Guide to Small Museums in Jerusalem

Six museums and a park that let you soak in Jerusalem’s unique history and culture — along with good coffee.

Even alongside to the great metropolises of the world, Jerusalem shines with a special glow. The meandering cobblestone streets, the ancient buildings with long and twisted stories and the vibrant culture, full of diversity and irresolvable conflict, create a world of mystery and beauty. Here’s a selection of small museums that will take you off the usual tourist circuit and give you a real feel for the “City of Gold” — plus some side attractions and, of course, places to grab a coffee.

The American Colony Hotel Archive

The American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem is just now opening its rich archive of photographs to the public for the first time. Rachel Lev, the archivist and curator of the collection, says, “Since 1898, when the photography department of the members of the American Colony in Jerusalem was established, thousands of pictures were collected They represent a look inside — into the fascinating community of the colony, and a look outward — to the Middle East, which looked completely different then.”

The American Colony’s 15 photographers worked as a cooperative until 1934. Their work, 70 albums containing 220 photographs, is on display in the archive and on the walls of the hotel’s rooms and halls. The photographs, some as much as 100 years old, tell the stories of the members of the American Colony, of Jerusalem and of the Middle East.

Coffee: After perusing the past, the interior courtyard of the American Colony Hotel is one of the most pleasant places in Israel to sip a cup of coffee.

Entrance fee: none

Coordinate visits in advance by emailing collection@amcol.co.il.

Address: 1 Louis Vincent St., Jerusalem

Hansen Hospital

Hansen Hospital. Photo by Moshe Gilad

The Hansen compound, right next to the Jerusalem Theater in the Talbiyeh neighborhood, was once a hospital for lepers. Today, it’s one of the 110 structures listed for preservation in Jerusalem. The imposing stone building is filled with twisting staircases that lead to exhibits and workshops featuring the work of designers and artists. Knowing that the compound’s high stone walls once kept patients isolated from the outside world makes the visit more interesting, and bit eerie.

The hospital was built in 1887 and planned by famous German architect Conrad Schick. The Jesus Hilfe Asyl (“Jesus Help Asylum”), as the hospital was originally known, treated patients with skin diseases for over 100 years until the last ones were discharged in 2000. The complex is named after Dr. Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, a Norwegian physician who studied leprosy and was the first to identify the bacterium that causes the disease.

The beautiful building was left abandoned for a few years before being renovated. A few months ago, a center for design, media and technology opened there. It’s also worth visiting the large and wild garden that surrounds the surrounds the building, which has still not received any real design or care.

Coffee: On the top floor of the hospital is a tiny coffee shop that looks out over the interior courtyard.

Address: 17 Marcus St.

Opening hours: Sunday through Thursday, 10 A.M. to 6 P.M., and Friday, 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.

Entrance fee: none

Wujoud Museum and Cultural Center

The Wujoud Museum and Cultural Center. Photo by Moshe Gilad

“Wujoud” in Arabic means “existence.” The building where the small and fascinating Wujoud Museum and Cultural Center operates was built 650 years ago, just 100 meters from the Jaffa Gate on David Street in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The building is owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which donated it to the Christian community of the Old City to be used as a museum. Originally used for housing, the museum was opened to the public in 2010, but has received very little notice and few visitors.

It is well furnished with carpets, new and old household items and a few balconies that provide views of the Old City and Hezekiah’s Pool, a water reservoir from Second Temple times. The main advantage of a visit to the Wujoud Museum is that it provides a rare and intimate glimpse of traditional life in the Old City. Look forward to a guided tour and relaxed conversation in English with the hosts.

Coffee: A small shop inside the center serve excellent espresso.

Entrance fee: 10 shekels

Visits should be arranged in advance for Sunday through Thursday, 8:30 A.M. to 4 P.M. For more information and to make reservations, go to www.wujoud.ps

Italian Jewish Museum

The Italian Jewish Museum. Photo by Moshe Gilad

The Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art is located in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, on the second floor of a stone building that looks like nothing special from the outside. But inside is a small and surprising museum dedicated to the treasures of Italian Jewry.

The museum has a few rooms and proper exhibits arranged according to materials: decorated metal objects in the first room, weavings and fabrics in the second, carved wood in the third and manuscripts n the fourth. The beautiful objects tell the story of the life and cultural wealth in Italy during the Baroque and Rococo periods and later. Along with the museum, you can visit a 18th-century synagogue that was brought to Israel in its entirety from Italy.

Coffee: On the other side of Hillel Street.

Address: 27 Hillel St.

Opening hours: Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M; Thursday from 12 P.M to 9 P.M, and Friday from 10 A.M. to 1 P.M.

Entrance fee: 20 shekels

Museum on the Seam

The Museum on the Seam. Photo by Moshe Gilad

The Museum on the Seam straddles the politically charged line between East and West Jerusalem. Built in 1932, the museum served as a military position between Israel and Jordan from the War of Independence to the Six Day War. The legendary Mandelbaum Gate is nearby.

Since 2005, the building has served as a “socio-political contemporary art museum.”

Coffee: It’s worth going up to the museum’s roof, where there is a small coffee shop with tables overlooking the city.

Address: 4 Chel Handasah St.

Opening hours: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M; Tuesday from 2 P.M. to 9 P.M, and Friday from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.

Entrance fee: 30 shekels

Nature Museum

The Nature Museum. Photo by Moshe Gilad

It’s a bit sad to see the Jerusalem Nature Museum these days. The magnificent building, which was once known as the Deccan Villa, was built in the 19th century and later used as the residence of the Turkish governor. The Nature Museum has occupied the site since 1962, and it now appears in desperate need of renovation and rehabilitation.

The biggest attraction in the museum is the taxidermy collection of mammals native to Israel. Even this looks a bit sad.

Despite everything, it’s worth coming to see the impressive building and enjoy the garden that surrounds it, though it too has seen better days. A community garden operates there and residents of the neighborhood come to work in the furrow, but the potential of the museum and garden is so much greater than the reality.

Coffee: Magdaniat Pe’er, across from the museum (5 Magid St.), with great cakes.

Address: 6 Mohilever St.

Opening hours: Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 A.M. to 2 P.M.; Monday and Wednesday from 6 P.M. to 7 P.M., and Saturday from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.

Entrance fee: 15 shekels

Train Track Park

While walking the length of the Train Track Park, you may find yourself thinking’: Why didn’t they do this earlier?

The beautiful park stretches 5 kilometers along and alongside the old Turkish railway tracks to Jerusalem, which were laid in 1892. Today, the train only goes as far as the Malha Mall, and from there the path to the old train station in the German Colony has a walking path, a bicycle path, grass and trees that still don’t yet provide much shade. The area could hardly be put to better use.

Simplicity is genius, they taught me once in school — and the new Train Track Park is simply an act of genius.

Moshe Gilad