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Old Katamon

Posted by sitel on July 8, 2018
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Old Katamon is beautiful a neighborhood in south-central Jerusalem. The name Katamon is derived from the Greek kata tōi monastēriōi (“below the monastery”), for the main historic site in Katamon, the St. Simon Monastery, which is on a hilltop to the north. The monastery is now surrounded by a large park in the neighborhood known today as Givat Oranim. Katamon’s hebrew name Gonen (  lit. Defender  גּוֹנֵן‎‎), is usually used only in municipal publications. It boarders the neighborhoods of Talbiya, Kiryat Shmuel, and the German & Greek Colonies to the southeast. To the west, Old Katamon branches out into smaller neighborhoods collectively called the “Katamonim” (officially “Gonenim”), which is also referred to as San Martin neighborhood, and Pat neighborhood.

Katamon began to develop in the late Ottoman period, the early 1900’s and continued into the British Mandate era. Aerial photographs taken at that time show a grid of building lots demarcated by stones. By 1914, a total of 5 homes had been built. From 1924, building activity resumed, mostly by affluent Christian Arabs, who built large mansions there. During this time, the streets of Katamon had no names, aside from two which were given by the British Mandate: 1. “Katamon” Street (known today as “Rachel Imenu” and “Hizkiyahu HaMelech”) 2. “Jorden” Street (known today as “Tel Hai” Street) which was nicknamed “Michael Sansour” Street, after a wealthy contractor, whose house was on that street. The buildings were not numbered and were named after the families who built them. The lands in Katamon, as in Talbiya and Baka, were owned by the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. In the late 19th century, the church had a financial crisis. The Church sold some of its estate outside of the Old City, as they were deemed as “less holy”. This  included Katamon, which was split into plots for housing in a rural area.

“Katamon lands. Fresh air and an affordable price. If you wish to become an owner of a plot in Katamon near the monastery, to which you arrive in a paved road and the area is divided into plots in the most pleasant way with roads and paths around, every plot is five-hundred square meters and the price for a plot is…
— A newspaper ad for Katamon, 8 August 1914

As the expansion of Jerusalem began, Katamon grew expediently, due to its close proximity to other neighborhoods (Talbieh & the German Colony), and the new train station . During the 1920’s, some 90 new residential plots were planned in Katamon and construction began. In a short time, approx. 40 luxurious buildings were built in the neighborhood. About half of Katamon’s original houses were built between 1927 and 1937. The rest were built by the 1950’s. The houses were built as 2-4 family homes on each plot of land with a nice size outdoor garden space to facilitate extra income through farming. Most of Katamon’s residents were educators, teachers, businessmen, contractors, traders and other professionals from the upper and middle class. Along with private homes, apartment buildings were built for rental purposes.

In the 50’s, the population changed. Governmental officials moved and settled in Katamon as well. In order to allow as many people to live in the neighborhood as possible, the apartments were divided into smaller units. In buildings which housed one family, three or four new families were settled. Because of the living conditions, unauthorized renovations and improvised extensions were made by the residents, and some beautiful houses were not preserved. Some of Katamon’s buildings were designated for public needs, such as synagogues, schools, kindergartens and places for the elderly. One of the apartment buildings was used as a new location for the Misgav Ladach Hospital, which originally was in the Old City. Names were given to the roads mostly based on subjects relating to Israel’s independence. Over the years, Katamon was and still is the home of several foreign consulates, among them the Italian, Greek, and the Costa-Rican Consulates. The neighborhood was home to the Hapoel Jerusalem football club from its founding in the 1930’s until it moved in the 1980’s. The old Hapoel stadium was purchased by developers and it is now the site of the upscale Ganei Katamon complex, surrounding the Ofira Navon Park.

In the early 1970s, a process of gentrification began in Katamon. People of the middle class bought the apartments and started renovating them, reuniting the apartments that were once split and overall, raising the standards of the houses. preservation of the original houses and villa’s became a priority. Katamon attracted many people because of the character of its small “Arab styled” houses, with yards, stone walls, gates, porches, tiled roofs and stylized floors. during the 801’s the traditional and semi-rural character attracted families of Olim, many from the wealthier class from western countries. They were able to purchase and renovate the houses and restore them to their original elegant style. A section of the neighborhood has a more religious community around the “Shtiblach”, and the rest of the neighborhood has a pluralistic population with synagogues, schools and community centers for many denominations. Due to the influx of upper middle-class families, Katamon is developing into a more desirable address in the capital. some notable residents of the past include: Benjamin Netanyahu, Benzion Netanyahu, Aliza Olmert, Levi Eshkol, and others. There is a lively social life for young professional singles, as well as a few golden age centers. Well known schools of various types including pluralistic schools are in the neighborhood. Beautiful and historic landmarks and landmark homes are still in Katamon. The Institute for Islamic Art is located on Palmach Street in Katamon. parks and greenery are flushing in Old Katamon and new development apartment complexes are being built. It is easily accessible to the City center, the Jerusalem Theater and cultural center, and other attractions in the near by neighborhoods. Naturally property value is increasing.

Katamon’s face is changing, the neighborhood is coming into its own, it is one of the more popular areas to find a good home within Jerusalem.

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