Mellon Forum: "Underground Jerusalem: On the Relentless Modernization of the Jewish Past"

Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 12:00 pm

Alona Nitzan-Shiftan, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology 

M. Christine Boyer, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Architecture and Urbanism, SoA

"Underground Jerusalem: On the Relentless Modernization of the Jewish Past"

April 24 / 12pm / SoA South Gallery

Two archaeological compounds have turned in recent years into the most popular sites in East Jerusalem: “The Western Wall Tunnels” and “The City of David”. The first was opened in 1996, the other in the early 2000s. From a scientific point of view, these are “as found” sites, where scientists extract knowledge from the archaeological material they excavate. Both archaeological sites have been rapidly developed to accommodate an exponential growth of visitors. The mediation between these materials of the past and their perception in the present is entrusted with the discipline of preservation. 

This talk studies the new spaces that preservationists and architects laboriously produce inside the active archaeological digs of Jerusalem in order to accommodate a new web of inter-connected visitor centers. This new development continues to negotiate the status of antiquity in the contested space of Jerusalem, where archaeology testifies to the moral possession of the past. Yet, unlike earlier, well documented attempts to foster the presence of the Jewish past in the open urban space, the current digs occur underneath the Palestinian residences of the Muslim Quarter and of Wadi Hillweh, the presume site of the ancient City of David. 

The scale and inter-connectivity of the new excavations gradually culminate into an underground city. The speed of its development blurs the boundaries between preservation and modernization. The talk draws attention to the intricate parallel between the modernization of the present on the ground and the modernization of the past under its surface. The activities in these sites exemplify the modernization of the past through advanced technology and its extension to urban scale. The talk analyzes the design of underground Jerusalem through the evolving relationship between its archaeological material, its architectural form, and its cultural and political content, and critically examines the legal and institutional orchestration they require. The latter are necessary for a more robust development—the intersection of these underground centers with the urban space of the present city and the methods of evaluating its monuments.  

School of Architecture, South Gallery