2011
04.28

SYNOPSIS:

Three museums in one day.  From ultra-modern deep down to ancient layers; from roof tops to tunnels.

As the clouds gathered over Jerusalem,  I changed my plans from doing another day trip to staying around and visiting a few of the less traveled local museums.

The Museum at the Seam was a wonderful break from all the ancient history I absorbed yesterday at the Tower of David and all the religious structures.  In a small, three-storied house which used to be an army post up to the 1948 war, 20th and 21st century artists from all over the world exhibit art related to protest, uprising, oppression, prejudice, racism, and social conflict.  From China to Germany to Israel, from communism to gay parades to refugees, the three levels of the museums were full of thought-provoking images, videos, and installations.  The building itself provided an interesting context.  It was a focal point in the 1948 war as the only border crossing between Jerusalem and Jordan.  To this day it has a damaged balcony, hundreds of bullet holes, and windows which were only roughly boarded up with concrete slabs rather than neatly repaired.  The main point of the exhibit was as much about resistance and protest as it was about freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech is easy when all agree.  It must be protected in times of tensions and conflict even if the message portrayed is an uncomfortable one which tempts the powers to be, to suppress it.

The Rockefeller Museum, the first archaeological museum of the country, took me back in time.  Too far for my taste:  I am not that much into prehistoric arrow-heads and pottery shards.  But the building itself was interestingly laid out in a square with extension corridors and a beautiful, open, court centered around a fountain.   What a tranquil place to sit, just outside the hustle and bustle of the markets that spill out from the Muslim quarter of the Old City.

But the highlight of the day was the Tunnel Walk along the Western Wall.  It is accessible only through a guided tour and you should book tickets in advance to guarantee access.  But, as a single traveler I can usually squeeze in.   You may recall the most recent violence over this tunnel dating back to 1996 when an exit was provided out of the tunnel into the Via Dolorosa which is located in the Muslim quarter.  It was not about any new discoveries.

But in the 1980’s this tunnel project had created even more of a stink when the excavating teams under the supervision of local rabbis had dug westward beneath the Temple Mount, which is considered Muslim territory.  The rabbis had to retreat and to seal the westward extension of their project quickly to avoid escalation of the problem.  Accusations were as far flung as the intent of blowing up the Temple Mount…  The tunnel leads down to a main road dating from Herodian times and an even older water complex of Hasmonean times.

This excavation proves that Jerusalem looked very different 2000 years ago:  Where there are houses and roads today – outside the old city – there was nothing much but sloping terrain which over time was completely filled in and leveled as construction ground.  At Herod’s time the road was exposed to the sky.  Medieval arches built over it, strengthened the ground and allowed construction on top.  This was tangible history supplementing the theoretical information at the Tower of David.

The group is met by an armed guard at the exit – a residue from the days of trouble and protests.  He walks the group back to the Western Wall through the Muslim Quarter.  I have had enough of armed guards and excused myself.  Ultra-orthodox Jews walk through the Muslim quarters daily and the troubles over this exit are fifteen years old by now.  This guard is a joke if not an embarrassment.

Another full day.

Good night.

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