A stroll through history

Tel Aviv tells its story through an interactive walking trail in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday.

Tel Aviv interactive Independence Trail (Courtesy Tel Aviv Yafo Municipality)
As Israel approaches 70 years since its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared it a Jewish state on May 14, 1948, the country is getting prepared for events and activities to celebrate the milestone. This goes for Tel Aviv as well, the city where the country was officially declared an independent Jewish state, at Independence Hall at 16 Rothschild Boulevard.
When Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai pondered how to mark 70 years of the Jewish state, he made it clear that it would include the city’s history 40 years before 1948 and “emphasize the significant role of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the first Hebrew city, in the realization of our national vision.” Huldai’s goal is to showcase how the city developed from the first Hebrew city into the Hebrew state, and for all visitors from other cities around the country to learn the history of how the State of Israel started in Tel Aviv.
The Tel Aviv Independence Trail, to open on Independence Day 2018, does just that, as it starts by telling the history of the city’s first neighborhood, founded in 1909. This trail is an interactive walking route featuring 10 stops at various heritage sites that tell the story of Tel Aviv and Israel.
The trail is a joint project by the Tel Aviv Municipality, the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, budgeted at NIS 10 million. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that the trail’s purpose is to “provide tourists with an enriching urban and historical experience, telling the story of the Declaration of Independence and the beginnings of Tel Aviv.”
“Tel Aviv, the First Hebrew City, is named after the Hebrew title of Theodor Herzl’s book Altneuland, outlining Herzl’s vision for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. In accordance with its name, the history of Tel Aviv embodies as a microcosm of the history of Zionism and the young State of Israel,” said Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin about the trail. “The new attraction will allow everyone, Israelis and tourists, to dive into the fascinating chapters of the story of the establishment of the State of Israel, right at the center of Tel Aviv.”
The idea was taken from Boston’s Freedom Trail, a red-lined route that spans the city, taking visitors to historical sites that tell the story of the American Revolution. Similarly in Tel Aviv, the Independence Trail will feature a kilometer-long golden path that lights up at nightfall and will take participants to 10 heritage sites on or near Rothschild Boulevard.
The trail is free and participants can be guided by printed maps available in eight different languages (Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Chinese and Russian), using a tablet with an application designed to guide users along the trail, or by downloading the trail’s app straight to their personal device. Guided tours by specially trained tour guides are also available for a fee.
The Independence Trail starts at the First Kiosk of Tel Aviv, located on Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street. This first stop on the trail is highly significant to the history of Tel Aviv because it served as the border of the city’s first neighborhood, Ahuzat Bayit, in 1909, when 66 families moved there from Jaffa.
The founders of Ahuzat Bayit greatly influenced the development of the Jewish state by founding the first Hebrew city with Jewish self-governance. Ahuzat Bayit also was the first Israeli neighborhood to be built with greenery and trees, influenced by the Yishuv. The founders of Ahuzat Bayit also took part in a cultural revolution that had a lot of significance in the molding of the state. The residents performed plays in Hebrew and developed a Hebrew culture, even though they all were fluent in other languages.
The second stop on the trail is the Nahum Gutman mosaic fountain, where 1978 Israel Prize laureate artist Nahum Gutman illustrated the 4,000-year old history of Jaffa. Gutman was commissioned to create the fountain by the municipality in 1976, which showcases myths and stories from Jewish and Israeli history, from Jonah the prophet and the whale to Montefiore and Herzl.
The third stop on the trail is to the house of Akiva Arieh Weiss, the architect of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood. Weiss moved to Israel in 1906, where he first lived in Jaffa until he had the idea to build a city on its outskirts.
The trail then continues to the former site of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, the first ever Hebrew-speaking high school. The Shalom Meir Tower, which now stands in its place, has a free visitors center that tells the history of Tel Aviv.
The Great Synagogue, which served as the spiritual and religious center of the first Hebrew city, is the fifth stop on the trail. The synagogue was a home for events before the state was created and provided a non-denominational, inclusive spiritual center for all Jews.
Around the corner from the Great Synagogue is the sixth stop, where the Hagana Museum is located in the home of Eliyahu Golomb, leader of the underground military organization. The Hagana’s secret headquarters were located in Golomb’s house between 1930 and 1945. The museum is offering free entrance during 2018 in celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary.
The Bank of Israel’s visitors center is the next stop on the trail, showcasing the history of the Jewish state’s financial system. The historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank details the country’s historical development of money and has pre-state coins and banknotes on display. The Bank’s Visitors Center is also offering free entrance in 2018.
The third to last stop on the trail is the Tel Aviv Founders Monument and Fountain. Here, the names of the first 66 founders of Ahuzat Bayit are listed on a beautiful plaque.
A few steps south on Rothschild Boulevard is the Meir Dizengoff statue and the ninth stop. Dizengoff was the first mayor of Tel Aviv and was known for riding his horse to City Hall.
Across from the statue is Independence Hall, the tenth and last stop. Independence Hall was formerly Dizengoff’s home, which also hosted the historic ceremony of the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948.
While the trail ends at Independence Hall, it also comes full circle by meeting with the first stop, The First Kiosk. These two sites represent how Tel Aviv started as the first Hebrew city and transformed and influenced the establishment of the first Hebrew state.