Sunday 23 March 2014

Picture post 24 - Italian Modernism in Jerusalem

Jerusalem's Jaffa (Yafo) Street is the main thoroughfare in the western part of the city. Teeming with people both day and night, it is home to many shops and cafes and also to the recently completed light rail transport system. The streets and alleys running off it hold hundreds of restaurants, religious buildings, more shops and cafes and a huge amount of history. The wonderful Shuk Machane Yehuda is at the upper end, on the way to the central bus station.

The Assicurazioni Generali House, Jerusalem.
I am drawn to Jaffa Street for all of these reasons and also because it has a fascinating architectural history, with many important buildings from both the Ottoman period and from the 1930's.  It is easy to miss some of these architectural treasures if you don't look up as stroll, but some buildings stand out no matter where you are looking. One of the most striking of these is the Assicurazioni Generali House on the corner of Jaffa Street and Shlomzion HaMalka. Jerusalem has many buildings from the 1930's, most of which were designed by emigree German, Austrian and Czech Jews. The Generali House is an exception to this and was the work of the non-Jewish Italian architect, Marcello Piacentini. The original plan had been for an "International Style" building by Richard Kauffmann who drafted a proposal in 1932. This was rejected in favour of Piacentini who was not only was not Jewish, but also a member of the Novocento Italiano group of architects favoured by Mussolini's fascist regime. He also designed public buildings in Rome and in the Italian colony in Libya.

Built from 1934-36 on a triangular site, the four storey building housed the Jerusalem office of the Generali insurance company. Piacentini created a monumental effect by inscribing the company name on the facade in large Latin letters and by using Roman numerals to show its founding year. A winged lion stands on the roof looking up Jaffa Street. It must have witnessed many important moments in the history of this most disputed of cities. Made from Jerusalem stone, the ground floor has rusticated features whilst the upper floors have sanded walls. The open loggias on the front of the building are a reference to Italian classic architecture with the stepped window recesses adding an interesting touch. The loggias also have views of the length of Jaffa Street. 

The Generali building demands attention. There are many more architectural beauties on this street, some less obvious than others. Remember, look up when you walk!

The winged lion keeping watch over Jaffa Street.
You might also like A Saturday Walk in Jerusalem and The Ades Syrian Synagogue in Jerusalem.

You can see more photographs of Jerusalem and other parts of Israel here.

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