What religion and politics put asunder, let consumerism bring together

Sep 13, 2010
*Special to asia!

For a moment, leave behind what divides Jersualem and take a walk through the new Mamilla with its creator, envisioned as a meeting place across cultures.

Mamilla shopping strip

Shopping strip of Mamilla


The main boulevard of Mamilla is a walking street flanked by stores and cafes on both sides. Buildings of historical significance have been preserved, like the Hospice Saint Vincent de Paul and a house where the father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, once rested for a night.

Safdie points out the numbers scrawled on the stones of some of the buildings. These were guides for reassembling the buildings taken apart during the development.

“They tell a story,” says Safdie, explaining his eventual decision to keep the numbers on the walls.


Numbers on the walls

These historic buildings of Mamilla were numbered, taken apart and then put back according to their original order during the development.


In the creation of the Mamilla strip, Safdie took his inspiration from the markets, or souks, of the Old City, and made it a continuous walk from there through the Jaffa Gate to this modern shopping belt.

“I decided that this should not be a mall, no air conditioning, no cover, open street, beautiful Jerusalem weather. Let it be like the old markets, like the souks. But everyone said, no, without airconditioning, it wont work. But people loved it.”

“If we made it airconditioned, it would be like Tel Aviv, like any other place, with all the same brand names, so I tried to give it a real Jerusalem character.”

So what is a real Jerusalem character?

“Small scale, lots of plant life with the architecture, integrated into the architecture, building all of it in Jerusalem stone, using some of the details of the traditional Jerusalem construction,” he says.

The Jerusalem stone. City regulations mandate that all buildings have to be covered with the cream-coloured stone, giving Jerusalem its unique old-world appearance.

This is a regulation Safdie approves of.

“It covers a lot of sins, a lot of bad buildings look a little better because it is stone,” he quips.


Shop window, Mamilla

Mamilla's shopping strip is constructed with an open-air concept.


Another part of building in accordance to Jerusalem's character is for him taking advantage of the weather, the cool summer evenings and mild winters.

Hence Mamilla is a development that encompasses a lot of open spaces, like the small amphitheatres modelled after the courtyard houses of the Old City's Armenian Quarter, and the rooftop walkway with its open-air seating areas and vantage views of the city.

Mamilla creates the sense that it is built with people in mind, to be a place where they can wander, browse, stroll; above all the nasty traffic and honking cars which are tucked beneath in the underground car parks and roads.

Will it truly be the meeting place that transcends the religious and racial divide of Jerusalem?


On this Friday afternoon at least, it looks good.

There are black-hatted Orthodox Jews milling about, with Muslim women in colouful and impeccably matched headscarves.

I hear baseball-capped American tour groups marvelling at the antiquity of the city and Latin-American pilgrims fresh from retracing the last steps of Christ and the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City.

Then there are the regular folks like you will find in any city, who do not wear their religion, out shopping.


Shopping couple

A couple out shopping on a Friday afternoon in Mamilla


Getting all out the city's diverse groups into one place without them killing one another is something not to be taken for granted in Jerusalem. In Mamilla, has Safdie achieved what many others before him have tried and failed? Time will tell, but it's a start.


A visual journey through Mamilla

Rooftop walkway, Mamilla

Rooftop walkway of Mamilla outside Jerusalem's walled Old City


Mamilla from the rooftop walkway

Mamilla from the rooftop walkway


Shopping boulevard of Mamilla

A slightly-sheltered part of the Mamilla shopping strip


An amphitheatre in Mamilla

An amphitheatre which hosts occasional events in Mamilla


After prayers

A couple of Muslim pilgrims walk by Mamilla's rooftop walkway after Friday prayers. The wall of Jerusalem's Old City is visible in the background.


Herzl was here

A building which has been preserved because the founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, once rested here. It is today a bookstore with an attached cafe.


Another cafe

Another cafe in Mamilla


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi