Jerusalem/ “Preserving” Holy Identity II: From Ideologies to Planning- McLean’s 1918 Proposal

In the previous post, one mentioned the role of city governor Ronald Storrs at the Mandate onset, who cultivated ideas for conserving the Holy image of Jerusalem that was lost in the Ottoman rule (Mazza, 2009). In 1918, Storrs released the statement which imposed long-term influence on the city,

“No person shall demolish, erect, alter or repair the structure of any building in the City of Jerusalem or its environs within a radius of 25000 meters from the Damascus Gate until he has obtained a written permit from the military governor.”

The statement has paved way for the British conservationist ideals to proceed in becoming objectives for preservation of the Old City and New Environs in consecutive proposals, starting from the Mclean’s Plan in 1918.

Restoration of Holistic Ideals in Old City

Medieval stone character of Jerusalem restored by restriction on building materials, @n.d., Tom Sawicki
Fig.1 Medieval stone character of Jerusalem restored by restriction on building materials, @n.d., Tom Sawicki

Before the proposed planning, the term “restoration” was articulated in describing British preservation ideologies for the Old City in the Jerusalem Handbook published by the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies (Sawicki, 1987). Regarding Storrs’ intention to safeguard the traditional aspect of Jerusalem, it contributed to the avoidance of stylistic corruption in her architecture in envision of the ‘celestial’ character of Jerusalem. Efforts were seen in the prohibition of manipulating stucco as well as corrugated iron as building materials, which resulted in the extensive view of rooftops, restoring the picturesque medieval stone character of the city, a unique identity for Jerusalem of worldwide knowledge (Kimhi, 2014) (Fig. 1) as described in El Eini’s (2006) Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine1929-1948. Alongside aesthetic aspects regarding city appearance, Storrs also investigated into the “moral” terms in depicting the holy image of Jerusalem. As He found the prostitution activities so incompatible with the sacred city, he decided to enforce decrees in forbidding prostitution brothels within the walls of the Old City part. Such effort could be seen as an “ideologically” sounded one in spirit of upholding the “holy” image of Jerusalem, as one would begin to get surprised with the contradictory history of the long existence of brothels within the so-called “holy” city itself (Mazza, 2009). The strong will of conserving the holy identity was further elaborated in writings about his banning of balls and cabarets in the city which failed in attempt reasonably due to the difficulty for the British soldiers in changing their leisure life-style. Cultural conflicts were observed valid in the British Mandate period in the more religiously conservative city of Jerusalem.


Proceeding towards 1918 McLean Planning

“Preservation featured large in Palestine’s town planning, being especially evident in the Mandatory Government’s policy towards Jerusalem’s Old City.”

~ El-Eini, Roza .I.M, Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine 1929-1948, 2006

Fig. 2 1918 McLean Plan, @1918, Kendall
Fig. 2 1918 Plan, @1918, McLean

The planning approaches starting from 1918 onwards were observed posting crucial implications to the overall layout of development around the Old City. In 1918, civil engineer William McLean, who had experience in the Middle East planning for the Sudan services, was called upon by the military body to conduct first town planning (Mazza, 2009). The first approved plan (Fig. 2) was then proposed, laying out the directional objectives for the upcoming planning (Geddes, Holliday, Kendall etc.) throughout the Mandate period. The main emphasis for the planning conveys ideas for explicitly “protecting the special character of Jerusalem”, proposing dividing the city between the Old City and New City around (Bar & Meiron, 2009). Zoning was the main strategic way to define areas to be preserved and undergo modern advancements i.e. the ancient city centre and the environs around respectively. In the 1918 McLean zoning map (Fig.3) documented in Sir Kendall’s book-a planner in later stage, development was seen arranged in progressive layers.  The extent of preservation and development are defined in an organized order towards the West field: new constructions were strictly “forbidden” in the Old City centre and “prohibited” in areas immediately out of and around the Walls; then it leads into “restricted and carefully planned” building area for surveyed constructions; lastly, areas in the farther North and West were allowed for modernized development. Adding to these, in protecting the Old City from new developments, McLean also suggested bounding the ancient Old City area with green spaces such as parks, including the crests of Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives along the westward urban development. In Fig. 4, it showed one example of the green belt strips that line along the Old City wall, which might be historic traces, if not so, concepts of the green zones planned on the map of Fig. 5. One could also take note of the section of Jerusalem Gardens National Park, which surrounds the Old City and stood as living examples of the protective greenery actualized from the concept (Fig. 6). Infrastructural speaking, in complying with preservation of the old, road systems were also seen designated to be spider-webbing out with streets penetrating into the Old City that in gesture of directing central focus to the ancient core of Holy City.

Zoning of 1918 Plan, @1918, Kendall
Fig. 3 Zoning Map of 1918 Plan, @1918, William McLean
Fig. 4 Green belt strip at the wall skirt of Old City, @n.d., Tom Sawicki
Fig. 4 Green belt strip at the wall skirt of Old City, @n.d., Tom Sawicki
Fig. 5 McLean Plan, @1919, William McLean
Fig. 5 McLean Plan, @1919, William McLean
Fig. 6 Modern map showing the natural green reserves of Old City protection, @2015, Google Map
Fig. 6 Modern map showing the natural green reserves of Old City protection, @2015, Google Map

From the above, one could deduce a gradual development layering approach which from the Old City as the protection centre, concentric rings of development in different degrees start to radiate outward to the Western side. Although it is seen that the planning allows progressive changes to the urban fabric for new developments, it strongly portrays the idea of keeping the ancient image of the Holy City to the most possible static degree, not permitting integration between the old and the new. Towards this, some scholar who focused lens on the city’s Old and New fabric like Israel Kimhi (2014), commented on the controversy of such emphasized preservation of the Old City , “the tapestry of structures in the Old City and its surroundings soon became, in essence, an architectural and historical museum under a halo of holiness, unmatched anywhere in the world.” In response to this, the challenge came to question the Jerusalem planning on whether such method is indeed harming the integrity of city as a whole, posting a state of “segregation” between the East and West Jerusalem, or in another way round, allowing the Old City being preserved as much as possible in safeguarding the city identity –“contradiction” to the desire for establishing modern characters in new developments.


  1. Kimhi, I. 2014. “Old Versus New: Preservation Policy in Jerusalem”. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.
  2. Bar, D. & Meiron, E.. 2009. “Planning and Conserving Jerusalem: The Challenge of an Ancient City”. Jerusalem: Yak Izhak, Ben-Zvi
  3. Mazza, R.. 2009. Jerusalem: from the Ottomans to the British. London: I.B.Tauris.
  4. El-Eini, Roza .I.M., 2006.  Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine 1929-1948. London, New York: Routledge.
  5. Sawiki, T.. 1987. The Jerusalem Handbook. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.

Photo References:

Fig.1,4 : Sawiki, T.. 1987. The Jerusalem Handbook. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.

Fig. 2,3,5: Kendall, H. (1948) Jerusalem: The City Plan - Preservation and Development during the British Mandate 1918-1948. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Fig.6: Google Map

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