Mahane Yehuda Market (also known as ‘the shuk’ in Hebrew) is one of Jerusalem’s most well-known and beloved landmarks. Stretching from Jaffa Street to Agrippas Street, it has a unique appeal, fusing tradition with modernity. The market stocks everything from fruit and vegetables to meats and cheeses; from hardware to clothing and jewelry to Judaica. Ideal both for strolling and shopping, it captures the essence of Jerusalem with its intoxicating sights, smells and sounds.
This history of Mahane Yehuda dates back to the Ottoman period when, at the end of the 19th century, local peasants came to sell their wares and turned it into an organized market. It continued to develop under the British Mandate but attempts to transform its somewhat dilapidated, ramshackle appearance were generally unsuccessful. In the 1930s, a new market was built and a number of tradespeople applied for financial help from the Jerusalem municipality, in order to build permanent stores.
After the State of Israel was born, the market continued to develop but only in the last two decades has it transformed itself. Historically, it was a place where people came, primarily, to buy produce but the project to revitalize it has been extremely successful. Today, it hosts eclectic eateries (from hummus to fish and chips), independent coffee shops and bars that sell over 100 different kinds of craft Israeli beer.
The open-air part of the market is predominantly for meat, fish and vegetables whilst the covered section caters more for ‘culinary tourists’ hunting out local spices, sweets, and teas. Many of the stalls (‘bastas’ in Hebrew slang) are run by individuals whose families have been in the business for generations.
The revitalization of Mahane Yehuda also means that whilst by day, it’s packed with traders, by night it is transformed into space where visitors can eat, drink and listen to live music. Popular both with locals and tourists, a good time to see it at its most frenetic is Friday lunchtime when most locals are preparing for the Shabbat and therefore stocking up their larders. The market closes only after the city’s famous siren has sounded and does not open again until Sunday morning.
The annual festival at Mahane Yehuda includes puppet shows, live performances and a variety of food-related events. And even though the market is quiet on Shabbat (Saturday), its street art is easy to spot, since it is spray-painted on many of the stores’ metal shutters. This project is the brainchild of Solomon Souza and his colorful creations include Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Bob Marley. Since there are many shutters not yet painted, it seems that the project has no end in sight.