Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ottoman train to Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Railway Station, (sometimes called the Khan Railway Station, the Refai'im Valley Railway Station or the Old Railway Station), is the historic Station situate in the Bakaa Quarter of Jerusalem, close to the Jerusalem Khan. The Station is one of the first to have been built in what was then Palestine, having been inaugurated in 1892 as the final stop on the Jaffa - Jerusalem Line. This Railway Station is one of the few public buildings to have been built in Jerusalem during the Ottoman period.

The concept of laying a railway-line connecting the coastal lowlands with Jerusalem had already been aired in the middle of the 19th century by Dr. Konrad Schick, Moshe Montefiore and others. The Concession for laying the railway was obtained from the controlling Ottoman authorities by Yossef Navon, but due to financial and other difficulties he was obliged to sell the Concession to a French Company. In 1892 the building of the Jaffa - Jerusalem railway was finally completed, having been laid along the "Donkey Track" route, an ancient way going up to Jerusalem and taking in Sorek Brook and the Refai'im Valley. The Line was inaugurated with much celebration in Jerusalem on the 26th of September, 1892 in the presence of City Notables, both Jewish and Arab. Amongst those at the ceremony was Eliezer Ben- Yehuda, the reviver of the Hebrew Language, who gave the as yet unnamed "Iron Horse" its Hebrew name of "Rekeveth".

The Station operated almost without a break until 1948 when, due to the War of Independence, transportation on the Jaffa - Jerusalem Line ceased. The end of that War found sections of the Line in Jordanian hands. Under the Rhodes Agreements, Jordan transferred to Israel those areas of the railway which were under its control thereby allowing Israel Railways to operate the service to Jerusalem anew. On the 7th of August, 1949, the first official train to Jerusalem carried a symbolic consignment of wheat, "Nesher" cement and Holy Scrolls.

The hangar, which was built at a period a little later than the Railway Station itself, was used for goods storage. One can see that the hanger entrances are actually built in such way as to be square with the doors of railway carriages so that the unloading of goods into the hanger was much easier. The hanger floor is paved with ancient stones which had in the past served as road paving.

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