Living the past

Israel needs to use its history to attract tourists, says Venetian Massimo Andreoli, who is hereto help the country do just that at the month-long Knights Festival in the Old City.

City of Lions festival_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
City of Lions festival_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A man who earns his crust from reviving the past, Massimo Andreoli seems to have at least one eye on the future as well. Andreoli is in town to oversee part of the artistic content of the City of Lions – Jerusalem Knights in the Old City festival taking place every Thursday throughout this month. The festival slots start at 6 p.m. and are spread around the Christian Quarter and part of the Muslim Quarter shuk starting from Jaffa Gate. The program includes music, dance, jousting and acrobatics, with appropriate edible sustenance provided.
“When you are talking about history, Jerusalem, and Israel, is the place,” says Andreoli. “Every civilization came through this part of the world and everyone in the world should be aware of that. That’s why I want to have a world history festival here sometime. I have visited lots of important sites here, like Masada and Megiddo. Israel is the natural world capital of history.”
The 45-year-old Venetian’s working visit to the capital came about as a result of the international tourism conference held in Jerusalem in March.
“Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu said he wanted to put tourism at the top of the national agenda,” notes Andreoli. “He said he wanted to increase the number of tourists to Israel from 5 million to 10 million. I say why not, but you have to have the infrastructure. You have many things to think about before the tourists arrive.”
As far as Andreoli is concerned we could do a lot worse than exploit our own history to draw people over here. He and he and his colleagues having been utilizing their own past to great effect at the festival. The Venetian contingent includes the Musica Officinalis ancient music ensemble, as well as entertainers with a somewhat more combative style.
“We had some knights with full armor and swords, dueling and fighting,” says the artistic director. “Actually, we were a bit concerned about having a fighting show in such a holy city, but we were told it was all right.”
In fact, it didn’t initially go down well with absolutely everyone.
“There were some little kids who started crying because they thought the knights were really fighting. But their parents calmed them down and I think the kids enjoyed it in the end,” Andreoli laughs.
Besides his work here Andreoli acts as artistic director of various historically based festivals and events around Italy and other parts of Europe and Asia. He serves as president of CERS – Consortium of European Re-enactment Societies, which promotes the aforementioned events. Andreoli, who founded CERS in 1996, says there is growing demand for his wares.
“You know, today children grow up with computers and iPhones and iPads, and all sorts of I’s, and don’t get to see and touch the real thing that much. I remember going to a school and asking the children in a class there where milk comes from. They said things like the supermarket, or the grocery store, and not many knew it comes from a cow, or what a cow looks like.”
But seeing is believing, and understanding.
“Children want to get dirty, you know, bake bread and make food like they did centuries ago, and get muddy and dress up in historical costumes. It’s great fun and I believe it’s a good education for them too.”
Andreoli says we really should do more here to get in on the historical and cultural entertainment act, and that it could provide an excellent PR vehicle for the country.
“I cannot explain why Israel doesn’t work harder to promote itself all around the world. Okay, I can understand there are some problems. I have friends who heard I was going to Israel and they say things like: ‘be careful, stay in the hotel and the restaurant, don’t go out on the street.’ But that’s crazy. This is my fifth visit to Israel, where is the danger? Yes, we know there are some dangerous places but this is not a country under siege. But this is the feeling all around the world.”
That, according to Andreoli, is easily righted.
“One of the ways to promote Israel is through culture, cultural tourism. That’s why am I here now for the Knights Festival. I spoke to someone at the Jerusalem Development Authority, and I told him that they are trying to change people’s attitudes to Jerusalem with many festivals, like the Light Festival, also last year’s Knights Festival was not so good so we spoke together to see how we can requalify it.”
The idea is to get the word out further afield.
“We said we would start making a program to send out around the world to say to people ‘you can come to Israel.’ We need to tell them that, first of all, Israel is one of the most beautiful places in the world, second because you can find history everywhere, and third because you can also find culture here, and don’t forget the advantage of the weather. While I have been here I saw that the weather in Italy was a disaster. It’s nice to have some sunshine in Jerusalem at this time of year.”
The artistic director says that Jerusalem is the epicenter of what we have to offer culturally.
“This is where all the religions have an interest, but you can also use the universal of culture, like music and street theater. First you can offer cultural tourism and then, in the second wave, you can maybe start with a new dialogue within culture.”
Andreoli certainly feels more could be done to get the good word out about Israel in his own country.
“People hardly know what humous or felafel are or, if they do, they probably don’t know the best way to eat them. Italians never eat felafel in pita because there’s no pita. You may think that’s not important, but food is culture. I love Israeli food.”
Reaching out is the way to go, says Andreoli.
“The Knights Festival has to go to an international level, like the Light Festival which brought in artists from different countries. Last year there were only Israeli artists in the festival. This year there is the Venetian delegation, with musicians, jugglers, acrobatics and fighters. We also want to introduce a bit of the history of Italy through this entertainment. That’s a good way to get the message out to the world about Israel and Jerusalem too.”

Thursdays until November 24, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Activities will take place throughout the Old City, with the route beginning and ending at Jaffa Gate.