The Montefiore Windmill is a well-known and much-loved landmark, situated just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Built in 1857, it sits opposite the City walls in a neighbourhood that was established in 1860, named Mishkenot Shaananim (which means ‘Peaceful Dwelling’ in Hebrew). It was established by Moses Montefiore, a notable British philanthropist.
Montefiore himself was born in Tuscany but emigrated with his family to London as a child. In order to help his parents, he left school prematurely and began working in finance. Over the years, he became extremely successful and in 1827 he made a visit to the Holy Land. This trip changed his life and from then on until his death, he became involved in charitable endeavours, particularly when it came to Jews abroad who were in crisis.
The history of Mishkenot Shaananim
Mishkenot Sha'ananim was the first neighbourhood to be built outside of the Old City of Jerusalem, being directly across from Mount Zion and above the Sultan’s Pool. The area consisted of two buildings - one designed as a community centre (with a hospital, to treat the poor after a cholera epidemic), as well as a synagogue, bakery and commercial workshops. The second building (below) boasted 28 small apartments (each of one and a half rooms).
Initially, the neighbourhood wasn’t particularly popular, because it had a reputation for lawlessness, with bandits operating in the streets at night. Montefiore, therefore, offered financial incentives for poor families to move there and his generosity was so well-known that many of his recipients referred to him as a “prince’.
To be fair, Mishkenot Shaananim did not become incredibly popular overnight. However, the fact that it set the tone for the building of other neighbourhoods and this, in turn, led to Jerusalem being established as Israel’s capital is, in great part, a result of the building of Mishkenot Shaananim. The adjoining neighbourhood, Yemin Moshe (named after its benefactor) followed and by 1920, over 900 people were living here.
Self-Sufficiency for the Community
The windmill that was erected was named after its benefactor, Montefiore, who was intent on helping the local population of the Yishuv (the Jewish community who lived in Ottoman-controlled Palestine before the 20th century), not just in Jerusalem but also in Jaffa and other parts of the country.
Montefiore’s idea was that designing the windmill as a flour mill would allow the population a measure of self-sufficiency. (As well as this flour mill, Montefiore promoted other businesses that he felt would build up industry in the Holy Land, including a textile factory and a printing press).
Design of the Original Building
The mill was designed by the Holman Brothers, from Kent in southern England. The stone used to construct it came from a local quarry and the tower walls were almost a metre thick at the base and 15 metres high. The parts needed to construct it were shipped from England to the port of Jaffa and then transported by camel to Jerusalem.
Because it was designed by the English, the mill had a Kent-style cap and four patent sails, driving two pairs of millstones, flour dressers and other machinery. Unfortunately, the windmill never really functioned well, because it was located relatively low on the landscape. The wind in the area simply wasn’t strong enough to power the mill which, actually, had not been designed to deal with the hardest aspects of this crop. (The mill was designed to produce soft European wheat, which actually required less wind power than the wheat of the Levant).
As a result, its use as a flour mill was phased out by 1891, when the local community began using steam-powered machines to grind their wheat. Nevertheless, it became a well-known and popular landmark in the neighbourhood and it did inspire people to move to the neighbourhood - which was one of Montefiore’s great hopes.
From the British Mandate to the State of Israel
Until the 1930s, the building stood abandoned but under the British Mandate (along with the Pro-Jerusalem Society) it underwent some cosmetic restorations (with non-functional sails erected at its top). In the War of Independence, in 1948, Jewish fighters used the now obsolete building as a watch postin their struggle against the British. The British responded by bombing the windmill in ‘Operation Quixote’ and blowing the top off the disused tower.
After Israel recaptured Jerusalem in the Six-Day War in June 1967, much of the neighbourhood was restored - artists and individuals committed to preserving the neighbourhood’s quaint character bought properties. Today it is an exclusive and expensive neighbourhood, with great demand for the charming homes that exist there.
Renovation of the Windmill
In 1968, the city municipality first offered funds to repair the windmill, as well as supporting different educational activities in the neighbourhood in the later years. However, the building still sat neglected. With a great deal of support from a Dutch organisation named ‘Christians for Israel’ funds were raised for the renovation of the windmill. A model of another Kent-designed windmill, named Stelling Mininis, built by Holman Brothers, was taken to the Netherlands, to raise awareness.
The project also received the backing of the Jerusalem Foundation and Tourist Board) and, after a couple of years, work began. In 2012, with great fanfare, this very first Jerusalem landmark was reopened in a dedication ceremony where local politicians recalled playing in this area as children, never dreaming that one day that this historic building would function once more.
The Windmill Today
Today, the Montefiore Windmill is a popular attraction in the city and fits in well with the charming and beautiful surroundings of the neighbourhood. It looks just like it did 150 years ago, with rotating blades and as of 2013, flour has been ground there once more! With its beautiful stone exterior, it stands at 14 metres high, and for anyone curious about the history of the city, and the way Jerusalem grew between the 19th and 21st centuries, it is a must-visit site.
Inside is a permanent exhibit devoted to the life and work of Montefiore, and history buffs should look out for the replica of the glass carriage in which he travelled. (Fun fact: the original carriage arrived in Palestine, courtesy of Boris Schatz, who founded the Bezalel Academy of Art).
Wineries Centre and Stunning Views
Inside the windmill is the Jerusalem Vineyard Wineries Centre, where visitors can learn about wine, enjoy tastings and purchase fine bottles. The centre is an excellent place to have a drink (there are also soft drinks and coffee available) and enjoy a stroll along the terrace, from which there are stunning views of the walls of the Old City and this lovely neighbourhood. Views of the city are also excellent from ‘Guy’s Hope Observation Point’ which is next door. All in all, the Montefiore Windmill is an attraction that should be high on your list, when on a Jerusalem tour. To get to Montefiore Windmill you can also join Jerusalem New City Jewish Private Tour.
Directions and Practical Information
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 09:00-16:00, Friday - 9:00-13:00. Tel: 02 566-1441
Bus: from Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station, on Jaffa Street, take buses 18, 32, 74, 75 or 78 and ask to be let off at the Keren HaYesod/Shalom Aleichem stop. From there it is a 6-minute walk to the Windmill.
Light rail: Alight at the Jaffa Gate stop then walk via Omar Ben el-Hatab St and Heinrich Heine St, for approx 1 km (about 13 minutes walk).
Car: Drive via Ussishkin St for approx, 4.2 km (18 minutes without traffic).