The Russian Compound, located in central Jerusalem, includes the massive and unmissable Holy Trinity Church and is one of the oldest parts of Jerusalem. Built in the 1860s, the compound is located off Jaffa Road, and was one of the first structures to be built outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Today, it houses many interesting sites for those interested in history, archaeology, and architecture.
History of the Russian Compound
When it was completed, the compound eventually comprised men’s and women’s hostels, a Russian consulate, the impressive Orthodox cathedral, a mission, and a hospital. Until about 100 years ago, the Russian Compound served the needs of Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land, many of whom stayed in its accommodations. The Holy Trinity Cathedral was built as the center of the Compound with funds donated by the people of the Russian Empire. The magnificent building was finally consecrated in 1872. The main hall, dome, and two aisles are painted celestial blue with pale pink accents and depictions of saints. The church’s four octagonal bell towers and bright green domes make this one of Jerusalem’s most distinctive landmarks.
When World War I broke out, the Ottoman authorities expelled the Russians and when the British captured the city they used the area for various administrative offices. After the State of Israel was established in 1948, the Israeli government returned ownership of the complex to the Moscow Patriarch. In 1964, Israel again repurchased the entire compound, save for the cathedral and one other building.
Visiting the Russian Compound
You can explore this impressive complex freely on your own or visit it on a day tour of Jerusalem with a knowledgeable guide who will tell you about all its treasures.
Today, the compound houses Jerusalem’s district courthouse and police headquarters, and the area is a vibrant restaurant and shopping district. In front of the police headquarters is a colossal monolithic column discovered in 1871 and dating either from the Second Temple or the Byzantine period. Recent archaeological excavations suggest that Jerusalem’s ancient “Third Wall,” reached all the way to the Russian Compound, and the newly uncovered section of wall was built with large ballista stones (ancient battle projectiles) and sling stones. Pottery discovered at the site also suggests that this battlefield dates back to Roman times. Remains of a watchtower were also discovered along the wall. These archaeological treasures are not to be missed on a visit to the compound.
Along with the imposing church, another point of interest for visitors is the Underground Prisoners’ Museum, where British forces once held captured members of the Jewish resistance in the years leading up to the 1948 War of Independence. Jerusalem’s Russian population emerged, for the most part, in the early 1990s as a result of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Today, Russians make up a quarter of Israel’s total population, and their cultural and culinary influences make up a big part of modern Israeli society.