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Of Ghosts and Orphans

Traces of Local Architects in the New City of Jerusalem in the Early Modern Era & The Challenges of Architectural Historiography on the Fringe of the Empire

by Adi Bamberger Chen

Abstract: This study, inspired by postcolonial and post-structural theories, attempts to highlight the difficulty of conducting architectural research in early-modern Jerusalem, a setting in which there are gaps in the historical record. One particular gap – the practice of local architects – is portrayed through two characterisations: Orphans - existing buildings which are historiographically detached from their genealogy – and Ghosts - individuals assumed to have practiced architecture, yet their existence appears only in traces. The study wishes to explore why local architects disappeared from the historiography of early-modern Jerusalem. The methodologies include a narration of the fragments which were found during a literature review, archival research, site visits, interviews and correspondence with scholars and archivists. The study suggests that local architects were overlooked due to orientalist perceptions, disappearance of evidence and inaccessibility or illegibility of documents. Therefore, it recommends institutional collaborations and methods which acknowledge the historian’s subjectivity in future research.



“The Italian Archaeologist Ermete Pierotti, a poet, a historian, an architect, and an orphan, wrote in his book Ancient Tombs in North Jerusalem that one night, in February 1865, an eastern wind from the desert arrived and covered Jerusalem in a light mixture of salt and sand. Panic spread. Both the city elders and its dead did not remember such an awkward storm.” [1]


In these lines the author conjures up foreign gazes, professions before their modern specialization, architectures, histories, and stories all blended; orphans, ghosts, and oriental storms that occasionally envelop the city and bury stories. 


This paper attempts to touch on these experiences of late nineteenth century Jerusalem and to highlight the difficulty of conducting research in a setting in which such storms have left gaps in the historical record. One particular gap – the practice of local architects – is portrayed in detail through a guiding question: why did local architects disappear from the historiography of early-modern Jerusalem?


The study opens with the chapter Orphans, defining the term orphan in relation to Jerusalem’s architectural historiography. The chapter Libraries attempts to observe how the historical literature produced the orphan condition. In Archives, the challenge of tracing local architects in archives will be presented. The last chapter, Ghosts, will discuss the implications of the partial evidence.


The Story of The Buildings


Twin buildings in the city centre of Jerusalem were once a solitary orphanage, far from the walled city.[2] It was in the nineteenth century, before Jerusalem broke out beyond its walls and a modern city began to emerge.  In 1908, the Jewish National Fund [3] bought these buildings from Efendi Abu-Shacker and transformed them into Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts.[4]  Today one of the buildings is home to the Architecture Department of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. The second building hosts an art gallery.


As a formative art institution, the Academy has kept its documents in official archives.[5] However, the story of the building’s inception was left vague in these sources. Consequently, Bezalel’s architecture school was left without its architect and the orphanage has in its own right become an orphan.


Another nineteenth century orphan is the Ticho House, today an art gallery, and, in the past, the house of painter Anna Ticho. [6] A former resident of the house, the author Miriam Harry, named the house Haga Rashid Castle. However, the identity of Haga Rashid who presumably commissioned the building is not clear. Whether it was the Arab landowner Haj Rashid Nashashibi or the Russian citizen Michael Sheikhashiri/Michael Askir, is uncertain.[7]


More obscure than the commissioner is its architect. It may be possible that the Persian 

contractor Yazdi, who probably participated in the construction of the nearby Russian Compound, designed the building.[8] But it is just as possible not to have been him.


Of the Jerusalem Houses Pharaohn, Francis and Kazazya - no books were published, no well-known artists left their traces, and no recognized cultural institutions were housed to safeguard its documentation. Perhaps their entitled names - survived by word of mouth and through British tax registers - seem to be the only commemoration of their inhabitants.[9] 


However, the physical appearance of the houses embodies hints of their past. Architectural historian David Kroyanker argues that their gable-ended roof originated “either in Turkey and the Balkan, or in German rural houses”.[10] Kroyanker implies that these houses were planned by the same architect, an architect familiar with Turkish and Balkan designs. What other spectacular houses did he build in the Ottoman Empire?


The Story behind The Story


These buildings located outside the historic walls of old Jerusalem are estimated to have been built in the second half of the nineteenth century, or, at most, in the early-twentieth century. In this period, as the result of political, social, and cultural changes,[11] Jerusalem’s landscape was transformed as the city expanded beyond its historic boundary – introducing new typologies and new technologies.[12]


In this vortex of exchanges, the story of the construction of the presented buildings remained vague. Together with hundreds of buildings they have become what Kroyanker called “anonymous dwelling architecture”,[13]  but what this research calls orphans: existing buildings which serve as a living testimony of the city’s architectural development, yet detached from their genealogy – from the story of those who designed them, and from other buildings in their author’s oeuvre.


The analogy from the semantic world of kinship suggests that any appreciation of these buildings is very much influenced by their separation from a genealogy, as demonstrated in the Tree of Architecture by Banister Fletcher, and in the attempts of the National Architecture Renaissance Movement to “codify Ottoman architecture as a rational aesthetic discipline”.[14]




Not all Ottoman buildings in Jerusalem are orphans. The literature reveals much about architects from European countries who worked in Jerusalem during that period.[15] However, local architects rarely appear in contemporaneous literature.


The term local here refers to a plurality of identities on the geographic scale from the city of Jerusalem, through Palestine and the Levant, to the Ottoman Empire. This categorisation of local and foreign, inspired by postcolonial theories, is used to suggest that there might be some connection between the two constructed gaps: the disappearance of the architects of the orphans, and the absence of local architects. It is also used to avoid the traditional ethno-religious classification of architecture in Jerusalem which has been criticized to be “artificially constructed” in relation to the collective identities of that period. [16]


Some figures may serve as exceptions, and do appear in the pages of canonical histories. The first is the architect Esad Effendi who was sent to Jerusalem to plan the religious site Ḥaram al-Šarīf (Temple Mount).[17] The second is the architect Alexei Farangia who was born in Nazareth and was educated in the former Russian Empire.[18]  The third is the architect Eliezer Yellin who was born in Jerusalem and was trained as an architect in Darmstadt.[19] 



How have these local architects disappeared, leaving their progeny orphaned? Let us return to the literature and its elusive evidence.


A significant portion of Jerusalem’s history books were written in Israel in the 1970s and the 1980s, inspired by the unification/occupation of Jerusalem in the 1967 war.[20] Geography and history researchers wrote seminal texts based mainly on European and American travel literature, memoires, tourist guides, reports, newspapers, and surveys of various European societies. Graphic evidence was found in the diverse European cartographies, images, paintings, and in aerial photographs taken by western military forces during WW1.[21]  These sources were accused more recently of being “Western sources” in contrast to “endogenous sources”. Relying on them is claimed to originate in “orientalist tradition” and in an Israeli aspiration to portray “land without people for people without land”.[22]  


When architectural historians did come to focus on the orphan buildings, they invariably relied on these constitutive historical texts, adding layers of architectural analysis using contemporary surveys and illustrations. A common thread to all these attempts is that they are not based on original architectural documents. These documents are absent in the same manner as their architects are absent.


Architecture without Architects?[23] 


The double absence raises essential questions about the very existence of these architects.


The late-Ottoman period was indeed a transition between traditional and modern forms of the architectural profession all over the Empire. In the territory of present-day Turkey, new concepts of historical self-consciousness and nationalism were given shape through architectural styles and new education institutions were established.[24] In Cairo, a modern school of architecture was established.[25]  


However, Jerusalem was claimed to be on the fringes of the Empire.[26]  No modern architecture schools were opened, and “architects and builders, in this period, did not publish articles in professional journalism”.[27]  Its architecture is characterised in the literature as with “absolute absence of planning”[28]  with “only rough and inaccurate drawing”. [29]  It might be possible, therefore, to assume that the local construction industry maintained a traditional form of vernacular, and perhaps no proper architectural documents were produced by these non-architects. 





Even if documents had been produced, reaching them now presents a challenge since archives of late-Ottoman Jerusalem are spread around the world.[30]  It may be possible to assume this diaspora of archives caused some loss of material, especially during changes in administration, which were always accompanied by conflict. Kroyanker, for example, claimed that “As a result of an error, the licensing files of the (British) Mandatory (Muslim) buildings were burned in the municipality storage in 1948”.[31]  Perhaps this fire burned, as well, evidence of Ottoman local architects? However, it would be plausible to assume that their records would be dispersed, not confined only to the Jerusalem municipality.


This research sought to follow traces of local architects by undertaking investigations in a sample of the archives, including The National Archives (London), The Ottoman State Archives (Istanbul), The Israel’s Archives, The Zionist Central Archives, Jerusalem Municipality Archives and the CMJ Heritage Centre (Jerusalem).




Archival research was often hampered by issues of access. For example, my official identity as a Jewish Israeli citizen was an impediment to accessing Palestine Archives, such as the Archives of the Ministry of the Waqf in Abu Dis Is’af al-Nashashibi Library, or The Khalidi Library.


Palestine family archives and memories have in previous publications cast an important light on Jerusalem’s orphans. In the book Memoirs Engraved in Stone: Palestine Urban Mansions, the author wrote regarding Husseini House[32]    that “the Husseinis suggest it was Kamal Bek, a Turkish architect, who designed this house”.[33]   This architect is absent from the conservation file of this house.[34] Perhaps it is because no other details are known about him.


In all the sampled archives, conventional keywords did not reveal relevant documents. However, attempts to deviate to indirect browsing were occasionally useful.

General browsing in the National Archives in London for architects in Jerusalem, fortuitously revealed the signature of an architect named Ibrahim Moussa. It was found on a copy of a plan of Mr. Finn, the British Consul’s property, one of the first houses outside the walls. This document is dated January 1902 and signed in English: Ibrahim Moussa, Architect Jerusalem Municipality.[35]  


Moussa signed in English and defined himself as an architect. This definition concurs with the discovery of Vincent Lemire mentioning that “in November 1900, the British consul notes that the municipality had an Architect and a Chief inspector”.[36]   But where was Ibrahim Moussa trained? What was his role in the municipality? This document raises more questions than answers.  


Some archives require even higher degrees of creativity in browsing methods. In the Jerusalem Municipality archives, presumably, the natural place to store documents of the municipality that remained from the Ottoman period, the computerized search engine is accessible only to the archivists and no formal document extracts its full content. Therefore, no relevant documents were found during this research.




A further impediment to the search is language. Two archives were identified to contain material on local architects, but could not be examined, or were examined only partially, because of my inability to read their documents. 


One of these is the Sijills of Jerusalem, the archives of the Muslim religious court, written in Arabic. The historian Yusuf Natsheh succeeded in extricating information from the Sijills regarding “the activities of the master builders, both local and non-local, Muslim and Christian” in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He followed “the fortunes of a local family of masters” and discovered names of master builders that were invited from other cities in the Empire.[37]  It is possible to assume that the Sijills also contain information that has not yet been discovered regarding Jerusalem’s architects in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.


The second archive is the Ottoman State Archives. Two honour certificates, one of mühendis[38]  Ibrahim, and the second of mühendis Ibrahim Musa, were found in the archive.[39]  Since both documents relate to a figure who worked in the Jerusalem Municipality, it is reasonable to assume that both refer to the same person. It is also likely to be the same local architect, Ibrahim Moussa, whose signature was found in the National Archives in London.


Several building permit request files containing architectural drawings were also found in the archives[40] ,  corroborating the observations of David Yellin from 1898: “Every new building project, small or large, has to first pass before the baladiyya (municipality), and without that no building can legally be built”.[41]  However, analysing them was inapplicable since they were written in old Ottoman Turkish.


Even if a researcher is familiar with several languages, spelling variations can still result in information being lost in translation. Hoffman describes this difficulty in her research when she assumes that the names Koris-Sapiro G., Spiros Houris and Spyro. G. Houris, found in different documents, all relate to the same person. Furthermore, she relates to the Greek affiliation of the surname Houris, which is different from the Palestine equivalent, Khouri.[42] 


Examining the traces of the architect Ibrahim Moussa, we find that when it was Moussa himself who translated his name to English and to Latin letters, he signed as Ibrahim Moussa and as an architect. However, when the archivists of the Ottoman State archives translated his name from Ottoman, they spelled it as Musa and described him in Turkish as mühendis - engineer. 


Such Minor changes in the translation of a name thwart search engines and can even redefine the architect. The profession that Turkish archivists call mühendis was regarded by Ibrahim Moussa as an architect. 


Similar complications follow Kamal Bek, the Turkish architect of the Husseini House. No other evidence of Kamal Bek was found during this research. However, forty documents of an architect named Kemal Bey were found in the Ottoman State Archives. Perhaps, then, the Turkish architect which was described by Palestinian figures as Kamal Bek is, in fact, the same Turkish Kemal Bey? 


The Order of Knowledge


The described archival challenges of Jerusalem reflect some of the very essences of the concept of the archive, and of its inherent ethics. In the archival production, according to Derrida, the records are put in order, categorized and catalogued. And this is crucial for the historical narrative because “what is no longer archived in the same way is no longer lived in the same way”. [43] 


If architectural documents were produced by any kind of local architects, the archival production has not included these documents in the same order of the European architects. Each time history was written, or cited, without any mention of local architects, their absence gained more validity.





Despite the elusive definition of local architects, this study did reveal some ghostly traces. Among them are Yazdi, the allegedly Persian contractor who may have planned the Ticho House, Esad Effendi, and Kamal Bek/Kemal Bey who arrived from Turkey, Alexei Farangia and Eliezer Yellin who were educated in foreign institutions and thus challenge the definition of local, Spyro G. Houris who was perhaps Greek and perhaps Arab, Ibrahim Moussa who was an architect in the Jerusalem municipality.

This list is not intended to be finite, but to show that information pertaining to local architects is always partial. Consequently, these local architects have become what this study calls ghosts: individuals assumed to be practicing architecture in Jerusalem in the early modern era, that left only traces – scattered pieces of information that do not extradite much about their practice.


Currently their traces offer only a glimpse at their reflection, casting doubts around each one. Their incomplete story, relies on assumptions and speculations, using the “essential modality of perhaps”[44] ,  that leaves space for future discoveries. Perhaps it can be said that Jerusalem’s orphans will forever be haunted by these ghosts, who gave them life, but have since receded into the historical shadows.


Out of Order


With the scarce evidence one can almost ponder whether it is liable to rely on ghosts in establishing history. Let us, if so, return to Derrida, who suggests that the spectre is a condition of partial truth, a “historical truth”, which is not less real than the “material truth”. If the material truth can be proved by the conventional tangible evidence, the historical truth is “repressed and suppressed. But it resists and returns, as the spectral truth of delusion or of hauntedness”.[45]  


From this philosophical perspective, the ghosts of the local architects can be read as historical truth, that was repressed through the history of Jerusalem. Their traces, that were found during this research are their very resistance to be annihilated. Therefore, the story that they tell may be as true as the other histories which were told through “the norms of the classical scientific discourse”. In any case, as long as they remain in their ghostly condition, they remain a mystery.[46]  




This study wishes to accept the partial truth in each of the assumptions presented along the work and suggests that together, they all portray the disappearance of the local architects.


The architectural field in early modern Jerusalem, probably, was in a transitional period from traditional to modern, and some of the local architects were in fact master-builders, trained in guilds. However, it does not mean necessarily that they did not produce architectural documents and that it is not important to study and appreciate their work. Various architects probably did travel and practice throughout the Empire and in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, they were not necessarily the architects of the orphans, nor did they necessarily define themselves as locals. The term local does help to reveal the orientalist perceptions that were involved in repressing local architects. Yet, these perceptions were not the only cause of the absence of local architects in history. The nature of postcolonial archives, and of archives generally, presents challenges which keep relevant evidence hidden from architectural historians. Without accessible architectural documents, it is difficult to attract architectural historians to delve into this field. Thus, the local architects will remain, meanwhile, as ghosts.


Future research including institutional collaborations and methods which enhance the voice of the architectural historian in interpreting the evidence must be done to expand our knowledge about this phase in history. Perhaps, if someone will dare to continue, right where architectural research work has stopped thirty years ago, the “light mixture of salt and sand” will slightly dissolve and give way to a new remembrance of the forgotten stories.[47] 

[1]  Shalev (1991), p. 387. Translated by the author. The Hebrew word ‘Ruach’ relates both to wind and to the spirit of the dead.

[2] Kroyanker (1985).

[3] Also known as KKL.


 [4] Ofrat Friedlander, 

in: Shilo-Cohen (1982).


[5] File L42 in the Central Zionist Archives, and containers 216-252 in the Jerusalem Municipality Archives.

[6] Kroyanker (1985).

[7] Freundlich (2014).

[8] Shalmon (1991).

[9] Kroyanker (1985).

[10] Kroyanker (1985), pp. 223-225. Translated by the author.

[11] Meir-Meril (2010).

[12] Fouchs (1998).

[13] Kroyanker (1998), p. 15. Translated by the author.

[14] Bozdoğan (2001), p. 22.

[15] Kroyanker (1987).

[16] Lemire (2013) p. 17.

[17] Cassuto (2009).

[18] Kroyanker (1987).

[19] Kroyanker (2006).

[20] Natsheh (2000).


[21] Among these texts are, for example, Ben Aryeh Yehoshua, 1979; Ruth Kark and Shimon Landman, 1981.


[22] Lemire (2013) p. 8, p. 27. and Natsheh (2000) p. 586. Despite these accusations of orientalism, parts of which are without doubt painfully true, it has to be noted that these Israeli scholars did use evidence, that can be described as local, such as the buildings themselves, the orphans, that were examined through empirical research, memories of the descendants of the inhabitants of these houses, and Ottoman censuses.

[23] Rudofsky (1965).


[24] Bozdoğan (2001).


[25] Asfour (1993).

[26] Meir-Meril (2010) It has to be noted that the marginal role of Jerusalem is also claimed to be controversial. For example, refer to Lemire (2013).


[27] Kroyanker (1983), p. 12. Translated by the author.


 [28] Kroyanker (1985), p. 163. Translated by the author.


[29] Cana’an (1932), p. 244. In: Kark (1981), p.194. Translated by the author.

[30] Countries as diverse as Israel, Turkey, Britain, Germany, Jordan, Australia, France, USA, Russia, to name just a few.


[31] Kroyanker (1985), p. 14. Translated by the author.

[32] This house is known in other publications as the Orient House


[33] Khasawneh (2006) p. 96-103.

[34] Shapira Architects (n.d.).

[35] Public Record Office: Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from various series of records of the Foreign Office. MPK 1/435. London: The British National Archives.

[36] Lemire (2013), p. 117.

[37] Natsheh (2000), p. 583, p. 585, pp. 621-622.


[38] Engineer in Turkish.


[39] i..TAL.119-86. Istanbul: The Ottoman State Archives.

[40] for example: ‘Request for a building permit for a house in the village Maliha (Malha) nearby Jerusalem’, 1896. I..DEF.4-59. Istanbul: The Ottoman State Archives.


[41] Yellin (1898). In: Lemire (2013), p.117.


[42] Hoffman (2016) Spyro. G. Houris is assumed to be an architect who practiced in Jerusalem in the early decades of the twentieth century.

[43] Derrida (1995), p.18.

[44] Derrida (1995), p. 149.

[45] Derrida (1995), p. 87.

 [46] Derrida (1995), p. 41.

[47] Shalev (1991), p. 387.

Ghost Orphans Jerusalem Bezalel Compound

[Image 1] Bezalel Compound, front view of the southern building, nowadays the Jerusalem Artists House Gallery.


The pattern of the roof parapet and its surrounding wall mirrors the shape of the city’s ancient walls. The crenelated parapet recalls a period when buildings outside the city walls needed protection against road gangs and thieves.


Image by the author (2019).

Ticho House Jerusalem

[Image 2] Ticho House, interior view.


On the back wall of the exhibited belongings of the Ticho couple; the painter Anna Ticho and her husband, the eye doctor, Albert Ticho. 


Image by the author (2019).

Ticho House Jerusalem

[Image 3] Ticho House, interior view.


Image by the author (2019).

Pharaohn House Jerusalem

[Image 4] Pharaohn House, exterior view.


Today a school and a conservatoire in the German Colony neighborhood, Jerusalem.


Image by the author (2019).

Kazazya House Jerusalem

[Image 6] Kazazya House, exterior view.


Today a private house in Katamon neighborhood, Jerusalem.


Source: image by the author (2019)

Francis House Jerusalem

[Image 5] Francis House, exterior view (flipped horizontally).

Today a private house in Baka neighborhood, Jerusalem.


Image by the author (2019).

All Images


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שפירא אדריכלים, אוריינט האוס: תיק תיעוד מלא. (ירושלים: שפירא אדריכלים, ללא תאריך).


Shilo-Cohen, Nurit, ed., ‘ “Bezalel” of Schatz: 1906- 1929’ (Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1982). שילה-כהן, נורית, עורכת. ‘ “בצלאל” של שץ: 1906-1929’ (ירושלים: מוזיאון ישראל, 1982).

Adi Bamberger Chen is a practicing Israeli architect, specializing in design of educational and residential buildings, as well as urban renewal schemes. She is inspired by the history of the built environment and its implications on the contemporary debate.


Amit Nemlich Architects, Tel Aviv, Israel, since 2020


MA Architectural History, The Bartlett, UCL 2019

BArch Architecture, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, 2016

This article is based on the thesis work conducted in September 2019 by supervision of Prof. Edward Denison with the MA Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London.


Published in Issue 2022

Ghost Dimensions


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The Ghost of European Cities Present
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