Exciting renovations at the Tower of David Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem

Caroline Shapiro, Director of International Public Relations & Strategic Communications at the Tower of David Museum (Photo: Paul Calvert)

One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is the Tower of David Museum. Not only is it a great lesson on the history of Jerusalem but it carries a personal meaning to me as well.

I used to visit Jerusalem and one year I came to Jerusalem to do some volunteer work for a month. While at St. Paul’s Church in Jerusalem, I was praying, “God where do you want me to be?”

I felt God speak to me these words “Come build the walls of Jerusalem.”

Did God really speak? Well, a week or so later my friend and myself decided to go to the Tower of David Museum and as we walked through the museum there was a sign on the wall which read: “Come build the walls of Jerusalem.” It was a confirmation to come to Israel and I have been here 19 years now. God truly spoke to me and the confirmation of that is that I get a new visa every year.

So it is with great joy that I had this opportunity to interview Caroline Shapiro, Director of International Public Relations & Strategic Communications at the Tower of David Museum.

Paul: I’m here with Caroline Shapiro at the Tower of David Museum, one of my favorite places. Now Caroline there is a $40 million renewal and conservation plan taking place here at the Tower of David Museum at the Jaffa gate. What is the money being spent on? 

Caroline: The Tower of David is the ancient citadel which has guarded Jerusalem in parts for 1000’s of years, dating back to the first temple of Jerusalem. We have got walls from that time period and within the citadel walls they said the timeline of Jerusalem is here, we really need to look after it and conserve it so within the renewal plan which is going to completely update the permanent exhibition of the history of Jerusalem. We are also opening a new visitors centre at the Jaffa gate so that is included in the renewal plan, together we are putting in infrastructure that needs to take place to have an accessible and inclusive and inviting museum within these ancient citadel walls but equally we have to look after the past in order to make sure it is still there in the future and we have a team working on the conservation of the citadel, looking at the very stones that are of the walls and making sure that in fact  the material is being put into the cracks in the walls is of a traditional method, they are bringing back traditional limestone base materials along with traditional stone masonry.

Paul: Is this one of the largest conservation projects in Israel?

Caroline: It is. I mean the citadel is a huge complex, it will include the ramparts of the walls, Byzantine excavations and the Kishle excavations so we are hoping that in the not so distant future the Jaffa gate entrance to Jerusalem which is the main thoroughfare of tourists going into the old city will have… I don’t want to say a new look because we are not trying to change the look but it will certainly most definitely have a new feel and will be more accessible for everybody.

Paul: Now you are doing some archaeological work here with the Israel Antiquities Authority. Are you finding anything here?

Caroline: Yes of course. It’s Jerusalem so anywhere and everywhere you dig in Jerusalem your going to find some part of its history but we are here right at the foot of the tower of David at the old city walls so we were expecting to find things, we found coins and glass and some pottery, we found bones, we found also of course more stones which have more stories to tell and really from early, early days from over 2000 years ago but equally we found some modern discoveries, I say modern discoveries but it is probably at least  800 years old, a tunnel which actually was used as part of the sewage system but also presumably as part of an escape route, a secret escape route from inside the citadel to outside its walls, It used to be an old storage place actually and  when they took out the chairs and began to do a little bit of a clean up and a small dig behind the plaster they found this incredible high arched ceiling passageway.

Paul: That must be quite exiting to find new things here at an ancient site?

Caroline: Yeah, well you would have thought that every single corner would have been looked at in the excavations that were done here in the 1980’s and earlier during British mandate time but it seems that you know digging up Jerusalem there is always a secret to be discovered.

Paul: Now the museum is going to be much bigger and there are some Byzantine  remains outside the city near the Jaffa gate is that going to be part of the museum as well?

Caroline: Yes, we are creating an areological garden, together with the Israel antiquities authority, this will be stage two of the renewal program and together there will be their an educational wing and an auditorium we hope and again those connected to the new light rail that is coming into the Mamilla area and to the car park, so we’ll just make it an over all more exiting and very natural way to enter the old city.

Paul: Is it a challenge connecting with young people today because of technology and things like that when this is a museum giving the history of Jerusalem for 4000 years?

Caroline: Museums always find it challenging how to tell a story and part of being a museum of excellence is finding the different ways that you can engage people and tell the story and create an innovative ways so I think technology is good for us, you know we have worked with AR and VR in the past and we are certainly looking at all the best ways to tell the story of Jerusalem that will engage people, young and old from all over the world and different backgrounds.

Paul: And of course one of the things the Tower of David Museum is famous for is its light shows isn’t it?

Caroline: Yes, in the evenings we have two really spectacular night shows, in fact one is called the night spectacular and the other one is called King David and the back drop to our is in fact the ancient citadel itself, the walls and the towers are covered from top to bottom  in huge images in breathtaking color, you know vibrant color as the story comes to life through film work.

Paul: How long will all this new work take?

Caroline: We are hoping that the project will be finished in the spring of 2022, in a way COVID has given us a gift right now, the museum is closed under Israel law and health regulations and so the decision was made with the second lock down that happened in Israel at the end of September to rush forward and to work on all parts of the citadel in one go, the new museum in its totality will hopefully be open to the public in the spring of 2022.

Paul: Now we have just had COVID of course, that has affected the museum greatly. Is this some light in a very difficult time?

Caroline: Yes, I think we are here feeling two extreme emotions, one is we are looking at the citadel and we are seeing workers working on every tower and turret, there is drilling and there is banging and that is extremely exiting seeing Jerusalem being discovered before our own eyes and planning for the future, planning for the future always brings hope but at the same time its very sad there is only 10% of the staff working we are really truly worrying about that every day and of course we want people to be able to come happily to the museum both from Israel and abroad and visitors from abroad its impossible to travel or extremely hard so I think we are feeling those two emotions, great excitement and huge sadness all at the same time.

Paul: Will this make the Museum more accessible to disabled people?

Caroline: Yes, you know I mean the citadel was built on the basis of a Crusader citadel from the middle ages and certainly they were not thinking about access, in fact it was quite the opposite when a citadel is built it is built to keep people out and yet in the 21st Century we want to make a museum that is accessible to all and so for the first time there will be elevators going into the different sections, different levels of the museum and pathways being made better and more wheelchair accessible, we have already made our sound and light show accessible to the visually impaired by adapting an audio descriptive accompaniment so the museum is always looking for ways of making the museum not just accessible physically but accessible in many, many different ways. 

Paul: What is your hope for the future?

Caroline: My hope for the future is that we take the goodness we have all learned from Covid and remember that when times I hope get busy again and we get back to some normality where travelling isn’t just a dream but that anyone can come to Jerusalem from all over the world, So I look forward to that time when we all have that freedom to do, but I also hope, you know there is some things that are good that we have learned and I hope that we can take with us, you know everyone has learned that it is important to be in a community, its important to speak to one another and reach out to one another.  We are certainly going to be continuing with different ways to engage with the museum from afar from virtually so that people that might not want to get on an airplane and come physically you can still engage and learn and marvel at this incredible city.   

Paul: What is your website for people who’d like to know more?

Caroline: Its a new website so please check it out, its www.tod.org.il.