The Hansen Compound: From Leper Hospital to Multimedia Art Center

The Hansen Compound has been saved!  It is located in the affluent and fashionable Komemiyut/Talbiyeh neighborhood within walking distance of the Old City of Jerusalem, just below The Jerusalem Center for The Performing Arts (The Jerusalem Theater), near The Van Leer Institute, The President’s Residence and The Shalom Hartman Institute.  The rescue of the compound is a tremendous victory for Jerusalem conservationists.  The conservationists struggled for 10 years, finally succeeding in permanently removing the threat presented by circling sharks ready for a feeding frenzy real estate developers who for the sake of making millions of dollars in the name of unbridled progress sought control of the site.  The compound, added to the Jerusalem Municipality’s list of 110 buildings, was declared “an historic site worthy of preservation” in 2011 under the auspices of the Society For Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites. It is currently undergoing an extensive and painstaking renovation funded by Keren Kayemet L’Israel (Jewish National Fund), The Jerusalem Development Authority, and the Jerusalem Municipality and is slated to become a multimedia art center.   
Once the renovations are completed, the property will house The Center for Design, Media and Technology.  This center will include exhibition spaces, an animation lab, theatre performance space, projection room, studios for visiting artists, an artists guest house, a café and a restaurant.  The Hansen Compound will be operated by a consortium of local and international groups who will run it as a center for academic research and project development studying the relationship between design, science and technology.  It will also continue to include the “Behind the Wall” exhibition.  The exhibition documents the history of the compound from the time it served as a hospital/shelter for people suffering from Hansen’s Disease (commonly called leprosy).  
"Behind the Wall" Exhibition Poster
This is another Jerusalem story proving that it is possible for a location to go from being an isolated structure humbly serving those on the edge of society to becoming one of the city’s precious jewels.   
The story of the Hansen Compound begins in the mid-1830’s, when, during Ottoman rule of Jerusalem, Christian-Europeans renewed their involvement in the modern development of the city.  At that time Jewish, Christian and Moslem lepers lived together in several hovels around the Old City’s Zion Gate, receiving a small daily handout from the coffers of the ruling Pasha and spending their days begging.
In 1865 Baron von Keffenbrink and his wife, the Baroness Augusta von Keffenbrinck Ascheraden, visited Jerusalem. The Baroness, greatly moved by the misery of the lepers’ living conditions, undertook to sponsor the building of an asylum for them.  The first modern leper hospital (leprosarium) was built under her patronage, with responsibility for its operation in the hands of a group of German Protestants living in Jerusalem.  
Baroness Augusta von Keffenbrinck Ascheraden

Baroness Augusta von Keffenbrinck Ascheraden

The Mamilla Asylum was built near the Jaffa gate and was dedicated on 30 May 1867. Today, it too is in a fashionable neighborhood, located at 20 Agron Street across the street from the Mamilla Pool (an old water source for the city).  It is no longer a leprosarium; the building was long ago sold to the Catholic Lazarist Order and is currently next door to the official residence of the USA Consul General in Jerusalem.

The Mamilla Asylum
In 1875 another leprosarium was built in Silwan (today an Arab village located in eastern Jerusalem) and, at the order of Pasha Ali Bey, 33 Moslem and Christian patients were moved into the facility.  They were cared for by the Soeurs de Charite  (Sisters of Charity).   
In 1881, when the Baroness withdrew her support from the Mamilla Asylum, her role was assumed by the Moravian Church’s Brudergemeinde (Herrnhut Brothers).  In 1885 they undertook to build a new leprosarium, northwest of The German (Templers) Colony.  The building, named “Jesus Hilfe Asyl” (Jesus Helps Asylum), was known throughout most of its history simply as “The Leper House”.    
"Jesus Hilfe Asyl" - Jesus Helps Asylum c. 1880's

“Jesus Hilfe Asyl” – “Jesus Helps Asylum” c. 1880’s

All three leprosarium buildings were designed and built by the German Protestant architect Conrad Schick, who employed local Moslem workers.  The “Jesus Hilfe Asyl” was dedicated on 24 April 1887.  During his 1898 visit to Jerusalem, Kaiser Wilhelm made a donation which allowed for the expansion and addition of a new wing.

Conrad Schick

Conrad Schick

“Jesus Hilfe Asyl” had a long and distinguished 113 year service history.  During its first 73 years (between 1887 and 1950), it was operated by Jerusalem’s German Protestant community, supported by the Moravian Church.  It provided shelter for Muslims, Christians and Jews of all ages suffering from Hansen’s Disease.  

Muslim, Jewish, Christian headdress c. 1900

Muslim, Jewish, Christian headdress c. 1900

Jesus Hilfe - Hansen Hospital Staff

Jesus Hilfe – Hansen Hospital Staff

Hansen Hospital Exhibition Operating Theatre

Hansen Hospital Exhibition Operating Theatre

Treatment Room Historical Photograph

Treatment Room Historical Photograph

It was a spacious two-story building with a central courtyard and toilets on each floor. These were separated from the main building by a small access bridge. It included a generous portion of land containing four water cisterns, a vegetable garden, fruit trees and livestock, all designed as a self-sufficient facility.  Contrary to popular practice, it was not a closed institution.  Patients were free to come and go as they wished and their family members could visit them. “Since an effective cure did not exist, care was based on the accepted principles of hygiene, fresh air, proper nourishment, physical activity and spiritual support” (“Echoes from the Past” by Ruth Wexler, RN, MPA).  It was the only facility of its kind in the Middle East and was used as a model for establishing similar care-giving institutions throughout the world.

Hansen Compound Garden

Hansen Compound Garden

Hansen Compound (exterior detail)

Hansen Compound (exterior detail)

 

Hansen Compound Exhibition Photographs

Hansen Compound Exhibition Photographs

Hansen Compound Inner Courtyard Over Cistern

Hansen Compound Inner Courtyard Over Cistern

In 1948, after the Israeli War of Independence, with the establishment of the State of Israel and the division of Jerusalem, some of the patients and staff left, moving either to the Silwan Asylum or another asylum in Ramallah.  Two years later, the Moravian Church sold the “Jesus Hilfe Asyl” compound to Keren Kayemet L’Israel, which transferred ownership of the entire complex to the State of Israel.  The institution was renamed “The Hansen Hospital,” with patient care transferred to the Israeli Ministry of Health assisted by the Hadassah Hospital’s dermatology department.  Throughout the later part of the 20th century new drugs were developed which have nearly eliminated the disease and the remaining patients were able to gradually move out of the facility. In January 2000 the last in-patients were discharged and for a time the facility functioned as an Ambulatory Unit named “The Israeli Center for Hansen’s Disease”.  In 2009 that unit along with a separate Ministry of Health facility for young children were relocated and the pitched battle for its preservation ensued.  

Hansen Compound Exterior Detail

Hansen Compound Exterior Detail

Hansen Compound Main Building Facade

Hansen Compound Main Building Facade

Hansen Compound Walkway to Garden

Hansen Compound Walkway to Garden

Within the framework of the upcoming “Israel Festival – Jerusalem,” throughout late May and early June, the Hansen Compound will hold its first large scale performance when the L-E-V Dance Company will perform “Housen,”  which will transform the former Hansen Hospital facility into a stage, installation and performance center.

Hansen Compound Gate with "Housen" Poster

Hansen Compound Gate with “Housen” Poster

Photo credits: All historical photos are from the “Behind the Wall” Exhibition, Photographs of Mamilla Ayslum, Jesus Hilfe Asyl on the hill and Conrad Schick Portrait were copied from “Friends of Conrad Schick” Blog located at: http://conradschick.wordpress.com/

All other photographs were taken by Isa David-Ben-Rafael and are property of IsraeLightly.

 

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4 responses to “The Hansen Compound: From Leper Hospital to Multimedia Art Center

  1. Pingback: Haredi Nation vs. Startup Nation: JNext and the Irony of Sunday’s Protest·

  2. Hello, today I greatly enjoyed the place and people filling it with life. in the text above you still have crossed out expressions ( looks as smb forgot to do it). sorry for the remark but it’s important, isn’t it?

    • Marina, thank you for reading my post…indeed the New Hansen Compound is an amazing place. About the crossed out text, I did that on purpose as a way to include the truth about what the real estate developers were after. :)

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