Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Roberto Mazza
The Past in the Present of the Middle East
Conference of the CBRL (Council for British Research in the Levant)
Invited Oral Presentation
Optional Fields

The forgotten past of Jerusalem: stones, streets and trams

(The governorship of Ronald Storrs 1917-1926)



Visitors of Jerusalem are always told stories by local and travel guides about the division of the old city in four quarters, the millennia old white architecture of the buildings and in recent times of the modernization of the city through the establishment of a ‘reliable’ transportation system, namely the tram. Stories are often divergent as they change according to the storyteller, the book writer, political claims and religious affiliation; however they always neglect a crucial moment in history: early British rule. This paper will show how the lack of knowledge of the past has informed the political present. I am currently working on a large project discussing the urban planning of Jerusalem under the governorship of Ronald Storrs. As a result, this paper will show how the governor of Jerusalem made future-shaping decisions as he re-named the streets of Jerusalem, favored a confessional division of the city, imposed the use of the white stone for all buildings and denied the construction of a tramway that had been already approved by the previous Ottoman administration. The paper will briefly discuss the underlying principles followed by Storrs suggesting that he intended to make Jerusalem an open museum rather than a living space. In the second part, this paper will try to understand why a clear legacy of colonialism and intervention has been ignored suggesting that the future of the past in the region is often decided by external factors unrelated to historical research.