• Adrian J. Boas

On Transplanted Domiciles

I recall seeing very colourful snails on a wall in Oxford a few years ago, and in my mind at the time I was thinking, how much more pleasing British snails are than ours, and how flamboyantly house-proud. Of course, it might be that only Oxfordian snails are so delightfully accommodated and that the domiciles of suburban London snails are as dreary as those found here. I was tempted to take some home, but the thought of what ecological damage might result, and the rather more foreboding thought of what might happen to my baggage, persuaded me to drop the idea.

Many of the houses in Rehavia, the neighbourhood that I live in, are not what one might by any stretch of imagination refer to as architectural masterpieces. Indeed, most of them display a rather lamentable lack of imagination and originality in their design. The older houses, those dating to the 1930s and 40s, are in the Bauhaus style, a type of architecture that is generally either greatly admired or staunchly detested. My own feelings towards it are ambivalent. At least when, as is the case in the houses of Tel Aviv, they are plastered and painted a clean white, with their sharp lines, simple curves and overall minimalism, they achieve a certain neatness of form. In Jerusalem, where a 1920 municipal ordinance requires all buildings to be surfaced in the local pinkish-buff limestone, this is lost, and the houses remain in a sort of aesthetic limbo.

Tel Aviv is the city with the largest number of buildings in the Bauhaus/International Style, with over 4,000 structures, mainly private houses. The choice of Bauhaus as a favoured architectural form is understandable. In the 1930s large numbers of German and central European Jews seeking refuge from Nazi aggression, arrived in Palestine. For them, Bauhaus represented a style that was familiar, thereby satisfying nostalgic sentiments, but also was new, dynamic, and perhaps most importantly, it was seen a clean break with the older architecture of Europe, architecture that in a way represented a Europe that had turned against them.

Architecture then can be an expression of nostalgia, of pride of origins, or of the desire for change and for establishing something new, and it is often a combination of more than one of these. For the Italian merchants who settled in communal quarters in the crusader ports of Acre and Tyre, also perhaps in lesser ports and in Famagusta and the other cities of the kingdom of Cyprus, it was certainly an expression of the first two - nostalgia and pride. The Italian architectural influence could be found in both the layout and the decoration of public constructions - churches and fortifications, but also in the form, layout and decorative features of palaces and merchants' houses. Contemporary documents, notably the notarial lists of the possessions of Venice and Genoa in Acre and Tyre, make use of terms frequently found in references to Italian domestic buildings such as palacium (palace/palazzo), turris (tower/torre) and logie (loggia). The layout of a merchant palace as described in these sources is the same in its principal features as in the palaces of the mother cities, with storage chambers and shops on the ground floor level and living quarters in the storeys above, and although there are some notable differences, their overall form and in all likelihood, their physical appearance and decoration were very similar. Unfortunately, the thorough dismantling of Acre and Tyre leaves us with only fragments of these buildings and with virtually no decorative elements, but in the kingdom of Cyprus houses of fourteenth and fifteenth century date, or in some cases the reconstructed facades of these houses, although of a later date give us a sense of what much of the architecture in twelfth and thirteenth century Acre and Tyre might have looked like, not in detail, for High Gothic and Renaissance styles were still something of the future, but with regard to the wealth of detail and quality of decoration.

Facade of the royal palace, Famagusta