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Peeping Tomer: Jerusalem bares its interiors to the public

by Ziva September 17 2008
Things to doArt
Visit the Rotem family in Musrara

Ever wonder how the other half lives? Ever dream of living like a Sheikh for a day? Ever hope to travel back in time and relive a historical period? Ever wanted to know what lurked beneath Jerusalem's newest luxury building projects? Or wonder why Jerusalem's beautiful neighborhoods all look so different? Well, if you answered yes to any of these questions, then you're in luck because this weekend, Jerusalem's most amazing and impressive sites and styles are open for investigation as the Jerusalem Municipality's Houses from Within festival kicks off this weekend September 19th and 20th. 

This free - and largely popular - festival returns to the Holy City for its second year with free tours and access to more than 100 incredible structures and sites across the city. Led by certified tour guides, architects, city planners, historians, or Jerusalem lovers, learn about how the physical design of the building influences your experience of the place; or, in other words, how architecture works. While most tours are open to the public (just check the site for visiting hours), some tours are limited to 30 participants and therefore pre-registration is required (available through the website).

And the list of places to invade is long and varied, including a Sheik's residence, Israel Museum restoration labs, historical synagogues, the Mormon university, the old train depot, modern Jerusalem renovation projects, old Arab houses and Old City ruins. For us, the most alluring sites listed were those that piqued our voyeuristic tendencies: the private homes. For example, the Shalom House, 20 Ehad Haam Street, Talbia, belonged to Israel's leading lawyer during the British Mandate, Shalom Horrowitz. Visit his home to see the ceiling he imported from Damascus or the cedar trees he had shipped to his garden from Lebanon. Experience Israel's earliest upper class lifestyle for yourselves. Or, at the open house of Sigal and Chenchel Benga's Home, 2 Hanotrim Street, Katamon Het, see how Indian art Chenchel Benga was influenced by Indian village architecture and culture in his home-meets-gallery design. Finally, at the colorful Rotem House, featured above, 2 Hulda Hanevi'a Street, Musrara, interact with Turkish, Ottoman and modern design both inside and out. The family's renovation keeps the architecture of the past while its decor takes from today's contemporary styles.

Aside from the tours, there are several related events including art exhibitions that draw upon the themes of home/ privacy/ shelter/ and security. There's also a musical bells concert on Friday afternoon in the YMCA garden - apparently, the YMCA tower's bell collection is the only one of its kind in the Middle East (who knew?). And environmental-related events including a 'take and give' free market, recycling and building activities for the kids, and a lecture on sustainable building practices in Jerusalem since the British Mandate.

Please keep in mind that barging into anyone's home this weekend is clearly not encouraged - we (strongly) suggest you stick to peeking into the homes and places listed as part of Houses from Within only.

Photo of The Rotem Family House, Musrara, Jerusalem, courtesy of Houses from Within. 

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