The original railway station in Jerusalem included a two-storey building with two side sections of one floor, a mechanism to change the train’s direction, a shelter and a large water tank. The architecture is influenced by European elements and 19th-century Templars. The building was quite similar to the station in Jaffa, excluding the construction materials – local limestone was used to build the Jerusalem station. Over time, various additions were added such as a thick concrete layer covering the roof to protect from bombardment by Italian air force during the British Mandate.
The Jaffa – Jerusalem railway
Jerusalem of the late 19th century began to develop outside of its walls. However, the access roads to the city were disrupted and traveling time from Jaffa took about ten hours, traveling was mostly done by camels and donkeys pulling carts. With development and modern access given by the Templars in Jerusalem and the arrival of many pilgrims to the Holy City, a need emerged for more effective and faster transportation.
The idea for the establishment of a railway line to Jerusalem found a lot of supporters, including the famous architect and archaeologist Dr. Conrad Schick and philanthropist Moses Montefiore. Montefiore contacted the British and Ottomans authorities but his efforts finally failed for political and economic reasons. The person who finally succeeded in realizing the first train to Jerusalem was the banker and businessman Joseph Navon. Navon was born in Jerusalem to a Jerusalemite Sepharadic family and engaged in banking and trading. He was also the first Sepharadic man to marry a woman of Ashkenazi descent in Jerusalem at that time. After going bankrupt, he moved to France and then began to work to achieve the vision for the establishment of a railway line to Jerusalem.
By investing a lot of money and turning to the Ottoman government, Navon managed to obtain a 71 year concession to build a railway line, which was also supposed to be run up to Nablus and Gaza. After failing to find additional investors, he sold the franchise to a French company. The company received assistance from Catholics investors in Paris, imported workers from Egypt and was able to finish the construction within two years. The total final cost amounted to the huge sum of 14 million Francs.
On September 26th 1892 the first train arrived into the station from Jaffa to Jerusalem and was welcomed with a festive ceremony of many participants. The train also had stations at Lod, Ramle, Sajdiya village, Deir Aban (near Beit Shemesh) and Batir, where the locomotive was filled with water. With technological progress travel time was reduced to three hours and the train to Jerusalem has become a popular and profitable means of transport.
The First Station was inaugurated in an impressive ceremony with the presence of the city dignitaries, Jewish and Arab. Among those present at the ceremony was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who gave the steel horse, still not having a Hebrew name – the name “Rakevet”. In the early days of the last century, the railway station was teeming with life, goods were sent and received, tourists and pilgrims came from the Jaffa port to the train station in Jerusalem. The station’s building is one of the few public buildings built in Jerusalem during the Ottoman period.