Rephrasing an historical garden – Sabil Abu Nabut garden by

2023 Other / Israel / Built in 2022 /


A city can be viewed as an ever evolving, dynamic and multilayered physical and social entity. Cultural, historical, social aspects, as well as environmental phenomena and technological improvements, among others, are all part of the city’s story. Those narratives accumulate over time and are expressed in form, in architecture, art and landscape.

As landscape architects we strive to be sensitive to the place, and through careful study, to examine the different layers that co-exist in each site, as a basis to our understanding and phrasing of any proposed intervention. Sabil Abu Nabut garden provided a unique opportunity to practice this methodology, as a site rich with history, culture, conflicts and overlapping landscape layers.


The challenge of the project was, through landscape design, to extract and bring to the surface, in modest and accurate measures, specific historical and social narratives learned, while adding a layer that would re-arrange the composition of, and the interfaces between, such components and create a contemporary garden for the everyday life to take place.

Traces of the past

Sabil Abu Nabut garden is a site located in Jaffa by a road that historically was the main path from Jaffa to Jerusalem. Following the traces left on site and based on historical research, that included review of maps and aerial photos, we have recognized three different periods that left significant marks on the garden, as of the early 19th century until the early 21st century.

First layer – the Ottoman period. The garden is named after a Sabil, an Ottoman rectangular building with a water fountain for the use by passersby, located on the western edge of the site. The Sabil was built in 1815, during the Ottoman regime in Palestine, by the governor of Jaffa who was known as “Abu Nabut”. The Sabil had both civil and religious importance, as an open public space for the benefit of wayfarers on their journey to Jerusalem, that were invited to stop, gather, rest, and enjoy this source of fresh water (including for their cattle).  Over the years the Sabil was abandoned and left to deteriorate. One of the purposes of the project was to rehabilitate the Sabil building including its function as a public water source.

Second layer – the British mandate. During the British mandate a new landscape plan was implemented on site, characterized by a formal structure. The triangular shape of the garden was emphasized by planting of linear rows of Ficus and Cypress trees, along the edges of the plot, including a two-sided boulevard of trees that aligned with the road to Jerusalem. The inner court was sub divided into smaller fragments of gardens and paths, organized in a formal layout of lines, triangles, and orthogonal polygons. The main evidence of such era are the magnificent Ficus trees that grew to outstanding heights, provide great shade coverage, and are a food resource for wildlife in the city.

Third Layer – As of 1948 Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the armed struggles involved resulted in physical destruction of Jaffa, and in abandonment and deportation of most of the Palestinians population of Jaffa, including most of the dwellers of Abu Kabir neighborhood, the neighborhood in which Sabil Abu Nabut garden is located. Jaffa was officially annexed to Tel Aviv, the new modern Jewish city, ceased to be an independent municipality, and was now part of “Tel Aviv-Jaffa”. Consequently, the Sabil lost its original meaning and function. In the 2000s an additional layer was added to the garden, which was reframed as a sculpture garden presenting sculptures by the Israeli artist Yigal Tumarkin, dealing with narratives derived from national Israeli-Jewish history and memory.

Rephrasing the historical Garden

The project offers a new interpretation for Sabil Abu Nabut garden in the context of a city undergoing vast densification and development processes. The aim of the project was to rephrase the historical garden as a place for the everyday life, while acknowledging the traces from the past.

This was realized by redefining the fragments of the garden, forming a circulation system of walkways that connects the various segments, opening the garden to its surrounding neighborhoods, and preservation of the Sabil to regain its function as a public space and its importance as a monument in the city. The paths were designed according to the dispersion of the Ficus trees and the layout of Tumarkin’s sculptures, in a way that would enable people to stroll in the garden and stop for rest in well shaded sitting areas. Linear sidewalks framing the site, a central lawn and trees planted to supplement the rows of Ficus trees resonate the formal garden plan from the British mandate.

The design of Sabil Abu Nabut garden does not prefer one layer over the other but rather exposes the existence of different narratives related to the site. On such basis, the next phase of everyday life can begin.

Landscape Architects: Berabim Landscape Architecture

Preservation Architects: Tal Eyal Architecture

Client: Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality

Location:  51 Ben Zvi Road, Jaffa, Israel

Design year: 2020-2021

Year Completed: 2022

Photography: Nimrod Levy


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