the Arabs and the Hagana hoped to get their hands on this strategic property near the border with east Jerusalem. Fortunately for the Hagana, it discovered the exact time of the British exit and the Jews got in first."

The tower and hospital were good observation and firing posts for Israel during the War of Independence, but Jordan's Arab Legion shelled the structure.
In the early 1950s, Italy demanded that Israel repair it.
Israel replied that it was Jordan that damaged it.
Eventually Italy and Israel agreed to a sale of the building.

Since 1963 the Ministry of Education has been in the former Italian Hospital.
What a history, eh?


Hels said...

Great building! 1912 to 1919 was a very difficult time, so I wonder why they chose to build an Italian Hospital in Jerusalem - for Italian citizens on pilgrimage to the Holyland? As a gift to the pioneering citizens of Palestine/Israel?

Dina said...

Helen, I just know it was run by nuns. In general there was great need of hospitals then.
The Yad Ben-Zvi guidebook says:
"The erection of the hospital expressed Italy's desire to gain a foothold beyond the walls of the Old City. Only in the late nineteenth century did the Italians begin to participate in construction outside the walls, which, in contrast to the other powers, had little influence on the appearance of West Jerusalem. Their building projects consist solely of the hospital and the Italian Consulate."

Anonymous said...

quite a history indeed! and sometimes quite complicated! enjoyed your photos!

Petrea Burchard said...

That's a wonderful post, Dina. Thanks for all the pictures and history! You really go above and beyond.

spacedlaw said...

An amazing history considering how recent the building is.

Kay said...

It really does look very Italian indeed. What a beautiful place. This is such an interesting piece of Israeli/Italian history.

Rizalenio said...

The details in this hospital are great. Very interesting history. I enjoyed reading this post.

Happy weekend. :)

VP said...

An excellent and very interesting story!

Tatjana Parkacheva said...

Great post.

Regards and best wishes

JM said...

You are right, there's a strong scent of Italy here. Lovely!

Rob Siemann said...

Italians are pretty good at leaving bits and pieces of their culture everywhere (not talking about pizza), and it is a good thing.

Pietro said...

So interesting, Dina. A fantastic building!

Hilda said...

Like many of your posts, the story of this building is absolutely fascinating. Sigh, and sad too because of all the fighting over it.