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A High-tech Upgrade For The Ancient Tower Of David

The $50M renovation blends technology with artifacts for an immersive exploration of Jerusalem's history.
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Tucked inside the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City stands an edifice that personifies the resilience of Israel’s eternal capital. 

The Tower of David has served as a Herodian fortress, a Crusaders’ palace, an Ottoman entrance gate, and now hosts the renewed and state-of-the-art Tower of David Jerusalem Museum.

The $50 million renewal and conservation of the museum, thanks to Dame Vivien Duffield through the Clore Israel Foundation, the Jerusalem Municipality and other philanthropic funding, has transformed a compound designed to keep intruders out to carefully plotted galleries filled with exhibits that explore and trace the history and the spirit of Jerusalem.

Visitors looks at a scale model of Jerusalem’s Old City designed for the 1873 Vienna World’s Expo by Hungarian artist Stefan Illes, in the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 30, 2023. MENAHEM KAHANA/JNS

Turning the ancient structure into a modern and accessible museum was a formidable challenge for the architects and design team on the project. Using all the original architecture, except for one ceiling, they transformed the first-century fortress into a welcoming, comfortable, and handicapped-accessible modern museum with 215,000 square feet of galleries detailing Jerusalem’s 4,000-year significance to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

After 10 years of planning, three years of construction and the installation of a mile of fiber optic cables, the museum, originally founded in 1989, is set to officially open on June 1, with an additional contemporary art gallery opening in November.

Curator Tal Kobo and her seven core team members combined actual artifacts culled from the site during excavations by teams of archeologists during the renovation with 3-D touch screens, mounted carefully to highlight the stone walls behind the glass.  


A visitor looks at a video animation showing some of Jerusalem’s history, made by Israeli film director Ari Folman, projected on a wall in the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 30, 2023. MENAHEM KAHANA/JNS

The technology team for the museum comprised more than 50 people in five separate studios.

But how do you light 215,000 square feet of castle without beams and ugly cables strung across the ancient ceilings?

The architects and designers met the challenge using “floating” cement floors with LED lighting in between the crevice between floor and wall. Heating and cooling emanates from under the floors as well. Small but powerful sconces inserted in the limestone cracks between the stones were used to augment the natural lighting of the vaulted ceilings. The glass displays light up as well, offering effective and dramatic interaction.

The first gallery offers 3,000 years of history in three minutes — a multimedia presentation by Israeli cinematographer and Golden Globe winner Ari Folman. Through classic animation and video mapping, it traces the history and culture of Jerusalem.

A “Bunting Map” from the Middle Ages portrays Jerusalem as the center of the world, flanked by Europe, Asia and Africa; the city on the shores of eternity. As you progress through the gallery, it’s like being in a time tunnel, with a 40-foot-long interactive wall fueled by 12 computers.

Each religion is given its due. The Jewish room features the mosaic of Bet Alpha’s Binding of Isaac and a large model of the Second Temple, complete with artifacts from that period, including a coin press for Hasmonian coins and a first-century lily coin. A Yeshiva University-created 3D scan of the Arch of Titus has been colorized and animated, capping off the Jewish exhibit.

A Jordanian Madaba Map with crusader coins features the Tower of David on the coins, with some featuring the Crusader kings and queens who took up residence in this very castle.

Underneath the minaret, which served as a mosque at various times during the city’s history, there is a large model of the Temple Mount complex, featuring the Al Aqsa Mosque and a cutaway of the famed Dome of the Rock. For those of us who have never been near or inside it, it is illuminating to see the Foundation Stone and other features of the Mount.

A visitor looks at a video animation showing some of Jerusalem’s history, made by Israeli film director Ari Folman, projected on a wall in the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 30, 2023.  MENAHEM KAHANA/JNS

“With all its layers and incarnations, the Tower of David has never been a ‘holy place,’ explains Tal Kobo. “But the artifacts and the history symbolize the yearning to come back to Jerusalem.”

“We had to get permission for everything,” explained Reut Kozak, accessibility coordinator for the museum. “From hanging signs to buildings and structuring the floors. The Mamluks didn’t make the doorways wide enough for wheelchairs,” she said.

All told, only 15% of the museum is not completely accessible, she added.

Famous for its light shows at night, the new museum will feature noise reduction headphones and relaxed performances for people on the autism spectrum or who have sensitivities to sound. An app uses Bluetooth to access hearing aids for the hearing impaired and customizes the sound for each ear, and there are audio descriptions for the sight impaired.

A sensory map provides a guide that details dark, light and the noisier rooms, and there is a special audio tour guide for sight impaired. There are visuals with sign language on the app for the hearing-impaired.

The only area not accessible to anyone who cannot navigate the final 50 steps is the Observation Deck, but the museum has created a Virtual Reality experience for those left behind that will help them enjoy the 360-degree panoramic view from their phone.

And, thanks to the new flow, when you come out of the Tower of David, through what used to be the original entrance, the Old City is at your feet, ready to be explored in real time.

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate

Edited by Alberto Arellano and Sterling Creighton Beard

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