In a city dotted with architecture from the likes of King Herod and Suleiman the Great, a striking new landmark was inaugurated Wednesday in Jerusalem, becoming an enduring modern part of the capital's skyline.
The NIS 246 million bridge, designed by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was built at the main entrance to Jerusalem, where it eventually will be used for the city's new light rail line, which itself has been delayed for years and is now scheduled to start running only in 2010.
Aesthetically pleasing to some and distinctly out of place and jarring to others, the ultra-modern state of the art bridge has been dubbed "The Bridge of Strings" due to the 66 white steel cables which stretch down from a spire 118 meters high, like the strings of a harp.
Calatrava, who has built more than 40 bridges around the world, including, most recently, a bridge nearing completion over the Grand Canal in Venice, said Wednesday that the Jerusalem bridge was his unquestionable favorite.
"I think it is the most beautiful," he said. "I like it the best."
"I have always loved Jerusalem, which is a universal city for everyone, but now that I know the city I love it even more," Calatrava said.
"The most important aspect of the bridge is being in Jerusalem," said Calatrava, who is working on the planned transportation hub at Ground Zero in New York, and a residential tower in Chicago which will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere when completed.
The Jerusalem bridge, whose costs tripled during construction - provoking stinging criticism by a city watchdog - was chosen after three models were made of the site.
The final model that was selected was not different in concept from the earlier ones, but dealt with the shape of the pylon, with a lighter color eventually used to blend in with the golden-white Jerusalem stone, Calatrava said.
A protected pedestrian walkway at the site will offer visitors and commuters a panoramic view of Jerusalem.
The bridge unquestionably alters an uninspiring and dull area of Jerusalem previously known primarily for the central bus station and a bloc of nondescript hotels.
At an on-site press conference, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski had only praise for the "monumental" new site at the entrance to the city without mentioning its soaring costs, with eager city officials passing out a colorful pamphlet with a computer-simulated image of the bridge in the future, surrounded by two modern high-rises that do not yet exist.
A gala NIS 2 million inauguration bash, which was attended by Lupolianski and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, followed stinging criticism by Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat of excessive waste of public funds, and comes amid months of complaints over repeated delays in the bridge's construction, the project's skyrocketing project, and claims over structural flaws and cracks.
Despite the inauguration of the bridge, it will remain unused for at least another year - and perhaps as long as two years - because of repeated delays in construction of Jerusalem's light rail system.
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