From Russia With Love From The Tzar’s Brother
Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovitch built the Russian Compound in the late 1800′s for the pilgrims who were swarming to Jerusalem. Then the revolutionaries got him.
When Israel became a state in 1948, properties belonging to all kinds of foreign countries fell into her hands. Among them was the Russian Compound, complete with pilgrims’ hostels, a magnificent church, a splendid guesthouse and a consulate.
For years, the Russians tried to get their property returned to them. Finally, in 1964, the two countries reached an agreement that divided up ownership of the Compound. In what became known as the “Orange Deal” (Iskat Hatapuzim), most of the buildings remained Israeli property, while a few of them — the church and part of a former hostel — were returned to their former owners.
In order to retain most of the property, Israel was required to shell out several million dollars. But shewas a leading exporter of Jaffa oranges. So as part of the deal, a big chunk of that sum was paid out in oranges.
It all began in 1860, the same landmark year in which Jerusalem Jews first tried life outside the Old City walls. At the time, today’s Russian Compound served as a parade ground for the Turkish cavalry. But the Russian Orthodox Church needed to build housing for her pilgrims, who had begun visiting the Holy Land en masse in the middle of the 19th century. And this choice piece of property was not only located along the main Jaffa-Jerusalem Highway, but was also within walking distance of the Old City’s holy sites. Soon, what was originally called Nuva Yerushalma became known as the Russian Compound.
Construction began immediately on a cathedral, a hospital and a series of hostels for the thousands of Russian pilgrims who swarmed to the Holy Land each year. But none of the hostels was fancy enough to house the Russian aristocracy. The nobility preferred the elegance of Beit Sergei, built in 1890 by the Imperial Palestine Russian Orthodox Society.