Be’er-Sheva‘s “Old City” is unique–it is the only virtually complete, planned Ottoman-Turkish city (Tur. Birussebi). It was founded in 1900 by the Ottoman Empire to serve as the Negev Region’s administrative, military & commercial capital and to keep the local Bedouin tribes in check. The choice of this location was based on the existence of 4 advantageous criteria favoring Be’er-Sheva at that time: 1) it was the geographical meeting-place of the traditional boundaries of the territories of the 3 largest nomadic meta-tribes, where all the Negev Bedouin interacted; 2) it was the primary source of drinking water, a major oasis, thanks to its many wells and the seasonal watercourse; 3) it marked the safest and most convenient place for crossing the seasonal watercourse; and 4) it stood at a main crossroads, at the intersection of: the Jerusalem-Hevron Road; the road to Gaza & the Mediterranean Sea; and the road southward to the Arava, the Sinai Desert & Egypt.
Detailed information on the “Old City,” plus maps and guided tours are available at the “Abraham’s Well” International Visitors’ Center, located on the Hevron Road at the bottom of KKL St. – 08-6234613.
The lovely Great Mosque of Be’er-Sheva, ostensibly built by the Ottoman Empire for the local Bedouins (who sponsored its construction from 1897-1906) was never actually consecrated or used as a place of worhip. Until 1953, it served as the Be’er-Sheva Courthouse, when it was repurposed to function as the Negev Museum of Archaeology. In the 1990s, it underwent a long process of restoration, followed by series of court cases to determine the appropriate future use of the edifice. Finally, in 2011, the Be’er-Sheva mosque finally reopened, after further restoration, as the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures and, in 2016, it was granted the prestigious Restoration Medal by the national Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites.
The 2-storey Saraya (Ottoman-Turkish Governor’s mansion) was built in 1903 to be the seat of the Ottoman Empire in the Negev Region. With the end of the Ottoman reign, this building was temporarily used as a home for the British District Officer and then as a girls’ school. With the birth of the State of Israel, the edifice served as Be’er-Sheva‘s first, temporary City Hall, and then, after the Israeli City Hall was completed, it was repurposed to serve as the Negev Museum of Art. Since its restoration and renovation in 2004, it continues to function as the Negev Museum of Art.
The largest and most impressive Ottoman-Turkish edifice in the “Old City” of Be’er-Sheva was originally built in 1914 and was meant to serve as the Agricultural School for the Sons of the Bedouin Sheikhs. However, during the wars that followed, it came to serve as a military headquarters, a field hospital, and a regional veterans’ center. Since its restoration and re-purposing in 2013, this stunning structure is currently serving as the Carasso Science Park (the largest, interactive science museum in Israel).
Located just above the “Old City” on todays Tuviyahu Boulevard, stands the Ottoman-Turkish Railway Station that was inaugurated in 1915. The train tracks, ultimately intended to run from Damascus, Syria, through Jerusalem and Be’er-Sheva, all the way to Egypt, were laid during World War I, to enable the Turks to extend the Ottoman Empire all the way to Africa. In 1927, the Ottoman-Turkish Train Station was closed and the main building served as British Command Headquarters until 1948. Adjacent to the train station, the Ottomans also built a water tower to provide water for the steam-engine locomotives.
The narrow Ottoman-Turkish Railway Bridge, originally built in 1916 across the Be’er-Sheva seasonal watercourse (that becomes a raging river during the winter rains), was meant to enable the transport by train of Ottoman-Turkish soldiers, arms and provisions to the Egyptian front. This lovely arched stone bridge, spanning about 90 meters, was partially destroyed by flooding in 1964. In 2017, it was restored and repurposed to serve as a pedestrian walkway across the seasonal watercourse.
In the spirit of good international relations, the City of Be’er-Sheva built a monument in commemorating the 298 Ottoman-Turkish soldiers who fell in Be’er-Sheva during WWI. This inscribed obelisk (dedicated in 2002) is located near the Ottoman-Turkish Railway Station just off Tuviyahu Boulevard and an annual memorial ceremony is held there every 31st of October.
To further the special relations existing between Be’er-Sheva and the Republic of Turkey (despite the often poor relations between the Turkish Republic and the State of Israel), a bust of the founding father of Turkey, General Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) was added to the Ottoman-Turkish Railway Station complex in 2008.
Belly-dancing is thought to have originated in Egypt (male dancers) and Turkey (female dancers). It’s taught in several community centers by professional instructors, such as Ofra Yifrah and her daughter Tsuf. To register – kivunim7.co.il.
Since “Our future is inspired by our past” – join the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites – http://www.shimur.org.il. You are welcome to come to the Be’er-Sheva Office of the Society, now located in the Old City at Mordey ha-Geta’ot 74 and/or call Michal Montal – 054-4606496.