Turning east from the hustle and bustle of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, after a five minute walk, one comes to the entry gate of the Rockefeller Museum. There isn’t a lot of foot traffic here, but passing through security, one sees many cars of the Israel Antiquities Authority which has its offices here.
On the grounds, you are already in a quiet space. You feel like you could almost reach the northeast corner of the Old City of Jerusalem except for the chasm created by Sultan Suleiman St. below us. The museum which was established with a 2 million dollar contribution from JD Rockefeller under the British Mandate, opened in 1938 and echoes an eastern style in its facade with its large central hexagonal tower.
Walking inside, one feels as if transported back in time. The subtle weight and formality which characterizes buildings funded by tycoons like Rockefeller exudes a certain peace. The exhibits themselves echo a long ago time. One is charmed by the museum with its simple glass cases which hold the treasures of the past. Its best to take a guide for this museum as the collections are not well labelled and the casual tourist may have difficulty finding context here.
Hidden in one section of the museum are three areas with amazing collections. The first area contains the 8th century C.E. wood panels from al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. The second includes the stucco elements from Hisham’s palace outside of Jericho. The third collection is the Crusader lintels which decorated the entry to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. All three of these were moved to the Rockefeller Museum for safe keeping – and safe they are as the museum only attracts a scant number of visitors.
The beautiful open air portico boasts several Roman era sarcophagi and other stone artifacts, which are well worth a visit.
Before leaving the museum and heading back to East Jerusalem, be sure to breathe in the serenity of this nostalgic museum.
- Zedekiah’s Cave
- Garden Tomb
- Damascus Gate