Prickly pair

Czech-designed cactus-shaped tower rises in Jerusalem

The Czech Republic celebrates Israel’s upcoming 70th with a sabra-molded sculpture

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The sabra-shaped tower designed by Czech architect Martin Rajnis rises out of the lush gardens of Jerusalem's Hansen House (Courtesy Hansen House)
The sabra-shaped tower designed by Czech architect Martin Rajnis rises out of the lush gardens of Jerusalem's Hansen House (Courtesy Hansen House)

Israelis have long been likened to sabra fruit or prickly pears, thick-skinned fruits with sweet interiors, and now the cactus in question has become a sculpture marking the long friendship between Israel and the Czech Republic.

This particular cactus, designed by Czech architect Martin Rajnis, is a wood-sculpted tower situated in the gardens of Jerusalem’s Hansen House, a former leper colony renovated several years ago as a center for design, media and technology.

The tower marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia and Israel’s 70th, and is meant to serve as a kind of cultural lighthouse, drawing people to the variety of events held in the gardens and interiors of the historic building.

“I always admired the Israeli nation, because I like courageous people prepared to face even seemingly hopeless situations with their heads held high,” wrote 73-year-old Rajnis in a statement about the project. “All of us who are participating in this project want to evince that Israel is in a way a model and hope for us, that even a small country can brave to fight for and keep the most precious things – freedom and independence.”

Martin Rajnis, the Czech architect who designed the cactus-shaped tower now adorning Hansen House, as a symbol of the friendship between Israel and the Czech Republic (Courtesy Martin Rajnis)

The wooden tower can be lit from without and within, and has space underneath that can be used for holding workshops and lectures, as well as a platform up above for visitors to view their surroundings, overlooking Jerusalem’s German Colony, Talbieh and Rechavia neighborhoods and beyond.

Its shape is meant to evoke the lush growth of Israeli gardens, but was seen by Rajnis as a “humble companion” to the olive trees and plants in the extensive Hansen House garden and its “fairy-tale-ish,” setting, he wrote.

The process of building the tower — which is called Esther by the design team, “a nice Jewish name” that followed the team’s first four towers named in alphabetical order, from A through D — was documented and photographed for a book by Ivan Nemec, and will feature in a Czech Television documentary about Rajnis.

המגדל פתוח למבקרים מדי יום בבית הנסן. מוזמנים להגיע באופן עצמאי כדי להתפעל מהיצירה הארכיטקטונית ולטפס לתצפית מרהיבה על…

Posted by ‎בית הנסן Hansen House‎ on Sunday, November 12, 2017

The project was initiated by the Czech Center in Israel, along with the Jerusalem Municipality and Hansen House, Martin Rajnis and HAMR (Hut architektury Martina Rajnise), Czech Centre in Tel Aviv, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, the Czech – Israeli Mutual Chamber of Commerce and the Israel – Czech Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, and a number of corporate and private partners.

The Esther tower is open daily to visitors, who can view the architectural work and climb up the observation tower. Sunday-Thursday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Shabbat 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed on rainy days.

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