Futuristic tech dramatically illuminates the City of David’s past
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'Is a crowded tourist site a good or bad thing? It's a very good thing'

Futuristic tech dramatically illuminates the City of David’s past

A massively popular Jerusalem tourist site has a new nighttime draw -- a 'video mapping' audiovisual experience launching July 16

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

A screenshot from the new 'Hallelujah' nighttime attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (courtesy AVS)
A screenshot from the new 'Hallelujah' nighttime attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (courtesy AVS)

Thirty years ago, Shaul Goldstein took a walk with his friend David Be’eri among neglected stone heaps in the ancient City of David, just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Be’eri shared his dream that one day the historic site would be restored, both structurally and to the hearts and souls of the Jewish people.

Recent Israel Prize winner Be’eri went on to found the City of David Foundation and Goldstein is now the head of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which oversees the City of David park. At a recent fete this week for the inauguration of a new multimedia audiovisual night show called “Hallelujah,” congratulations and expressions of awe were bandied about by those who have turned the City of David into one of the most trafficked tourist sites in the country.

Be’eri, toasting the occasion with champagne, asked the crowd, “Is a crowded tourist site a good or bad thing? It’s a very good thing. We tried to make sure that this place is crowded. And we are working very hard to make sure that it will be even worse.”

Already filled to capacity during the day — the City of David’s sites draw about half a million visitors each year — Be’eri and members of his staff decided to create a tourist attraction for night. Launched in honor of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, the premiere of the new “spectacle” was attended by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

A screenshot from the new 'Hallelujah' night-time attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (courtesy AVS)
A screenshot from the new ‘Hallelujah’ nighttime attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (courtesy AVS)

The wildly impressive nighttime experience is divided into two chapters of a connected story. In the first, an American-accented grandfather/archaeologist is visited by his Israeli grandson while digging in the Givati Parking Lot site, where the film is screened on what was once a parking lot’s retaining wall.

The ruins in the park are all lit up with colored lights before the film begins with a rhythmic segment reminiscent of the hit percussion-pantomime show “Stomp.” The framing of the film is a mini-adventure taken by the grandson with bumbling scholar-grandfather following close behind.

Accompanied by dramatic music, the audience is given a history lesson using actual historic artifacts found on the premises. The producers weave in cartoon segments — each with its own artistic style tied to the corresponding historic period. Through the loose plot, we learn about the anointing of a king of Israel, the Maccabean revolt and the building of a Byzantine church. (There is no reference to the Muslim period of Jerusalem history.)

A screenshot from the new 'Hallelujah' night-time attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (courtesy AVS)
A screenshot from the new ‘Hallelujah’ nighttime attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (courtesy AVS)

At the end of the first film, the grandson finds a coin, upon which is written “yehud,” or Jew. It is an example of the first Jewish coins, which were minted in the province of Judah (probably Jerusalem) upon the Jews’ return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile. The coin is the teaser for the second, much more intense film, which is located in what the archaeologists call Area G of the City of David, a short walk away.

‘Here you are able to walk in the footsteps of history — of the Jewish people and humanity in general’

During the brief passage across a heavily guarded alleyway to the second film, this reporter bumped into Oriya Dasberg, the director of project development for the City of David Foundation. Asked why the grandfather was given an American accent, she said that in light to the significant number of foreign volunteers and workers who have given of their time to the park, it “seemed the right thing to do.” It is a gesture, she said, to signify “the ingathering of the exiles.”

To the strains of Muslim muezzin calling penitents to prayer, Tourism Minister Levin told the crowd that the City of David, located in Muslim East Jerusalem, has become part of the Israeli consensus. “Now it doesn’t matter what your beliefs are or your political views, or even if you’re Jewish… Here you are able to walk in the footsteps of history — of the Jewish people and humanity in general,” he said.

Turning to Be’eri and referencing the plans for an cable car to connect the park to the Western Wall, Levin said, “If until now you’ve dug down, from now on the sky’s the limit.”

A screenshot from the new 'Hallelujah' night-time attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (Dudi Vaaknin/courtesy City of David archive)
A screenshot from the new ‘Hallelujah’ nighttime attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (Dudi Vaaknin/courtesy City of David archive)

Jerusalem Minister Elkin recounted that soon after his immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union in 1990, he became a tour guide and took groups to Area G — the first excavated section of the City of David, and to Warren’s Shaft. “We needed an army jeep to get here. Now people come here freely,” said Elkin.

‘This place and the mountain above us is the anchor to our right to live here’

“This place and the mountain above us is the anchor to our right to live here,” said Elkin. “We have returned this history to the Jews — and the non-Jews.”

Mayor Barkat said he often takes groups to City of David who have differing opinions as to whether a project of such a scale should sit in a traditionally Arab neighborhood.

“I tell them, ‘Here kings and prophets walked.’ It moves them,” he said.

“There is no better investment than in ancient Jerusalem for future generations,” added Barkat.

The second film depicts the story of the biblical Nehemiah and the return to Zion after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, some 2,500 years ago. Using innovative technology called “video mapping,” the multi-sensory movie is projected onto the antiquities themselves, including a wall which is believed to have been constructed by Nehemiah in a dramatic 52-day race to rebuild fortifications.

“The challenge was to create something innovative that would convey a historical narrative, which is why we chose the most advanced technology that conveys an all-around experience for the viewer,” said Dasberg.

“Authenticity was preserved by screening on the antiquities themselves and it is important to note that this technology does not require intervention in the archaeological space, which is a challenge in itself,” she said.

The project was designed and produced over the past eight years by the AVS company, which has created attractions from Las Vegas to Beijing.

A screenshot from the new 'Hallelujah' night-time attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem. (Dudi Vaaknin/courtesy City of David archive)
Area G, where the ‘Hallelujah’ nighttime attraction at the City of David in Jerusalem takes place. (Dudi Vaaknin/courtesy City of David archive)

“In this show, the stones themselves tell the story and herein lies the complexity,” said Malki Shem Tov, CEO of AVS.

The result is exciting, impressive, and appropriate for the whole family — which in itself is also a feat. With the Givati lot occupied by the show, parking at night is about to get a whole lot scarcer near the City of David very soon.

Hallelujah” will launch to the general public starting on July 16, 2017. It will be screened five days a week, three times each evening, with separate showtimes in Hebrew and English. French, Spanish, English and Hebrew are also available at all showtimes via earphones.

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