Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jerusalem Museum of Islamic Art....and a bit more around Jerusalem

My hostess Amalia and I traveled to Jerusalem for a day outing.  Along the way we could see the work being done to connect Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by train.  I think the route should be in place in another 3 years. The highway is also being widened and different sections will be finished in the next two years.  Heavy machinery is used to dig through rocky hills.
Our main stop was the L. A. Mayer Memorial Museum of Islamic Art. It was created to help create a bridge between Muslims and Jews.   I had heard about it in the past, and my interest in going there was raised after I met the watch repair person in charge of the amazing clock and watch collection at the museum.  It turned out that the watch, which originally belonged to my great-grandmother who died before my mother was born in 1918, was not very special as a watch.  
Watches with that kind of mechanism were made in France between 1860 and 1920.  They were expensive at the time but not very valuable now and replacement pieces for getting it fixed were most likely non existent. 

 I should still check to see if the watch is an antique, however.  My grandfather used it as a pocket watch until he died in 1963.

This small, three-story museum in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem is definitely worth the visit. Parking is very difficult in the area, however, though Amalia found a spot about 3 blocks away, partially shaded to boot!  The fee is 40 shekels for adults, but since I could prove that I was a senior citizen by showing my passport, I got the reduced fee of 20 shekels. 
We were given a handout/map of the three floors of the museum:

The art work is divided by eras of Islamic history, with each section having a very good explanation of the events in Muslim history at that time in Hebrew, Arabic, and English: 
The eras were:
First Floor:

Story of Islam  (This exhibit opened in Sept. 2013)
In this room, there were also several videos of Muslim life including the visit to Mecca for the Haj. I had read about the Haj experience but seeing it made a very different impact.
The Early Period
Coptic Art (4th--7th centuries)
Pre-Islamic Sassanian Art (Iran/Iraq, mostly silver)
I was surprised to see a silver drinking vessel with hearts embossed all over it!
Influence of Byzantine Art (Turkey)
Split in Islam
Abbasid--750+ with central government in Baghdad
Chinese porcelain had reach this area and the influence in local art was clear. By
the 10th century Baghdadis had learned to do similar porelain.

There was some exquisitely delicate gold jewelry in this part of the exhibit. The earrings were so delicate and so beautiful with a very special color of told not common today.

The Middle Ages
1055-1255 Seljuq Period (There is some amazing Kashan Tilework on display.)
1250-1517 Mamluk
1251+ Mongol art (Iran)
Late Iranian Art (1369--1502)
Moghul Art
Ottoman Art (1300--1924)

I was surprised to see that before the 1300s, there were ceremic figures, etc. with shapes of humans and animals on them but learned that after this time, they were much less common as considered disrespectful to Allah.

Photos are not allowed in the museum. The "art" photos below are from the handout we got mapping the museum. The Harari Hoard  is from the 11--12th centuries. 
There was a collection of chess pieces from the 9th century. 
The Muslims brought chess to Spain. The king was the "shah" and capturing the king meant "shah-mat," hence the word checkmate.

I enjoyed another video with 1-2 minute clips of mosques of the Middle East (and Spain).

The second floor also had some very heavy North African jewelry on display, and we wondered how people could wear it! Much was from Yemen.

There were a few rugs on display on the main floor but not many. I was also interested to see an ancient ivory domino set on display and did not realize the game was so ancient.

We skipped the Islamic weapons exhibit in the basement but did go to the watch display as we had met the watch repairman for the museum at another time. In the early 20th century, Sir David Salomons collected almost 200 incomparable watches and clocks. He later donated them to the Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem.  There are many watches and clocks owned by the museum, but only some are on display, mostly watches. In 1983, when a thief discovered that the museum's alarm system was not working and there was only one guard at the front door, the thief broke in through the back and stole over 100 rare watches. Almost all were recovered starting in 2006 when one or two appeared on the market. They are now back under special glass security displays, including the extremely valuable so-called Marie Antoinette watch made by Breguet, probably one of the top watchmakers of all time. 
 We did watch a video on the robbery too, one of the only videos in the bottom floor that is not in English or with English subtitles.

While we were there, two groups of Muslim 7th graders visited the school, so I was happy to see that it was used for educational purposes.

The English handouts were out-of-stock. There were ones available in either Hebrew of Arabic.

We visited for a little over an hour and a half. We saw that there was a coffee shop, but we did not got in. 
If you want to see a bit more of the artwork, go to the website at:

By the way, down the road toward where we had parked, we found a great card and toy store, with three spinners of greeting cards in Hebrew and English and a huge selection of toys, including some wonderful Melissa and Doug items. The owner of the shop at been a kindergarten teacher and loves her job! 
We tried to go to the shuk, but parking was impossible and traffic was at a standstill, quite unusual for a Tuesday mid-day.    We did stop at the Menorah in front of the Knesset.  I had not been on the Knesset hill for almost 40 years.  The last time I was there, I think, was with my father, and I sat in front of the menorah as he photographed me.  I tried to take a similar shot, but the menorah was surrounded by a fence and no one else was around so the best I could do was to take the picture myself.

 The Knesset was across the street. The photo below was taken in front of the Rose Garden, which was created in the 1980s.

 The Rose Garden is a great place to picnic and several families were doing so.

We did stop at Malka, the largest mall in Jerusalem, and split a salad at Cafe Aroma.  At least there, parking was definitely possible. 
As we left Jerusalem around 3:00 p.m., the road turned into a giant parking lot.  It turned out that there was a fire near the road, so the highway was closed.  Instead of 1 1/4 hours, it took us almost 3 1/2 hours to get back to Amalia's home.  We took a brief detour to Mevatzeret to stop at a health food store called Anise in the town mall in search of a special 100% chocolate bar (for a friend) called Holy Cacao. 
I am delighted that we were able to get to the Islamic Museum, however.  It definitely was worth the trip!