No wonder Tel Aviv’s important heritage sites are largely overlooked.
To rectify matters, the city has embarked on an ambitious new project aimed at highlighting Tel Aviv’s prominent role in the creation of the modern Jewish state. The timing is not coincidental: The kilometer-long “Independence Trail” will be officially launched on April 19, the day on which the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding (according to the Jewish calendar) will be marked.
“We felt we had an obligation to tell the national story that took place in Tel Aviv,” said Eytan Schwartz, the director of Tel Aviv Global, an initiative based in City Hall that aims to boost local tourism. “For four decades leading up to 1948, the people in this city were creating the framework for the future Jewish state so that when David Ben-Gurion declared statehood, the institutions for self-government were already in place.”
Inspired by the Freedom Trail in Boston, which is four times as long, Tel Aviv's historical walking tour will include 10 stops, all located around the original Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, from which the city developed. The gold-colored trail, which will be illuminated at night, begins on the city's storied Rothschild Boulevard, at the site of the city’s first kiosk (now an espresso bar), established in 1910. At this site, at the corner of Herzl Street, locals would convene on hot summer evenings to drink flavored seltzer water, a popular beverage at the time.
The trail ends at Independence Hall, the former home of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. The building also served as the municipal museum of art and it is where, on May 14, 1948 – the day the British Mandate in Palestine officially ended – Ben-Gurion read out the Declaration of Independence.
The other stops on the route are a mosaic fountain, created by legendary artist Nahum Gutman, depicting scenes of the early days of Tel Aviv; the original home of Akiva Aryeh Weiss, founder of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood in 1909, from which sprang "the first Hebrew city"; the Shalom Tower where the Herzliya Gymnasium – the first Hebrew-speaking high school in the modern era – once stood, and which today hosts a museum dedicated to the early days of the city; the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street, the religious center of the city during its first decades; The Haganah Museum, located in the home of Eliyahu Golomb, the first commander of that pre-state Jewish fighting force; the Tel Aviv headquarters of the Bank of Israel, which serve today as a museum of Israeli currency; the Tel Aviv Founders Monument, near Independence Hall; and a statue of Dizengoff on his horse, on the boulevard just outside his old home.
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The 10-million-shekel ($2.874-million) project is being jointly financed by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, the Ministry of Tourism and the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry. Admission to all the sites is free of charge.
“We work all year long on promoting Tel Aviv as a vibrant city combining sandy Mediterranean beaches with culture, nightlife, architecture and history,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “I am convinced that the Independence Trail will be an inspiring experience for tourists who will gain a deeper understanding of our heritage."
The fact that the sites connected to the establishment of the Jewish state are located in such proximity to one another facilitated the execution of the project, said Schwartz, who noted, “This concentration of points of interest is amazing."
Another plus was that the sites are all located in a part of the city that is still popular today with locals and tourists. “It is kind of ironic that this one area, where everything took place decades ago, is still such a central part of the financial, cultural and culinary scene in the city,” Schwartz said. “In fact, this is the most frequented route in Tel Aviv, although most people have no idea about what happened here.”
For a fee, visitors will be able to take a guided tour of the Independence Trail, but they can also easily do it on their own for free. Starting on Independence Day, the city will distribute tablets with headphones near the first station on the route for those who prefer the DIY option. At every stop on the self-guided tour, which works by GPS and is available in multiple languages, visitors will automatically receive an audio-visual explanation of what they are looking at, along with old photographs and archival footage. Starting in June, visitors will also be able to download an application onto their smartphones for the self-guided tour.
The tour takes about an hour or two, depending upon how much time is spent in the various visitors centers. For less tech-oriented types, the city will be distributing explanatory maps in eight different languages (Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Chinese and Russian).
A few dozen meters away from Independence Hall, a pop-up movie theater will be set up on Rothschild Boulevard where visitors will be able to watch a 10-minute film about the Declaration of Independence. This facet of the trail is being financed by the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute.
The Independence Trail joins a list of tourist attractions that have recently opened or will soon be launched in Tel Aviv, which is trying to rival Jerusalem as a destination for visitors from abroad. Currently, Jerusalem draws more than double the number of tourists visiting Tel Aviv each year. Other coming attractions in Tel Aviv include the soon-to-be-opened Museum of Natural History, the Peres Center for Innovation, and a new museum founded by and dedicated to the celebrity illusionist Uri Geller, who recently moved back to Israel after spending many years abroad.
“Our very modest ambition,” said Schwartz, “is that the Independence Trail will become a must-see for Israeli, every Jew and every Israel-lover.”