In response to the COVID crisis, Israel closed its doors to foreign tourists last March. Since then, it has been a slow and tedious waiting game. Both for those who long to visit the Holy Land, and for the many businesses and industries within Israel that rely on tourism to thrive. It’s been a long time coming, but Israel is finally prepping to reopen to tourists and Jerusalem is ready to impress!
The tourism industry in Jerusalem hasn’t just been cooling their collective heels this entire time. This extended period of lockdown has been just the chance many locations and sites needed to renovate, expand, and retool. Not only will it be possible to visit Jerusalem in the near future, but you’re in for a better, more accommodating, and more exciting visit than ever!
The Tower of David Museum
The Tower of David Museum is already a magnificent location in Jerusalem. A historic site, the museum has long offered breathtaking tours that stay with visitors for a lifetime. You can climb the citadel and take in a bird’s eye view of Jerusalem that is unrivaled by any other structure in the city. Or you can do the opposite and explore the Kishle, an underground prison and police station that has played a large but often subtle roles in shaping Jerusalem’s history. All of these tours and sites are waiting to be explored and embraced again by the international tourists.
But the museum wasn’t content with that. During the COVID lockdown, the museum embarked on a $40 million dollar conservation and expansion project. The goal is to both maintain the ancient citadel and archeological park while DOUBLING the size of the museum. The ambitious new plan aims to reshape the average journey through the museum, starting with a new sunken visitor center. A full seven new galleries are planned as is a new café and plaza - the perfect rest spot to take a break in between exhibits!
The expansion will also include an area below the Jaffa Gate Plaza. This area has been the site of several interesting archeological finds from the Roman-Byzantine era but has sat largely abandoned for more than a decade due to various circumstances. With the museum taking charge of the area now, expect to hear about new digs and archaeological finds in the near future, very exciting!
The Old City
A historic site like the Old City of Jerusalem should be enjoyed by everyone, not just those with no mobility issues. This is the logic that has guided a massive accessibility project throughout the Old City. Work began in 2019, but the COVID lockdown has allowed the multi-year project to move ahead of schedule (working around much fewer bodies than they planned on) and the results are taking impressive shape!
While the Old City’s narrow and often steep cobblestone paths are iconic and historic, they are also a nightmare for anyone with an accessibility need. Trying to take a wheelchair, stroller, or walker through those streets was up until recently a losing proposition. Now though, the city has expanded several streets (taking pains to preserve their historic character), provided alternative routing where alterations were not possible, added new staircases and elevators in some places, and have added new handrails on old (and sometimes treacherous) staircases. In addition to all of these physical improvements, the Old City has also upgraded its signage, providing new and much clearer directional markings and waypoints. All in all, it has never been easier to explore the old city comfortably and safely!
But that’s not all, not only is it easier to visit the Old City, there will also be more to see! A new route in the Western Wall Tunnels is planned to open this summer. This new route will take visitors into an exciting recent archaeological discovery, a public building dating back to the Second Temple period. This structure was built in the very early days of the first millennium and is said to have been used for large public functions and as a meeting place for dignitaries and politicians before entering the temple mount. It is an incredible look at real history and another exciting reason to visit the Old City!
COVID has kept us all indoors and at home for a year and a half now, but a new day is approaching. One lesson we can all take from this global ordeal is to not take our opportunities for granted. You never know when a border might be shut or a location suddenly inaccessible. Pretty soon we’ll have the opportunity to visit the Holy Land and an improved Jerusalem, make sure you take it while you can!