Israel is a land with thousands of years of history and myriad archeological sites to explore. Visitors can even find overnight accommodations boasting a long backstory.
It’s not hard to find Israeli hotels or inns housed in renovated 19th century Ottoman buildings, such as the Austrian Hospice (1858) in Jerusalem; the Scots Hotel (1894) in Tiberias or 1885 Suites in Rosh Pina, named for the year it was built.
But there are also older buildings now being used for hotels. Here, ISRAEL21c focuses on hotels built in – or on the ruins of – buildings originally constructed in the 18th century and earlier. If you know of others you want to share with readers, please add them in our comments section.
Hotel Alegra in Jerusalem’s Ein Karem neighborhood encompasses an authentic Crusader inn from about 1,000 years ago as well as a 200-year-old former synagogue across the lane.
Hebrew University political science professor Moshe Amirav, owner of the older building (which used to be a separate hotel but is now leased to Alegra) tells ISRAEL21c that to the best of his knowledge, the Crusader inn is the oldest house in Ein Karem and the oldest hotel still standing in Israel.
The Efendi Hotel in Acre (Akko) opened in 2012 combining two 19th century Ottoman-era mansions reconstructed under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority. Artisans were flown in from Italy to restore the hand-painted ceilings and a fresco of the city of Istanbul created in 1878 in honor of the new Orient Express train station.
The hotel features a painstakingly restored 400-year-old Turkish bath found on site, and a wine bar in a renovated wine cellar dating from the Crusader era 900 years ago.
- Ruth Rimonim in the Old City of Safed (Tzfat) — Israel’s ancient mystical city in the Upper Galilee — is a refurbished stone building originally housing a Turkish khan (inn) during the 17th century. It boasts 77 unique and individually decorated rooms.
- The Market House Hotel in Jaffa, next to the famous Jaffa Clock Tower and Flea Market, opened only in late 2014 but contains the archeological remains of a Byzantine chapel preserved for viewing underneath the glass floor of the lobby.
- Fauzi Azar Inn in the Old City of Nazareth in the Galilee opened in 2005 inside a renovated 200-year-old mansion replete with Ottoman arches and architecture, frescos, high ceilings and marble floors. Fauzi Azar was chosen by Lonely Planet as the No. 7 best hostel in the world for 2014.
Casa Dona Gracia Hotel and Living Museum in Tiberias recreates the Turkish palace of the 16th century Jewish businesswoman, philanthropist and diplomat Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi, born Beatrice de Luna in 1510 in Portugal. In 1558, she leased the Tiberias area from the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent to house Jewish refugees of the Spanish Inquisition.
Though the main building of this unique museum-hotel is only 25 years old, it is built around a square and four pillars from that Ottoman period and contains furniture crafted nearly 300 years ago. Each floor in the 66-room hotel is decorated in the style of one of the Renaissance-era cities in which Doña Gracia lived: Lisbon, Antwerp, Venice and Constantinople.
Villa Tiferet vacation villa in Safed is a restored 400-year-old building in the Artists Quarter that originally was part of a complex housing an Eastern Orthodox Church and later a school. Canadian immigrants Amir and Nicole Bem restored and modernized the structure and opened for business in 2015, attracting mainly multi-generational families on holiday.
The villa sleeps 13 people and has large common areas including a rooftop and two courtyards, a library, a family room with a fireplace, an office, a dining room that seats 16, and a modern kitchen.
- Akkotel in Acre is built into the walls of the Old City, a renovated historical building constructed by the Ottoman Turks in the second half of the 18th century to billet army officers. It later became a school and then a courthouse under the British Mandate. After seven years of renovations, Akkotel boutique hotel opened to the public in September 2007. Sixteen one-of-a-kind rooms combine stoned arches with handmade furniture.
Arabesque in Acre is an inn with three units as well as an English-Hebrew-Arabic literary and arts center. Owner Evan Fallenberg tells ISRAEL21c that the house was built between 1725 and 1799, the latter date just after Napoleon’s attempted conquest of Acre.
“We have 1,000-year-old Crusader stones, mostly repurposed but with one original wall intact,” he adds. “A local stone mason says that because it is an exterior Crusader wall it was either Crusader HQ or a dividing wall between several of the quadrants set up by the Italian maritime republics.”