2 Jerusalem/ Ashbee (I)- Integration of Orientalism and the Everyday

Following the city plans proposed by William Mclean and Patrick Geddes, Charles Ashbee prepared his revised proposal and schemes around 1919 to 1922 when he was appointed “civic advisor” and secretary to the Pro-Jerusalem Society. Where the plans of Mclean and Geddes remained symbolic and strongly revolving around their impetus for protecting the Old City, with Ashbee and the planners beyond we begin to see attempts to integrate rather than segregate. Increased defensiveness and the riots of 1920 and 1922 and the urban planners’ personal motivations all played a role in determining their position in balancing the imposed romantic sacredness and the existing urban culture. The latter will be discussed throughout this thread.

Ashbee adapted Mclean’s ideas of Old City preservation and beautification but in a more humanistic way that was more attuned to the everyday lives of the local inhabitants. His background in the Arts and Crafts movement (he was a student of William Morris) is shown through his rootedness in the urban reality of Jerusalem. That said, there are still many instances that the Orientalist and Romantic notions of the Holy City prevail and permeate through his work as well as shortsightedness in the overview of modernization.

The proposed Valero Khan at Damascus Gate (Murray)
The proposed Valero Khan at Damascus Gate (Murray)

Significant proposals included the construction of a khan at the Damascus Gate. Ashbee like the planners before him saw Ottoman developments around the Old City as displeasing. By removing such structures around the gates he wished to create a more Orientalist unobstructed picture of the city wall. In place he proposes a two storey khan that aligned the urban grain on the edge of the wall, which was to be used as a marketplace and for the animals to rest. The felaheen (farmers and laborers) came to sell produce during the day would use the khan for accomodation and a “parking lot” for their camels. This approach differed as it aimed to merge the Old City with the new developmental areas, treating the wall more of a daily place than a monument “too precious to touch” and displaying a sensitivity (however short sighted) towards local customs. The authors Pullan and Kyriacou suggest the compromise of Old City viewline-clearing and private commercial activities was due to the lack of support and funding from the public sector, having to rely on private clients, often wealthy families. I believe in many cases the Palestinian apathy towards the agendas of the Empire is revealed (ironically to the Pro-Jerusalem Society too). Ashbee’s proposals come closer to the actual needs of the locals than that of the “Sacred Park” schemes of say Geddes and for Henry Kendall’s desire for spectacle in his succeeding proposal plans.



Fuchs. R and Herbert. G, A Colonial Portrait of Jerusalem: British Architecture in Mandate-Era Palestine, Hybrid Urbanism, p.83-108
Pullan. W, Kyriacou, L. (2009) The work of Charles Ashbee: Ideological Urban Visions with Everyday City Spaces. Jerusalem Quarterly #39. Institute for Palestine Studies.
Image: Illustration 44 from Jerusalem, 1920-1922. London, J. Murray.

4 Comments on “2 Jerusalem/ Ashbee (I)- Integration of Orientalism and the Everyday

  1. The conflict and comprise between the orientalist aesthetic and everyday life is a very interesting phenomenon occurring in the transformation of the holy city. But how should “orientalist aesthetic” be further defined? Is there more explicit instances than the “unobstructed picture of the city wall” in the case of Damascus Gate? Does it related with the ideology behind the whole layout of the holy city beyond the visual appreciation?

    • Indeed an orientalistic approach in redeveloping may be seen in the broader sense of policy making in the erection of new buildings. For example there were restrictions on usage of materials that resemble European styles (eg. sloped roof with red tiles) and British government buildings especially are built in stone and blend into the city rather than a display of imperial power. Though oftentimes as are discussed in the sources, orientalism goes hand in hand with the picturesque; the desire for certain architects, urban planners and European interest groups to recreate in Jerusalem scenes from what is imagined from inspiring sources be it Biblical or mythical (the image of TE Lawrence dressed in Arab clothes). One could argue though Ashbee does take a symbolic approach at designing the city walls that is beyond the actual visual representation you have asked about. His design of the ringed garden around the city wall expresses the centrality of the Old City/Holy City.

  2. The new introduction of orientalism by Ashbee to redefine the ideas of wall and boundary of the city is very interesting. It would be great to elaborate more on the proposals, on how it changed the urban development around the old city. What were the “actual needs of the locals”? How did the proposals help to achieve?

    • Many sources describe Ashbee as someone too attuned to preservation, less attuned to modernization. In this case he understood that development would bring an increase in trading, and a marketplace at the Damascus Gate transportation hub would have been ideal for generating revenue (also for funding the actual building of the khan). The “actual needs of the locals” are functions of everyday life- working, shopping and leisure, or it could simply mean maintaining the lifestyle and culture of the inhabitants.As such the construction of the khan enables people to gather, trade, and rest. Though the effectiveness of his proposals are not known for they are never realized, they seem to respect the workings of the original fabric without importing irrelevant foreign constructs.

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