Back in time to the City of David

"Visitors must use their own imagination as they listen to the guide."

Jerusalem 88 (photo credit: )
Jerusalem 88
(photo credit: )
On a recent sunny afternoon, families mingle with school groups and soldiers at the entrance to the City of David as they wait for the beginning of their tour. One family of six is all smiles as they thank their guide and sit down to relax after an enjoyable visit. The children throw their arms around the guide one last time and make plans to keep in touch. The tour of the site, known in Hebrew as Ir David, begins with stunning views of the nearby Mount of Olives and Old City and travels through time from the days of Abraham to King David and the prophet Jeremiah. It is a chance to taste a bygone age, when the inhabitants built underground tunnels and city walls, and when King David ruled and his son Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah. There are many places in Israel where one can read the Bible and stand in the place where the action happened, but none are like the City of David. Most of the biblical events that took place in Jerusalem happened there - at the time the City of David was Jerusalem. The tour passes several archeological sites, some recently excavated. The first archeological excavations in the City of David were carried out in the 1880s, with additional work being done periodically over the years. In the 1990s there was a renewal of interest and there are currently four active excavations at the site. Once past the well-tended, modern gardens, the tour enters the ancient tunnel, carved 4,000 years ago to protect the city's water. Each visitor can choose between a wet route and a dry route, each replete with underground adventure. The wet route leads through Hezekiah's Tunnel, carved to divert the water and further protect it from enemy invasion. The dry route leads through an ancient irrigation channel. Unlike many sites that use light shows and moving models of ancient Jerusalem, a visit to the City of David is fairly low-tech. All a visitor really needs is a Bible and a flashlight. Also, unlike many self-guided sites, the City of David is best experienced with a guide. "The pinnacle of the experience in Ir David [the City of David] is a guide who is enthusiastic," says Doron Spielman, international director of development for the Ir David Foundation. "Visitors must use their own imagination as they listen to the guide - the overuse of technology detracts from authenticity. In Ir David one stands on ancient stones and reads from the Bible." The Ir David Foundation brings visitors to the three most important sites of biblical Jerusalem, the City of David, Armon Hanatziv and the Mount of Olives, in a program called Ancient Jerusalem. An ancient water duct which brought water from Solomon's pools to the Temple Mount has been opened to the public in Armon Hanatziv. The foundation offers Segway and bicycle tours of the site by advance booking. It also offers tours of the graves and monuments on the Mount of Olives and in the Kidron Valley. The new King for a Day program brings 13- and 14-year-olds to ancient Jerusalem through tours, theater and activities. By the end of 2006, 50,000 teenagers will have participated in the program. Jerusalem has seen a 13 percent increase in tourism from 2004 to 2005, says Tal Marom-Malovic, spokeswoman for the Jerusalem Municipality's Tourism Authority. "Israeli tourists come to Jerusalem, but not to sleep. Overseas tourists don't come," he explains. From 2004 to 2005 the City of David saw a 32% increase in tourism. The number of visitors to the site has grown steadily from 25,000 visitors in 2001 to 250,000 in 2006, despite the decline in tourism in Jerusalem in 2001 and 2002. The City of David also brings in visitors from all over the world. The Ir David Foundation aggressively advertises in order to bring visitors to the site, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality and Ministry of Tourism. The foundation also takes part in international tourism conferences to market the City of David to overseas travel agents. In addition, the foundation holds special events for holidays. During Succot, in addition to the daily tours, Segway and bicycle activities, there were safari rides, drumming circles and activities for children. For Hanukka there will be daily tours of the City of David in English and Hebrew. Spielman attributes the growth in tourism to advertising, special activities and to the City of David's wide-ranging appeal. "King David's vision was to unify the tribes. People see that Jerusalem can once again be a place of unity. It lies at the center of everyone's heart," he says.