Jerusalem's Iconic Windmill to Resume Its Daily Grind

After 119 years of standstill, the blades of one of the capital's best known landmark are set to turn again.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The historic windmill in Jerusalem is expected to resume grinding wheat with wind energy in about two weeks time, 119 years after it stopped operating.

Built in 1875 in the capital's Yemin Moshe neighborhood, the windmill is one of the capital's best known landmarks. Yesterday the new dome and blades were installed at the top of the structure, completing the project initiated by a group of Dutch Christians, the Jerusalem Foundation and the Jerusalem Municipality.

The 12.5-ton dome and blades, reconstructed over two years with the assistance of Dutch experts, are identical to those of the original mill erected by British philanthropist Moshe Montefiore.

The reconstructed internal mechanisms, including the grindstones and wheels, enable the mill to operate by wind power again for tourist and educational purposes.

Montefiore had the idea to build the windmill during a visit to Jerusalem in 1855, intending to break the Arab monopoly on flour mills and provide work to Jews outside the Old City walls.

The Arab millers tried to sabotage the venture by paying someone to cast a curse on it. S.Y. Agnon wrote of the affair in his book "Only Yesterday": "And the Arabs saw and were jealous. They hired an old man to curse the windmill. He turned his eyes to the windmill and said, I guarantee you that when the rains come and the winds come, they will make it into an everlasting ruin, and the rains came and the winds came and didn't do anything to it."

Despite the curse's ineffectiveness, Jerusalem's chroniclers deem Montefiore's windmill a failed project. Tour guides say the reason for its failure was the lack of wind at the mill's location and the erroneous calculations of its constructors.

Researcher Shaul Sapir of Hebrew University, who studied the mill's history, refuted this thesis. He says the mill worked successfully for 18 years and stopped operating due to the lack of spare parts and the advent of new steam mills.

In the 1930s, years after the mill had been abandoned, British Mandate authorities renovated the structure. But in 1948 the British high commissioner noticed on his way from prayer at nearby St. Andrews Scottish Church that Haganah fighters were using the mill as a sniping position, and ordered it blown up.

A Jerusalem legend says the sergeant sent to bomb the mill "saw Montefiore's name inside and being himself a graduate of a school named after Montefiore, couldn't bring imself to do it. So instead of blowing up the entire mill, he destroyed only the upper part, with a bit of pyrotechnics," Sapir says. "Thanks to him the mill tower still stands today."

Since 1967 the mill has been restored several times, but each time the decorative dome was repaired, it was installed with make-believe blades that were unable to turn.

About two years ago, due to a contribution by Dutch Christians, the Jerusalem Foundation set out to repair the structure both inside and out, building four wooden floors in it. The grindstones were placed on the second floor.

The mill's parts were made by the British windmill building company Holman, and based on the original model.

Once the mechanisms are completed, visitors will be able to watch the wheat grinding and flour producing process.

"It was a combination of historic craftsmanship and very complicated logistics," said Ofer Sela, co-owner of Sela Engineers, which managed the NIS 3 million project.

Just to be on the safe side, a small electric motor was installed as well, despite the protests of the Dutch engineer who assembled the mill, and who had faith in the power of the Jerusalem wind to spin the blades.

A crane installing the new blades on Jerusalem’s famous windmill in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood.Credit: Michal Fattal



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