Israel to Transfer Ownership of Jerusalem Landmark to Russia

Sergei courtyard compound, built by son of Russian czar in 19th century, is considered one of central Jerusalem's architectural gems.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel will evacuate its offices in Sergei courtyard in Jerusalem’s Russian compound, a move that will complete the transfer of the compound’s control to the Russian government.

The organization and representatives of the Russian government finalized talks on Sunday. SPNI has agreed to vacate its offices by autumn. It’s not clear where the organization will move, but the Jerusalem municipality is expected to help it find a new home.

Sergei courtyard, built by the czar’s son in the 19th century for the benefit of Russian pilgrims, is considered one of the architectural pearls of central Jerusalem. The British Mandate nationalized the building, and it was later claimed by the Israeli government.

But in October 2008, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to the Russian government’s demand to regain control over the compound, since the government was the legal heir to the czar.

Last year, both the Agriculture Ministry and the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites evacuated their offices in the compound.

SPNI had hoped that it would be allowed to continue working in its offices, as it is a nongovernmental organization, but the Russians refused to accede to that request.

Russian representatives have promised that the area will remain open to Israeli visitors. The Russian government plans to restore the yard and the historical buildings in it, and to use the restored buildings to once again serve Russian pilgrims.

SPNI’s director said that the society “welcomes the Russian decision to restore and renovate the yard, and its declaration that the compound will remain open to the public.”

Tess Scheflan