The sight of windmills (Tachanat Haruach in Hebrew) in Jerusalem seems incongruous, you would expect to see windmills in Holland not Israel; but believe it or not there are two non-operative windmills in Jerusalem. During the 1870s there were several horse-powered windmills owned by Arabs. Montefiore’s windmill was the first Jewish-owned mill in the city.
The Montefiore windmill stands in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood just outside the Old City walls. It was built in 1857 on top of the city’s main water source. Construction took place when Palestine was under Ottoman rule. The windmill was funded by Moses Montefiore using money from the estate of American-Jew Judah Touro who had appointed Montefiore the executor of his will. Montefiore was a British Jew, a wealthy banker and philanthropist. The mill was one of several projects initiated by Montefiore to help the Jews who had left the Old City walls establish new settlements. The windmill was designed by Messrs Holman Brothers of England and shipped to the Port of Jaffa in pieces. The pieces were transported to Jerusalem by camel and donkey where they were assembled together with the millstone which was locally sourced. At the time the mill was the latest in British technology and innovation.
It turned out that there is a good reason why Holland has windmills and Israel doesn’t. The wind in Jerusalem was not sufficient to operate the millstone which had a hard time grinding the tough local wheat. The windmill’s decline was also due to the cost of spare parts which would have needed to be shipped from Britian. The Montefiore mill was phased out by 1891. During the War of Independence the Jews used the windmill as an observation point and so the British carried out “Operation Don Quixote” and blew the top off the windmill. In 2012 the windmill was renovated and given a new cap and sails closely modeled on the original design. Although the mill is not commercially operated the sails can rotate (with the help of a generator). Inside the windmill visitors can see a display dedicated to Montefiore and his contribution to the county and specifically the city of Jerusalem.
The German Templer Windmill
Following the Montefiore windmill one of the first German Templers to settle in Jerusalem, Matthias Frank, erected a steam-powered mill in the German Colony in 1873. The windmill fell into disrepair and has not survived although at 6 Emek Refaim you can see its remains on the west side of the house.
Video by tour guide Zahi Shaked
This windmill was constructed in the 1870s by the Greek Orthodox Church to grind flour which was used to make food for the many Christian pilgrims and for the poor. The windmill at 8 Ramban Street is featured on the 1875 Baedeker map of Jerusalem. When the German Colony steam-powered mill arrived the Rehavia windmill became redundant. In 1935 German-Jewish architect Eric Mendelsohn took up residence in the abandoned windmill, using the dome of the mill as his studied. It was here that he designed other Jerusalem landmark buildings like Hadassah Hospital. In the 1950s and 60s the Dutch Consulate and the Consul’s residence occupied the structure.
When plans were made to demolish the windmill in the 1970s they met with a public outcry in support of preserving this historic structure. The windmill is connected to the adjacent building which is a shopping center known as the Mill Center and home to the Sheyan Restaurant. Sheyan is a kosher restaurant serving Asian cuisine.