The Tower of David– Full speed ahead

The Old City landmark is becoming home to a wide array of cultural happenings.

At last month’s Nylon, a pop-up festival showcasing works by students and graduates of the city’s art and design schools. (photo credit: Courtesy)
At last month’s Nylon, a pop-up festival showcasing works by students and graduates of the city’s art and design schools.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Spanning over 2,000 years, the historical site of what is now known as David’s Citadel has seen many commanders and leaders come and go. The compound has witnessed Herod and the Hasmoneans, the Crusaders and the Arabs, the Mamelukes and the Ottomans. These last erected the minaret known as the Tower of David, dubbed so by Christian pilgrims who, seeing it from afar, thought it to be the palace of King David.
The varied characters of its stones and arches can be spotted at a glance, physical signs telling stories of the past that have survived through the ages.
Herod buried his beloved wife, Mariamne, in a cave on the site after she was tried on his orders and found guilty of betraying her king.
(photo: courtesy)
The site of the minaret was subsequently used as a strategic military fort by all who commanded it.
In the spring of 1918, while under the control of the British Mandate, the citadel was transformed when then-governor of Jerusalem, Col. Ronald Storrs, identified its beauty and exceptional nature and ordered its preservation and restoration.
Almost immediately it was cleared of its military installations, the guns were removed and the last soldiers abandoned the compound, paving the way for the resurrection of the citadel as a hub for the arts.
Under the auspices of Pro-Jerusalem, a cultural organization founded and headed by Storrs, the site began to serve as a museum, hosting art exhibitions, music shows and theatrical productions.
Its first exhibition, in 1921, was the most important art event of the time, attended by elite members of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. A total of 16 arts and crafts exhibitions were held at the citadel, marking the first chapter in Israeli art.
In 1989, Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek inaugurated the permanent Museum of the History of Jerusalem within the Tower of David compound.
Before the inauguration, Kollek took great care to meet with the heads of the three leading monotheistic religions of Jerusalem to ensure that the content and style of the museum respected and reflected the truths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In 2008, the Tower of David opened the Night Spectacular, an exciting permanent light-and-sound show that projects an animated history of Jerusalem onto the citadel’s internal walls, accompanied by a sound track created especially for the attraction. Since its opening, more than a million visitors have seen the show.
(photo: courtesy)
The David Citadel has an education department which can, on any given day, be found filled with children and young adults from all walks of life learning about Jerusalem’s fascinating history in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Strong emphasis is put on the importance of coexistence.
In Jerusalem met with Eilat Lieber, who has served as the Tower of David’s director and chief curator for the past three years. Lieber worked at the Museum of the History of Jerusalem when she was a student and has now returned, “to bring the citadel into focus as a meeting point between the past and the future,” she said.
In this vein, she pointed out that the compound has “two gates, one leading to old Jerusalem and one leading to the new Jerusalem.”
She referred to the late Moti Omer, her former professor of museology at Tel Aviv University – and former director of the Tel Aviv Museum – as one of her inspirations when looking at fresh content for the citadel. Lieber appears to have toiled uncompromisingly to realize her goal of bringing fresh, youthful and edgy content of an international level to the tower.
In 2014, the citadel was inaugurated as the venue for thematic Purim parties, with this year’s edition boasting an Alice in Wonderland theme and a leading Berlin DJ, and this has evolved into an event welcomed by the students and young adults of Jerusalem.
Last summer, while Israel was under constant rocket threat, the Tower of David hosted projections of the World Cup games.
In January this year, the Tower of David launched its augmented reality “Swipe the Citadel” digital tour. Visitors are invited to rent a tablet or iPad with embedded software, allowing them to scan the horizon and get an interactive digital tour of the citadel and its surroundings.
So far this summer, the citadel has hosted the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design graduates’ fashion show, and the first edition of an annual pop-up art festival called Nylon.
This was a sold-out event that brought together a very eclectic selection of works by students and graduates of Jerusalem’s art and design schools.
Under the Jerusalem sky, the festival offered art, music, theater, video art, performance art, architecture, photography, design, animation, dance, poetry and original workshops. Nylon did not disappoint, and some of Israel’s leading musicians, such as The Angelcy, Boom Pam and Shivat Zion, were there to complete the trendy vibe.
This month, almost 100 years since Storrs initiated the use of the site of the Tower of David as an arts center, the citadel celebrated the opening of a modern temporary exhibition called Objective.
This exhibition by internationally renowned Israeli industrial designers Ezri Tarazi and Haim Parnas – both born and raised in Jerusalem – explores how the city has influenced their designs and identities as mature designers. The path of personal exploration is what binds these two very different artists. The exhibits themselves are interesting objects, but what really brings them to life are the background stories that accompany each piece, shown at the citadel through text and film, documenting how the exhibits went from inspiration to realization.
Like Kollek, Lieber has reached out to the neighbors of the Tower of David to create a Market Festival that will celebrate the living history and traditional craft of the Arab vendors of the Old City’s market, while bringing them together with Armenian craftsmen and the Franciscan Orchestra, based in the Franciscan Church in the Old City..
This September and October, the Tower of David will host the second Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art within its beautiful compound. This project seeks to set a stage for professional contemporary artists, whose works refer in one way or another to the Jewish world.
The Tower of David will also be hosting the main events of the Jerusalem Season of Culture’s fourth annual edition. This year, the Sacred Music Festival will focus on the spirit in a musical celebration that spans faiths, continents and definitions.
Lieber shared some of the plans for the future of the site, which include the building of a glass elevator leading to the tower, making it accessible for all, and the re-modernization of the Museum of the History of Jerusalem with a non-chronological thematic exhibit currently in development.
Another of the projects presently under way is the continued restoration of the Kishle, a former prison adjacent to the citadel that can be accessed through the dry moat surrounding it, or through one of the Crusader-era halls in the museum.
This restoration has already heralded astonishing discoveries, including a wall dating to the times of King Hezekiah.
Archeologists were able to date the wall because of the plaster, which matched an earlier discovery made in the City of David.
The Tower of David is pushing forward, full steam ahead, determined to use cutting-edge, international-level content to breathe new life into it, thus making it a challenger for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv’s top art and culture institutions.