Eyal Ziv sits in his architect’s studio listening to Jaffa’s buildings. He admits he is a man possessed: by the spirit of the ancient port. “I don’t know where it comes from, this passion for Jaffa. It’s something beyond me, you cannot hold it, you cannot control it. The buildings are calling me to renovate them and I cannot refuse.”
Eyal is one of the key architects working on the Tel Aviv municipality’s renovation programme for Jaffa. He grew up in the Old City and now works from a converted apartment in Jaffa’s flea market. We first met over a decade ago, when he was working on restoring the Clock Tower, the centrepiece of Ottoman-era Jaffa. Since then his passion for the city has only deepened. “All my work in Jaffa is about the society around the buildings. Architecture is really about the DNA of society and families. Preservation is about history, but it’s also about the history of people who are living now.”
Jaffa has changed over the last few years, discovered by hipsters and those priced out of Tel Aviv. Rents and house prices are soaring. Trendy designers and upmarket galleries are slowly edging out the old junk shops. The flea market is the epicentre of the re-gentrification, as many call it, referencing Jaffa’s glory years before 1948. Cities change and evolve, but they need a diverse population, says Eyal. “A city is more than buildings. It is an eco-system, like a coral reef. If too many divers come to a coral reed they will kill it. If too many tourists and incomers come here they will kill Jaffa’s coral reef.”
The relationship between Jaffa and Tel Aviv is a metaphor for that between Israel and Palestine. Tel Aviv was founded in the early twentieth century as a satellite of Jaffa. Now the Hebrew city has absorbed its ancestor and Jaffa is a suburb of Tel Aviv. Vogue magazine hails Jaffa as ‘Tel Aviv’s hottest area’, blithely ignoring the city’s own rich and distinct history. Yet the two cities still have their own character, says Eyal. “We can see the difference between them. We are restoring the city and you can see that it is a nice place now. But it’s not so important if Jaffa is nice or not. What is important is that it is not destroyed.”
Eyal’s latest project is the restoration of the Kishle, the Ottoman-era municipal complex, which is now being turned into a luxury hotel, part of the Setai chain. The Kishle, which overlooks Clock Tower square, is rich in history, with foundations that date back to the Crusader era. Adolf Eichmann was held here after he was captured in Argentina in 1960. The Setai hotel, which is due to open in 2018, is the latest stage in Jaffa’s evolution, says Eyal. “It will make the city a more modern, urban place. Tourists will come, not just for day, but they will stay here and feel the city. You need a balance in the centre of a historic city and now we have it.”
A new, updated edition of Adam Lebor’s City of Oranges: An Intimate history of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa, is published by Head of Zeus.