$40 Million Expansion-renovation Planned for Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum

The museum of the history of Jerusalem, Israel’s fourth most popular museum, is to gain a new entrance complex, new wings for contemporary art and a tunnel

Artist's rendition of the Tower of David Museum after renovations.
Kimmel Eshkolot Architects

$40 million dollar - that is the cost of an extensive face-lift and expansion of the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, set to begin in 2019. The vast construction — which will nearly double the area of the museum, from 7,895 to 15,000 square meters —  is going to change the appearance the area of the Old City surrounding Jaffa Gate.

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Most of the cost of the project will be borne by the Clore Israel Foundation, with smaller contributions from the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry.

The Tower of David museum director and curator Eilat Lieber.
Yuval Assaf

Tower of David, which opened in 1989, was the fourth most popular in the country last year, after the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. According to Tower of David director and curator Eilat Lieber, the museum had 450,000 visitors last year, half as many as the Israel Museum, 52 percent of them tourists.

The first phase of the renovation is the construction of a new entrance complex. At present access to the museum is complicated, from the direction of the Old City.

“People get lost on the way,” explains Lieber. “The museum building and its surroundings were originally built as a military structure, and as such they didn’t want people to know how to enter it. We’re going to reverse the entrance, so it will be from the direction of the west of the city.” 

Artist's rendition of the Tower of David Museum after renovations.
Kimmel Eshkolot Architects

The new entrance building will be located in in the area known as Gan David within the Tower of David complex, which today houses the exit from the museum and a logistical entrance. Most of the building will be excavated underground, so it won’t affect the appearance of the city walls.

Kimmel Eshkolot Architects, which designed the Davidson Center archaeological park, near the Old City’s Dung Gate, was chosen for the project.

A new wing of the museum will be built in the Kishleh, a Turkish-British Mandate era prison complex where rare remains from the palace of King Herod were discovered.

In the future the area will include installations using technologies of virtual reality and augmented reality, which will illustrate the historical narrative. The new wing will be designed by Jake Barton.

Barton’s New York-based firm, Local Projects, has designed physical and digital application for museums around the world, including multimedia experiences for the Sept. 11 memorial at ground zero in New York.

In the third stage, work will be done in the area of the Byzantine-era digs under the road outside the wall. At present it’s a buffer zone that is unused. A building planned for the area will be used for exhibitions and will expose the archaeological remains at the site. In addition, the building will be connected to the Mamilla Mall by means of a tunnel.

Lieber says the physical change will also lead to a change in content.

“The permanent exhibition will change and there will be temporary exhibitions in the museum,” she promises.

“Along with the historical narrative there will be works of art and contemporary design on display, as well as reflections of culture in the broad sense, such as food and clothing.”

While most Israeli museums are supported mainly by donations (such as the Israel Museum), or city budgets (like the Tel Aviv Museum of Art), Lieber says the Tower of David Museum is independent and enjoys freedom of action.

“Although formally the mayor is the chairman, the museum is independent in terms of budget. Because we developed a product - the nighttime show that costs 55 shekels per ticket - most of our revenue comes from visitors. That makes us ideologically independent.”

In the context of this ideological independence, the museum also gives expression to its controversial location.

“The Tower of David Museum has always aimed to tell the whole story of Jerusalem,” says Lieber. “We’re located at the entrance to the four quarters [of the Old City], we show all the cultures and relate the historical continuum, which explains that Jerusalem was controlled over the years by different religions. Our staff is also composed of a human mosaic. We have Muslims and Christians on the staff, so that the activity will be genuine and based on fact.”

Is it possible that in future we will see an exhibition dealing with Jerusalem’s Palestinian refugee camps?

“Absolutely. That’s something that can be discussed. There have already been exhibitions in the museum that discussed conflicts. The 2015 exhibition “Objective” by Haim Parnas and Ezri Tarazi referred to geopolitical issues. We definitely believe that it’s our job to create a balanced conversation that presents the urban pulse. The moment we advertise series to the general public for which there’s a demand, and it’s not done from tax money —– nobody can say anything to us about the content. The financial independence gives us a lot of power.”