Looking up in Tel Aviv

Many a visual delight crown the tops of the White City's buildings.

tel aviv tile 88 298 (photo credit: )
tel aviv tile 88 298
(photo credit: )
The streets of central Tel Aviv are full of artistic elements incorporated into its far-from-new, yet stylish buildings - however, some of the most creative gems are often way above eye level. The vast majority of people briskly walking the sidewalks of Allenby and Ben-Yehuda streets, and a score of interesting streets branching off from both, rarely raise their heads to take in the open-air free art gallery on high at their disposal. Even the crass modern glass-and-steel high-rises have a fair amount of art on offer - if the sun's blinding rays are not bouncing off all that shines in the midday sun, directly into your eyes. A few years ago, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality commissioned murals by local artist Rami Meiri, whose crew always make passers-by smile. They are so lifelike that people almost want to cross the street for a chat. Many tourists pose to have their photos taken standing by Meiri's Tel Avivians reading their morning newspaper on the wall next to a Rehov Ben-Yehuda news agent or the neighborhood folks gathering for a good gossip on the wall of a building near the old bus station. From the appearance of the building, it is possible that Meiri's paint work is what is holding it together. In trendier areas, massive laser-printed advertisements on stretched canvas are drawn across many of the multistory office blocks. It could be argued that there's nothing artistic about they way they push some new line of jeans or T-shirt that seems to have been fashioned around every rippling muscle adorning the overly handsome model. One wonders if all this is really natural or computer enhanced. Towering above you at the unnatural height of five stories, with a chest the width of 10 office windows, he makes one feel like Lilliputian wee folk next to Gulliver. On the city's older buildings - most of which do not hide behind Castro or Fox's latest materialistic offerings - little-spotted artistic and architectural wares include creative spires, mini-onion shaped green or orange tiled domes, Corinthian columns and attractive verandas that sometimes stretch around a building's rounded corner. The metal wrought iron railings on many verandas and some snazzy plasterwork are also works of art in themselves. Rather interesting ceramic tiles adorn buildings built and inhabited by Jewish immigrants to Palestine from the 1800s onward. Some of the colorful ceramic scenes take us back thousands of years to biblical times, while others depict Zionist history, backtracking to Theodor Herzl in Europe and the birth of the Zionist movement. In recent years, with many a renovation underway, the use of pastel colors has been introduced, brightening up the outer walls of what were once private homes and today are (in most instances) either converted apartments or offices. The light oranges, blues, yellows and pale greens make Tel Aviv appear more Mediterranean than before. A few areas such as Rothschild Boulevard, Neve Zedek and Nahlat Binyamin draw visitors to Tel Aviv, almost like a magnet. All are within walking distance of each other. The abundance of Bauhaus style buildings is a great draw, but the major pull is the feeling that one is walking in the larger-than-life footsteps of some of the greatest of Zionist leaders in the land, particularly those whose clarity of vision saw a city rise out of the fine Mediterranean sand. The majority of the ceramic tiles on Tel Aviv buildings (and the ceramic street signs) were manufactured at the Bezalel Art Institute in Jerusalem. They incorporate oriental elements together with fashionable modern Jewish styles, with tiles featuring landscapes, animals, plants and Jewish symbols. For instance, on Rehov Ahad Ha'am off Allenby, a school named after the famous Zionist writer boasts two large ceramic tiled scenes of Jaffa and Tiberias. Each mural comprises 16 large tiles, and the whole building features different eye-catching designs - as long as one looks up, that is. Another attractive cluster of tiled pictures can be found on a building known as Lederberg House on the corner of Sderot Rothschild and Rehov Allenby. The first time this writer spotted one set of the tiles on the second floor level was the result of waiting for the traffic lights to change in order to cross over Allenby. One mosaic is 13 tiles in length and six in height, and the artist managed to get in a picture of the walled city of Jerusalem surrounded by a beautiful leaf motif border. The Lederberg house was constructed in l924. The family lived in one of the two apartments on the upper floors, the lower floors being rented out as shops and offices. Three other ceramic works on the building depict agricultural workers in days long gone. In one, a wicker basket-carrying farmer sows seeds in a field by hand, and in another a scythe-wielding worker swishes away, cutting down the successful yield some months later. Yet another depicts a shepherd and his flock. A nearby building, now a bank, boasts a rather interesting decorative relief, that of Joseph selling grain during the seven lean years in Egypt. Visitors to Tel Aviv, remind yourselves to lift up your heads and to take in what others, who pass by every day, miss out on or are too busy to stop and admire.