Tourist Tip #178 / The Agam Sculpture in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv

Once a communal center of early Tel Aviv, Dizengoff Square lost its luster. But with a makeover, it may be on the verge of regaining its former glory.

When it was built in the 1930s, Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Square was a pleasant spot with plenty of trees, shaded benches and a fountain in the center around which traffic circled. But in a bid to ease the growing congestion in the area, the municipality made the controversial decision to introduce a new split-level layout in 1978. The center of the square was elevated above street level, where Dizengoff, Reines and Pinsker streets meet, with traffic flowing underneath.

But this well-intentioned step turned out to be a bit of a disaster: Residents loathed the final result and some declared it a prime example of poor city planning. It may have lessened congestion, but the former finery of the square was replaced with a rather somber concrete zone, lacking in shade, character, and appeal.

To make matters worse, pedestrians were effectively cut off from the street, creating a clear delineation between them and motorists, and entirely changing the atmosphere of the area.  

Perhaps to brighten up the place a bit, a colorful fountain was placed in the center of the square in 1986. The "Fire and Water Fountain" was designed by renowned Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, also responsible for the eye-catching facade of the Dan Hotel on the Tel Aviv promenade.

But the new layout remained highly unpopular with residents, and the former meeting spot became a place people hurried past. Over the years, the square grew shabbier and shabbier, and the only people who seemed to linger were the local punks, who became synonymous with the square, occupying its benches around the clock.

As the square grew shabbier so did Agam's fountain – which was another bone of contention thanks to its high maintenance costs. But the artist fought for years to restore the fountain to its former glory, finally winning his case against the municipality. The renovation was completed last year.

While the square's heyday is far behind it – or maybe still yet to come – the newly renovated fountain has brightened the atmosphere up a bit and is well worth a visit. Agam's rainbow-colored signature style is exemplified here in a complex kinetic sculpture, with the main section of the fountain consisting of a set of brightly-colored jagged wheels placed horizontally on top of each other. An automated mechanism rotates the wheels, giving onlookers a unique view from each angle. When in operation, the sculpture also plays music, sends jets of water soaring skyward, and even spits fire out from its center.  

This slightly bizarre sight provides a much-needed contrast to the rest of the square, which is – let's face it – still rather dour. But even as the buses belch out diesel fumes below and pedestrians stride determinedly across the intersection on their way elsewhere, the square also has other attractions, such as the bi-weekly antiques and secondhand goods market, held every Tuesday and Friday.

Back in 2011, the municipality announced the results of a resident's poll to determine the square's future. The majority of respondents preferred that the square return to street level with an underground parking lot underneath. At the moment, the plans seem to have stalled and the future of the square remains uncertain.

Ariel Schalit
Daniel Tchetchik
Government Press Office
Tomer Appelbaum