Baka: Evolution and Revolution
Baka is an upscale, family-oriented community located in southern Jerusalem, which has come a long way since its humble beginnings.
Centrally located between the German Colony to the north and Talpiot to the south, the name Baka is Arabic for “valley,” which alludes to Emek Refaim – or Valley of Refaim – that runs along the western border of the neighborhood.
Baka was established in 1892 when the railroad line from Jerusalem to Jaffa was completed. During the ensuing years, wealthy Christian and Muslim businessmen built magnificent homes and moved into the neighborhood. Soon after the War of Independence, the Israeli government moved immigrant families into these recently deserted buildings and built housing projects to provide shelter for the thousands of Jewish immigrants who had been expelled from neighboring Arab countries.
During the same time period, neighboring Old Katamon and the German Colony attracted academics, doctors, lawyers, and political leaders. As a result, the community started to gentrify, as families desiring to live near these prestigious communities began purchasing homes in Baka. Starting in the early 1980s, it became fashionable to purchase and renovate Baka’s attractive older houses which boasted high ceilings and oodles of charm.
Over the years, the community, situated within a half hour walk of the Kotel, became a magnet for religious families. Today, Baka boasts many thriving synagogues, such as Nitzanim and the Yael Shul, plus the neighborhood is home to a number of outstanding elementary and high schools, such as Efrata and Pelech. The population is about two thirds religious – primarily Dati Leumi or national religious – and relations between the observant and secular residents are positive and respectful.
So far, we have focused on the evolution of Baka, but there is also a revolutionary dynamic that has driven the gentrification of the neighborhood. Baka has become in vogue due to it being the last central Jerusalem neighborhood that had land available to create luxury projects within a communal infrastructure, which is exactly what many families had been clamoring for. Let me elucidate: A number of luxury properties have recently been constructed in the City Center. Interestingly, though, these developments have not generated the same excitement and sales traction as have the Baka projects. Many well-heeled buyers have preferred to purchase homes in Baka because it offers an excellent communal infrastructure comprised of wonderful shuls, entertainment, and restaurants.
Let’s focus on two recent projects that have led the charge in Baka’s transformation.
A few years ago, the iconic Ulpan Etzion vacated its 18 dunam (4.5 acre) campus, which has been transformed into Bustan Baka, a residential complex comprised of 170 units and a beautiful park. Due to the tremendous pent-up demand by local and overseas buyers for modern housing in this tight-knit community, the project was a tremendous success, and we were honored to have represented over sixty families who purchased homes in this quality development.
The second project is Park-Eight, an intimate residential complex comprised of 55 units located in the heart of Baka, which has set a new standard for luxury and elegance. By offering top of the line finishes and exceptional amenities - such as a residents' club with a gym and an events room, and a stunning park - Park-Eight attracted a clientele desirous of upscale cosmopolitan living.
Notwithstanding all this construction activity, strict preservation laws have helped Baka retain its charm. Large-scale projects, such as the restoration of the original train station – renamed Hatachana Harishona (“The First Station”) and reinvented as a vibrant culture and entertainment venue – and the creation of the walking and cycling promenade along the route of the original train tracks have enhanced the neighborhood’s appeal to residents and tourists alike.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.