Tel Aviv was founded on April 11, 1909. On that day, several dozen families gathered
on the sand dunes on the beach outside Yafo to allocate plots of land for a new
neighborhood they called Ahuzat Bayit, later known as Tel Aviv. As the families
could not decide how to allocate the land, they held a lottery to ensure a fair
division. Akiva Arieh Weiss, chairman of the lottery committee and one of the
prominent figures in the city’s founding, gathered 66 grey seashells and 66 white
seashells. Weiss wrote the names of the participants on the white shells and
the plot numbers on the grey shells. He paired a white and grey shell, assigning
each family a plot, and thus Tel Aviv’s founding families began building the
first modern, Hebrew city.
The time was at a peak wave of Jewish immigration – the Second Alyia. Neighborhoods in the ancient port city of Jaffa were becoming overpopulated and crowded. Many of the newcomers were Europeans of middle-class origin who sought to build surroundings that would give them a sense of what they had left behind. They wanted to build a modern suburb of Jaffa.
The true development of Tel Aviv took off with the arrival of Scottish urban planner, Sir Patrick Geddes. In response to the unplanned expansion of the city, Geddes was invited by the municipality in 1925 to present a comprehensive master plan for Tel Aviv. In his vision, Tel Aviv was to be a garden city, as foreseen by its founders. His plan called for a clear distinction between main streets, residential streets and vegetation filled pedestrian boulevards. An important element of his plan, reflecting the social climate of the time, was the creation of shared public spaces – in the form of parks and squares, as well as within residential blocks.
The city was again transformed starting in 1932 by a massive wave of immigration of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe whose arrival rapidly expanded a small town of 42,000 people into a flourishing city of 130,000 by 1936. In 1934, in the midst of this wave (the Fifth Aliya), Tel Aviv was declared a city, and Meir Dizengoff, the president of its council, as its first mayor.
The housing needs of this wave of immigration brought the rise of the Bauhaus, or Modern Movement, style of architecture. Many architects trained in the Modern style were among the refugees from Europe who began rapidly building to accommodate the population growth, resulting in what today is known as the White City. Influenced by the clean, functional lines of the Bauhaus School of Art and Design in Germany, they adapted the Modern style to suit Tel Aviv’s culture and climate, giving the city its special look. The White City of Tel Aviv, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, includes over 4,000 buildings in the Modern style.
In the 1930's, Tel Aviv became the country’s largest economic center and had the highest concentration of social and cultural institutions. Tel Aviv was the center of the emergence of Hebrew culture and culture in Hebrew – and remains so to this very day. Tel Aviv became known for its modern cafes, hotels, concert halls and nightclubs. The city enjoyed a sense of international chic, which was rare for the region, especially at the time.
Tel Aviv has maintainted the its status as Israel's cultural and economic center. Tel Aviv-Yafo of today has developed a unique style combining the best of both a relaxed Mediterranean seaside town with an edgy urban vibe. Tel Avivis are passionate about their city and are proud to live in a center of commerce, culture, style and entertainment.
With leafy boulevards filled with people at all hours, a thriving business sector, countless charming cafes and restaurants, a beautiful beachfront and rich cultural offerings, the vision of the city’s founders has come alive.