Finding Ramallah's main streets too boisterous? Try this walk that leads you, within a short time, to one of the quieter areas of the city.
Walk: Manara Square to Al-Birweh Garden. Duration: approx. 30 mins. Distance: ~ 2.5 km. Difficulty level: low, with the exception of a couple of uphill slopes. Recommended time: an hour before sunset.
I always find that one of the best ways to get to know a new city is on foot. Ramallah, obviously, is no exception. One particular walk I am especially fond of is the one leading from any of the busiest hubs of the city - Manara Square, for example - to one of its quietest corners, the terraced Al-Birweh Garden surrounding the Mahmoud Darwish museum.
Getting the hang of Ramallah's street organization might be difficult at first (tip: always think in triangles), but the upside is that you have several ways of getting from one point to another. The walk proposed here takes you down Jaffa Road, as you gradually leave the racket of traffic behind in favor of the quieter, faux suburban areas.
From Manara Square, find your way to the nearby Clock Square (also called Yasser Arafat Square or Square of the Expatriates), one of the busiest locations in town. Cross the Square to the other side and take the only road that goes down - Jaffa Road.
While walking, you will pass by several houses which boast an architecture which was typical during the period of the British mandate. Influenced by British and French styles, wealthy families at the time used to build mansions topped with roofs of red Marseille tiles outside the old city. Passing Ramallah's Muntazah Garden/Restaurant to your right, you will see the first of these beautiful houses to your left (home of the Annahda Women's Association, originally a family house built in 1927), before the road starts to climb a little. Go on, past a ¨Mr. Pizza¨, until you reach a towering old mansion to your left, now a juvenile rehabilitation center appropriately called ¨Dar Al-Amal" (The House of Hope). This house was built by the Khalaf family in 1928; the family belonged to the Ash-Shaqara clan, one of the 7 founding clans of the city.
If you continue down Jaffa Road you will eventually reach the nearby town of Beitunia, but you will want to take the steep uphill slope to your left, immediately after the mansion. Once you start climbing, you will notice the noise quota drop drastically, as you pass another exquisite mansion topped with a red-tiled roof and a garret or two to your left. This is the house of Karim Khalaf, the mayor of Ramallah between 1972 and 1982. To your right, you will pass by Khuzama, a restaurant/bar with a garden which has become a popular hangout for Ramallah's youth on the weekends. Continue straight, past the ever-increasing number of roundabouts, past a number of official looking buildings in front of which several soldiers constantly stand guard, and you will see the Al-Birweh Garden in the distance. Right before you reach it, on your right hand side, you will see another large facility, home to Ramallah's Cultural Palace, where several cultural and artistic events are held every week.
Once you reach the Garden, be sure to take a short stroll inside and to visit the Mahmoud Darwish museum and tomb, before sitting down in the open-air theater to contemplate the jungle of concrete buildings sprawled across on the other hill, the ultimate evidence of the fast population growth the city has experienced during the past 20 years, as the setting sun tinges everything with orange hues.
By Suhail Matar