Naomi Shemer sang her way into Israeli history when she poetically described
“Jerusalem of gold, of bronze and of light.”
Starting on March 6,
visitors will be able to add another surprising item to the list of Jerusalem’s
ethereal materials: ice.
A group of 35 expert ice carvers from China are
already hard at work creating a 1,500-square-meter ice extravaganza, with
renderings of Jerusalem landmarks as well as an ice zoo and an ice coffee shop,
which will open for two months starting in March.
More than 650 tons of
ice will be sculpted into whimsical and fantastical creations inside a giant
structure in the parking lot of the old train station in the German Colony
neighborhood. The area must be kept at -10 degrees Celsius at all times, and
visitors will receive special coats when they enter.
Jerusalem: Ice City
is a joint venture between the municipality and the Ariel Company, a
semi-private company associated with the municipality, which the city hopes will
become a yearly event.
Ariel CEO Meir Torgeman would not reveal the cost
of the project, which requires an electrical system larger than Teddy Stadium,
or whether Ariel expects to make money on the venture.
But Bai Wei, the
general manager of the Chinese company the exhibition, Heilongjiang Provincial Ice and Art Development Co., said
similar projects in the United States cost approximately $2
Torgeman credited the mayor’s “cultural revolution” with
providing the opportunity to hold such a large and expensive festival, and the
emphasis the mayor has placed on longer exhibitions that positively affect both
tourism and local businesses. “People will want to sleep here, they will want to
eat here, they will want to go out here, and that will affect the city,”
Torgeman said as he stood next to a life-size lion made out of ice.
stunning Tower of David already rises from the floor of the structure, light
glinting off the clear ice in the Jerusalem quadrant of the exhibition. Visitors
will walk through a transparent Jaffa Gate to enter the exhibit.
zoo area, a worker diligently carved a fur pattern into the an ice giraffe,
which has been dyed a bright yellow.
The other two quadrants of the
exhibit will feature characters from Israeli children’s stories and a fantasy
area. There will also be an ice-skating rink, coffee shop and bar.
exhibit will utilize some 600,000 blocks of ice created at a manufacturing plant
in Ashdod that was built especially for the exhibit, which runs from March 6
through April 30.
“The hardest part, aside from the logistical side of
the project, was thinking of a concept that, on the one hand, would honor our
most precious asset, which is Jerusalem, and other the other hand, would appeal
to the wide range of populations in Jerusalem, to families and children,”
explained Sharon Shalev, the producer of the Ice City.
The tradition of
extravagant ice cities comes from Harbin, China, a wintery city in the snowy
northeastern part of the country. Bai Wei explained that in the 1960s, the city
began hosting an annual ice-sculptor show.
“The first idea was to solve
the problem of entertainment during the winter, because in the winter, it’s very
cold, and there’s no entertainment,” he explained. Temperatures dip to -30
degrees Celsius in the winter.
The annual ice-sculpture show in Harbin,
each year bigger than the last, became a worldwide phenomenon. Now, five
universities in the city of approximately 5.8 million offer degrees in ice art.
There are even competitive high school ice sculpting competitions.
of artists from Harbin travel around the world creating giant exhibitions,
including in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan,
South Korea, Canada and the United States.
Bai Wei said that many
visitors, especially at American exhibits, like to break off pieces of the
sculptures and take them home. “We know they do it because they like it,” he
laughed. But he warned that the souvenirs rarely survive the ride back
home, and the bandits are left with nothing but a puddle in their
Bai Wei also added that though the materials, including the ice
coloring, are edible, it is not a good idea to lick the sculptures. Not
only could you get frozen to the sculpture, but you also never know where other
curious visitors have tried to taste the artwork.
Each city where an ice
exhibit is created is different, Bai Wei explained.
In Jerusalem, the
team toured the Old City extensively, “in order to get inspiration,” he said.
“Only after understanding the culture here could they begin their artistic
Bai Wei also defended critics who balked at the colossal use
of resources needed to create the ice and maintain the giant structure at a
chilly -10 degrees, by explaining that despite the electricity use, there was
little other waste created, as the sculptures will simply
Ultra-Orthodox residents created a small stir by demanding
gender-separate hours on the skating rink. “This is Jerusalem, so there
always is that request, but we won’t honor it,” said Shalev.
the annual ice festival takes place on a sprawling campus, as hundreds of
thousands of visitors from around the world climb up ice staircases into
Jerusalem’s exhibition, held inside a specially
constructed building that costs NIS 5m., is more modest. But the
breathtaking sculptures are no less impressive, especially because they are in
Indeed, not only did Israelis make the desert bloom, they made
the desert freeze.