The biblical leader who reigned over the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah three millennia ago comes to life again on the inner walls of the ancient citadel next to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate.
The Tower of David is a fitting backdrop for this spectacle where visitors are drawn in as images excitingly pop off the ancient stones — thanks to cutting-edge laser and sound technology.
Although the warrior-poet lived a thousand years before any part of the citadel was constructed, his name has been associated with it since the Herodian period, based on the writings of Jewish historian Josephus Flavius. Archeological evidence indicates that David actually established is the City of David in the Kidron Valley, an area outside the Old City walls and south of the Temple Mount in what is today the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
At the new Tower of David spectacle, a 45-minute narrative of the king’s mythical life begins with the arrival of his great-grandmother Ruth the Moabite to Bethlehem. It continues through to the height of his reign, making stops along the way at key scenes familiar to Bible readers.
David, a young shepherd, slays the Philistine warrior leader Goliath with his slingshot, is anointed by the Prophet Samuel, and then plays his harp for King Saul. Later, tradition holds, David brings the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem with song and dance and composes the Psalms. Finally, David watches Bathsheba as she bathes, before he looks out over his kingdom from Jerusalem as the presentation concludes.
“King David” opens with an action-filled scene in which workers in a gallery museum move and hang works of art. These are all paintings, drawings and sculptures of David created over the centuries by the world’s greatest artists, including Chagall, Matisse, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Many of these works are later incorporated into the Night Experience’s scenes.
Where there is no historical proof, imagination can fly
Speaking with The Times of Israel ahead of the event, the show’s concept creator and curator Renée Sivan said, “There is no historical or archeological documentation for David. He’s a mythical figure, so the obvious way to go was with art, and to let our minds fly with it.”
Jewish and Christian medieval illuminations and Ethiopian representations of the biblical king are also used. For example, the scene of the anointment of David by the Prophet Samuel is based on the well-known Dura Europos Synagogue fresco, a synagogue from the third century CE that still exists in Syria. The representation of the Philistines is based on the famous Medinet Habu relief from the Late Bronze Age that was found in Egypt.
Sivan collaborated closely with Jean-Michel Quesne and Hélène Richard from Collectif K2A in Paris, who served as art directors for the project. Using King Herod’s Tower built 2,000 years ago and the walls built by the Hasmoneans 2,200 years ago as backdrops, they created “King David” by combining animation, art, illustration, film and a cast of over 50 actors.
Sivan, whose background is in archeology, used her knowledge to ground the fanciful imagination driving the storytelling with historical and archeological fact.
“For instance, we know what kind of plants grew in this region at that time, so we used that information in depicting garden scenes. And we know what kinds of fabrics and pigments they had at the time, so we were careful to use the correct colors on the garments,” Sivan said.
The spectacle’s original musical score was composed by French musician Alexandre Lévy. His compositions combine classical, modern and liturgical influences and are played on 40 instruments, alongside Israeli singer Erez Lev-Ari singing Mizmor LeDavid (Psalm of David) at one point. The soundtrack includes no narration.
A multi-sensory experience
Bringing all facets of this larger-than-life character to the Tower of David’s walls required sophisticated and expensive technology. The trompe l’oeil effects and multi-sensory experience are made possible by 18 mapped projected images using 18 laser projectors, 20 speakers and 10 km of different types of cables. All this illuminates the fortress with 250,000 lumens and 35 million pixels in vibrant colors and high definition under the Jerusalem nigh sky.
According to the Tower of David Museum, this is the largest installation of 18,000 Lumen Single Chip M-Vision Laser projectors in the world.
Eli Geffen’s company, Showlogix, designed the systems and software used in “King David” to map two-dimensional images on the citadel’s three-dimensional walls. According to Geffen, this show is far more technologically advanced than the museum’s first light and sound presentation, which has been shown for the last 10 years and depicts the history of Jerusalem. (That show will also continue to run.)
“We are using lasers, not lamp projectors, so they are brighter and higher power, while being more environmentally friendly. We are using more projectors than previously, and the resolution of the images in this new show is four times greater than before,” Geffen said.
The museum’s director of infrastructure development Yehuda Vaknin proudly showed off the control room for the Night Experience. Each projector has a dedicated computer server, and the entire operation is powered by 480 amps.
“We have backup systems and the whole thing is weatherproof. We can run the show on the hottest evenings of summer and the rainiest ones of winter. Everything is climate controlled and hermetically sealed,” Vaknin said.
“King David” cost the museum NIS 7.5 million ($2.2 million), with significant investments from the Israel Ministry of Tourism and the Jerusalem Municipality.
Some two million people from around the world have viewed the Tower of David Museum’s original Night Experience. Museum director Eilat Lieber is confident that”King David” will draw both new and return visitors of all backgrounds and religions.
“King David is significant to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For Jews, David is the father of the Davidic dynasty from which, according to tradition, the Messiah will come. Christianity also bases its faith on the Davidic dynasty, and David is considered one of the ancient prophets in Islam,” Lieber said.
“King David” is a good fit with the museum’s current emphasis on marrying ancient history with today’s technology. It is one of several initiatives, which include an Innovation Lab that serves as a collaborative hub for virtual reality and augmented reality projects to enhance visitors’ experiences.
Technology aside, Lieber said “King David” is all about the magical atmosphere of the citadel at night, and about a magical, complex, and appealing figure.
“This show is a gift for King David, who established this city,” Lieber said.
The “King David” Night Experience opens to the public on April 1.