I stood in front of a huge interactive display swiping and tapping, calling up archive newsreel from over a century ago and 3D images of artifacts created over 3,000 years ago.
Then it hit me. I had been at this for hours. I was about to keel over. Yep, I must leave this museum right now or I shall collapse.
I had skipped breakfast to join an early tour in English at the newly-reopened Tower of David Jerusalem Museum. The 90-minute tour was garnished with interactive maps and animated graphics, and made enlightening connections to parallel developments in human history in other areas of the world. The tour ended at 11:30 but I had kept going, fascinated by the wealth of the exhibits and audio-visual materials telling Jerusalem’s 3,000-year story. Suddenly, it was 4pm and I had been so absorbed by the narrative that I had forgotten to eat both breakfast and lunch.
Yes, this new museum is that fascinating.
The Tower of David is a historic and iconic landmark located next to Jaffa Gate at the highest point of the Old City of Jerusalem. After a remarkable $50 million makeover requiring a decade of planning and three years of building works, it was relaunched on 1 June 2023.
Since I am a tour guide (www.guidefortheperplexed.com), they had me at “hello.” I love diving into the cultural history they present here. My conclusion after multiple visits is that this was $50 million well spent. I have yet to encounter a visitor who was not deeply impressed. Thought, research, design flair, and cutting-edge technology have been poured into this project.
Modern multimedia exhibits appear alongside ancient artifacts, many of them rescued from obscurity. The amazing Illés model of Jerusalem was originally made for the 1873 Vienna World Fair. It then lay forgotten in the attic of the Geneva University Library for over a century. Discovered by a pair of Hebrew University students it has now been reconstructed, restored to its former glory, brilliantly lit and represented and it is now one of the museum’s finest old-new treasures.
A witty animated film by Ari Folman (director of the award-winning “Waltz with Bashir” and “Where is Anne Frank”) takes the visitor on a journey through ten different periods of Jerusalem’s past. To paint the picture of Jerusalem’s multi-cultural present we have David Polonsky’s exquisite film of the city’s religious and secular annual cycle projected onto the vaulted ceiling of a gallery. Both these films and the soundscape knitted together from songs, ceremonies and the glories of nature by musician Amit Hai Cohen are works of sheer creative genius.
The Tower of David has been transformed from an ancient fortress into a state-of-the-art museum that seamlessly blends history, technology, and immersive storytelling. The makeover has focused on accessibility and creating a more visitor-friendly environment. The museum website points out wryly that since the citadel has served for thousands of years to protect the city from invaders it was designed to be inaccessible! So it was a formidable challenge to ensure that as many areas of the museum as possible can accommodate wheelchairs. Aside from some impossibilities – like reaching the top of the Phasael Tower – the access is impressive. To cater for visitors from around the world, information is provided in multiple languages.
For years, the Tower of David has hosted cultural events, tours, tastings, temporary exhibitions, and educational workshops. More of this is now planned using the newly redesigned spaces: you can track developments and upcoming events on its website at www.tod.org.il, with information in nine languages.
The renovations also extend to the outdoor areas surrounding the citadel, with beautifully landscaped gardens and terraces that provide breath-taking panoramic views of Jerusalem’s Old City. The 360 degree view from the highest point is unmissable – well worth climbing the 92 steps.
The Tower of David Jerusalem Museum is now my top recommendation for visitors to Jerusalem. I will be including it in all the Old City tours I guide this summer. But play safe: do remember to eat before you go!