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The Russian Compound – Russian Colonialism in Ottoman Palestine

Russian Colonization in Ottoman Palestine –  Russian Pilgrims (1858-1917)

Towards the end of the Ottoman period, the European powers sought to strengthen their hold on Palestine. Among them and not the least of them was Imperial Russia. After the Crimean War, Czar Alexander II became concerned about the Russian pilgrims in the Holy Land. Russia, at this time, had neither a consulate, nor any other institution,  such as the future Orthodox Palestine Society, to protect or provide assistance to the Russian traveller. A consulate was created in 1858.

Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem

In 1870, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission (Russian Palestine Societyin Jerusalem moved from the Monastery of the Archangels in the Old City to its own property, known as the Russian Compound. The name of Bishop Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin) is synonymous with the Mission and almost everything that the Russian Church acquired or built at one time or another in the Holy Land. Among his achievements: purchases of lands in Hebron with the Oak of Mamre, the summit of Mount of Olives, property in Jaffa with the tomb of Tabitha, gardens in Jericho, the plot of land in Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and the founding of the Convent at Ein-Karem – “the hill country”. Under his supervision, churches were built in Jaffa, the Mount of Olives, Ein-Karem and Gethsemane. He was also actively involved in the excavations that revealed the Threshold of Judgement Gate (where Jesus left the city on the way to the hill of Calvary).


The Imperial Russian Orthodox-Palestine Society
The Imperial Russian Orthodox-Palestine Society

With the rise of the communists most of the church properties in Palestine remained in the hands of those at odds with the Bolsheviks, and the majority of these joined with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR – the White Church) who refused to associate with the Soviet led ROC (Russian Orthodox Church – the Red Church) in Palestine. When Israel became a state in 1948, all of the property under the control of the ROCOR within its borders was handed over to the Soviet dominated ROC in appreciation for Moscow’s support of the Jewish state. The ROCOR maintained control over churches and properties in the Jordanian-occupied West Bank unmolested until the late 1980s. Police officers of the Palestinian Authority evicted the ROCOR clergy and then turned over the property to the ROC. Today, both the ROC and ROCOR have a continued, and separate existence in the Holy Land.


Russian Compound - http://www.alma-mahler.at/archiv_jerusalem_engl/information/russian_pilgrims.html

The Russian Compound

The Russian Compound (approximately 17 acres) is located well outside the Old City walls north of modern Jaffa Road, on land purchased from the Turks (who ruled the country). Construction on  began in 1860. It was intended to serve Orthodox pilgrims to the Holy Land. When World War I broke out, the Ottoman authorities expelled the Russians.  The compound eventually comprised:

  • Russian Orthodox cathedral: Construction began in 1860 on orders from Czar Alexander II and was financed by contributions from the Russian people. The Holy Trinity Cathedral was consecrated in 1872. The gilded Russian Orthodox crosses on the eight towers atop its copper-domed roof are city landmark. It was one of the first churches in Jerusalem to have bells. The cathedral is within walking distance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City and within walking distance of the Russian consulate headquarters at the time. At the time of its consecration the Russian Orthodox Church sent more pilgrims to the Holy Land than any other denomination. It’s Renaissance styling recalls Moscow’s 15th century Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin. Today the restored church welcomes visitors every morning (except Mondays) until 1:00 P.M.


  • The Russian Mission Building – “Duhovnia”:  Built in 1863, was the second building in importance in the Russian Compound, after the cathedral. Square in shape, was built around a courtyard with a small luxurious private church (St Alexandra)for the religious delegation in the center. The building hosted the offices of the ecclesiastical mission of the Russian patriarchate. The lower floor housed a hospice for pilgrims for families and singles, a communal dining-hall and rooms for the local staff. Until 1992 the Duhovnia housed all of Jerusalem’s courts, including the Israel supreme court, but is now only used for the local Magistrates’ Court.


  • Southern Gate
Southern Gate
Southern Gate
  • Russian Hospital: 13 Safra Square. The Russian hospital was designed in what the literature describes as “Russian Renaissance.” The first hospital to go up outside of the Old City, it differed from Jerusalem’s English, German, and Jewish-run hospitals, where all origins and creeds could find care. Indeed, its services were exclusive to Russian pilgrims, clergy, and the local Arab Orthodox population. The pharmacy and residences for the physicians, the pharmacist and the nurse were on the ground floor – the patients were on the upper level.The British appropriated this architectural gem during their Mandate, utilizing it as a prison hospital. During the War of Independence, the British hospital was transformed into a hospital for wounded Israeli troops. It became known as Avi-Hayil (“Father of the Soldiers”) and, today, is an integral part of Jerusalem’s municipal complex.
Russian Hospital
Russian Hospital
  • Russian Consulate: On Shivtei Yisra’el Street behind the municipality complex. From 1953-1973 it housed the school of pharmacy, later laboratories of the Hebrew university.
Russian Consulate
Russian Consulate
  • Men’s hostel –  Elisabeth Courtyard: On Monbaz street.Built in 1864 as a hostel able to accommodate about 300 pilgrims. Now houses the police headquarters. After the 1917 Revolution, Grand Duchess Elisabeth-Elisaveta Feodorovna was imprisoned, and on the night of July 17, 1918, she was thrown into a pit and pelted with grenades. Her remains were brought to Jerusalem, where she was buried in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.
Elisabeth Courtyard - Hospice for Men
Elisabeth Courtyard – Hospice for Men
  • Northern Gate: On Monbaz street, right opposite to the Sergei Courtyard.
Northern Gate
Northern Gate
  • Women’s hostel – Marianskaya Courtyard: 1 Misheol Hagvurah Street. The women’s hostel was built in 1864. During the British mandate in Palestine (1918-1948), the building was used as the central prison. Apart from criminal prisoners, hundreds of Jewish underground fighters were imprisoned there, members of Haganah, Irgun and Lechi (the Stern Group). Executions for capital crimes were commonplace, but only for Arabs. While the facility housed many death-row inmates captured from the Jewish underground organizations, Jews sentenced to death were sent to Acco for the actual executions. The British, fearful of the Jewish reaction to executions in the holy city, never used the gallows of the prison for Jews. Today it houses the Underground Prisoner Museum.
    • Address: Mishol Hagevura St. 1
    • Opening hours:
      Sun  09:00-17:00
      Mon 09:00-17:00
      Tue  09:00-17:00
      Wed 09:00-17:00
      Thu  09:00-17:00
    • Phone: 972-2-6233166
    • Admission: Entrance fee
    • Parking: Municipal
Women's hostel - Marianskaya Courtyard
Women’s hostel – Marianskaya Courtyard
  • Hostel for the Aristocracy – The Sergei Imperial Hospice : On the corner of Heleni HaMalka and Monbaz Street, it was built in 1886-90, it was named for brother of Czar Alexander III, Grand Duke Sergei (1857-1905), then President of the Imperial Russian Orthodox Palestine Society. There were accommodations with 25 luxuriously furnished rooms for “rich and honourable guests”. It housed offices of the Agriculture Ministry, the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites (SPIHS) and the SPNI
Sergei Building
Sergei Building
  • Nikolai Courtyard – Second Pilgrims Hospice: The hospice was built in 1903 for Russian pilgrims large enough to hold 1,200 guests. During the British Mandate period part of it was been used as police headquarters, government offices and the British intelligence headquarters. It was blown up twice by the Jewish underground organisation Irgun under Menachem Begin in 1945.
Nikolai Courtyard - Pilgrims Hospice
Nikolai Courtyard – Pilgrims Hospice


The Russian Compound during the British Mandate –  British Mandate (1917-1948)

The British Mandatory government took over the Russian Compound and made it the center of British security and administrative center known as “Bevingrad.”


The Russian Compound in the State of Israel

After the establishment of the State of Israel, the government restored ownership of the compound to the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, only to buy back every building save the cathedral and one other in 1960. The compound housed the police headquarters and the city court, and gradually became the center of Jerusalem’s nightlife throughout the 1990’s.

The Russian Compound - S. Spirrydon - Mount Scopus library
The Russian Compound

Archaeology – The Finger of Og King of the Bashan

A monumental Herodian-era column abandoned in situ in the process of being carved directly from bedrock can be seen on in front of the police headquarters on Shne’eor Chesnin Street. It was discovered in 1871.


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