Tel Aviv was founded on 11 April 1909. On that day, several dozen families gathered on the sand dunes outside the ancient port city of Yafo (Jaffa) to allocate plots of land for a new neighbourhood they called Ahuzat Bayit (meaning ‘homestead’ in Hebrew). It was a time of peak Jewish immigration: neighbourhoods in Yafo were becoming overpopulated and crowded. Most of Ahuzat Bayit’s founders were Europeans of middle-class origin seeking to build a modern suburb of Yafo that would give them a sense of what they had left behind. In order to divide the land fairly between their families, they held a lottery: Akiva Arieh Weiss, chairman of the lottery committee and a prominent figure in the city’s construction, gathered 66 grey seashells and 66 white seashells, wrote a name on each white shell and a plot number on each grey shell and then paired them randomly. In 1910 the settlement was renamed Tel Aviv (literally ‘Spring Hill’); thus the first modern, Hebrew city was born.
The development of Tel Aviv took off in earnest with the arrival, in 1925, of Sir Patrick Geddes, an urban planner from Scotland. In response to the settlement’s expansion, Geddes was invited by the municipality to present a comprehensive plan for Tel Aviv. Geddes’ vision was for Tel Aviv to be a garden city, as foreseen by its founders. His plan called for a clear separation between main streets, residential streets and leafy pedestrian boulevards. Another important element of his plan, reflecting the social climate of the time, was the creation of shared public spaces, both as parks and squares and within residential blocks.
From 1932 Tel Aviv was again transformed, this time by a massive wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in Europe – in just four years it expanded from a town of 42,000 people to a flourishing city of 130,000. Among these refugees were many architects trained in the Modern style, as exemplified by the clean, functional lines of Germany’s Bauhaus School of Art and Design (which had been shut down by the Nazi government). The displaced architects quickly set to work, adapting their designs to suit Tel Aviv’s culture and climate. The result of their efforts is known today as the White City of Tel Aviv, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 and comprising over 4,000 modernist buildings.
During the 1930s Tel Aviv became the region’s largest economic centre. It also became the centre for Hebrew cultural and social life, with a wide range of cafes, hotels, concert halls and nightclubs opening their doors. Indeed, Tel Aviv enjoyed a sense of international chic that was rare for the region, especially at the time.
At the start of the 1948 War of Independence, the city and its periphery became the focal point of the conflict between Jews and Arabs. The fight over Yafo’s future started immediately after the UN adopted its partition plan. As in other areas where Jewish and Arab forces have clashed in close quarters, civilian populations in both Tel Aviv and Yafo suffered – many ultimately fled. In April 1950 Yafo was formally merged with the Tel Aviv municipality, and the unified city of Tel Aviv-Yafo was established (though it remains more commonly referred to as Tel Aviv).
The next several decades were frustrating for the proud elders of Tel Aviv. They worked hard to survive the severe social and economic problems that followed the establishment of Israel and to provide the most advanced public services to the city’s residents, even establishing a university. Yet there began a gradual trend of young people leaving the city which lasted until the mid-1980s. Tel Aviv was losing its vibrancy and its population was growing older.
Fortunately, the 1980s brought about a shift in attitude – living in Tel Aviv once again became desirable to the young, sophisticated and educated. There was a gradual migration from all over the country back to Tel Aviv, which began to flourish anew and soon regained its stature as Israel’s most creative and energetic city. Over the years since there has been massive renovation and development throughout Tel Aviv-Yafo, giving the city a welcome makeover whose finishing touches are still being improved upon. Today, Tel Aviv-Yafo boasts a unique style that combines the best of a relaxed Mediterranean seaside town with an edgy, urban vibe. Tel Avivis are passionate about their city, which last year celebrated its centenary, and are proud to live in a centre of commerce, culture, style and entertainment. With a thriving business sector, tree-lined boulevards filled with people at all hours, countless charming cafes and restaurants, a beautiful beachfront and rich cultural offerings, Tel Aviv has truly fulfilled the vision of its founders.
Recently, Tel Aviv embarked on a major economic initiative to further elevate its international position. The Tel Aviv-Yafo Global City Project, a joint venture of the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo and many of Israel’s ministries and agencies, aims to utilise the city’s assets to promote financial activity, tourism and cultural enterprise.