Tel Aviv History

Little more than a century ago, the land where Tel Aviv stands was mainly sand dune and uncultivated scrub. For decades, Jews returning to their homeland had taken up residence with a long-established native Jewish community in the overcrowded, squalid lanes of old Jaffa. In 1881, the Yemenite Jews moved out of Jaffa to create a more pleasant village of their own, the basis of today’s picturesque Yemenite Quarter. In 1887, they were joined by pioneering East European Jews who built the Neve Tzedek neighbourhood.

The city flourished in earnest in 1909 when another group of Jewish families quit Jaffa. Ardent socialists, they shared the cost of purchasing 12 acres of dunes. As famous historic photographs show, they stood in the sand (on the site of present day Rothschild Boulevard) and drew lots to determine who would build where.
Construction of their new “aesthetic, modern and hygienic Hebrew town” began at once. At first it was called simply Ahuzat Bayit – meaning roughly ‘an estate of homes’ – while a more suitable name was chosen.

The city took its name from the title of Theodor Herzl's inspirational Zionist novel Altneuland (Old New Land). The book’s Hebrew title, Tel Aviv, combined the ideas of antiquity (tel, a site where layers of ancient civilisation are unearthed) and radiant rebirth and newness (aviv, springtime).

In 1917, the Ottoman authorities brought the Tel Aviv project to a halt and expelled all the residents. The population did not return to their homes until the British took control of Palestine in 1918.
Following anti-Jewish riots in Jaffa in 1921, the British granted Tel Aviv the status of a separate municipality. In the 1930s, the new city absorbed a huge wave of immigration from western Europe. The population leapt to 160,000. Theatres, shops, restaurants and schools were opened and Tel Aviv port was built, its commercial activity soon outstripping Jaffa. Jewish architects who had graduated from the renowned Bauhaus art-and-design school in Germany introduced the city's distinct architectural style.

At one such house on 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the state of Israel. Tel Aviv was its capital. In a short time, the city absorbed tens of thousands of Jewish refugees, fleeing to Israel from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, and turned them into citizens of their own homeland.

The next year, with the successes of the War of Independence, Jerusalem was able to become once again the capital of Israel. Yet Tel Aviv remained the country’s more vibrant, secular, financial and commercial centre.

Continuing to grow, it encompassed the neighbouring towns in a single conurbation (locally known as Gush Dan). Since the 1990s and 2000s, the city has been a global leader in computer science and high-tech innovation.

At the same time, Tel Aviv preserves its history. It has the world's largest surviving collection of Bauhaus buildings, many carefully restored. In 2003, Tel Aviv’s unique urban inheritance was recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site, under the name 'The White City'.

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