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View series: Jerusalem: The History of a Global City

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Jerusalem expands beyond its walls (1850-1948)

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of Jerusalem: The History of a Global City.

The Egyptian expedition led by General Bonaparte in 1798-1799 marked the renewal of European interest in the Near East. Even if Bonaparte did not go to Jerusalem when he stayed in Jaffa with his troops, the Holy City found itself increasingly at the centre of new geopolitical stakes. Occupied by the Egyptians under Muhammad Ali in the 1830s, Jerusalem saw European consulates open in quick succession (United Kingdom in 1839, Prussia in 1842, France in 1843, the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1849, Russia in 1857). At the same time, the Ottoman Empire launched a grand programme of administrative reforms (the Tanzimat) in order to strengthen its control over the provinces. In 1872, the canton of Jerusalem, which had previously been part of Damascus, was placed under direct government by Istanbul.

Encouraged by this new development, the population of Jerusalem grew from 15,000 inhabitants in 1850 to 70,000 by the beginning of World War I. Much too cramped inside the Ottoman walls, the city began to spread across the neighbouring hills. In 1855, the first suburb outside the walls was built near the Jaffa Gate at the initiative of the British Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore. In order to symbolise the modernisation which was expected to begin with this extension beyond the walls, a large mill was erected in the middle of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim district.

This expansion was accelerated with the construction of new roads, first towards Jaffa in 1867, then Nablus to the north in 1881, Hebron to the south in 1888 and finally Jericho and the Dead Sea to the east in 1892. The same year, Jerusalem’s railway station was inaugurated, facilitating travel between the city and the Mediterranean coast in about 3 hours, instead of the 15 hours it took when travelling by horse-drawn carriage. 

Around the Jaffa Gate, a thriving business area emerged around the new municipal building inaugurated in 1896. Another entrance gate was created at the north-west corner of the city in 1889. Two years later in 1891, the city hospital opened its doors and the public gardens were inaugurated the following year. In 1898, to celebrate the visit of German Emperor Wilhelm II, the Jaffa Gate was widened, thus facilitating communications between the Old Town and the new suburbs. At the same location, a large public fountain was installed in 1900, together with a monumental Clock Tower in 1907.

The First World War marked a major rupture in the history of Jerusalem. Between 1917 and 1948, the city was occupied by British troops under a mandate issued by the League of Nations. The population, which by 1917 had been reduced to 45,000 inhabitants because of starvation and expulsions, began to grow strongly in the 1920s with the immigration of many Jews, rising to 150,000 in 1948.

 The development of Jerusalem’s suburbs continued, notably to the south and west in the districts of Baka, Talbieh, Katamon and Rehavia, and to the north in Musrara, Sheikh Jarra and Wadi Joz.  

The British authorities did not play a major role in these developments, apart from building King George Avenue, the first ring road to the west of the Old City and introducing regulations requiring that the facades of all public and private buildings be covered with the local limestone, the famous «Jerusalem stone»

Nevertheless, increased tension between Zionist militants and Palestinian nationalists led to numerous riots, with growing numbers of casualties, particularly in front of the Wailing Wall in 1929.