Urban Nature in Jerusalem

Edited by Anat Rivlin
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Movie Clips


One’s sense of time is quite the elusive concept. Time, as we experience it, whether it whooshes by or rather, slowly trudges along at a snail’s pace, changes not just in relation to whatever pleasure or anguish it brings us. It also takes on different shapes as we transition from childhood to adulthood. I can easily put my finger on that moment in life when, just like that, weeks turned to years that flew by in the blink of an eye. The Jerusalem Reels, taken from the Micha Shagrir Collection – available at the Israeli Film Archive, offer those who grew up in an ever-developing Jerusalem a rare opportunity to revisit and re-experience the places and moments that made up an integral part of the tapestry of local life, in the days before the city’s boroughs and neighbourhoods began their drive towards mass development. Personally speaking, as someone who was a young girl during some of the periods captured in the reels, those were moments in time when each and every minute was a world entire.
I was born in Jerusalem and spent 23 years of my life living there. In hindsight, I can now say that the single greatest influence on the person I went on to become was, in fact, the city’s proximity to nature. Yes, I did get to grow up in a big city (with all the implied benefits that go hand in hand with life in a cultural and commercial metropolis), but at the same time I also had the luxury of access to all this nature and green spaces, a mere stone’s throw away.
The neighbourhood of Yefeh Nof where I grew up was just round the corner from Jerusalem Forest. Leading into the forest was a small ravine full of rocks that had been ‘barooded’ to pieces (the nickname given to those contained explosions that made the rugged mountainy terrain viable for construction.) And there was all this wild oat growing out of the rocks whose sharp, prickly seeds we would pull out in one fell swoop along the stalk and then throw at each other; which was how we would predict the number of children we were going to have when we grew up – the same as the number of seeds that got caught in our shirts.
We experienced the seasons through the woods, with the scent of all the herbs and mushrooms that came into full bloom in winter, and the dry branches we would already start collecting in spring, after Purim, to use at the massive bonfire we would build at the forest clearing on Lag Baomer [Jewish bonfire night] and stay up all night watching until the very last embers flickered out at daybreak. In springtime, we would hike towards ‘Elephant’s Tooth’ (‘shen hapil’) – this enormous rock at the end of the forest, just by the junction between the neighbourhood of Givat Shaul and the small town of Beit Zayit. From there, we could walk all the way to the Beit Zayit dam that was actually built at a spot where the water would seep very quickly deep into the ground, giving us only a few weeks’ worth of sights in the shape of blossoms from a lake altogether foreign. In the summer, we ran along the forest’s asphalt road all the way to the Zippori Centre [local guesthouse] that was home to a swimming pool all the local kids would use, which looked as if it had been plucked straight out of a European resort – surrounded by this great forest and overlooking Ein Kerem Valley and the lush green mountains towering over it.
Every morning, we would rush to school up the steep flight of stairs that connected Nof Harim St. and Yefeh Nof St.; and from there, all the way up Tirzah St. which, in autumn, would be covered in all the dry leaves that had fallen off the many cottonwood trees planted along the road and would make the most intoxicating crackling sound whenever you stepped on them. In the afternoon, we would all get together in the middle of the street and play a game of Seven Stones until the sun disappeared behind the mountain and the streetlights would come to life, enveloped by their misty halo. When we were slightly older, we would walk over to Denya Square and climb the ship statue that was put up there in honour of the Danes who had smuggled Jews out of Europe during World War II. Later on, a commercial centre was opened there which soon became a regular hangout for many of the locals.
The houses on the road I grew up on could be seen through the gaps between the pine trees planted on Mount Herzl. Many a sound have I heard coming from that mountain growing up, including “Charge, fire!”, followed by the bellowing echo of shots ringing out – a noise I was all too familiar with, long before I had any grasp of the actual meaning behind it [the three-volley salute, customary at military and police funerals.] We could even hear all the way from our balcony the sound of rehearsals for the annual state ceremony that marked the end of Memorial Day and the kick off of Independence Day celebrations (rehearsals that would begin well in advance, before Passover): sounds that included a marching band’s playing interrupted by the voice of the ceremony commander asking them to, “take it from the top, again.”
Diving into the Jerusalem Reels, taken from the Micha Shagrir Collection – a compilation of video reels commissioned by the local council from 1968 (in the aftermath of the Six-Day War and the city’s unification) to 1983, allowed me to look back from the present day at the many places I’d spent my childhood; sites of urban nature that provided work and leisure to countless Jerusalemites. Highlights of the reels feature extraordinary footage of Independence Day celebrations across Jerusalem, and the traditional event where then mayor, Teddy Kollek, hosted that year’s recipients of the Freedom of the City honour at a special reception at Hinnom Valley and the Tower of David (aka the Citadel).
Watching the reels has taught me that the valley surrounding the Old City walls was originally planned as a national park whose construction began after the Six-Day War and the city’s unification, which was meant to host many cultural events, as well as preserve and enhance the abundance of natural beauty, archaeological gems, and cultural assets peppered round the walls. That scheme prompted the refurbishing of the commercial centre buildings – the place that was once home to the Arab Jurat el-Anab neighbourhood (later, Gov HaShizaf) which went on to become the Artists’ Colony (aka Hutzot HaYotzer) where, for years, we would spend our summers going to amazing gigs and browsing the stalls of the most incredible arts fair where we would carefully pick out precious accessories with which to decorate our dark, brooding teenage bedrooms.
The city’s green spaces drew countless locals to their lush expanses. And indeed, the reels feature some truly stunning footage of Sacher Park, back when the hills around it were still barren; Wohl Rose park on the outskirts of [local neighbourhood] Talbiyeh (aka Komemiyut), and a slew of other gardens and parks which, according to the reels (that were PR-geared by design, one might add), were built and maintained by the council for the benefit of the local children, so as to keep them off the busy roads. The footage allows one to observe the rise of contemporary Jerusalem from the rugged, stony terrain – at times, through the clever, balanced harnessing of the local natural environment and at other times, in a building and paving frenzy that might well have compromised whole areas of precious nature.
In a place like Jerusalem, urban development is a complicated, nuanced process not only in the sense of nature conservation but also, from a place of attending to the sensitivities of the locals’ diverse cultures and faiths. For instance, in February 2022 development works on the National Park around the city walls were halted on account of the local Christian population’s concerns that church-owned lands may be disturbed; this, on top of all the existing tensions between residents in [the neighbourhood of] Silwan.
The city is currently home to several areas of breath-taking nature that has undergone conservation. Therefore, in that sense, urban development does not just come down to the loss of green spaces but also, to the understanding that urban nature can and should be conserved, as long as the powers-that-be make sure to bear in mind its many qualities and major importance in an eco-sense, whilst also utilising it as a space for a wide range of local events all year around for the many communities that call Jerusalem home.
The following is a collection of footage shot back when the Jerusalem Reels were in production, which chronicles the development of several cultural and social spaces, some of which also happen to be green. Watch out for the short descriptive text below every segment in the collection.

Movie clips

Jerusalems Urban Parks in Winter

The city is draped in foliage as the camera wanders about the deserted public parks. The odd passersby is seen sat on a bench, fully clad in winterwear. This footage features so much detail that is so distinctly Jerusalemite to the point that even if there hadn’t been any voiceover narration identifying the location, one would still be able to recognise it as Jerusalem with little to no effort. For instance, [at the play area] you have the double-sided metal swings with the riding horse (also all-metal) next to them which I can still vividly remember sitting on; neither was terribly comfortable, or safe for that matter, but that didn’t make it any less of an unforgettable childhood experience as we descended upon each and every park you could find them in. Then there is all that Jerusalem stone cladding coating the fences, the bare-naked trees along the paths, behind which you can make out the local residential homes and wrapping it all up – three guards in British Mandatory attire. Having done some quick sleuthing with several long-time locals, it turns out that two of three were members of the National Guard, and the other was in fact a fulltime police officer.

Israeli Independence Day 1969 in Jerusalem

Sacher Park, according to the voice-over narration is located at the foot of Knesset Hill [in the neighbourhood of Givat Ram]. And indeed, the footage does capture the Knesset building looming over the park all by its lonesome (in the days before the surrounding neighbourhoods all emerged), with locals, en masse, celebrating at this mega picnic. Through the years, this green space has remained a public park, successfully surviving the blitz of mass urban development. For decades, it has been the site of many a holiday celebration for a variety of faiths and cultural traditions, with the Mimouna [traditional Jewish-Moroccan festival marking the end of Passover] perhaps at the top of the list (but not exclusively). Its proximity to the Valley of the Cross has created a stretch of rich, diverse nature available to the residents, all year round. Nowadays, Sacher Park is a top-of-the-line public space, complete with running and cycle lanes, and all the latest play area equipment. The footage seamlessly captures how lovely the area already had been, even before it was developed.

Urban Parks in Jerusalem

A stroll through the local parks in this entertaining video commissioned by Jerusalem’s Department of Parks and Recreation in which the local council enlists a group of local comedians for this creative infomercial advising the public on all the dos and don’ts in the city’s public parks and green spaces. Taken from Jerusalem Reel 14, shot in 1971. The comedians are seen running about Sacher Park in its early days when already, one can recognise initial signs of urban development with the sight of cranes starting construction on Wolfson Towers on the outskirts of [the neighbourhood of] Rehavia. The voice-over narration also states that the park had undergone restoration works following the mass Mimouna celebrations – an ongoing major undertaking for the council to this day. Over in Schieber Park, located at the intersection of three major roads: King George, Shmuel HaNagid, and Ben Yehuda St., the council had greened the public toilets with lush vegetation covering the edifice. Schieber Park, also known as Schieber Pit, Menorah Park (where the Menorah was first stationed, before moving with the Knesset to its permanent residence at Wohl Rose Park), and Horse Park (on account of the horse statue unveiled there in 1997), boasts a fascinating story of a land that, for years, had been earmarked for the construction of high rise buildings, car park, and retail centre, only to end up an open space for the benefit of the general public, following an ongoing campaign. The footage also features scenes from Independence Park where vehicle access has been banned, and where those who flout the ban are said to be polluting its “crisp, clean air and fresh, fragrant scents”, according to the voiceover narration. One of the handsomest parks in the city whose beauty has made it the host of many an international reception is Wohl Rose Park in the neighbourhood of Telabiyeh where according to the narrator upwards of 3,000 roses – all new, locally-cultivated species were planted.And rounding us off is footage of Paris Square, back when it was cactus central at the heart of a busy junction, before its major refurbishment after which it became a square with its own fountain, not to mention a national site for demonstrations and protests.


Footage taken from Jerusalem Reel 17, shot in 1972. For the first time ever, the reels are no longer shot in black and white and are now in technicolour – and what can be more deserving of colour footage than the play area monster that’s become such a huge attraction for all children, both local and visiting. The Monster is a gigantic environmental statue by French artist, Niki de Saint Phalle, who created it, it turns out, as a distinctly feminist statement. The monster looms over the park as a strong, enormous woman; the children slide down and out of the dark, enclosed space as if being born, and it is painted in cow-like colours as it nourishes both its offspring and humans. Indeed, this is a most unique playground ride – three long tongues swirl downwards, with me recalling our elated shrieks as we slid down them. I remember climbing up to the hollowed space where the monster’s mouth was and sliding down to the sandpit that was usually quite filthy – but at the time, who even knew about all the risks that lay buried in the sand that was such a fixture of our happy childhood (and the broom-and-mop sweeping ritual that followed at home, on our return from the play area.) Parts of Rabinowitz Park where The Monster is based were repurposed in the 1990s towards the construction of council housing.

Restoration of Yemin Moshe Neighborhood, Jerusalem

The footage, taken from Jerusalem Reel 3 and shot in 1969, features the much welcome news that the East Jerusalem Development Company will be investing a whopping one million Israeli pounds [Israel’s currency prior to the shekel] towards the restoration and regeneration of the neighbourhood of Yemin Moshe. The segment kicks off with the most extraordinary footage of the neighbourhood, built at the top of the wide open, undisturbed hill and surrounded by vistas of the local wilderness. The look of the neighbourhood back then is in fact not all that different to its present-day version, save for the roads that have since been paved with hewn stones. At the time of filming, the streets were mostly a string of broken roads, some of which had been “paved” with ancient milestones. An assortment of characters are seen out and about on the regenerating streets – some appear local and in line with the period’s fashions and trends whereas others, seemingly dressed to the extreme in over-the-top ethnic attire, do make you wonder whether they’d just been plucked out of some bizarre dream sequence. The narrator explains that the neighbourhood is set to attract artists from the Shfela region [the Israeli Lowlands] to the area where they are “to unleash their creative spirit.” And let’s face it, with that view of the city walls, how can you not? And rounding us off is footage of the Montefiore Flourmill courtyard – the difference between then and now is admittedly miniscule – but this is prior to the arrival of his carriage. This courtyard is an absolute must on every Jerusalem tourist’s to-do list and we too, the locals, loved going there and basking in the stunning views of the Old City Walls. On days when there is good visibility, you can make out the Moab Mountains in Jordan and even a sliver of the Dead Sea.

Building of Hutzot Hayotzer Compound in Jerusalem

Footage taken from Jerusalem Reel 5, shot in 1969, featuring the start of development works on what was planned as a national park at the foot of Mount Zion and the Old City Walls (carried out by the East Jerusalem Development Company). The first item on the company’s regeneration list was the retail centre compound at the neighbourhood of Jurat el-Anab which was founded by a group of Moghrabi Jews who had sought respite from the tightly clustered life within the protected city walls. The two rows of structures seen to be undergoing restoration works in the footage will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever been to a tradesman’s shop at the Artists’ Colony, the local summer fair, or the National Park (now known as Teddy Park). According to the footage, once the regeneration works were completed, a range of craftsmen were invited to set up shop at the place, including gold and silversmiths, Gobelin carpet weavers, glassblowers, ceramicists, animators, etc.

Construction Works on Jerusalems Roads

Footage taken from Reel 16, shot in 1971, which sheds light on the city’s development and rise from the local rugged terrain. The segment features extensive road and street refurbishing works towards improving traffic around the city, as well as access to the fast-growing neighbourhoods. Although, if the truth be known, Jerusalemites all know that the city is pretty much in a constant state of regen works and that its roads are essentially never not under some form of construction, as befitting of the historical site that it is. In this segment we can see the preliminary works on the widening of Hebron Rd. and Ben Zvi Blvd. as testimony to the vast open spaces that were once synonymous with Jerusalem before the great construction and development boom.

Brothers Nakars Glass Workshop in Jerusalem

One of my fondest childhood memories are of weekend family trips to the city of Hebron where we would visit glassblowers’ workshops and positively melt away at the sight of them blowing the substance which, at those stages, was as pliable as rubber, boasting colours and hues that permanently etch themselves into the depth of your eye (I would later spend years trying to recapture those colours in every subsequent glass artefact purchase.) In this stunning segment taken from Jerusalem Reel 6 which was shot in 1969, we see the Nakar Brothers’ glassblowing workshop. The footage itself was shot in black and white, therefore I cannot say for certain whether the hues are in fact reminiscent of that precious Hebronite glass – but regardless, those glass balloons still leave me every bit as much in a type of awe that can only come from watching artists practise their craft employing nothing but sheer knowledge and cross-generational learning, and without having to use any industrial machinery whatsoever. I was especially taken with the packaging segment at the end in which the glass pieces aren’t neither wrapped in plastic nor polystyrene but instead are placed in wooden, straw-padded crates. The Nakar Brothers’ artistic handiwork was despatched from the ultraorthodox neighbourhood of Mea Shearim to all corners of the world.

Summer Camps in Jerusalem

Footage taken from Jerusalem Reel 9, shot in 1969. Captured on film are young summer campers out and about in the Jerusalem summer. Part one features footage of summer camp children out in Jerusalem Forest which was planted by the Jewish National Fund and has since drawn countless locals in search of a leisurely pastime. The summer campers include many dozens of children jumping about in the woods and playing all kinds of field games. Also featured is rare footage of the swimming pool which, I believe was later incorporated into the Zippori Centre Guesthouse. As far as I’m concerned, this is for all intents and purposes a rare slice of local history, featuring footage of the then undisturbed area before all the surrounding hills were taken over by new neighbourhoods that gradually bit and sliced into the top and side of the mountain. The JNF’s planting spree injected a huge amount of green to the local Jerusalem wildlands’ otherwise typical rocky and rugged terrain (this, on top of having also been responsible for the takeover of several non-indigenous invasive species.) As children, we were grateful for these vast expanses of nature that were available to us thanks to all these greening schemes, especially in the summer when the abundance of trees certainly did have a major impact on the temperature in the form of several degrees’ difference between those in the shade and those who were out in the sun. Further into the segment, we have footage of the Israel Museum’s young wing summer camp – a place where a great many Jerusalemite children got to experiment in all kinds of artmaking at various classes throughout the year, and in intensive, themed summer camps over the summer holidays. As kids, the Israel Museum was a place we would often frequent, enjoying its many sections – the massive statue garden at the rear, the special wings dedicated to diverse art, and the youth wing where we were doted on to a fault and given the most incredible care and attention, complete with special exhibitions and a chance at experimenting with all kinds of techniques and raw artistic materials.

Mini Train at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

I almost forgot the Biblical Zoo [now known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem] in Romema where every visit was a journey into the most spellbinding world. I distinctly recall the steep descent from the main road into the depths of the gardens whose architects had set out to create as seamless a sense of nature as possible for its animal inhabitants, even though the vast majority of it was designed and planted especially for them. Each and every animal was assigned its own relevant biblical quote. If memory serves, we were especially fond of the massive giraffe. The zoo in [the neighbourhood of Romema] was built in 1950, replacing its predecessor that was located at Mount Scopus where the animals suffered terribly throughout many air raids during the 1948 War of Independence. Following negotiations with the Jordanians, the latter agreed to bring the animals down from Mount Scopus to the compound that had been built on Commune Hill (in Romema). Except that of the 200 animals based on Mount Scopus, only 18 remained – including a tiger, hyena, two eagles, a pair of kangaroos, and a couple of bears. The segment features footage of the growing zoo, accompanied by voice-over narration which mentions several of the names given to the animals: Nina the elephant, Yanuka (Hebrew for ‘Junior’) the camel, and the horses Pony-Bimbo and Pony-Bony. There was also a train that used to run inside the zoo which allowed visitors to observe all the animals on the go. In 1992, the Biblical Zoo was relocated to the ridge under the neighbourhood of Malha – a location that is practically paradise incarnate for all the animals.

Israels 22nd Independence Day

Footage of Israel’s 22nd Independence Day celebrations across Jerusalem: from firework displays to traditional folk dancing in the city centre (including the Hammer Dance that has since become the bane of every Israeli’s existence in the subsequent millennium), and scenes from the annual reception that Jerusalem’s legendary then mayor, Teddy Kollek, used to hold for the recipients of that year’s Freedom of the City honour and for all the local residents, at the foot of the Tower of David (aka the Citadel.) Footage of this unique tradition in which residents get to mingle with each other and even shake the mayor’s hand and engage with him and his guests, enjoying unmediated, first-hand contact offers a truly marvellous glimpse of the stunning diversity of cultures, ethnicities and faiths living together in the city following its post Six-Day-War unification. The footage features leaders of ethnic communities in their traditional garb alongside chic women donning all the period’s latest fashions. Jerusalem has famously chilly nights, which is why every all-night celebration was usually accompanied by a mega cookout at one of the city’s many ravines – in the footage on this reel we can see the revellers starting bonfires in the Valley of the Cross – a slice of urban nature adorning the city to this day.

Israels 23rd Independence Day in Jerusalem

Additional footage, this time without any sound, of Independence Day celebrations – taken from Jerusalem Reel 18 and shot in 1972. The segment kicks off with footage from the traditional torch lighting ceremony, held just by Herzl’s tomb and featuring understated signs with the twelve tribes’ names on them – a time before the ceremony’s later evolution into its present-day annual extravaganza format. This reel allows viewers to truly take in the city in all its decked-out holiday splendour, before the great development blitz. Also captured is some truly glorious footage of locals donning all the latest fashions and trends, including folks in chic ‘60s glasses – out celebrating in the local greenspaces and marching together in a unique procession, carrying signs and calling for the maintaining of a clean, beautiful Israel. Later, we see a group of locals huddled together at the Citadel (Tower of David) gates, anxiously looking forward to partaking in then young mayor, Teddy Kollek’s reception – footage which I personally find particularly moving even on second and third viewing, what with the atmosphere of utter unity and camaraderie that it captures.

A special bit of footage for Jerusalemite football buffs, taken from Jerusalem Reel 12 and shot in 1970. The famous arch rivalry between local football clubs, Beitar Jerusalem and HaPoel Jerusalem is very much a proverbial wall splitting the city in two and in a way, essentially summing up all there is to know not only about a fan’s traditional alignment with their team but also their identity – in terms of sport but primarily, ideology. On Independence Day, the otherwise contentious derby becomes a friendly match. Now I’m not entirely sure where the match seen in the footage was actually held (the pitch does not look like the city’s old YMCA stadium) but what is, regardless, extraordinary is that you can see all the local residential buildings surrounding the pitch because at the time, most football pitches were built at the heart of local neighbourhoods. In this particular match, neither team was particularly bothered with coming out victorious, and so the council’s stockkeeper ended up going home with the trophy (for safekeeping!) until the eventual rematch.

Plan to Build Soccer Stadium Near Shuafat, Jerusalem

As a child, I got to go and see Beitar Jerusalem FC play their domestic matches at the YMCA stadium. Every Saturday, we would drive over from West Jerusalem where we lived to Keren HaYesod St., park the car on one of the nearby roads close to the stadium, and make our way by foot through the locals’ front gardens to the centenary stand’s entrance gate – a narrow, rickety metal gate that was a danger to anyone walking through it. To this day, I’m astounded at the thought of countless fans who had excitedly crossed those thresholds so many times and were somehow, never crushed to death. In other words, I lived to tell. I can still remember us sat on the concrete stands in the stadium’s centenary VIP section (please don’t be jealous or snarky in the comment section, thank you) and yet, I would still have to spend the rest of my evening picking out sunflower seed shells from my hair that had been chucked down from the seat above without a care in the world. Except I was never really watching the players on the pitch. Instead, all my attention went to the fans who never made it into the stadium and instead, opted to perch on the cypress tree branches surrounding it. I would wonder how they never once fell down in the heat of the match as they were shouting profanities or screaming and frantically shaking the tree with ecstasy when their team had scored a goal. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that this is a form of pastime I never quite saw the appeal of. With time, I earned myself a reputation in the family as the team’s jinx, to the point that they had stopped taking me with them to watch the football. In this footage, we see Beitar Jerusalem FC players practising on the YMCA pitch. And I believe [retired footballer] Hanan Azulay might even be one of them. The hostel buildings are seen towering over the stadium on the east side of the pitch, whilst the voice-over narration describes the pitch as not fit for professional football-playing premier league purpose – the kind that all local teams had aspired to at the time. The [now long defunct] pitch has since become a garden right in the heart of an upscale residential compound.

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