• LOCATION 9 | The Trail of Independence: Tracing the origins of modern Tel Aviv

    Ben Nahum Hotel

    Ben Nahum Hotel on Tel Aviv audio tour The Trail of Independence: Tracing the origins of modern Tel Aviv

    Stop at the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Allenby Street. Look right to see a stylish building with a facade made up of arches. This used to be Ben Nahum Hotel, one of the first luxury hotels in Tel Aviv.

    In 1917, the British government put out the Balfour Declaration. It stated that “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

    The declaration, given by British foreign minister Lord Arthur James Balfour, was a major achievement of the Zionist movement. Twenty years prior, the notion that the Jewish people deserve a homeland was considered wildly imaginative. The Balfour Declaration boosted confidence in the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. No wonder that the 1920s brought a building boom to Tel Aviv. And what beautiful buildings!

    The most common architectural style in Tel Aviv of the 1920s was the eclectic style, named for being a collection – that is, an assortment of different styles. The majority of Jewish immigrants who settled in the Middle East originated from Europe. Just as they themselves were a combination of east and west, so were their buildings. Eclecticism combined oriental elements, such as arched windows, with western elements, such as neoclassical pillars. Ben Nahum Hotel is a prime example of the 1920’s eclectic style.

    In 1925, Lord Balfour came to visit the newly established British Mandate over Palestine. Records do not reveal where he spent his one night in Tel Aviv, but Ben Nahum Hotel was considered the most luxurious accommodation the town had to offer, the most suitable for a British gentleman. Assuming he spent the night here, the morning after he left this place in a fancy car that took him and Mayor Dizengoff to a special reception at the Gimnasya Hertzliya, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly named Balfour Street. Wouldn’t you want to get a street named after you, while you’re still alive?...

    Along with many other buildings in the center of Tel Aviv, the luxurious Ben Nahum Hotel turned into a neglected office building in the 1960s. Only in the 1990s, after the city adopted a preservation plan, did Tel Aviv started to look after its built heritage. The preservation plan includes an innovative financial mechanism, that is also responsible for reshaping the city skyline in recent years.

    Developers can get additional floor space in exchange for funding the remodelling of an old building designated for preservation. Notice the skyscraper adjacent to Ben Nahum Hotel. The developers who built the skyscraper were permitted to add floors after they paid for the remodelling of Ben Nahum Hotel. That’s how the new buildings in Tel Aviv look after the old ones.

    When you’re ready, turn your back to Ben Nahum Hotel. Wait for the green light and carefully cross the road. Walk on Allenby street along the brass stretch embedded in the pavement.

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The Trail of Independence: Tracing the origins of modern Tel Aviv