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German Colony of Sarona | © WikiMedia/Geagea
German Colony of Sarona | © WikiMedia/Geagea
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Tel Aviv’s Newest Hot Spot Sarona: Explore the History

Picture of Mya Marshall
Updated: 26 November 2016
Since its public opening in 2014, Sarona has become one of Tel Aviv’s most frequented spots for dining, shopping, or spending a relaxing day sitting in the grass or strolling among the trees. The area, closed off to vehicular traffic, is full of charming pathways, ponds, playgrounds, and various stores, cafes, and restaurants all tucked into beautiful architecture. Despite the large number of daily visitors to the mini-neighborhood, many are unaware of the rich history behind the area and its masterfully crafted structures.
Sarona Pond | © Mya Marshall
Sarona Pond | © Mya Marshall

The Original Sarona Outdates the State of Israel

Established in 1871, the Sarona Colony (much larger than the Sarona existing today) was one of the several settlements established by the Christian German Templers in the Holy Land, which was at the time a part of the Ottoman Empire. The Templers, who came mostly from Southern Germany after having been expelled from the Lutheran Church, held the messianic belief that living and flourishing in the Holy Land would bring the second coming of Christ, sparking their move and creation of settlements. (Templers are not to be confused with the Knights Templar, the medieval Christian military order closely tied to the Crusades.)

The Structures of Sarona in Their Templer glory

Sarona today is made up of 37 accurately restored Templer buildings, thanks to The Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, who fought against the Israeli Lands Authority’s plans to demolish the whole area. In 2005, five of the buildings standing today were physically moved from their original location as part of the preservation project, allowing the expansion of Kaplan Street. Through the history of Templer times, the structures still standing today fulfilled the roles of houses, community halls, blacksmith workshops, a butcher shop, a schoolhouse, a winery, a honey factory, and more. The lengthy restoration project of the buildings maintained the characteristic charm of the structures from Templer times.

Sarona Building at Night | © Mya Marshall
Sarona Building at Night | © Mya Marshall

Sarona Becomes British

With the close of World War I, the Ottoman rule over the land ended, and the British occupation began. During the war, the Templers remained loyal nationalists, making them enemies of Britain, and most were sent to camps in Egypt. The Templers were allowed to return two years later, but Sarona, along with the rest of Palestine, was under British rule.

Sarona Oil Press | © Dr. Avishai Teichler
Sarona Oil Press | © Dr. Avishai Teichler

Sarona and World War II

Leading up to WWII, many of the Templers were influenced by Nazi ideologies, leading to an increase in German nationalism among them, and open supporters of the Nazi party roamed the streets of Sarona. With the outbreak of the war, the British declared the Germans ‘enemies of the state’ and Sarona (along with other Templer settlements) was converted into an internment camp for the Templers. Within a few years, most of the Templers were deported to Australia, or sent back to Germany. At the end of the war, the settlement was converted to a British military and police base.

Sarona Transferred to Jewish Ownership

At the end of 1947, after there was no longer a Templer presence in the settlement, and Sarona was transferred from British ownership to the Jews. During the War of Independence, and in the time leading up to it, the structures of Sarona were converted to key buildings for the civil defense force, the Haganah. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the structures housed the headquarters for various units of the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as government offices.

Sarona Tunnel | © Dr. Avishai Teichler
Sarona Tunnel | © Dr. Avishai Teichler

Underneath Sarona

There is an underground tunnel that connected two of the Templer wine cellars. During the War of Independence, the tunnel was used by members of the Haganah to repair and reassemble planes that they smuggled from the British Air Force. The planes worked on underneath Sarona later played key roles in the war.

Visiting Sarona’s History

Aside from taking a stroll through the pathways of Sarona and admiring the restored buildings and surrounding area, there are some more ways to explore the history in modern times. The Olive Mill (Beit Ha’Bad) café sells products based in oil from the restored mill, but you can also visit the museum and see the actual machinery and learn about the history behind it. You can also sip wine in the old Templer cellars during a visit to Jajo Wine Bar, ordering a glass or bottle from their extensive selection. In addition, there are historical walking tours offered both by Sarona’s Visitor Center and by the Tel Aviv municipality, which you can learn more about by contacting the visitor center at 03-604-8434 or 03-604-9634.