update deskArchaeology

2,800 years of Jerusalem history on display at Tower of David

A unique art exhibition opens in a former Ottoman jail inside Jaffa Gate.

Visitors view the “Umbilicus” contemporary Israeli art exhibition in the Kishle building, part of the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum, July 9, 2024. Photo by Sharon Altshul.
Visitors view the “Umbilicus” contemporary Israeli art exhibition in the Kishle building, part of the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum, July 9, 2024. Photo by Sharon Altshul.

In the excavation site of a former barracks/prison known as the Kishle (Turkish for prison), the Tower of David Jerusalem Museum opened a unique art exhibition on Tuesday evening .

The impressive space, part of the Tower of David complex just inside the Jaffa Gate to the capital’s Old City, was created following the extensive archaeological excavation in 1999-2000 led by Dr. Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Kishle was built by the Ottoman Turks as a jail in the 1800s and used by the British in the 1940s to hold captured Jewish militia members. The former prison cells containing graffiti inscriptions by Irgun members held during the British Mandate were found on the stone walls during the excavations. In this narrow, arched structure, 450 meters long, one experiences the colorful and complex history of Jerusalem.

Contemporary art in the Kishle building, a former Ottoman and British prison in the Old City of Jerusalem, July 9, 2024. Photo by Sharon Altshul.

Proceeding along the newly improved walkways, the exposed history of thousands of years is now a carefully curated art exhibition along with the archaeologists’ markings. For the first time, the vast space, with the history of Jerusalem of 2,800 years on its walls, has been the backdrop for a contemporary art exhibition.

The layers of history rest one on top of the other. Under the remains of the Mandatory prison and graffiti of Irgun prisoners, they include a Jewish dyeing factory from the Middle Ages mentioned in the writings of Benjamin of Tudela (12 century C.E.), walls of Herod the Great’s royal palace including a drainage and escape channel cut into the bedrock, impressive Hasmonean fortifications, and the earliest remains in the complex, an impressive wall resting on bedrock and dated to the days of Hezekiah, King of Judah, and the First Temple period.

The Kishle building, part of the Tower of David complex, is in the midst of a planning process in its preservation and renovation project. Before the completion of the archaeological excavation, with the sandbags, scaffolding and archaeological markings, the site was chosen to host the exhibition “Umbilicus” by curators Dr. Adina Kamien and Malu Zayon.

Eilat Lieber, director and chief curator, is excited to see the Kishle come alive and to recognize its potential to tell different stories of Jerusalem, the connection between old and new.

The modern works of artists Hannan Abu-Hussein, Sharon Balaban, Matan Daskal, Yehudit Sasportas, Merav Shinn Ben-Alon and Lihi Turjeman blend brilliantly into the stone setting.

The Tower of David Jerusalem Museum reopened to the public after an extensive renewal project. The museum invites visitors to tour 10 exhibition galleries including original artifacts, movies, video projections and interactive displays, tracing Jerusalem’s historical progression towards becoming a central city for billions of believers across the world—Jews, Christians and Muslims—and its return to serve as the capital of modern Israel.

The new exhibition in the Kishle is accessible only by climbing stairs, though access is greatly improved over the previous arrangement. However, plans are to make it accessible to those with disabilities. 

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