The project’s architect, Ramy Gill, who grew up in Jaffa, swells with pride as he tells me how he wrangled building permissions from cautious city officials, while carefully trying to preserve the original architectural elements of the chapel and hospital. As he excavated thousands upon thousands of truckloads of earth, he tried to “echo the geometry of the alleyways around us”, while exposing the foundations of the building to create more space.
But he also suspected, given his experience of working in Jaffa, that as they dug, they would find layers of the city buried beneath. Using centuries-old hand-drawn maps, he realised that the building was standing on a moat and wall from around the 13th century. A careful excavation revealed one of the only ancient circular walls in the Middle East, a method of building brought to the Levant by the Crusaders, but also architectural artefacts going all the way to the 4th century. “The first thing the antiquities authorities said to us”, he chuckles, “was, ‘Stop, don’t touch it’.”
Eventually, he prevailed and was able to dig out entire new floors, with the courtyard for a restaurant and the swimming pool sunk below the surrounding street level on the spot where the nuns grew Jaffa oranges. Most of the hotel’s offices and infrastructure are even further underground.