Temple Mount exhibit tracks 'Navel of the World' from past to present

“The Mount: A Photographic Journey” uses images dating from the time of the first camera (1838) until today the story of Jerusalem’s holiest site: The Temple Mount, also known as Al Haram aSharif.

March 21, 2019 20:42
3 minute read.
A general view of Jerusalem's old city shows the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims a

A general view of Jerusalem's old city shows the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, October 25, 2015. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)


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The Mount: A Photographic Journey will depict the story of the Temple Mount using images dating from the time of the first camera (1838) until today.

Curator Dr. Shimon Lev uses the photos to illustrate the complicated aspects of the mount’s political, religious and social development and history.

The first thing visitors at the exhibition are invited to do is climb to the top of the Fatzael Tower – which overlooks the Temple Mount – before being led to the visual report of the site. Though the view can be described as breathtaking, it also sets the scene for the importance of the site: “It is such a small area – merely one-kilometer square – but it is the center of the world... like a nuclear center,” said Lev.

Lev said the exhibit developed out of his previous work at the Tower of David – which displayed 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 Jerusalem – unsurprisingly – became a magnet of 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 that this should be the next exhibition, but I wasn’t sure it would be possible, due to the highly explosive nature of the site.”

Eilat Lieber, the executive and chief curator of the Tower of David Museum, said that the museum began to focus on photography three years ago and its collection has subsequently grown by leaps and bounds.

“The idea was to choose one place in Jerusalem and to see the changes through [photographic] lenses,” Lieber added.

She said that she would not be deterred by the challenge of tackling this highly sensitive location 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 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 Temple Mount is believed to be the site of the First and Second Temple, 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, but historically for Muslims, it is also the site where Muhammad arrived on the night he ascended to heaven and spoke with Allah (Koran, chap. 17).

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. It includes some of the most iconic photographs that have become part of the collective memory of the site, as well as photographs rarely viewed until now.

“I didn’t want to give a series of famous photos,” Lev explained.

Ultimately, he broke it down into six time periods and tried to depict 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 will be 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.

The exhibition opens March 29. For more information: www.tod.org.il/en.

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