PHOTOGRAPHY BY ASSAF PINCHUK
At the Setai, which opened earlier this year overlooking the ancient port of Jaffa, history is layered like an onion: A 12th-century Crusader fortress begat an Ottoman kishle (jailhouse), then a police station, and now the hotel. On the lower level, look for sloping stone arches from 1200 A.D. in the spa relaxation room and Crusades-era stonework behind the gym’s ellipticals and free weights.
The renovation was completed under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which had representatives on hand when a number of historical artifacts—including bones and skull fragments—were unearthed. These and other treasures dating to the late 18th-century Napoleonic invasions will go on display in a lobby museum.
The building was first used as a prison during the reign of the sultans; in a nod to this history, the spa offers a traditional Turkish hammam. But you don’t need to partake in a rubdown to feel the influence: Simply pause in the hotel’s inner courtyard, where a painstakingly preserved stone archway bears the original seal of Sultan Abdulhamid II.
The early-to-mid-20th-century British Mandate for Palestine is evident in the lobby bar’s full high tea, which features scones and clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches, and, of course, piping hot Earl Grey.
The State of Israel:
After the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, the Israelis took control of the prison. (Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann spent his last days here before being executed in 1962.) Today, the iron gratings on the guest room windows are fashioned from the jailhouse’s original bars.