An Architectural Showcase in Jerusalem
Updated: Apr 22
I’m very pleased with this post. I received an invitation to Jerusalem’s architectural open-house festival last week and immediately adapted my plans so that I could share it with you. Moreover, I was able to accomplish two things in one. I chose places that were both new to me and accessible year-round upon reservation so that I could freely refer you to them. Just so you know, during this three-day festival, the tours are open to the public for free.
Trip Itinerary Options:
Jerusalem Open-House Festival Sites:
‘Jerusalem House of Quality’
The National Library of Israel
‘Levi Eshkol House’
The Freemasons Lodge (Bureau) in Jerusalem
This historic building has a ‘romantic eclectic’ style, which adds to its charm. Built by the Order of St. John as a hospital for eye conditions in 1925, the building was funded by Scottish and British families including King of Scots, Robert the Bruce, mentioned in the film ‘Braveheart’. Thus, the building is filled with family emblems of the funding families. The emblem of Robert the Bruce is the one with the spider (a story in itself). The balcony of the inner enclosure was designed by the sculptor David Palumbo, the same one who designed the Knesset gates. The waiting room of the hospital was decorated by a famous Armenian pottery artist David Ohannesian. Another beautiful aspect of the building is its rooftop view of the old city. Finally, the building used to be connected to the building across the street with a tunnel. This building served as the day care center, whereas the building across the street, currently Mt. Zion Hotel, served as the hospital with the operating rooms. By the way, the hotel is gorgeous too with arches and stone walls and is not especially expensive despite its fantastic location. Following the War of Independence, the seam line of Jerusalem crossed between the two sides. The hospital was closed, the tunnel was filled up and the building was used first as a seminary and later till today, as a home for artists’ studios.
The tour includes additional historical details as well as an explanation about jewelry making and a survey of the artists’ studies. Each one of them has received a mark of quality and several of them are internationally famous for their works.
The National Library was established over 120 years ago in 1902 and has undergone a number of relocations over the years. The last one was in 1948, when due to the War of Independence the books were transferred from a building on Mt. Scopus to the western part of the city where they are located today, at campus ‘Givat Ram’ of ‘The Hebrew University’. The current building was designed by seven leading architects in Israel and is modeled after another historic building called ‘Villa Savoye’ located in Poissy on the outskirts of Paris, France. The architectural style is a modernistic international style characterized by a clean look with open spaces in the middle where you can talk, a large encircling window and skylights that light up the reading rooms and several supportive columns, a winding staircase and a ramp as part of the design. The tour takes you through the various sections of the building as well as the camp grounds and includes many more details on the history, artistic decorations and collections among its four plus million books.
As a national institution, the library also has a recording studio where it records folk songs and other vocal recordings, which are not published in albums. Importantly, you should know that the national library’s website provides access to a major part of the archived materials that are being digitized on an ongoing basis and includes books, publications, maps, photographs and more. Also, this is the only building of the four with a cafeteria in-house, which allows for a refreshing break in its garden enclosure.
A surprise to me was that a new building is currently underway and is expected to be completed in 2020 so you still have a few years to visit it as an active library. It will still remain a heritage site afterwards.
Levi Eshkol House
Although named after Levi Eshkol, the Third Prime Minister of Israel, the house served between 1950-1974 as the residence of prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir and her famous “Kitchen Cabinet” as well. Initially the house was built by Julius Jacobs the deputy governor of Jerusalem in 1933. It was designed by the architect Benjamin Chaikin, who designed it in a combination of international style with eastern arches. A few years after Julius Jacobs was killed in the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946, the house became the official residence of the Prime Ministers. The house remained unused after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided to move to another residence and was given as a gift to the Eshkol Foundation in 1977 for his commemoration.
The tour of the house includes a view of the lower floor and grounds, an excellent documentary film dedicated to Levi Eshkol and an interactive quiz activity. Levi Eshkol was the prime minister in office during the Six-Day War. As this year is the 50th anniversary of that war (1967), this house is the perfect place to learn more about the fascinating period and about the man who steered the country to success through his admirable diplomatic engagement with President Lyndon Johnson and additional strategic activities without receiving much credit for it.
The Freemasons Lodge in Jerusalem
You should visit this location if you’re interested in what free masons are, what they believe in and what their current activities are. The architectural aspect is less prominent. However, the location of the Freemasons Lodge is central, adjacent to Jaffa Street, which is bustling with activity from its shops and dining opportunities.
The first time I heard about freemasons was in the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Red-Headed League’ and my curiosity was piqued when I saw that there was a Lodge in Jerusalem.
Basically, the freemasons started out as a professional trade society of stone masons in the middle ages, developing into a more idealistic fraternity of men from all walks of life who believe in equality, brotherhood and liberty for all, the foundations of modern democracy. Their activities include the historic symbolic ceremonies, community member meetings as well as charity work. The tour is much more informative and recommended if you’re curious too.
As mentioned above, the national library has a pleasantly situated cafeteria. They even had gluten-free Tzatziki and fruit salad (lucky students of today!).
The others have restaurants nearby as follows:
The Jerusalem House of Quality is right across the street from the Cinematheque, which has a nice European-Mediterranean restaurant called: ‘Lavan’ with a balcony overlooking the same great views. Two additional options that require some driving are a dairy restaurant called ‘Caffit’ and a good seafood restaurant with meat dishes called ‘Dophin Yam’.
The Levi Eshkol house is on the same street as a Kosher Dairy Bar-Café called ‘Café de Paris’. For a meat-meal you can go to the Asian restaurant ‘Sushi Rechavia’ or if you prefer Israeli-International restaurants you can go to ‘Mona’, ‘Link’ or the Mamilla Hotel’s ‘Rooftop’ restaurant.
The Freemasons Lodge is near Jaffa St. where you can find the Moroccan restaurant ‘Hamotzi’ owned by the Israeli Master Chef winner of 2011, Chef Avi Levi. Alternatively, you can go to the nearby Mahane Yehuda market to try some fresh Israeli cuisine at one of the following restaurants: ‘Machneyuda’, ‘Jacko’s Street’, ‘Rachmo’ and ‘Dwiny Pita Bar’.
Aside from the Mt. Zion hotel mentioned above, additional hotels that are relatively in the middle (going clockwise around Levi Eshkol House) are ‘Hotel Prima Kings’, ‘Leonardo Plaza Hotel’, ‘Montefiore Hotel’, ‘Mamilla Hotel’, ‘David Citadel Hotel’, ‘King David Hotel’ and ‘Inbal Jerusalem Hotel’. Some are expensive, but that is up to you.
The timeline is irrelevant here and is dependent on the tour hours that you reserve at each location. I managed three in one day and one on a separate day because I wanted to include an additional option. I’ve placed all four on the map. In general, they are within an up to 20 min drive away from one another.
This is what it looks like on the map:
Additionally, if you're staying in Jerusalem for more than a day, you may want to read my previous post entitled "A Spiritual Trip Dedicated to the Indian Community".
In short, if you’re in Israel around October, remember to look out for the open-house festival in Jerusalem. Are there any festivals that you recommend to visit?
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