Casting a shadow over all other structures in Israel are two that long ago vanished: the legendary First Temple, built by King Solomon in approximately 960 B.C. and destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Second Temple, originally put together on the ruins of the First Temple. In front of the First Temple, a Canaanite-style sanctuary building embellished with decorations of cedar, ivory, and gold, King Solomon is recorded in the Bible to have prayed: "The heavens, even the heaven of heavens, cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have built." The reconstruction of the Second Temple into a vast Hellenistic-style pilgrimage complex was begun by the Roman-installed King Herod in 18 B.C., not to be completed until A.D. 64, almost 70 years after Herod's death.
This ceremonial center did not endure for long. In A.D. 70, Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman armies. On the eve of this destruction, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, the Roman general, Titus, called a council to decide whether, in victory, Rome should destroy "the Temple, one of man's consummate building achievements." This hesitation on the part of the Romans to level the symbolic religious center of a stubbornly rebellious subject nation is an indication of the Herodian structure's grandeur and charisma. The Western Wall is part of the retaining wall system that held up the vast artificially created ceremonial plaza that surrounded the Herodian temple. A few architectural details found in archaeological excavations since 1967 have been identified with the structures that formed part of the Second Temple complex, but no fragment of the actual Second Temple building has yet been found.
Of all the ancient buildings that still stand in Israel, nothing is more incredible than the Dome of the Rock, built on the site of the First and Second Temples by the early Islamic rulers of Jerusalem in A.D. 691. The Byzantine architects who were commissioned to design the Dome of the Rock may have been inspired by the legends of the two vanished structures. In the 16th century it was adorned with Persian tiles by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. One of the world's most beautiful buildings, this shrine acts as a crown to a site that is both physically and spiritually sublime. With its golden dome, like a gilded balloon against the skies, offering intimations of ascension to the heavens (as Koranic tradition records the Prophet Muhammad did from this very spot), it combines simplicity with intricacy in a way that does equal justice to the monotheistic concept and the complex traditions associated with the site.
From the Crusader period, two remarkable Frankish Romanesque churches remain: the heavily restored Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem, and the church in Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem, which is more in its original state. Designed using Eastern and Western techniques to create marvelous acoustics, both are musical instruments to be played by the human voice: A single soprano in either will sound like a choir of angels.
The Street of the Chain and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem offer many examples of architecture from the Mamluke period, characterized by intricately carved arabesque stonework and Mamluke "stalactite"-adorned recesses over the doorways of its important buildings. The labyrinthine Old City of Akko, with its medieval khans and Ottoman Al-Jazzar mosque, deserves to be considered a national treasure. Unfortunately, the fascinating bazaars and residential quarters of Old Akko have been left in ill repair due to local political considerations.
The International Style of the 1930s and 1940s was brought to British Mandate Palestine by refugee architects who had studied at the Bauhaus and worked in the studios of Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe in Europe. Tel Aviv has one of the world's largest urban concentrations of such buildings, with their crisp white concrete curvilinear and blocklike shapes. These buildings were recorded in international architectural publications of their time as visionary gems, but a combination of civic unconcern and the fact that the sand-laden bricks used for construction did not weather well, has left many of these structures in a state of near ruin.
The British Mandate period also left an architectural legacy in Jerusalem, where the high commissioner issued an ordinance that all construction must be faced with Jerusalem stone. Both the YMCA building on King David Street (designed by the same American firm that did New York City's Empire State Building) and the Rockefeller Museum, designed by the noted British architect Austin S. B. Harrison, exhibit an interesting mixture of Art Deco, Byzantine, and Islamic themes.
The vast uninspired neighborhoods constructed after 1948 in Israel's main cities and development towns, hastily built to fulfill a practical need, dominate the landscape. Most Israelis detest these post-independence apartment blocks, locally known as egg boxes. Today renovation and restoration are necessary to save what architectural heritage Israel still possesses. The reconstruction of the old quarter of Jaffa and the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City, along with the gentrifying of 19th-century Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Yemin Moshe, Ein Kerem, and the German Colony, have produced places with real charm and a sense of community. Other urban planning projects, such as the expanded routing of a major road system alongside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City (complete with pedestrian overpasses to the Jaffa Gate) and the piecemeal destruction of West Jerusalem's 19th-century Ha-Nevi'im Street neighborhood, may prove to repeat the kind of mistakes already made in many Western cities.
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