Jerusalem's original railway station consisted of a two-story building with a one-story wing on either side, a mechanism to change the train's direction, a bomb shelter and a large water tank. The structure's architecture was inspired by 19th century European and Templar design. The building was almost identical to the Jaffa railway station building, differing only by the construction materials used, as the Jerusalem railway station building was constructed using local limestone. Different components were added to the building over time, such as a thick layer of cement added to the roof to protect the structure against Italian air-raid attacks during the British Mandate. After the station was shut down, the area was abandoned and neglected until preservation projects began in preparation for its reopening in 2013.
The Jaffa-Jerusalem route
By the 19th century, Jerusalem had begun to develop and expand beyond the walls of its Old City, though the access routes to the city remained in disrepair. Travel time from Jaffa to Jerusalem was approximately ten hours and the distance was usually covered on camels or in donkey-drawn wagons. As the Templar community continued to develop the city and make it more modern and increasing numbers of Christian pilgrims began to visit the city, the demand for faster and more reliable transportation to the city began to grow.
The idea of constructing a railroad to Jerusalem was supported by many, including the renowned architect and archeologist, Dr. Conrad Schick and Moses Montefiore, the famous philanthropist. Montefiore contacted the British and Ottoman authorities, but political and economic considerations made his attempts unsuccessful. In the end, banker and businessman, Joseph Navon was the one responsible for constructing the first railroad to Jerusalem. Navon was born in Jerusalem to a Sephardic family with deep roots in the city and was a businessman and a banker. He was also the first Sephardic man of his generation in Jerusalem to marry a woman of Ashkenazi descent. After going bankrupt, he moved to France and there, continued to pursue his dream of constructing a railway to Jerusalem.
After investing substantial funds and imploring upon the Ottoman Empire, Navon was granted a 71-year concession to construct the railway, which would be extended towards Nablus and Gaza. He sold the concession to a French company after failing to recruit additional investors. The French company received investments from Catholic investors in Paris, imported workers from Egypt and constructed the railway within two years. The total cost of the operation reached the astronomical figure of 14 million francs.
The first train from Jaffa entered the Jerusalem station on September 26, 1892 and was received by large crowds in a grand ceremony. On the way to Jerusalem, the train stopped at stations in Lod, Ramle, Sajad, Dayr Aban (near Beit Shemesh) and Battir, where water in the engine was refilled. As technology developed, travel time from Jaffa to Jerusalem was reduced to only 3 hours and the train became a popular and profitable means of transportation.
The route continued to operate until all transportation between Jaffa and Jerusalem was halted during the War of Independence. When it was reopened, the railway route was thoroughly renovated but never succeeded in regaining its original success. There was only minimal demand and maintenance was inadequate. Service on this route was finally cancelled on August 15, 1998 and the station was closed for good.
Photos: G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection - Library of Congress