The richest man in the occupied territories has indulged his passion for Palladio – by creating a replica of his Villa Rotunda and filling it with priceless treasures
A terracotta-tiled dome pokes up above an avenue of cypress trees, crowning a creamy classical villa that bears the unmistakable influence of the great Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. On each of its four identical sides, flights of stone steps lead up to porticos topped with pediments, which look out across a rolling landscape of vineyards, olive groves and villages perched on distant hills. It could be Vicenza, were it not for the clusters of minarets rising out of the sprawling city in the valley below – or the fact that the distant hill towns are in fact Israeli settlements.
This is Beit Falasteen, the House of Palestine, a surreal replica of Palladio’s 16th-century Villa La Rotonda transplanted to a hilltop above the Palestinian city of Nablus. It is the home of Munib al-Masri, the richest man in the occupied territories, an oil tycoon turned philanthropist with a passion for antiques, variously known as the Godfather of Palestine and the Palestinian Rothschild – or, to local taxi drivers, the man in the palace on the hill. On one of the highest points in the land, he has built himself a carbon copy of Palladio’s seminal villa, with a few “improvements” of his own.