JERUSALEM - The Tower of David isn't Jerusalem's most celebrated, sacred or coveted site, but perhaps no place better illustrates the city's contentious history: Over the millennia, myriad conquerors have used it as a fortress, military barracks and cannon emplacement.
These days, the Tower serves a more benign purpose. Tucked inside the walls of the picturesque Old City, the compound is now a museum that welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year.
Though overshadowed by its world-famous neighbors - the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulcher - the sprawling complex is worth a visit for the perfect snapshot it provides of the city's past.
Visitors can walk alongside layers of walls, some dating back more than 2,000 years, peek into ancient cisterns and bask in the shadows of Crusader arches.
The tower's ancient walls come alive, quite literally, in the museum's latest exhibit, a nighttime sound and light show that takes its audience on a stirring open-air tour of Jerusalem's history.
The "Night Spectacular" has no narration and is not meant to be a comprehensive history lesson. Instead, viewers are treated to a colorful series of moving images that turn the massive walls, arches, towers, turrets and archaeological ruins into lifelike depictions of events that took place over the millennia, often just steps away.
The show opens with a massive silhouette of the Biblical King David strumming on a harp. There are scenes of King Solomon's Temple and its destruction, early Christian monks, the Prophet Muhammad's night journey to heaven, a mystic event recounted in the Quran. At one point, Roman soldiers march through the ruins of the city, their footsteps echoing like thunder, followed by Crusader conquerors and later, by a 30-yard image of the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent.
The 45-minute show makes no mention of the modern conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, skipping from the times of British rule early in the 20th century to a hopeful scene of children, surrounded by doves, singing for peace.
The show does not strive to provide a full history of Jerusalem - visitors can get that during the daytime, when the many exhibits are open, said Shosh Yaniv, the museum's director. And there is no explicit political message, she said. The show tries to recognize the Jewish, Muslim and Christian attachment to the city.
"We just took images, visions and put them into one show that doesn't speak any language. It speaks all the languages," she said. "I want people to take Jerusalem with them. It's a very strong image. Very complicated."
The show may be worth catching just for its nifty special effects, and for its soundtrack, written by French composer Etienne Perruchon and recorded by a full orchestra.
"We wanted to create something that was evocative, to let the public fantasize about the history of the place," said Jean-Michel Quesne of Skertzo, the French company that put together the show. "We wanted to do something more poetic than educational."
This was no small task, given the varying heights, angles and textures of the walls of the complex. It took about a year of planning, and required 20 projectors, 10 video players and servers and six miles of cable, along with countless photos, drawings, paintings, computer-generated images and video clips.
"It was a difficult space to work with," said Quesne. "It took some time until what we wanted to express on the walls came about," he said, calling the scenes "dreamlike images."
The fortress was begun more than 2,000 years ago by the Jewish kings of the Hasmonean period and was developed by King Herod, who ruled the city for three decades in the first century B.C. Herod, known for grandiose building projects in the Holy Land, including the Second Temple, added three massive towers to the site. One of the towers remains today, given visitors a sweeping vista of the Old City.
Over the centuries, the area served as barracks for Roman troops, housed a community of monks and was revived as a fortress by Muslim conquerors. The citadel underwent further changes during the 400 years of Ottoman rule that began in the 1500s, including construction of the tall minaret that is the fortress's most distinctive feature.
One of the few famous rulers of the Holy Land missing from the tower's illustrious resume is, ironically, King David. The biblical monarch had nothing to do with the fortress, which was only begun around 1,000 years after his legendary reign.
According to the museum, he became associated with it only in the 19th century, when Western pilgrims mistakenly identified the minaret as the "Tower of David." The evocative but incorrect title has stuck ever since.
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