Finally, a building in Jerusalem where every visitor can see and feel the history and archaeology of the Land of Israel is taking shape right in front of our very eyes. The archaeology campus currently under construction will allow the general public access to Israel’s archaeological heritage by revealing the enormous variety of national treasures that were discovered in archaeological excavations, as well as the methods of exposing these national treasures in laboratories.
Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority, on Sunday unveiled the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel, currently under construction on Museum Hill in Givʽat Ram, between the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum.
The campus will serve as an open, active house endeavoring to make the cultural heritage that belongs to all of us accessible to the general public: millions of archaeological treasures of the societies and religions that lived in Israel which were excavated and that will be excavated in the future. The campus will be home to visitors from Israel and abroad, and an educational center for students who will be able to see firsthand the exciting finds that were left for them by those who lived here hundreds and thousands of years ago.
The ceremony inaugurating the public wing of the campus will be attended by the Prime Minister and donors during the Sukkot holiday, and the building will be open to the public in about a year.
According to Hasson, “Just a small hop, skip and a jump over to the archaeology campus will allow every one of us to make a gigantic leap back in time, to the history of mankind and the country. The IAA is this generation’s guardian of the cultural assets of the past. The heritage belongs to all of the public, and it is our obligation to share with everyone the treasures that were safeguarded until now in the storerooms. On this campus, visitors will be able to take part for the very first time in the fascinating process of archaeological conservation that up till now was carried out behind-the-scenes, and experience firsthand the rich past of the country, as it takes shape before their eyes. The campus will be an attraction for tourists from Israel and abroad, and a home for anyone who wants to know where he comes from and where he is going.”
The total construction cost of of construction, about $105 million, comes from twenty-six donors as well as the State of Israel.
The campus, which covers an approximate area of 360 acres, is a unique gem designed by architect Moshe Safdie, symbolizing the archaeological excavation process – a tensile “transparent” roof that is the first of its kind in the country and simulates the tent-like canopies used to shade archaeological excavations, directing rainwater to a pool situated in a courtyard below, and creating a flowing cascade of water. Three levels descending like the strata in an archaeological excavation, contain courtyards, impressive display galleries, dedicated, climate controlled housing centers, and paths that overlook the laboratories and hundreds of thousands of artifacts housed in the campus, as well as the National Library for the Archaeology of Israel.
The inaugural exhibition in the campus will focus on and illuminate the diversity of the work of the professionals engaged in the worlds of archaeology and conservation.
The first exhibition in the display cabinet dedicated to new discoveries will present the story of the shipwreck in the Caesarea harbor, which was laden with a cargo of magnificent bronze statue fragments intended for recycling. From this exhibit one can learn a great deal about the world of marine archaeology, among other things, how the archaeologists excavated the artifacts underwater.
The exhibitions are spread throughout the building and deal with a variety of subjects.
In the huge housing center for the National Treasures visitors will walk on a suspended bridge while watching an audiovisual exhibit that will be projected on hundreds of thousands of artifacts.
The eastern rooftop of the campus is dedicated to mosaics, many of which have not been seen before and will be revealed to the public for the first time. The impressive el-Hammam mosaic from Bet Sheʽan was removed from the site in 1934, and only now, 82 years later, will visitors have an opportunity to see it. A magnificent mosaic depicting the biblical story of Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his back after the Philistines tried to kill him (Judges 16:3) was exposed by Jody Magness at Huqoq and will also be presented on the rooftop. A large nave of a Byzantine church with a colorful mosaic in it that was excavated by Shlomo Kol-Yaʽakov east of Ramla was restored in its entirety in one of the open courtyards of the campus.
Hundreds of 7,000-year-old artifacts are exhibited in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery, revealing the Chalcolithic culture, which is surprising in its complex social system, the development of new production technologies and its extensive trade relations. Prominent among the artifacts: a painstakingly restored wall painting from Ghassul that was probably situated in a cultic chamber, statuettes, sculpted stands, clubs and scepters as well as the rare wooden bow and sandal from the Cave of the Warrior.
A special gallery in the campus focuses on ancient glass, and lumps of raw glass and hundreds of vessels are on exhibition (from the furnace to the masterpieces), describing the glass industry in the country and the ancient world, and the extensive distribution of these vessels in tombs some two thousand years ago. The precious glass vessels were buried as funerary offerings together with the deceased, in the belief that they would accompany the deceased to the next world.
The National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel is home to the World Center for the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the conservation center where the scrolls undergo conservation, a climate-controlled housing center for more than 15,000 scroll fragments, a library dedicated to the subject, and a gallery for the exhibition of the complex methods used by the five IAA Dead Sea Scrolls conservators – the only people in the entire world that are officially authorized to touch these 2,000 year old scrolls.
Other parts of the campus include the National Library for the Archaeology of Israel, which will be one of the largest in the Middle East, an auditorium where conferences, lectures, and movies in the field of archaeology can be held and shown, the administration offices of the IAA, a café and archaeological exhibits integrated on landscaped rooftops designed by landscape architect Barbara Aronson, which will enhance the area’s scenery.
The National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel will be inaugurated on October 19 in a ceremony attended by the Prime Minister. It will be streamed live on the IAA Facebook page. The historic inauguration event will mark the importance of preserving Israel’s archaeological, spiritual and cultural heritage and will express gratitude to the donors who through their generosity made possible the construction of the campus.