January 14, 2010
Museum goers today are a sophisticated and demanding lot--most of the leading museums around the world today boast the latest interactive, high tech shtick to keep visitors entertained.
That's not what you'll find at Jerusalem's Rockefeller Archaeological Museum that was built during the British Mandate and opened in 1938. Visitors are warned to dress warmly in winter since the building is not heated. There's no parking, so most people find their way there either on foot through the commercial center of Arab eastern Jerusalem, or by way of a shuttle bus from the Israel Museum not far from the Knesset on the western side of town.
The larger artifacts are displayed in a somewhat disorderly fashion throughout the halls of the museum's early 20th century building, while two vast galleries hold hundreds of fascinating smaller items in simple glass cases. You won't find the lights on in the halls either--the building was designed with large high windows that let in enough natural light to illuminate the Byzantine glass and the Canaanite pottery.
You will see several carved wood panels from the Al Aksa mosque completed in 714; the Crusader era lintel from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher--that's behind glass, the panels are not--and a beautiful 5th-6th century mosaic from the Husifah Synagogue (now the Druze village of Isfiya) with the inscription,Shalom al Yisrael . (Not to be confused with the same inscription in the shul of that name in Jericho.)
The centerpiece of the museum is the serene inner courtyard with its pool and fountain, providing a good place to contemplate the fact that this very site was the spot from where Godfrey De Bouillon launched his successful attack on the walls of Jerusalem during the Crusades of 1099.
Looking up at the pockmarks on the landmark tower, you might also be drawn to thinking about the War of Independence and the Six Day War when this area featured heavily in the battle for control of Jerusalem.
Today, the building houses the offices of Israel's Antiquities Authority. So before they get any ideas about upgrading the Rockefeller--head over there if you want a classic museum experience that's getting harder and harder to find in the world.
Complete set of pictures at www.flickr.com/photos/jerusalemdiaries/