The Tower of David

The erroneously named Tower of David offers a spectacular view of the Old City of Jerusalem as well as a glimpse of its history.

Mike Rogoff
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The historic Tower of David.
The historic Tower of David.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Mike Rogoff

The Tower of David, which looms over the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, wasn’t actually built by the famous biblical monarch but almost a millennium later, in the 1st century BC, by King Herod the Great.

What’s left today – the foundations of a massive square tower – suggest the scale and majesty of the fortress and palace that used to sprawl over the area.

King David’s capital city, incidentally, was excavated a good kilometer to the southeast.

To get to the erroneously named tower complex, bear right on the vehicle road inside the gate and ascend the small ramp.

On December 9, 1917, in the last year of the First World War, British and Allied forces expelled the Turks from Jerusalem, and this is the spot where General Sir Edmund Allenby declared martial law two days later.

You enter the Tower of David Museum, still known to locals as The Citadel, over a medieval moat. The sense of mystique is immediate. Take 15 minutes in the Herodian tower auditorium for an animated film of Jerusalem’s history, and climb to the roof for a spectacular view of the Old City.

The courtyard is a hodgepodge of history: a Hasmonean/Hellenistic-period wall, a Crusader arch, Turkish ramparts and even a British balcony. But the focus of the site is a string of old stone galleries that tell the story of the Holy City, not with original artifacts, though there are some replicas, but with a great variety of visual aids, from maps to models and holograms.

Ask for directions to the little-known scale model of Jerusalem, created for the Ottoman Turkish pavilion at the Vienna World Fair of 1873, and now displayed in a basement gallery. The temporary exhibition, in the Crusader Hall, is currently a lively documentation of German Emperor Wilhelm II’s visit to the city in 1898. And don’t miss the Night Spectacular, an impressionistic, computer-generated light show on the time-worn stone battlements.

Museum website (with information about the Night Spectacular):

Hours (September-June): Sun. – Thurs. 9 A.M to 4 P.M.; Fri.: closed; Sat. and holidays: 9 A.M. – 2 P.M.

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