Click to take a video tour with Orit Arfa With style, fanfare and fireworks, the $400 million Mamilla Alrov commercial and residential quarter opened its Jerusalem stone doors to the public on May 28.
The only completed portion is a small section of the outdoor mall, but among its anticipated 138 stores are Israeli fashion chains and boutique shops, as well as high-end retail outfits like Tommy Hilfiger, MAC, Bebe, H. Stern and Ralph Lauren. To use a Los Angeles analogy, it may be fair to say that the Holy City has just welcomed its equivalent of The Grove.
Unlike The Grove, however, the Mamilla Alrov Quarter need not create artificial facades to evoke a historical texture. Built on the historic Rehov Mamilla, the quarter has been a restoration project as much as an effort in capitalism.
It served as the first trading center outside the Old City walls at the turn of the century.
Visitors can walk along a street where Jordanian snipers fired at indigent Israelis who lived there in the years following the War of Independence. The French Catholic Convent of Saint Vincent de Paul stands oddly between the Israeli clothing shop Renuar and Erroca Eyewear. Even though the Old City is a tourist magnet on Shabbat and holidays, all stores will be closed on the holy days.
One aim of the project is to contribute style to an area associated more with political and religious tension rather than colorful trends: the Jaffa Gate right outside the Old City walls.
By 2008 the complex will include 50 luxury residences and the five-star Alrov Mamilla Jerusalem Hotel, all designed by world-renowned Israeli Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. The hefty price tags of the condos range from $1.1 million to $13 million. Today, roughly 35 percent of the Mamilla properties have already been sold, mostly to foreign residents.
The project has been many decades in the making and is considered among the most ambitious and contentious enterprises ever undertaken in the city. The visionary behind the project is real-estate magnate Alfred Akirov, who built Tel Aviv's Opera Tower and Treetop Towers. He and his associates endured long battles with government bureaucracy as well as environmental and religious groups objected to the construction of such a massive complex in an archeology-rich, hallowed neighborhood.
Safdie designed the project with sensitivity to the site's archeology and history. Many of the historic structures have been restored or reassembled, using the original Jerusalem stone. One such structure is the Stern House, where Theodor Herzl stayed overnight during his visit to Jerusalem in 1898. The mall is generally proportionate with the architecture of the immediate environs. The greatest challenge in creating the complex has been "patience," Safdie said.
In a city often touted as one of the poorest and politicized in Israel, Safdie believes the project will bring a much-needed revival to the commercial and cultural landscape in Jerusalem.
"I think the project is a bridge and connection, by uniting the Old City with the new city, the Arab side with the Israeli side. I think it will bring life to the entire central business district," he said.
Those who still prefer the traditional Israeli shopping experience, where they can find bargains through old-fashioned haggling, can easily take a short walk down the path of the promenade, past the Jaffa Gate into the bustling shuk in the Arab Quarter.
"That's what it's all about," Safdie said.