After much anticipation, Jerusalem's Tower of David Museum opened on June 1, following five years of intensive planning and raising funds and another three years implementing the renovations and new construction to give the iconic museum a significant facelift.
Eilat Lieber, director and chief curator of the museum was interviewed by Christian journalist Paul Calvert where she talked about the newest features of the museum and why it is a “real key” to understanding the history of Jerusalem.
Lieber explained that the museum renovation was necessary because the property itself was in need of repair after more than three decades and millions of visitors were enjoying the popular tourist attraction in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“First of all, the infrastructure was pretty old. And the building, the architecture, the beautiful walls and towers needed conservation and preservation, and we wanted to update the exhibition and to engage our visitors, especially the young generation, with the story of Jerusalem,” she said.
The cost of the renovation project was approximately $50 million, half of which was provided by major donors, including the Clore Duffield Foundation in London, the Patrick and Lina Drahi Foundation, Keren Hayesod, The Jerusalem Foundation, the Israeli government and the Jerusalem Municipality and others.
According to Lieber, the museum features ten different galleries which tell the story of Jerusalem, starting with an introduction and the 'eternal timeline of Jerusalem,' which was constructed with the use of touchscreens visitors can use to drill down and discover various events in the history of Jerusalem.
”You can see a beautiful timeline of artifacts presenting the different periods of the city,” Lieber explained and said there are now three galleries that focus on the Sacred City Festival of Jerusalem, Christianity and Islam.
The museum features a beautiful gallery dedicated to the story of the Tower of David, which Lieber described as "a time capsule."
“It's a microcosm of Jerusalem. And you can see a lot of signs telling the story of this place that used to be the symbol of power in Jerusalem. And now it's a symbol of culture: It's a museum, it's a meeting point, a bridge between communities,” she said, calling the museum the "biggest exhibition" about Jerusalem in the world right now.
During the interview, Lieber told Calvert that the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in Israel in 2020, was challenging but also a window of opportunity to make the necessary improvements to the property without causing disruption for guests. One of the main upgrades was to make the museum accessible to all visitors.
“COVID was an opportunity because we realized that we won't have tourists and visitors and we could accelerate the project and focus on, you know, the conservation. We could cut the schedule from four years to three.”
Lieber described Jerusalem as "a complicated city – 4,000 years of rich history and all three religions and, of course, all the cultures that ruled the city.” She said the museum was a place where people can really begin to understand and build on their knowledge about this significant city.
The top portion of the Tower of David, known as Jerusalem's Citadel, which marks the western Jaffa Gate into the Old City, was completely removed and rebuilt in recent months after fears that it could collapse. The historical significance of the citadel, or minaret, has been a symbol of Jerusalem for generations and constitutes an integral part of the Old City’s complex.
During the interview, Lieber referred to the renovated minaret as the museum’s "jewel in the crown," because it was in bad condition and, according to their engineers, it had to be rebuilt.
“The experts of the Israeli Antiquities Authority – they did it really quick, and beautifully done. And now the minaret will actually survive for the next generation.”
The upgraded museum uses modern technology to enhance the story of ancient Jerusalem, with new interactive content, video mapping and film projection, which she said “helps to keep the beauty of the spaces, the antiquities, without harming with a lot of equipment.
“Technology is a tool,” Lieber said, which they used to make “history come alive” to engage the younger generation, mainly with projection and interactive media. The technology allows guests to drill down through layers of information with rich and unique content.
“We wanted the visitor to be active, not passive. You can decide what you would like to search and find,” she said.
Israeli schoolchildren from all over the nation continue to visit the Tower of David Museum, Lieber explained.
“Our educational center in the museum works with all the communities of Jerusalem and, of course, Israel. We have an Arabic department. We have an ultra-Orthodox department because Jerusalem belongs to all,” she added.
“Before COVID, we had 600,000 visitors each year,” she said. “Tourism in Israel is not 100% what it used to be yet, but I hope that the world will recover."
Lieber confirmed that the museum still runs its popular outdoor light show almost every summer evening and two or three times a week during winter.
The Night Spectacular is an outdoor light and sound show that uses a sophisticated, innovative laser projection system to take viewers on a historic thousand-year journey. The performance brings to life the holy buildings, the reigns of kings and queens who rose and fell, and armies that fought for Jerusalem over the centuries.
Lieber said she is looking forward to the grand opening of the museum's brand-new entrance pavilion, slated to be completed in November, along with its new contemporary gallery.
As the Tower of David Museum director since 2012, Lieber hopes that providing knowledge of the city of Jerusalem will provide a basis for dialogue, tolerance and respect.
"The more you know about the other, you can respect, even though you don't have to agree. But here in the Tower of David, we believe that knowledge is a great power for building dialogue and tolerance.”
For more details about the exhibitions or to arrange a visit to the Tower of David Museum, visit the website.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.