The City of David: Exploring the origin and identity of the ancient site

The impact of experiencing Jewish roots in ancient Jerusalem is profound. As Doron Spielman said, “We don’t have a narrative, we have a story grounded in tangible fact.”

The water fountain at Teddy Park, named after the late legendary mayor Teddy Kollek (photo credit: MAX RICHARDSON)
The water fountain at Teddy Park, named after the late legendary mayor Teddy Kollek
(photo credit: MAX RICHARDSON)
I have been photographing in and around the City of David since 1985. More than 800,000 people tour the city and its sister sites annually, and their number is growing steadily, even as more of the ancient site and its history becomes revealed through the perennial archaeological discoveries there.
The impact of experiencing Jewish roots in ancient Jerusalem is profound. As, Doron Spielman said, “We don’t have a narrative, we have a story grounded in tangible fact.”
As a photographer, I have witnessed the impact of these facts on thousands of people from around the world for the past 20 years. I would like to share some of the places they visit, through my camera’s lens.
My first camera was an 8x10 inch Burke and James flatbed camera or field camera, first built in the 1890s. I didn’t know it then, but one day I would wish to join the early artists dedicated to photographing the Holy Land.
I had learned photography on much the same type of equipment as Felix Bonfils, Francis Frith, Auguste Salzmann and others.
Because their equipment and processes rendered a soft ethereal image, when viewing their work one could read into them an idealized, if somewhat nostalgic view. They lent themselves to a romantic interpretation of the Holy Land and its people. To me, they convey a longing to rediscover the feeling of the ancient and holy city in our present day.
My photographs are infused with the desire to be a part of the collective renewal of Jerusalem. It is my privilege to share a few of these images here.
When making the photograph I call Gihon Spring, I became wholeheartedly, enthralled by the implications of where I was, of being privileged to photograph the source of the concept of Zion. These are the literal birth waters of the City of David, the origin of Jerusalem. It took time for that to really sink in and to find images that would do justice to the story of where it all began.

The photograph became the cover of the book, City of David, The Story of Ancient Jerusalem, by Aron Horovitz. Aron is dedicated to the education of people who visit the City of David from every corner of the globe to understand a little more about the origins and identity of Jerusalem. He is responsible for the educational materials that come from the City of David, gives workshops and is published by Megalim Yerushalayim.
Like most other visitors to the site, being there enabled me to understand the historical facts of this place. The story and the characters, who made this site famous, now came to life for me. The water tunnel, the fortress, the spring were all around me. It was as though I was on the stage of an ancient theater, imagining the biblical narrative playing out before me – the loud rush of gushing, spring waters creating the heady musical score. Here in the womb of this procreant hillside is the source of the city we have learned to call holy.
Being here, I can see firsthand that the life-giving Gihon Spring made this place the best choice for King David’s capital. It was inside the Canaanite fortress he had captured, through the water tunnel that I was now standing in. The most famous writings of David, Solomon, and much of the Bible itself were written here, in shouting distance from the summit of Mt. Moriah. There is the site of the binding of Isaac and the chosen location for the Jewish temples. This was the practical, sustainable and iconic site around which to forge twelve tribes into a nation. This is the City of David. This is the place called Zion. This is the origin of the city we call Jerusalem.
There are magical scenes and individuals that to my eye bring the good prophecies regrading Jerusalem to life. I seem to keep finding timeless imagery that blurs the boundaries between what is real and imagined.
Sometimes I can’t tell if I made an image out of remembrance of a Biblical passage, or if the visual metaphor before me recalls the passage afterwards. I realize where I am and that I am a living witness to their fulfillment. A contemporary example would be, to my delight, seeing children playing in the abundance of the water fountain in Teddy Park, below the walls of the Old City. “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God....”
Having enough water in Jerusalem has always been a challenge, until now. We now have more water in Jerusalem than ever.
We have water in Jerusalem because we need it for all the people who live here. Perhaps our ingenuity is a reward for just being here and trying to make it a better place to live.
Also, water is a well-known metaphor for Torah. And many Jews, perhaps more than ever, are learning traditional Torah studies. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But here it is, because we followed our dreams.
There is one enchanting scene I call “Vision of Avraham.” This pristine setting is the cradle of ideas born nearly 4,000 years ago. Western civilization still depends on events and writings from this place for its very foundation.
Looking at it in its snowy shroud, this scene, and all that happens within it, could be millennia ago, today, or only in a time to come.
When Abraham brought Isaac to Mt. Moriah, they would have seen the mountain from here (near the center, surrounded by the golden wall). They traveled from the south, most likely by this road, or close to it. This is the only possible view one can get of the City of David and Mt. Moriah, if approaching Jerusalem from the south.
Abraham and troupe left from Beersheba, heading north towards “the mountain I will show you... in the land of Moriah.” This act would become the pinnacle of the Jewish ideal through the world-changing decision that Abraham would make on Mt. Moriah.
The City of David, greater Jerusalem and all of Israel are replete with imagery that harkens back to what defines us as a people, as, the people of the book. Our book is the Bible. We wrote it and we live it, in our collective and individual ways. The Israel of today is the Israel of the Bible. The writings, muses and songs are larger than ourselves. It is our heritage, our legacy, our greatest contribution and natural resource. Much of the world has created their own identity by it. So much so that some of the visual metaphors seen here are all but universal. The Wheat Harvest image is one example.

At times I have had the opportunity to actually illustrate the Biblical events on the sites where they took place.
The photograph Jerusalem, The Queen was taken on the site of the royal cemetery of the Davidic dynasty. The wall in the background is the southern section of wall that surrounds the summit of Mt. Moriah.

In this visual story, there is a common theme in the prophets that dialogues between the Almighty and Jerusalem, the latter being a wayward bride who becomes destitute and almost forgotten. Deserted, she is left to contemplate the price of promiscuity and the pain of penitence. Until, in the end, she rises from the ashes of self-destruction, like the Phoenix, to a new life as the righteous queen, triumphantly restored to her throne and fulfilling her destiny. Perhaps this is a Jerusalem not so far away.
Finally, there is the image of The Gate of Mercy overlooking the Kidron Valley, which separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. Traditionally, this is where the Divine Presence appeared in ancient times, and according to Ezekiel will again appear during the messianic age. It is also foretold as the setting of Armageddon. The Gihon Spring flows from deep beneath the earth’s crust to this valley.
In capturing this image at sunrise, for me it represented the hope of a new dawn for humankind in the very place where it is meant to begin.
The City of David is the place to set Biblical events. These are the most famous stories and characters in the world. They deal with the human experience in a way that nothing else seems to have done with such universal appeal. I feel this is where my art calls home.
To visit the City of David is not only to make a foray into the past, it is an opportunity to see a unique city’s history that always looks to the future. It is singular in its purpose and its hope for humankind.
Today, we are fortunate to see Jerusalem developing at an incredible pace. To live here is to be a player in her foretold destiny. It is the place where one can expect to see peoples of all countries. It is where one can expect to hear “Shalom” everyday from anyone.
This is the City of David, origin of the nation of Israel, still struggling with God and human beings, aspiring to be the home for houses of prayer for all people.
Max Richardson is an American-born commercial photographer living in Israel since 1991, and he has made Jerusalem’s most revered sites his visual home. His work is published in several books and on his website,