Geographical Notes: A city that inspires affection and hatred

IN THE heat of the day Tel Aviv seems like any normal city, garish, noisy, dirty. But before the clamour of the day begins and after it has died down, the city seems to open up and has, like the light, a surprisingly gentle quality. This miracle occurs every day, and yet it never loses its sensational, sensuous effect. Even those who dislike Tel Aviv admit that this city has a special way of engaging all the senses: it heightens our seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling and touching, and also our imagination. This city is fascinating and alarming. More of the many people in Western Europe who engage in debate about Israel and the Middle Eastern conflict should make contact with this contemporary city, question it and listen to it.

Tel Aviv represents a provocation. From the moment of its foundation it was called into question - by those who built it and voiced conflicting views about its future, by visitors who came with certain expectations and could not believe what they saw, by its enemies, who made a point of writing its name in inverted commas. But Tel Aviv lived and by its very existence posed other questions - about the ability of immigrants to settle successfully; about the course and the portrayal of Jewish history, which here faced a new challenge; about the city's neighbours and their ability to tolerate its existence; about our assumptions and the methods we normally use when thinking about and studying large cities. The city's motto is "Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built".

In cities we look for what is distinctive, the special character that sets one place apart from another. As a rule the urban centres which we examine are hundreds or even thousands of years old, they have a long cultural tradition, and their buildings reflect that history. Historical research into cities always includes archaeological work in the extensive field of urban mentalities, work and communication patterns and ways of life.

Tel Aviv, founded in 1909 as a garden suburb of the Biblical town of Jaffa, still has some residents who are older than itself. If you dig too far down, you strike sand. This is a boon to researchers: the archives are complete, the material history of the city is well documented, and, if despite this there are legends about the city's foundation and sentimental stories about the early years, these only add to the interest of the research. Tel Aviv can be "read" as a microcosm of which one can easily gain an overview, both chronological and spatial, as a model of modern urban development.

The city has undergone a rapid development, almost like a speeded-up film, from garden suburb to metropolis, and the transformation can be studied in two ways. One is to focus on the concrete process of urbanisation: how did this growth take place, what phases and periods did it pass through, when and how were the houses, streets, shops and factories built, and who lived and worked in them? A second approach is more concerned with people's mental concepts and memories: how did this development appear to contemporaries, what were their comments on it, what terms did they use to describe what they saw taking place around them? What did this development mean to them? More than almost any other city, Tel Aviv has inspired both affection and hatred. How were these feelings expressed?

The two approaches cannot easily be separated - why should a house be seen as possessing greater "reality" than the significance which it has for those who live in it? Why is a street more "concrete" than the feeling that one can walk freely along it? Every city has its own atmosphere which distinguishes it from others. What is special about Tel Aviv can be summed up in a phrase: it is "ha-ir ha'ivrit ha'rishona", "the first all-Jewish city", "la ville cent pour cent juive", the first - modern - Hebrew city.

Joachim Schlor is the author of `Tel Aviv: from dream to city' (Reaktion Books, pounds 19.95)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick