Mamilla Hotel, where luxury meets history in Jerusalem

Just outside the Old City, the hotel honors its 19th-century roots while delighting guests with contemporary touches and a dining gem on the roof

Mamilla Hotel

Sitting area in the lobby at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — It’s already a well-established landmark in modern-day Jerusalem, but the backstory of Mamilla, the swank outdoor shopping mall that leads from the Old City to the new, is perhaps best captured, and preserved, within the luxury boutique-style hotel that bookmarks the avenue’s western flank.

Opened more than a decade ago, the Mamilla Hotel is a rare journey into the history of a once-embattled Jerusalem neighborhood, a no-man’s land and a slum, that stood on the unstable seam line between the eastern and western sides of the city, between the watchful eyes of Israeli and Jordanian soldiers from 1948 to 1967.

The main part of the hotel is housed in what was once part of a cafeteria and science labs belonging to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is designed to take visitors on a journey through each of this holy city’s unique layers from the ancient through to the modern.

“Most of our guests arrive here from the airport, it is their first connection with Jerusalem and they can feel the city in the architecture and the design of the hotel,” Maia Wiener, Mamilla’s marketing manager, told The Circuit recently.

A trained tour guide, Wiener recounts Jerusalem’s various eras – Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, Ottoman, Mameluke – and points to multiple artifacts and artworks, including photographs, maps and even the lights and chairs in the expansive lobby that were collated and are displayed to authentically represent Jerusalem’s rich past.

“We have four values in this hotel,” Wiener, who also manages Mamilla’s sister hotel, the nearby David’s Citadel, explained; “Location, luxury, holistic and joie de vivre, or a cheerful enjoyment of life… guests get to feel Jerusalem in all of these ways.”

One of the first neighborhoods built outside the walls of the Old City, Mamilla sits on what was the main road leading from the bustling port of Jaffa to what is called in English (and Hebrew) the Jaffa Gate. While its foundations date back some 2,000 years, during the 19th century as the Old City’s population expanded, Mamilla served as a busy commercial district with shops, banks and even a guesthouse where the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, is said to have stayed on his visits to the city.

Most of the original structures in Mamilla were built in the mid-1880s by both Jews and Arabs, but following the announcement of the United Nations’ plan to create a Jewish state in Palestine in 1947, protests by local Arab residents destroyed many of the buildings and stores in Mamilla.

The neighborhood then became a dangerous no-man’s land until 1967, when Israel captured the holy city in the Six-Day War, unified it, declared sovereignty and put in motion plans to rehabilitate the entire area.

The outdoor mall, with its high-end stores and upscale restaurants, was developed by the Alrov Group and opened for business in 2007. The Mamilla Hotel, a cluster of older buildings with a new and modern façade, opened three years later at the far end. Both were designed by renowned Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, who oversaw the renovation of the handful of remaining 18th-century buildings.

The interior of the Mamilla Hotel was designed by Italian architect Pierro Lissoni, who is known for his fun contemporary works, a feature that is incorporated into the 194 modern-style guest rooms. High-tech features such as glass-walled bathrooms that turn opaque at the flick of a switch give the rooms a unique and novel twist.

Lissoni’s mixing of the old and the new is evident throughout the rest of the hotel, too. Part of the building’s original structure from the 1800s remains in the lobby, golden Jerusalem stones provide a warm touch to the business lounge on the first floor, and the wine cellar and popular Mirror Bar (which has yet to reopen since COVID-19 but which Wiener assures will happen very soon) on the second.

On the lower floors sit an indoor pool, a conference room and a huge dining room serving a rich Israeli-style breakfast buffet. A few floors above, adjacent to the outdoor mall, across a narrow footbridge, is the hotel’s Akasha spa and opposite is a fish restaurant cheesily called “Happy Fish.”

Probably the finest gem in this hotel, however, is at the top: the Rooftop restaurant. With breathtaking views of the ancient Old City walls, the elegant dining room provides an adventure in kosher cuisine and Israeli wines. Dishes ranging from sashimi salmon to goose breast to lamb chops and char-grilled entrecôte have been reimagined with a fresh and modern twist that gives diners both a historic and luxurious experience, just like the hotel itself.

The writer was a guest of the Mamilla Hotel. Price per room for one night starts at $430.

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