Ramallah, a Palestinian city that celebrates art, heritage and freedom

Growing from an agricultural oasis to a modern cultural and political hub, one cannot but admire the rich mosaic of Ramallah embracing both residents and visitors.
Saturday 29/06/2019
A view of Ramallah city in the West Bank. (Ruba Zeidan)
A view of Ramallah city in the West Bank. (Ruba Zeidan)

RAMALLAH - Crossing the Jordan River from the east, little did Rashid Haddadin know that his name would forever be remembered as the man who dreamed a city that stretches gracefully up the green hills of the holiest of all lands.

Falling for the mountainous terrain and forested areas, the Haddadins, blacksmiths by profession, founded their home in the breezy city of Ramallah in the 16th century, after fleeing from Karak in present-day Jordan because of a tribal disagreement.

Founded in the late 1500s, by Haddadin and his five sons, Ramallah honours the memory of the original family with five stone lions at Al-Manara Square in the city centre.

The name of “Ramallah” stems from the ancient Kana’ni “Ram,” meaning “the high land.” Ramallah has evolved to become a mecca for immigrants, farmers and craftsmen settling in the city, enjoying the prosperity and serenity of a place nestled among olive trees and clean-cut stone houses.

Growing from an agricultural oasis to modern cultural and political hub, one cannot but admire the rich mosaic of Ramallah embracing both dwellers and visitors.

Wars have taken their toll on people and Ramallah. Surviving the 1948 Nakba and the 1967 Naksa, the city became the home of many who sought refuge. It houses the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, which was established under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Arriving in Ramallah, a visitor instantly feels the hip rhythm of the city. Modern, white-stoned buildings pave the wide streets leading to the city centre. Many cafes, clothing stores and colourful shops spread over the main streets of the bustling city, with noise fading away into mild, loveable squeaks of birds nesting in the greenery.

A favourite hangout in Ramallah is Radio, an open garden transformed into an art space, sort of a bar and cafe. The place has a cheerful vibe, with local and international bands playing almost every night. Not far from the city centre in al-Masyoun district, Radio resembles the controversial city with its pleasant contradictions.

The imprints of Ramallah’s original residents and those who relocated from their diaspora and promised to turn their beloved hometown into an international icon can be found everywhere. Nothing says this more than the Mahmoud Darwish Museum.

This landmark, in Al-Barweh Park, extending over 9,000 metres of green space, is a one-of-a-kind sanctuary and a source of pride for the people of Ramallah. Inside the amazingly designed building, visitors hear the voice of Palestine’s beloved poet, echoing in a well-lit hall where the walls are covered with the collections of Darwish’s works, photos and publications.

The building has a cultural centre, an open summer theatre and a well-groomed garden that hugs Darwish’s marble stoned tomb with his words engraved on top.

Ramallah, though relatively small — 17 sq.km — offers a variety of activities. The city is a haven for fans of hiking, with mountains surrounding the centre and with an active hiking scene throughout the year.

Enjoy a stroll from Al Manara Square to one of the ice cream parlours nearby to sample authentic Arab gum-flavoured cones of frosty pleasures.

The most famous of them is Rukab, a social gathering point for fashionable young Ramallans, who often afterward head to the traditional part of town — Tahta — where ancient buildings with restored facades loom from a distance.

From there, one can walk towards one of the city’s landmarks and most cherished institutions, Ramallah Friends Schools, established in 1869. The building is pleasant to see, with its proud palm trees and beautiful architecture.

Ramallah celebrates arts, music, joy, nightlife, delicious cuisine but above all freedom. This is why a visit to the 6-metre-tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela, the late South African freedom fighter, a few kilometres from the city centre, is a must.

As a sister city of Ramallah, Johannesburg, South Africa, presented the statue to the Palestinians in 2014. There stands the legendary humanist, raising his fist in the face of the occupation as a beacon of hope reminding the people of Ramallah and the whole world of his forever-echoing words.

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Mandela said in a 1997 speech in South Africa during the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Statues of Rashid Haddadin, the founder of Ramallah, and his family.(Ruba Zeidan)
A Ramallah sign in the city square.(Ruba Zeidan)