It is amazing how Arab farmland changed hands through the Greek Orthodox Church, prosperous Christian Arabs, European consulates and Israeli government institutions to become the high class of Jerusalem. Talbiya has quite a story. Wait for the movie!
Talbiya or Talbiyeh (טלביה) is an upscale neighborhood in Jerusalem, located between Rehavia to the north, Old Katamon to the West, the German Colony to the south. Gan HaPa’amon and Yemin Moshe are to the east. The Greek Orthodox Church became the owner of a large portion of the land in Talbiya. All the European states and religions began to invest in Holy Land property in the 19th Century. This was slow colonization of the Ottoman Empire. The churches either bought historic Christian sites or new traditions were built around the property they bought. The Greek Orthodox Church call the property that later became Talbiya “Nicophoria” for the Greek Orthodox priest who originally purchased the land from local farmers.
Talbiyeh in the 19th Century
The neighborhood of Talbiyeh in the 19th century was a border area subject to attacks by bands of robbers and a place to send those who were mistakenly considered lepers. The insane were also institutionalized there.
The “Jesus Help” hospital (its original German name – Jesus Hilf) stands on Marcus Street near the Jerusalem Theater. The Hansen Hospital for skin diseases was planned by architect Conrad Schick. Hanson House was established in 1887. Hansen’s Disease, mistakenly confused with Biblical leprosy, was considered incurable in those days. Following independence in 1948, the institution went from the ownership of the Christian order to the Israeli government. Since then it has served as an outpatient clinic and housed the National Center for Hansen’s Disease.
In the 19th Century, James Finn, the British consul built his home in what became Talbiya. Some historians claim that Finn’s home was called “E-Talbiya”. Perhaps that is the source of the name of the neighborhood.
Talbiya in the 20th Century
Following the Communist Revolution in Russia, pilgrims were no longer able to leave the USSR to come make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The Greek Orthodox Church in Palestine lost its main source of income. The church decided to sell and/or rent its property. So after World War I, Constantine (Hana) Salameh, a native of Beirut, bought land in Talbiya from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. His idea was to build a prestigious neighborhood for Arab Christians from Bethlehem, Ramallah and Beit Jala. These Arabs were Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox and Armenian – but there were no Moslems. Salameh built his own home and two apartment houses on Salameh Square, later renamed Orde Wingate Square. Except for the main road, Emir Abdullah Street (now Jabotinsky Street), mail was delivered to either Upper Talbiyeh or Lower Talbiyeh. Jews and Arabs lived here side by side up till the War of Independence in 1948.
Talbiya’s Gan Hashoshanim (Rose Garden) was built by the municipality back in the 1930s. After the establishment of the State of Israel, official Independence Day events were held at this park. Today it is a 5,000-meter park designed in levels with the play area and benches on the upper section, a lawn in a middle section and a rose garden in a lower section.
What does Talbiya mean?
- Named after Caliph Ali Ibn Abu Taleb, whose descendents are said to live nearby
- Named after the Talbiya prayer which pilgrim say in Mecca
- Taleb is a common name
- Named after James Finn’s home
Talbiya after the 1948 War of Independence becomes “Komemiyut” which means Independence
After the War of Independence in 1948 many Arab residents of Talbiya lost the right to their properties due to Israel’s Absentee Property Law.
The Israeli government changed the neighborhood’s name after the establishment of the state. The Hebrew name is “Komemiyut”, (קוממיות) never became popular, and it is still known as Talbiyeh. You can see the prosperity of the neighborhood in the number of magnificent mansions. Many of the villas in Talbiya housed foreign consulates. In the neighborhood it is possible to see a rich variety of buildings from the Mandate period, as well as authentic Arab houses.
Many of the streets are named after Zionist leaders and Zionist precursor: Alkalai, Ehad HaAm, Oliphant, Disraeli, Hovevei Zion, Pinsker. Marcus Street is named for Colonel David (Mickey) Marcus, an officer in the U.S. army who volunteered to be a military advisor in Israel’s War of Independence.
Some of Jerusalem’s important cultural institutions are located in Talbiya:
- Beit HaNassi, the official residence of the President of Israel on Rechov Hanassi.
- The Jerusalem Theater is located Marcus Street.
- The Israel Democracy Institute is located on Pinsker Street
- The Van Leer Institute is on Rechov Hanassi (President Street),adjacent to the president’s residence.
- The Israeli Bar Association is on Chopin Street.
- Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities is on Albert Einstein Square.
- The Museum for Islamic Art is on Hapalmach Street.
Villa Harun Al Rashid – Talbiya, Jerusalem
This family home was built in 1926 by Hanna Ibrahim Bisharat. Although a Latin Catholic Christian, he named the home “Villa Harun ar-Rashid,” in honor of the Muslim Abbasid caliph, renowned for his eloquence, passion for learning and generosity. In the early 1930s, the house was leased to officers of the British Royal Air Force. Villa Harun ar-Rashid was chosen by Haganah for the commanding view it offered from its roof. No blood was shed in taking it, as the British officers simply handed the keys over.
Many prominent Israeli lived in this home:
- Zvi Berenson, then director-general of the Ministry of Labor and later a Supreme Court justice
- Shlomo Arazi, a Finance Ministry official
- Golda Meir lived here when she was Israel’s foreign minister.
- Mordechai Namir
- Kadish Luz