An interesting trip today as we visited ‘institutions in Jerusalem’, based around the area of Givat Ram where you can find a variety of museums together with a large amount of government buildings and also a large campus for the Hebrew University.
We began our day at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Before entering we spent some time admiring the grand statue of a menorah outside it. The menorah (a seven-branched candelabrum) is an ancient Jewish motif, important because of its status in the temple. This statue was commissioned by the British government and gifted to Israel in 1956. It features a variety of motifs from Jewish history and our guide diligently explained its symbolism and history.
Our attention then turned to the Knesset building opposite us; in use since 1966. Interestingly, it is on the site of ancient Jewish catacombs from the period of the Second Temple. Entering, we took part in a guide tour, enjoying the art of the Chagall Hall (beautiful tapestries and mosaics) and learning about the history of the Knesset itself. As with many things in Israel, it is filled with symbolism and a connection to the past. It has 120 members, based on the number of people who sat in the Great Assembly, the Jewish governmental body which existed into the beginning of the period of the mishna.
Unfortunately Bibi had decided that he would not be able to meet us, so we walked through the beautiful Wohl Rose Garden to arrive at the Supreme Court. It is a relatively new building, opened only in 1992, housing five courts in which its 15 judges sit. The architecture of the building is filled with symbolism; a contrast of lines (representing law) with circles (representing justice). The building also hearkens back to ancient times; the entrance to each court is through a structure resembling the ancient Israelite city gates, as justice in the bible was carried out in the city gates, by the city elders. The courts themselves are designed as a basilica, the style of public building introduced by the Romans and later used in Byzantine churches and synagogues.
Our guide also explained the Israeli judicial system and how cases may end up in the Supreme Court. We visited a case in session although the discussion was based around a very technical legal point which I can’t claim to have understood! The court is free to enter and you can go without arranging it in advance and just wander around; it is well worth a visit.
Our final stop was at the Israel Museum, where we focussed on the wing dedicated to archaeology. This was our chance to review all that we had learned until now; together with our guide we whizzed through history in just over 2 hours: pre-history; the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods; the Bronze & Iron ages, the Hellenist and Roman periods. It was exhausting and thrilling; we saw in the flesh many exhibits that til now we had seen only in photographic or replica form. It was very rewarding to realise that I was able to identify many of the exhibits from afar, and also to now be able to fully appreciate them, having knowledge of their history and importance.
The Israel Museum’s collection is truly remarkable and in my opinion among the best in the world. However, it really is worth being guided through the exhibition; either by hiring a guide to take you around Jerusalem or going on one of the scheduled tours. This will help you appreciate quite how incredible the exhibits are.
We finished the day with a visit to the Herod exhibition (it closes in January, so check it out soon!). I had been before but having visited Herodion a couple of weeks previously it was much more rewarding.
Sadly we did not get to visit the rest of the museum but it is good to have reasons to return!