After the founding of the residential neighborhood, "Mishkenot Shaananim" (Lit. "Tranquil dwellings") in 1860 the barriers of convention broke down. This was the first settlement built outside the walls of the holy city which had been protected and defined by its walls since the time of King David. It was soon followed by other areas such as Nahalat Shiva and Mea Shearim.
The fifth settlement outside the Old City Walls was Mea Shearim, ‘One Hundred Gates’. 140 units were built and distributed by lottery to who signed up to be part of the new "colony," and they took the name "Mea Shearim" from the weekly Torah reading. The signing occurred during "Parshat Toldot", the week when the Torah portion read in synagogues tells of Isaac's great success: "He planted in that land and found in that (famine) year a hundred-fold (of the estimated produce), for God had blessed him" (Genesis 26). Thus, the place was named Mea Shearim, indicating divine blessing 100 times the expected. Mea She'arim was established in 1874 by Jerusalemites from the Perushim community (those opposed to Hasidism), including Zalman Baharan and Joseph Rivlin, who together founded the Mea She'arim Society and purchased the lands of the quarter from the Arabs of Lifta. Conrad Schick planned the quarter as a rectangle made up of oblong houses built in an unbroken line, their outer walls forming a rampart. At night six gates closed the quarter.
A book of regulations to organize communal life in the quarter was written by an elected committee. The quarter was active and kept up with the times. The nickname for Mea Shearim was even "Paris of the Orient". From 1880, the conservative atmosphere in the quarter grew. This religious radical trend intensified until the Agudat Yisrael movement and the Neturei Karta group ("Guardians of the city") split in 1935. During the British Mandate period, the neighborhood still had a large Zionist population that identified with the Mizrachi and Ha-poel Ha-mizrachi religious parties, but from the 1940s this public began to leave the quarter. This process intensified after the War of Independence, when new neighborhoods were built for the veteran population in Kiryat Ha-yovel and Katamon. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Holocaust survivors who had come to the country in the 1940s and 1950s replaced this population.
Most of the people who live in Mea Shearim are ultra-Orthodox and members of Chassidic sects. (You can tell which sect by the clothing they wear. Some sects wear white socks, some black, some wear black robes, some white and so on...). On nearly every corner, you will find a yeshiva or a synagogue and at any time of day or night, you are bound to hear the singsong chant of men learning or voices arguing over a Talmudic dispute of years ago.
Other things you might notice while walking through Mea Shearim are all the posters and signs announcing book sales, lectures, weddings and other community events.
There are also signs requesting that visitors to the neighborhood dress modestly and act as befitting a religious community.