(photo credit: The Temple Institute)
On a crest of Jerusalem's Hill of Tranquility overlooking the Valley of the Cross, the Knesset, the Supreme Court, Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus and the National Library, a model of the Second Temple has been relocated adjacent to the Shrine of the Book on the campus of the Israel Museum, in a spot where history and archeology intersect.
The Second Temple Model, which was located for the last four decades since its construction in the mid-1960's on the grounds of Jerusalem's Holyland Hotel, was moved to the Israel Museum this winter due to the construction of a new residential complex on the slopes of the Holyland hill.
The model, an exceptional cultural artifact depicting the Jerusalem of two millennia ago, was created before the reunification of the city at a time when Jews could not go to the Old City or the Temple Mount.
For the last 40 years, it primarily served as a tourist site, with about 300,000 visitors flocking to see it annually.
A year and half ago, one of the owners of the Holyland property, Hillel Cherni, approached the Israel Museum with a quandary: where to relocate the model due to the planned commercial redevelopment of its site.
Cherni, who had approached several other institutions first, was not at all sure that the museum would even be interested in the model.
"We seized the opportunity from the first moment," Museum director James Snyder said.
Just around that time, museum officials had been working on plans for the construction of a $2.5 million underground study center for the Dead Sea Scrolls, adjacent to the recently restored and redesigned Shrine of the Book which houses them.
The Shrine of the Book, on the periphery of the museum campus, was situated next to an undeveloped empty tract of land, which slopes down substantially.
With the sudden surprise offer to house the Second Temple Model, museum officials knew that was the spot for it.
"We have just the place," they told Snyder, pointing to the spot on an aerial photograph of the 80-dunam (20-acre) campus.
"It was like some divine force wanted the site to remain dormant" until the offer was made, Snyder said.
After consultations with preservation, stone and transportation experts, the model itself was moved this winter on a flat-bed truck in 1,000 pieces, many of which were one square meter, he said.
The truck carried about 20 pieces of the model in the five or six trips it made daily to and from the Holyland Hotel five kilometers away, museum deputy director Dor Lin said.
The experts had said that the cutting of the model and its transportation would take about five months, he added. Instead, much to the surprise of museum officials, the job was completed in a mere 66 days.
Eighteen months after the unexpected offer was made, the museum was Thursday - as the country marked Jerusalem Day and the 39th anniversary of the reunification of the city - putting the finishing touches on the Second Temple Model restoration project, which it received without charge.
An overlook on the museum grounds offers the viewer the perspective of looking down at the city as it was 2,000 years ago, before the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, just as if one were to look down on the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.
Snyder said that he conceives that the model, in its new location, will be more than just a tourist destination, but will be elevated to the standing of a cultural artifact that intersects archeology and history.
"The site offers a three-dimensional illustration of this period in history, and to what the scrolls are and to what archeology in Israel is," he said. "It connects between the scrolls as documents and the timeline of archeological history that our galleries display."
Museum officials decided to leave untouched excavated stone at the site to give a subliminal message of how archeology of the city grew out of its landscape.
"The Shrine of the Book and the Second Temple Model, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls Study Center, is a winning combination that is bound to become a must-see for anyone visiting Jerusalem," Lin said.
About 550,000 people are expected to visit the Israel Museum this year, down from the museums's peak year in 1999, before the outbreak of Palestinian violence, when 820,000 visitors passed through its doors, he added.
The model site, which is completely accessible for the handicapped, will open to the public on June 12, and, like the Shrine of the Book, will be included in the price of the museum admission.
The official opening of the site, along with the new study center, which will offer a 15-minute fictionalized historical film, will take place on July 5.