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The Second Temple model of Jerusalem in its new home at the Israel Museum. (Tomer Appelbaum/BauBau)
Last update - 14:01 29/06/2006
Rock of our existence, at a scale of 1:50
By Esther Zandberg

The model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, built during the 1960s at the capital's Holyland Hotel, was never just another nice, innocent tourist attraction, as it should have been. The Second Temple model presents Jerusalem in its glory days, during the rule of King Herod in 66 C.E., and the Herodian architecture in all its imaginary splendor. Despite - or perhaps because of - the lack of scientific credibility, it has become fraught with political and national significance.

Some have viewed the model, which depicts the Second Temple on the site where the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock now stand, as proof of the Jews' claim to exclusivity over Jerusalem. To others, it served as a pilgrimage site, an alternative to the Old City and the Western Wall before the 1967 war. A poster for an organization working to build the third temple features a photograph of the miniature shrine superimposed on a contemporary image of the city. On the other hand, the model is also fertile ground for learned critical theories.

The model's move to the Israel Museum - the dedication is next Wednesday, July 5 - signifies an additional rise in status for the model. After decades of being displayed in a commercial, tourist environment, it is now being installed in an artistic, museum environment, very close to the Shrine of the Book, where finds of a much higher archaeological quality are displayed.

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The Second Temple model will undoubtedly gain importance as a result. The signs point to an elevation to holy status, the rock of our existence at a scale of 1:50.

The model's new site is at the southern edge of the sculpture garden. If one can believe museum director James Snyder, "It was as if the hand of God wanted the site to remain empty for the model." The museum did not settle for a neutral installation, but rather created an "authentic" background for the model, using archaeological and landscaping techniques to enhance its believability.

Jerusalem syndrome

The site is designed to resemble an archaeological excavation quarried out of rock and surrounded by steep support walls of "natural" stone. The model seems to grow naturally out of the rough rock. The topography simulates that of the Old City and its genuine vantage points. Snyder relates that a religious man told him, with great emotion, that one could look directly at the miniaturized holy of holies, just like from the Mount of Olives.

The model is an important part of a plan for developing the area of the Shrine of the Book (Design: Nahum Meltzer-Guy Igra Architects and Avner Drori Architects), which will be dedicated along with the model. This is the most significant project to be built at the museum in recent years. This includes the study center, with materials relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Dead Sea sects in the Second Temple Period. A less ambitious plan, for a visitors' center, was modified to suit the site of the model.

An overpass and a tunnel connect the various levels of the site to the visitors' center and the Shrine of the Book to create a historical harmony among the exhibits, as Snyder points out. The new construction does not extend above the museum's horizon line, thanks to the topography and differences in the structures' heights. But even the hand of God could not hide the disturbing architectural dissonance between the new project and the existing museum.

The new project suffers from the architectural version of the "Jerusalem syndrome" that has consumed significant portions of the city. Its most obvious symptoms are a heavy, complicated style that smacks of overdone archaism and vast expanses of chiseled stone that are completely divorced from the museum's modern, secular, elegant atmosphere. Even the model itself is almost lost in the crowd. This project would never have passed muster with Herod: Cruel as he was, he knew what architectural excellence was.

The Israel Museum is currently promoting a comprehensive renovation and expansion program for the campus, which was originally designed by Alfred Mansfeld and Dora Gad. The pair won the Israel Prize for architecture for their efforts. Great care and effort is being taken to bring their architectural creation safely into the 21st century while adapting it to current needs. The fact that the development program for the Shrine of the Book area was carried out in parallel to - but not in coordination with - the main expansion plan is disturbing and suspicious. It is also frustrating that the guardians at the gate have fallen asleep - or perhaps were put to sleep - on their watch.

A new myth

Construction of the Second Temple Model was commissioned in 1966 by the owner of the Holyland Hotel, Hans Kroch, in memory of his son, Yaakov, who was killed in the 1948 War of Independence. The historian Prof. Avi Yonah was in charge of its design. The recent construction of a luxury apartment complex - one of the most monstrous building projects in the country - where the hotel once stood, led Kroch's grandson Hillel Charney (one of the owners of the residential project) to search for a new home for the model. The hand of God, as has already been said, led him to the Israel Museum, which graciously agreed to adopt it.

The model is currently about 2,000 square meters, and there are plans to expand it beyond the Herodian city walls to include the valleys surrounding Jerusalem to the south: the Kidron and Ben-Hinnom valleys. The overall look of the model is reminiscent of a classic Roman city as depicted in the collective imagination from archaeological sites throughout the former Roman Empire, as well as from literature and films.

The model was based on literary and historical sources, not archaeological evidence, with additions from the archaeological and architectural imagination of Prof. Yonah. Archaeological digs in the Old City after the 1967 War turned up a few inaccuracies that were then corrected. Historical research has also shown that the red tiles on the roofs of the wealthy in the model's "upper city" had not been invented in Herod's time. Museum officials, however, prefer leaving the model as a finished work rather than making changes.

For the move to its new home, the model was sawn into 1,000 pieces, each about one square meter, and reassembled at the site. The "Temple" could not be cut up, and was the last piece to be put into place. The hand of God? Or perhaps the birth of a new myth. At its new location, the model has remained in Holyland hands: The current site is owned by the Holyland Hotel company, which spent $3.5 million to move the model. A visit to the model is included in the price of museum entry.

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