‘Navel of the world,’ through the ages

Embark on a photographic expedition of the Temple Mount – Jerusalem’s holiest and most contentious site.

MUSLIM WOMEN pose for a selfie in front of the Dome of the Rock, Ammar Awad, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)
MUSLIM WOMEN pose for a selfie in front of the Dome of the Rock, Ammar Awad, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ready for an up-close-and-personal view of the powder keg that is the Temple Mount? 
In “The Mount: A Photographic Journey,” curator Dr. Shimon Lev employs images dating from the time of the first camera, 1838, through today to shine a light on the Mount’s complicated political, religious and social development and history.
 
The first thing visitors to the Tower of David Museum’s new exhibition are invited to do is climb to the top of the Fatzael Tower, overlooking the Temple Mount, before taking in the photographs. The breathtaking vista sets the stage for the significance of the site: “It is such a small area – merely one square kilometer – but it is the center of the world... like an atomic nucleus,” said Lev.
 
Lev said the exhibition developed out of his previous work at the Tower of David – displaying photos of Jerusalem during various periods, depicting the city’s multiple faces over more than a century. It is generally accepted that cameras began to appear around 1838, and the Holy City – unsurprisingly – became a magnetic attraction for photographers from across the world.
 
“At a certain point, I began to realize that depicting Jerusalem across the different stages of its history – since it began to be photographed – was leading us to the most crucial point in the city: the Temple Mount,” said Lev. “I thought this should be the next exhibition, but I wasn’t sure it would be possible, due to the highly explosive nature of the site.”
ONE OF a series of postcards of the Temple Mount esplanade, Shlomo Narinsky, 1910-1921. Photogravure print, Tower of David Museum Collection, Jerusalem. (Photo: Tower of David)ONE OF a series of postcards of the Temple Mount esplanade, Shlomo Narinsky, 1910-1921. Photogravure print, Tower of David Museum Collection, Jerusalem. (Photo: Tower of David)
 
Tower of David chief curator Eilat Lieber said that the museum began to focus on photography three years ago and its collection has subsequently grown exponentially. “The idea was to choose one place in Jerusalem and to see the changes through [photographic] lenses.” 
 
She would not be deterred by the challenge of tackling this highly sensitive location, Lieber recounted, and gave Lev a green light to tell the story.
 
The Temple Mount has been considered a holy site to hundreds of millions of people all over the world, including all three Abrahamic religions, for more than 3,000 years. It stirs strong religious and political sentiments and has also been researched on fronts ranging from archaeology to culture.
 
The Mount is the site of the First and Second Temples, and where a third Jewish Temple will be built when the Messiah comes.
 
Today, the Mount houses the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque; according to Muslim legend, it is the site where Muhammad arrived on the night he ascended to heaven and spoke with Allah (Koran, chap. 17).
FRIDAY PRAYERS during the month of Ramadan, Ammar Awad, 2016. (Reuters)FRIDAY PRAYERS during the month of Ramadan, Ammar Awad, 2016. (Reuters)
 
Likewise, the steps at its southern end are believed to be where Jesus would teach.
 
The exhibition presents hundreds of photographs taken by photographers, researchers, tourists, religious pilgrims, ideologues, soldiers, policemen and members of the Wakf Islamic trust. It includes some of the most iconic photographs that have become part of the collective memory of the site, as well as images rarely viewed until now.
 
“I didn’t want to give a series of famous photos,” Lev explained.
 
Ultimately, he divided the presentation into six time periods and tried to spotlight a certain angle or point in each one.
 
“I used a lot of unknown material, and even in those cases depicting a famous moment – like in the Six Day War or the arson of the al-Aqsa Mosque – I used lesser-known photos for which I had to obtain special access,” the curator said.
 
Guided tours are available in Hebrew and English, and English tours can be downloaded from the izi.TRAVEL app, which features Lev and includes a virtual reality experience.
 
For more information: www.tod.org.il/en.