Living history

The Tower of David recreates the Crusader period.

Blacksmith a Tower of David Crusader recreation. (photo credit: RICKY RACHMAN)
Blacksmith a Tower of David Crusader recreation.
(photo credit: RICKY RACHMAN)
Jerusalem’s Tower of David has come alive with the history of the Middle Ages, more precisely the Crusader period in Jerusalem. Built by the Crusaders themselves, the Tower is host to events three times a week in the afternoon and a sleepover for children and parents on Thursday nights throughout the month of August.
Historically, the Crusaders entered Jerusalem in 1099 and made the city the capital of a new kingdom, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The seat of the Crusader king was originally on the Temple Mount, but in 1118 the residence was transferred to the royal castle built in the southern part of the citadel site with the adjoining main tower called the Tower of David.
The Tower became one of the emblems of the Crusader kingdom, with Turris Davit appearing on its coins. The Tower’s entrance in the southeastern wall, its niches and dry moat are all from the Crusaders.
To say the Tower of David is rich with Crusader history would be an understatement, but now it is alive and bustling with it for the sake of education through reenactment. Event activities include sword fighting, fencing workshops, arts and crafts, shield and sword wood workshops, a dress-up station for adults and children, as well as fire-juggling performances.
There are an on-site blacksmith and jester, along with actors dressed up as knights and princesses. On Thursday evenings, the Tower hosts a sleepover at the citadel, where families can join the knights in a historically accurate tent, where they cook a feast over an open fire, dance and play music.
In addition to the actors, the events are being led by a group of Crusader-period enthusiasts comprised of historians and archeologists.
“In order to make it historically correct, the Tower of David has had help from a group of people who are passionate about this time period and have delved into the Middle Ages with great vigor learning about the everyday lives of those living during this time,” says Caroline Shapiro, director of international public relations for the Tower of David.
“It was fascinating listening to the leader of the group describe all the things that they do and the efforts to which they go to make their lives historically correct while in costume. He talked about the flags that we have hanging from the top of the towers and the emblems of the families that they represent who were here at the Tower of David and how incredible it was that these families had disappeared for some 800 years and are now back to life.”
All the group’s clothes are hand sewn and their jewelry is handcrafted. Group leader Genadi Nizhnik-Kolmiychuk is a historian, archeologist and tour guide. He has a passion for and dedication to the Middle Ages, especially to the handiwork and individual creativity that was expressed through craftsmanship at that time; something he feels we have lost in the modern age through mass production.
“I am dressed down to my underwear as if I had stepped out of the days of the Crusaders in Jerusalem,” he says. “There was a certain magic in the Middle Ages.
Before modernization came along, this time was the last post standing.
“Now in the modern era, we’re beginning to think that maybe we lost something along the way. It’s about getting back to basics for me. If I had a lot more time, there are many other periods that fascinate me, but this is my speciality and I’ve gone into depth in this period.”
Nizhnik-Kolmiychuk’s group goes up north every July to the lower Galilee to recreate the Battle of Hattin in 1187, the epic battle which the Crusaders lost to the Muslim forces of Saladin. This is the first year that the group has come after the re-created battle to bring the period to life at the Tower of David.
Nizhnik-Kolmiychuk’s group has made a camp with food, weaving, spinning, arts and crafts, fencing and dancing – all authentic to the Crusader period. It is also the first time that children will be able to sleep over at the Citadel.
Nizhnik-Kolmiychuk emphasizes that, when it comes to cuisine, it is important to remember that there was nothing brought over from America at that time; so there was no sweet corn, potatoes or tomatoes. The food was comprised mainly of beans and root vegetables. One of the members of his team is a cook who specializes in the period.
Nizhnik-Kolmiychuk’s own expertise is as a blacksmith. Each of the 12 members of the group has their own speciality to help bring the Middle Ages to life.
“Being in the Tower of David makes me feel like I’m part of a never- ending story and that I’m really living history,” Nizhnik-Kolmiychuk shares. “Bringing it to life for hundreds of children is exciting and emotional.
“What really interests me is the kind of arts and crafts that were made at that time, and going back to handmade products, where each one was individual for a specific person. Individual creativity has been lost to mass production, unfortunately. I see these events as three things going together: history, experience and knowledge. I hope that the people who come to visit will enter into this historical experience with us.”
Ultimately, the Crusader period in Jerusalem was a very ugly and gory time, and Shapiro and the Tower of David staff are well aware of this fact. But over time, people have come to romanticize the Middle Ages with knights in shining armor and princesses in castles, especially in children’s fairy tales.
There is a difference between what actually happened in the Middle Ages and the perception of it today. The Tower of David’s events in a way acknowledge both story lines.
“The Tower of David’s role in education is to bring these different parts together and to bring history to life in order to understand it more,” Shapiro states. “As much as we’ve got actors who look like knights, having this team of fantastic people truly enhances the events.”
The Tower of David’s afternoon program will be held on August 24, 27 and 29 from 4 to 7 p.m. The last sleepover at the Citadel will be held on the night of the 24th.
For more information or to purchase tickets: