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 The sumptuousness and special glamor of Jacir Palace has steered PADICO Holding Company to build a five-star hotel in line with 1998 international standards. PADICO’s aim is to develop the tourism sector in Palestine which is considered one of the main economic sectors in the country. The company seeks to be a pioneer in the field of tourism, hospitality and recreation and lead the development process of these sectors. Through renovating Jacir Palace and turning it into a luxurious hotel, PADICO provides a prime example of the unique Palestinian hospitality style that is characterized by a myriad of hospitality services. In addition, Jacir Palace provides tourists with an exclusive and rare experience because of its location in one of the holiest cities in the world and its proximity to the Nativity Church.

 

Bethlehem at the end of the 20th century

During the fourth quarter of the 19th century, Ottoman reform movements had taken long strides on the political, administrative, social and economic levels resulting in stability and the establishment of security. In addition, Palestinian cities opened up to the European West and consequently commercial activities prospered and imports and exports expanded. In Bethlehem, domestic industries and craftsmanship thrived and a new group of landowners emerged and built trade relationships with European merchants. Hence Palestinian economy and international markets became interdependent.

Economic boom in Palestine affected the social status of people and led to changes in their lifestyle. Traditional and village-like ways of living have been transformed into urban styles and landowners and wealthy merchants became more desirous to boast their wealth and social position. Palaces and mansion were constructed in unconventional architectural styles outside the borders of the old city of Bethlehem. In fact, landowners and merchants were influenced by the European culture and traditions and tended to show that influence in their construction projects. In order to facilitate transport and trade as well as the movement of tourists and pilgrims between the different parts of Palestine, new road networks, bridges and rail roads were built. Steam boats were also used and telegraph and mail systems were introduced.

Bethlehem in particular was given special attention and care by the Ottomans due to the increase in the number of tourists and pilgrims visiting the city and the establishment of religious and civil institutions on its outskirts. As a result, the city of Bethlehem expanded to the north and west. Local merchants went abroad to market their traditional crafts and displayed their products in international fairs and exhibitions. Moreover, Palestinian merchants from Bethlehem set up their own commercial stores in different European countries, thrived financially and returned home where they built rich and luxurious homes inside the old city or, like Jacir family, outside the borders of the old city.

Jacir family

Youssef Jacir was a high-ranking and eminent figure in Bethlehem. He was also the designated mukhtar, or selected one, of the Arabic-speaking Catholic congregation in the city. He was known for his acumen, insight and memory power. The mukhtars of Bethlehem called him the town’s register and trustee because he kept a record of all newborns as well as the population of the city. He was also an accredited tax collector. One Ottoman document indicated that the amount of tax collected from Bethlehem and the returns from Mukhtar Jacir for the land owned by Sultan Khaski endowment amounted to 14,102 piasters. Youssef Jacir was also reputed for being skillful in mother-of-pearl carving.

Youssef Jacir had five children: Suleiman, Ibrahim, Saleh, Mousa and Mikhail. The five brothers worked in trade collecting souvenirs like beads and crosses and selling them to merchants from the West. The first immigrated to Haiti in Central America and opened a store in Port-au-Prince. The store imported different goods and commodities from Europe which were then exported to countries in Central and South America. Later Jacir brothers settles in Paris and established an import and export company. They made for themselves a good reputation in trade and they spoke French, English and Italian. Besides, they established string relations with senior merchants and banks, and the Ottoman Ambassador to France at that time was proud of them since they were Ottoman subjects. Reports on Jacir brothers were delivered to Sultan Abdul Hamid who honored them and granted Sleiman Jacir, the elder brother, a special suit with golden embroidery at the neck, sleeves and chest as well as golden epaulets. The trousers also had golden embroidery on both sides. In addition, Sleiman was granted a medal and a letter patent with the rank of a “mir miran,” which was an Ottoman rank equivalent to a governor. According to sultan Abdul Hamid’s decree, Sleiman merited the respect and appreciation of the Sultan for the services Sleiman has provided to his nation in Palestine and to people abroad. Finally, Pope Pius X visited Sleiman Jacir and granted him a papal blessing and a signed personal picture.

Sleiman Jacir was known for his courage and generosity, and for his compassion for the poor and needy. He and his brothers offered food to the hungry and clothes to the naked. During WWI they gave out hundreds of loaves of bread to poor families and at that time bread was costly. Once a week Jacir bothers held banquets in their palace for the people of Bethlehem. People still remember the well-known saying that had been often said by their ancestors, “let’s go and break the bread in Jacir house.” Invitation was open to all and every Saturday people ate rice and meat.

The wealth of Jacir family built up and they owned large areas of land including Jacir grove in Dheisheh where Dheisheh refugee camp is now located. Sleiman Jacir was active in the political life of Bethlehem and Palestine. He was twice elected as Bethlehem mayor in 1899-1903 and 1903-1907.

The construction of Jacir Palace

 Jacir family decided to build a palace on a land near the house where they were living. In 1909 they applied for a license to build their palace on 5-dunum wooded land near Rachel’s Tomb. The family attached the title deeds to the application and soon received the construction license from the Sultan on 27 Ramadan 1329. The license had the number of 10/1000.

The blueprints for the palace were developed by French architects and the construction process lasted four years (1910-1914). It is believed that the contractor who built the palace was Issa Mikhail Abdallah Hazboun who was also a sculptor, and most likely architect Jiries Elias Anastas watched over the construction process. Jacir family also contracted calligrapher Najeeb Al-Hawawini from Istanbul who was known as the “kings’ calligrapher” and he did the calligraphy in Arabic that can be seen today on top of the tower on the right. Moreover, the family brought a European painter called Marco to do the paintings at the entrance of the palace. Initial S and J in Latin appear on the wooden works and ornaments and they stand for Sleiman Jacir. The total area of the three-floor palace was 2400 square meters with 800 square meters for each floor. The construction of the pace cost 20,000 Ottoman liras. 

Description of the palace

Jacir palace is one of the distinguished buildings in Bethlehem that combines beauty, creativity, dominion and generosity. The palace is characterized by stone, wood and metal ornaments and is considered an architectural work of art that brings together western and oriental styles in perfect harmony: the cross intertwines with the crescent and speckled stones form a pillar in a special selective style that can be rarely scene in other palaces.

The palace was built in the modern-classical architectural style with baroque elements. The palace has a courtyard surrounded by a riwaq, or colonnade, with steps leading to different rooms and staircases.  The palace has a chapel on the upper floor and a dining room for family use. The reception room has columns topped with decorated stones as well as wall paintings showing angels, natural scenes like seas, forests, rivers, deserts, bedouins and camels.                                                                              

Visitors go into Jacir Palace through a metal gate attached to decorated pillars on a wall. The entrance is very much like the entrances of citadels: a stony bridge. In the 1970s Bethlehem municipality pushed the w3all back a few meters to make way for the construction of a new public road but did not affect the original structure of the palace. The entrance leads to a circular balcony built of stone and on one side of the balcony there is a richly decorated guest room. Until today the guest room contains original furniture and its walls and ceilings are decorated with nine rare paintings that depict religious and natural scenes. In the middle one can see a grey frame built in the gothic style. Another baroque frame on the wall surrounds paintings that depict the four seasons. In addition, on one of the walls one can see half-circles and natural scenes from the Mediterranean, a steam boat and a sail representing trade activity in Jaffa port. Another painting shows the Nile and pyramids of Egypt, and a third showing Moses the Prophet, angels, Abraham and his wife Sarah.

The paintings on the ceiling of the northern hall portray Youssef Jacir the father who died in 1888 and it is signed by Marco. The portrait has been drawn in the French-Italian baroque style. The same hall has also a painting of the Jordan River and another of red roses which are believed to stand for the mother of Sleiman Jacir.

Built in the midst of olive trees facing the east, Jacir Palace is an attractive tourist site. The palace is built around a central courtyard and reflects the Roman classical loggia style. The structure also incorporates Islamic architecture such as the mother-of-pearl arcs at the entrance which create an Andalusian ambiance that was not common in Palestinian architecture. Probably Palestinians have learned this style as a result of mingling with Europeans especially missionaries. Hence we can see paintings of columns and blue and light green images in frieze.

The internal colonnade is surrounded by brown columns made of white and black stones. The ceiling above the colonnade consists of domes painted in white. Next to the colonnade there is a small room painted blue which was used for social activities.

The colonnade has a restaurant and a coffee shop that provides guests with oriental and international food and drinks.

On the norther and southern parts of the entrance to the palace there are steps leading to the ground floor while on the western side there are stairs leading to the third floor.

The second floor of the palace is the most private part and it houses sleeping rooms. The western side overlooks an open yard overlooking olive trees orchards and the towns of Beit Jala and Bethlehem. On the eastern side

 Immediately above the entrance there is the family chapel.

The rooms of the second floor house Al-Zaitouneh restaurant, one of the most prestigious restaurants in Bethlehem that provides a variety of food and drinks to guests.

The ground floor is on the level of the garden and has eight rooms built around the central courtyard. The rooms were used for cooking and storage and for use by servants.  The shapes of the ceilings of the palace vary and intersect to create the largest space possible in the rooms. We see barrel shaped ceiling intersecting with cross-shaped ceilings, as well as dome-shaped and bell shaped ceilings.

The rooms of the ground floor house the Bar & Lounge that provides delicious food and drinks to customers and guests. Banquets, ceremonies and recreational activities can be also arranged in this section.

The drop in the stock in the 1930s led to the depreciation of the French franc and a sharp decline in the price of gold. Jacir family was severely affected by the financial crisis and they were forced to sell much of their property in Bethlehem to pay their debts. Jacir palace was sold to Qawwas and Araj families.

Sleiman Jacir passed away in 1933 at the age of 70. On 17 July 1933 St. Anthony Society held a special commemoration in honor of the deceased.

During the British Mandate Jacir Palace was converted into British army HQ and a prison. The palace was also used by the Egyptian military when the Egyptian army arrived to Palestine to assist the Palestinians in 1948-1949. During the Jordanian rule over Palestine, the palace was turned into a school for girls and then into a school for boys.

PADICO bought the palace in 1998, renovated it and restored its original charm. The palace was then turned into a five-star hotel.

In 2000 PADICO signed a contract with Intercontinental Hotels Group and opened the hotel as Jacir Intercontinental Hotel under the auspices of the late President Yassir Arafat. In 2014 July the contract came to an end but the hotel continued to function as one of the leading hotels in Palestine.

 

 

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