The 4,000-year-old Israeli city of Jaffa has suddenly acquired a new and youthful persona. Built up the side of a low hill overlooking the Mediterranean, the city and its natural harbor have been of strategic and commercial importance for millennia. In the 10th century B.C., King Solomon imported the cedars of Lebanon for the construction of Jerusalem’s First Temple through the port of Jaffa, while in the 1920s and ’30s the famous Jaffa oranges exported by Zionist pioneers provided the primary economic foundation for their expanding settlements. With the birth of the state of Israel in 1948, Jaffa was largely depopulated and the old Arab city, with its narrow alleys and closely packed houses, became an extension of southern Tel Aviv, or Tel Aviv-Yafo, as the conurbation is known. But today, after decades of comparative decline, Jaffa is suddenly buzzing and fashionable, with a rapidly expanding roster of restaurants, cafés, galleries, boutiques and hotels.
April 2018 saw the debut of The Setai Tel Aviv, a sibling to the nexus of fashion and celebrity in Miami Beach. And then in August, it was joined by The Jaffa, a hotel designed in part by British architect John Pawson, known internationally for his refined minimalist aesthetic. I say “in part” because the core of The Jaffa is a 19th-century French hospital and monastery, to which Pawson (aided by Israeli architect Ramy Gill) has added a modern extension. The complex and ambitious project, which lasted more than a decade, was financed by New York real estate tycoon Aby Rosen, owner of (among numerous other things) the Seagram Building, Lever House and Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan.
With 120 rooms and suites, The Jaffa is quite a sizable property, but it doesn’t feel like a big hotel. While it would be a stretch to describe it as a hideaway, it is tucked in the middle of the Old City, surrounded by traditional houses constructed during the centuries of Ottoman rule. And its exterior is relatively self-effacing and does not dominate the surrounding district.