|The Old City|
|Conserving the Engineers’ Tombs in the Jaffa Gate Plaza|
|Orderer||Jerusalem Development Authority|
|Duration||November - December 2008|
Arch. Avi Mashiah|
Arch. technician Yuval Avraham
Meir (Mark) Avrahami
This project is just one of the conservation measures that are being done to the monuments in the Old City basin which the Jerusalem Development Authority is promoting.
The Ottoman engineers’ burial compound is located near Jaffa Gate, inside of the city wall and next to Omar Ibn al-Khattab Square – the gate plaza. The plaza extends between Jaffa Gate and David Street in the east and the “Qishla” (the police station) to the south, on the border of the Armenian Quarter.
In the past this open area was the main thoroughfare of Jerusalem and important economic and commercial institutions were located there, among them the Banco de Roma, the Anglo-Palestine Bank, the German bank of Johannes Frutiger, the “Grand New Hotel” which is today the Imperial Hotel, as well as Yerahmiel Amdorsky’s hotel. In addition to these there was the Austrian post office, the Thomas Cook Tourism and Travel Company and the studios of a number of Jerusalem’s famous photographers.
The tombs of the two engineers are today located in a small courtyard delimited by a metal fence, between two symmetrical two-story buildings that were erected at the end of the nineteenth century. Legend has it that these are the tombs of the engineers who constructed Jerusalem’s city walls and after they left David’s Tomb on Mount Zion unprotected and outside the city wall, Sultan Suleiman ordered them beheaded and their graves were dug next to Jaffa Gate to their everlasting disgrace. Another legend says that the sultan did this precisely because he was so impressed by their work and feared that other rulers would hire them to build even more magnificent structures.
In an historic engraving from the year 1657 one can see that the tombs were located in a covered structure (Fig. 1), in a fallow area between the city’s buildings and the city wall. The tombs are c. 1 m long and c. 0.5 m wide. They are made of stone and the tops of them are arched-shaped cement castings. A special stylized ornament of a turban – a Turkish cloth hat – was preserved on one of the tombs’ castings. Today the tombs are situated c. 1.2 m higher than the level of the gate plaza (Fig. 2).
The legends that were woven about the engineers’ tombs reflect the cultural importance of the place. From an artistic standpoint the ornaments on the tombstones are commonplace, especially in Turkey, and are rare in Israel. From an urban standpoint, their proximity to bustling Jaffa Gate places them in the midst of a vibrant urban existence. They are visible to the pedestrians that pass nearby and because of this they also constitute a jumping off point for guided tours. From an architectural standpoint the site is located between two symmetrical buildings that are important to the Jewish Yishuv. In the past the buildings were used for commercial purposes and today they are occupied by the Ministry of Tourism and the East Jerusalem Development Company. The buildings were constructed to conform to and take into account the existence of the tombs. Cypress trees were planted in the courtyard between the buildings. This courtyard, where the tombs and several trees are located, interrupts the built sequence and provides a unique corner in the landscape of the Old City.
Evaluation of the Physical Condition
The engineers’ tombs and the courtyard were in a neglected state and considerable damage was apparent in them:
• A section of the stone at the end of one of the tombstones was detached and in danger of falling.
• The ornament from the top of one of the tombs had disappeared (probably another turban).
• A round stone that stood at the top of a stone column at the front of the wall was lost.
• Modern PVC plumbing that was installed on the facades which face the courtyard was both visually and physically detrimental to the site.
• Two of the three historic trees in the courtyard, a fig tree and cypress tree were dead, and the fig tree endangered the public and the tombstones at the site.
• A previous intervention consisting of a layer of cement that was poured on top of the original stone pavement had caused damage to the stone. Apart from this, the cement layer was cracked and water seeped through it. The water washed away the mortar from the side of the wall facing the gate plaza and undermined its stability.
• The metal fence was corroded. The anchoring of the metal fence to the stone wall and the center column at the front of the courtyard caused the mortar to crumble.
In conserving the tombs we were asked that the place be returned to the condition it was in at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The conservation work on the tombs included:
• Reattaching a detached stone ornament from one of the tombstones.
• Delicate conservation work to the tombs’ decorations.
• Replacing missing mortar and plaster on the sides of the tombstones.
• Sealing the area where the tombstones meet the courtyard floor.
The conservation work in the courtyard included:
• Removing the poured cement layer on top of the historic pavement, preparing the slopes of the pavement in order to improve drainage and replacing missing mortar between the pavement joints.
• Pointing up the joints in the façade facing the gate plaza, in the stone column and in the stone walls that abut the buildings.
• The fig tree that was infested with insects and was in danger of collapsing was pruned.
• Restoring the stone sphere that stood at the top of the column at the front of the courtyard based on historical photographs.
The facades that face the courtyard were treated in the following manner:
• The metal fence was treated and painted.
• Two openings in the buildings that face the courtyard were sealed.
• Metal parts and pipes that were not being used were removed from the facades.
• The plumbing that was being used was painted a light color.
The conservation work took one and a half months to complete and was finished in December 2008.
It was recommended that the physical state of the tombs be monitored on a regular basis and that routine maintenance also be performed in the compound.
To view the figures, click on the figure caption