Jerusalem’s First Station, or Tachana Rishona in Hebrew, has become a modern center of culture in recent years, with shopping, restaurants, shows, and more. But the station itself has a long history that dates back to the 1800s. The First Station is located at the end of Emek Rafaim Street, a main boulevard in the city full of cafes and shops. This converted railway station is a great destination if you’re looking to relax and get a taste of modern Jerusalem.
History of Jerusalem’s First Station
The idea of establishing a railway to Jerusalem found many supporters, among them the famous architect and archaeologist Dr. Konrad Schick and philanthropist Moshe Montefiore. Montefiore appealed to the British and the Ottoman authorities of the time, but his efforts failed for political and economic reasons. The first train to Jerusalem was eventually commissioned by banker and businessman Yosef Navon.
Navon was born in Jerusalem to a deeply rooted Spanish and Israeli family and was involved in commerce and banking. After he went bankrupt, he moved to France and began working towards his vision of establishing a railway line to Jerusalem. The original train station included a two-story building with two wings, a mechanism for changing the direction of the train, a shelter, and a large water tank. The architecture was influenced by 19th century European and Templar designs. Local limestone was used to build the station. Over time, various additions were built, including a thick layer of concrete that covered the roof for fear of bombing during the British Mandate.
On September 26, 1892, the first train from Jaffa entered the Jerusalem station and was received by a grand ceremony. Among those attending was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who gave the ‘steel horse’, which had not yet received its Hebrew name, the name “Train”. With a travel time of three hours, the train to Jerusalem became popular and profitable. In the early days of the last century, the railway station was alive, goods came and went, and tourists and pilgrims boarded the train from the port of Jaffa to the Jerusalem station. The station is one of the only public buildings built in Jerusalem during the Ottoman period.
The station eventually closed in 1998, falling into neglect and disarray. In 2013, reconstruction and preservation works began. Given the old train station’s classic architecture, abundant space, historic value, and great location, it was inevitable that the station would find new life. And so it did. After years of work preserving the façade of the old train station buildings and renovating the space, “First Station” opened in April 2013.
Visiting the First Station
Today, the First Station is an outdoor mall. Using the original train station buildings, the new “First Station” is a dynamic and exciting cultural and culinary center. The complex has live events daily on their main stage and Gula Bar, and adults and kids alike will love the Trains World: Model Train Exhibit. Creator Shimon Potterman leads guided tours every hour and admission is free.
Throughout the week, there are regular markets with local vendors that sell their products. You can see and purchase art at the designers’ fair on Sundays through Fridays, while Thursdays offer a farmers’ market full of local produce.
Be sure to include this old-meets-new gem in your visit to Jerusalem. You can explore it on your own or as part of a Jerusalem day tour. The station has a full and diverse schedule that changes monthly, with special events according to the time of year and local or religious holidays, so be sure to check their website for the latest details.