The Youthful Ancient City


As I sat with my 7-year-old son recently, he reminisced about a day that I thought was far too long ago to have a place in his memory. Do I remember, he asked, the day we visited the Western Wall tunnels? That day was more than half his lifetime ago.

We adults are used to thinking of Jerusalem for its history, its archeology, and its religious legacy — themes for grown-ups. But don’t underestimate how all of this can pique children’s interest — if you get it right.

Children will love to meander through the Old City and marvel at the Western Wall, to take in the sights and sounds of the Arab “shuk,” or market, and browse the art of the Jewish Quarter. The Western Wall Tunnels tour, which shows off the vast stretches of the Kotel that are underground, is exciting and has the feel of a big adventure (though I was lucky my 3-year-old was on his best behavior and would actually recommend it for 6 and up).

Sometimes, it can be hard to get children off their tablets and truly engaged with the history that surrounds them. An interesting new project at one of the Old City’s museums turns technology, and in particular personal tablets, into a tool for finding out about history.

On the viewing gallery at the top of the Tower of David Museum, you will find a breathtaking view. But what exactly are you looking at? Every parent knows the feeling of getting kids enthusiastic about a great view, but finding themselves unable to explain what is in front of them. With AugmentiGuide, a brand new app just launched by the museum, you hold up a tablet that the museum lends you and let its camera capture the view, and then enjoy audio-visual presentations on the exact site that lies before you. At the museum, staff members like to call the new app “Google Maps on steroids.”

AugmentiGuide was developed to give visitors a whole new appreciation of the viewing gallery atop King Herod’s Phasael Tower — one of three towers he built two millennia ago to protect the entrance of the city of Jerusalem and his palace. From the tower you can see all four quarters of the Old City, as well as the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus in the distance. The Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Church of the Redeemer, and the Hurve Synagogue are all visible, as are numerous other notable buildings — and the app tells you about all of them.

A new game gets children enthused about the museum’s exhibitions on 4,000 years of Jerusalem history. Young visitors rent a tablet with “Swipe the Citadel,” and as they tour the museum, they play a game tied to various displays. It features augmented reality, animation and film, and is targeted for 7- to 12-year-olds.

The bundle of new innovations at the museum also includes an adventure app, a treasure hunt, and a touring app for adults.

The adventure app, “Whose Tower is It?,” turns families into detectives trying to solve the mystery of who built the Tower of David. The treasure hunt, which visitors undertake using their own smartphones, works by getting participants to scan various QR codes — barcode-like images that can be read by smartphones and tablets — which are located around the museum. The touring app for adults works the same way.

Naturally, there is Wi-Fi throughout the museum to allow visitors to take advantage of the various apps. Almost all functionality can be enjoyed in Hebrew and English, and from the start of March the apps will be fully bilingual.

Technology is also the key to learning about Jerusalem at the Time Elevator, a city center attraction open to adults and children ages 5 and up; it aims to give visitors the sense of being a “participant” in history. The idea is that you take your seat, and have the feeling that you are in an elevator that stops at different points in the city’s history. There are visuals on a large screen, sound in a variety of languages (including English), moving sets and several special effects including splashing water. The star of the show is actor Chaim Topol (Tevye in the film “Fiddler on the Roof”) who leads you from the era of King David to the modern State of Israel, and narrates episodes from the Hebrew Bible, the birth of Christianity and the emergence of Islam.

Like all great cities, Jerusalem provides many kid-friendly destinations — places that are not all about history. One of the most beloved places among local children is the city’s zoo — a well-kept 62-acre complex with all your favorite animals including lions, tigers and monkeys.

Israel is a leader in wildlife conservation, and its dedication is apparent at its best-known zoo. In 2006 the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria changed its bylaws to allow Israel to become a member even though it is not located in Europe.

And while the delights of animal-viewing are universal, there is a special Jerusalem flavor here. As the zoo for the “Holy City,” it has a biblical theme; all the animals in the main part of the zoo win their place there by merit of the fact they are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The verses they appear in are referenced in displays, and the zoo, though called the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, is widely known as the Biblical Zoo.