Despite being the capital of Israel’s Negev region, Be'er Sheva is not a major tourist attraction. But the city is looking to change that, undergoing major efforts to develop the Old City where the first houses were built during the Ottoman period at the turn of the 20th century.
The Ottomans ruled throughout the region for hundreds of years, but failed to bring much in the way of progress and development during this long period. But they did leave important landmarks and a heritage that is part of the modern history of Israel.
Be'er Sheva, which is the only city built by the Ottomans during their rule over the Holy Land, played a crucial role in World War I.
In 1917, the British Empire and the Ottomans, with the backing of the Germans, fought the Battle of Be'er Sheva, with the British breaking the Ottoman lines to eventually take control of all of Palestine.
The epic battle was the last major mounted cavalry charge in history. The victory paved the way for the Balfour Declaration that would lead to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
In recent years a lot of development has been carried out in Be'er Sheva to show its heritage and also pay tribute to the ANZAC forces (Australians and New Zealanders) that liberated the city.
Here are a few travel recommendations to visit and learn about the Ottoman and British heritage of Israel’s capital of the south:
Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures
Hundreds of years of Islamic heritage in Israel starting from the 7th century are presented at this beautiful museum. The museum opened its gates in 2014 and is located at the Great Mosque built in 1906 as part of the Ottoman development of the city along with other municipal buildings on a main modern road.
The museum is a magnificent building with an inner garden that has a lovely decorated fountain.
It has a permanent exhibition with archeological findings from the various periods of Muslim rule in the region and also temporary exhibits with an emphasis on inter-cultural encounters between traditional Islamic culture, external traditions, and contemporary arts.
The new museum is a major part of the project for conservation and development of Be’er Sheva’s Old City, and it is part of the Museum Trail that is being created in the area.
The Negev Museum of Art
The museum is the main museum in Israel that showcases the contribution of the Negev to Israeli art and culture, with non-permanent exhibitions of leading Israeli artists.
The museum was renovated and restored between the years 1999-2003 and was reopened to the public in 2004.
This building also tells the history of the city in the last hundred years. It was erected in 1906 and served as the house of the Ottoman governor of the city, and later on as the mansion of the commanding British officer, then a school and after Israel’s independence as Be'er Sheva city hall.
The decision to turn this building to a museum is a powerful message as the building itself is an important part of the heritage of this city.
The Be'er Sheva ANZAC Memorial Center
This unique museum aims to portray the spirit of the ANZACs at the time of the Battle of Be’er Sheva.
Looking back in time, these brave ANZAC horsemen storming the Ottoman-German forces in the Negev armed only with rifles and bayonets seems almost implausible.
The memorial center, dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the liberation of the city aims exactly to show this and bring the unique spirit that brought a dramatic change (at the third attempt) in the battle to take Palestine from the Ottomans and Germans.
The nearby Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery is the final resting place for some 1,241 Commonwealth soldiers (973 British, 173 Australian, 31 New Zealanders and 1 Indian) who died in the battles for Gaza and Be’er Sheva.
This garden was one of the first public gardens in Palestine, landscaped by the Ottomans in the city center in 1902.
The garden was also used by the British and a statue of General Edmund Allenby was placed in the garden in 1917 and dedicated by Herbert Samuel in 1923.
The statue was destroyed during the Arab Revolt of the 1930s and only many years later in 2006 was a new sculpture made to replace it.
The garden was restored in 2015 and today it remains a beautiful getaway in the Old City of Be'er Sheva.
Uri Sharon is a tourism professional with a Master's degree in Tourism Development and Planning from Haifa University. He is the founder and editor of trvltrend.com and has many years of experience in digital and offline marketing, e-commerce, integrative media planning and public relations. The main focus of his writing is digital trends in travel and hospitality.