Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

The Palestine Hotel, Nablus

Sitting in the University Library at Cambridge, reading the sculptor Eric Gill’s diaries of his trip to Palestine in 1934 (he had been commissioned by the architect Austen St. Barbe Harrison to carve a series of panels for the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem). On one of his excursions from Jerusalem, to the city of Nablus, Gill records that he and his companions:

“At the Hotel (the Palestine Hotel) we stopped and had drinks (I had a lager, they had tea and cakes), a lovely room – very airy and high and cool”.

This reminded me that, last time I was in Nablus, I’d spotted an old sign on what I was told (by my own friend, the architect Naseer Arafat) was now a building used by UNRWA. It was the notice for the restaurant of the same Palestine Hotel visited by Gill. Interestingly, the Arabic uses ‘locandat Filastin’ for ‘Palestine Hotel’, ie the Italian-derived term often seen in Egypt, rather than ‘funduq’, the word now usually given as the Arabic for hotel.

One comment on “The Palestine Hotel, Nablus

  1. Josephus
    April 27, 2017

    Dear Sarah Irving,
    I most enjoyed reading your blog entry of 21st April in which you refer to reading Eric Gill’s Jerusalem Diary. On Thursday 20th April I was at The Rockefeller Musuem in Jerusalem. A truly memorable revisit as the Director invited me up into her office at the top floor of the tower, from which there are the most wonderful views over The Temple Mount, the Old City, and beyond.
    I don’t know if you are aware of the extent and the outstanding quality of Gill’s artistic contributions to the Musuem? First, there are the 10 rectangular plaques set high in the walls around the central courtyard with its (regrettably presently dry) water cistern and fountain. Each plaque references a specific historic culture which has been associated with Jerusalem. They are all imaginative and lively designs, and each is a superbly balanced composition within the rectangular frame. Moreover, although each of these works is evocative of, and references a history and culture, there is absolutely no recourse to pastiche in the execution. These are manifestly 20th century sculptures.
    Gill’s sculptural work at The Musuem also includes the relief at the front entrance depicting “Asia and Africa”, and a head shaped water spout for the fountain.
    Gill’s contribution to The Museum also includes the truly remarkable and extensive incised inscriptions throughout. The more important directional signage is repeated in English, Hebrew and Arabic and Gill devised sympathetic fonts for each language. Hebrew font is particularly elegant. These inscriptions, designed by Gill and executed by him on site, (I understand he had one assistant working with him,) are the most fortunate survival.
    Regrettably these sets of sculptures and inscriptions are not widely known about. It my view they are the work of this talented artist craftsman at the very top of his game, and that taken they represent his finest installation.
    Do you know these works? If not, I would be pleased to put together a selection of the photographs I have taken over the years and send them to you on a memory stick. Please let me know if this would be of interest.
    I haven’t read Gill’s Jerusalem diary, which I would very much like to do. From a quick search, I find that two editions of extracts have been published: “From the Palestine Diary of Eric Gill” in 1949, and “From the Jerusalem Diary” in 1953. However, the tome shown in your picture appears to be a more complete version.
    I would be grateful if you could please let me know the full title and if possible the library catalogue reference.

    With mu warmest regards,

    p.s. Just in case you don’t already know: Gill also did the inscription to the memorial to the soldiers of Black Watch, Royal Highlanders, killed in the Palestine campaign which is in the wonderful St Andrew’s (The Scotch Church) Jerusalem.

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