Musrara is a unique neighborhood in Jerusalem, a fascinating microcosm of the city’s history and its various population groups. Walking through the streets, you’ll notice that every house is built differently, and houses have been joined, expanded, cut up and renewed throughout the years of its turbulent history. The municipality has tried to change the name of the neighborhood to Morasha, and you’ll see this name on official maps, but Jerusalem residents proudly continue to use its old name.
Wars and protests
“They’re not nice alley”. Image Gaiety Sndrovic
Musrara was built at the end of the nineteenth century, as an Arab aristocratic neighborhood outside the walls of the Old City. During the fighting in 1948, it was the site of many battles, and the ceasefire line was eventually drawn through the middle of the neighborhood. The side closest to Damascus Gate became Jordan, and the northern side was part of Israel (you can really feel this today as you cross the big highway which used to be no-man’s land). In the 1950s, the neighborhood was populated with immigrants from North African countries, especially Morocco and Iraq. Because of it’s proximity to the border, it was considered a dangerous neighborhood (you can still see bullet holes in some of the houses), and it become a kind of slum. In the 1970s, a protest movement called the Israeli Black Panthers formed in this neighborhood, and swept across the country. Recently, the neighborhood has experienced a revival, and is now considered one of the coolest parts of the city to live in.
Art and culture
Typical architecture of the Musrara neighborhood. Image Ariel Palmon
In recent years, a number of artists have moved to the neighborhood, and three art schools have opened up: a religious film school called Maaleh; Musrara, an edgy photography, animation and sound school; and the School for Oriental Music, which occasionally has open concerts in the evenings, and is lovely to walk past as the musicians practice during the day. These last two are both on Ayin Het street, and there is another gallery next to them. An artists’ collective called Muslala has sprung up, and they engage in artwork in the public domain, involving longtime local residents and social activists from East and West Jerusalem.
There are a few tours of the neighborhood, including a Hummus and Art free tour (tip-based) every Saturday, and occasional Black Panthers history tours. You can also wander around alone, taking in the beautiful area by yourself.
Where is Musrara?
Musrara is a small neighborhood bordered by the Russian Compound, Meah Shearim and the Old City. You can come in by taking the light rail to Damascus Gate and crossing the large highway to Haneviim Street, and then turning left into Haayin Het, or by walking up Heleni Hamalka (off Jaffa Street), all the way uphill and then downhill. It is sometimes marked on city maps as ‘Morasha’.